Communication Faculty Member
Before coming to BYU-Idaho from the U.K. in 2014, Christian Mawlam spent 15 years producing commercial videos for a broad variety clients including oil, gas, renewables, aerospace, technology, and financial sectors.
Christian met his wife, Elizabeth, who is also British, at Institute while they were in college. They were married in 2003 and have five children ages 2 to 14.
Brother Mawlam served in the Ireland Dublin Mission, and has also enjoyed serving as elder’s quorum president, stake high councilor, and as the bishop of his family ward in northeast England before they moved to the States. He currently serves as a counselor in the Rexburg YSA 6th Ward bishopric.
Please respond to the questions below on the devotional discussion board:
Our testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ can shape our lives in remarkable ways—both seen and unseen. Knowing I’m a child of God gives me a sense of purpose and belonging, and I feel more authentically connected to my loved ones and the world as a whole.
In just one sentence, please describe how knowing you are a daughter or son of Heavenly Parents impacts your everyday life.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Thanks to those of you who took the time to engage with the discussion board this week. I hope you benefited from the opportunity to reflect inwardly and to consider your identity and relationship to God. That identity matters!
Even if it wasn’t for the introduction explaining where I’m from, I’m confident it wouldn’t take you long to figure out that I am from the UK. That’s what my voice signifies or communicates.
I love living here; Rexburg and BYU-Idaho are extraordinary places, and the people are wonderful. Yet, as an Englishman living in the States, much of how I am received socially is informed by portrayals of the English in popular culture.
Here’s a sample of some things people have said to me on an almost weekly basis: “Do you like Dr. Who?” “You sound like Jack Sparrow!” “I watch Sherlock! Do you?” “Why do you always sound sarcastic?” “Do you like Harry Potter? Are you magic?”
The answer to the latter is “Of course I am!”
I’m a communications professional by trade. For over fifteen years, I produced and directed marketing and advertising video content for a broad spectrum of clients. I enjoyed it immensely, but in doing so I’ve developed a first-hand appreciation of the fact that appearances can be deceptive. Especially thanks to commercial media—and most of it is—the developed world is hugely preoccupied with appearance.
And I’m not just talking advertising here, but longer media forms too—the sitcom, the episodic drama, the blockbuster film, the music video, the YouTube channel, printed materials, computer games, etc.
All constitute a steady tide of powerfully pervasive symbols, directly and indirectly instructing us, at conscious and subconscious levels. These influences tacitly communicate to us what a successful character looks like, sounds like, dresses like, acts like, even thinks like. Simply put, the advertisers are trying to form connections in our minds and hearts “that’s thoughts and feelings” with their client’s products and services.
Wear this—be better; own this—be more fulfilled; drive this—be seen as more discerning; eat this and be healthier; smother this on your face—appear smoother and younger looking! The primary concern of these peddlers is not whether you and I actually are better, more fulfilled, healthier, or otherwise—only that we buy into the ideas shared and ultimately the products and services they offer. In short, they want our money.
Now, I don’t want to state the obvious and trigger a communal hand-wringing session by decrying the nature of malevolent media in our times, as powerful a force as it is. It’s not just the media that affects what we aspire to be; there are other forces like families and other social groups that can influence us for good and ill as well.
In contrast to the superficial forces of our world, there is supernal value in our actively choosing to be influenced by Jesus Christ through His Spirit. When we choose to live according to the truths of His restored gospel, we will discover things about ourselves that cannot be learned anywhere else. The power of the Restoration can continue to restore us to our true identities as sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents.
With a clear sense of our divine identity, our lives can become re-contextualized. We can view the world and our place in it differently.
Instead of competing at all costs in the job market and workplace, we can better ourselves to be responsible and help others succeed. Instead of keeping up with the Jones’,we can be happy and content with the things God has allotted unto us.
Amulek from the Book of Mormon is an example of someone who rediscovered his divine identity. When we first learn of him, he’s a prosperous Nephite, with riches earned through his own hard work. He’s from a socially influential family; he’s a multi-generational member of the church and popular. By all outward appearances, Amulek was successful—the real deal—but there was something missing.
Following an encounter with an angel, he listens to the Spirit enough to become introspective: he looks inwardly to his own heart and evaluates his life. In so doing, Amulek realizes that God had been trying to get in touch for a long time to let him know who he really was and what the Lord knew he could accomplish.
Amulek’s own words are telling: “I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know.” 
Amulek realized he’d been resistant, and his life and testimony were superficial. Following this revelation that God wants more for and from him, he then becomes, with Alma, one of the best missionary companionships in the Book of Mormon saga.
Ironically, Amulek, because of his being true to his new-found faith, lost all of the securities, riches, and relationships, including some family ones, that had made his life seem so comfortable. Yet Amulek now was “comforted!” It seems deep down he knew that with the Lord involved in his life, the end will always be better than the beginning. We can have the same assurance.
Last week in devotional, David Saunders said of the gospel of Jesus Christ,“I know that these promises are real; I have experienced them.”
