Well, what say we kick things right off here with a moral dilemma? It’s the Sabbath Day- quite a nice one, actually, bright blue sky, fluffy white clouds dragging their toes over the Rockies, quaking aspens whispering just beyond the soles of my bare feet, which are up on the rail of the porch, which is my office half the year. Which is where the dilemma begins.
You see, this is the porch where I wrote most of the songs for my CD-in-progress. This is the porch where I spent a couple of afternoons last week trying to memorize my parts in a play that’s coming up in another week. This is the porch where Tuesday I typed up a list of reasons why the Utah Valley University should hire me to be a Resident Creative Jedi Master, or maybe groundskeeper (forest green looks good on me (forest green is the color of UVU) I wore forest green to the interview but I don’t think it particularly helped).
This is the porch where I WORK, no matter what it looks like I’m doing to passersby. (No, I’m not doing anything to passersby, except occasionally waving—read it again, it’ll make sense. It always does.) So it feels like work, it looks like work (to me), and in most measurable ways is exactly the same as work. And it’s Sunday. Hence, the moral dilemma.
[The Meridian Editors have asked that we include engaging illustrations in our columns. This is the porch under consideration. Thank you.]
But I’m not getting paid. Does that make it okay? Don’t know. Remember, I already mentioned my CD-in-progress. So somebody reads that and says “What CD-in-progress? Can I buy it? Can I pay three times what I paid for all these other CDs that I own? Maybe it’s that new LDS Pop! Why, it’s gotta be, if he’s writing about it on Sunday—maybe I should pay quadruple!” See what I mean? Or the play I’m rehearsing for in the following sentence. I get paid just the same whether you come or not, but what about the increase in fame on account of me mentioning it?
(Never mind—I’ve never been able to take fame to the bank. Reminds me of a story about the time I went into the Credit Union to try and talk them out of repossessing my van, the fifteen hundred dollar van that served as collateral for a succession of about six albums and at least one thousand dollar guitar ($1002, to be precise). I walked in the glass doors and somebody said “Hey, it’s Marvin Payne!” and I smiled sort of like Michael Phelps and somebody else said something like “Whoa, the famous one?” and I tried not to look like the one in New Mexico who isn’t, and somebody else answered something like “Yeah! Not the one in New Mexico who isn’t!” and somebody else said something like “Would you autograph my temple recommend?” and then I stepped into the office of this nice young lady who I’d actually come to see and begged for my van.)
And what about the inevitable (when you were a kid, did you used to think it was “in-uh-VITE-able?” I did—that was back when the great cosmic question came rolling down at me off the Cheerios box like a stone cut from the mountain without hands: “What the heck is ‘riboflavin,’ anyway?”) groundswell write-in campaign that will certainly inundate UVU, with demands like “Dear UVU, y’know how you’re constantly pressuring me to enroll, with all those billboards and signs on the sides of buses and things? Well, hire that one Meridian Columnist with the questionable Sabbath commitment and you’ll have my letter of intent faster than you can say ‘Rah! Rah! Wolverines, Advance’!”
(At a Thanksgiving dinner early in my marriage—stop me if I’ve told you this one before—we were talking about how lame the modern cheerleaders’ exhortations were getting. I mean, “B!” Then the next cheerleader evokes from the crowd a colossal “Y!” Then, yep, everybody yells “U!” Then there’s a big “Yuh!” or “Ugh!” or “Guh!” or something equally visceral before the outburst of free-form encouragement and general affirmation, flavored with a layer of disapprobation for ((of?))the other team. I thereupon shared with the other thanksgivers my den yell from when I was a cub scout and my mother was my den mother. She had attended West High School in Salt Lake City and had taken State in running hurdles ((of course, the only other high schools in the state at that time were East and Granite—which I think is now a charter school for the horticulturally-gifted. Still…)). She taught us this one, with “West High” at the end changed to “Den One.” It rocked. I began, vigorously, “With a vivo, with a vyvo…”
at which point my father-in-law, who had been in the kitchen for some reason, bounded into the dining room and joined in, “With a vivo, vyvo, vum!”
Both of us chanting:
“Johnny get a cat trap bigger than a rat trap!”
“Johnny get a rat trap bigger than a cat trap!”
“Hannibal! Cannibal! Sis-Boom-Bah!”
“West High, West High, Rah, Rah, Rah!”
Since that moment my father-in-law and I have gotten along astoundingly well.)
Oh no—now I’m virtually engaging in raucous and light-hearted battle yells on the Sabbath! Argh! (And now I’m swearing! Where will it end?!)
Wait. A sudden easy reassurance just crept over me that this may be an appropriate Sabbath activity after all. I fell asleep. Not very long, but long enough to assure me of my place in the high priests group. (My wife asked me after church today how my lesson went. I said “Great! Half the brethren were riveted and bold and inquiring and testifying and catharting all over the place!” She asked “What about the other half?”“Dead asleep. Peaceful.”)
A gentle summer rain has just begun. That’s a sweet blessing. Am I being blessed for writing kindly about the high priests? That’s an awful lot like getting paid for being religious. More moral dilemma. You’ll remember that King Benjamin put it all in terms of earnings and indebtedness, which doesn’t help me work through this At All.
Okay, here’s what’s at the base of this whole dilemma. What do you do when your daily bread, such as it is, flows from exploring and celebrating the gospel? The CD above? For which I’ll be charging no more than the Grateful Dead charges for their latest? All about redemption, grace, faith, obedience, miracles, hope—mainly hope. The play?All about the restoration of the kingdom. For decades, my job description has read like it came out of the General Handbook of Instructions, and my corporate mission statement is a shameless rip-off of the Thirteenth Article of Faith. President Kimball probably should never have given that one Shakespeare talk, ‘cause hey, that’s where I’m at. Or Consecration. This would all be simpler if I’d never heard of that one.
You write a play. Maybe you get paid, maybe you don’t—but you were supposed to. You write a song—maybe it’s never a hit, but for the price of a 99 cent download, somebody cried or smiled or felt some hope. You conduct a choir, for all the very same reasons you do everything else, and the subject of getting paid never even comes up.