Ski Lessons with E. Stevenson #ldsconf

Dude, Where’s My Car Keys?

Elder Stevenson starts his talk by sharing a rather banal incident of getting back to the car after a day of skiing to find the keys to the car missing.  He then describes his hypothermia-induced hallucination about the priesthood keys.  Well, not exactly.  Actually, at first I thought this was going to be another story about finding lost keys.  I mean, that’s practically a rite of passage for Mormons in our spiritual journey.  Who among us has not had an experience when we lost our keys, we prayed, and then we found our keys?  It’s practically like shave and a haircut. [1]

He goes into Phil Dunphy mode, gleaning the mundane for life lessons, a classic dad trait.  I mean, I hope he waited until they were drinking cocoa by the fire to share his ruminations rather than stopping mid-hypothermia to explain the rather obvious analogy of the keys.

The more I reflect on this experience, the more profound this analogy has become for me.

So let’s talk about the profundity of keys.  E. Stevenson said:

without the keys locked doors would deny entrance; without the keys the engine would not provide power to the vehicle

An old crank . . . as it were.

As I thought about this, it occurred to me that those are two totally different functions.  Did people used to have two keys?  Did cars that were crank-started have a key for the door, or were they just open?  I found a few sites that explained a little more about the history of car keys.  Key-started ignitions are relatively recent inventions, coming of age in 1949.  Before that, most had a starter button and might have a key to spark the ignition (and of course a separate key to lock the car).  And of course the earliest cars were hand-cranked to start and didn’t even lock.  From one site:

Now, back then, you had to physically crank up your car in order to start it, there were no keys to speak of! This required strength, patience and the strong likelihood of sustaining an injury! The increasing power and size of car-engines as the 1900s progressed, meant that it began to take more and more strength to crank start a car and eventually, electric starter-motors were introduced. At this time, taking your car out for a family day out was no doubt a thrill, but even if you found a nice road to drive on, when you parked your car, you had to make sure that nobody tried to pinch it! Henry Ford used to have to chain his car to a lamppost everytime he parked it and secure it there with a padlock!

“Vintage” cars were cars manufactured from after the end of WWI to the Wall Street Crash, so, from 1919-1929, and it was at this time that cars also started being widely manufactured with self-starters; such as electric starter-buttons. But, it was not until the production of the Cadillac Type 53 that gave us one of the greatest pieces of metal in the world. The car-key! And with that, cars became safer, easier to start and more fun to drive!

And now, most modern car keys are three keys in one! A mechanical key to release the steering lock, a coded ‘electronic transponder chip’ read by the car when the key is inserted into the ignition, and a remote control to unlock doors and turn off the alarm.

I love that you used to have to chain your car to a tree.  Good times.  Although I’m not sure what chaining the priesthood to a tree would look like.  Or is that just some non-priesthood version of locking a car, some sham priesthood, a poor man’s version of the real thing?  Back to E. Stevenson’s analogy.  He refers to the restoration of the priesthood as finding missing keys:

Without this restoration, we would be locked out from the vehicle necessary to transport us on our journey home to loving Heavenly Parents. The performance of every ordinance of salvation comprising our covenant pathway back to the presence of our Father in Heaven requires appropriate governance through priesthood keys.

And, we’re back to push buttons again.

So, it seems like he’s talking about keys that open the car, not the keys that spark the ignition nor that start the engine.  Opening the car is obviously important.  If you can’t get into the car, at least nowadays, you can’t start it.  But if the priesthood is just the entry to the car, and not the power to start the car (the door key), then what’s the key to the ignition?  What starts the engine?  Faith?  Something else?

In the same way that my sons and I [2] were locked out of the car resulting from lost car keys, so too had all of Heavenly Father’s children been locked out from the saving ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ—until a divine restoration was effected by these heavenly messengers.

OK, so the car is the ordinances?  What’s the engine?  And what if they get in the car, but then the car doesn’t start or the heater doesn’t work?  Did the priesthood still work?

