Sunday, May 19, 2024

Lessons from Small and Big Towns

Why #faith in Jesus Christ and #church matter. A lesson learned from Abinadi today, who happens to be my FAVORITE prophet in this year’s Come Follow Me curriculum.

Collette and I just sat on our front porch at our apartment today after church when we got home and talked for a bit. In our congregation at church we have noticed there are a few things that are really good and a few things that worry us. The things that are wonderful and soul building are things typical of a small town where we live for now. However, the things that are concerning are also, from my experience, typical of a small town.

We keep going because we value truth and love more than comfort.

I’ll explain. I’ve been in a lot of small towns in my life and a lot of middle size and big cities as well. I grew up in tiny Delta, Colorado, lived in Grand Junction for a while, resided in Collingwood (tiny), Sudbury (smallish), London (big), Brampton (big), Temiskaming (super tiny), Hamilton (big), Parry Sound (super tiny) and Waterloo (midsize) Ontario, Canada, and Orem, Provo and Cedar City, Utah. What I’ve noticed about each is that there is a pronounced and glaring difference in church membership in the small communities; and it’s been the same every single time. 

The difference is that in the big cities, there has been a higher concentration of folks in the general population who care about how they feel more than anyone else’s wellbeing. Naturally, this contributes to higher crime rates, more overall toleration of evil and higher antagonism towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who follow prophetic counsel by living the gospel conspicuously. The GOOD part of this for the overall spiritual health of the members of the church in these areas is that, in my experience, most of these people are always aware of just how wicked these places are where they have lived for so long. This positively affects their zeal for living the truth and makes it more obvious to many of them just how far away our society is today from Christ and the absolute truth He taught and lived. I actually wrote a song about this recently that’ll be released soon. These members of the church understand just how grotesque, debauched, selfish, lazy, arrogant, whiny and carelessly sinful their cities of residence have become. 

They have allowed their awareness of this to change their hearts to WANT to be as centered on Christ, the truth and His prophets as possible. They know what real life looks like in our fallen world better than most, but most of them don’t allow the depressing nature of the world drag them down, they use it as motivation to become the light of Christ that others in the city look to when things get REALLY bad. They become a pillar of joy and truth, unapologetically, to the public, even and especially when it opens them up to persecution.

-Like them, we go to church because we value truth and love more than comfort.-

… rewind

When I left my home town of Delta, Colorado, I quickly realized a few things, especially when I went to serve my mission. 1. Like most of the small towns I lived in in Canada, Delta has the same down to earth, honest to goodness kindness. 2. I wonder if my parents moved there to keep me away from all the bad things that are easier to get involved with in the big cities, and I’m thankful they did, 3. The only down side to this is that those who DO stay in small towns long term unknowingly suffer from a certain kind of small town ignorance. It’s an ignorance of what it feels like to experience worst kinds of personal trial and struggle, especially at the hands of other people. I know it might seem weird for me to say that but stay tuned.

I obviously haven’t lived in nearly enough small towns to know if it’s the same on a global or even national scale. But from my limited experience, small town people who have lived there for a long time tend to get really scared of anything that challenges their small town paradigm. I know I certainly would have responded in arrogance and criticism if someone had told 18 year old me that I didn’t know what real suffering for the sake of truth feels like. But had anyone told me that, in retrospect, they would have been 100% correct. 

After ten years of Lorraine and I suffering more kinds of trauma than most people ever go through in ten lifetimes (before she passed away), one of the things I was most nervous about moving back to the States was a lack of opposition. This may sound strange to some, but if anyone reads this who knows anything about our journey together up there, you’ll know a little of what I’m talking about. The reason I was a little scared might seem backwards to some. The whole time up there was a massive struggle to fight against the constant, intense opposition and trauma we suffered at the hands of the negligent and intensely selfish and wicked general population in Hamilton, Ontario; and by “constant”, I mean daily and often even hourly… for 10 years. BECAUSE of the opposition, as we partnered with Christ and lived by prophetic counsel the best we could, the person I was able to become was something I NEVER wanted to lose. 

Thanks to the weight of the burdens we were under, I was able to develop enough spiritual traction to experience massive amounts of personal growth and wisdom God never would have been able to instill in me in such a relatively short period of time had we not pressed forward in faith under such extreme circumstances.  I was so scared to lose that! If you want, inbox me and I can tell you about a very intense, strange, and revealing spiritual experience I had crossing the border back into the United States from Canada in 2019. Anyways, you can read more about this idea in David A Bednar’s April 2014 talk, “Bear Up Their Burdens With Ease.”

