Tuesday, 25 May 2021

When Saul comes to church...


Saul on the road to Damascus

As Latter Day Saints we love a great redemptive arc, Saul on the Road to Damascus & Alma the Younger are some of our most beloved stories. We use these as examples to our youth who have strayed, but in our modern everyday world we find it easy to apply these principles to those who have become habitual drug users and repented. To the alcoholic who found sobriety, to the fornicator who found chastity. And let us not forget that rare find the "anitmormon" who gains a testimony of the Book of Mormon and becomes it great advocate. But what happens when a member of our ward is accused of having dabbled with true evil before his conversion? How do we react when we discover that good guy Paul used to be Saul? My ward had to face that very issue the past few weeks.

About 4 years ago the missionaries approached me to help teach a young man, he was very intelligent and had questions they thought I could help with. He was taught, baptised and his testimony grew, and as with most new members he stumbled after his baptism. Transgressions were committed and repentance sought. He got a new job with the police, and unfortunately his working hours made it very difficult to attend church, and that distance didn't help his spiritual journey. He still came to mine regularly, his desire to remain on the covenant path increased as he felt the Spirit and he started putting in greater effort to put those things right in his life. His church attendance remained sporadic due to his work but he became much loved in our congregation and loved them as much in return.

Then last year his world collapsed around him, activities he had been involved in prior to joining the church had been discovered and resulted in the police knocking on his doors at an ungodly hour, seizing his computer, and dragging his sorry arse down to the station.

You see when he was 16/17 he had become with intrigued in far right ideologies, as an undiagnosed autistic youth he then dived down a rabbit hole that would take him far from Wonderland. Mistakes were made. He managed to extricate himself from the group, met the missionaries, found the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and after being on a very dangerous knife edge managed to change his direction. He decided to join the police and do something constructive with his life and a box that the authorities say should've been ticked yes was ticked no, this is the mistake that would explode his world. After an investigation that lasted a year, the Crown Court heard his case and he was convicted of being a terrorist, and the press went to town. Of course the narrative of a young lad who screwed up, had started to turn his life around and was now facing the consequences of that past wouldn't sell papers, but portraying him as the next Hitler definitely would. And that was the story that was broadcast on the 6 o'clock news and all over their websites. This narrative would the first that most of his ward family would read. 

They'd just found out that they guy the knew as Paul used to be Saul. My ward is a very multicultural ward, in fact I am one of only a tiny handful of white people that attend, discovering Ben's past was a lot to deal with. Complex emotions ran through the ward, was church safe? Their christianity was tested in very real terms, they learnt to love without judgement. They applied their knowledge that the atonement was truly infinite, that no-one was beyond Christ's sacrifice. None of them have had the opportunity to talk to Ben, to hear his story, a few have been able to hear it from me. They have had to weigh up the man they know now to the boy he was then, and there has been an out pouring of love.

Yesterday I had my first ever prison ministry visit. I spent a day in prison and felt like I had been to the temple. I was able to meet with him in their chapel and we shared, taught and testified. I know there is a purpose in this, it seems unjust that a few pub meets and a bit of graffiti should result in this sentence, but God's hand is in all things. I shared with Ben that as he took this time to develop a closer bond to God and as he committed to living good Christlike principles that he would be a tool for God to help others come home. That there are people in that prison who are seeking God's love and he can be God's instrument in finding them.

What would we do if Saul walked into church? Well in my little corner of the world I am glad to say...he would be loved!

Friday, 3 July 2020

My Mum, The Great Advocate

Mum, Dad and Brothers

So a couple of weeks ago I went round my brother's house for a BBQ and I asked him if mum had been ok with them saying the Lord's Prayer at school, to which he said she had no problem with it an had often said she liked hearing it being sung. Now the reason I asked this was because when we had been planning her LDS funeral service he (a nonmember) wanted the Lords Prayer as the closing prayer. I asked him if it was important to him? He replied it was, it was done. At the time my mind went back to all the times my mum had gone to war with a certain headteacher at school because I refused to say it as a prayer, because as LDS we don't say rote prayers nor generally recognise the Lord's Prayer as a prayer but rather a template on how to pray. That even though she raised my brothers outside of the faith I expected that to have still been a stalwart of her spiritual guidance to them, to hear she enjoyed it blew me away some. Tonight I've been pondering why there would be such a difference.

As I've pondering my childhood I remember her teaching we don't say rote prayers but pray from the heart, but I don't ever actually remember her telling me not to join in at school. What I do remember is being in my first assembly, it happening and deciding that I didn't want to join so standing their silently while the others did. I remember being spoken to by the teacher after and I explained my stance. I remember mum having a meeting with the headmistress, who reaffirmed my stance, no he didn't nee to leave assembly, no need for a fuss, just let him stand there and be silent. Everything was fine.

When I was 10 I changed school and my new headmistress was adamant I would join in. My mum went to war, I dug my heels in, always just being respectfully silent, and was a constant unresolved tension at the school until I graduated to Secondary School. Tonight I realised, my mum had never taught me that. What Had happened is I had made a decision about what was acceptable to my religious beliefs and my mum had backed me up. When I changed schools all she had to do to end the tension was say to me "look, they're just singing it and sing it as a song and not a prayer" or "just recite it like you would as if you were reading it as scripture and then it's not a prayer" and all that tension would have ended. And I'm sure she would have done if I has asked her about it. But she had seen that I had made a decision about where I stood on something important to me, and silently and respectfully kept to my principle, without stepping on the rights of others freedom to express their religion, and by God she was going to advocate for my right to do that.

I was tonight years old when I realised one of the first lessons my mother ever taught me was, even if I don't see it the same as you I will stand  by your right to believe that and not try to change you.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Do you hear the people sing?

So we'll often sit there and watch the news watching East Germans bring down the Berlin,  Romanians toppling Ceausescu, you may even have watched Independence Sq in Kiev cheering on those fighting fo their freedoms. We see opposed people all over the world fighting for their right to be heard. We like to think "if I was there I would be fighting with them" It's easy to sit there as sofa  warriors and make those claims, but now, today, it's happening in a major 1st world super power. We have ignored and dismissed the oppression faced by people of colour in the United States for too long. My good friends Dillon Hutchins and Bryan Tautfest got off their sofa and marched through Los Angeles, no longer sofa warriors they documented their experience. 3 hours of no violence, then the police showed up. No more words, just pictures.