As a Bolivian missionary in the 1960s, I witnessed a miracle the advent of Velcro. Before Velcro, missionaries used flannel boards to tell a story. But Velcro changed all that. Pictures with Velcro backing stayed suspended as if by magic.
The trouble came during the "restoration" discussion.
On the old flannel boards, elders would tug the foundation of apostles and prophets from beneath a little church house and the building would topple. But that little Velcro church would never budge. It stayed afloat like a castle in the air.
In fact, I think those Andes farmers were more impressed by that than anything else.
A floating church was a miracle.
I bring this up because I've been thinking about that little "church in the air." I've decided that's how many nonbelievers view churches today. They see them as full of holes and riddled with inconsistencies. And they wonder how they manage to stay afloat.
That was certainly true in the USSR. After the Communist Revolution, party leaders felt they could stamp out the Russian Orthodox Church in a generation. But it refused to topple. In fact, Pope John II made it even stronger.
The same with Cuba. In Fidel Castro's push to create "the new man" he saw the collapse of organized religion as inevitable. But the faithful only became more filled with faith.
In the LDS Church, when Joseph Smith was killed, many thought they'd killed the church that they'd pulled out the foundation the way someone might tug a can of beans from a grocery store display and bring it all down.
But the church didn't collapse.
Some thought polygamy would tumble it. Or the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Blacks and the priesthood. Or DNA evidence and American Indians.
But the church stays afloat, like that little Velcro church. And the reason, I think, is simple: Nonbelievers focus on external evidences. They don't deal with the "internal evidence." They see dogma, theology, history, science and philosophy. But for believers, the church is built on inner things, things that float faith, hope, spiritual experience and feelings of transcendence.
In the Bible, Jesus says he'll build his church on a rock. Catholics say that "rock" was Peter, the first pope. Protestants believe Jesus was pointing to himself. The rock is Jesus.
But members of the LDS Church say the rock was "revelation" not just large R revelation messages for the world but small r revelations that come when people get impressions, have an inkling or sense a prompting.
The church floats because it is grounded on that invisible "inner evidence."
There's a scene in Monty Python's "Holy Grail" where townsfolk are planning to burn a witch. Since one of the tests for "witch-hood" is whether a woman floats or not, the ringleader asks the crowd to name things that float.
"Little tiny rocks," someone says. Another yells out, "Churches!" People laugh. The idea of a granite church floating is ridiculous. It would take a miracle.
Memo to people: You're right. It would take a miracle.
Like that little Velcro church, a real church is held up there by something even more amazing than Velcro.It floats on the "inner evidence" of its members.