I used to say that my little brother was a good candidate for the Hitler Youth. He always pestered me about my Mountain Dew habit, and referred to my black sheep-ish status in the family. To many, I am quite, quite conservative, but within my birth family, I am, shall we say, something of a radical. My brother, born fourteen years after me, is an Eagle Scout who probably earned twice as many merit badges as needed and argues sometimes when I mention supporting mothers breastfeeding freely in public because he is the sort who knows that looking at breasts, in however nurturing a capacity, might bring impure thoughts to the mind of the normal eighteen-year-old male that he is.
I have a good friend who has spent most of her life in Utah, and who doesn’t have very fond feelings for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), the church I belong to. I know how (unintentionally, I hope) oblivious we can sometimes be to the feelings and preferences of people who don’t belong to our church, especially in Utah, where many or most people do belong to the church. I think that my friend and I get along well because a) we don’t get to see each other very often, so when we do we have other pressing things to talk about and b) I’ve lived in several places where I was the minority, so I understand how she feels.
But today I want to talk about my little brother, and the two-and-a-half-minute address he gave at his high school graduation last Wednesday. I confess that there were a couple moments when I thought that, if my friend Laura had been there, I would have been worried to see how she was reacting to Ryan’s speech. I might also worry how Dick’s family (who are also not Mormons) would have reacted.
You see, Ryan talked about God in his Salutatory remarks. His English teachers, who reviewed all the speeches before they were given, told him to take out the references to God, and when my mom reported this heinous attempt at censorship, I was ready to organize a sit-in and a nurse-in (Spot could pretend) and a march on the school campus. But Ryan’s principal read over his speech and said that it was fine. I didn’t even get to tell Ryan to remember that his nieces would be in the audience and to not let them down. (Also that he is all set to attend BYU, like his four siblings before him, and really, what could those power-hungry demagogues do to him?)
Ryan spoke third, after a nice speech from the Valedictorian and an entertaining piece from his co-Salutatorian (both bright young women). His was pretty standard stuff: remember the lessons of the past, set high end-goals for the future, strive to be happy, and then he quoted from . . . no, not the Book of Mormon, or even the Bible, but from Benjamin Franklin (he also quoted the Scout Oath and Muppet Treasure Island):
I believe in one God, creator of the universe, that he governs by his divine province, that he ought to be worshiped, that the greatest service we can render to him is in doing good to his other children.
That God governs in the Affairs of Men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?…Our Lives are comparable with the Empire Benjamin Franklin references. He continues, without his concurring Aid, we shall succeed in this political Building no better than the Builders of Babel.
It is often said that terrible things are done in the name of God, and I find myself too often apologizing for being a religious — or “organized religion” — type person. Maybe I don’t apologize verbally, but I wince or wish someone bearing testimony of Christ in a place where I don’t expect that sort of thing — I wish that perhaps they would just do it a little quieter, so that my friends and family who don’t believe as I do won’t think we’re so weird or so fanatical, or so, so irrational as to suppose that there is a Higher Being who concerns Himself with the affairs of the people on this earth and who also at the same time, allows such terrible things to be done in His name.
And here is what I have concluded, and what I hope Ryan has learned, and will continue to learn and practice and preach as he goes on to college and then to serve a mission for our church in a year.
It is right and good to be bold in the faith, for me to be bold in my faith, to proclaim, yes, this is what I believe, and I am not embarrassed to say that I believe in this faith of my youth, more with every passing year, in fact, even if that marks me as hopelessly unsophisticated. But, it is right also to be humble (even uncertain) about our personal righteousness, our individual right-ness, to be meek, and timid about ourselves, and repentant of our shortcomings and sins. Bold about Christ and retiring about Jane. Putting God first and on our sleeves, and not trumpeting our own accomplishments. Concentrating wholly upon the beams in our own eyes rather than the motes in others’.
I think Ryan is learning this, and I wanted to give him a standing ovation, but that felt a little over the top. If nothing else, the people gathered that day to commemorate graduation knew what Ryan believed. He spoke with such conviction, such earnestness that they would remember devotion to this “divine being” along with honor and integrity as they begin their adult lives. Who can argue, even the greatest of atheists cannot argue, I wager, against worship of a God who decrees that the greatest service we can render is “in doing good to his other children.”
I guess I could have figured this out sooner. The first two principles of our religion are faith and repentance. Some are called to call others to repentance. Ryan will be called to do that as a missionary. I hope he remembers to preach faith first, and to never forget his own repentance as he invites others to join him. He will be a wonderful missionary, because he is not afraid, and is not ashamed of Christ.