Acting Naturally?
by Marvin Payne

I want to share with you a song that, being an actor, is dear to my heart, a song that captures my aspirations better than mere unsung words ever will:

“They’re gonna put me in the movies.
They’re gonna make a big star out of me.
(Dum, de-iddy dum dum) sad and lonely,
And all I gotta do is”

Everybody sing!
“ACT NATURALLY!”

Good! Good singing! Anybody have trouble with that? I mean, apart from the insignificant (and, in consideration of my age, forgivable) memory lapse in the third line? You sounded great. (Now Meridian Magazine can call itself “The place where Latter-day Saints gather–and sing!”) The Saints love to sing. It’s always softening to the spirit, and prepares the heart to ponder doctrine. What we’ve just done reminds me of a–

Relevant Journal Entry:

6 April 2000

“We’re attending the dedication of the Palmyra Temple, sitting on the front row of the Alpine North Stake Center, which is, on this special anniversary of the Savior’s birth, an extension of the Palmyra Temple, along with a couple of thousand other stake centers.

“…Music now from the crowded little Celestial Room. Squeaky little temporary organ. The world would wonder what all the fuss is about. We are here as the Lord’s guests.

“…We have closed with ‘The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning.’ When the humble old brother turned from his 24-voice choir crowded behind the temporary pulpit and faced the little congregation on sixty or so folding chairs, did he feel the sudden union of over half a million saints singing their hearts out? I had to think of the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire that Elisha’s servant had not seen.”

The foregoing is a Relevant Journal Entry because we have all just shared such an experience! Sort of. In form, if not in substance. Imagine the myriad Meridian readers (say that ten times quickly) who, unheard by you but in cyber-communion with you, just raised their heads from their computers and, like a host of angels, with family members or fellow employees or other airline passengers peering at them startled and amazed, burst into rich diapason with the musical pronouncement: “ACT NATURALLY!”

Prepared as we all are now to ponder doctrine, not unlike baby birds gaping their hungry beaks heavenward at the rustle of approaching wings, it would be pretty unsatisfying not to ponder some. So here goes.

Since I was but a lad, I have been a little confused at the notion that “the natural man is an enemy to God.” I mean, isn’t nature grand and glorious and even Politically Correct, with an Archetypal Mother and several herbal pyramid marketing schemes named after it? Isn’t it considered virtuous to try to abandon the bustle of pollution, industry, and materialism and get ourselves back to the garden? I mean, aren’t there even missionary opportunities waiting there, in the persons of Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, and Nash?

Why do we have the Boy Scout program in the church, and make it holy to the point of excepting it from the rule of not asking the Saints for lots of extra money during the block meeting schedule, if getting close to nature is going to make us enemies to God? (The only furtive secret I persist in keeping from my bishop is that in the darkest recesses of my closet there hangs a Scout leader’s uniform. Don’t tell him–already I’m so emotionally challenged by Scouting that when my two-year-old son was born, twenty-two years after the youngest of his four older brothers, my first thought was not “Rejoice! A man-child is come among us!” but “Can I survive three more pinewood derbies?”)

Why do we get all excited about the stars singing, the trees clapping their hands, and solid rocks weeping for joy (see Job 38, Isaiah 55, and D&C 128, respectively) if being like stars, trees, and rocks is not something a nice person should do?

Well, I’ve heard people explain that the word “natural” in the “enemy” scripture means “bad,” even though it means “good” in lots of other places. I’ve always just sort of bought this on faith, but I’ve continued to feel a certain cognitive dissonance whenever Ringo Starr leads us all in singing “ACT NATURALLY.”

But hey, maybe the “nature” we see, which is (admit it) at least as much about death (bad) as about life (good), is only a small part of what’s real. Nature just seems so big because it’s all we can usually see. This stretching of my head is getting painful. I think I need to resort to my journal, where I try to write down things that feel like they’re coming from the Spirit.


24 November 2002

“We are so accustomed to things as they are. Earthly science disallows not only the impossible, but even the unusual–only that which is usual is thought possible.”

Leaving journal: I think this is the basis for what is called, by scientific methodists, “the scientific method.” Observe what is Usual, test it against what we know is Usual, then conclude that what we have thusly observed and tested is Usual.

Reentering journal: “But there are uncounted planets created by Christ as home for His younger siblings, and He will redeem them all from death, which is the most ‘usual’ of universal conditions. And when this work is done, the Disciples of The Usual will turn their eyes skyward and be swept up in a maelstrom of impossible events.”

Let’s imagine that for a moment. (Or for the rest of our lives.)

Maybe limiting ourselves to the possibilities and expectations of nature is part of what makes us “enemies to God” because so many of the promises He makes to us will then appear impossible to fulfill.

Another Thought About What It All Might Mean: I’m learning about how people, when they’re frightened of dialogue with one another, tend to retreat into either “silence” or “violence.”

“Silence” can mean anything from merely muting or masking the truth to walking out on the relationship. “Violence” can mean anything from controlling with monologue (or force of personality) to socking somebody. I see this all around me, and even (hold on, I’m risking my reputation for infallibility here, not to mention my credibility and perhaps my job security at Meridian) in myself. (Fact is, I monologued my way out of a twenty-two year marriage. If you don’t click on “contact us” or “marvinpayne.com” soon, I may monologue my way out of our two-year online relationship.) But this is circumstantial evidence. What it needs is a basis in biology (uh oh, “nature” again).

And there is one. What have our bodies been conditioned to do, through countless generations, when we are threatened? Blood rushes from the brain to the large muscle groups, and adrenaline kicks in to augment strength, to enable us to respond in one of two ways, run or fight. Well, there it is: Flight or Fight / Silence or Violence. Whether we face a grizzly bear or a hostile stork or a family member who needs from us either apology or correction, we are driven by the same biology, the same chemicals, the same, well, nature.

To swallow our anger and listen, to wrestle down our fear and reach out for reconciliation, is unnatural behavior. It’s overcoming nature. (This is why we so seldom see offended squirrels sitting around and calmly talking through their differences.)

Back to the journal for a theological connection. (What journals can be for: theological connections. Not to say “raison d’ etre,” because, well, it’s kind of hard to say.)


From 5 December 2002


“If I had the courage to conduct them, my life might be full of Crucial Conversations with the Lord. Instead, I respond ‘naturally,’ by silence or violence. Dialogue doesn’t occur, and I remain alienated from God.”

This presupposes that there might be something threatening about the prospect of talking with God. What could be threatening about talking with the Father of Love? Try sinning just a little, you’d be amazed. Or merely, like Jonah, try to avoid going where the Lord tells you to go. We shouldn’t feel threatened, I know, but some of us are more frightened of repentance than we are of becoming whale chow.

Is it that simple? I’m sure there’s more to it than that. But I can only preach the little part of truth that I know. So Mr. Starr, give us another chorus, but put “unnaturally” in instead. We’ll forgive what it does to the rhythm if you’ll forgive what it does to your movie career.

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“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)

 


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