Two Conversations and a Visitation

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had some before-school-starts conversations with my colleagues in the English department. One of them said that his best students had always been from Southern Idaho. “Nobody had ever told them there were things they couldn’t do,” he said. “So they’d just do them. Of course, that has changed. Television and the internet changed all of that.”

The second conversation happened while I was doing something with my documentary on Black Mormons. A colleague dropped by and started remembering his own college days. He had been dating a woman who had just learned that she carried some African ancestry. She realized what this meant: Her sons wouldn’t be able to hold the priesthood. My colleague teared up as he recalled this. “There was so much I didn’t know—though it was all around me,” he said, “I was well wadded in stupidity.” That last quote is from George Eliot’s Middlemarch: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

The visitation—an earthly one—happened within the past hour. A former student of mine, one of those iconoclastic, maddeningly creative, brilliant ones who don’t really fit the perceived BYU mold, dropped by. I reached out to hug him, and he backed off. “I can’t,” he said. I knew immediately what had happened. “You’re going on a mission?” “Yes.” He will enter the MTC tomorrow—slightly older than those he’ll be joining—and I’ll get to see him when I have lunch there on Sunday.

I agree with the first colleague I mentioned that television and the internet have changed the world, and probably changed students from Southern Idaho and Utah (though I must say, the missionaries we’ve gotten in our MTC branch from Southern Idaho still have an amazing work ethic). And I agree with the second colleague that most of us, especially in our youth, are “well wadded with stupidity.” But my hope surges when a brilliant young man, such as the one who just came by, chooses to give two years of his life to an effort so overwhelming as the missionary program. If he serves well (and I have no doubt that he will), he will paradoxically become LESS wadded with stupidity. That is a paradox, because his focus will be so narrow for two years—“Preach My Gospel”, the missionary handbook, and his scriptures. (That narrowness is, of course, narrow in the same way a mustard seed is narrow.) In true service, our hearts open to other people, and we learn to hear still voices and small cries. Our stupidity thins as we open ourselves to worlds beyond the one we immediately inhabit. In my former student’s case, this will happen in Japan. I also hear from missionaries serving in Africa, Europe, and Canada. One became terribly ill during his first week, as he ate food his stomach instantly rejected (monkey, for example). Yet his letters now speak only lovingly of the people he is serving. And I use the word SERVING with consideration. Labor in the gospel must get beyond the self and to the hearts of others, so that we participate in their pain and in their joy.

Yes, television and the internet have made a difference. And many young men and women will leave the Church as they discover difficult histories their little worlds have not prepared them for–all available for research on the internet, and sometimes on television. But if they choose to “go into all the world and preach [the] gospel”—and if they serve well, the picture adjusts. The difficulties cease to be the filter for their new, increasingly independent thoughts. These problems don’t go away, but can be seen through a forgiving lens, which recognizes not only human foibles but God’s grace and relentless progress—progress sometimes as slow and wondrous as “hearing the grass grow.”

Comments

  1. Amen.

  2. Beautiful post filled w/mature insight that really could be applied to many things/relationships in life.

    If I may ask, why could your former student not hug you? And what is the rationale? Also, to take it a step farther, can he hug no one (parents, siblings, etc…) as he heads off to his mission?

    If you prefer, can you refer me to a source where I could learn more about this aspect?

    Thanks much.

  3. Aileen, once missionaries are “set apart” they are to avoid physical contact with the opposite sex (family, and hand-shakes are exceptions).

  4. Margaret Blair Young says:

    Mormon missionaries (elders) are not to hug any women after being set apart. (I believe they do hug their mothers and sisters at the MTC on that first day.) This is largely for protection of the missionaries. Not that they can’t be trusted with their peaked hormones, but that accusations can and have been made. They are instructed to avoid anything which could be misinterpreted. I do hug sister missionaries, and my husband hugs the elders. I never hug a male missionary, though I have dates with several to have a big embrace AFTER their missions. The missionary handbook, worked out after lots of experience, is explicit on avoiding any circumstance which could prove harmful to the missionary, so not only will they keep themselves at arm’s length from women, they will always go to their appointments with a companion. The sister missionaries also refrain from embracing men, and are instructed to stick with their companions at all times.

  5. Thanks for the info!

  6. Beautiful, Margaret – and your student is fortunate to have been called to the best part of the vineyard. You didn’t mention a specific mission, but, hopefully, he will freeze on Hokkaido as his heart warms in serving the people.

