Receiving God’s Image in Our Countenances Does Not Destroy Individuality

[ 7 ] Comments

by Ray DeGraw

I saw a very profound, short statement on the wall of a high school I was visiting a while ago.  It said:

You were (created) as an original.  Don’t become a copy.

First, I absolutely love this quote in and of itself.  While I understand and accept the need for communal conformity to certain, minimal standards, at the most fundamental level, I am a child of God, created as a unique mortal being – and that uniqueness is important to me.

What struck me about this quote is that too many people see Zion as total uniformity / unanimity / homogeneity.  They see “being united” as being indistinguishable from each other in any important way. They see becoming “perfect” as becoming exactly alike in every way. At least, that is how they appear to believe, based on how they act toward those who are different than they are.

I disagree.

My favorite General Conference talk of all time (as my children will attest, while rolling their eyes and exclaiming, “I told you so!“) is Elder Joseph Wirthlin’s “Concern for the One” – and the part that resonates the most within me is the analogy of the multiple instruments and harmonies that are necessary to create a beautiful orchestral sound.  Elder Wirthlin states that God didn’t create the grand orchestra of humanity to value only  the piccolos -which, interestingly, are one of the most piercing instruments ever created.

Everyone playing the same instrument all the time or even different instruments but the exact same notes at the exact same time, all the time – even when technically mistake-free and precise – is not fully beautiful music.  At best, it is a beautiful melody.  As someone who loves music, I can say passionately that, at worst, it can be soul-less.

All kinds of very different instruments playing intricate harmonies, counter-melodies and even varying rhythms in synch with each other and with passion and expression . . . striving to follow the direction of the same conductor . . . .

THAT is beautiful music.

I am reminded of the description of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 – where each and every part is said to be as important and critical as any other, largely because each part is fundamentally and importantly different than any other part.

Truly, there is a need for some kind of uniformity and communal standardization here in mortal sociality, but we were created by God as originals.

Truly, we can’t allow ourselves to become copies.

  • What is unique about you that can contribute to the orchestra of your own local congregation?
  • What challenges do you face accepting your own and others’ unique “sounds”? 
  • How do you view Zion?

About Ray DeGraw

I am the husband of my high school sweetheart and father of six children. I basically have no life outside of family, work and church - except blogging, which I have been doing actively, to put it mildly, for the past 5 years. I have lived in almost every section of the United States and currently reside in Carson City, NV. I have written at Things of My Soul, Mormon Matters, Times & Seasons and - and commented more than occasionally at various sites in the Bloggernacle.

7 Responses to Receiving God’s Image in Our Countenances Does Not Destroy Individuality

  1. Sarah says:

    This is something I grapple with regularly. I live in a foreign country; I homeschool my kids; I am a vegetarian; I am a bit of a hippy (whatever that even means); I don’t put my 2 year old in nursery if she doesn’t want to go; I have a disabled child; the list goes on. I don’t really feel like I “fit in” amongst the people at church.

    But they love me. I have never been excluded from forming friendships or worshipping on a Sunday. It’s my own hangups that make me feel weird and out of place.

    Thanks for this reminder. I will do my best to keep my head up and march to my own drummer, to borrow your music metaphor….

  2. Paul says:

    I’ve been very fortunate most of my life to live in diverse congregations where there was no hope of uniformity, only in unity. Those congregations were diverse racially, economically, socially, intellectually and, ultimately, in the individual practice of the gospel. Yet still in those congregations was the unity of charity. I suspect that since that is the kind of congregation I knew as a child, it is likely that I’ve interpreted every other congregation through that lens.

  3. Becca says:

    I think this is something that keeps many people away from the Church. They don’t want to lose their individuality.

    Sarah – I think your individuality is great! I imagine that you are not judgemental of those who choose to put their children in public school, eat meat, or leave their screaming children in nursery, and thankfully it sounds like your ward is not judgemental of you 🙂

    One reason I think we need all different kinds of people, who do things in different ways, is because the children of the world all have unique needs, and what I can give my child may not be what he/she needs, but maybe someone else can touch my child in a way that will bring them closer to Christ. My parents were great parents, and they did a good job parenting, but I had many youth leaders, bishops, even moms of some of the kids I babysat who had a more profound impact on certain aspects of my life than my parents could have. Not that I was missing anything from my parents – like I said, they were great parents. But I don’t do everything the way they would, and I wouldn’t expect my children to do things the way I would – which means they need other good role models to follow.

    Unity in the gospel I think is more about where our hearts are than where our actions are.

    I really enjoyed your comment, Sarah. It really got me thinking.

  4. NotMolly says:

    My view of Zion: unity, not uniformity. I love the concept of an orchestra.

    I do struggle with patience at times, and expect I’ll continue to do so, but when I’ve made the effort to just ENJOY the efforts of my fellow siblings in Christ, things go a lot more smoothly. If I’m participating with a criticizing heart, nothing goes smoothly.

  5. Hedgehog says:

    Good to remember Ray. It’s a topic I chew over a lot sometimes. I slightly edited my comment on a post elsewhere, as it is relevant here too.
    “I think some of it might have to do with our having more description of what heaven is like and what being there involves (compared to other faiths), and the lists if things to do, to conform to… The whole patriarchal structure of everything, for me at least, doesn’t look attractive as an eternal model, so that there are lots of questions I have about putting in all that work and then maybe not liking it anyway. But why is that ‘wrong’, surely becoming perfect doesn’t mean we all have to change to like the same things, want the same things does it? Is there room to still be myself as well, or is that just hopelessly arrogant? Is there only one ‘perfect’?
    “In attending the temple I have always felt a warmth there. On all previous occasions I attended, I had tried to put all those concerns about the stuff I didn’t like to the back of my mind, so as not to distract me, whilst participating. I always felt the warmth and a calmness. Last time however I changed tactics. As I participated I had an ongoing conversation, in prayer, about all the things that bugged me as they occurred, the small stuff as well as the bigger stuff, not in a way of complaining, but explaining how I felt. What I felt in return was an amazing love and acceptance and belonging. I didn’t get any answers about the things that bugged me (and bug me still), but I really, really felt at home, that I truly belonged.”

    I think there is a dilemma, in visualising ‘being made new in Christ’, but still being ourselves, and maintaining that vision. I remember the talk. Though as a brass player, I was only reminded that the church policy doesn’t seem to view all instruments equally either 😉 . (Does that last sentence approach a boundary of sorts on this blog? Please say if it does.) A brass band can do wonders for a hymn. And the view of brass soloists in church meetings seems to be based on a limited knowledge of the capabilities of the instruments. We did have those 3 French horns in the General RS Meeting a few years ago, though no movement since… Anyway the reason I’m saying this is, the lesson I’m taking, is that I hope I can be more flexible in how I view the capabilities of others, and what their gifts can bring to a particular role or calling, which might not necessarily be obvious to me at the time they are called, or when considering as part of an auxilliary president who to suggest for a particular calling.

    • Hedgehog says:

      auxilliary *presidency. Sorry.

    • Hedgehog says:

      I guess what I was trying to say is this, the orchestra analogy doesn’t mean we should limit ourselves or others, put them or ourselves in a box, according to what we think their or our instrument can do. Yes a trumpet can be loud, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be incredibly lyrical as well.

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