At the April Women’s Conference, Cheryl Esplin used the imagery of a mirror and a window to talk about reaching out to others.

‘Be someone who reaches out to know and serve others—throw away the mirrors and look through the window.’.

Business people will know very well the imagery of the mirror and the window, but used in a different way than Sis. Esplin did in her talk.  The image is used in Jim Collins’ celebrated business tome Good to Great.  In the book he explains that when things aren’t going well in a company, revenues or stock prices are down, employee performance is suffering, customers are leaving, mediocre leaders look out the window for explanations:  to the market, competitors, customers, employees or other factors they see as mostly beyond their control or happening to them.  And when times are good, sales are up, the company is booming, mediocre managers look in the mirror to congratulate themselves on a job well done and take those accolades (not to mention bonuses).

Collins warns that for companies to go from good to great, leadership should instead look out the window when successes occur, acknowledging external factors that have driven that success like the market, poor decisions by competitors, consumer trends that were lucky, etc., and when times are going poorly, great leaders look in the mirror to evaluate what they could have done better, how they contributed to the poor results, or other course corrections they can make.

I once worked with a leadership consultant who said each of us should always act as though everything that happens is 100% our responsibility, our decision, our doing.  As he pointed out, it’s not necessarily true, but it is the only belief that empowers you.  Otherwise, you get stuck in the blame game, feeling a victim, and paralyzing yourself as you focus on the factors beyond your control.  It’s the same type of thinking Jim Collins describes in Good to Great.  It creates humility rather than hubris, improvements rather than excuses, creative problem solving rather than status quo poor results.

Several posts have been written about E. Holland’s recent rant in a meeting of LDS Singles in Tempe in which he said:

“Don’t you dare bail. I am so furious with people who leave this church. I don’t know whether ‘furious’ is a good apostolic word. But I am. What on earth kind of conviction is that? What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pull experience is that? As if none of this ever mattered, as if nothing in our contemporary life mattered, as if this is all just supposed to be “just exactly the way I want it and answer every one of my questions and pursue this and occupy that and defy this – and then maybe I’ll be a Latter-Day Saint”?! Well, there’s too much Irish in me for that.”

Video of E. Holland’s remarks is posted here.  His comments were met with laughter in the meeting, and with a lot of frustration and confusion across the internet.  His use of “patty cake” and “taffy pull” have bewildered some given that these are dated terms.  Is he referring to trivial activities?  Childish ones?  My immediate thought when he used those specific terms was that he was trying to avoid the use of the word “candy-ass,” an American slang term meaning “a timid, cowardly, or despicable person.”  Regardless of the origin of his choice of phrase, it certainly wasn’t meant as a compliment.

Several others have already noted the timing of both E. Holland’s statement and Tyler Glenn’s of Neon Trees releasing a new video that is, according to Rolling Stone, a “slam” on the Mormon church.  It is clearly the anguished work of a talented singer who up to six months ago (when the new exclusion policy was released) considered himself a true believing ambassador of the church, showing both the world and gay church members that being both a believing Mormon and gay was compatible.  Since Tyler is a returned missionary and has previously used his celebrity to bolster the church, this turnabout is particularly painful to see.  Was his faith and sacrifice a “patty-cake, taffy pull” experience?  Was his sacrifice easily thrown away?  Was he simply a weak disciple for leaving the church that put the policy in place?

Others have noted that although these two angry extremes aren’t equivalent, they do demonstrate two less useful approaches to finding common ground.  Both men are angry, frustrated, feel betrayed.  Two of my favorite responses are here and here, and a third response relates E. Holland’s remarks to a lecture by Malcolm Gladwell that I also enjoyed.

Martin Harris often gets a bum rap in our church for losing the 116 pages of manuscript, but aside from his funding the publication of the Book of Mormon, one of my favorite things about Martin Harris is when he offered to withdraw from the group to let them have a spiritual experience.  He asked, echoing the words of Judas, “Is it I?”  When things weren’t working, instead of looking out the window, he looked in the mirror.

I suspect in time Tyler Glenn will come to regret the anger of his video and the wound he sought to inflict in the manner of his expression, not because his anger is not justified, but because he is at heart a good person.  I likewise hope that E. Holland’s flash of anger will give way to introspection, because despite his claimed “Irish” temper, he likewise is a good person.

Why are people leaving the church?  Is it because they are weak disciples?  Certainly some are, but so are many who stay.  A better question, a more empowering question is, are there things that our leaders and membership need to change so that we are more Christlike and creating a more valuable spiritual atmosphere for those who are leaving?  And if so, what are those things?

