Why You Should Live the Scout Motto

Our ward meets in the building on 65th and Broadway that will soon have a temple on the top two floors. The rest of the building is also being renovated, the result of which is that, as Steve noted in a recent sacrament talk, we meet in a place that resembles a home depot. Perhaps it is because of our long suffering that this past Sunday Elder Eyring of the Council of the Twelve attended our ward–although he said he was merely in town to give interviews to the Economist and the Wall Street Journal (happy day–I already subscribe to both of them so I won’t have to pay newsstand prices to see what he said :). He came to church apparently unannounced–a conclusion that I draw from the fact that I walked to church with two members who expected to be speaking in sacrament. In any case, I didn’t know he was going to be there, but as Steve and I walked into opening exercises five minutes late, it was pretty obvious that there was someone new on the stand (we met in the chapel due to work being done in the usual room).

I would have been more excited than worried if I wasn’t teaching. My hopes that I would not be leading a lesson in which an apostle would sit in were quickly dashed when the bishop announced that the high priests and the elders would be meeting jointly. Steve quickly, and with apparent glee, informed me that the high priests instructor was absent and I would be the man up front. The lesson topic, as you church attendees may recall, was sustaining those whom God has called to preside.

The rest of the story is largely anti-climactic. The discussion was unusually vigorous and thoughtful–several times I was reminded of the scene in Tom Sawyer when the judge attends Sunday school and everyone in the church is showing off. But that isn’t really fair either, because I don’t think that people were trying to make points, but were rather just inspired by having an apostle with us. I delivered my lesson as I had planned it–not without, I admit, some trepidation. If Elder Eyring thought I was teaching false doctrine, he was gracious enough not to correct me. In fact he didn’t say anything the entire lesson until the quorum president invited him to say a few words at the close of the meeting.

My general impressions of Elder Eyring as an intelligent, humble person were confirmed. The experience was slightly stressful, but entirely delightful and one I will no doubt remember for a long time.


  1. Can I come too? Alas, I suspect that if I tried, my bishop would hunt me down and drag me back to my own EQ.

  2. Dave,

    You’d be more than welcome to hang out in our EQ. It’s fantastic, a truly great bunch. Kristine & Karen, you’re equally welcome. [We’re not so hinged on gender-based admission policies]

  3. Didn’t anybody bring up Gay Marriage?

    Sorry, just kidding…

    Cool post though. I get nervous enough trying to teach, and I hate it when just the silly bishop drops in on my RS lessons.

  4. From what I’ve heard, the quality of the Manhattan elders quorum is largely due to the noble efforts of past presidents…

  5. Greetings all ye bycommonconsentites! Having never blogged, but having had a small part of a desire to blog, and having been invited to blog herein, this seemed like a good time to attempt an experiment upon the blogging world to see if it might be delicious to my heart and mind.

    After Matthew so brilliantly led what Elder Eyring called one of the best priesthood classes in the Church, I had Elder and Sister Eyring in the Gospel Doctrine class there following. Now a few people on this blogthing were there and this may be a “you had to there” experience, but I am still trying to figure out what happened and anyone’s views would be appreciated.

    For those who weren’t there, here’s my synopsis. The GD lesson was Mosiah 1-3. I have adopted the philosophy in teaching GD that we should treat the text respectfully, which means dealing with the whole text, not just the parts we like. So when I reviewed this text, I was struck at how unpleasantly ‘fire and brimstone’ a lot of the beginning of King Benjamin’s speech is, so that’s what the lesson was focused on. The discussion question was ‘is there an emotional (not logical) inconsistency between this language and our modern I Am A Child of God, Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam view of the Gospel? I noted that this tendency was not unique to Mormons, that outside of the evangelicals, most Christians were pretty ‘Jesus Loves Me’ ‘Jesus Is My Friend.’

    Elder and Sister Eyring slipped out toward the end. Then at Sacrament Meeting, Elder Eyring spoke and I accidently sat in the front row (which thing I never do) and he looked at me for about half of his talk. That was OK except that he kept referencing the GD lesson throughout his 45 minute long talk. The gist of it was “I hope I am being tough enough like we learned in Sunday School class today,” and he proceeded to give a pretty tough talk about doing family history, reactivation, and how great President Hinckley is at being cheery while making people feel bad about how terribly they are doing. Elder Eyring specifically referred several times to his desire to wash his garments of our blood like old King Benjamin.

    Now my lesson motivational goal (or whatever it is that a teacher is supposed to have) was to get people to think about what motivates them to live the Gospel: fear of fire and brimstone vs. love of God vs. whatever. I am a little unsettled at how enthusiastically Elder Eyring took to the ‘fire and brimstone’ approach.

    Does anyone know if this is his usual life outlook? Or was he just trying to humor a dangerous-looking type? (For those who don’t know him in his physical (as opposed to bloggical) essence, Matthew appears an a veritable angel of gentle sweet-naturedness, whereas I am a cranky old man.)


