Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fresh Courage Take

The summer after my junior year I began taking piano lessons with a well-known piano teacher in our community. She had completed a master's and PHd in choral conducting and was highly regarded for training many of the finest pianists in the state. Every time I went to my lessons with her, I was greeted with her warm smile and a hearty laugh. Bonnie inspired me in so many ways. She was dedicated to her faith. She frequently quoted her favorite scriptures, including 2nd Nephi 31:20. She would always remind me that we needed to just press forward with steadfast faith in Christ. Beyond her love for the gospel and the scriptures, she loved the spiritual beauty found in music.

After studying with her for some time, I told her that I wanted to learn a piece to play in sacrament meeting. I brought several pieces that I thought I would like to work on, but none of them seemed exactly right. After playing one piece that she was not particularly thrilled with, she told me to wait while she went to find a piece of music that she thought might be a good choice. When she came back to the piano, she brought back several large sheets of worn paper. I read the title, "Come, Come Ye Saints: Favorite Mormon Hymn."

What was the story behind this hand-written piece of music? When Bonnie was a little girl growing up in Star Valley, Wyoming, she had a piano teacher come into the valley every so often to teach students. Bonnie's family couldn't afford to pay for lessons, but her mother would always cook him a big meal to make it worth his time. This teacher saw great talent in Bonnie, his star pupil. When she was a 10 years old, he arranged this piece for her.

I spent several weeks working on the piece. The technical difficulty was compounded by the difficulty of reading a hand-written piece of music. Bonnie coached me to feel the emotional impact of the piece and to make others feel it as well. She asked me to remember the suffering of those courageous pioneers who crossed the plains, leaving behind so much. Some left behind the comforts of home. Others left behind beloved family and friends. I thought of the story of one of my ancestors who, upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, began to cry and told her mother that she wanted to return to Philadelphia.

Today I have been reflecting on the announcement that John Dehlin, a prominent Mormon LGBT ally and founder of Mormon Stories, along with Kate Kelly, one of the founders of Ordain Women, have both been summoned for possible disciplinary action. My friend texted me the news. After I read the article in the New York Times, I sat in my car and held back tears. How could my Church be pushing out people that are trying to make it more comfortable for people like me? John Dehlin asks tough questions about Mormon history and culture. Kate Kelly has asked questions about the nature of the priesthood and women's roles in the Church. I think of them, and all my other less-traditional Mormon friends, as my brothers and sisters in the gospel. These are people that I need in the Church. I need people who ask the questions that others fear to ask. I need the people who dare to stand up for what they believe in.

Many of us feel hurt. Many of us feel betrayed. Some of us even feel angry. As I have reflected on what to say in light of this particular circumstance, my mind continues to return to the words of that "Favorite Mormon Hymn" that I have played on many occasions.

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

Kate and John have done courageous things. They left behind the comforts of a traditional Mormon existence to ask difficult questions. Like our Mormon forebears, they left behind their "Philadelphia" and embraced a dangerous journey. As they have began to sojourn through the wilderness, they have encountered difficulties. Their actions have not always been approved by all the members of our faith. I believe, however, that they have attempted to follow the Spirit and the will of Our Heavenly Parents for them as they have worked to encourage positive changes and open dialogue. No matter the outcome, I think that both John and Kate would encourage us to "Gird up our loins; fresh courage take." Their vision of an inclusive Mormonism does not die if they are excommunicated. Their hopes for a more welcoming place for those who doubt or fear are not in vain if they are no longer members of record. There are those among us who hope for the Church that we love. There are those of us who will fight for our Church. And while I hope and pray that they are allowed to stay in the Church, if that is what they desire, I also know that their vision cannot and, indeed, will not be forgotten.

I cannot say what it means to "gird up our loins" or "fresh courage take." For some people who have heard this news, they might be led out of the Church. For others, they might distance themselves from the Church. I respect the journeys of those individuals and realize that they are "girding up their loins" and showing courage. Their respective journeys are to be respected and validated. I hope that these individuals find the peace that they seek.

As an adult, the Church has never been easy for me. As I have struggled to reconcile my personal beliefs and testimony with the framework of the Church, I have felt a great deal of pain. And just when I think that the pain will end, more pain seems to follow. This painful event, along with several other happenings in the past week, have made me reflect on my relationship with Mormonism. What can I do to follow the advice in this beloved Mormon hymn? Why do Our Heavenly Parents keep telling me to forgive and have patience? While I cannot speak for others (and I will not attempt to do so), I know what I must do to do what Our Heavenly Parents want.  I can't give up on my faith because of the imperfections of our leaders who have decided to take these actions. I can't retreat because it hurts right now.  This is the place where I can build love. Beyond this calling I feel that I have received, I have a deep testimony of Our Heavenly Parents and of Their plan for us. I have faith in the power of our Mormon community to help and heal one another. John and Kate have a vision for Mormonism. I am not about to let their vision for Mormonism die. And so, like my Mormon pioneer ancestors, I am going to gird up my loins and take that fresh courage and press forward, with steadfast faith in Our Heavenly Parents.

So, John and Kate and all those hurt, angered, or devastated by this news, remember what our ancestors said. Fresh courage take, our God will never us forsake. And neither will I.