Don’t call us, we’ll call you

February 6, 2012

Sacrament Meeting Talk: 1 January 2012

As I’ve been trying to streamline my life over the past several weeks, I have realized that I need to reduce the number of places I collect and save things, especially in the digital realm.  It has sort of expanded my vision of what I want to use my blog for: everything, basically.  I’m writing more about my past, jotting down quick entries rather than just my usually lengthy musings, and other things yet to be determined (and posted, since at this point I’m up to 140 post drafts).  I have another friend who posts the talks she gives in church (Sacrament meeting is one of three meetings we have each week for the purpose of taking the sacrament and instructing each other [since there’s no paid clergy]), and that seemed like a good idea too.

As many people seem to say when they speak here, I grew up in this ward, but I have been away for more than a decade.  In that decade, I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector, mostly with incarcerated individuals.  In August I finished a Master’s degree studying the family and financial backgrounds of incarcerated men.

Now it may be that I have a one-track mind, but when I read the assigned talk by Elder Ballard called “The Importance of a Name,” I immediately thought of a particular criminological theory (I do have a one-track mind actually, I relate everything back to incarceration).  The theory, which has been around for decades, is called labeling theory.  The gist of it is that the labels or names we assign to people influence their behaviors, their perceptions of themselves, and the perceptions others have of them.  That’s a simple enough concept — even my two-year-old can perfectly demonstrate it for you.  She’ll unabashedly tell you that she is cute; she barely knows what cute means, but she knows that people have been telling her she’s cute from day one.  (She is cute, by the way, in like a totally objective, non-parentally-biased sort of way.)  So back to labeling theory, it is closely associated with a more common phrase: self-fulfilling prophecy.  The idea is that we actually become both what we are told we are and what we tell ourselves we are.

What we call ourselves

I don’t know if anyone else has ever had this thought, but Neal and I both agree that we’ve often felt strange calling ourselves Latter-day Saints.  I often think about the Catholic conception of a saint as someone who is above-average in holiness, in goodness, benevolence, etc. and that’s not me.  But as Elder Ballard explains, “Saint simply refers to those who seek to make their lives holy by covenanting to follow Christ.”  So by identifying ourselves as saints, and taking even a moment to reflect on what that means, we are subtly strengthening our identity and commitment to be followers of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps an even more significant name that we are invited to take upon ourselves is the specific name of Christ.  King Benjamin discusses it this way in Mosiah 5:

I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ….And I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name that I said I should give unto you that never should be blotted out, except it be through transgression; therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress, that the name be not blotted out of your hearts (Mosiah 5: 8, 11).

Often when I hear the term “blotted out” I picture this big book, the book of life mentioned in the Bible, in which God and His angels are adding names and crossing some out.  But this scripture adds significant nuance to that when King Benjamin warns that we should make sure “the name be not blotted out of our hearts.”  What he’s saying is that rather than a book in which our name is written, our life is far more about our own book — the one that we’re writing in our own hearts and in our own lives — in which we choose whether to record Christ’s name or to let it go.  By constantly reaffirming to ourselves and others that we are Christians and Saints, we can keep his name more fully in our hearts.

In a related conference talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks back in 1985, he discusses the significance of partaking of the sacrament and witnessing our willingness to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ.  Elder Oaks says that when we do this, “we are signifying our commitment to do all that we can to achieve eternal life in the kingdom of our Father. We are expressing our candidacy—our determination to strive for—exaltation in the celestial kingdom.”  It’s kind of a bold statement to say that I am a candidate for the celestial kingdom — I remember when I was living back east I met a couple of recent converts to the LDS Church who both agreed that they could not possibly aim for that.  But that is exactly what God invites us to do, wants us to do, to firmly declare ourselves as candidates for exaltation and to then do everything we can to act in accordance with that label.

Although this is not always the case, sometimes calling ourselves by these names — Christians and Saints — also invites others to help us in our efforts.  One of my best friends since childhood, Anne, who is not very religious herself, spent years of our adolescence telling people — “Lindsay doesn’t do that.”  “Don’t talk like that around her.”  And she would question  me if I did or said something she thought I shouldn’t based on my values and beliefs.  Anne helped me live the way I labelled myself even though she didn’t necessarily share all my beliefs.  In this way, being vocal about being Christians and Saints can give others the opportunity to support, protect, and even remind us at times who we say we are.

