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Advice & Commentary on Mormon Life
Inside This Issue:
The Quiet of the Night
Don't Shoot! | "Make A Joyful Noise"
Letters to the Editor | One Rock at a Time
Singing As One | Silence is Golden
Basketball Doctrines | Approaching the Veil

Issue 16 / September 1998
Read this issue's Vigor EXTRA
Hatrack River Publications

There is no music in hell, for all good music belongs to heaven. Sweet harmonious sounds give exquisite joy to human beings capable of appreciating music. I delight in hearing harmonious tones made by the human voice, by musical instruments, and by both combined. Every sweet musical sound that can be made belongs to the Saints and is for the Saints.

-- Brigham Young

The Quiet of the Night

At first, the doctors said Mom's pain was just from stress. Go home and rest, they said. And it had been a stressful year. She had helped one daughter recover from a long, painful illness and another (me) recover from a disastrous broken engagement. Mom tried to relax and reorder her life. She bought new running shoes and planned an exercise program. But the pain persisted.

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When tests finally revealed the tumor, we all felt a little relief to have something concrete to blame for the mysterious pain. I also felt a strange sense of resignation. I think that because Mom's mother had died quite young of cancer, I had subconsciously felt the inevitability of Mom's getting it, too. But, inevitable or not, it was something to fight, and we dove into battle wholeheartedly.

First there was surgery. I skipped school that day and went up to Salt Lake to be with Dad in the hospital. I thought Mom would die during surgery because during her last surgery ten years earlier, her heart had stopped and she had had a near-death experience. Mom seemed to share my fears. She made me promise to take her jogging shoes, only used once, back to the store for a refund. She made me promise to make Dad get his blood pressure checked. She told me I could have her new scriptures. I didn't know how to respond to her requests, and could only think of movies I'd seen in which the characters would say, "Oh, Mom, don't talk that way!"

Well, she survived the surgery, so then came chemotherapy. Even though the doctors said it wouldn't, Mom's hair fell out, in handfuls at a time, and Mom would weep in the shower. She sometimes wore a wig, but it wasn't a very good one because she couldn't see the reason for spending lots of money on a good one. Around the house she wore a turban. Dad sometimes wore one too, just to make us laugh. We tried to laugh often. Sometimes we cried, and that felt okay because it felt justified. And, surprisingly, it felt okay to argue because it was proof that our family was still normal. Chemo was very hard on Mom, but she kept it to herself and Dad pretty well. She continued to write to me at school every week.

And then, as is common, things seemed to get better. She grew healthy and vigorous. Her hair grew back, darker and thicker than before. We rejoiced cautiously and tried to treasure the extra time together.

But when the cancer returned a year later, Mom and Dad didn't fight quite as hard. The doctors said she could have chemotherapy again and more intensely than before, but Mom didn't think it would work again when it hadn't worked the first time, and the agony of the therapy just didn't seem to be worth it. There was more surgery, but with only depressing results.

My clearest memory of this time was a day I visited Mom in the hospital. I tried to distract myself from her wan, emaciated figure in the bed by bustling around, but nothing I did was right. I spilled her water, dropped her bag. She was so frustrated with me and with the world, and I was so full of ache to serve her. And then I bumped into her and she shrieked with pain and I ran out into the hall. A nurse saw me crying there and tried to comfort me, and I wanted to say, "Just leave me alone! Don't touch me!" I hated that the nurse thought I was crying for Mom, and I was really just crying for myself. Feeling a desperate need to help, I moved home to Salt Lake to be near Mom and Dad.

After the last surgery, it became clear that Mom felt ready to die. She refused to try any of the drastic "miracle cures" that friends suggested. One cure I remember consisted of drinking large amounts of hydrogen peroxide daily. The list of side effects of this particular cure was long and horrible and, according to Mom, worse than death.

I think Mom's earlier near-death experience contributed to her sense of resignation about death. Although she couldn't recall many details of the experience, she had a strong memory of her feelings at the time: her own ache to remain on the other side, and the great disappointment she felt when she knew she must return. She had no doubt that there was life, glorious life more full of love and joy than anything we can imagine, on the other side of the veil. She was actually looking forward to returning.

