In The Book of Mormon, eager-beaver boy Mormons aspire to save humanity by spreading their truth to "unwoke" people across the globe. In the performance I saw on Friday, actor Steven Ashfield (not the actor in this recording), playing "Elder McKinley, the tap-dancing, light-switch-turning Mormon district leader in Uganda" (see profile) leads the cast in a rollicking number called "Turn It Off," lauding the wisdom of violently "crushing" any homosexual and other feelings. The audience roared with laughter — a recognition of the universal futility of experiencing anything approximating "good" by self-crushing.
During intermission, as I gazed over the packed house from my seat near the front of the orchestra, I couldn't help but hear the loud cell phone conversation of a woman a few rows back: "I just don't find it funny," she said irately. "And I really dislike the actor playing the queer. His mannerisms are annoying, and there's a lot of things they don't get right. It just isn't funny." The conversation was all the more interesting because a few minutes earlier, several people sitting next to me had been complaining about the lack of cell service in the theater. But that aside, I began to wonder about her and her need to pronounce her displeasure. And I've thought about her more in the ensuing days.
The play is actually pro-religion, ending in a realization about the power of metaphor and the wonder of the experience of god within. But this woman obviously felt assaulted. It must have been horrible for her to be surrounded by hundreds of people laughing and applauding things she found offensive.
And the more I've contemplated this, the more I've realized that all of us are having this experience in the current political climate. The left feels assaulted by the cheering right, and the right thinks it's about time that the left feels what so many of them felt for many years as American values became more progressive.
Is this just the way change goes? Is it merely a numbers game? Whoever is in power assaults whoever is not in power? Is there even a way to live your deeply held values without having the existence of these things assault people who disagree?
Maybe not. Now how do we proceed without erupting in civil war?
In The Book of Mormon, the most powerless people — Ugandans riddled with AIDS and bullied by warlords — provided an answer: go within. Find the peace within and commit to it with every breath and expression. Find it and love it even if some people find it offensive. Don't foist it on anyone else (nobody forced that woman to buy a ticket and watch this play), but if they choose to put themselves in its path, don't seek to crush them; crushing never results in a good outcome. Instead, wish them the best and understand their pain, because it too is a universal truth.