The “Walking Book of Mormon”

I don’t know how other religions deal with celebrity members, but it seems like those of us in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) treat them like we treat Diet Coke and the Word of Wisdom: we either embrace them, regardless of their activity in or representation of the Church, or we shun, ignore or otherwise pretend they don’t belong to us.

I have to be honest; sometimes I’m shocked to learn that a particular celebrity has a Mormon background. (Christina Aguilera, Amy Adams and Roseanne Barr anyone? WHAT?!) Other times, I like to think I have Modar and can call them out before it’s somehow revealed. (A SYTYCD contestant from Utah? Mormon.)

Anyway, considering that I think of myself as an above average sports fan, I was shocked to learn recently that Bryce Harper, of the Washington Nationals, also identifies, not only, as a member of the Church, but as apparently as active a member as one can be who plays in Major League Baseball. At least, that’s what he told the Washington Times three years ago. (“I try to be the best walking Book of Mormon as I can.”) Fast forward a couple years, and I’m not sure that looking at him in the 2015 ESPN Body Issue would necessarily convey the same sentiment. Mormons don’t usually pose naked in national publications (to say nothing of the tattoo). So somebody call Deseret Book STAT and get Brother Harper a life-size scripture tote for his naked Book of Mormon.

Being a celebrity and a poster member of the Church is a very difficult, if not impossible. If you’re an actor, you’re probably going to be given scripts with objectionable content. If you’re an athlete, you’re going to be playing sports on Sunday. If you’re a performance artist, you’ll undoubtedly be performing in venues on Sunday. (And even if you manage to get to a local Sunday service, somewhere in the world, attending sacrament meeting is not nearly all that goes into a Mormon membership.) Whatever the profession, the fame, fortune and fast times are tough to keep in check.

My all-time favorite Mormon celebrity (if only for a brief moment in time) is a guy I had the pleasure of literally running into on a daily basis during my football playing days at B.Y.U. His name is Eli Herring, and he played right tackle for quarterbacks like Ty Detmer and Steve Sarkisian. I was a third string defensive end, which meant that I was first string defensive end for whoever the opposing defense would be in our next game; which meant that I lined up across Eli every, single practice.

If you’ve never heard of Eli’s name, or read his story, now’s your chance. He turned down a three year contract with the Oakland Raiders worth $1.5MM to become a math teacher making $22K. Why? Because he didn’t want to play a game on the Lord’s Day. Eli’s rejection of the NFL made national news, and then was faded into history like everyone and everything else.

I haven’t seen Eli since the last time our heads butted in practice. But I can tell you this, if anything rubbed off on me, from all those impacts with Brother Eli, it was this: he loves his God, and isn’t afraid to show and tell the world about it.

Now THAT is a walking Book of Mormon.


“You don’t thank for this.”

If you’re an Avatard or just someone with a penchant for remembering odd movie quotes (like me), then you’ll recognize the title of this post as belonging to Neytiri, from James Cameron’s Avatar, when she rebuked Jake Sully, who was only looking to express gratitude for Neytiri’s having saved him from a gaggle of dark forest creatures.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the ward of a younger sister, because my niece was giving her mission farewell talk. I love visiting this particular ward, because it’s inevitable that I’ll pick up on something being done there that isn’t being duplicated in my ward, or any other ward I’ve ever attended. It must be something in the local water. It doesn’t matter who is serving as the bishop, there’s always something different being done; and I have yet to dislike anything I’ve witnessed. (Here’s a previous POST, the inspiration for which also came from this particular ward.)

On this day, my administrative radar started beeping, when at the end of the administration of the sacrament, the priesthood men and boys dismissed themselves and returned to sit with their families. What’s more, when the bishopric member conducting the meeting took the stand to announce the remainder of the program, nothing more was said about the sacrament. There was no acknowledgement about the reverence of the congregation or the priesthood, nor was there permission granted for the men and boys to return to their seats.

In all my years of church attendance, this was the first time EVER that the usual protocol of priesthood waiting to be dismissed and a bishopric member dismissing them did not occur. And I loved it.

