done any good
A few months ago, on a Sunday morning, I sat in my living room. While my husband got ready for church, I sat on the couch in my pajamas. Like many other Sundays, I planned on staying home. Attending church hurt. When I did attend, I came home with a heavy heart.
Out of curiosity, I looked up what lesson I would miss in Relief Society. From the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Ch. 2 "Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself."
I felt a sudden desire to go to Relief Society. My cynical brain wondered at my sudden enthusiasm. Did I want to go to see how badly my sisters would screw up this lesson? Could a congregation that seemed to focus more on the" Us versus Them" rhetoric more than the commandment to "love thy neighbor" spend an entire 45 minutes talking about the Savior's greatest message?
I hoped so, so I put my unwashed hair in a ponytail and went to church.
Through the opening song, I prayed for an open heart. To see my Relief Society sisters as the Savior saw them. I kept praying, please don't screw this up, please don't screw this up. I don't know who I was praying for.
The instructor began the lesson with a quote from George Albert Smith:
“I do not have an enemy that I know of, and there is no one in the world that I have any enmity towards. All men and all women are my Father’s children, and I have sought during my life to observe the wise direction of the Redeemer of mankind—to love my neighbor as myself. … You will never know how much I love you. I have not words to express it. And I want to feel that way toward every son and every daughter of my Heavenly Father.”
The remainder of class was spent talking about ways we could love each other better. Women shared stories thanking the people who loved them despite their flaws. We talked about ways to love our neighbors, even when they are different from us. We talked about the pain we felt when people judged us harshly, and how love and forgiveness managed to heal that pain.
We didn't screw it up. Not that time.
It is a terrifying thing to feel forced to choose between two parts of your soul. To choose unconditional love, or the teachings of the religion you were raised in. I understand that many people do not feel the two are at odds, but from the moment my church supported Prop 8, I've been fighting an impossible battle.
But for one day, during that lesson, I felt like I could be a Mormon, and stand on the side of love. Two pieces of my soul came together again.
When I heard that a group of LDS people would be marching in the Pride Parade, I felt that same sudden desire to participate. I needed to walk in that parade. I made my husband drive us early, and rushed him to our place in the parade. I waited in the hot sun. I wanted to feel my soul come together again.
Our group was asked to dress in our "Sunday Best." I dressed more conservatively for the Pride Parade than I do for church. (Especially since "church" for me often involves sitting on my couch, reading the internet in my underwear.) I struggle to identify myself as a Mormon, but when we started walking, and the crowd started cheering, I was Mormon again. Look how much we can grow.
People cheered for us as we walked. People stood on the street crying and thanking us. I cried too. Please forgive us, I thought, for taking so long. Forgive us for moving so slowly. We should have been here all along.
I will be Mormon again whenever that title allows me to do good. I know my struggle is not over. I know my church will let me down again. It is run by humans, steeped in patriarchy and tradition. Humans, social hierarchy, and tradition will always let us down.
But I can't deny the power I felt as a Mormon, allowed for the first time, to publicly stand on the side of love. I've done it in writing. I've done it in church. Last Sunday, I did it in person.
I can't wait to walk again next year.
PS: I want to thank my Mom for watching Clara while I marched. Next time, there will be three generations of Nielsons in the parade.