By Matthew Deane 10-09-13
I watched the forty-three pounds of granite slide away from my outstretched hand, down the ice towards the house at the other end of the sheet. A sensation of happy warmth kept the cold at bay. I had waited the better part of a decade to try my hand at curling, and it was proving to be every bit the fun that I had imagined.
My sweepers in training ran to keep ahead of my stone, their inexperienced feet slipping on the ice and threatening to give way as they tried to brush a straight path for the stone to follow.
Momentum, the fluid dynamics of melting ice, and the laws of physics had other ideas, however, and the stone curled too much, eventually “falling” out of play. We all had a lot to learn.
Elizabeth and I had a great time that night, throwing stones and sweeping with complete strangers. We headed home through the dark and made it in time to kiss the kids goodnight. After visiting our youngest two in their bedrooms on the main floor, I made a trip down to the basement to check in with Caleb, our seventeen-year-old.
“How was curling?” Caleb asked.
“Loved it; it was everything that I imagined, and I want to go again next week. Mom and I might join the league,” I said with great satisfaction. It had truly been a great night out together.
“Cool,” Caleb replied.
I balked at the door; I knew that my son had something more to say, and not just because Elizabeth had told me about some of the deep topics that had come up in a mother-and-son conversation they had shared during their trip to the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City the week before.
Caleb is a deep thinker, and an even deeper feeler. Much like his beautiful mother, he carries goodness with him wherever he goes, drawing others into his happy circle, but he holds his highest and most precious cards close to his chest. I have learned that when Caleb shares the deeper side of himself, it means much more than the words he uses to express it. When Caleb speaks from his heart, I listen.
That night, Caleb shared his fear that the love and acceptance he felt for his gay uncles and friends would mean that he would someday have to leave the church. The way he saw it, he was standing in opposition to things he had heard so many members, apostles, and prophets utter with the same degree of certainty that he felt while standing on the other side of the issue fence.
“I don’t think that way, I don’t feel that way; it just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said, his voice breaking up with the passionate grief that stems from experiencing conflicting emotions.
My response was accompanied by a silent undercurrent of constant prayer to my Father in Heaven that I would say the right things to my son, the things that he would want Caleb to hear, things that were true. “Caleb, the church needs people like you; if you go, if the people like you leave, you take with you all of your love, your empathy, your compassion, and your experience. And what then? What will the church be without all that you have to offer?”
“But what about that talk on Sunday? How can someone that is supposed to be one of the main guys, one of the most important people in the church, how can he say something like that?” Caleb countered. I saw the same desperate pain in his eyes that I had seen in my late brother Jared’s, and it frightened me.
In that moment, I couldn’t think, I could only feel. My son was pleading with me to answer a question that I wasn’t sure I could answer for myself.
But I didn’t have to answer it, because someone already had.
“There is room for you here,” I heard my own voice say. “President Uchtdorf said that on Saturday, and he wasn’t speaking to the already perfect people, he was speaking to people who doubt, who wonder, who question. He was speaking to you.”
I stopped and let the words sink in, and to give my own fears time to subside at the sound of their wonderful message of love and hope.
“He gets it, even if some of the others don’t. We need to pay more attention to Uchtdorf; he’s the man,” I said. “Read the New Testament, and you’ll realize that even the apostles that followed Jesus, the ones who knew him personally, sometimes got it wrong. And they walked, talked, and lived with him! How can we expect the men who live now, who don’t hang out with the Savior every day, to get it right all of the time? They are people too, and that means they have their own opinions, experience, and agency. This doesn’t make them less great, and it doesn’t mean they’re not inspired, it just makes them imperfect like the rest of us.”
The conversation ebbed and flowed between us for almost two hours, and I marveled at how effortlessly the answers came, in spite of my own frustrations and worry.
I will not divulge too much more of the very personal discussion that I had with my son; it is enough to say that we stood on equal ground talking man-to-man and heart-to-heart in an exchange of fears, hopes, doubts, answers, love, and experience. It was the type of conversation that I hope every son can and will someday have with his own father, myself included. At the conclusion of our talk, and after the kind of hug that lasts long after its physical end, I felt that we had helped each other take a step back from the same dangerous ledge that we had been contemplating.
