Monday, September 12, 2011

On Change

I’ve talked before about the great and inspiring leadership team I have the opportunity to serve with here in San Francisco. This talk was delivered on Saturday, September 10th here in the Bay Area. The speaker—and the author—were Matt Mosman of the San Francisco Stake High Council (shared with his permission, of course). I am pleased to call him a member of my leadership team, but, I think, more pleased to call him a friend. And while I could *tell* you how amazing and inspiring I find him, I think it would be more effective to *show* you. His words do his spirit and testimony a justice mine never could.

 On Change
Matt Mosman
I want to thank you for this opportunity to speak.  As I’ve mentioned several times before, I really don’t get any great joy from giving a talk, but I really do love preparing them.  It gives me a chance to put some thoughts down in a more organized way than they tend to be naturally in my mind, and so I tend to learn something every time I prepare something. 
So, thanks.

Just so we don't dive right in without you knowing anything at all about me: I grew up in the northern Idaho panhandle, but I’ve lived now for over 15 years in San Mateo and am a member of the Crystal Springs 2nd ward.  I went to BYU for both undergraduate and grad school.  My current church responsibility is as a high councilor in the San Francisco Stake, and my particular responsibility there is for the Bay Ward.  I am the father of four sons, two of whom are married, and stepfather of two more, and I am a grandfather of three, with the family’s first girl arriving only a few weeks ago.  I work in high tech.  Like some of you, I am a divorcee; I remarried not quite three years ago.  I was a terrible bachelor.  The fact that I’m alive today is attributable primarily to General Mills.  Thank heaven they vitamin-fortify Cocoa Puffs.

Now I said that I like writing talks, but I have to admit that I’m still puzzled every time anyone asks me to share some thoughts with them.  I mean, I’m going to end up giving six or seven talks every year as a high councilor, and that’s fine; but to actually request some of my thoughts, when you actually had the opportunity for it to be someone else...that doesn’t make any sense to me.

I was telling that to my mother, and she suggested that the reason someone might ask to hear my thoughts is because I tend to view almost everything from an off angle: My first-grade teacher told her that “Matt is either going to be brilliant or weird, or maybe both.”

But my tendency to view things a little askew, while it may lead to an occasional insight, is also precisely the reason that it puzzles me when someone voluntarily wants to hear what is inside of my head.  Because...let me give you an example:

Thursday morning I woke up to take my son Riley to seminary.  It was well before 6am, the house was dark, and as I was putting some shoes on I was looking at our dog, Barry, who was sleeping in a dog crate next to me.

(As an aside, that might tell you everything you need to know: I’m the kind of guy who names his dog Barry.  And if I get another, I plan to name him either Phil or Brad.)

Anyway, I’m looking at Barry, and this is the thought that enters my head: “I wonder if Barry takes a moment when he wakes up in the morning to gather his thoughts, or if he just commences with being a dog?”

I’m not stupid.  I understand that there’s something...well, off...about thinking that.  But I share it to help you understand why I’m puzzled whenever someone wants me to actually reach inside of my head and pull something out.  I mean, I don’t even want to hear half the stuff that goes on in there.  I can’t imagine why anyone else would.

In any case, it’s a tremendous honor to share this day with Sister Carter and Elder Carmack.  I’ll say this about Sister Carter: If I were to rank-order all the people I know just based on how awesome I think they are, she would be the first person on my list that’s not a member of my family.

The topic of the conference is “Change, Achieve, Become,” and I want to focus on just one aspect of that: Change.  If you’re anything like me, you need to change, so let’s spend half an hour talking about that.

For the purpose of this little discussion, I want to separate the ways that we change into three parts: First, I want to talk about what I’ll call “adjustment.”  Next, we’ll discuss wholesale change, the kind that comes all at once.  And finally, we’ll talk about miracles.

Adjustment is probably the most common way that we move through life, and it’s actually one of the most important.  This is how we mostly become kinder, more compassionate people, and better disciples of Christ.

But while it’s common, I don’t think it’s easy.  We have to be ready to adjust, open to some newness, prepared to hear when a call for adjustment enters our ears.  

In a really fundamental way, the scriptures are the story, over and over again, of people who don’t really want to change but find that they must: Peter would rather not fully accept Gentiles into the new church, but God shows him in a dream that he needs to do just that.  When young Alma heard Abinadi speak with power, he didn’t immediately effect wholesale change; instead, he just asked the king to let Abinadi leave in peace.  And on and on.  The scriptures are the story of us, and they underscore the fact that we don’t like to change, or even to adjust.

