Sunday, July 31, 2022


I spoke in church today. Of course I talked about Bruno!


“We don't talk about Bruno, no, no, no!
We don't talk about Bruno... but”

If I got that earworm stuck in your head again . . . “what can I say except you’re welcome?”

The story of Disney’s Encanto introduces Bruno as a mysterious, shadowy, and dangerous figure. The family claims to not talk about him all the while singing about him for three and a half minutes with catchy lyrics that will never truly leave us.

I’m here to talk about talking about Bruno. Directly, and perhaps in a way that’s uncomfortable. I know it’s uncomfortable for me. We have many in our faith community who have doubts. Those individuals are Bruno. We don’t talk about them, but . . .

I’m not standing here to bring skeletons out of the closet, but I’m also not here to do church apologetics. My goal in speaking today is to help us all be more Christlike in how we treat each other.

As I discuss things this morning, please follow the examples of the original 12 apostles. When Jesus announced during the last supper that one of them would betray Him, they did not all look over at Judas and say “oh, yeah. He’s definitely talking about him.” No, “they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22). We all have things to learn here.

I have some reservations in talking about this topic. I don’t have the time, knowledge, or experience to cover everything or even a small fraction of what needs to be said. I only know that the discussion isn’t happening and it needs to start.

My remarks today focus on three things: Not judging, accepting conflict, and prioritizing empathy.

Judge not

Let’s start with not judging.

The proverbial example of this comes when the scribes and Pharisees brought Christ “a woman taken in adultery.” A whole sermon can come from this one incident, but I’ll do the horrible thing of skipping to the punchline.

John 8:7 “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Faced with that rebuke, the Pharisees dropped their stones and left.

Christ taught earlier in the Sermon on the Mount: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” As a reminder: the Greek word translated to mote indicates a “speck, chip or splinter,” while the word for beam “refers to a wooden beam used in constructing houses.” Let that imagery sit for a minute: we’re pointing out a speck in somebody’s eye while we have a 2x4 (or larger) coming out of our head!

Let’s talk a little bit about how this looks in practice. We humans love to give labels. It can help us feel part of something, or marginalize a threat by creating an “other.” Even if the labels have some usefulness initially, we cling to them long after they outlive their usefulness. Most labels represent shallow judgment. Here are some examples:
  • Wicked
  • Stupid
  • Slothful
  • Brainwashed
  • Decommissioned temples
  • Whited sepulchers
  • Lazy taffy-pulling ingrate that’s acting like a petulant runaway child
  • Uneducated lemming just parroting somebody else’s ideas
  • Apostate
  • Misogynist
  • Sinful
  • Racist
  • Lost the light in their eyes
  • Ignorant sheep
  • Lost
  • Blind
  • Just stopped doing seminary answers
  • Conditioned to remain uninformed
Those don’t feel good. Have you heard some of those before? Were they directed at you? Have you given them out yourself? “Lord, is it I?”

We all tell stories to reinforce our own confirmation bias. When we find something that lines up nicely in the established box, we stamp it and ship out the judgment. We all do it. We tell analogies, metaphors, and parables to simplify complex topics, but then forget the simplification.
  • We can’t find happiness outside the church, but what’s with all the happy people?
  • We don’t believe in buffet style obedience, but what about the person with a peanut allergy?
  • My choices are nobody else’s business, but what about the lifeguard watching you drown in a pool?
  • You shouldn’t play with matches, but what about when we’re lighting a birthday cake?

There’s another episode in the scriptures about judgment: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this aman, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Even Christ's disciples didn’t get it.

Sometimes the reason does not fit into the nice pre-existing boxes. We should not judge. I’ll revisit this later, but humans are horrible at knowing the things that are happening in other people’s lives.

Accept uncertainty & conflict but avoid contention

Let’s move on to conflict.

We’re familiar that one of Christ’s first lessons after he came to the Nephites covered contention: “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” I think we often confuse contention with conflict. When we do that we forget about opposition.

