In late September, 1994 I enjoyed a very fun camping and fishing trip with my family. A week later in general conference, I heard Gordon B. Hinckley recommend that fathers should raise their children with the rod — the fishing rod. I was thrilled with this new evidence that God agreed with me, and the next month when the Ensign came out, I made an unbearable nuisance of myself to everybody I knew, first showing them the words from the Ensign, then showing them pictures of our vacation, proving, proving!, that I was indeed on the Lord’s errand. I basked in the warm glow of my own pride, while simultaneously claiming to be a humble follower of the Brethren. It was wonderful.
If only it were always that easy. Over the years I have accumulated a list of tasks that the united voice of church leadership has repeatedly asked me to do, but which I haven’t yet carried out completely. Please check to see if your list looks anything like mine:
1. Get out of debt and live frugally.
2. Be a 100% home teacher, making several visits per month if necessary.
3. Hold well-planned, well-organized family home evenings every Monday night.
4. Read the scriptures every day privately, and hold family gospel study daily.
5. Maintain at least a year’s supply of food.
6. Work actively in family history, and see to it that my ancestors’ temple work is done.
7. Attend the temple often, monthly if a temple is within easy driving distance.
8. Select a friend to be taught by the missionaries. Facilitate this teaching by introducing my friend to the missionaries and having the discussions taught at my house. I should be doing this at least once per year.
9. Greatly increase the amount of money I contribute to the fast offering, tenfold if at all possible.
10. Keep a journal.
If I were to give myself a grade on each of these tasks, the range would be from A- to D. There isn’t a single one of them that I could not do better. Given my own failings, it does not behoove me to select the two or three things I do relatively well and vocally compare myself to my neighbor in his presence. It is very possible, likely even, that my neighbor surpasses me in other areas.
Our emphasis on prophetic and inspired leadership is one of the great things about Mormonism, but like all things in a fallen world, it has a downside. Why do we seem to sometimes be in a headlong race to see who gets to be first in line at the rameumptom by touting how well we are following our leaders and calling others out on their failure to do so? If any of us were perfect at it, I guess it might be excusable, but since nobody meets that standard, what is the point?
Nobody should get credit for doing something they would already do anyway. If President Monson tells us tomorrow that liver and onions are fobidden under the word of wisdom, it would be poor form on my part to seek out people who enjoy liver and onions and admonish them for failing to get with the program and follow such stellar examples as, well, yours truly. If I really wanted to help, rather than just show off, I would realize that repeatedly drawing attention to my own abstinence is counterproductive. If you really want to impress me with your followership skillz, point me to an instance where you obeyed in spite of your natural inclinations. Otherwise, I (and everybody else within earshot) would prefer that you just remain silent.
Ogden Nash, who is the Poet Laureate of BCC, once wrote some verse entitled Kindly Unhitch That Star, Buddy. I quote part of it here:
In short, the world is filled with people trying to achieve success,
And half of them think they’ll get it by saying No and half of them by saying Yes
And if all the ones who say No said Yes, and vice versa,
such is the fate of humanity that ninety-nine per cent of them
still wouldn’t be any bettter off than they were before,
Which perhaps is just as well because if everybody was a success
nobody could be contemptuous of anybody else
and everybody would start in all over again
trying to be a bigger success than everybody else
so they would have somebody to be contemptuous of
and so on forevermore.
Many of us are patiently standing in line, waiting our turn at the rameumptom where we can finally thank the Almighty that we are not like the rest of you unworthy heathens. When you ride up to the front of the line on your high horse and cut in to be first, we would all appreciate it if you could just keep your smugness to yourself.