Monday, March 11, 2013

"You can't sit with us!" Mean Girls, Mormons, and the Message of our Savior

"You can't sit with us!"
Mean Girls, Mormons, and the Message of our Savior 

A talk I delivered to the Bay Ward on Sunday, March 10, 2013. Enjoy. 

Eighteen months ago, when Bishop Fletcher first asked me to serve in this calling, I told him one of the side benefits he’d get from having me as his executive secretary was a cache of bizarre information based on my rather embarrassing obsession with pop culture. He looked at me with his ever-present smile, and simply said, “Great!” And I’m sure he didn’t really expect for me actually find use for my mindless fixation in spiritual matters, but I do believe inspiration often comes to us through the most unlikely sources—and so it is with my talk today.

One of my guilty pleasures is the movie, “Mean Girls.” If you haven’t seen it, I’ll sum it up for you.

It’s the story of a group of beautiful, popular high school girls, and how they go about stepping on one another and their fellows to reach higher and higher levels of admiration within their high school circle.

In one of the scenes, four of the girls are gathered for lunch—three of them very well dressed and well groomed. The fourth, however, is wearing sweats. Apparently to be in the “Mean Girls” click, you can only wear sweats on Thursday—but this was a Monday. As the girl in sweats—Regina George—sat down, one of the other girls pointed out to her that according to the rules, if you wore sweats on any day other than Thursday, you weren’t allowed to sit at the popular table.

Regina’s reply was full of shame. Her eyes cast downward, she said meekly, “I’ve put on weight…sweats are the only thing that fits me right now.” 

“You can’t sit with us!” hissed one of the girls angrily—unified with the other two, and indicating that there was no room at the popular table for Regina that day. And with that, Regina quietly picked up her tray and left to sit alone.

Now, even though Regina was the meanest of the “Mean Girls,” I don’t think there’s a human out there that wouldn’t feel a little pinch of pain watching Regina be cast out from amongst a group of girls who were supposed to be her friends.

So how does this pop-culture reference apply to us as Mormons? Well, as Mormons, we believe ourselves to be disciples to our Savior, and emissaries of His unconditional love for all our brothers and sisters. Yet, we’re also very human—and sometimes, we end up being a little bit like the character in “Mean Girls,” and subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) telling others, “You can’t sit with us!”

I’ll confess right here—I think of myself in this context. I like to think of myself as a pretty enlightened guy—growing up as a gay Mormon, from a divorced family with an active alcoholic parent in a small town in Idaho taught me a lot about what it means to feel like I’m on the outside looking in.

Yet, in my weakest and most human moments, I can find myself turning into one of the "Mean Girls"—being quick to condemn someone who’s different, and slow to show them the kind of love and inclusion my Savior would.

And sometimes I find myself justifying my own bad behavior—and there are two words I hear myself say that often signal I am doing just that. Those words are, “Yes, but.”

“Yes, but…she doesn’t obey the word of wisdom.”

“Yes, but…he’s not married.”

“Yes but…he doesn’t have a temple recommendation.”

“Yes, but…she’s wearing sweats on Monday.”

What we’re actually doing when we use words like “Yes, but” to justify our own bad behavior, is essentially adding an asterisk to our Savior’s command to love one another. That commandment was pretty simple, and pretty clear. It didn’t say “Love only the people who have the same color skin as you,” or “Love only the people who have the same political leanings,” or “Love only the people whose behavior, clothes, or orientation you approve of.”

What it says is simply, “Love everyone.” Even the ones who look different from us, speak differently, whose skin is another shade, or whose political philosophies may be different than our own.  

Each Sunday, I sit among you and renew my baptismal covenants—to take upon myself the name of my Savior, and in so doing, agree to lift those around me, support them, and be kind to them—to love them unconditionally.

When I find myself inclined to tell someone, “You can’t sit with us,” it helps to remember the words of those covenants I renew each week. And it helps to remember how patient, kind, and long-suffering my Savior is with me. In my quietest moments alone with my Savior, I have come to understand just a little about how much he loves me—and He is, without question, my very best friend. He doesn’t reject me because of my ignorance, or condemn me for my limitations and shortcomings. He doesn’t make me leave the lunch table because I’m wearing sweats on the wrong day. 

Instead he stands ever ready to forgive me, urge me on to higher standards of moral and ethical behavior, and be patient with me as I struggle to reach them.

For each of us, we should try to accept others as our Savior accepts us: For who we are, and where we are. His grace on our behalf is always beyond our deserving. As Paul said to the Romans, “God’s act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam’s wrongdoing… Where sin was multiplied through us, His grace immeasurably exceeded it.” 

Each of us is on a continuum of eternal progression, and our Savior is present with every single one of us at every single level. The truth of the matter is, no matter how enlightened or Christlike we’d like to think we are, none of us ever acts in complete consistency with unconditional love.

With our families, business associates, or even when we’re stuck in traffic we may have moments where we slip. On the other hand, each of us also has our shining instances when we’re at our best—stretching ourselves beyond our own capacity to show a brand of kindness and love that would please our Lord.

Thus, we need to make sure we’re as patient, kind, and loving toward one another—that we love one another with no asterisk—just as our Savior loves us. And we need to be open to what we can learn from our fellow mortals here, whose spiritual development is as uneven as our own. We’d be wise to keep in mind the words of Emerson as we do so: “I have never met a fellow who was not my superior in some particular.”

Brothers and sisters, let us show the world Mormonism at its best. To those who do not know better, ours is a curious—if not strange—faith at best. In the minds of the uninformed, well-groomed missionaries, Big Love, and polygamy is almost all they know about us. We know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of suspicion and prejudice, what it’s like to be alienated from our fellows, and what it’s like to be told, “You can’t sit with us.”

And precisely because we know how this feels, we have an extra obligation to ensure we are not the cause of others feeling that way—and an extra responsibility to ensure that we are never on the wrong side of our covenants, adding our own asterisk to our Savior’s commandment to Love One Another.

I want to close with my meditation from this morning—and hope you’ll join me in trying to live the spirit embodied in this small passage.

Today, I will practice unconditional love.  First I will be kind and loving to myself, but I will not stop there. I will extend this same unconditional love to others. I am one among my fellows. And when I offer unconditional love, it always returns to me—multiplied.

I leave these things with you in the name of my champion, my friend, and my Savior, Jesus Christ.