A Public Confession to my Bishop

Dear Bishop:

I just did a bad thing.  I didn’t mean for it to get to out of hand. I underestimated my passion, and the passion of…well, you know how it happens.  It started out so innocently.  First of all, it was April Fools’ Day, and I did what felt right.  I wrote a lie on Facebook.  I included you, Bishop, in the lie.  I said:

Seriously, I’m surprised.  I have no idea who inspired this (Gladys Knight?), but my husband, a Mormon bishop, just got an official letter from SLC that LDS church services will now allow “CONSERVATIVE” guitar and drum music in sacrament services.  The instructions say that these instruments should be used only for opening and closing hymns, but not for the sacrament hymn.  I’m guessing it’ll be publicly announced at General Conference, but it’ll take me that long to get used to it.  I’m grateful! I’ve really wanted this.

You and I know that’s not true, and you and I also know that I do enjoy some dry humor.  You know how to identify when I’m joking, because my mouth puckers just a bit.  But on Facebook, nobody sees my mouth.  You know my history.

I once started my BYU class by announcing that the administration had requested we have a Jimmer Fredette moment. I asked a student to speak for a bit on what Jimmer meant to him personally.  He gave me the most delightful look, while another student asked, “The administration asked you to do this?”  I once said that Canada was getting serious about its borders and that Americans had to sing the Canadian National Anthem before crossing into Canada.  And I told my dear friend in Florida that I planned on going into the water only thigh deep where the sharks were.  But how can I resist when I get a look like he gave me before he said, “Are you SERIOUS?”

But this one… This one on Facebook.  People got excited. One said: “That is beautiful news!” Another: “This is a brilliant move that will allow many converts from different locations to hear sounds that connects them to the Divine like organ music dose for others. They got this one right.”  Someone else: “Oh, wow, I’m just, wow!”  And they shared it.  Like eight or ten times.  As though it were a wonderful truth.

Bishop, there is a yearning for the kind of music that lets us rejoice in ways that resonate with us, lift up our hearts, sometimes make us weep.  There is no “orthodox” music for praising Jesus, is there? Do the angels sing only Bach or Brahms?  I’m certain that angels who used to roam the hills of Africa might sometimes sing a hymn in Lingala or Swahili, just to remember the feel of those sounds on their tongues.  Might angels who know China have a completely unfamiliar (to us) way of saying, “Praise God!”?  My dear black brother, Darius, often goes to Calvary Baptist just so he can sing the songs of his childhood.

So this FB comment turned me serious: “What is the rule for choosing music though? if it’s not in the hymn book does the music need to by an LDS composer or lyricist? There are so many other Christian & Gospel songs that I would love to sing in sacrament other than  the LDS ones that everyone’s already mostly heard before.”

I answered–in my true self:

Speaking very seriously on a matter which matters deeply to me, when I was music chair in my ward, we were not allowed to have traditional spirituals.  That rule, if it still exists, has got to go.  My personal goal, if I ever have any power, is to make a hymnbook (with a committee, okay) that represents the whole world.  We should have hymns from every nation on earth.

Since you and I sleep together quite frequently, Bishop, you are well aware of my feelings on this.  How I would love to sing “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired!” with Bea Darden during Sacrament Meeting, or to hear James Sheppard sing “Balm of Gilead.”  How I would love to join a whole congregation promising God  that we “ain’t goin’ study war no more.”

Is there a single hymn in our hymnbook that’s NOT from Europe?  European hymns made sense during the church’s beginnings.  But now?  When will we recognize that He’s got the WHOLE world in his hands?  When will we learn one another’s songs and delight in ALL our ways of raising a joyful noise?  When will we learn to sing God a new song, a song from our hearts and homes–wherever our homes might be?

I am sorry I lied, Bishop.  Oh dang, there goes another lie.  I’m not sorry.  Anyway, I’m glad I got to talk to you about this.  It matters to me so much. It’s not a joke.

Sincerely,

Your wife

Margaret

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About Margaret Blair Young

Margaret Blair Young teaches literature and creative writing at Brigham Young University. For the past fifteen years, she has specialized in the history of blacks in the west, particularly black Mormons. She has written six novels and two short story collections, but has lately become interested in filmmaking. Her current endeavor is a film to be shot in Zambia called Heart of Africa (www.heartofafricafilm.com)


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