By the way, later that evening I did miraculously find the keys that had fallen out of my pocket on the mountain.

Whew!  I was getting a little worried when he went on the tangential advice to the youth to prepare for missionary service, go to the temple and the third thing that didn’t actually involve keys or priesthood. [3]

The Parable of the QT Cup

Speaking of tangents, what I was thinking about when I was wondering whether the dang keys were going to show up or they were going to have to take *shudder* public transportation, was a weird thing that happened to me just this week.  I always take a 44 oz. QT refillable cup with me to work, and then at the end of the day I bring it home.  Somehow I ended up with two of them, and as I left work one day I had a strong feeling that I should leave the extra cup at work.  I thought, “That’s dumb.  I always take it with me,” and I took it home like usual.  But then, the next morning, as I was getting out of my car, the stupid cup broke which has literally never happened to me before.  It just split down the side, spilling precious Diet Coke everywhere.  And so there I was, cupless all day.  It was a true hardship.  One that could have been avoided if only I had obeyed that prompting.

I’m not sure what my QT cup represents.  I’ll leave that to the readers to decide.


[1] two bits.

[2] Wait, was his wife not on this ski trip?  I mean, given my aversion to skiing, I can’t blame her, but he did say it was a family fun day.  I kind of thought they were all there.  Now I see it’s just him with his sons.  Okay.  I looked it up, and he has 4 sons and no daughters.  I’m just glad I never had to clean the bathrooms in that house.

[3] Well, you can’t make a list of two things.  That would be silly.


  1. How are we going to tell these stories when cars and houses all use keypads, iris scanners, and thumbprints?

  2. Christian, we will probably still call everything “keys,’ just like we still call a piece of music a “record,” and we still call digitized stories on e-readers “books.” I have tried hard to explain to my kids why they call punching virtual buttons on a touch screen “dialing.” But there you are. I just don’t see “the thumbprints of the priesthood” ever being a thing.

  3. Angela C says:

    Skeuomorphism, FTW!

  4. Mostly it’s all for fun. But seriously, I don’t see skeumorphism happening in fact with new forms of entry. Maybe to pass codes, but not to pieces of metal with ridges. I do think my grandchildren (who already in real life think something’s broken when a magazine page doesn’t resize to their touch) will have to be taught why the phrase “keys of the priesthood” makes sense and isn’t just a peculiar Mormonism.

  5. Kind of like we have to be taught that “stakes of Zion” once had something to do with a canvass tent.

  6. And when you’re used to using a thumbprint, what’s the sense to “losing your keys”? Obviously a necessary opening for many of these stories. I think there’s work to be done by creative linguists!

  7. Is there an etymology for Mormonisms? Stake, Branch, Ward . . . Usually branches aggregate to governments or banks (or rivers). Usually wards aggregate to cities or boroughs (or hospitals). So how does it happen that Wards aggregate to Stakes and Branches aggregate to Districts or Missions?

  8. Don’t worry, we’ll still have software license keys! And just think of the fun we can have with a term like Multiple Activation Keys. Or we can get all fancy and talk about key management services where the software “returns and reports” to a local key server every 180 days!

  9. Aussie Mormon says:

    Where do locksmiths fit into all this?

  10. JeannineL says:

    Why didn’t he just ask his wife if she had brought her set of keys?

  11. Angela C says:

    Jeanninel, see footnote 2. That was his first mistake!

  12. Don’t worry, we’ll still have software license keys!

    Not to mention blights on the landscape like the iLok dongle.

  13. Until the early 90s, cars usually required 2 keys: one to open the door (usually a round head) and one to start it (square head).

  14. JeannineL says:

    Angela C, I meant that metaphorically….Oh, wait. You probably did, too. ;)

  15. A Happy Hubby says:

    Is there another metaphor that when we show up at the pearly gates that we are identified by who we are on the inside and not what keys we have in our pocket? Meh – I don’t know. But I can say keys should not be used to hurt other people.

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