When the Roads Part

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Jaxon Washburn is a friend of BCC and student at Arizona State University.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  -The Gospel According to Matthew

Every so often, I experience a combination of impressions and emotions that swirl in such a way to produce a distinct state of mind, but I feel unable to describe them with a single word. Sonder falls in this category.

Sonder is a neologism originated on The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows in 2012.  It is defined as:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”

I have friends and family at varying places when it comes to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some have left entirely, on peaceful or still painful terms.  Others maintain a negotiated relationship with its share of bitter and sweet.  Still others continue in full-force orthodoxy.  

I have come to realize that just because fellow church members may have had similar backgrounds and upbringings, such will not guarantee that they will respond to information in the same way.  Take the Gospel Topics Essays. Though they were published by the Church in the hopes of bringing additional transparency and official responses to historically controversial issues, the essays by no means represent a perfect set of bandages. There are members who aren’t aware that they exist. There are members who have read them without their faith being affected.  But for others, reading about disavowals of past racism, of the complicated history of plural marriage, or the nebulous meaning of the word “translation” dramatically shakes their worldviews.

We could all stand to give more validity to these varied faith experiences.

Thoughtful people exposed to the same information reach different conclusions.  Perhaps in this sense, President Dallin H. Oaks is right in saying, “…research is not the answer.”

Being so assured of my own views at times, I admit it can be difficult for me to comprehend how others could conclude differently when presented with the same data. I know it happens, and it makes me experience a state comparable to sonder.  This realization leaves me humbled and increases my desire to foster open, respectful conversation as often as I can.

I’d like to believe that a loving God had this reality in mind when crafting a Plan for us to return to our heavenly home.  His Plan must account for the billions of individual lives, all of them with varied experiences.  There are times where I, perhaps like Moses, have a sense of cosmic expanse flash through my mind for the briefest of moments.  It leaves me questioning my own place in the universe. In such a tumult of words and opinions, experiences and truths, how can I have confidence in any of my conclusions?  I can’t. I can’t escape the trap of my own subjectivity. None of us fully can.

I often experience sorrow because I feel like Zion’s borders are shrinking.  I’m trying to respond by doing the best at living like Christ as I am able.   Zion’s boundaries shouldn’t be measured on trivial markers such as activity rates, membership records, or even association with a particular faith. Rather, Zion is where the pure in heart dwell; those who strive to live in unity with each other. Such unity doesn’t entail the erasure of differences in experience or identity.  Such unity can be strengthened through disagreement.  A Zion people is able to live peaceably with one another, because their foundation rests on charity rather than on being right.

Accepting these principles has given me comfort in life’s changing circumstances.  When roads part, I try to walk where the Spirit guides me.  And if fellow pilgrims choose another way, I trust that is where the Spirit has guided them.

*Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Tyler Lewis says:

    Great article Jaxon, thanks for sharing! I often feel the same way. I recently decided to write down my testimony, and I divided it into 4 sections: 1) my pillars of truth, 2) my articles of faith, 3) things I don’t understand, and 4) things I don’t believe. Under section three, I included this point: “I don’t understand why some honest seekers of truth are led toward the Church and some are led elsewhere, but I acknowledge and respect both paths. My role is to love everyone and not to judge.” So I really appreciate your last paragraph there, because I’ve come to the same conclusion.

  2. I’ve been reading BCC for a long time, and like everywhere it’s content ebbs and flows from my attention. I really appreciated your post. You stated many of my feelings elegantly. Perhaps that is why I consider this one of my favorites. Thank you!

  3. This is really an excellent post. Thanks.

  4. Todd Erickson says:

    Thanks for sharing. You expressed many similar thoughts I’ve had.

  5. Ryan Mullen says:

    Great post, Jaxon. I’m curious if you’ve had any success dialoguing with those who think that the church will be weakened the more we give “validity to these varied faith experiences.”