Hey, I'm still alive!
I've had a rough couple of weeks...work's been weird, I've been sick (twice) and I had a few other concerns that were higher on my to-do list than maintaining this blog, but I've cleared a decent amount of that crap out of the way. So here I am with another post.
Those of you who are returning, thanks for being patient.
There's a humorous reference often made in Mormonism (At least, I've encountered it in my hometown on the East Coast and in the BYU Bubble) about "Sunday School Answers." The gist of it is that, whenever a Sunday school teacher asks the class a question, there are a finite number of overused responses that can adequately answer it. For example:
TEACHER: What can we do to meet Elder So-and-So's challenge to be more temple-ready?
CLASS: Pray, read the scriptures, keep the commandments, pay your tithing, magnify your callings, hold family home evening, do member missionary work, blah blah blah blah....
But as much as church members may joke that those things are the answer to pretty much anything, it's kind of weird that, in your average Mormon Sunday School class, you don't actually hear those answers much. What you usually hear are the four types I've listed below.
And to illustrate the sometimes bizarre qualities of these responses, I'm going to use another example.
Let's say our class is studying the Doctrine and Covenants and the teacher asks for thoughts on what exactly God meant in Section 82, verse 10, when he says, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say." And these are the answers our teacher receives:
1. The one that tries to sound more profound than it actually is
Brother Christiansen, a 25-year-old unmarried RM who fancies himself among the most eligible bachelors in the stake, raises his hand to yet again grace his fellow members with his wisdom. "God is telling us," he says authoritatively, "That he doesn't abandon his followers. He's saying he understands how much he's requiring of the Saints and how much they have to sacrifice. He's trying to remind them of the covenants they've made with him and the depth of his devotion to those covenants. He wants them to remember that they will be blessed for their sacrifices. CS Lewis once wrote, 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' The Lord's just trying to refocus the Saints and make sure everyone has the same goal of obedience so that the organization doesn't crumble."
2. The one that doesn't actually answer the question
Sister Lopez, the young mother of the worst-behaved child in the Sunbeam class, adds her thoughts: "It's interesting that he uses the word bound," she points out. "Because that sounds so...aggressive. The scriptures, and especially the Book of Mormon, are full of so much aggressive imagery, often warlike imagery. It just reminds you that this world really is a battlefield, you know? We're fighting for the souls of our brothers and sisters. We can't let ourselves be complacent. We need to be part of the fight. Every soul is of great worth." Heads around the room nod in solemn agreement.
3. The one with the unnecessary and extremely detailed personal anecdote
"The Lord is simply reminding the Saints that he'll always hold up his end," the aging Brother Williams says, and you breathe a sigh of relief. But then he continues past the point of answering the question. "And it's true, as long as you do your part in any covenant you've made with the Lord, he won't let you down. I remember when I was on my mission in Bolivia—this was some years ago, of course—we were heading home one night. It was kind of late and we were hurrying back to make it in on time, and some guy approached us in the street and pulled a knife. You know, and he's going through our wallets and things, and I'm standing there with my hands up, fearing for my life"—he puts his hands up and briefly adopts an expression of terror to scattered chuckles from the class—"and my companion has the calmest look on his face. And he turns to me, and he says, 'Elder, did you say your prayers this morning?' And I nodded. And he says, 'Elder, did you study your scriptures this morning?' And I nodded. And he says, 'Elder, have you spent the last year of your life doing your best to life a righteous life and spread the word of God to people who need it?' And I said, 'Yeah, of course I have.' And he shrugged, with his hands still up, and he just said, 'Then we'll be fine.' And we were. We both made it home alive, just a little late. Because we were doing what we should, God protected us."
4. The one from the guy who believes in a lot of crazy, completely non-doctrinal stuff
Then Brother Weiser, the one with the hair that makes him look like a mad scientist, puts in his two cents. "Obedience is the closest we will ever come," he begins boldly, "To having more power than God. The more perfect we are, the more it's like having God wrapped around our fingers. Because God is perfect, when he makes a promise, he will always keep it. And if that promise is conditional upon our behavior and we behave properly, then he will always do what he said he'd do. You know, in my patriarchal blessing, God promised me that because I loved my family so much, I would be guaranteed knowledge of their eternal well-being after they passed away. And sure enough, about three weeks after my mother passed away, God sent her to appear to me in a dream. And she told me that she was fine, she was happy, and that she was with God on Kolob and that I didn't need to worry about her anymore. I can't tell you how much that put my heart at peace. Did God have to do that for me? No. But because I was living righteously, I was still worthy to receive the things he promised me. And because of God's perfect nature, he had to do it."
Our long-suffering Sunday school teacher decides to move on with the lesson. The answer she was looking for was "if we keep the commandments, pray, and study the scriptures, God will always give us the blessings he's promised us," but, as usual, she got a lot more than she bargained for.