Defining the “Great and Spacious Building” (Elder Schwitzer) #ldsconf

gregory-a-schwitzer-largeI remember the first time that I used the term “Great and Spacious Building” as a metaphor. It was my freshman year at BYU, when I took my first exam in the George H. Brimhall Building’s testing center. The top floor of that building was the largest single classroom I had ever seen, in which hundreds of students at a time took their machine-scored tests from courses throughout the university.

Describing the Brimhall building to my parents once on the phone, I said, not really thinking about it much, that it was great and spacious. They laughed, and, from then on,  I started calling it the “GSB,” or “Great and Spacious Building” every chance I could. It got some laughs, but nobody ever thought it was as funny as I did.

I have always been fascinated by the allegory of the great and spacious building in Lehi’s Dream. And it is an allegory that has shifted a lot in my mind through the years. When I was a missionary, I was pretty sure that it referred to everybody who told me to get of their doorstep. And when I was a self-righteous RM, I just knew that “the great and spacious building” referred to something called “the world” which was fundamentally opposed to something called “the Church.” And it was something to be very afraid of.

I greatly appreciated Elder Gregory A. Schwitzer’s talk this morning titled “Let the Clarion Trumpet Sound,” which uses the metaphor of the great and spacious building in precisely the way that I have begin to understand it—not as a frightening “them” from which I must retreat into the safe haven of “us,” but as place where I all-too-often find myself hanging out despite my best efforts to avoid it:

Over the many years that I have studied the story of the Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon, I have always thought of the great and spacious building as a place where only the most rebellious reside.
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As I watch the current world moving away from God, I think this building is growing in size. Many find themselves walking the halls of the great and spacious building not realizing they are actually becoming part of its culture. They often succumb to the temptations and the messages. We eventually find them mocking or chiming in with those who criticize or mock.

This is a dire, and necessary warning to those of us both inside and outside of the Church. We can all end up in the GSB, even when we think we are holding the iron rod. As I think of the nature of the “Great and Spacious Building,” three qualities come to mind, each represented by a word in the phrase”

  • It is impressive. It is a great edifice that people admire greatly. When they see it, they know that its inhabitants have been successful in a material sense. Great structures are matters of great pride to their owners. Nobody wants to live in a “pretty good, spacious building.” We all strive to be the sorts of people that other people are impressed with.
  • It is comfortable. Spacious buildings are places where we are comfortable. We don’t have to do the difficult negotiations that come with other people being close to us. We can retreat to a private room whenever we want to. This ability to retreat—to refuse to acknowledge the strangeness of other people and their wants and needs—means that we never have to change the way we see things. We can always go somewhere else in our big, comfy house.
  • It is safe. It is a building after all. It shuts out the storms and shelters us from the elements. It keeps people we don’t want in out, and it gives us a great sense of security in our separateness from things that could do us harm.

As I examine my life to date, I must face the fact that I have often chosen safe, comfortable, and impressive options for myself when I would have been better served by caring less about what other people think and taking the kinds of risks that bring growth—even though those risks often bring short-term conflict and discomfort. This, I think, is what it means to live in a “great and spacious building”—and it is the reason that the inhabitants mock those who have made different choices in their lives.

What both Elder Schwitzer and the Book of Mormon tell us so emphatically is that progress in the gospel is rarely comfortable, safe, or impressive (at least in the material sense). The great and spacious building is not what we retreat from; it is what we retreat to. We become disciples when we leave what is comfortable and safe and venture out in the mists. Growth does not occur in safe and comfortable structures. It occurs when we sacrifice the things that make us feel secure and important go take up the cross and follow the Master.

Comments

  1. Wahoo Fleer says:

    Yeah, but under your definition the people behind Mormon Women Stand would be part of the GSB. Oh Wait…

  2. I tend to be hesitant over any conversation regarding the GSB because it always seems to turn into a way to point out how ‘others’ are residing there, but never ourselves. This talk made me twitchy for that reason. Like we need any more help pointing fingers at each other.

  3. I agree with RT. Sometimes it seems to me that iron rodders are just as busy pointing fingers and calling out judgements about people in the GSB. At that rate, no one will win.

  4. This was my least favorite talk. It took people with concerns and put them into a the office building of doom. So devisive…so disappointing

  5. senalishia says:

    Agree with the other comments about the talk in question, but I’m glad you got such a great insight out of it. The metaphor in this article, how it’s the GSB that is “comfortable” and “safe”, really impressed and inspired me.

  6. Thank you for your insights on the physicality of the space and it’s impact on the human experience within it. It reminds me of something from the 2002 PBS show “Frontier House.” It was part of PBS’ brief foray into the reality TV genre and was really pretty interesting. They took modern-day families and plopped them into historical times and places to see how they would fare and in the process educate the viewer about that particular slice of American history. One of the families on was an very wealthy family of six from Los Angeles who spent the summer in a Montana valley where they had to finish their half-built one room cabin, survive the elements and prepare for winter. At the end of the summer, they returned home to their newly built 10,000 square foot mansion and they kept talking about how huge and strange and lonely it was – how they were crazy to have though they needed all that space and how close they had drawn as a family all living on top of each other in the cabin.

  7. Erika, I have not seen that, but it sounds fascinating. In _The Great Divorce_, the only one of CS Lewis’s books that I really like, Lewis imagines an afterlife where everybody can have as much property, and as large a mansion, as they desire. It takes the narrator a few pages to figure out that this is actually hell.

  8. Some of us get into a dilemma over what it is to be in the GSB. Prior to June 1978, some members thought I wasn’t being valiant by insisting that Blacks should have equal rights. Not many months after that, on my mission, a High Counselor made a comment to my missionary company that he didn’t want us to teach Blacks. Over the years I’ve seen various Church Leaders say things like missionary work is not important, or, that Family History & Temple work are not that important, that the unemployed in the Church are freeloaders who should not be helped, etc.

    Problem is, we are supposed to be obedient to Church Leaders, but what to do, when they are part of the GSB? One could be called part of the GSB, when the opposite is true.

  9. Good thoughts. This talk and “Waiting for the Prodigal” last conference were similar in a way. We often apply the teachings of the prodigal son or the GSB to others. Yet that makes us a bit like Pharisees right? We are supposed to “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.”

  10. Dr_Doctorstein says:

    Pronouns aren’t everything, but FWIW, here’s Elder Schwitzer: “Many find THEMselves walking the halls of the great and spacious building not realizing THEY are actually becoming part of its culture. THEY often succumb to the temptations and the messages. WE eventually find THEM mocking or chiming in with those who criticize or mock.”

    And here’s Michael: “This is a dire, and necessary warning to those of US both inside and outside of the Church. WE can all end up in the GSB, even when WE think WE are holding the iron rod.”