Labyrinths of Good Ideas
By Marvin Payne

My son Sam was recently called to serve as a counselor in his ward’s bishopric, and so I would like to write this month about the Fender Stratocaster guitar, the BYU Cougar football team, and the Large and Spacious Building-in reverse order. Sam was given the task of distributing tickets (free) for Conference Center seats at the Saturday evening Priesthood Session of the General Conference we just enjoyed. He wound up with three extras. So he and I and my grandson Skyler went to church in style. Our seats were at the front of the balcony, dead center.

In most buildings built along theatrical lines, as is the Conference Center, the front of the balcony is pretty close to the action. In the Conference Center, however, the projections on the large video screens on either side of the proscenium are delayed to sync with the much slower-travelling sound originating at that great walnut pulpit and emitting from the array of loudspeakers directly above it.

While listening to the brethren speak, this delay was imperceptible, because from most of the seats you can’t see their mouths move. But when the conductor of the hymns (“chorister” is a word which in the English language means “member of a choir,” whereas in the Mormon language it means the guy I’m writing about, sort of like “proselyte” in English is a noun and in Mormon is a verb-more on this later, maybe much later) brings that baton to the downbeat, the video screens of his conducting are nearly a beat behind him, and match perfectly with the organ. That’s quite satisfactory to us, but probably frustrates him, because he asks for “We” on the pickup beat and doesn’t hear us singing it until he’s halfway through asking for “thank Thee, O God, for a prophet.” It’s just a very large building.

The meeting traditionally starts at 6:00 in the evening. We were asked to be in our seats by 5:30. But they didn’t tell us which time zone. There may be about three within the Conference Center. President Uchtdorf is always careful to say that the Tabernacle Choir Broadcast will begin at 9:30 AM “Mountain Daylight Time,” because that’s the time zone the choir seats are in.

Something that quite impressed my grandson was that conference attendees are counseled, by way of posted signs, to show courtesy to any who may gather outside the Conference Center with an aim toward disrupting the spirit of the proceedings. There are always, for example, those extreme environmentalists (not to be confused with those moderate environmentalists like, well, me and other like-minded souls who believe that the key to having a successful environment is that there are potato chips) who protest with signs and slogans and banjos that we’ve built a Conference Center of sufficient size as to have its own climate, and thereby throw off the symbiosis that has existed for millennia between, say, crickets and seagulls, two species that are, as maintained by the protesters, on quite friendly terms with one another, and always have been.

The Conference Center is large. And spacious. Remember that.

The BYU Cougars

It might seem inappropriate to call into question my wife’s valiancy in the kingdom (especially in a publication that is read assiduously, my editors assure me, by subscribers in not only this, but several other dimensions) but I’ll tell you, she just can’t feel the tsunami of spirituality that sweeps over the rest of us as we watch BYU football. Though she wishes the young men well, to her it is a confused noise.

Last night, my youngest son and I watched the game (well, I did-when the Cougs were up by about forty points with a whole quarter left to play, when the starters were already about halfway home from the game site and the last bus loading with third-stringers, as some fans in blue shirts and bike helmets were out on the field taking a knee on every snap, little John went to sleep).

The game was played in a different time zone than Utah (which includes the westernmost reaches of the Conference Center), so it went pretty late. Because the TV is in the room that contains Mom and Dad’s bed and the crib, that meant that Mommy had to read and cuddle three-year-old Addie to sleep on the couch. This was not ideal (Addie said flat out that she was going to be grumpy in the morning). But it was my wife’s sacrifice for the sake of my spiritual experience with the only true and living college football team, except for the university north of here that was attended by virtually all the American General Authorities of the Church and even played at by some of them, and of course whatever teams have returned missionaries on them, even if some of the running backs have dreadlocks.

Or

had this holy thing of BYU football kind of transmogrified into something quite worldly-for me, anyway-being the amusement that I chose instead of kindness to my wife and our child (who subsequently became, as she had so sagely predicted, grumpy in the morning)?

I mean, they were down there on the narrow couch, opposite the front door, which has a hole in the screen, into which some miscreant could have inserted his impure paw, tripped the latch, and crept in and awakened mother and child with subtle enticements to yield to the attractions of socialized medicine. Could something as sublime and inspiring as BYU football be corrupted (by ill use) into something as addictive and distracting to me as, say, the kind of football games that are cheered by half-nude painted fans and sponsored by beer companies?

[Editors’ Note: Because We at Meridian are nurturing the hope that Brother Payne is moving toward some socially redeeming point, we are refraining from pointing out to him that all football teams are, at times, cheered by half-nude painted fans in games sponsored by beer companies.]

In the overall shifting balance of good and evil in the universe, I’m confident that my wife’s patience and love and willingness to let me take pleasure in a bunch of guys running toward each other at high speeds and colliding will outweigh my worldliness and selfishness.

But notwithstanding her eclipsing goodness, can’t something that’s pretty okay in lots of people’s books (Cougar fandom) become a snare and a stumbling block? President Uchtdorf (who, sitting near the choir, spends his conferences in Mountain Daylight Time, which is such a pleasant image that I’m thinking of using it as a CD title) suggested to us that eternal truths can get lost in a labyrinth of good ideas. BYU football is a good idea. But if it becomes part of a labyrinth in which eternal truths like “Give your wife a grumpless daughter” get lost, then hey.

Is a large and spacious building a good idea? All of us at the Priesthood Session thought so. It seemed to me that the Lord thought so, too. But it doesn’t take much eye-squinting to see some large and spacious buildings as not so good.

During the Priesthood Session, people who reject the prophets and the beauties of the Restoration stood outside and scoffed at those inside. It’s just a question of where the scoffers are-inside the building or out of it. There are, of course, two ways in which the large and spacious building we erected north of Temple Square can be corrupted into something that the dreamers Lehi and Nephi might recognize with shuddering and heartbreak. One, we could switch places with the scoffers outside. Or two, we could become scoffers ourselves. The second way is a tad more likely to happen than the first.

The Fender Stratocaster

Oh yeah, the Fender Stratocaster. The iconic guitar of Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, and Bob Dylan. The Rolling Stones play Gibson Les Pauls. Harder bands use black axes with jagged fang-like bodies that have skulls for knobs, the kind of guitars that make Stratocasters look as friendly as ukes.

Strats always look friendly to me, because they all remind me of mine (pictured above, right), which plays friendly music and tries to sound like the rock’n’roll good guys. But lots of strats don’t play friendly. They can make a noise not unreminiscent of the voice of legions of twisted spirits begging to be cast into a herd of swine, then modulate into the sound of sundry swine expressing severe dismay at finding themselves hurtling halfway between the cliff’s edge above and the yawning waves below.

It’s how you play the strat. The music can be a celebration of light or a screaming enticement into darkness. The building can be a home to or a haven from those who ridicule goodness. The football game can be a destructive and distracting confused noise or a. um, plain old wholesome confused noise.

(My next older son, Joshua, and I used to watch BYU games with the sound off and stately Bach playing instead-it was astounding! It took linebacker blitzes to the level of high art! Especially on the slow-motion replays! But I digress.) Are our good ideas labyrinths whose shadows turn us aside from truth, or are they straight paths into the light of the Savior’s smile? Our choice,really.

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