Last night my aunt and uncle brought over their 9 kids and a vat of spaghetti and meatballs. My girls and a few cousins disappeared downstairs to craft American Girl doll sandals out of ribbon and foam. I was tired-- my focus to a pinprick, and wanted to be flat on the ground. That is what grief feels like to me sometimes. Dull, flat, tiny, mute-- my grieving body.
After dinner my aunt and uncle, really generous and loving people, called the kids into the living room around grandma's recliner and asked for a prayer and a spiritual thought for family home evening. Their oldest daughter volunteered. She's a beautiful girl-- with a sort of timeless prettiness. She seems poured from a Jane Austen novel or L. M. Montgomery-- no makeup, no hair product, a ponytail, rosy cheeks, clear eyes. My grandma has an old picture of her with a tea set on her fridge-- that is where she belongs. Under an apple tree, pouring tea into floral china.
She shared Matthew 7:1-3. "Judge not, that ye be not judged." She added, "somewhere along the line, the translators just messed it up, or thought they'd change it."
This is the Joseph Smith translation, which is added as a footnote in the LDS version of the New Testament. " 2 Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment."
She read this version to us. She explained that people think this Bible verse means it's bad to judge other people, that somehow judging other people is wrong and makes you mean, but REALLY it means it's only bad to judge other people --- if you are wrong. If you are right and they are bad, go ahead and judge them. The original verse makes it sound like you should just let everybody do whatever they want and focus on your own issues, but no. Joseph Smith fixed that for us.
She illustrated. Her seminary teacher met some really cool folks-- really smart, really kind. But they were swearing and he knew that sometimes they drank coffee, tea or alcholo (all verboten in Mormon theology). So he decided he couldn't spend time with them because they would have a bad influence on him. That, she explained, is an example of righteous judgment.
"Don't SHUN, them, exactly... just limit your time with them, and their influence on you."
One of the twins, a year older than her, piped up. "But what about your influence on them? Can't you spend time with them to lift them up?"
She grimaced. "Well, no, because influence goes both ways."
I wanted to say, "So, maybe you shouldn't bring them spaghetti dinners?" I have tattoos, I happily drink tons of coffee, I've had my name removed from the church's records last year (when they banned the children of same-sex couples from getting baptized), and I have a prominent rainbow magnet on my car. I have kept the things I loved from my LDS upbringing, but many things from that legacy are damaging and took a lot of gentle untangling to heal from. I am not lost or strayed-- I am healed and healing from the church. I won't categorically say I will NEVER go back, because life is weird and you never know, but I certainly don't feel like I SHOULD go back. I feel like me and Jesus and God are on good terms. I certainly feel blessed and loved and guided by the universe. I feel like I'm learning-- I'm a work in progress. I am on a path, I'm not wallowing in a ditch waiting to be hauled back onto the road.
I felt a little astonished listening to this lovely child say these things-- fearing so much for the fragility of her goodness that any exposure to difference would damage it.
The parents tried, bless them, to bring Jesus back into it. My aunt asked her daughter, "What would Jesus do?"
My cousin agreed heartily. "Exactly. Think of the standards of behavior Jesus expects."
"Who would Jesus spend time with, though?" my aunt asked.
My uncle said, "That's a high bar."
My cousin agreed again, somberly-- "It IS a high standard we have to hold to."
"Well," my uncle said, "loving as Jesus does is a high bar."
It didn't get through. The conversation ended on an uncomfortable note-- or maybe it was just my discomfort. Are they spending time with me in order to have some good influence on me? Are they careful to seal themselves up from my influence? I was tired. I felt smaller.
Jesus spent his time LOVING the most despised --- the most "righteously" judged-- people in his society. And he got out a whip and knocked shit over. That was against the hypocrites and the people making profits off of others' faith. He embraced the sinners and the unclean and the damaged. He wasn't worried that they'd somehow damage him.
The best human interactions are mutual-- we shine our lights onto each other, amplifying the light, the goodness. The god in me greets the god in you, and we are all lit a little brighter with that heavenly fire.
These parents are good. This family is good. This teenage daughter is good. But they-- and the many other like them (88.12% of the county where we live) will hurt my kids. If my girls, raised out of the church, are supposed to be shunned because of their potential for bad influence, if the name of Jesus is used as a barrier between people instead of a madly, impossibly open gate called Grace... then we're not safe here. We're not safe anywhere near that kind of judgement.
So the Utah safety net... it's appealing. Addresses are easy to find. The schools are safe and fun. I just crash landed here and I have already friends around that I can hike with, build bonfires with. But it's that undercurrent-- in spite of having parents who genuinely want to do and be good-- the Mormon kids pick up on and distill a fearfulness, a self-righteousness, and a resistance to difference that will only damage them and the people around them.
We need a lesson from Frodo. A badness "look fairer, and feel fouler." Goodness-- light, truth, royalty-- can be scruffy and unkempt. Just because something scares you doesn't mean it's bad.