When I look in the mirror, here are the things I see we need to change.

  • We need to quit being afraid of differences and doubts.  It’s hubris to assume we have all the answers to every question.  It’s ill-advised to silence people with questions.  It always backfires.  Am I always speaking up to share my own unique perspective or to ask thoughtful questions?
  • We need to get completely out of the culture wars.  Political questions are largely irrelevant to one’s ability to live a righteous life.  Jesus lived in an even more politically charged environment and managed to skirt it by saying “Render unto Caesar.”  I’m reminded of an exchange from the Screwtape Letters.  Wormwood is rejoicing to his uncle that war has broken out in Europe, believing that the mortal peril of humans is a good thing for their devilish cause.  His uncle cautions him that war is both a positive and a negative to their cause.  Yes, some sinners will be killed while in sin, but others will become more repentant and righteous in the face of danger and be lost to them.  Likewise, culture wars have both positive and negative effects on the human soul.  Too often they foster pride, arrogance, intolerance, and a desire to control others while bolstering one’s own sense of moral superiority.
  • We need new ideas, not status quo. Many church programs were created by prior generations in response to various problems.  Some ideas, like Roadshows and Gold & Green Balls, have come and gone.  Other ideas seem to have a stronger hold, but that doesn’t mean those programs are the right ones for today.  If we are so concerned about younger generations leaving, where are the focus groups?  How are we encouraging people to speak openly about why they are leaving?  Referring them back to their stakes is not going to get the message through.  A good focus group is directed and guided by sound principles.
  • We need to focus on Christ’s teachings and applying them in our lives.  While this is a focus, it often gets lost in other pet topics such as “family” and “obedience.”  While these secondary topics may be fine as a supplement, they are not the main event.  In a recent Gospel Doctrine class I was in, the teacher asked what the main focus was of the gospel, and believe it or not, about 80% of the respondents said “The Family.”  The teacher was looking for “The Atonement.”  Many weeks at church, so am I, and not finding it.  These side topics have become a sort of doctrinal kudzu, taking all the energy we could be devoting to improving our discipleship and instead focusing it short of the mark.
  • Admit mistakes.  Not admitting mistakes undermines authority far more, particularly to this generation, than does admitting them.  That may not have been the case in older generations, particularly those who fought in wars.  Military experience says “you follow orders or people die, son.”  Obedience is expedient in war.  But not all obedience is equal, and our lives are mostly lived in peace time.  When we refuse to admit flaws and mistakes and put on a mask of perfection, it is seen through.  Only one is perfect, and it’s not us.
  • Service missions.  People learn to follow Christ when they serve others.  If we changed the focus of our missionary works on service first and teaching second (or never), young people would find the experience worthwhile and attractive even if they have doubts.  Investigators would want to be a part of our efforts and would feel the gospel in action in their lives through serving others.  Trying to teach the gospel when you are struggling with your own testimony is difficult.  Gaining a testimony through service seems more likely than gaining one through saying you have one and hoping that it becomes true (or the mantra that the testimony is found in the bearing thereof).  A testimony of the “church” absent a love of Christlike service isn’t much of a testimony for a person professing to follow Christ.
  • More diversity.  We need diverse perspectives in all decision making bodies, not tokens.  When all decisions are made by white males over 50 living in the intermountain west, they come from a position of understanding that one perspective very well, while not understanding other perspectives very well or even being aware to consider them.  There’s nowhere to go but up on this one.  Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see how those who are barred from these decision making bodies can get their perspectives out there.  How do women, gay people, singletons, intellectuals, and liberals explain their experience?  For now, we blog.
  • Quit making fun of people.  We shouldn’t be making fun of people as members of the church of Jesus Christ.  We shouldn’t be making fun of transgender people, gay people, men, women, children, those with disabilities, those who fit the mold or those who don’t fit the mold.  Can’t we show some respect for God’s children and be kind?  Laughing at mean-spirited jokes that are designed to pander to the base is beneath us.  Let’s do better.  There are plenty of things in life that are funny without belittling people for differences.  It’s OK to be angry; it isn’t OK to be cruel.
  • Practice Patience & Forgiveness.  I like what Adam Miller has to say about the purpose of being part of a church community not being the comfort of being surrounded by like-minded people, but the challenge and growth associated with being surrounded by people who differ from us in so many ways.  We all feel frustrated at times, but patience is godly.  We all want to rant sometimes, but forgiveness teaches us humility.

What ideas do you have?