Friends told Mom that she ought to write letters to everyone she would be leaving behind, letters to be read at a future time. But she felt that nothing she could say now could change the life she had led and the relationships she had created over time. I was amazed at the peace she felt about the memories others would have of her.

Knowing that things can sometimes be drawn out too long, Mom asked that no heroic measures be made when the end came. As her liver failed and her pain intensified, she grew distant and dazed. Towards the end, she couldn't and wouldn't eat, and we didn't take her to the hospital. It was what she wanted.

A few months before Mom died, I was married (with a happy engagement this time). The wedding was pretty much the last thing Mom left the house for. Sick as she was, she looked radiant and healthy that day, and full of joy.

After my wedding I spent afternoons with her. I spooned soup into her mouth, and wiped her chin when the soup dribbled out. I helped bathe her. I washed her as she had washed her own dying mother. I washed her as she had washed me when I was a baby. Gracefully letting me take care of her at the end was the most beautiful gift my mother ever gave me. She could hardly talk then, but she would murmur, "I love you . . . I love you . . ." Eyes closed, drooling, "I love you . . ."

One night she woke Dad. Suddenly speaking clearly, she said, "Jerry, I want to go. Is it alright to go? Is it really alright?" And he said, "Yes, sweetheart, you can go." She was quiet a moment, and then wailed in misery, "But I don't know how! Oh, someone show me how!"

When Dad called with the news of her quiet passing a few nights later, I wept softly and slept, and went to him in the morning. Mom had planned every detail of her funeral, and had even chosen her own casket, so the workload wasn't tremendous. But Dad let me do it, and I considered this the most beautiful gift that he had ever given me. I was grateful to be able to do something for him, for he was in much pain. To me, Mom's death felt more cleansing to me than tearing. I had grieved deeply during the long illness, but after her death there was no bitterness. I never felt the pain of mourning the way Dad did.

It is a different thing to lose a spouse. Now, when years have mostly dulled the pain to an ache, he still experiences occasional nights of agony. The only comparison I have in my life to how he must feel during those nights is the night I cried out -- screamed, even -- to God over my first, unhappy engagement, the one which had caused my mother so much stress. I had known I needed to break things off, but I felt that I couldn't do it unless I felt God's presence and reassurance while I did it and as I faced the horrible consequences. So I waited for a sign from Him. And He was not there. The universe was silent, empty, all night long, night after night. And in the mornings I had to dress and go to work anyway. That, I think, is what mourning must feel like to my Dad.

One day, Dad talked to me a little about how losing Mom has changed him. "When I was younger," he said, "I used to have all the answers. But now I am discovering that the universe doesn't work the way I thought it did. It's as if I am a child who asks my father, 'What makes a car go?' and he answers me in a way I can understand: 'The key makes it go.' A little later he might say 'gasoline,' and when I'm older still he might explain how an engine works. With each answer I am sure I have the truth but there is always more to be learned. I used to know how God and the universe worked," he said, "and now I am having to ask the questions again."

"What has surprised you?" I asked. For I knew he could not be doubting that he would see Mom again someday.

He didn't answer for a while. Then, "When we knew your mother was dying, she promised me that if I ever desperately needed her, she would come to me. No matter how happy she was there, she would come to me." He paused. "I have had moments of gut-wrenching, life-shaking need, need so desperate that it borders on despair. I'm sure Mom knows what I have felt. And she hasn't come. Now, Mother keeps her promises. She would come if she could. There must be something preventing her. She must be forbidden to come. And that's not how I had thought God and the universe worked."

I think back to the nights that I cried out to God and He wasn't there. The hopelessness and despair were deeper than any feelings I had ever felt before . . . and, over time, they led me to know myself and God better than I ever did before. For, once I did what I knew I had to do (break the engagement and then endure all of the consequences), I discovered that I had been strong enough to do the right thing all by myself. And then I found God again in my life. But before I did the difficult thing, and even during the very moments of doing it, I did not feel God. Anywhere.