  7. This is a great post, Margaret. I appreciate your seeing the good in all of these events.
    Beautiful.

  8. Margaret Blair Young says:

    Ngoya–but it doesn’t really matter where. My heart swelled to embrace all of Guatemala, where I still go whenever I can. The place itself is sacred ground for me, but only because of the events I experienced in other people’s houses and using a language I spoke like a child. Any house can become sacred, and uniquely holy happenings can unfold anyplace on earth.

  9. Margaret Blair Young said: And many young men and women will leave the Church as they discover difficult histories their little worlds have not prepared them for–all available for research on the internet, and sometimes on television.

    I guess we’ll all need to adapt to the new world we live in. One way to adapt is to diligently seek for the gift of Holy Ghost. After all, that’s why we were baptized, confirmed, and take the sacrament each week.

    It seems many members have failed to acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost and consequently are tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of change or difficulty dredged up by those crafty souls that lie in wait to deceive.

    Those who have acquired and maintained the gift of the Holy Ghost and are growing in the gifts of the Spirit will not be found leaving the church (D&C 46:8) because of difficult histories and other challenges that are part of membership in the Lord’s modern day church. They can not be deceived.

    I’m not suggesting that difficult histories and various challenges are not troubling, but they are swallowed up by significant experiences with the Spirit (Jacob 7:5).

    I’ve been studying the following verse and feel that it is descriptive of the day we live in.

    4 And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith. Jarom 1:4

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  10. Jared — I think the “deception” issue is more complicated than you have presented. As I read Ephesians 4, the value in having the Church structure is to create a barrier of doctrinal protection from fickle and opportunistic outside forces. Many of the hardest testimony struggles don’t come from external philosphies or beliefs, but how current Church doctrine and practices compare to past Church doctrine and practices. These (almost universally unaddressed) internal inconsistencies raise hard questions about what we mean by “true”, “prophet” or “doctrine” that are not easily resolved.

    I appreciate your appeal to the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I think it is invaluable (especially as a Comforter) in trying to wade through all of this. But I disagree with your assessment that somebody struggling with hard questions about the Church is at fault for accepting deception rather than the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost/deception question is messy regardless of testimony level. For sure, it is hard to feel confident in the Holy Ghost when one is struggling with Church issues and possible deceivers. But I think it is equally likely that those who claim that, by virtue of the Holy Ghost, they are immune to silly questions of Church history and doctrine are themselves engaging in some self-deception.

  11. Naogya means he won’t freeze his name badge off in Ray’s old stomping ground but instead will have to slog through the humidity that I did (the Tokyo South Mission doesn’t exist as such anymore and my first and last areas now part of the Nagoya Mission). I’m pretty sure Mt. Fuji falls in his mission boundaries now, too.

    Wadded in stupidity. Wow. Poignant. What a great reference. I’m going to have to ponder that one for a while…

  12. Most of the things on the internet (Google/Wikipedia), are not meant to deceive, cause troubling, or silly/difficult history. It is just information you did not get in Sunday School. Work with it, check it’s sources, learn if it is true, but don’t be afraid of it. There may be some hard changes you have to make in your thinking. But others have done that and still find it right to be in the Church.

  13. hawkgrrrl says:

    Great post!

  14. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    Margaret,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this post since even at my now august age of 60 I find that I am still “wadded in stupidity”. Many, amny years ago when I was attending the ‘Y’ I had the opportunity to take Book of Mormon from Hugh Nibley. Availing myself of the proximity to genius, I asked him if he would sin a copy of “Since Cumorah” for me. He agreed and wrote a simple dedication which he signed with, “Still empty, Hugh Nibley”. I inquired about this unusual phrase and he responded that that was what he was finding out about himself everyday. No matter how much he learned there was still a treasury of useful knowledge that seemed to be expanding binomially. I am beginning to more fully understand just how he felt.
    I concur that we will likely lose a significant number of these youth, the great-great grandchildren of the pioneers who gave up so much for our living Faith and the Restored Church. The parable of the ten virgins is becoming a reality as the storm clouds of the tumultous coming events of the last days form thunderheads behind Zion’s mountains. But they cannot live on ‘borrowed light’ and must be brought each individually to a crisis of faith or belief that will lead to experience the Holy Spirit and gain a testimony. Some we will lose, but others will return, hopefully to the open arms of loving friends and family. We will need everyone of these young lions (and lionesses) that Margaret has the privilege to instruct and know because they are the true strength of the Church. They, joined with the prodigals, will prepare the way for our Saviour’s Return. What a day that will be!

    Margaret, just curious, but you have changed your signature very recently. Has another Margaret Young appeared in the ‘bloggernacle’ or does this
    portent wonderful developments in your life?

