This past Sunday, we had a lesson on the Temple as a “Symbol of our Membership.”
As I was reflecting on what that might mean, and as the comments from the members of my local elders’ quorum started to accumulate, something wasn’t sitting right with me. I raised my hand and out spilled … something – something half-baked and more tinged with emotion than clarity. In the bit of elapsed time between that third-hour meeting and now, I’ve tried to articulate more clearly the thing I tried to express so ineloquently in the heat of the moment.
The Temple as Refuge
We often talk about the temple as a special place of sanctuary from “the world.” It is a place where we can go to escape the trouble around us and find peace and solace. Everyone that I know who has visited the somewhat unusual Manhattan or Tokyo temples has remarked upon how wonderful it is to be transported away from the busyness of the city around them and into a sacred and special place.
One of my favorite poems is Jack Gilbert’s “A Brief for the Defense.” He put it well when he described “the ruthless furnace of the world.” The temple, we are sometimes told, is a way for us to shield ourselves from the heat of that furnace.
But this past few weeks, as I saw again and again and again and again the violence and terror that is a regular part of the lives of so many, I wondered if what most of us in the Church really need is less protection from the world.
In my day-to-day life, the ruthless furnace of the world doesn’t burn me. If I am being honest, this week was so difficult to process because it brought a little bit of the heat of that furnace a little too close to my own life. But it was a reflected heat. A heat that made me uncomfortable not because it was personally painful, but because it forced me to face problems that are all to easy for me to usually ignore.
As I sat in that room surrounded by (mostly) white, (mostly) straight men — most of us young professionals starting our promising careers in the DC area — I wondered what right we had to escape the furnace when people around us every day are burning in it.
The Amazing Shrinking Religion
Part of what had me so on-edge during my elders’ quorum lesson was having just sat through a Sunday school lesson that pushed repeatedly on some of my buttons. The lesson was on “Gifts of the Spirit” from the Gospel Principles Manual. The manual goes to great lengths to assure us that the gifts of the spirit are not so weird as the scriptures make them seem. Tongues? That’s really just the ability to pick up a language slightly faster than you might otherwise. Missionaries do it all the time. Healing? If it’s the Lord’s will, sure! Prophecy? We can all have the simple truths of the gospel revealed to us. Miracles? Say a little prayer if you’ve lost something — and voila!
It seems as if we’ve shrunk our religion down so small and individualized everything so thoroughly that we’ve reduced the gospel to a self-improvement program that can fit in our pockets and provide unneeded comfort to the already comfortable.
And all around us people are suffering. While Rome burns, we fiddle a few platitudes.
As I was trying to process it all, I returned to a poem by Francisco X. Alarcón:
I want a god
as my accomplice
who spends nights
of ill repute
and gets up late
by the billy club
of a policeman
at a demonstration
for a change
in the order
I want a