We should not be thanking the priesthood “for their reverence in administering the sacrament and excuse them to sit with their families.” When did this practice begin; and why is it so universally applied? Sure, it’s polite; yes, it’s harmless. But what happens (as I’ve seen happen before) when a bishopric member takes the podium and forgets to dismiss the priesthood? You see the boys turn to each other as if to ask, “Are we stuck here?” and “Are we allowed to just get up and leave?” Inevitably, the meeting is interrupted so that permission can be given for the priesthood to rejoin their families.

There is nothing in the handbook, of which I am aware, requiring ward leaders to thank or dismiss the priesthood relative to their service with the sacrament each week. This has become one of those unwritten (and frankly unnecessary) traditions in the LDS faith. From Paul H. Dunn: “Leaders should not be afraid to break with the traditions of the past if, in doing so, they have something better to offer. It is a very dangerous thing to find a good procedure, then do it that way continuously.” (Ten Most Wanted Men, pg. 93)

As it relates to the weekly administration of the sacramental emblems, it seems clear to me that the best way to say thank you, is to say nothing at all. Or, if anything has to be said, it should be some commentary on the atonement, and the privilege it is to renew ourselves each week.

I agree with Neytiri; there are some things for which you just don’t thank.

Restricted Access

When last I logged an entry on this blog, my calling was as the High Priest Group Leader. Now I’m a primary teacher to the Valiant 9 class. Such is the nature of callings in the Church. One Sunday you’re leading a group of senior, seasoned men. The next, you’re helping mold the next generation of senior, seasoned men and women.

The lesson assigned for instruction yesterday covered the story of Nephi and the Brass Plates (1 Nephi 3-5). I had wanted to show the kids the Living Scripture, cartoon depiction of the story. In Primary, as with any other age, I suppose, varied teaching is key. Having the kids be able to watch an illustrated version of the scripture story would have been a nice diversion from the usual read and discuss method.

Except when I went to pull up the video clip on YouTube, as I had at home in preparation, I discovered that the Church’s internet filter would not permit the use of YouTube.

Sorry kids. Guess we’re reading and discussing, again, today.

I actually knew about the Church’s prohibition on YouTube years ago, when my wife ran into the same frustration as a seminary teacher. Many were the nights we spent learning and trying to download some YouTube video in order that she could share it the next morning in seminary.

I understand why the Church has prohibited the use of YouTube on their internet service. A lot of the videos posted to the site are inappropriate, and do not comport with the Church’s standards or values. Then again, not every video that is useful or relevant to gospel topics is contained on the Church’s website, either. The Church will never host the Living Scripture videos, because the Church didn’t produce them, and they don’t want to spend the money necessary to license the access to those films. I suppose that proper legal licensing is as much a concern for the Church’s YouTube filter as the content of the videos.

Regardless, I’m of the opinion that the Church’s internet filter needs to be readjusted to accommodate YouTube use. I can’t imagine that there’s a single LDS house where an internet filter restricts use of YouTube. Even the Church’s Brigham Young University had to capitulate to the demand for YouTube access by its students. And that was nearly seven years ago.

If the Church is going to allow internet access in its buildings, then it should also allow access to sites that can facilitate gospel learning. By all means, the Church should continue to block obviously inappropriate content like pornography. But in this particular instance, by preventing YouTube access, LDS teachers are being handcuffed in their attempts to vary and enhance the gospel scholarship of the members.


The Church has had a busy, public relations, November. On November 13th, the First Presidency issued a clarification/change to the handbook referenced by priesthood leaders. Specifically, it provided that people who elect to enter into same-gender marriage are subject to disciplinary councils, and that children whose primary residence is with a same-gender married couple are potentially prevented from participating in ordinances like baptism. Then, on November 23rd, a Church spokesman had to issue a statement clarifying that the Boston, Massachusetts Stake would not be experimenting with a two hour Sunday meeting schedule, contrary to the general church-wide practice of a three hour meeting schedule.