  15. Nicely said, nicely said.

  16. I go by either Margaret Young or Margaret Blair Young. Somebody else named Margaret Young (not me–honestly!) has said things which I do not agree with, so I’m distinguishing myself. But any comment by Margaret Young on the bloggernacle is mine. I believe I’m the only Margaret Blair Young on the planet, but there are thousands of Margaret Youngs. When I quietly joined the BCC bloggers, I decided I’d use my whole name.

    I like the name Velikiye very much. Where does it come from? It sounds Hawaiian. And btw, in the year that Bruce and I have been at the MTC, we have had MANY missionaries come into our branch after spending years in the wilderness.

  17. #10 Red—thanks for you thoughtful follow-up on my comment #9.

    I didn’t communicate my idea about the gift of the Holy Ghost very well so after reading your thoughts I would like to take another approach.

    Take the most difficult issue one has regarding the “church”. For example, take polygamy. When I first learned the details about Joseph Smith and polygamy I was stunned. I visited a teacher of religion I was friends with and asked him if my new found information was correct. He assured me it was. I told him I was enjoying my research into church history and we talked about other sticky aspects of being Mormon.

    To make a long story short, I prayed about polygamy, Adam-God, Mountain Meadows, and a host of other controversial and faith demoting issues. I learned by the power of the Holy Ghost what I needed to know. That’s my point; we’re promised that we can know the truth of all things by the power of the Holy Ghost. If we have access to the Holy Ghost we will not be deceived, devastated, angry, let down, crushed, disillusioned, lose our testimony or anything like unto it—by these things. If we lack the faith to access the Lord on these issues we can experience those things listed above to one degree or another.

    One last thought, when one experiences the pain that comes with discovering problems in church history (or any life crisis) this can be a good thing. Pain creates, in some circumstances, opportunity to draw near to the Lord. Some people become humble and submissive and approach the Lord in mighty prayer and for the first time access the heavens and are rewarded with great blessings like get written up in the scriptures. I can testify that the experiences recorded in the Book of Mormon to men like Nephi, Enos, Alma 1 & 2 and others are available to each of us if we will follow their examples.

  18. What a lovely perspective.

  19. Margaret, those BYU and MTC students are so fortunate to have you as a mentor and friend.

    This is a great post.

  20. I hope that when you tried to get fresh with your former student, he rebuked you with “Touch me not; I have not yet ascended to the MTC.”

  21. A really great post. I hope you’re right … I think my mission, all the nonsense aside, did make me less stupid in the way you eloquently describe.

    And yet I worry that a missionary’s life can be so insulated that the sense of service is too narrow, never escaping the spiral binding of Preach My Gospel, not seeing the people they serve in their own right, seeing only the exotic and different without coming close to them in their own right.

  22. #17 – Sincere question.

    So often when I hear members refer to insights recieved by the Holy Ghost, they do so in the abstract. Your statement is an example of this:

    “I learned by the power of the Holy Ghost what I needed to know”.

    That statement is where it starts and ends for you, and this is fairly typical of many LDS comments of truth. I don’t mean so much to challenge you here, as to understand, how did you learn by the power of the Holy Ghost what you needed to know:

    1) Did you have specific revelations about some of these details which increased your historical knowledge?

    2) Did have have a revelation, such as Nephi as you mention, that taught you in a cognitive way correct doctrine?

    3) Did you recieve comfort, that may have not been cognitively specific, but gave you the assurance that the Church is still true, and these things will work themselves out?

    4) Anything I may have missed?

    Thanks,

  23. #14 — Thank you for your post. I can tell you are genuinely concerned for the struggling youth of the Church. But your approach to the problem (i.e., trying to place the youth as role players in a scriptural narrative) isn’t very helpful and does little to actually improve the situation. You are not alone in this approach — it is the one I encounter most frequently, whether I am being compared to the unprepared ten virgins, the un-valient 1/3 in the pre-existence, Laman & Lemuel . . . this list goes on. The crisis of testimony among the youth is growing deeper and wider, but rather than this acting as a signal that perhaps the Church/membership could change its approach on some stuff (and I’m not talking about inventing any new doctrines), for many (who are looking for a tidy narrative), the crisis becomes just further proof that in fact the Church must be true and that Jesus is already on the elevator heading down.

    Most of my friends (brilliant, talented, empathetic RM’s) have left the Church, and I don’t believe it’s because they failed to find their own light. To use scriptural imagery: perhaps the youth who leave don’t simply run out of borrowed light; maybe those charged with carrying Zion’s sons and daughters in their arms and on their shoulders are too busy wringing their hands of responsibility.

    Jared — Thanks for your response in 17. I wanted to ask a question similar to cowboy’s in 22, so I’ll leave it with him.