But we can’t be afraid of newness in this life: it’s probably good to remember that amateurs built the Ark, and professionals built the Titanic.  We don’t adjust because we’re afraid of being hurt, but you can’t protect yourself from sadness without insulating yourself from happiness.  We have to be open to the kind of small, bit-by-bit adjustments that will make us who we are supposed to be.

I think of my father in this context.  He was a big, gruff man, and one who grew up under truly awful circumstances: his stepfather, whose name was never spoken in my home, mercilessly beat him and his mother, once nearly killing her.  He lived for part of high school out of the back of a car, too ashamed, afraid and embarrassed to go home.  He was a street tough, and most people who knew him as a kid envisioned him spending his adult life in jail.

But a football coach at Boise State gave him a previously unheard-of path to college, and then he met my elegant mother when he transferred to the University of Idaho, and change began to happen.  He graduated from the University of Idaho, then Virginia Medical College, and finally the University of Oregon Law School.  Around the time I was born, he joined the church.

He was still a pretty rough-edged dude when I was young -- my friends were petrified of him, and you for sure didn’t want to leave your coat draped over the banister if he had a bad day at work.  He was a big man, but left a bigger impression.  One of my high school friends remarked that you could be alone in a very large room with him, and yet you would feel as though there were no space left.  He is the only person ever inducted into the state of Idaho’s Hall of Fame purely for his skill as an attorney, and that doesn’t happen unless there is quite a bit of fight in you.

But time, my mother, and the Holy Spirit worked on him over a lifetime: A person who crossed him when I was young would be called an unrepeatable name.  Over time, I think hilariously, that person would be called a “son of a pup.”  And then they were called nothing at all, because he just wasn’t mad anymore.  He became bishop of a student ward at the University of Idaho.  He later became a stake president.  He became, by degrees, softer.  By the time he passed away a few years ago, you would have called him sweet.

That description would have been unimaginable only a few years before, and yet there it is:  My dad was a sweet man.

He became that, not because he made sweeping wholesale change in his life, but just because he kept himself open to the kinds of adjustments that the Lord asks of us all the time.  He learned new things, and he was open to truth.  Sometimes he needed to change his mind, but more often he needed to open his heart just a little bit wider.  And that’s what made the change.

I want to take just a minute and talk for a second about a recent event here in the San Francisco stake, and how it presents us with an opportunity to adjust.

A few Sundays ago Bishop Fletcher (formerly President Fletcher) called a gay man, Mitch Mayne, to be his executive secretary in the Bay Ward.  This decision has gotten news coverage nationwide.

I want to first talk about what this calling is not: this is not a change of any kind in church policy.  At least as early as 2007, Elder Holland explicitly stated that a person who is attracted to members of the same sex, but who is not acting on that attraction, should enjoy every benefit of church membership, including temple activity.  It would be easy to argue, in fact, that this is a policy that has been in place since the church’s inception: any person, no matter what their tendencies, who is living a life in accordance with the gospel’s teachings has always been considered worthy.  

It is also not new: gay men are serving elsewhere in positions of more responsibility than Mitch is, and there is at least one gay man serving as a worker in the Oakland temple.

What may be new, in fact, is only this: Mitch is pretty open about it.  He has written a blog for years about what it is like to be Mormon and gay, and he is about as direct and plain-spoken about his life as anyone you’re likely to meet.  It’s worth noting here, by the way: he is also a wonderful, highly spiritual guy, and I’m almost certain that you’d like him very much.

So it’s not a change.  But while it’s not a change, it may in fact be an adjustment.  

The fight over Proposition 8 definitely hurt our standing with the gay community, but what is more sad (and unthinkable) is that I think it very quietly might also have hurt their standing with us.  For a while there, they were on the opposite side.  They were the enemy.

And I’ve listened over the years to folks in our wards who seem to have forgotten, first, that if Prop 8 was a war, it was a Civil War, pitting brother against brother; and second, that it was a debate over public policy, not over how we treat our gay brothers and sisters.

So how should you adjust?  By opening your arms just a little bit wider, to encircle these brothers and sisters.  They are that, you know.  They are the son or daughter of some Relief Society President in Tempe, AZ who worries about them and wants very much for you to watch over and care for them.  They’ve spent their whole young lives in church; they might have served a mission somewhere, probably honorably.  And life’s been no picnic for them, either.  

Seek them out.  Encourage them to re-join us.  Welcome them with open arms.  And remember that no matter what their current situation, in any case they’ll join a congregation that consists, the last time I checked, of people just like them, all struggling to figure out God’s plan for them and trying their best to follow it..

For some, that will be an adjustment.  But it will be a loving, big-hearted, Christlike adjustment, and those are the best kind.

