I was recently asked by someone dear to me to join the fray here at mormonmatters.org, and I looked forward to the challenge. I must admit, due to my “distance” growing up from any major LDS hubs (I have mentioned elsewhere that I grew up in a small branch Western Kentucky), I have been somewhat insulated from some of the issues that effect the posters that post here, and never gave them much thought. It wasn’t that these issues didn’t exist, but, being that I was one of three Latter-day Saints in my high school, when asked about the Church’s position about, say, same-sex marriage, I just said something off the top of my head, using my intuition and what I knew from the Scriptures, and assumed that was the Church’s position. The Church was neither ubiquitous nor monolithic to me. It was a small branch comprised of about three big families. I am sometimes somewhat amused by the difference between the issues facing Latter-day Saints “Out West” and those for me.
I find myself more interested in matters of emotion, art, and music, then, and one point in particular has caught my attention at various times in my life. That is, the relationship of the Church to sadness. I had a crash course once I hit my teenage years (as many of those inclined towards the artistic things of life are) in sadness, and honestly, the Church didn’t seem to help. I saw a huge grey swath between the concepts of The Spirit, depression, joy, sin, and righteousness. Depression recently has found some attention in Church publications, but I found that there are still, just as there were when I was young, remnants of the idea out there that somehow depression is always caused by sin and righteous living always leads to joy, or the idea that if you are happy, this must come from the Spirit. It seemed that, in the LDS world, we can tend to have quite a “perfection” complex, and sadness is seen as imperfection. We can’t let anyone see our imperfections! Why can’t we just be perfect like the Stake President’s family? Yet any psychologist will tell you that repression of sadness (and none of us are immune to this at some point in our lives) leads to strange manifestations in other places in one’s life. It was difficult for my young teenage mind to really center on one concept or the other (emotion vs. the Spirit), and it was especially troubling when I actually found catharsis in sad songs.
Luckily I’ve found in recent times that there are LDS artists who are focusing on, not praise music, or what you’d typically find on EFY CDs, but worldly forms of music: rap, punk, heavy metal, folk, the list goes on. It is LDS music that I’m interested in, but not necessarily “LDS Music.” I’m more interested in musicians who happen to be LDS, whose faith seeps out from the seams of their work, rather than those who place the faith before the art. In defense of sad songs, I’ve found that, rather than suppress our sadness, we learn about it, admit it to ourselves, and only then can we “fix” it. This is what the artist does: she holds a mirror to herself, paints a self-portrait, warts and all, and then shows the result to the listener, who finds relief in the discovery that they are not alone. Thus Christlike bonds are formed between human beings. No pretending to be perfect here.