Friday, February 5, 2016

The Gluten-free Bread of Life

My new calling at church has me sitting on the stand a few times per month, so I get to observe things from a different vantage point. Last Sunday, a few minutes before sacrament meeting started, a woman brought a baggie with a piece of corn tortilla up to the priests at the sacrament table. She said that she was gluten free and needed an alternative way to take the sacrament. One of the priests placed the tortilla in a paper cup so that it wouldn't be contaminated by the bread and then put it on a sacrament tray.

I found this whole exchange very moving. It was beautiful to see an accommodation made so that a fellow saint can participate in worshiping with us without doing herself harm. The tortilla wasn't labeled as inferior, different, or non-ideal. When the priest blessed the bread, the tortilla was blessed right along with it. Both the bread and the tortilla became equally representative of the body of Christ.

This got me thinking about spiritual gluten. What things are we doing at church that nourish the majority but harm a few? So often, I hear people say things like "we can't worry about people who don't fit the mold because we have to teach 'the ideal'." That's the spiritual equivalent of telling someone with celiac disease to eat the bread and be happy about it because it's good for 98% of the population. To do this is to spiritually poison some of our fellow saints.

Sometimes we'll do lip service to different circumstances, but it often comes off as condescending and exclusionary. I'm reminded of how Mother's Day is often handled at church. Women without children are patted on the head and told that we matter, but it's immediately followed up with language like "motherhood is the most important thing you can do with your life." (Subtext: "so what you're doing isn't.") Our spiritual corn tortilla apparently isn't good enough. It's not just those without children who are subjected to language like this. Single adults, parents with children who do not practice the faith, people married to non-members, mothers who are employed, fathers who are stay at home parents, and many other people who won't be featured on the cover of the Ensign experience this to varying degrees.

How much better, how much more Zion-like, would our church be if, instead of merely tolerating differences, we blessed the spiritual corn tortillas our fellow saints brought to church? What would it be like if we truly believed that God's hand can be found in the lives of all His people, not just those whose lives look like the general authorities.

It would go something like this: "Brother and Sister Smith, your temple marriage is good and holy, and the ward is here to feed your soul. Sister Jones, your singleness is good and holy, and the ward is here to feed your soul. Brother Johnson, you are doing a wonderful job raising your children alone, and your single parenthood is good and holy. The ward is here to feed your soul. Sister Diaz, your marriage to a non-member is good and holy, and the ward is here to feed your soul."

Blessing and validating the lives of Sister Jones, Brother Johnson, and Sister Diaz does nothing to take away from the lives of Brother and Sister Smith. They are not harmed by the spiritual corn tortillas that others bring, but denigrating spiritual corn tortillas in the name of conformity - because wheat bread is good enough for most people - unnecessarily separates our fellow saints from fully partaking of the wonder that is the gospel.

For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.
Doctrine and Covenants 27:2

When we remember the body of Christ, it doesn't matter whether that body is represented by bread made from wheat or a tortilla made from corn as long as we have an eye single to God's glory when we eat. The church is often called the body of Christ. As long as we have an eye single to God's glory, the circumstances of our lives don't matter. Don't make our spiritually gluten free saints choose between eating something harmful or going away hungry. Our spiritual corn tortillas should be blessed alongside the bread.