I’ve finally decided to live the gospel. Maybe that requires some explanation.
A couple weeks ago I was driving with my son, Sam, in Springville, Utah. Springville is a lovely town. I lived there with this very son and his mother and baby brother for exactly one year, 1 April 1973 to 1 April 1974. Living there was kind of our April Fool’s joke on Springville. It was like when we moved out, we were looking back over our shoulders and saying, “Just kidding.”
But we weren’t really-kidding, I mean. Because we were communists, and communists don’t kid. By communists I mean that we had some good friends, Mike and Pam Palmer, who sold a piece of land Mike had inherited in California for twelve thousand dollars. With that twelve grand they bought a little pioneer house on Center Street in Springville and invited us to move in with them. We had everything in common except for my guitars, because the Palmers, despite their manifest virtues, had never learned to play guitar. This, however, did not preclude Pam singing on the second album that I made while living there, or Mike taking the pictures that went on the jacket of the first album that I made while living there (which he had previously done for my first album ever.
((I have to tell you a story about the photo shoot for that first Springville album, which was called “Utah.” We wanted to get something autumn-y, so we drove up above Tibble Fork in American Fork Canyon, rugged country, on (((C’mon, we’re communist pacifists from California in our early twenties-how were we s’posed to know?))) the first day of deer season! We passed many sobering (((if not all of them entirely sober))) camps of people wearing blaze orange and toting high powered rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers and so forth. Finally we found a really pretty spot and pulled off the dirt road and took some pictures, all of us dressed very much like, oh, deer. After a bit I heard a sharp “thud” down the canyon, and an instant later heard a whistling noise tearing through the leaves a yard or two above my head. I don’t know if my sudden apprehension is reflected in the pictures we took after that. Actually, I don’t think we took many pictures after that.)) )
This was back when packages that contained recordings were measured in acreage, were memorable graphic statements, and were a significant part of what you owned when you bought an album-unlike now, when you type 19 digits and ten virtual dollars are theoretically shifted to another part of the “cloud” and a download occurs that allows you to see the album cover on your postage stamp-sized (oh wait, I got so caught up in this reminiscence that I forgot that many of my columnreaders will not know what a postage stamp is, or I mean, was-oops) screen on your ipod.
Several of the songs on that second Springville album, “Houses and Towns,” are about living on Center Street in Springville. I sing them or hear them now and I’m back there in a flash.
I remember the church we attended when Sam was a two-years-old, a gorgeous old chapel with dark wood trim and plaster bas-relief depictions of Book of Mormon scenes lining the walls. This beauty helped balance little Sam’s understanding of what our church buildings are all about. Previous to our going to church there, in fact the very first time we drove into Springville, prior even to moving in, we passed a stake center on Highway 89 and he pointed out the window at it and said, “Backet-ball.”
During that ancient year in Springville, a remarkable thing happened one day in sacrament meeting. Our dear bishop, the town barber, stood up at the pulpit and announced that he had finally decided to quit smoking. There was heard a mixture of gasps, uncomfortable tittering, and toddlers suddenly ceasing to crunch their cheerios. It was not unlike the shock that punctuated the testimony of an aged farmer when he stood up in the old Alpine Ward and confessed that he had committed adultery with the Relief Society president over a dozen times
…in his heart. (And, while we’re on the subject of hearts, the Relief Society president’s heart had, for a few ominous moments, stopped.)
Then Bishop Averett explained, in words something like these: “Some years back I was called to serve as the secretary in the elders quorum. I was completely inactive and smoked. I knew that if I said yes, I couldn’t smoke while I was in that calling. That was a tough one. But I thought that I probably wouldn’t be secretary very long and then I could smoke again. I thought that maybe anybody could quit smoking for a year or two. So I did, always looking forward to smoking again. Then I got another calling and just sighed and thought that if I’d done it once maybe I could do it again. After awhile I was called to serve as a counselor to the bishop. That was almost more than I could stand, but I bit the bullet and put myself on one last no-smoking diet. Then, a couple of years ago when I was called to preside over this ward, I had to make the same tough decision all over again, to stop smoking …for as long as I was bishop.
“Now, I don’t know if I’ll be called to do anything else in the church after I’m released, but I want you to know that, whatever happens, I’ve decided to quit smoking. I’m not going to smoke anymore.”
Well, I’ve decided to live the gospel, and thought I should stand up to the pulpit let my virtual ward family know. A new year has arrived, and a new start-however ceremonial and artificial. Every year I, like you, make resolutions. I would share with you last year’s utterly failed set of promises, but then I’d be judged not only out of my journal, but out of the journals of my vast, immeasurable (the Meridian Editors assure me that you are vast, but in the same breath they tell me that you are immeasurable, which makes me wonder…) readership, because of course you write the contents of Backstage Graffiti into your journals each month. I know this because, well, what are journals for, anyway?
Somewhere near the very dead center of the gospel is the notion that we should trust God. This is evident if you just read the scriptures or look at a penny (oops, an awkward lapse into Yankeecentrism-perhaps on your pennies, or farthings, or drachma, or wampum, it tells you to trust Somebody Else, maybe the King or the Bank or the Junta or Wal-Mart. That’s okay, Jesus said that all the pennies belong to Caesar, anyhow). God and all his servants say not “Do this and I’ll be nice to you after you die” but “Do this and you’ll feel good.
” You know, read the scriptures, pray while not thinking one tiny bit about the NFL or that farmer’s Relief Society president, actually go to the temple when it says on your calendar “Temple” (which you typed there once four years ago in a fit of piety and recklessly selected the option “repeat weekly”), play at least one hymn on the guitar every day-stuff like that.
So my new behavior didn’t begin with New Year’s Resolutions. I just thought, “Hey, this day was January First and, because it was Sunday, I read the scriptures, prayed sans interference from the NFL or T. F. R. S. P., and, though I didn’t actually go to the temple because it’s closed on Sundays, I did actually play a good many hymns on the guitar. Maybe I could do the same things tomorrow-except go to the temple, because it’s closed on Mondays. So I did, and then again the next day, and again the next, and then went to the temple too because that’s when the calendar said to, and I already did that stuff today-except go the temple because it’s Monday again.
And I feel good. Actually, what I really feel is “stronger.” I don’t suppose I need to feel good, but I do need to feel stronger and more confident (isn’t there something about “confidence waxing strong”? Somewhere near the end of Section 121?). The Lord knows what I need to feel. What I for sure don’t need to feel is self-righteous, which, oddly, I think I would feel if I’d listed these behaviors in a set of resolutions. The prophets have said to make the decision not to do bad just once-get it over with and then you won’t have to make it again and again, particularly when it might be harder to make than it is right now, sitting in Young Women’s. But I wonder if there might be something a little humbling and confidence-building in deciding to do good many times over, like every day, like whenever you’re faced with the choice either to do good or browse Facebook (the “new pornography,” where the warmth of my language in accepting a “friend” request is determined by how I feel after checking out their pictures first).
So it’s been a week-a good week, or at least a better week, living the gospel. I’m not kidding. Remember, communists don’t kid (although I’ve long since misspelled myself into being a columnist, and columnists do). Nope, no kidding. I mean, it seems that pretty much anybody could live the gospel for a week.