Next I want to talk about wholesale changes that we sometimes make: those moments when we really see what we are, and we know that we have to just stop.  And start being something else.  

When I think of making wholesale changes, I think of David.

King David was one of the greatest heroes Israel ever had.  He was handsome, the Bible says, with red hair and beautiful eyes.  He was fearless: he is the one who stared down  Goliath and brought him to the ground with a smooth stone.  He was a brilliant strategist and a charismatic leader.  Jerusalem was his idea.  He is the one who made it the capital of Israel and united the whole kingdom.  He was a wonderful poet and a musician.

He was God's anointed one: about David the prophet Samuel told Saul: “the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart,” and in the first book of Kings you can read how he went down in history:
"David did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and did not turn himself aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite."

Ahh, yes: the soldier Uriah, one of the world’s great examples of loyalty.  Unfortunate husband of lovely Bathsheba, whom David happened to see bathing one day while walking on the roof of his palace.  He took one look at her and had to have her.  He sent messengers to bring her to him, and of course he was the king, and what the king wants, the king gets.  Not long afterwards, Bathsheba sent him some hard news: that she was pregnant.  So David developed a plan.

The first thing he tried, in the grand tradition of politics everywhere, was a cover-up.  If he could get Uriah and Bathsheba to spend a romantic weekend together, then perhaps Uriah would believe that the child was his own.  Problem solved.  Only Uriah, a little flummoxed at being called back from the front, refused to go in and see Bathsheba, telling David:
"The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.

David tried this strategy one more time, eating and drinking with Uriah in the hopes that a drunk Uriah would go and see his wife.  But still Uriah refused to go to her.

This messed up David's big idea pretty badly, so he went to Plan B, and believe me when I tell you that Plan B is evidence of just how far and how fast we can fall when our hearts have thoroughly turned from the Lord: He writes to Joab, who was Uriah’s commander, and tells him to put Uriah in the hottest part of the battle, and then withdraw from him so he will be killed.  Plan B, unfortunately, worked just fine.  Uriah was killed, and when her prescribed mourning period was over David married her.

But David had displeased the Lord and barely days after Bathsheba bore a son, Nathan the prophet was knocking at the front door of the palace, sent by God to confront the King.

The way that Nathan confronts David is one of my favorite stories in all scripture: he traps David with a story.  To attack David directly might help the world see what David had done, but to tell him a story might just help David, which is what Nathan wanted.  He wanted to save David’s life -- to help the king see what he had done so that his conscience was revived and his sense of justice restored.  

Because it was a story about someone else, David's guard was down when Nathan told him about the rich man with many flocks and the poor man with nothing but one little ewe lamb.  When he was told that the rich man stole the poor man's little sheep to dress for a fancy dinner, David rushed to the poor man's defense and it was not until he had pronounced a death sentence on the rich man that he found out what he had done.

"Thou art the man," Nathan told him, and it is to David's credit that his heart split in two.  "I have sinned against the Lord," he cried -- not because Nathan had told him so but because he had discovered it for himself, and that was the beginning of him coming back to life again.

What Nathan did was just this: he helped David see himself clearly for the first time in a long time.  David was actually buying into his own nonsense: it would be comical for David to pronounce a death sentence on an ungrateful rich man, if it weren’t so sad.

But in the grand tradition of applying the scriptures to ourselves, I have to ask: are we so much different?  To start with: do you, like David, plan to sin, or are they all accidents?

Let me take this a step further, with an observation: if we polled all of the LDS people who have broken, say, the law of chastity or the Word of Wisdom, and we asked them whether or not the day they first broke it was the first time they ever really thought about it, if they were honest very close to 100% would have to admit that it was not.  It was, in fact, a plan that they had made.  And the same is true for us: we do what we mean to do.  Pretty much period.

If you take nothing else from this talk, let it at least be this: You and I, to a startling degree of precision, are exactly the people we mean to be.  

One of my favorite books, and one I highly recommend to you, is called "A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life," by the 18th-century Anglican cleric William Law.  You can actually find its full text online for free.  In chapter two of that book, he investigates what he calls "why Christians fall so far short of the holiness and devotion of Christianity."  He compares us unfavorably to the martyrs and saints of early Christianity, and then he concludes with this stunning statement:
"Now if you will stop here and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it."

Here I’m going to stop for just a second, and I’m going to read that again, because it is the most important statement in this talk, and one of the most important statements I’ve ever read in my whole life:
“Now if you will stop here and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it.

I wish that were not true, but instead it strikes me as one of the truest things I've ever read.  You and I, my brothers and sisters, day in and day out, are precisely what we intend to be.  If we seem not to be as good or as righteous as we think we should be, there is only one reason: we do not really mean to be.  