There’s not much for me to say about the handbook update. I am neither a priesthood leader who would have to handle any such situations, or enforce the new policy, nor do I know any members or children of the Church who are currently in a same-gender marriage/household. I therefore find little value in my attempting to pontificate upon a subject about which I know very little, nor have reason to ponder possible applications or ramifications.

On the other hand, I am a member of the Boston Stake; and I was part of a ward council discussion where instruction from the stake presidency was shared by our bishopric on the proposal to experiment, beginning January 2016, with reducing the Sunday meeting schedule from three hours to two hours and 15 minutes. The primary motivation for the potential time reduction was based on the Church’s general emphasis on making the Sabbath more of a delight for its members and families.

Ask any seasoned veteran of LDS Church administration, and they’d likely tell you that the Sabbath is anything but a delight, given the 12-15 hour schedule they’ve likely all experienced, for the majority of any administrative tenure they’ve operated. A typical Bishop, for example, probably starts his Sunday between 6-7am, in meetings with his counselors and other ward leaders, attends the three hours of church meetings with all members, and then stays after church to continue meeting with members, potentially attending a fireside that afternoon or evening, before returning home in time to kiss his children, whom he might have seen in the halls at church for two minutes, goodnight. That’s hardly a schedule which provides delight for a Bishop’s wife or children. But changing the overall schedule from three hours to two hours wouldn’t, by itself, alter that, anyway.

Ask any seasoned LDS parent, and particularly a mother with young children, and they’d also likely tell you that the Sabbath is anything but a delight. A typical mother, for example, probably starts her Sunday between 6-7am, getting herself ready, before waking her children and going through the morning routine of getting them ready. She may or may not also be involved in pre-church leadership meetings, causing an additional strain on her family’s pre-church preparation time/schedule. Once in church, that mother will struggle during sacrament meeting to keep her children quiet, probably missing the majority of what is being said over the pulpit, and then – more than not – spend the next two hours struggling to teach other people’s children the gospel. She’ll come home from church exhausted, wanting nothing more than to take a nap, but end up dealing with lunch and/or dinner preparations, as well as finding ways to keep her children occupied for the remainder of the day, in addition to the possibility of having to return to church later that night for a fireside or other program involving one or more of her children. That’s hardly a schedule which provides delight. But changing the overall schedule from three hours to two hours wouldn’t, by itself, alter that, anyway.


While the rest of the church was focused on the potential hour reduction in the Boston Stake meeting block, what they missed, and potentially don’t yet know, are the additional experiments the stake will be conducting in 2016, which will undoubtedly have a more real and lasting impact on a member’s Sabbath delight, than simply cutting one hour from the block. For example, one proposed change in 2016 is the elimination of all post-church meetings, save (potentially) one, per month. That means that when church meetings end, no members or families will be coming back to church for a fireside or other church event, except (potentially) once a month.

The point of my post is this: Whether on a world-wide scale, or more localized, leaders are continually seeking revelation/ways to safeguard and promote the spirituality and delight of all members, as we strive together to advance the gospel and ultimately return to live with our Heavenly Father. Some things are not for man to decide; others are within our prerogative to manipulate.

Prophetic leadership and continuing revelation are two of the many reasons why I love this Church. And on those points, I am crystal clear.

Much Ado About Tables

Regardless of your occupation, all of us have seen enough television, movies or magazine shoots depicting the typical business conference/meeting room to know that the layout is always the same. There’s a large table in the center of the room surrounded by an appropriate number of chairs. Presumably, the table’s presence has always been to facilitate the note taking attendees are expected to perform, in addition to providing a placeholder for beverages, food, laptops, etc. Never have I seen depicted in any of the above mentioned media, a meeting where the attendees were sitting in chairs lined against the walls of a room, or chairs assembled in some sort of a circular pattern in the middle of the room – in both cases without a table, where participants awkwardly balance on their laps whatever device is being used to take notes, if notes are being taken at all. And yet, for the majority of the administrative meetings which take place in the LDS Church, the absent table layout is primarily what we use.

