Lessons on life often come in odd ways, which is my personal preference. I'm the ward Primary chorister and during a recent Singing Time presentation a learning experience spontaneously came full circle. I was mid-production and in need of some chalk. I ventured looking for some in the cabinet under the Primary pulpit. I quickly scoured the cabinet contents: pencils, paper, thumbtacks, crayons … can of albacore tuna? Even with the LDS Church's emphasis on food storage, a single can of tuna under the pulpit is a fish out of water. Forgetting that 40 people were in the room waiting for me to produce chalk and continue, I started laughing. I quickly caught myself, located some chalk and resumed. The mostly-juvenile congregation seemed unphased by my little outburst since I've had this calling about a year now and they've grown accustomed to Sister Rich's little oddities.
I don't know why the can of tuna was there. Maybe someone was teaching about the miracle of the loaves and fishes and there were leftovers. Maybe someone is taking their food storage a little too seriously and carries spare canned goods in their church bag and this one escaped. Whatever the reason for the can of tuna, it made me laugh because it provided a perfect irony of a recent religious dilema that had been vexing me.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we strive for perfection, but are far from perfect. We are sinners labeled as saints because together we are doing a great work despite our mortal imperfections. While many wonderful, even miraculous things happen in the church their is plenty that goes on that is a little fishy. We all have different backgrounds, understandings, personalities and quirks that we bring to the organization. We are taught, trained and counseled about how to run the kingdom, but sometimes we look more like the court jester act.
I admit, sometimes church is hard. We've all sat painfully through testimony meetings of travelogues, thankimonies, family situation TMI, bragimonies and anatomically incorrect health reports. We've endured sacrament meeting talk chastisements and calls to repentance from the ward gossip, discussions on local water rights and Three Nephite sightings. Parents don't even want to know what children raise their hands and reveal in Primary, and I was present for a Sharing Time that included the word "poop" spoken from a member of the Primary presidency.
I know things aren't always going to go status quo, but when I attend my meetings and activities and serve in callings I do hope for some soul enlightenment. It's hard when I need my cup refilled and I return home even more parched than before. It seemed like my ward was having more than its fair share of albacore antics going on and I was struggling. I know I am not free from fault. In my own spiritual journey, I have certainly dumped my share of dreck into the pit, which is part of the issue. I wondered how often I was the camel hogging the watering hole when someone came to drink. Are any of us really getting anything meaningful out of these religious rituals while we all take our turn spiritually spewing?
Then it happened. Some wonderful, insightful experiences answered my questions and would make perfect cheesy fodder for testimony meeting if I used "shadow of a doubt" and "every fiber of my being." I was listening to a general conference talk by President Henry B. Eyring. He spoke about the Savior's ministry and how he spent his time among sinners, lunatics, those possessed by evil spirits, people who were sick physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually. I thought for sure he was speaking specifically about my ward! We're all there, just like in the Savior's time, aren't we? A time-warp truckload of rubber-roomies relishing in the company of the promised Savior because we know he has what we really need. He loved them and he loves us, even in all our dysfunction. He even loved the self-righteous pharisees who criticized him for keeping such low company (every ward has a set of those). I realized there is something to gain from performing loony-palusa together week after week.
But that is not all, oh no, that is not all. I was blessed with two other experiences to emphasize the point. (Being spiritually dense, Heavenly Father has to use remedial techniques with me.) I was reading the Doctrine and Covenants Children's Reader with my son and we just happened to be on the story of the night the prophet Joseph Smith was dragged from his home by a mob to be beaten, poisoned, tarred and feathered and left for dead. His family and friends cared for him through the night. The next morning he presided and spoke to a congregation that included members of the mob. When we finished reading the story my son asked me why I was crying. I had been humbled. No matter what happened the night before, no matter who was going to be at church in the morning, Joseph would attend to his church responsibilities humbly serving God and his children.
The finale came from the Book of Mormon. (I marvel when, in my personal scripture study, I just happen to be on a chapter that offers answers to a current concern.) I was reading the writings of Mormon who was called at a very young age to lead a band of wicked people into a series of fruitless battles. At one point he was so frustrated he refused to take part anymore… (I could relate.) He later repented of his refusal and returned to be their leader. Mormon didn't return to help his people because they or their cause had changed for the better. In fact, they were even more wicked than before! Mormon served them for the change that would take place in himself if he exercised faith in what he didn't yet understand, but believed in God's promises for him in the end.
Whom I serve and the situation I serve in is unimportant. It's my own journey towards becoming Christlike that matters. I had been spiritually fed a three course meal with a side of tuna.
Kari J. Rich lives in Petersboro, Utah.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company