Think about that with me, since it applies to everything: I might say that I’d like to weigh thirty pounds less, but the truth is that I don’t.  At least I don’t want that as badly as I want to keep eating the way that I do.  You might say that you want to stop cursing, but the truth is that you like it.  You don’t mean to stop at all, and on the day that you really do, you will.

Wholesale changes come when we either have a Nathan, someone who points out who we really are, or else when we are our own Nathan: when we see on our own how thoroughly we need to change ourselves to line our lives up with what we claim to believe.  I’m hoping that just maybe if we take William Law’s comment to heart, we can see for ourselves who we really are, and we can change.

Finally, brothers and sisters, we can change when God simply plants it in our hearts to change.  We can change through a miracle.

I like to point out that the disciples changed through a miracle.  I think we see the story of their calling wrong: we see Jesus walk up to them and say “Come, follow me,” and they do.  We think of what great faith it must have taken for them to simply drop what was in their hands and follow a stranger.

But I don’t think it was that at all.  Chances are, if you were able to ask the fisherman brothers a few minutes before they saw Jesus for the first time, they’d have told you that they weren’t particularly religious.  They weren’t in Jerusalem, after all, and they were just fishermen.  And in any case, their later actions show that they often didn’t seem to be too familiar with Jewish law.

No, the disciples changed because Jesus planted faith in their hearts.  He made disciples out of almost thin air.  They were the right men, of course, but they were right because they were made right, not because of anything they did.

We can change by miracle, and in fact I think we do, all the time.  Testimony is a miracle, isn’t it?  And what would you call those moments in your life when clarity comes, when you rather suddenly know exactly what to do?  I’d call that a miracle.

What I’d like to make sure that you know about miracles, though, is that sometimes they hide.  Miracles can look like the furthest thing from a miracle until you see them from the distance of years.

Not long ago I was driving by Oracle, where I used to work in a job I loved, with my stepson.  He looked at those beautiful glass towers and asked me why I didn't work there anymore.  I told him a very long story that ended with me having to leave that job and eventually with great sadness end my marriage, and he said, "That's a bummer."  But then I said, "If I still worked there I would never have met your mother," and believe me when I tell you that meeting his mother has been a blessing beyond imagining.  The path I took toward that blessing is not one I would have chosen, but it is also one I would not trade.  I may have been stumbling, but I stumbled directly into happiness.

There were a few years that looked to me in the moment like a total disaster, but you know what they say: if you pray for a Mercedes, and God sends you a donkey...ride it.

Those years now look to me like a tremendous blessing.  A miracle.  Has it changed me? Tremendously, and all for the good.  

Brothers and sisters, being open to change -- and I mean, opening yourself up very wide and practically begging to be changed -- is a critical gospel principle.  You simply cannot become the person you need to be by remaining the person you are.

You’ve heard of The Serenity Prayer?  My hope for you and I is that we can put it in our hearts with this little adjustment:  “God grant me the serenity to accept the people that I cannot change, the courage to change the one that I can, and the wisdom to know that it’s me.”

In the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.


  1. Thank you for posting this talk, Mitch. I am gaining more understanding from reading your blog. I think I am changing.

  2. hi, i read your story on

    i'm mormon and i've repeatedly had people around me, even close friends, assume i'm prejudice or intolerant of gay people. i really liked that you said you didn't want tolerance or acceptance, that you want respect.
    i respect you for being willing to share your story & help make a change. thank you.
    i think you will help many mormon & non-mormons open their hearts to each other.

  3. What an amazing, honest talk. There are so many levels on which it is difficult to feel comfortable with who you are in a culture with such high expectations for certain behavior. And for me, this has not to do with sexual orientation, but just what is expected of a faithful Mormon woman. It must be just that much more difficult in your situation. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Thank you for this blog. It brings me closer to our savior when I read it, and that is a blessing. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for posting this talk. It serves as motivation to me, a straight LDS man in the sometimes closed minded society of Salt Lake, to not only reach out to my gay brothers and sisters, but to actively become involved in their affairs in the community. I have several gay friends (some that have been very close friends), most of whom grew up in the LDS Church, only to become not only ostracized, but bitter towards the church. I'm so grateful for some of the people (including yourself) that have stepped up to bridge the gap. People like Carol Lynn Pearson (and her amazing book, "NO MORE GOODBYES", which I think should be required reading, not only for LDS people, but all humankind. And Mitch, I'm thankful for people like you... people that were born a little different than me, but people that don't turn to hate when so many of us can be "ignorant". The fact that you can be so open and honest, in addition to doing your best to make it through this little adventure called "mortality", is deeply moving to me. Keep up the good work.