‘The Book of Mormon’ and compassion

No, the headline is not a joke.

Last Saturday, Aaron and I had the opportunity to see “The Book of Mormon” at the Durham Performing Arts Center. As a former occasional viewer (and cringer) of “South Park”, I had assumptions of what type of production I would see unfold on stage during the matinee performance.


I knew nothing about the plot. All I was told is that I would likely be offended and would very likely laugh. At this point, I can confirm both of those statements were affirmed. But, I was also appreciative.

While Trey Parker and Matt Stone push the envelope in ways that bump up against our comfort zones (or even railroad them completely), they also pack a punch when it comes to developing meaningful, underlying themes. Or, at least that’s what I took from “The Book of Mormon.”

Compassion. Meeting people where they are at. Listening first. Utilizing the power of storytelling to cross cultures, build relationships, and form bonds between people – before worrying about differences and deficits. All of these elements bubbled up during the 2+ hour journey of two Mormon missionaries navigating their time in Uganda.

Interestingly, Aaron and I had a conversation the night prior about religion and certain aspects of spiritual practices.  Aaron underscored the critical importance of compassion for each other, of stretching ourselves beyond our own skin and finding ways to support others in our world even when we disagree or question belief systems. As Aaron says: “I wish the world was run by love.” (or O.A.R. might have said that too…)

Religion can often be an easy target for satire. While “The Book of Mormon” does extract the – shall I say – quirkier parts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints teachings, it also gives confirmation that having faith is not necessarily wrong or bad. The  literal vs. metaphor theme is woven throughout the script – not surprising because that is often the crux of religious arguments (and Constitutional to boot). I won’t share more if you are planning to see this at some point, but it’s nothing novel in terms of the ongoing conflict between how strict certain doctrines should be followed. Interpretation can be a slippery slope to some; for others, it’s the power of free will and adaptation.

Regardless of which camp a person identifies with, the underlying premise is that if we’re going to build harmony and community across our globe, we need to lead with our hearts. I found this editorial from Rwanda where the main call for action is for people to champion compassion in 2016:

As individuals we can touch the lives of the vulnerable people in society within our means. Every community has vulnerable people.

So as an individual make it a resolution to touch the life of a vulnerable person in 2016. If each individual does this, the world will be a better place by the end of 2016.

Sharon Salzburg, a meditation teacher, New York Times contributor and Buddhist, highlights the need for not just compassion – but fierce compassion:

We can learn the art of fierce compassion – redefining strength, deconstructing isolation and renewing a sense of community, practicing letting go of rigid us-vs.-them thinking – while cultivating power and clarity in response to difficult situations.

However we choose to put this value into action in our lives and become a core mindset in our daily routine, let’s choose to make it a priority for 2016. Maybe seeing “The Book of Mormon” will inspire you. And yes, it will likely make you do this too:

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