I 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.