It was as if I had to cross a bridge alone, without Him, in order to truly join Him.

In church I often hear a poem about a man who dies and looks back over his life as footprints in the sand. He learns that the second set of footprints that appears near his own belongs to the Lord, who accompanied him on his walk through life. When he asks the Lord about the times when he sees only one set of footprints, the Lord replies, "That's when I carried you." I can see why this poem is inspirational to so many people; it speaks to the most fundamental of human fears, that of being left alone in the quiet of the night when they need God the most. While it is true that many times God does carry us, I believe that sometimes he leaves us alone, too.

Look at Abraham. God takes Abraham to a hill and tells him to sacrifice his only son. This test is not to teach God about Abraham because God already knows Abraham's heart. The test is to benefit Abraham, but that is hard to see at first. He is deliberately left alone -- abandoned, even -- to puzzle out the riddle of why would God ask him to kill his only son when He had promised him that he would have seed as numerous as the stars. And there is silence -- no answer from God. So, all alone, Abraham takes a deep breath and does the difficult thing. And not until after he begins does God return to him. And Abraham learns what God knew all along: that he, Abraham, can do the most wrenching task imaginable, all by himself, if he knows it is God's will. This precious knowledge about himself will help him throughout his life.

God gives me opportunities to gain this precious knowledge as well. When He leaves me alone for a few moments, I experience choosing the right totally on my own. When my baby was learning to walk, I was tempted to hold his hands and walk with him. But I knew that he needed to do it himself, and even fall, if he was ever going to walk on his own. Of course, I made sure that he didn't fall harder than he could handle. I didn't encourage him to practice on a ten-foot wall. But in situations I knew he could handle (though he may have disagreed), I left him alone. And when he finally mastered the task, he experienced joy in a fullness that he would never have known had he not experienced the pain and the growth himself.

As I learn to be a parent, there have been times when I have wished Mom had written those letters to be read later in our lives. What would she have told me about post-partum depression? What would she advise me to do when I feel useless as a mother? When I have struggles in my life, it seems as if a few words of advice from her could make all the difference. But, of course, it doesn't come, and I struggle on alone. And I figure things out. And I grow. And I look back to discover that I actually made it once again without her letter.

Like Dad, I believe that Mom sees his need. But I think that when she looks at him, she sees the eternal him, the man who can survive those nights of emptiness -- when no letter or message comes -- and grow from them. She sees the end from the beginning. She sees and maybe even feels the ache as Dad slowly learns that even this, the last abandonment, he can survive. But she sees joy at the end of the road.

God is preparing me for adulthood in His sight. If I somehow manage to get myself up on a ten-foot wall that is beyond my ability, he will be there to catch me. But when I don't feel him near, despite my righteousness, faith and prayers, it may be because God wants me to know that I am stronger than I think, and that I can walk on my own. And He -- and Mom -- will be nearby to congratulate me when I look back and see that the walk is over and I have been made glorious, bright with my own light and strong from the exercise.

-- Darlene Young

Don't Shoot!

We had to attend the branch conference a couple of weeks ago. A family with seven children arrived about fifteen minutes late. One of the youngest little red-headed boys was carrying this big silvery gun about a foot long with a red hood on the top -- sort of a strange toy to take to sacrament meeting, in my humble opinion, but he was good with it and mostly wanted to hold the little baby brother. I told my husband the gun could come in handy if there was a long-winded talk.

In the middle of the meeting, the stake Relief Society president was bearing her testimony. As she was talking, the little boy handed his big gun over to the fellow sitting next to us, Henry, who is about 85 years old. Henry looked the gun all over and must have decided it was just a silent toy because there was no noise from it when the kids had it -- so Henry pulled the trigger. All of a sudden the red top lit up and started flashing and the gun started a repetitive shooting noise that was very loud in a quiet meeting. It wouldn't shut off, and I thought poor Henry was going to have a heart attack. He tried handing the gun back to the little boy, but he certainly didn't want it; he had probably been warned by his mother what would happen if he pulled the trigger. The Relief Society president just laughed and said, "Oh, is my time up?"