As I drifted into sleep that night, my mind returned to curling. Polished stones traveled over smooth ice, their weight, momentum, and the force of the throw working together to carry them forward and (hopefully) into the “house” at the other end of the sheet.
But even the best of throws made by the best of curlers can go off course. If a stone “curls” or curves too much on its way down the ice, it will fall away and miss its target. That is where the sweepers come in; sweepers create a path for the stone to follow. Their job is to keep the stone moving fast enough and straight enough to reach the house and score a point for the good guys.
Caleb is a sweeper. (Stay with me, this will make sense in the end, I promise.)
The church is full of beautiful stones, and all of us are sliding down the slippery ice of life, hoping to make it home. Few, if any of us, curl down that ice and into the house without at least a little bit of sweeping to help us stay on course.
And the course? The course is that perfect path to home: the all-inclusive, everlasting, love- fueled gospel of Jesus Christ. The Savior did not exclude anyone from his ministry. His atonement, his love, and his plan are for all of his siblings. His sacrifice was made for the imperfect, and his life was given so that all may be saved.
Curling teams have a captain of sorts, called a “skip.” The skip stands at the other end of the sheet, inside the house, marking the target. He watches each stone as it slides towards home, and if he sees it to be in need of a little help, he yells, “Sweeeeeep!”
Christ is our skip.
He can yell all he wants, but if there aren’t any sweepers there to sweep, the stone in jeopardy will “fall” away and out of play, never to reach its destination. It may sound odd, and perhaps even dangerous to the ears of some, when I say that active, otherwise wonderful members of the church who harden their hearts and shut the doors of their homes and ward buildings to their LGBT family members and friends are off course, but they are.
“Love one another,” is the Lord’s primary commandment, not “Love only the people who look, live, act, talk, dress, and feel just like you do.”
Without an army of Calebs, without an army of LDS Youth Allies to sweep for these wayward members, their attitudes will never change, their hearts will never soften, and the light of understanding will never shine upon them. If you dear sweepers drop your brooms and leave the church, taking with you all of your empathy, your love, your experience, your prayers, and your strength, who will mark the path home for those who don’t yet get it?
“Come, and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result,” said President Uchtdorf. And he’s right; sweepers, please stay, please come back, and be the
change you want to see in the church members around you. This doesn’t mean that you should pray for doctrine to change, it means that you should pray for our prophets, that they may receive the doctrine that we don’t yet have. When Christ came, he angered a lot of church members and leaders because he brought his new and everlasting gospel to the world, fulfilling the Law of Moses and putting it aside. The “changes” the Savior made were not changes at all, but rather a more complete and loving vision of his plan. Let us not forget that he has promised to come again; what wonderful messages could he have waiting in store for us all? Do we not believe that with God, anything good is possible?
When Elizabeth and I first threw stones that night, it seemed improbable that we would ever get a single stone all the way down the sheet and into the house. By the end of the night, we had to concentrate to keep them from sailing beyond it. The sweepers were no longer sweeping, but instead they were running to catch up with the stones.
Patience, experience, effort, and time will combine with faith, prayer, love, and hope to work miracles; they always have.
President Uchtdorf also said, “The Church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling and the exhausted. It is filled with people who desire with all their heart to keep the commandments, even if they haven’t mastered them yet.”
That pretty much sums me up and ties me off with a little bow, and I’m betting that many of you reading this feel the same way. During our conversation I told Caleb that in a strange way, I revel in my own imperfections, because they give me room to grow, and without that room to grow I would not be able to learn.
President Uchtdorf closed his talk with this thought. “-here you will find a people who yearn to know and draw closer to their Savior by serving God and fellowmen, just like you. Come, join with us!”
Let me add my voice to those inspired words, and direct them to the LDS Youth Allies of the LDS LGBT people:
Come, stay, and sweep with us!