I have been attending administrative meetings in the LDS Church for nearly a quarter of a century. But for a brief four year stint as a high councilman, all of the administrative meetings I have attended have been chair only. For the most part, those chair only meetings occur in the bishop’s office, or some other classroom large enough to accommodate the attendees. Occasionally, these meetings have taken place in a section of the gymnasium, where a circle of chairs is manufactured. An outsider looking in might wonder if our church buildings come equipped with any tables. They do. The building I regularly attend not only has a number of round banquet tables, but also many rectangle banquet tables. What most LDS Church buildings don’t have is a conference table. Generally, only so-called stake centers have a large conference table to facilitate the fifteen men meetings which occur on at least a bi-monthly basis.

Aside from the notably absent table, there is a difference between meetings which take place around a table, and meetings which are chair only. There is a different tone; there is a different expectation; there is a different spirit. Absent table meetings are generally casual, light hearted and unfocused affairs. Meetings with a table present create expectations, typically include a formal agenda, and (at least in a church setting) allow presiding officers a better opportunity to function in their designed roles, as well as receiving the appropriate respect their office deserves.

Maybe this is much ado about nothing, but my experience has taught me that the absence of a table at regular LDS administrative meetings is an easily remedied oversight that all ward units would be wise to correct.

You Say Tomato, I Say…

If there’s one skill that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can identify, it’s good public speaking. Every Sunday we get to hear two to four, and sometimes more, speakers. Multiply that by 52 Sundays in a year, and over the course of a lifetime, your garden variety Mormon has easily heard over 10,000 talks or testimonies from nearly as many different people. (And that doesn’t even include lessons, administrative meetings and brief spiritual thoughts.) Contrast that to another faith where just one person, the same person, is that week’s only speaker. That’s not to say that any percentage of us can actually speak very well, but we’re certainly qualified to opine on what is and is not good public speaking.

To that end, I offer Exhibit A. Last night I took two of my children to a fireside given by a fairly prominent member of the Church. The event was billed as a “regional youth fireside,” and so young men and young women from many neighboring stakes converged on our stake center. The crowd that assembled nearly matched our building’s capacity. If I had to guess, I’d say that there were 600 or more youth present. Frankly, I’ve never personally seen so many LDS youth under one roof.

From a speaker’s standpoint, having access to such a gathering of young people is desirable and priceless. This is a golden opportunity to reach a huge number of impressionable minds and hopefully in a way that allows for the Lord’s Spirit to leave a favorable impression. If you’re on the other side of the podium, and you’re somewhere between the ages of 12-18, the mindset is (in this exact order): 1) you’ll see some friends and have a chance to interact with them before the night ends, 2) you get lucky and have a chance to sit near or next to that boy or girl you think is really cute, 3) that there’s refreshments to eat after the fireside, and 4) that the speaker isn’t boring.

Whether speaking in the LDS Church or outside of it, the first rule of public speaking is arguably: know your audience. The individual who spoke last night opened his 75 minute remarks saying: “I’m not going to entertain you.” Considering his audience, I thought that was a rather risky opener. (If I was opining on attention catching lines, I can guarantee you that every single youth in the building heard that statement.) When I later asked my thirteen year old daughter what went through her mind when she heard that, she said: “I thought it was going to be a long night.”

The speaker immediately explained why that was his opening line. He said that his soul and the souls of each individual in that building were at stake in the grand battle between the forces of good and evil, thereby implying that he couldn’t afford to waste any time on humor or other entertainment. He wanted to get right to the heart of the matter and drill down with the youth. I think it was his way of rephrasing a famous line from President J. Reuben Clark: “You do not have to sneak up behind this spiritually experienced youth and whisper religion in [their] ears; you can come right out, face to face, and talk with [them]….There is no need for gradual approaches.”

I did not take a post-fireside poll among the youth for how they thought the evening went, or whether they enjoyed the talk, or whether they learned anything, etc. I have no doubt but that in the sea of 600 plus faces, at least one person loved every minute of that evening, and maybe there were others. Considering that we believe and preach the worth of one soul (See D&C 18:15), that makes it all good. Nevertheless, I think it would have been better if the speaker had found some ways to weave entertainment into his message. Towards the end of his talk, he did show a 5 minute clip from the movie “Miracle on Ice;” so I guess there was that. But that was an hour after first telling everyone he wasn’t going to entertain us.

One of my favorite LDS speakers was Paul H. Dunn. And without going into the allegations of his fabricating war stories, I’ll simply say that when Paul Dunn spoke, people laughed. And because people laughed, people were focused on whatever else he had to say. And after sharing a few laughs with his audience, Brother Dunn would then usually cause a profound silence to come over them as he shared spiritual insights and bore his testimony. My experience with and understanding of today’s youth is that they’re the same as I was when I was a kid listening to Paul Dunn. They want to laugh; they want to learn; and they love when the two intersect.

Different strokes for different folks. If I’m ever fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak to 600+ youth, my opening line will not be: “I’m not going to entertain you.”

No Leadership Exceptions

As a follow up to my post last week about PPIs, I wanted to mention that I had an opportunity to PPI my own bishop. As I later reported in a letter to my family:

“I confess that I was not as forthcoming in my questioning or feedback as I might have been with someone not my bishop….It’s a hard thing to hold a bishop to the line when you understand a lot of the other problems and time constraints he faces.”

This naturally made me query whether we hold leaders to the same standards we ask of regular members, or whether we give them a pass, in consideration of all the other obligations and time restraints they face?

The following account from the annals of Church history seems to indicate that leaders are to be held to the same standards and expectations as members. Elder William Farrington Cahoon, was assigned as a teacher to the home of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He related the following many years after the death of the Prophet:

“Before I close my testimony … , I wish to mention one circumstance which I never shall forget: I was called and ordained to act as a teacher to visit the families of the Saints. I got along very well till I found that I was obliged to call and pay a visit to the Prophet. Being young [only about seventeen years of age], I felt my weakness in visiting the Prophet and his family in the capacity of a teacher. I almost felt like shrinking from duty. Finally I went to his door and knocked, and in a minute the Prophet came to the door. I stood there trembling, and said to him:

“‘Brother Joseph, I have come to visit you in the capacity of a teacher, if it is convenient for you.’

“He said ‘Brother William, come right in, I am glad to see you; sit down in that chair there and I will go and call my family in.’

“They soon came in and took seats. He then said, ‘Brother William, I submit myself and family into your hands,’ and then took his seat. ‘Now Brother William,’ said he ‘ask all the questions you feel like.’

“By this time all my fears and trembling had ceased, and I said, ‘Brother Joseph, are you trying to live your religion?’

“He answered ‘Yes.’

“I then said ‘Do you pray in your family?’

“He said ‘Yes.’

“‘Do you teach your family the principles of the gospel?’

“He replied ‘Yes, I am trying to do it.’

“‘Do you ask a blessing on your food?’

“He answered ‘Yes.’

“‘Are you trying to live in peace and harmony with all your family?’

“He said that he was.

“I then turned to Sister Emma, his wife, and said ‘Sister Emma, are you trying to live your religion? Do you teach your children to obey their parents? Do you try to teach them to pray?’

“To all these questions she answered ‘Yes, I am trying to do so.’

“I then turned to Joseph and said, ‘I am now through with my questions as a teacher; and now if you have any instructions to give, I shall be happy to receive them.’

“He said ‘God bless you, Brother William; and if you are humble and faithful, you shall have power to settle all difficulties that may come before you in the capacity of a teacher.’

“I then left my parting blessing upon him and his family, as a teacher, and took my departure.” (Juvenile Instructor, 27 (15 Aug. 1892): 492–93.)

If I struggled as a middle aged adult to PPI my bishop, I can only imagine how this 17 year old boy felt inquiring an accountability of the Lord’s Prophet. Nonetheless, the message seems clear: Leaders are accountable, the same as members; and members should not shrink from their duty of providing leaders an opportunity to render that accounting.

Isn’t the gospel wonderful?