This post is long but I feel so strongly about this topic and wanted to share what I have been thinking today.
In church today we had a talk about retention and the true calling of Zion that put me to shame. If Christ could teach on the side of dirt roads to lepers and outcasts, then I can happily walk or metro or catch a ride to a renovated minimart, sit on hard plastic chairs, and teach nursery in a room the size of a walk-in closet. If His followers could learn on a fishing boat in a raging sea, if Joseph Smith could restore the gospel in swamps and prison cells, then I can do my work and feel the spirit in a non-traditional congregation. If my testimony relies on the trappings of a stereotypical Mormon ward -- the big building, the active congregation, the nice and new supplies, the people that all know how to act, the wonderful programs and fun activities -- then I am in a sad state. Then I have missed everything that Christ has ever taught about who He really is, and what it truly means to take His name upon us and bare the privilege of being called one of His disciples.
If I have ever made a new convert or a long time member feel like they weren't welcomed or they weren't good enough to be part of the fold because they didn't act 'The Mormon Way', then where the heck do I get off pointing my finger at others for making me feel this same way? I'm afraid that sometimes I might have been so desperate to be a success at fitting in that I have ignored the one so I could align myself with the ninety and nine. Or maybe I have tried to make someone else feel like the one so I wouldn't have to that random outlier that tarnishes the appearances of God's chosen people. There always has to be a scapegoat, right?
Here is something that I've realized about the Savior's ministry as I've learned more and more of His ways -- He was almost always with the ones that no one else wanted to be with, and not in a cool 'look at me' sort of way. Just quietly, day after day, when He could be doing more fun and personally comforting things. He touched lepers and walked next to adulterers and sinners. He knelt down next to the lame and listened to the mentally handicapped. And then He spoke with rich men and princes and merchants and priests. Then He brought all of these people together and said, 'Come follow me.' He had such goodness and love inside of Him that He could sit down with a ignorant man on one hand and a scholar on the other and make them friends. It wasn't a charity project, it wasn't a service activity, He was just being who He was, a Christian through and through.
My ward is not normal, and when I first started attending I was annoyed that things weren't all lined up the way I was used to. All I wanted was to go to church and have the same experiences that I was used to having. We always say that the church is the same everywhere. Well then, why wasn't someone doing something about my ward?
When we meet the Savior again I think we will be so happy, and He will be so happy to see us. But I also think there will be a moment where He show us the people we ignored or excluded because they were different and say to us, 'I coudn't be there, why didn't you go for me? I loved her so much, why couldn't you be her friend? Why did you let him sit alone? Why didn't you adapt to help them?' I don't think it will be about guilt, I think it will be a plaintive questioning from a Father who will want to know why His children didn't love each other more.
If I imagine the Savior during His mortal life, I see Him walking down a road alone, then meeting a man on the path. As he continues to walk He smiles, puts His arm around the man, and looks with deep interest and love into his eyes as the man begins to tell the Savior about his day, about his life. Up the road they come across another, and the Savior invites him to join them as they walk. When he does, Jesus acts the same to this man that he did towards the first man -- loving him and investing in his well-being. And in those encounters, however brief they may be, He loves both of them, He teaches both of them, and He brings them the gospel in a personal, adapted, and real way. He is the gospel in action, not in appearance or in culture. He acts out the gospel to those people, and because of His ways these men He met are now brothers and friends with all the most important things in common.
Everything falls away in the end. Flannel boards, primary songs, hymn books and pews, all these things are just the mortal props for an eternal gospel that has nothing to do with foyers and minivans and tank tops under t-shirts and firesides and Girls Camp. If I can't cope with the Gospel in any other form than the Western USA package, then I have missed the whole point, the whole point, and I am mistaken in my belief that I know what the Kingdom of God looks like. Would I even recognize Zion if I saw it? Will I have the desire in my heart to be there when I see who I'll have treat as my equals?