The other night I was riding the bus home from an especially long day of school. I’d spent my day in the University of Utah library researching historical cases of state-sanctioned violence. When I needed a break from civil wars, death squads, and terror campaigns, I skimmed through the news and social media only to find that the world today is just as ugly. Grim though it sounds, it all had me wondering if there was really any hope for us.
Then I wondered about the Mormon Church and its potential for improvement. As a critical but still active member, I believe the church does great good in the world, but I also know its members often ostracize or harm people who deviate from very specific norms of behavior, appearance, and opinion. I can see the church’s potential, but I also wonder skeptically about its capacity for change and growth.
For a December evening, it was surprisingly warm. There were only a few other people riding home from their own long days, and I had plenty of room on the bus for my legs and mind to stretch. As we bumbled along past freshly-hung holiday lights, I put in my headphones, turned on my cracked Ipod, and hit “shuffle.” Music makes everything better, and I needed a soundtrack to help me understand this strange day I was having.
A song came up which I never in a million years would have chosen on my own, “How Firm a Foundation” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Now, before you close your browser in disgust, let me assure you I try to keep my music collection as gnarly and un-churchy as possible. Let me prove it by hitting “shuffle” again right now:
“Thank You for the Music” by ABBA.
Like I said. Gnarly.
In truth, “How Firm a Foundation” has always been one of my favorite hymns. And say what you want about the ‘Tab Choir’s ugly dresses, sweaty jowls, and blinding white faces; those fools can sing. So that night on the bus, rather than hit “skip” as I would 99 out of 100 other times, I let them croon. And here’s what they made me think:
According to this hymn, “a firm foundation has been laid for [our] faith.” There is so much to dissect in the song, (which I recently learned actually has seven verses,) but it was this first line that sent me into a mental tailspin.
A firm foundation has been laid.
This is what we’ve been given. Something essential. Something that took great effort to create. It was the beginning of something.
A building cannot stand without a foundation, but what is a foundation without a structure on top of it? It is nothing more than a waste of what otherwise might have been a reliable, productive, and perhaps even beautiful space.
Mormon culture is often characterized by tradition and conformity. Indeed, all faiths have rituals, and all organizations have order. They couldn’t exist otherwise. Sameness and repetition allow organizations like the Mormon Church to endure through time and to be transferable to different cultures and contexts. No one would ever be able to participate, indeed no one would want to, if there was no consistency to it.
But the paradox we face is this: the Gospel of Christ is a Gospel of Change. Through our Redeemer, bad things become good. Wrongs are righted. That which we believe to be the most constant, even death itself, is undone. Things which you know cannot be changed, things that every ounce of reason you possess tells you will never ever be different, are transformed through a Redeemer. His reliability is our only true constant, and through it everything changes.
So what are we to do with this eternally reliable and strong foundation? We build on it. We create. We make mistakes. When things don’t work we tear them down and start over. It is challenging work that can never be accomplished without time, effort, and perhaps most importantly, creativity. It requires people who are innovative and forward-thinking. It requires dreamers.
That night on the bus, I had a different vision of the world which all day had seemed so apparently awful. It is a world that looks like nothing but destruction, but the extraordinary blessing we’ve been given is the ability and opportunity to create. We have the chance to do this on a personal level and also as an organization. And however loud the social message that people who are different don’t belong, it simply isn’t true. In fact, the agitators, pot-stirrers, boat-rockers, and freaks might turn out to be our most brilliant architects.
Erin is originally from Simi Valley, California and is currently studying international affairs and Arabic at the University of Utah. She loves any combination of writing, movies, politics, friends, and food.