Shake It Off. Only sort of like the Taylor Swift kind.
I am about ten years too late to the party, but thanks to my now ten-year-old daughter, I’m a Swiftie. Okay, so maybe I’m channeling the wrong zeitgeist, but the lyric kept swarming around my mind when I attended the recent rededication of the Washington, D.C. temple.
Other than the last minute scramble to get said ten-year old her temporary temple recommend, the event hadn’t really been on my radar. Two days beforehand I’d heard the First Presidency asked everyone to wear masks to the event. Great. Responsible. Maybe that would mean the rededication wouldn’t become a super spreader event. Like now we wouldn’t be in the news next week, “East coast Latter-day Saints all afflicted by same strain of Covid virus.” Awesome, masked up and ready to go. Even local leadership got on board and our stake presidency sent a mask reminder email. Cool. All will be well in the greater D.C. Zion area.
I got to the event and throughout the meetinghouse people were NOT wearing masks. Ok, I told myself. This is not the spiritual hill you want to die on. Again. Focus on the event, the rededication of a place that already brings complicated feelings for me when I attend, but where I want to go to try and feel greater peace. Feel closer to my Heavenly Parents. Literally shaking my head, I set the mask frustrations aside (again) and tried to focus.
We had to be in our seats a half an hour before the event started so I had a lot of time to ponder. Honestly, I had some good internal reflection. Right around the time my ten-year-old was about to lose her sanity, sliding up and down the chair twiddling her thumbs, the meeting began. Phew.
President Nelson was presiding, a couple of other male General Authorities sat up on the stand, and at the end of the row was Sis. Amy Wright from the General Primary Presidency. Everyone white. I shook my head at the tokenism and set my slowly creeping frustrations aside (again) and tried to focus on the significance of the event.
The diverse (no, for real) choir sang and it was beautiful. Living close to D.C. I have attended various D.C. wards on many occasions. I have attended temple sessions at the D.C. temple on many occasions. Those sessions, those meetings, those sabbath day worship services are about as diverse a gathering of Saints as you can get in our global, yet often peculiarly homogenous church. The choir sang a song with verses in English and Spanish and it gave me chills. When they reverted to English, I thought, what if they’d kept going and sang all four or five verses in multiple languages? How reflective and powerful would that have been? As they were singing and I felt the Spirit, I literally had the thought, “This is the community of disciples I seek. Stop judging. Stop requiring so much of your fellow Saints. We are all trying to build closer relationships with Christ and we are all approaching our Heavenly Parents with a desire to love more, do more, be more to help our fellow women and men. Let some things go.”
As these warm thoughts and fuzzy feelings started to fill my entire body, and I was ready to re-up in the cause of righteousness, insert the next two (may I say seemingly-extremely-random to me) speakers.
They were asked to bear their testimonies of…temple work? Of Christ? Of the Plan of Salvation? I wasn’t quite clear about the assignment based on their remarks. My celestial facing sense of peace was immediately jarred and I was spun around to my worldly sense of frustration. These two white male speakers testified of families and miracles but it felt so couched in privilege (talking about their summer house and their almost failing but-thankfully rescued multi billion dollar business), it was difficult for me to hear their words and feel the Spirit. It was this hard right turn in the program that had me shaking my head, wondering where to face. (Again.) I once again reminded myself to shake it off, focus on what you can get from the meeting, and try to connect with God.
The temple matron and Sis. Wright closed the meeting with talks that reignited me and filled me with the Spirit. They reminded me of our purpose in turning our lives to God and helping us fill a Christ-type role in the lives of others. Be someone who can help and serve and rescue others and be rescued by others. I got goosebumps and I shed a tear or two in closeness to God rather than in frustration. President Nelson also spoke about how the temple covenants are not perfected yet. He said they change and are tweaked and will continue to be tweaked until they are perfect and Christ will come again. That concept actually gave me a fresh charge to continue and stay on my course. For me, those covenants won’t be perfect until EVERYONE who wants to go to the temple can go. I felt hopeful that there’s still time for exclusionary temple practices to be made right and whole. Now, perfect to me maybe isn’t what President Nelson believes to be perfect, but I am okay with that. We all have different versions of perfection. I am going to work towards mine.
Ultimately, I was grateful I went. I was reminded that my search for greater light and knowledge, clearer eyes to see and a heart to better understand God isn’t achieved in one meeting. And while I can, I have a voice to speak for the voiceless in a space where I believe everyone should be able to access God. I will continue to speak and use my voice, hopefully, for change. I know for me there is space for seemingly mutually exclusive feelings to be held in the one place. I can’t let what I believe to be the failings of current faith traditions stymie my relationship with my Heavenly Parents and my desire to have Christ-like love for everyone. And you can darn well bet I am going to speak up when those practices impede a relationship with God for others as well. The complication of holding opposing emotions in one place is a privilege and a curse but it is something that has defined my relationship with God since I was a young teenager. Finding peace in the middle of love and anger. Building my testimony on the gaps in between. Dissecting and trying to understand these powerful intersections of ideology and emotion is the lens through which I see and explain the world. Struggling to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, I seek to be a voice who stays, even in times of dissension, to grow my own personal discipleship as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that both God and I are okay with settling on.