Allow me to share a little of my own experience with you.
I was raised in the gospel by loving parents, but, like Amulek, something was missing. I went to church on Sundays to keep up appearances, but I wasn’t attracted to spiritual truth. My interests were elsewhere: I lived for the present and didn’t think about the future. In fact, throughout my youth, especially my late teens, I was spectacularly selfish. I loved to laugh, but often at the expense of others. What ability to communicate I did have was often employed in self-aggrandizement and entertaining my friends, who thought and behaved as I did.
But then something changed. Amid a crescendo of parties and pub-crawls, I began to feel despondent: something hollow and unfulfilled gnawed at me. To my surprise, I felt like I should pray. I’d blessed food and took my turn in church and family settings, but this was the first time I’d prayed in earnest as an adult and meant it. It felt natural and reflexive. I don’t remember stopping praying that night, but I do remember waking up. Everything had changed. The gift of the Holy Ghost that I’d received as an eight year old was now switched on, and I was very much aware—aware of who I was as a child of God, and with a first-hand knowledge of the Savior’s power to redeem and bless our lives. I had real identity and purpose.
Notwithstanding any dramatic jump-starts to our spiritual lives, this sense of our divine self and purpose is something that needs to be consistently worked at to be maintained.
Paul, Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah and Amulek—all had to exercise true faith, repent daily, and keep the covenants they’d made in order to keep their testimonies and endure successfully with Christ to the end. It’s not a one-hit wonder! If we don’t introspectively pay attention to ourselves, we can slip.
Let me share with you another episode from my own life. I served in the Ireland Dublin Mission. It was a hard mission by way of convert baptisms; I didn’t actually baptize anyone! But I’d tried my best, learned a great deal, and genuinely felt the Lord was pleased with me.
However, on returning home, transitioning to civilian life became a little strained, the problem being I was high on the supply of my own ego. Instead of continuing to try and be humble, I began to tell myself that I had served a mission and now God had handed me the keys to His universe! Some of you might be able to relate to that! Behavior-wise, I had become overly judgmental, especially towards my four sisters. I wanted to change things about them, but I didn't want to be seen as confrontational or not in control, and so I resorted to passive aggression.
Let me say here that my sisters were not doing anything to warrant heaven’s reproof; rather it was all me. I supposed I was keeping God’s commandments when really I was trying to enforce my own set of rules!
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks of this had passed that my dad walked into a room where I was alone and closed the door. Believe me, this wasn’t the first in my life that had happened, but I was a little embarrassed this time, erroneously thinking that I’d graduated from correction of this kind. I naively thought my sweet binary life was going to be punctuated only by my parents checking in to congratulate me from time to time!
Thank goodness one of us was our true selves that day. My dad, who I have all the love and respect for in the world, said to me—and I’m paraphrasing here—“Son, you are being a weapon of mass destruction. The way you are treating your sisters and others is simply not acceptable or sustainable. You have to change!”
Much chagrined, and with my wings thoroughly clipped, I landed with a bump back to reality. But I was back to my better self, and that’s what really matters.
Paul made a similar plea to the Roman saints: he encouraged them to not slip back into worldly ways, believing they could do so much better: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” 
“Be not conformed” literally and figuratively means, “Don’t change your shape to fit in and get on in this world; in fact, do the opposite: buck the trend and demonstrate what it looks like and feels like to live like a disciple of Christ. After all, we were before we came here. Yet so easily we can slip into error, and in a religious society this can mix with our perceived theologies and make for some bizarre behaviors, like my becoming the self-appointed gospel police in my parents’ home!
Because in our society we are exposed to highly promotional, image-centric, appearance-based, false norms for the majority of our lives, we can become anxious and distressed about how others will relate to us and how we’ll fit in.
In an attempt to mitigate this anxiety we can actually start to adopt the strategic presentation of ourselves. We do this to appear to others to be more accomplished, polished, more together than we actually are. We start to project and put on a show, and in so doing, even unintentionally, we can begin discarding, or at least cloaking, our true identities as children of God with behaviors more commodious to fitting in—the principle of "If you can’t fight, wear a big hat!"
Ask yourself how many times you’ve sung the hymn “Now Let Us Rejoice.” Have you ever considered what this particular line in the second verse meant?
We'll love one another and never dissemble
But cease to do evil and ever be one. 
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to dissemble means “to alter or disguise the semblance of (one's character, a feeling, design, or action) so as to conceal, or deceive as to, its real nature.” 
If we dissemble, we could never be reconciled to our own selves, let alone each other. No wonder the Lord would have us steer clear of such behavior.
In John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost,” about the Creation and the Fall of Adam and Eve, there are many instructive moments. Here’s one that applies to our theme of identity and authenticity.
Lucifer, having escaped hell, only gains access to the Garden of Eden by changing his shape and disguising himself as a beautiful cherub. He deceives Uriel, the archangel who was set to guard the way down to earth. Of this deception, Milton said:
So spake the false dissembler unperceived;
For neither Man nor Angel can discern
Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
Invisible, except to God alone. 