Now I live in a small town again after spending the first three years of my marriage with Collette in a big-ish city. And yes, to me, Provo, Orem, AF, PG and Lehi all together are one big city. The same thing I’ve noticed in every other small town is true here. Within a few weeks after we moved in, we had already (kindly) asked our neighbors in our building several times to stop smoking so close to the building since Collette is asthmatic as well as sensitive to smells and I’m just really sensitive to the smell. Especially since it’s illegal where we are. One of them got really angry and told us we moved to the wrong town. Remember what I alluded to earlier about people being stuck in their ways? This pattern has continued with other neighbors, no matter how kind we try to be. The small town paradigm here is no different than any other small town I’ve ever been in.

Kindness is prevalent generally, but only when their perception of truth and trial isn’t challenged. Even at church, several instances of plainly false principles have been taught from the pulpit in our congregation and I have felt several staring eyes at me when I have spoken up for the truth in Sunday School or in testimony meeting. Defending the truth has gotten me in trouble socially. Whatever. Good thing I stopped caring years ago about what others think of me (different from caring how they feel). I’m happy to explain more about this if you want to ask. Collette says that’s one of the reasons she loves me. One of the reasons Collette and I get along so well is because we both have family members that care more about personal comfort than truth and we are able to help each other find ways to love them without diluting our discipleship.

Still, we go to church because we value truth and love more than comfort.

***Please don’t get me wrong here. I AM NOT saying that I have some kind of personal grievance against small towns. I do not believe they are somehow inherently worse than big cities. Remember I did say that the big cities I have been in are far more wicked and small towns seem to have generally kinder people. Small towns are where most of the people are who have a problem with big government and Satan’s secret combinations at the highest levels of leadership in our country. Good on them! Many of them just don’t seem to be able to adapt very well to truth when it contradicts their own life paradigm. That’s something God used about big cities to teach me how to adapt in obedience when God challenges my world view. 

I remember one small town I was told about here in Utah, where one of my SLCC professors used to live, where a member of their family was trying to get help for feeling like they were the other gender. Because such an idea was scary to their Bishop and Stake President, it was swept under the rug, and they were told to be silent about it and not tell anyone else and that they were not going to get help for it and to just forget about it. Even after multiple pleas for help, all the Stake President did was tell them that they would all face church disciplinary action and church courts if they ever mentioned it to him again or told the public their story, despite the severe mental health issues the situation was causing. This was the same Stake President who bribed his son to go on a mission by offering to buy him a car. 🤦‍♂️… small town paradigm, I could swear. Good thing those leaders will be held accountable to God for that and Christ will balance all things in the end. Although I will say Collette said she’s been in one small town that was the complete opposite, wonderfully so. 🤷‍♂️ so obviously all of them aren’t like that, I’ve just never personally been in one that’s not. Again, I understand that my own experience is only my own.

The bottom line here is that, like Abinadi, we aren’t out to look good, be popular, liked or anything else. What we care about is the truth! As Christ taught, only the truth can set you free! Sometimes the truth will make you look awkward to the rest of the world, but to me that’s a badge of honor. Like Abinadi, you may only touch one person’s heart with what you say. Heck, you may  think you’re doing absolutely no good, but I will tell you, like Abinadi, you don’t know what good the seed you plant will do in someone’s heart who didn’t have the faith to defend you in the truth in the moment. Later on they will remember you and what you did.

That is why we we go stay faithful to God’s prophets. Like Abinadi, we value truth and love more than comfort. In the end, when you combine truth and love in perfect balance, you’re GOING to ruffle some feathers. People are going to tell you your love is actually “hate” or “bigotry”. Don’t fall for it. Whether it’s those who are deceived about the gay lifestyle, so-called “transgender” matters, religion in general, the validity of prophetic counsel, tithing funds, the word of wisdom, sexual purity and modesty, media choices, idol worship (this is a big one), dishonesty or any other number of lies the devil peddles, don’t you fall for it! That is just their personal sins itching in their mind and their own history, unknown to you, is like a slave master, whipping them into numb obedience to the carnal nature of the flesh every time the truth is presented to them. It’s a far cry different from the free, deliberate, intentional, ultra aware, clear visioned obedience of adherence to Christ.

That kind of obedience is far more joyful.