Guest post by Thomas Sorensen
It’s a casual speaking, the way two lovers call between the rooms of their house to share thoughts though they’re busy. Yet it shakes me awake even still.
I am singing in a crowd of X hundred people—“Come Ye Children Of The Lord,” whose third verse begins “All arrayed in spotless white.” White again. Another idea of improvement, of nearing perfection—and more whiteness. We don’t speak as if one can come without the other. We take language like D&C 93:36 and conflate “light and truth” with the colour white, instead of with illumination; we depict the angel Moroni as all white (because angel), even though First People don’t look like that. I’m used to it now. Whether or not I should be. When I notice it, what I feel is mostly a vague fatigue.
And then suddenly They are speaking: “You know, you people have a pretty weird thing about whiteness.” Lovers, across the rooms. I do love God but I am only just hearing this, and hasn’t it been true for much longer? You can’t cover up a first impression in this mode of communication, so involuntarily and with a flavor of the furrowed brow, I respond “You’re… only just thinking about this now?” I don’t mean to challenge necessarily, I am just so utterly confused. What They tell me is even more over-the- shoulder than the first line—happily nonchalantly so, like someone talking to you while doing the dishes, eyes still on work but turning head aside toward you to include you. “Oh, no! I just wanted you to now that I agreed with you.”
Classic God: simply lets confusion and lies bump up against what Is. They have always held the views we consider new and recent and progressive. James Cone: “Either God is identified with the oppressed to the point that their experience becomes God’s experience, or God is a God of racism.” See, Cone knows something: any deity who really came down and lived like us and among us, who freed Israel, must by definition be an involved one fighting foremost for the most mistreated of Their children. And Mormons have no choice but to believe the former. Firstly, because we believe in Jesus: “God-talk is not Christian-talk unless it is directly related to the liberation of the oppressed.” (1) Secondly, because agency matters to us too much for us to believe otherwise. Those whose agency is in danger must be defended—at least by God, and by us too if we’re serious about living well.
To be woke is awareness; of injustice, mainly. We used to use it better (before white people turned into a joke word, letting them ignore the discrimination it was to call out). But I still like the term. It’s accurate to how having the awareness feels. May we all be more woke—like They are.
I am reading one morning. George Q. Cannon (2) had said so much wrong about our Mother In Heaven. And then, maybe just once, he’d said a true and right thing about her (3). I write in the margin, agreeing, but wary; I tell him it is hard for him to redeem himself with this comment or any other. Too much of what he said has hurt my Mother.
I don’t know in this moment how I know how She feels. I do know She is there, instantly but not abruptly, as though She already had been. I know that, suddenly yet without fear, I am having one of the most overwhelmingly religious moments of my life to date. Uncomparable to conversation, nothing but Her emotions in stream of consciousness, and the first is a gale-force gratitude. Please understand: it was not the gratitude of one who needs defending. It was that of a woman of power, repeatedly hurt by the forgetful betrayals of loved ones, determined to celebrate and savour every moment of real loyalty. With it is a taste of the rest: sadness, loneliness, at all these kids of Hers who toss off Her whole existence. Godsadness, Moses 7:32-33 style. Cannon is no exception here. She is proud of him in other ways, for other words of his, but doesn’t that also make this harder? How can he have found other truths so well, yet bypass so completely the truth of Her? So many of us do not know about Her. Then, those who do know rarely want to understand Her for everything She is. Won’t accept a world beyond the one we’ve been told of.
And what does that change? Nothing. Only us. The ‘God’ team will include our Mother whether we talk about Her or not. They will be fighting and healing alongside the oppressed whether or not we’re there too. But we should speak with Them, and we should liberate with Them. For as long as we fail to fully understand, we will continue to blame human error on Them. The mistakes of this church are not Theirs. Only ours. (The successes belong to everyone—all of us, and all of Them.)
Annie Dillard: “For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” (4) It is exactly that waking God who Mormons believe in—whether or not most of us know it. It is that God who I need. More woke than anyone else I know, capable of drawing us out, beyond societal and personal injustices, beyond our participation in them, never to return. And “whole beyond human knowledge,” (5) just like the world They made.
There’s one more thing. From other moments, ones which I won’t write here, I have reason to hope. This religion is still led by Them. And They are still talking. A church is only true insofar as it is true to Them: loyal. (6) And we are struggling, but still listening. We probably always will be struggling, in one way and/or another. It’s how we are, and how life is.
From other moments, though. I have been told that it will be solved. That we will request more, receive more, and become better. None of this gets anyone off the hook for the pain they have caused or the empathy they have failed to feel with those siblings who are not completely like them.
But. Mormonism is cracking its eyelids. And it can awaken further.
It will happen.
1) both quotes from James Cone’s A Black Theology Of Liberation, 40 th Anniversary Edition
2) Apostle in various functions (and First Presidency member under multiple prophets), 26 August 1860 to 12 April 1901
3) all qtd. in “A Mother There” by David Paulsen & Martin Pulido, BYU Studies 50:1. G.Q. Cannon moment which resonated is on p84, where he admits heaven would be incomplete for him without both seeing Her again & remembering Her from before Earth-life. Me too.
4) qtd. in “Holy, Holy, Holy” by Kristine Haglund, Dialogue 44:3. I admit to repurposing this line.
5) “The world is whole beyond human knowledge.” Line from poem “Some Further Words” by Wendell Berry.
6) see “The Only True Church” by James Faulconer, Patheos.com, 14 March 2014