I often find myself on the horns of a dilemma at Church: do I open my mouth and say something, or do I keep my big yap shut? If I err, I probably err in favor of silence. I very rarely say anything at Church.
Sometimes I feel guilty about this. I was so impressed by Lowell Bennion’s story about sitting in an abysmal EQ lesson about home teaching. So he raised his hand and innocently asked one question: “Why do we find it so hard to do our home teaching?” And the floodgates opened, and the lesson went from brutally bad to totally engaging. From time to time I’ve pulled my own “Bennion,” and have to admit a certain sense of satisfaction when it works out well. But it’s not always an easy thing to pull off.
That said, I worry about a whole host of things when I contemplate offering a comment at Church. Am I coopting the authority of the teacher? Is this something I can explain in a sound bite, or would giving proper context eat into the lesson? Am I going to come off like a smarty-pants know-it-all if I insist on spilling everything I know on a subject?
I’ll try to give you my thought process over four possible comment opportunities in Church today:
1. GD was probably the same as almost every other GD in the whole Church. We started with a picture of an arch, and talk of the BoM as the keystone. Very soon, however, the class comments turned to how the BoM is without error (based on the most correct book quote and the language differential in the AoF). Three comments in a row were turning this into a mini-theme of the lesson.
I was loathe to let that stand. Too many Saints casually accept scriptural inerrancy, without realizing the possible fall they’re setting themselves up for later. This is a serious matter, so even though I didn’t want to I was starting to think about saying something. But how could I say it without making those who had already commented feel like idiots?
As I was poindering this, the guy sitting in front of me said that “most correct” does not mean perfect, and how you don’t want to be like the people who lose their faith because a word gets changed in a new edition. I thought he made the point adequately and in a way that didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, so I was satisfied. Decision: keep my mouth shut. Principle: if I wait long enough, often someone else will make the point so I don’t have to.
2. In EQ, which was kind of a continuation of GD, the teacher asked about how the BoM was translated, and an elder explained that it was done with a sheet between Joseph and the scribe with Joseph using the urim and thummim. Hmmm, I thought. Do I try to explain the stone in the hat methodology? No. Decision: keep my mouth shut. Principle: it was an offhand comment that wasn’t an integral part of the lesson. I would be happy to explain the stone in the hat if I were the teacher, but to explain it adequately requires laying a foundation of folk magic context, and that has to be done from the teacher position; I don’t think it can be done effectively from the position of a student making a comment. This is more than can be accomplished in a quick sound bite.
3. Also in EQ, an elder said that he had been reading church history and was impressed that there were others at the time of JS who were seeking a restoration, and how this set the stage for the early missionary success of the Church. Now, as it so happens, I probably know more about Alexander Campbell than 99.9% of the membership of the Church, because I spoke at the first FAIR conference on that subject. (If anyone is interested in reading that speech, it may be found here.) Decision: keep my mouth shut. Principle: I feel no need to try to make sure people know how much I know about a subject. And I don’t know that I could effectively summarize a 30-page article in a soundbite anyway.
4. Also in EQ. The teacher was talking about how Joseph didn’t just get the plates immediately, but had to be prepared. Someone said that four years elapsed from the vision of Moroni to getting the plates, and the teacher said he even got married during the interval. My mind is racing with the folk magical symbolism of the autumnal equinox, and how Emma was a substitute for Alvin, and on and on. Decision: make a comment. But I didn’t say anything about the folk magic background to the story. My comment was that it was interesting how in our culture four years is considered an educaitonal cycle (such as high school and college), and Joseph appeared to go through a similar educational cycle.
Then someone else said, “Yeah, and the president serves for four years, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily any smarter four years later.” After which we all had a good laugh.
That was about right for EQ, I thought.
Do you too struggle with deciding whether and when to open your mouth at Church? How do you negotiate the different possibilities?