The other day I had lunch with a friend of mine. She is a wonderful woman who once went to church on a regular basis but somewhere along the way got out of the habit. Not at all unusual, in other words. When I invited her to come to our meetings one of these Sundays, she told me that she couldn’t. Wouldn’t feel right, she said. I’d feel like a hypocrite, she said.
That feeling—that somehow she would be out of place—is, I’m sure a common one. We Mormons, for good and bad, have very public standards to which we claim to adhere. Of course, we all—and I mean all—have a tendency to wander from those standards in not-so-public ways. It’s called being human. And it’s that very recognition of our humanity that gave substance and purpose to the ministry of Jesus Christ. His Atonement provided the means for us humans to rise above our shortcomings. It’s why he died.
And it’s also why we go to church. We need to be reminded of Him and strengthened by Him, and as a general rule it’s best to do that with others who need Him as much as we do.
Still there is a certain self-consciousness that comes when we think that those around us are somehow “aware” of our foibles and bad habits. I am reminded of a piece written by Robert Kirby, a Mormon humorist and newspaper columnist. He was talking about smoking, but he could have been talking about any of the other things that might make us feel somehow out of place:
It’s too bad that other “sins” don’t smell as strongly as tobacco. Christians probably wouldn’t be so smug if they did. Smoking might even become the relatively minor problem that it is if intolerance and arrogance simply smelled like a dead cat.
How about being selfish? What if being stingy and mean smelled like, oh, say, the dump? Or, better yet, raw sewage? How’d you like to sit next to someone in Church with a chain-stingy habit?
What if impure thoughts smelled like you had a three-week-old carp hanging around your neck? You could, I suppose, tell your wife that the smell came from being with your friends instead of your own impure thoughts. And if gullibility smelled like garlic or a wet dog, you’d know immediately if she believed you.
Even sniffing these smells could get you in trouble. It could lead to passing judgment on others. Things could get really confusing if being judgmental smelled like spoiled milk. The smokers would be laughing at us.
The best we can hope for is that God has a better nose than we do.
Lest we forget, Jesus himself said that we should only criticize others when we ourselves are beyond reproach. Otherwise, we should keep in mind that we’re all pretty much in the same boat, awkwardly pulling at the oars and pausing from time to time to bail water. I guess in that sense, Sundays are a good time to help one another bail.