Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Backhanded complement

I recently submitted a short film to a festival organized by a friend of mine. This friend is quite a character and a "former Mormon"--that is he stopped going to Church and never went back.

After I gave him the DVD with my film, he said to me, "Joe, we need to talk. I've been meaning to ask you something and we simply must have this conversation."

"Okay," I said and took a seat.

"Joe, I'm blown away that you're a Mormon. You're so open-minded."

It was an interesting thing to hear. I was both complemented and insulted at the same time--I took no offense, mind you--complemented for being open-minded and insulted at the idea that being a Mormon means one can't have an open mind.

I understand the perception based on the predominant culture in the region--and perhaps to a degree throughout the Church--the image of the prim and proper Mormon who doesn't consort with non-members, refuses to even socialize with anyone who consumes substances frowned upon in the Word of Wisdom and restricts their media consumption to books, television programming, magazines and movies to a limited catalogue of titles that can be described as "wholesome," "family friendly" and "bland."

I do not fit into that mold and my friend recognized this. Many of my closest friends are not LDS, they drink beer and wine socially while I imbibe soda while enjoying their company, some of them smoke--something I got used to being around during my years in the military--and we often discuss our favorite books, television programs and movies that we mutually appreciate for their artistic merit regardless of their MPAA rating or target demographic.

I was glad to hear my friend complement me for being open-minded but I want him and others to understand that I try to have an open mind because of my faith, not in spite of it.

It is through the gospel of Christ that I learned to be friends with others outside of my faith. It's through the teachings of the Church that I learned to seek out truth and knowledge through reading books written by a wide variety of authors from equally disparate backgrounds. It's through the counsel of the prophets that I learned to enjoy the arts in their many forms, especially film and theater.

To quote Brigham Young:
...it is our privilege and our duty to scan all the works of man from the days of Adam until now, and thereby learn what man was made for, what he is capable of performing, and how far his wisdom can reach into the heavens, and to know the evil and the good.

It is written in the Scriptures, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Is there an evil thing upon the earth that he does not fully understand? There is not…. The Lord understands the evil and the good; why should we not likewise understand them? We should. Why? To know how to choose the good and refuse the evil; which we cannot do, unless we understand the evil as well as the good. I do not wish to convey the idea that it is necessary to commit evil in order to obtain this knowledge.

Upon the stage of a theatre can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it.

The Lord knows all things; man should know all things pertaining to this life, and to obtain this knowledge it is right that he should use every feasible means; and I do not hesitate to say that the stage can, in a great degree, be made to subserve this end. It is written, “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” Refuse evil, choose good, hate iniquity, love truth...(emphasis added)--Journal of Discourses 9:242-243
I'm often disappointed when I hear former members of the Church tell stories about losing their faith because they felt that they couldn't reconcile being intellectuals or artists with Church membership without compromising their intellectual and artistic integrity. They often felt pressured to limit their expression and filter it through a cultural paradigm that in the end has little if anything to do with the Gospel.

I've felt this pressure to conform to this imaginary ideal as well and I've discovered that I need not compromise myself intellectually or artistically to enjoy full fellowship in the Church and, most importantly, the comfort and companionship of the Holy Spirit. Are there some members that get their collective panties in a wad over opinions that I might express, art that I might like or stories that I choose to tell? Yes, and the problem is theirs and theirs alone.

God is the source of all inspiration, inside and outside of the Church. Be it the revelations he gives to our Church leaders in their stewardship to the special witness he gives to an investigator. He also inspires scientists and artists in every field from every faith--even those who might deny that He exists, God works through and inspires them as well. As such, God is the source of my talents. God is who inspires me to do what I do. To paraphrase Anne Lamott, creativity is God's gift to us; using our creativity is our gift back to God.

If there is anything I can say to those artists and intellectuals who may have left the Church over such disappointing circumstances, it's this: Come back. God appreciates who you are and you need not concern yourselves with those who choose to live lives bereft of intellectual and artistic expression. Such talents and gifts from our Heavenly Father help us to serve and to teach others. If others choose to bury their heads in the sand for cultural reasons, they are only depriving themselves. We need not deprive ourselves of the blessings of the Gospel over someone else's failure to embrace the counsel of open-mindedness that is necessary for our eternal progression. Indeed, they are only putting themselves at a gross disadvantage.

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