Last week, the bishop in my LDS Church ward got up in sacrament meeting to make an important announcement. He wasn’t his usual smiling self. His tone was serious and even a little threatening.
It seemed that a young man in our ward had returned from his mission early. About a year, 11 months,and 28 days early. That’s as early as you can come back and still claim to have actually left.
Bishop Short informed the congregation that the reasons for the young man coming home so early were on a need-to-know basis — and none of us needed to know.
Furthermore, we should all consider it our Christ-like duty to shut up before we even started gossiping about it. Henceforth our collective job was to mind our own big fat business, which coincidentally was to express love and support for the young man.
It’s no secret that I disagree with some of the stuff that comes from the pulpit at my church. I’ll even admit to hating about 15 percent of it. But this … now this was something I could totally get behind.
Helping someone going through a rough time is, I believe, one of the main reasons for church. My principal purpose for going is to find out what I can do in that regard. I certainly don’t go for the stimulating conversations.
Participating in organized religion — or church — effectively accomplishes two things in human beings. The first — and this is no compliment — is the normalization of the things about our own beliefs and rituals that we find strange, wrong, and even imbecilic in people of other faiths.
However, church also provides participants with a sense of community, a place to go and be among like-minded people. Unless, of course, you’re worshipping next to me. Hell, I don’t even agree with my own mind half the time.
This communal support is at the heart of church and any collection of human beings. Religious congregations are like villages in their purpose and structure.
Typically, there’s a leader, a council of elders, a women’s group, a bunch of worker drones, an idiot or two, possibly a witch, and finally a mob of nondescript urchins. And they’re all very human. Except maybe for the witch.
Anyway, despite the lofty intentions of a congregation, the occupants of these "villages" periodically get fractious, competitive, mean, gossipy, and even lapse into serious stupidity. In other words, just like a real village.
At the center of every village is a well, a place where people gather and casually prattle about the goings on — who’s misbehaving, who has the ugliest baby or who is gazing over fondly at someone else’s donkey.
In a congregational context this village well can be social media, small study groups, or gabbing among the people who gather for book club, coffee/Diet Coke, exercising, etc.
It always starts with something like, "Guess what I heard?" and ends with someone getting their feelings (and occasionally their face) badly hurt.
When something untoward or simply out of the ordinary happens — a baby is born with two heads, someone comes home early from their mission, etc. — the unspoken expectations of the village can exert enormous pressure on someone already dealing with some serious personal crap.
Every little ripple, whisper or change in the village norm affects the entire village. The question is how we deal with it.
It really ought to be reaching out and lifting up. Staying away, excluding and self-righteous sneering doesn’t work. Every village gets enough of that from without.
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