A Song of Zion
A child wanders into the woods, singing:
An elf sat on a twig, he was not very big,
He sang a little song, he did not think it wrong.
But he was on a wizard's ground, who hated all sweet sound.
Chorus of children: Elf, elf
take care of yourself, he's coming behind you,
To seize you, to bind you, and stifle your song.
Child: Wizard Thu, Wizard, changes his shapes
Crawling along: ugly old ape, poisonous lizard,
A mottled lob spider, wormy glider.
Chorus: The Wizard Thu, Wizard after you.
Child: He's up on the bough, he'll bite through your gizzard,
Chorus: He's close to you now. Elf, elf!
Child: The elf went on with his song,
It grew more clear and strong,
It lifted him in the air, he floated away,
With rainbows in his hair.
Chorus: The wizard comes for you,
The wizard hides under you.
Child: Yet wizard worm from his creep,
Made a sudden leap, fell short. Thu fell down
in a hole. And was eaten up by a mole.
I had just been called as an apostle and was sent out on an assignment with one of the current apostles to visit a family who was struggling with addictions or something. Their basement apartment was dark and I could tell that they were trying to overcome their problems, but just could not get past a stumbling block. Shortly into our visit, it got pretty ugly, and I knew there were evil spirits among us which were influencing the people there. And so, with a loud voice I declared to the entity that it was not of God, and chased it away. The family was thankful to be at peace again and we departed. As we departed, Elder X reviewed what happened. In a kind manner, he told me the things that I could improve upon and hinted that it was unbecoming of an apostle to raise my voice like that or to address evil spirits. I appreciated his comments, but was rather confused. “I thought that apostles were to cast out devils in the Lord’s name when they were moved upon to do so. The results showed that the evil spirits left, so why was my approach inappropriate?” With a smile, he said, “It’s just not how we do things now.”
A bit later, I found myself in the elevated stand at General Conference. It was a very weird experience. I felt out of place sitting in the big ornate chairs with the other men in suits, and wanted to take off my jacket and tie, but I thought it would be disrespectful. My turn to talk came and I went to the podium to recite something prepared for me, but to my horror the displayed words were not readable. Taking a second to collect myself, I began to teach about Christ and about repentance, just impromptu. I’m not sure if it was because I taught something specific or the fact that I went off-cue, but I knew the 14 men behind me were not happy with my choice, and I could feel the darts on the back of my neck.
When Conference was over, I was in very tall building on the top floor. I had with me two of the highest-ranking members of the Quorum or the Presidency (I'm not sure which ones) and we were there to chat with a prominent businessman. As we talked I felt pressed to call this man we were meeting to repentance, which I did. I’m not sure what he had done, but the words came right out of me that he should change his ways. The man didn't take very kindly to my rebuke, and dismissed us with the door slamming at our heels. The other apostles with me were livid and started chewing me out, because I had just blown a multi-million (or billion?) dollar donation to the Church.
I don’t know if that meeting was a final “test” for me or something, but I must have failed it, because a council was held in my absence and I was notified that I had been "fired" as an apostle. Frankly, I was relieved because I just couldn't conform to all the protocols. The only way I knew how to live my life was with my full heart, but I guess that was not what they wanted. To them it seemed more about the “rules” and the “image.”
I was later called (by whom I’m not sure) to be a Disciple. I started meeting in small groups with those who were truly searching. There was no program or set schedule to these gatherings, but we just followed the Spirit and discussed whatever needed to be brought up (I suppose some of those subjects would make a Church Sunday School class squirm). I felt much more comfortable in this position, and truly loved those who I taught, and who taught me. We had no agenda. The people were diverse in their backgrounds, dress, language and even their beliefs. But they were one in heart, and there was a power that wasn't with the other “meetings” I had as an apostle or before. (I’m sorry to say that most of THOSE meetings were boring to me because we read the same thing over and over and over from a manual).
I don't think the apostles in the Church knew that I was assembling with these people, but I was sure that they would be upset if they found out because it was against the Handbook of Instructions. I met anyway, because I knew that there were people who I could touch in this manner better than by wearing a suit and tie. Some of them had been offended by the church, some had legitimate questions, and some struggled with personal problems. It seems that they had been pushed away from the Church because they felt judged or that they couldn't live up to the rules. But the sad part was that they tossed EVERYTHING out or developed a bitterness because of it. I really tried to convince them that they had worth and that the Lord was a God of Mercy. I’m not sure if it worked or not, but I do know that we always had a good time when we met and left edified.