  24. Cowboy & Red,
    I can’t speak for Jared. For me the answer was different in kind depending upon my receptiveness. It was sometimes a feeling of comfort, sometimes a voice. The method of revelation depends upon the recipient. It will never be stronger than it needs to be answer the question. To overwhelm the recipient would harm that person’s agency. In the apostle Paul’s case, apparently only a heavenly vistation would do. In my case, an angel would remove any doubt whatsoever. For others even that won’t be enough. But without doubt, faith would be meaningless. So I get the still small voice. I could still ignore it if I choose, but the choice is still mine.

  25. Norbert (#23), it is certainly true that a missionary’s life is insulated. But it opens remarkable possibilities for compassion and a hugely enlarged worldview. Of course, many won’t be so enlarged–which is no surprise. They’re nineteen! They’ve been focused on the minutia of high school! And suddenly, they’re ordained ministers. The mission clearly is not an end in itself, but an opportunity to expand the view and adjust the focus.

    And Red (#23) is right that we need to do more to address the difficult issues forthrightly. But just as every person who joins the Church does so for their own reasons, everyone who leaves also has personal reasons for doing so. Cognitive dissonance is an easy umbrella, but every returned missionary who decides that he was deceiving people while on his mission has had a fundamental change that can’t be fully explained by the “tidy narrative” of cognitive dissonance.

    I really believe that in sharing our real experiences, not just a template testimony, we help those who struggle remember things, and we can help them negotiate the distance between the various realities they are trying to bridge.

  26. “I really believe that in sharing our real experiences, not just a template testimony, we help those who struggle remember things, and we can help them negotiate the distance between the various realities they are trying to bridge”.

    Margaret:

    Amen.

  27. Bruce:

    Doctrinally speaking I don’t know if I agree with comments on what determines how strong the manifestations of revelation will be. On the one hand, we could site examples such as Laman and Lemuel, when smiting Nephi with a rod. Parenthetically speaking though I can’t help but wonder if the Angel wasn’t more for Nephi’s sake than his brothers. We could also mention Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah. Each of these examples might illustrate your point that only a powerful manifestation could redirect these mens course. On the other hand, we have Nephi the son of Lehi who is said to have believed based on what appears to be a lesser manifestation within the second chapter of First Nephi. By the 15th chapter he has been so enwrapped in the spirit to have had litteral discourse, and witnessed the birth of the Savior, and his ministry 600 years prior to its actual happening. There is also Nephi the son of Helam who was one of the best scriptural epitomies to lifelong righteousness extant, who was granted the sealing power and thereafter carried to and fro by the Spirit. As a last example, we have the Brother of Jared who had at least for the time, the most unprecendented faith of any to come before the Lord. such that he was literaly brought into the presence of the Lord while in mortality, and as the record goes, the Lord kept nothing from him. He was shown the history of the world/plan of salvation just as Moses, Nephi, Enoch, and countless others who would have and did believe based on lesser manifestations.

    I am intrigued though that you say the Spirit has manifested itself to you audibly. Forgive my ignorance, was it physically audible, or was it a mental/spiritual experience?

  28. #22, 23, 24, 25

    Cowboy asked some specific questions. Red liked the questions Cowboy asked. Margaret referred to “template testimony”.

    Cowboy asked some excellent questions. I think he wants to know details so he can determine if I am sharing a “template testimony” like Margaret referred too.

    In my mind a template testimony is one that is heard in our testimony meetings on occasion, and the impression left is “zeal without knowledge”; to borrow a phrase from Bro Hugh Nibley. A testimony given that exceeds our actual experience with the things of the Spirit is disingenuous, as is a testimony that is less than we have experienced.

    My experience with the things of the Spirit includes impressions and comfort as Cowboy mentions, in addition to these experiences, the Lord as answered my prayers by visions, dreams, and ministering angels (unseen, but heard, this includes angels from God and satan). Spiritual experiences as I have been given remove doubt and uncertainty—utterly and completely! The claims of the restoration of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith are true.

    I have not been promised eternal life, yet, but I have experienced all that is taught in 2 Nephi 31:13-21.

    With that background I will answer yes, to questions 1, 2, and 4.

    I hope with all my heart I can endure to the end and be found a joint-heir with Christ.

    I want to keep this short. If anyone wants to read a more complete testimony click my name and read Jared’s testimony.

  29. The Token Average Member says:

    I think our young people look elsewhere because there is more going on in other churches. They have food pantries, vacation bible school and worship services with rock music. I know those things can’t take the place of the restored gospel, but there is joy in service and fun in gospel rock.

  30. Thanks, Margaret.

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