So much has happened since I last posted on my blog. (I'll fill you in on some of the details later.) What has finally prompted me to get back to posting is an important event that took place last Saturday at the LDS Film Festival in Provo: the premiere screening of Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, a documentary that Margaret has been working on for many months. To get a sense of what the documentary is all about, you might want to visit http://www.untoldstoryofblackmormons.com.
I'm copying here comments I posted on Gideon Burton's blog, where he reviewed the documentary (see http://gideonburton.typepad.com/gideon_burtons_blog/2008/01/lds-film-fest-3.html for his review):
Gideon, thanks for your generous and powerful review, powerful in large part because you've tuned in to the power of the documentary. Margaret and Darius and others who've been involved have done a remarkable job collecting the material and putting it together to create a finished product of high technical quality (something rather amazing considering how little money they had and the fact that this is pretty much a first effort in documentary making for most of those involved)--and even more than that a product that conveys such a rich and deep sense of the experiences and faith of black members.
[An inserted note: By the way, my contributions have been pretty minor--mostly being supportive along the way and helping with little assignments here and there. Darius and Margaret are really responsible for what's happened, with some important contributions from Jim Hughes, the main editor, and others. As you might have guessed, Margaret has really been the driving force behind the project and has done most of the writing, organizing of materials, entry into film festivals, etc.]
Many of those who've seen the documentary, both black and white, have said how helpful and inspiring they've found it. But I suspect not everyone is ready for it. Because the documentary reveals how rough things have been for blacks in the Church, many of whom have been extraordinarily valiant, some people are going to have a hard time dealing with it. The documentary conveys a strong sense of faith and affirmation, but there are a lot of hard things too, and some people will resist acknowledging and experiencing those hard things. Some, on the other hand, may acknowledge the hard things but mix that acknowledgment with anger or harsh criticism. (By the way, as I was reading recently the familiar scriptural passages about the mote in others' eyes and the beam in our own, it occurred to me that the beam referred to may be, more than anything else, lack of charity--a gigantic beam we have to get rid of before we can start picking motes out of other people's eyes.)
Everyone ought to find the documentary troubling. The question is how we deal with being troubled. Are we mature enough, charitable enough, repentant enough--do we have strong enough faith and deep enough humility--to turn those troubled feelings into empathy, determination, and positive changes in attitude and behavior?
That question reminds me of a couple of scriptures I sometimes quote when I talk with students about the value of Shakespearean tragedy (and tragedy in general):
Moroni 9:25: . . . may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.
Alma 42:29: And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.
Mormon and Alma are talking about somewhat different kinds of trouble: Mormon has written to his son about horrific scenes of brutality and is concerned that a knowledge of such wickedness and carnage not overwhelm Moroni with despair. Alma is telling Corianton not to let his anxiety over doctrinal issues prevent him from focusing on what is most important: repenting and becoming a true disciple of Christ.
Nobody Knows is relevant to both kinds of trouble: how do we respond to other people’s wickedness? how do we respond to our own (which is much harder to see)? And how do we deal with troubling doctrinal and historical questions?
Some have worried about how helpful the documentary would be in setting such troubles in a context that builds faith and inspires charity. But I understand that some of those who have been concerned have concluded, after seeing the completed documentary, that it is powerfully faith promoting. I agree, even while wondering how some people will respond. I was restless during the hours that followed the screening, thinking specifically about a friend who had come and who had left before I had a chance to talk to him. Seeing him the next day, I was relieved to learn he had positive feelings about the documentary. I asked him if he had any thoughts or suggestions. Apart from one segment that had confused him a bit, he said, "No--I just came to learn." The documentary didn't utterly change his understanding and attitudes in one fell swoop. But it opened his eyes to some things he hadn't been aware of, and it was clear to him the film makers had done their homework and knew what they were talking about.
For anyone coming with an open mind, it appears the documentary will at least help chip away at some of the old misunderstandings. I hope that for many it will do even more. I think we need the kind of experience the documentary provides to help us rise to a higher level of discipleship--to go beyond being merely nice and move toward being true followers of Christ. I hope enough of us are ready to respond in this way that the documentary can do the good within the Church that it is capable of, as I believe it will (maybe in some ways more easily) do good outside of the Church. And I hope we can be charitable with each other--I mean especially with fellow members--even if some don't respond ideally.