Lehi taught to Jacob: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.”

Christ did not just stay in Galilee where it was comfortable and safe. He went to Samaria. He went to Jerusalem. He went out into the storms. He was comfortable being uncomfortable.

So how do we deal with the conflict that comes from opposition without devolving into contention? The answer can and does fill books, but I think it mostly boils down to motivation.

Adam Grant, organization psychologist at the Wharton School of Business and New York Times bestselling author of Think Again, said “the goal of a great discussion isn’t to land on the same page. It’s to explore different views. Nods and smiles stroke your ego and close your mind. Thoughtful questions stoke your curiosity and stretch your thinking. Consensus makes you comfortable. Dissent makes you smarter.” Aristotle said “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Said a little differently: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

This does not mean that every conflict avoids contention or has a net positive result. Sometimes conflict just breeds destruction. How do we keep it constructive? I have three suggestions:
  1. Admit ignorance & error, but also allow for it in others. It’s not a thought-terminating cliche or a conceding statement to not know something.
  2. Have curiosity. Ask follow up questions and dig beyond the surface.
  3. Maintain honesty & integrity while assuming it in others. Ad hominem attacks are easy and fun, but they’re also not helpful.
Once we see these qualities slipping away in members of the conflict then it has stopped being constructive. It might be time to step away from the discussion and pick it up later.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.”

Sometimes our questions will lead to conflict. That’s okay, and it will make us stronger as long as we avoid contention. 

Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Finally, let’s talk a bit about empathy.

You have probably heard of Stephen R Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I recommend all eight (he added one later), but his fifth habit applies here: “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

There’s an Indian parable about a group of blind men feeling an elephant. The first one feels the trunk and says it’s thick like a snake. The next one reaches its ear and says it seems like a fan. The next few indicate it feels like a tree trunk, a wall, and a rope. The final one felt the tusk and said it felt smooth like a spear. They’re all wrong. No seeing person would confuse an elephant with any of those objects. However, they’re also all right in understanding and describing what they feel.

Paul describes it like this: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” So what do we do to cope with these dark glasses?

Part of the problem comes with timing. When do we have these types of discussions involving doubt? The initial shock of somebody expressing doubts can leave us either flat footed or defensive. Coming back to revisit after that shock wears off can feel awkward or dangerous. Some with doubts express frustration that nobody asks them about their doubts, while others with doubts ask to be left alone. Regular Sunday lessons have a defined curriculum. There’s enough non-difficult parts of the gospel to fill any regular gospel discussion. Some teachers worry about loose cannons in their class, and some students worry about sounding like a loose cannon or derailing the class.

We have to move past that. We have to find a way to hear all the voices around us. When we mess up, we have to pick ourselves up and try again. When others mess up, we have to recognize sincere efforts to recover and allow for it. We have to admit that sometimes always aiming at the bull’s eye can give us tunnel vision. It’s the tendency of nearly all people to listen with the intent to reply, not the intent to understand. If your first response is to defend, testify, or solve, you aren’t really listening.

Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, a psychologist, relationship coach, and clinical professional counselor said: “When we are immature, or struggling to validate our own reality, we can feel really threatened by the presence of another reality or another way of thinking. And so how we often handle that is by not listening, not understanding, or rushing in to refute it. Because we’re almost afraid that if we don’t do that it will overtake our reality. Or that we’ll have to deal with that reality that we don’t want to deal with. And so sometimes I think truly listening is an act of tremendous courage.”

We need that tremendous courage to share our doubts and earnestly listen to those doubts in others with empathy.


So we’ve started to talk a little about talking about Bruno. Remember to judge not, accept conflict for growth, and prioritize real empathy. There’s a lot of lessons, besides just talking about Bruno, to learn from Disney’s Encanto. We all feel like Mirabel: always waiting on a miracle. I know that many things in this life experience can leave us feeling like that. We might have doubts causing us to question. We might have friends or family expressing doubts and are not sure how to best support them. Or we might have something else going on that leaves us waiting on a miracle.


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