(My introductory post on making space can be found here.)
In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon went to China, thereby reopening official diplomatic ties that had been ruptured by the Communist revolution of 1949. During the ensuing quarter century, the Cold War had created between the two countries a suspicious and unsurpassable barrier that American politicians would not approach. Doing so would paint them as pink, soft on Communism, too weak to protect American interests, and therefore vulnerable to domestic political attacks. Nixon’s rabid anti-Communist rhetoric, anti-Communist policies, and tacit approval of McCarthy’s communist witch hunts proved his bona fides. He was, in Mormon-speak, anti-Communist with every fiber of his being, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Thus it was said that only Nixon could have gone to China–he had, according to Wikipedia, “an unassailable reputation among his supporters for representing and defending their values to take actions that would draw their criticism and even opposition if taken by someone without those credentials.” In other words, he was able to step outside the orthodoxy because everyone knew whose team he was on.
Nixon’s bare-knuckled domestic politics were, in many instances, despicable, as Watergate subsequently highlighted. But the important lesson to be learned from his China diplomacy is that, to depart from a team’s orthodoxy in some areas, requires that we demonstrate our commitment to the team in other areas.
In church, demonstrating that we’re on the team, that we desire the success and well-being of our local congregation and the Church as a whole is, in my opinion, the key to creating a safe space for ourselves. It may not be enough, but it is the sine qua non of survival as an uncorrelated Mormon–we cannot succeed without it. Now, I do not mean to imply that we must do it, like Nixon, by supporting repugnant doctrines or policies. Rather, I suggest that we borrow from the British Parliament the idea of the loyal opposition, where, according to Merriam-Webster, the opposition is “constructive, responsible, and bounded by loyalty to fundamental interests and principles.” We create space to oppose because we’ve established our loyalty.
Now, I’m not going to talk here about the “opposition” part of “loyal opposition”. Most of us can easily identify the issues we oppose–they are why you’re reading this blog instead of Meridian Magazine. Instead, I’m going to focus on how to demonstrate the “loyal” part in ways that I believe are accessible to everyone. One of these ways is, in my opinion, more valuable than any other, and illustrates my underlying philosophy of how to be loyal. And that is:
- Learn the names of everyone in the ward, especially the less powerful people. Everyone knows the names of the bishopric, the Elders’ Quorum president, the Relief Society president. Learn the names of the children, the new members, the visitors, the single people, the old people, and (I hate to include them in the list of less powerful) the women. And don’t just learn last names–first names are more personal and typically require more effort and therefore more interest to learn. People love to hear the sound of their own names. Learn them, remember them, say them. I believe this is the simplest and most powerful way to show that you are committed to the team. If you need to, use mnemonic devices or other memory tricks. For example, he bore his testimony about the missionary being chased by the rabid dog, the dog was mean, his name is Brother Green. Well, you get the idea. And don’t be afraid to cheat. Sometimes during sacrament meeting I log on to lds.org and review the names of the people I’ve met, especially the children. When parents hear you saying hello to their children by name, they know that you care about the lives of all the members.
You see, my underlying philosophy is that what best demonstrates loyalty to the team is doing those things that are not required or expected. Magnifying your calling is good, but reaching out informally is even better. What’s more, it doesn’t require a lot of work, a lot of time, or orthodox beliefs.
So here are other ideas I have for informal outreach:
- Arrive early and greet people as they come in.
- Look for new people at church and sit by them. Introduce them to other members in the ward.
- Offer rides to those without transportation.
- Have potlucks at your house. Invite people from your classes, your organization, those you home or visit teach, or new members (the missionaries can help you with this).
- Help with moves, lifting heavy things or packing or unpacking the boxes (go against type, women!)
- Make meals for those who are sick, out of work, or with a new baby (go against type, men!)
- Start an explicitly non-church book club that includes some people you’ve met at church.
- And my favorite: bring watermelon in the summertime and feed it to people as they leave church. It’s cheap, easy, and fun. We’ve done this in two wards and met all sorts of people we wouldn’t have otherwise. The kids in one ward started calling me Brother Watermelon, which is fine by me–I’ve been called much worse.
I realize these activities can be hard for introverts. As a sometime introvert myself, I see value in stretching and moving out of my comfort zone, but I also recognize the need for less exhausting activities as well. So, for introverts:
- Send thank you notes to speakers or teachers you really enjoy. I have been more successful with this after ordering some stamps and nice impressionist painting cards and keeping them on my desk at work.
- Remember personal things (e.g., mentions of children, work, or interests) from talks or lessons, and ask follow-up questions later on.
- Invite people you like for a one-on-one lunch or walk, where you won’t be overwhelmed by a big group.
- Friend people you like on Facebook. Try to instant message them on occasion.
- Reach out to someone else who is introverted. Keep them company in the pews or in class. Doing so may help you forget our own discomfort.
You may have noticed that none of these things requires a temple recommend. They do not require permission, they do not necessitate having a certain calling, they do not rely on orthodox beliefs. They do demonstrate your commitment to the community, and they often lead you to like-minded friends who can shelter you when other parts of the Church are making you crazy. They only require your initiative. Importantly, they give you your own power within the church because you can simply decide to do them. I find that this power energizes me to build up my faith community while building my own refuge within it.
Those are some of my ideas. What are yours?
And, tune in next time for Mormon Open Mic.