Journal entry, November 12, xxxx
I have felt for some time now to record an experience I had years ago while I attended college. The semester was coming to an end, and there had been build up to a "mandatory group assignment" in a class called Modern Problems (where we learned about social issues of world hunger, politics, religion, population, culture, and so forth). Finally, the day came to find out what this mystery test was all about.
We met in a large meeting room one Saturday morning, where the teacher's assistant began by giving us some instructions: "Today we are going to have an activity. To start, I will give everyone an envelope which contains various symbols."
She then proceeded to explain that each symbol had a certain value, and specific combinations gave you higher point assessments. She continued, "The goal of this game is to win. You win by having an accumulated amount of points over a designated number. For the first round, please assemble together to trade your cards. After 5 minutes of trading, all the individuals who have enough points to be 'winners' will leave the room and go meet together to decide the rules for the next round."
With that, she handed out the envelopes, defined the symbol and combination values, then said, "You may begin." I tore the paper, pulled out the contents and did some math in my head. I was already very close to "winning" the game with what I was given. It only took a couple of simple trades for me to acquire what I needed. After that point, I withdrew myself from the bartering and waited for the instructor to call for us.
When the time came, there were 6 or 7 of us (out of about 50) who "qualified" to be on the committee. We left the room and sat at a big conference table filled with tasty snacks, and started discussing how we should conduct the next round, while we helped ourselves to the food. The overriding theme of those who participated in the conversation seemed to be that we needed to be fair; so a system was developed where those of us who had already "won" would still participate in the exchange round (coincidentally, there were no members of the original "counsel" who traded to the point that they were ever excluded in the subsequent turns).
We made some rule changes, such as lengthening the trading time, increasing the value of certain symbols and making ourselves the judges for contested exchange disputes. Finally, after 2 or 3 cycles, there was one person from the ranks who had advanced to our elite winner's circle. I was rather confused by his behavior, though, because he didn't seem at all pleased that he had won the game. What little participation from him came in the form of sarcasm. He called those in the other room "the grunts" and "peons." Most on the original committee, myself included, labeled him as a whiner and ignored what he had to say. It came as no surprise to us when after that point he didn't show up to help plan and administer new policies and rules. (I think he may have just given away all his symbols, which was against the rules, so he was "out").
Following round 6 or 7, the TA made an announcement. "Okay, we're done. The game is over." She, too, appeared quite irritated at us, for what reason I could not grasp. She gathered the "committee" and the residue of people who hadn't won, and started asking our thought processes for this activity. The first question she asked our "winners" group was, "Why did you make the rules in such a fashion?" Trying to be diplomatic, I responded to her:
"It was important for us to be just to everyone, including ourselves. The others had every opportunity to win as we did, so it wouldn't be right to take that away. It's not our fault if we made good trades and they didn't. I saw some people just standing in the corner talking about completely irrelevant things. Why should we reward them for not participating in the assignment? Overall, I thought we were fair."
The TA then put me on the spot. "Did you know that for most of the players, there was practically no chance that they could win? The symbols were NOT distributed evenly, although your group assumed that was the case. In fact, by trading what they did with you, it made it all the more difficult for them to advance, because the key combinations of symbols were mostly held by your group."
I suddenly felt very foolish, but she continued to drive home her point. "Your group had the ability to make any rules you wanted after that first round. Why didn't you say, 'Everyone wins!' and invite the rest of the players into the conference room with you to share the snacks? You could see that there was plenty for all.
"Furthermore, those conversations you overheard happened because people realized that between them, their symbols had little value. So instead of stressing about winning the game, which was obviously not possible for them, they decided to engage each other in friendly conversation."
Feeling lower than the warn carpet, I was relieved when she turned to the rest of the class. "I have done this exercise several times, and invariably it always ends the same. Those at the "top" feel special somehow, yet they talk of being fair to their underlings. No one ever blatantly flaunts their position on the committee. In fact, they often speak of fairness and equality (and sometimes even complain about how 'hard' it is to have to make the decisions and "serve" the others), yet I never see themselves giving up the perks of having won the game."
She did not conclude with any sort of moral to the story or how we could take this into our daily lives. She simply said in a curt tone, "You can go home now. All participants receive full points on your grade for showing up today. It is up to you to decide if this test was of any value."
I have come to the conclusion that out of all the things I learned from college, this simple exercise conducted on a random Saturday morning was the most poignant.
Yertle the Turtle
They, The Pretender
Lead With Your Heart
Next post: Sunday, July 27