I heard a story in church on Easter morning about a pianist who was accompanying a service a few years ago. After one beautiful musical number, she started the final song for the group to sing. It didn’t sound quite right, and nobody was sure what was going on, they just knew something was really wrong. Suddenly, she stopped what she was doing and called, out. “Wait! I practiced the wrong song!”
I was reminded about how many times I’ve felt that way when I’ve been discussing stories about and experience with gay Mormons and their families. How many times we’ve seemed to focus on the wrong issues, on limiting each other’s freedoms and agency while forgetting our prime directive is to love.
Too many times, I’ve sighed to hear words tainted with fear, misunderstanding and judgment foisted upon my GLBT brothers and sisters (often behind their backs). Words about “recruiting the weak” and “unworthy” and “addicted” and references to “agendas” or “lifestyles” or “bad examples and influences on children.” Too many times we’ve worn our righteousness on our sleeves, more than willing to “hate the sin” and forgetting the call to love the sinner.
Yes, we’ve been practicing hating sins for a very, very long time. Some of us have such well-developed talents at sin-hating that we don’t even notice that it’s happening. Some of us even hate our own sins so much that we’ve learned to hate ourselves.
We’ve been practicing the wrong song.
In our haste to hate the sin, we’ve forgotten that the first thing we need to do is to love the sinner. And we are all sinners. So when we “love the sinners” we love each other as we love ourselves. Yes, we love ourselves, despite our sins. And we love each other the same way – regardless of the things which increase the gulf between us and heaven.
What does that look like in practice?
It means we do and say and things to others that we do and say to ourselves. It means that we don’t do things to others we wouldn’t want done to ourselves. It means we put on our “Christ glasses” and look through the eyes of someone who descended below all of us so he could look up to each of us. And it means we remember that there is no way we can escape the love of God – it reaches out for us and finds us where we are, whether we’re in the desert or an oasis. This is the message of Easter – that life and love are here for each of us and all of us and that no one is outside of the reach of mercy.
It means speaking up – firmly and lovingly – whenever and wherever fear and hate rear their ugly heads. It means reaching out to those who are different in an effort to find a place of mutual understanding that all may be edified. It means teaching and talking and listening with patience when lines of civility are crossed – or nearly so. Words can hurt, but words can also heal. When we’re practicing the right songs, our words lift and comfort and inspire. They build and mend. They stretch us to new ambitions and heights.
Like the candy-filled Easter eggs, the tomb was cracked open on Easter morning and we were left with a gift. Our job is to figure out exactly what that gift is and how it works in our life. The song of redeeming love is not about judgment, it is not about pointing out shortcomings. It is a song about redemption and reconciliation and it is a song about love. We need to practice using it. And practice makes perfect.