Friday, May 4, 2012

How We View Ourselves

These days there's a lot of talk about body image.  Many of us are dissatisfied with the way we look when compared with the world's standards.  Even when shown that TV and magazine models are air brushed and digitally "corrected" in pursuit of perfect beauty, we tend to ignore reality and press to emulate this unrealistic standard of measurement.

Lately, too, I've noticed, not a few, folks in the church who are caught in a similar trap.  In fact even I, have been prey to an unhealthy dissatisfaction with what I might call my perception of my spiritual performance image.  When compared with a misshapen concept of what a successful Latter-day Saint might look like I begin to act in unhealthy ways to make myself appear to meet the standard.  I have practiced Spiritual Anorexia, others have fallen prey to Spiritual Bulimia and many other disorders that are just as dangerous and misbegotten as their physical forms.

In modern society we are trained from a very early age to make comparisons.  We are measured by comparison, graded by comparison, described by comparison and of course, judged by comparison and yes, rewarded by comparison.  God, of course, does not do this.  Caught in this mortal sphere, it is rather hard to grasp God's perfect nature in this regard.  Much of what we do in the LDS church is designed to limit comparison.  In the temple, for example, all wear white clothing, limiting the distinctions that come with our differences in status or circumstances.  All are equally invited to "Come Unto Christ" as the scripture beckons bond or free, male or female, rich or poor, black or white.

Still, there is much in our culture that subtly counters this.  Cultural behaviors that in no way make deliberate distinctions or at least have no malicious or divisive intent, but which still, because of our cultural training, discourage, depress, dishearten and even destroy.  Things like unthinkingly asking a newcomer where he served his mission (kind of hurts when you didn't.)  Or inviting brethren to sit in the Eagle's Nest at a Court of Honor, making no allowance for those, who likely, through no fault of their own, did not achieve the rank of Eagle.

This month for example, the Conference Issue of the Ensign Magazine, by implication, subtly sets some pretty lofty standards of appearance and performance, which if not observed with open eyes, might lead one to believe he is not measuring up.  Toward the end of the magazine are a number of brief biographies of newly called General Authorities.  These are wonderful, successful, Latter-day Saints whose lists of accomplishments are truly remarkable.  Doctorate Degrees abound.  Successful businesses and influential careers are the norm.  All have served diligently in many important capacities in the Kingdom and appear to have sound marriages and exemplary families.  The Church needs these accomplished individuals.  It requires their specialized skill sets and depends upon their deep spirituality.  I in no way wish to demean or diminish neither their goodness nor their worth to the Lord and His work on the earth.

But, if we as rank and file members look to them as the yard stick by which we measure our own worth, or place in the Kingdom; if we compare our positions and performance with theirs, we will likely fall into an unhealthy place that will render us less, rather than more, useful to our Father in Heaven.

Part of me wishes that beside each of those biographies were the biographies of regular members of the Church.  Not because I wish to demean the Church Leaders, but because I would like to elevate our recognition of the goodness of so very many who are right where we are.  Something like this:
Newly called as Nursery Leader in Himni, Utah 4th Ward is Sister Rosa Valero Cooper.  Sister Cooper was born to an impoverished family in southern Philippines.  At age 15 she was sold by her parents into sexual slavery and was taken to Olongago where she was subjected to prostitution near the Subic Bay US Navy Base.  There she met her future husband, a Latter-day Saint, in a brothel.  They fell in love, married and after some difficulty made their home back in Utah.  Rejected by her in-laws and eventually abandoned by her husband for another woman, Rosa has raised and educated her three children alone.  She has made a fine career for herself as a house cleaner, where she could set her own schedule and be at home when the children were not in school.  Being largely uneducated herself, Rosa impressed the value of education on her two sons and her daughter.  All have finished High School and are working their way through college.
Sister Cooper joined the church in 1983 as a result of the kind friendship of a handicapped neighbor.  Amid their loneliness and personal affliction these sweet Sisters had reached out to one another. She has served for 15 years as the Young Women's Camp Director.  Her testimony and deep simple faith have profoundly influenced the lives of dozens of young women in her Ward.  Rosie has also been Compassionate Service coordinator in the Relief Society and a councilor in the Ward Primary Presidency.
Sister Cooper's second son served a Mission to the Philippines where he was able to bring the gospel to his Grandparents.  His Grandfather now serves as the Branch President of the Cotobini Branch.  Rosa has consistently sent money home to her family greatly facilitating their prosperity and the education of her siblings.  Now she occupies her free time caring for a neighbor lady, her former Mother-in-law,  who suffers from MS.
"God has been so very good to me," says Sister Cooper.  "I don't deserve such wonderful blessings."
Would you not agree that Rosa Valero Cooper is a wonderful, successful, Latter-day Saint whose accomplishments and contributions are worthy of note?  Even emulation?  Of course!  Let us not assume that the General Authorities have not suffered severe affliction, neither that they have not had sore need of repentance and the application of the Atoning Blood of Christ in their lives.  Nor should we assume that every great Latter-day Saint had to overcome such horrendous circumstances as Rosa did.  Each of us has a story of ups and downs; opposition if you will.  And the reflection of our spiritual performance image ought to have nothing to do with the performance of anyone else.  Anyone else, that is besides Jesus, whose personal perfection, while wholly incomparable, enables us to rise above the lumps and bumps that make us each, far less than perfect.

I wish, at church, we spent less time painting a picture for each other of the perfect Mormon and more time painting a picture of the Perfect Christ.

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