I have a quiet place, my own little wilderness. Well, its not mine, its publicly accessible land, but nobody goes there. If I want to hike for a few moments of therapy, meditation, and pray, I know that I can enjoy some solitude and experience intriguing landscape not far from home.
The problem with my little wilderness is that it has power lines running through it.
Not just a couple of wires to some old pump house, but high-voltage cables, supported by massive structures that scar the landscape with their concrete bases, guy lines, and legacy access roads. To make matters worse, in the fog, rain, and snow, they crackle and hiss, disturbing the otherwise peaceful, natural environment.
When I first started going there, I lamented my pitiful circumstances in having no better place. Nevertheless, I slowly began to appreciate it. Not in spite of the power lines, but because of them.
For one, they acted as a kind of deterrent that kept other people away, preserving the subtle beauty in the deep, hidden draws.
Secondly, I began to appreciate the impact of those high-voltage power lines, because their presence allowed for the demonstration of another principle: Nature has a remarkable ability to recover, claiming the scars as its own. In the words of the fictional Dr. Ian Malcom of Jurassic Park: “Life, uh, finds a way.”
(From the Audience) “That was cheesy. What’s your point?”
My point is this, our ideals often spoil our experiences.
We construct a narrative with respect to religion or God that we find comforting, faith affirming, and beautiful. We expect the church to ‘be peaceful, its history clean, the members friendly, and the leaders perfect representatives of godliness. We set bounds and expectations on God and what his church can and cannot do. But reality bites and it often bites hard.
Inconsistencies between our ideal and reality don’t make sense and can cause distress (cognitive dissonance). God can do no wrong, so if we see anything we think is wrong, then it must not be of God.
Consequently, like the power lines through my wilderness, the faults in the church and its people can overwhelm the beauty of our faith.
He Only Has Us
Since day six of creation, women and men have been the agents of God on this earth and we generally make a horrible mess of it. Life on earth is brutal and some errors are indeed horrible and damaging, even evil.
A shallow observer only sees the blight, but a cautious observer may have cause to wonder as they see life restored where men and women have trampled. In spite of the mess (or maybe because of it) God makes things grow.
There is an oft quoted verse that you may be familiar with:
Condemn me not because of mine imperfection,
neither my father, because of his imperfection,
neither them who have written before him;
give thanks unto God
that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections,
that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.
The Apostle Paul has a similar lament, Romans 7:14-15. ( I like the poetic sound of the KJV.)
For we know that the law is spiritual:
but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do
I allow not:
for what I would,
that do I not;
but what I hate,
that do I.
We may think that these excuses only apply to little, personal sins. But, the little habits and quirks of personality are amplified to affect millions of people when the same person is in a position of influence or authority.
There are real problems in any faith tradition that has been around for for more than a few years; its just a matter of time before someone messes up. The impact of these problems can only be overcome as we educate ourselves, expand our view, and allow for the work of God to overgrow the scars of human mistakes.
So, when your faith is lacking “seek ye diligently … words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books” (D&C 88:118).
Educating ourselves on gospel principles as well as culture, context, and intent can help restore a healthy perspective. This takes time and requires conscious effort.
Finally, it is our challenge to look with mercy and love on those in the present and also those in the past; respecting their honest intent even if we disagree with their methods or see hurtful results. Because, if we let Him, “[God], uh, finds a way” even within ourselves.
Do you allow the messiness in your church to overcome your faith?