What we call others

Just as Anne helped me to be the person I intended to be, what we call others can either help bring out the best in them or hinder that process.  In a 1999 conference talk, Elder Cree-L Kofford spoke of a man who made this his personal motto: “Your name is safe in our home.”  Elder Kofford goes on to say,

What a blessing it would be if all of us could follow that counsel, if each of our names truly could be safe in the home of others. Have you noticed how easy it is to cross over the line and find fault with other people? When we deal with the name and reputation of another, we deal with something sacred in the sight of the Lord.

I have to admit that I have been guilty of doing just what Elder Kofford describes — damaging people’s names and labeling them in ways that belie who they really are: God’s own children.  A turning point for me (though it’s always a work in progress) has been understanding more about the Atonement.  In General Conference a few years ago, Elder Merrill J. Bateman said this:

For many years I thought of the Savior’s experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him. . . . however, my view has changed. Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt “our infirmities” (Heb. 4:15), “[bore] our griefs, … carried our sorrows … [and] was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:4–5). The Atonement was an intimate, personal experience in which Jesus came to know how to help each of us.

I love to picture that now — a long line of people, myself included, having our personal moments with Jesus Christ during his great Atonement.  Him calling us by name, seeing our future lives, our strengths and weaknesses, getting to know us as well as anyone ever has.  I try to consider what He sees in the people I come in contact with, the names He would call them if He were here.  And I try to remember that He has invited me to call them the same names and see them in the same way.

One of my early experiences working with incarcerated men was another turning point.  When I first embarked on that type of work, I got a lot of negative push-back.  People questioned why I was doing what I was, that “those” people needed to be punished for what they had done and why was I trying to make life easier on them.  But on one of my first visits to the Washington D.C. jail to investigate an assault claim, I was caught off-guard by the person I was meeting with rushing into the room and saying, “I knew someone was coming.  I was praying to God to send someone to give me hope so that I could go on.  And you came and I know that God remembers me.”  Even though, in the end, I could really do very little for him in a practical sense, it was enough for him to be reminded that God was listening to him and cared for him.  Time and time again, meeting with people that some would describe as “scary” in dark, undesirable places, I have been blessed to see both their humanity and their divinity.

Who we really are transcends the earthly names we call ourselves and others

I don’t know who originally said this, but I heard it in a movie once: “Some things are true whether you believe them or not.”  So today I want to bear testimony that one of those true things is that we are, each and every one of us, beloved children of God, whether we feel that now or not.  That is an identity that transcends any earthly names or labels that we assign to ourselves or others assign for us.  The Spirit has born this witness to me over and over again in some dark, difficult places, that I was sitting with an individual of infinite worth.  That nothing they had ever done or could ever do would change God’s love for them, and that it was my opportunity to see them and love them the way God does, if I would take it.  And I believe that God continually invites all of us to do the same thing: to love ourselves and every single person around us; to call ourselves and others positive, affirming names so that someday we will live up to those names more fully; and to see the divinity in ourselves and all those around us.

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5 Comments »

  1. What a beautiful talk. The only thing that would make it better is if I could have heard you give it yourself. Seriously, this was so good. Thanks for sharing.

    I have some talks I’ve thought of sharing on my blog, the problem is, I speak from outlines, so the process of actually writing out what I say (especially afterward when I probably won’t remember it all) is daunting. I always keep my outlines in my journal, but I really should do more with a few of them, I think.

    Comment by v. blanchard — February 6, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    • I always used to work from outlines too, until Dean’s methods class. He wanted us to write out every word of our final presentations to minimize “ums” and “ands”, etc. I always thought of myself as a decent enough extemporaneous speaker that I didn’t need to do that, but after trying it his way, I realized I was smoother that way so I’ve been doing it ever since.

      Comment by llcall — February 6, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

  2. How would you feel about me directing others to this post via my blog or FB? Totally understand if you’re not up for that though.

    Comment by v. blanchard — February 6, 2012 @ 9:10 am

    • Totally fine with me.

      Comment by llcall — February 6, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

  3. i loved it.

    Comment by stephanie — February 6, 2012 @ 6:37 pm


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