This weekend I’m listening to General Conference, which is my church’s twice-per-year opportunity to hear the Apostles of our church speak to the entire membership. They speak at other times during the year, but usually to smaller audiences. There will be five sessions of two hours each, so a total of ten hours of listening. I usually turn on the stream and let it play while I work on cleaning or gardening. Sometimes I just sit with a notebook or a craft. It is a lot of information all at once, but everything is recorded and I can re-listen whenever I want, so I don’t try to catch and remember every detail. I let it flow past me and trust that the things I most need to hear will jump out at me as inspiration grabs my attention and tells me what is most relevant to me.
I’ll admit that I approach conference with more caution than I used to, because I believe there are ways my church needs to change and hasn’t yet. Culture and tradition are powerful and often slow to shift. This time I was pleased to notice that several speakers in the first session addressed the political polarization in society and issues of racism. It was interesting to me how the words that were spoken could be either comforting or upsetting depending on what the audience brought with them to the words. One speaker said that the gray area was going away, that we would all have to choose whether to be on the Lord’s side or not. One interpretation of the statement could lead to additional polarization where people are convinced of their rightness and double down on things they see as sinful behavior. Another interpretation is that people at church need to stop being comfortable that they are right simply because they are going to church. A different speaker mentioned that in seeking to be part of the gospel of Christ, we might have to give up aspects of the culture we come from. That statement could be exceedingly worrisome to people who have experienced a history of white christian churches systematically erasing portions of their people’s identity and history. However I think the statement is very true, just not aimed the way that worry fears. I think that white suburban people need to give up the part of their culture that makes them oppose having low income housing or other outreach programs in their neighborhood. They need to learn how to love their neighbors when they don’t get to carefully filter who qualifies to be their neighbor. And when I say “they” I mean me. Because I need to be better, and I’m listening as part of figuring out how.
These talks are like scripture in that the messages they give are so much more than the words. I combine those words with my life and experiences, the lens through which I see church and the world. There is also inspiration from God that comes to me as I listen, because sometimes the words spark a thought in my mind that wasn’t previously in my head and wasn’t in the words either. So I am listening. I am taking notes both for my benefit, and because I may be able to use these words to help broaden the perspectives of my fellow church members. In the wise words of a man who was not in my church: Be the change you want to see. I’m trying, and it starts by listening. Listening to these talks. Listening to resources on racism. Listening to resources on protecting the vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled, the marginalized. Listening and thinking and praying. Slowly learning how to be better and how to help others to do the same.