This last week I was listening to a podcast called OnBeing. The person being interviewed is named Jericho Brown. He is black, he is homosexual, and he is a poet. He was sharing a conversation with the host called, “Small Truths and Other Surprises”. As he was speaking he started talking about some ideas that are very central to this weeks conversation on pride and it’s ill effects.
About a year and a half ago President Nelson introduced the concept of Ministering to the church. This call to ministry echoes the call of other Apostles and Prophets, namely the talk by President Oaks, The Challenge to Become. In which he is quoted as saying, “In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.” In President Ezra Taft Benson’s 1989 General Conference talk Beware of Pride, he plainly and clearly lays out what pride is, how pride affects us, and how we can escape it’s negative influence on us. When I read this talk I can’t help but think of this as a list of “to dos” and “to dont’s” and I was left feeling overwhelmed and defeated, as much of what he speaks of in this talk seems to apply to me.
“You’re asking yourself questions that I’ve been avoiding my whole life“
This brings me back to a our friend Jericho Brown. He too has felt the overwhelming pressure “to do” and felt no room “to become.” He too, like President Nelson and others (the Savior as well), want us to have to have the opportunity to become; not just “to do”. Jericho relates his story of how every time when he gets on a plane he gets asked, “so what do you do for a living?” He says, “I very quickly tell them I’m a poet. Then I don’t have to worry about them talking to me anymore.” I thought this was a very interesting answer. He goes on to say why, “Because (as a poet) intuitively or instinctively, people know, “Oh, you’re dangerous. You’re hugely problematic. You’re asking yourself questions that I’ve been avoiding my whole life, and you think that’s a good time.” Maybe this is how people view us as Latter-day Saints? And if they do not, maybe they should view us like this? I think you could take out the word poet and interchange it with Latter-Day Saint and it would read something like this, “What religion are you?” “Oh, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and their answer would follow, either stated or implied, because people intuitively or instinctively people know, “Oh, you’re dangerous. You’re hugely problematic. You’re asking yourself questions that I’ve been avoiding my whole life, and you think that’s a good time.” And I would ask, is that such a bad thing? If people are not seeing us like this than maybe we need to take a look at ourselves and find out why not?
The Gospel and the Poet
Change out the words poetry (bold print) and exchange it for Latter-Day Saint or the Gospel. Mr Brown goes onto say, “I think the Gospel evolved to save us from ourselves. It questions our understanding of what it means to be a Latter-Day Saint and, in the process, deepens our humanity. History teaches us — and the daily news reminds us — how easily we forget what it means to be human. Probably no other art form is better than the Gospel at getting us directly inside another’s mind, experience, perspective. The ability to imagine someone else’s inner life is where compassion begins.”
I love this way of thinking as I feel it reflects on a deeper level the types of hearts that we are trying to develop. We are watching hearts changed by true repentance and submission to Heavenly Fathers will. When we start to see others as objects, obstacles, and enemies maybe we should maybe reflect on something else that Mr Brown shares with us, “I’m interested in all of people. And there’s something in us that wants to really take people down to some sort of census report, I guess; and I’m not interested in census reports. I’m interested in how you got here today and how you managed to do your makeup in the car in order to do it. I’m interested in that. I’m interested in the fact that you got two kids, and you’re getting married, and now you’re pregnant, and you’re going to have another kid, and you’re trying to figure out how these kids are all going to call each other sister and brother.” Maybe who we have trouble seeing is our spouse, maybe its our children, maybe its the people in our ward, maybe its our neighbors, or the woman in PTA who always seems to disagree with everything that you suggest?
How do we cleanse the inner vessel?
Our hearts and mind are connected together. If there is a “bad branch” on the tree we may have some success in saving the tree if we cut of the branch, but that will only be temporary. We must go back and find out what is at the root of the problem:
How is the soil?
Is the tree getting enough or too much sunlight or water?
Are there bugs and birds ravaging the fruit and bark of the tree?
What I am trying to say is that all of these things are interconnected. Mr Brown goes on to say, “I’m interested in that. I’m not interested in this idea that everybody is only an identity, and I’m definitely not interested in this idea that there are blank issues, like women’s issues or black issues. If you are really good at hurting black people, you will indeed hurt the environment, I promise you. It’s true. It’s true. If you are really good at hurting women, you’re probably also interested in war — I promise you. Do you understand what I mean?” It is my opinion that this is true. So how do we start shaping the opinions of our heart? How do we “become” like both Elder Oaks and President Nelson have asked? How do we cleanse the inner vessel like President Benson mentions (Alma 6:2-4; Matt 23:25-26) in his talk?
Humility and Humanity
I too believe that humility is the antidote for pride. But I would take it one step further and say that is both that in recognizing the humanity of others that we can create humility in ourselves thus both are the antidotes of pride. Life is a complex intertwining of how we live in this world, how we see the world, and how we see ourselves in relationship to the rest of the world. Some times as Latter-Day Saints we seem to have a very narrow understanding of the complexity of what it means to be human. We prefer obedience over authenticity and understanding and slogans over depth and meaning. When I was in Israel this thought came to me, “if you’ve been told you are the chosen people all of your life there is a good chance that you might start to develop an attitude.” Cannot the same be applicable today? President Gordon B. Hinckley taught from 1 Peter 2:9, ““Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” This however does not mean that we are better than others, it means we have a greater responsibility as he goes on to teach, “Truly, my dear young friends, you are a chosen generation. I hope you will never forget it. I hope you will never take it for granted.” It is my belief that when we are able to see others humanity we are able to be humble, which helps relieve us of pride. When we see others humanity maybe we are able to realize that maybe we don’t deserve everything we want in this world? To do this we need to get to know people and we need to get to know ourselves. Great authors have told us stories that reflect back to us the lives of others, not to say that we are better than them, but to show us that ANY OF US can be that person – both the good and the bad, the righteous or the wicked, or the rich or the poor … Understanding the humanity of ourselves and others can help us be humble which then works to become an antidote to pride.
We can start with the words of Professor Goddard who asks us to start to change our opinion or how we see repentance. He says, “Many of us grew up dreading humility and repentance. (It) felt like an unhappy encounter with humiliation. But, as we mature spiritually, we come to recognize humility and repentance as heavenly blessings. We cast off the tattered ways of the natural man and put on the robe of righteousness.” He goes on to teach us,“When we humbly turn our minds, our lives, and our purposes over to God, He will refine us. We will begin to see with new eyes. We feel with new warmth and goodness. We gladly give our time and energy to bless those around us.” We must learn to rely on the surrender that comes in believing in Jesus Christ and His power to save, as Professor Goddard so boldly and plainly states, “In order to be saved, we must stop trying to save ourselves by our own power.”