Last Sunday I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting. I actually enjoy speaking in church, mainly because I get to bloviate for at least ten minutes and everyone has to listen to me. Well, at least they can't interrupt me. So I was excited at the prospect of sharing my pearls of wisdom with the members of our little branch here in Germany. And then I looked at the date of my speaking assignment. July 24th. And my heart sank. Pioneer day. I always hate the 24th of July sacrament meetings because invariably some old guy gets up and rambles about his pioneer ancestor no one cares about. This even happened in a singles ward once, complete with old guy. I was initially dreading this subject, because not only do I have zero pioneer ancestry, but I really don't hold any allegiance to the pioneers. It's great that they sacrificed so much for their beliefs. But the pioneers have no saving power. Pioneers are not a principle of the Gospel. Also the Church was a bit different back then and it kind of freaks me out sometimes. For these reasons, I prefer not to worship them. I fear that sometimes people make pioneers into false gods. I was hoping to talk about oh, I don't know, maybe Jesus or something. Instead I have to talk about dead polygamists.
But here's my actual topic: We are all pioneers. Phew! Not a single dead polygamist need be mentioned! Are we not all pioneers on our sojourn through the lone and dreary world? Do we not all have tests of faith, patience, and sacrifice? Are we not all working to build up the kingdom of God (especially in a tiny branch in a godless nation like Germany)? The majority of the members of our branch are converts. I think I'm going to go along this route. Husband suggested I just talk about Jesus with a little pioneers thrown in. I'm not sure how to do this, but I'll think of something.
I also may try to work in this quotation by Brigham Young:
The worst fear that I have about this people [the saints] is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of persecution, and be true. My greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.
I may do this because it's a good contrast between the trials faced by pioneers and modern trials. The difficulties we encounter today are different from, but no less challenging than those endured by the early saints. Then again, perhaps I won't use this because the Jena saints are significantly more humble than those greedy business majors at BYU.
I attempted to teach the principle behind Brigham Young's quotation in gospel doctrine this last year. A bunch of guys started going off about how it's okay to seek after wealth if you seek it to do good. They were bringing up examples of wealthy members of the Church, like the Marriotts, who are really good people and donate money to charity and such. That scripture in Jacob is true, but I think most people use it as an excuse to feed their greed. How many of us really only want to gain wealth so we can give it all away? And finding examples of individuals who did it right is the worst. Just because another person's heart is in the right place doesn't mean yours is.
This makes me think of the doctrine of Christian liberty. You may do whatever you want that is not addressed by the scriptures or other valid revelatory sources (prophets etc.). However, if something you do that is neither good nor bad results in someone else sinning, maybe you shouldn't do it. This concept is explained in 1 Corinthians 8, where Paul talks about the idolatrous temples built to the Roman gods. People used to like to go visit these temples because they gave out free meat that had been sacrificed to the patron god or goddess of the temple. Paul explains that it is not the least bit wrong to go eat meat offered to idols, because we know they're figments of someone's imagination (plus meat is yummy and expensive). However, these temples also had free prostitutes to go along with the free meat. This is a potential problem for those who lack willpower. If you can partake of the meat but not the prostitutes, go for it . . . unless your friend sees you hieing to the pagan temple, follows you up there, and ends up getting a little more flesh than was intended. In that case, Paul says you stand condemned for causing your friend to sin.
Here's where things get a little murky. I dislike the thought that I am responsible for the sins of another person. What about agency? Did the friend not choose to indulge in the prostitution? Was that not his choice? That reminds me of this quotation by Dallin H. Oaks to young women: "Young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you." Sometimes I like this statement, and sometimes I dislike it. I dislike it because it seems to place the blame for one person's sins on the head of another. This way of thinking can lead to a horrible mindset, such as rape myth acceptance ("she's such a skank, she was going to get raped eventually", "that's what you get when you go jogging late at night", etc.). On the other hand, I sometimes approve of this comment because it subtly calls out the fact that many women want to be objectified. Looking at it this way illustrates the higher law: that choosing to dress modestly should be because you respect yourself, not be because "those poor boys can't help themselves" (again with the negation of agency).
I suppose that choosing not to go get free meat at the idolatrous temples could be considered the higher law (the lesser law being that if there's no doctrine against it, it's okay). That's how Paul portrays it. But I see a different higher law here: charity. If you choose to abstain from the meat at the temples, it should be because you love your friend and don't want him to be unhappy. It should not be because you fear being punished for your friend's sin.
That doesn't really relate to the few people out there who manage to be wealthy and righteous. You can't tell them to stop being wealthy lest they lead people astray. You also can't tell them to be an example of the pride cycle so people won't try to emulate them. Let's try to be honest with ourselves about your motives instead. Do I really want to buy a mansion, put a bunch of orphans in it and feel warm and fuzzy? Or do I want to buy a mansion, put a bunch of expensive crap in it and feel superior? Am I really going to need a seven-figure salary to take care of my family? Is that underground basketball court absolutely necessary?
To finish off the story of my Sunday school lesson: I responded by saying that Jesus said it's easier to put a camel through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, so if you want to take on those odds, be my guest. Needless to say, the rationalization promptly ceased.
As for my Pioneer Day talk: any suggestions? Has anyone ever heard a Pioneer Day talk that didn't put everyone to sleep? Or included actual doctrine? Or mentioned Jesus? Dankeschön.
And there is a little insight into my brain for you all. I'll try to be more concise and on-topic in the future.