  6. I wish Mathew’d turned to Elder Eyring and asked, “so what’s this ‘prophet not always a prophet’ thing about?”

    Unfortunately, no.

    But Elder Eyring did have a really great thought on the topic of liahonas vs. iron-rodders (which we labelled as a false dichotomy in class, btw). He said that for him, the essential grouping in the BoM isn’t rich vs. poor, or proud vs. humble, but hardness and softness. He spoke at length about how being open to the Spirit, humble, etc. are attributes of softness, but that if you read the BoM where the Nephites go wrong, it is as they have become “hardened”. A nice thought.

  7. If it helps, Jim, I don’t think you’re all that dangerous-looking. Sumer doesn’t think so, either.

    I did notice in E. Eyring’s talk that it was a little heavy on the fire-n-brimstone side, speaking of accountibility for not performing temple work. But that’s nothing new, is it? They’re been threatening us to get us microfiching for decades. Again, not sure how much to chalk up to the GD lesson.

  8. Jim,

    I was in your class (which was fantastic, incidentally), and I knew what point you were trying to get at, but for some reason I felt like it wasn’t as developed as I’d hoped. The reason may be that you are too kind to tell your class when they are wrong and irrelevant in their comments — so be it (I have no such compulsion). So that may be part of the problem; perhaps the Apostle wasn’t following (distracted for reasons unknown to mortals).

    At the same time, however, I’m not sure how much stock to put into his taking pieces of your lesson. He clearly hit on the more dramatic notes of your presentation, which worked for his purposes. I don’t think he was just humoring you — it’s an effective technique for speakers to make reference to local and immediate events. Not sure how much Elder Eyring personally subscribes to the view, though.

  9. Jim,
    I agree with Steve–I was immensely disappointed that nobody addressed your question of, How do we explain fire and brimstone to our modern-day friends and neighbors? Of course, I sat there silently, too, mostly because I had (and still have) no answer, but disappointed that everybody tried to point out how “torment … as a lake of fire and brimstone” makes them feel good.

    And I don’t know the usual tempermant of Elder Eyring, but I think he was just riffing off of what had been brought up during the day–at Elders Quorum he directed his comments to Mat. Effectively, I thought.

  10. Steve Sandberg says:


    I’m sure that Steve’s glee in informing you that you were teaching was not just “apparent.”


    As part of the renovations, a Mt. Rushmore-esque idol, consisting of you and the three other most influential, inspiring, and–as E. Eyring apparently would have it–“soft” M1 EQ presidents, will be installed in the downstairs foyer.


    I miss your excellent lessons.

  11. Matt: I taught the same lesson last sunday, and spent most of my time trying to convince my EQ that it was alright to disagree with the Brethren. No one believed me. In retrospect, I am glad that Elder Eyring wasn’t there.

  12. One time, when I was much younger, I was planning to play the flute at a nursing home sacrament meeting. The tune was in the bass clef, though, and I didn’t have time to transpose and write it out into treble clef, so I was doing it in my head.

    About 10 minutes before I started playing, President Monson walked in. Of course, I was so nervous, I stopped transposing, and played everything as written, meaning I was a minor third off. Really, it means that it sounded like a dying cat. He was very gracious afterwards and said “don’t worry dear, the flute is a very difficult instrument. You just keep practicing.”

    Let’s just say, way to go on your lesson…it could have been so much worse… :o)

  13. Kristine says:

    So, Mathew, give us a little more content: did you define “sustain”? Did you talk about disagreeing with those who lead us? Did you talk about whether we should trust the prophet to do open heart surgery on us? Inquiring minds…

  14. Sounds like you came through with flying colors, Mathew. No doubt a quorum full of New York attorneys, leavened with a grad student or two, makes for a freewheeling discussion, even with a distinguished visitor looming largely on the front row.

    I’m reminded of the choir director’s favorite joke, where a poster hangs on the wall reading: “The Two Rules of Conducting. Rule 1: The conductor is always right. Rule 2: If the conductor is wrong, see Rule 1.”

    This seems to be the official view of those who conduct the Church as well: human leaders can make mistakes, but being a good sustainer means something like pretending and acting as if they are inerrant and never make mistakes, from the top of the heirarchy right on down to the local leaders we all know and love.

    Which leads back to Kristine’s query about whether anyone offered an alternative definition of “sustain.”

  15. Speak for yourself — I was totally trying to win points. The fact that I got to hail him a cab afterwards shows how far you can go in this Church if you really, really suck up to people.

    Our meeting really was terrific to attend, if only because it was an occasion for people to think through their comments and speak with more restraint than usual (with some exceptions). Mathew, do you think that this visit will have any lasting effect?

  16. Yeah! Sam, that comment in GD totally drove me nuts. What are those crazies thinking?!

    I was far more interested in the question as a reflection of modern christianity vs. the BoM’s contemporaries. But that makes for a poor book of remembrance entry, I suppose.

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