When we dissemble or falsely represent ourselves, we are not only potentially deceiving others; we are deceiving ourselves. Milton is warning us that this kind of hypocrisy is most dangerous because it is the kind of dissembling that is hardest to see. Self-deception is a kind of self-imposed blindness that can keep us from ever correcting the astigmatism of selfishness.
Thankfully, the Lord stands ready to help. We can renew our covenants with Him weekly and attend the temple as much as we are able so that we can receive His Spirit and more readily discern and overcome this dissembling power.
- K. Chesterton encouraged this type of self-awareness as a means to liberate ourselves from the parts we sometimes play. He wrote:
How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it. . . . You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers. 
Without the Lord’s clarifying Spirit, there is a danger of merely acting instead of being. When speaking to Joseph in the grove, the Lord bemoaned the loss of entire religious communities to the preoccupation of appearing to be good instead of simply being good: “having a form of godliness but they deny the power thereof.” 
“Form” here relates to the shape or appearance of godliness, or goodness. Simply conforming to group behavior does not constitute real goodness.
Don’t feel the need to copy others wholesale to fit in at church. The gospel is not a cloning program! Creation was organized in all its variety and when so completed was only then pronounced “very good.”
Appreciate that eternal progression through Christ and His covenants is not propelling us towards one great homogenous, albeit holy, blob! We are not all the same, but through kindness, sincerity, and love, we can be one.
Formality and convention can be valuable, especially when such is established by revelation and inspired direction. Not all repetition is vain. Some of our highest and holiest observances are fixed forms with prescribed wording and much repetition, and authentic goodness in all its forms is worthy of emulation, but make it your own.
Above all, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ will forever be worthy of all veneration, imitation, and emulation.
After all, no one champions real identity and individualism more than Christ. Paul said that the Lord endured all He did in His darkest moments of crisis because of “the joy that was set before him."  I personally believe that that joy was, in part, the contemplation of individuals no longer estranged from their Heavenly Parents, but safe and home, in the fullest eternal sense, and not merely having arrived but having become more fit for their heavenly home.
Have you ever thought why the Savior directed such withering criticisms at the scribes and Pharisees? As influential Church members, they reduced valuable human interactions to performance-based exchanges between themselves as actors and all others as an audience. They then sought to impress and influence and control their audience with their dress, manners, virtue-signaling, and very public piety. They felt threatened and had contempt for anyone who was not like them.
Tragically, they actually could have had and maintained lasting influence over those they sought to lead, if only they had thought to do so “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” 
Love, it would seem, is the cure for all of this—love for God, love for others, which in turn begets a love of self.
American writer James Baldwin said, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” 
Stereotypes dictate that this wouldn’t be a real talk from an Englishman if I didn’t quote Shakespeare at least once.
At the end of King Lear, the king has succumbed to madness and dies tragically of a broken heart; his faithful godson Edgar at his passing says this:
The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel,
Not what we ought to say. 
What great counsel!
This quest to recover our true selves as children of heavenly parents from the conforming forces of this world is a long game; it’s a slow burn. So we ought to be patient with each other and ourselves as we weed the allotments of our fallen selves and cultivate in place of our hypocrisy Christ-like attributes that bloom and grow everlastingly.
Last year I experienced what Lemony Snicket would describe as A Series of Unfortunate Events.
In a space of four weeks I had seven major surgeries, the possible amputation of my leg, and was diagnosed with stage-three cancer. I told you it was unfortunate! Prolonged hospital stays and treatments gave me ample opportunity to reflect on my relationship to God and others. Sometimes limitations placed on us can be liberating in other ways. I know that for all our weakness, fears, and failings, including our own hypocrisy, there stands Christ perfect, preeminent, loving, and anxious to bless us.
Let’s qualify for His Spirit and have the great truth of our divine identity restored to our hearts. I promise you, with an abiding sense of who you really are as a son or daughter of heavenly parents, you will feel calmer, freer, happier, and more authentically connected to those around you and to heaven.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Alma 10:6; emphasis added.
 Romans 12:2.
 “Now Let Us Rejoice,” Hymns, no. 3.
 "dissemble, v.1." OED Online, Oxford University Press, Dec. 2018.
 John Milton, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, Signet Classic, 2001.
Image: Public domain - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_12.jpg
 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Image Books, 1959.
Image: Public domain - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:G._K._Chesterton_at_work.jpg
 Joseph Smith—History 1:19.
 Hebrews 12:2.
 Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42.
 James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, Dial Press, 1963.
Image: CC, Attribution must be given: Photographer Allan Warren, 1969https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Baldwin_35AllanWarren_Allan_Warren.jpg
 William Shakespeare, King Lear, Clarendon Press, 1879.
Image: Public domain - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Barry_-_King_Lear_Weeping_over_the_Dead_Body_of_Cordelia_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg