Several years ago, I lived on a street with a most interesting religious configuration. Three houses in a row — a minister from a conservative church with his wife and eight children — Abel, Esther, Lydia, Hannah, David, Daniel, Rebekah and Miriam. Their neighbour was a retired pastor of 30 years from another denomination, who now served a large geographical area assisting in mediation between pastors and their congregations. He and his wife had three grown children. And finally there was us: a Mormon bishop, his wife and their three little pre-school boys. Our commonalities as much as our differences, held us together, forming a somewhat tenuous community of believers who were trying in their own ways to follow the teachings of Jesus.
During those years on Burton Road, one of my favourite things to do was to watch the school age children, who lived two doors down, arrive home from school. The bus stop was around the corner and like clockwork at quarter to four, here they would come. The oldest boy, confident and aloof, striding ahead. Esther, Lydia and Hannah came next, laughing and talking and finally David and Daniel, bringing up the rear, stopping to look at bugs on the sidewalk or pausing to pick up a dropped lunch box or books. If I was outside with my own boys, I would somehow, occasionally, be swept along to their house for an after-school snack and visit. I have pleasant memories of sitting around the kitchen table — more often then not, their home was a happy confusion of children, music and chatter. Their mother was meant to be the nurturer of a large brood — she mothered with grace and enthusiasm. I marveled at her as she took them on bicycle rides and canoe trips, helped with flute and piano practice and deftly handled their misbehaviour. She became a good friend and trusted advisor.
Which is why I was so shocked and unprepared, the day she decided to attack.
We were walking home from the park. They were moving the next day — a new posting to another province. We were both pushing strollers and as we paused to cross the street, she turned and said, “Why would a woman be a Mormon? I can see what’s in it for a man, but cannot understand why any woman would be a member of your church!” I flushed. I struggled for words but under the onslaught of her unexpected assault, I was paralyzed. She poured scriptures like acid over me, as I tried to articulate our beliefs and our doctrine. I was confused — this was my friend. But she had carefully stalked me, studiously prepared for the confrontation, marshaled the scriptures and left me for dead.
I came home and cried. I felt violated and bewildered by the nature and timing of her parting blows. But I also came to the realization that I was unprepared. I couldn’t recite scriptures at the drop of a hat. I read the scriptures for my own edification and understanding. Memorization held little interest for me and I shied away from heated scriptural debates. I wanted to internalize the words and change my heart, not compete with others over them.
Until the scripture chase. Years after that terrible afternoon, I now find myself memorizing, reciting and locating scriptures to the click of a stopwatch. My motive is not to debate and crush members of other religions but to encourage (and hopefully defeat?) the youth of my ward, as they prepare for a Tri-stake scripture chase. We’ve decided as a Young Women’s Presidency, to work extra hard for this event, I suppose in an effort to show that it is important for women and girls to know and understand the scriptures. As I strive to permanently embed them into my aging grey matter, I am surprised to feel them being etched more deeply into my heart. Perhaps now, I am finally ready to embrace such an exercise.
We moved away from Burton Road five years ago this week. As I sit here this morning, holding my scripture mastery cards, I think of Inge. I remember her playing her guitar at Daniel’s 5th birthday party. I remember the story of when she was snorkeling in Indonesia and scraped her big pregnant belly on the coral reef. But most of all, I remember her dark flashing eyes, as she wielded the scriptures like a sword. I will use the scripture chase to beat such weapons into ploughshares.