One member of the stake presidency was really laughing up a storm. Later when the stake president spoke he said, "If my talk goes over time just tell me, you don't have to shoot." But he thought the whole incident was pretty funny also. A memorable conference!

-- A Reader in North Carolina

Make A Joyful Noise

Ward choir membership sometimes feels like being mercilessly stalked. If you once attend a rehearsal, you are on the phone list, and will be tirelessly solicited until the day you die.

I think that's sometimes a deterrent to people who would sing when their schedules are conducive to extra commitment, but who would rather not shoulder the guilt trip when they can't make it or don't choose that specific allocation of their time.

We have been in wards where choir membership was a calling and in wards where we received a phone call every Sunday morning of the year, in spite of our repeated explanations that we no longer had that hour available and would not be participating.

When I was called as our ward music chairman, my first priority was to make choir an "elective." No guilt trips, no coercive measures, no ecclesiastical arm-twisting. A ward choir, except in wards comprised of lots of professional musicians, is always going to sound pretty much like a ward choir, no matter how much or little they rehearse. I have always believed its purpose was to "make a joyful noise" -- literally. Those who enjoy it should have the opportunity to come and make the noise.

My goal was to build in extra flexibility which would allow people to sing when they could, and wanted to, while keeping the program strong even when numbers were weak. I decided to create a choral "program" consisting of a women's chorus, men's chorus, youth chorus and combined choirs. It sounds grandiose for a little blue-collar ward with modest amounts of talent and spare time, but it has worked out especially well. The men's and women's directors take turns rehearsing and directing the big programs that require the combined chorus. This job-sharing arrangement has given them breathing room for their many other commitments, and afforded them time between the major programs to plan and organize. It has actually increased our efficiency in some ways. For example, we have short sectionals in men's chorus and women's chorus to learn the parts for the next combined program, in addition to preparing our own numbers.

We never run any two of the programs concurrently. We spell each other off, which means the women get a break while the men are preparing a program and vice versa.

A couple of unanticipated blessings:

1. Some of the kids who have prepared special numbers for performances of the youth chorus have trickled into the combined chorus and stayed. We now have strong young voices in each section that tend to stay on top of the pitch and read the intervals and rhythms accurately. (Bless the beasts and the children!)

2. The professionals who have traditionally shunned ward choir because of rehearsal guilt are now embraced as guest performers who don't weaken the program in any way by not coming to rehearsals. We just plan around their schedules when we want to perform something that requires that level of proficiency. No hard feelings. No phone stalking.

Purists will possibly argue that the pros who hold recommends have vowed to devote all their time and talent to the building of the kingdom and should, therefore, be eager to contribute their musicianship on our terms. I have known several musicians who do exactly that, and go the extra mile by conducting voluntary clinics for the kids in the stake and teaching privately at no charge for anyone in the ward or stake who would like to learn. They seem to be just as excited about working with us amateurs as they are about performing professionally on the other six days of the week.

We have other friends in the profession who like to serve in the nursery, the scouting program, the Primary -- anything except music on the seventh day. As ward music chairman, I think those decision are private, even sacred. Our ward members need to balance the demands on their time among their professions, their families' emotional needs and their own eternal progression. I want to be careful not to assume I know how they should be spending their precious hours better than they do. So our choir is an elective. But we are still managing, so far, to supply all the special music our bishop has asked for. In fact, our stake leaders have offered the feedback that we sound pretty danged good (for a ward choir).

[Aside: I'm putting words in their mouths. Actually they have said we are "exceptional." That could just as easily have been a nice way of saying we're unusually awful.]

Okay. This article ended a paragraph ago, and now I'm just horsing around. We do a little bit of goofing off in our practices, too, and have a terrific time together. I think that's part of the amateur music experience, and an important part of the joy in service that we seek specifically through our involvement in "organized religion." We can and do turn out "product," but process counts. An example: we split to a different transcription that organized tenors and sopranos on the upper staff and basses and altos on the lower. One of the kids said, "What's ST AB?" His friend, without a moment's pause said, "Some Tenors, All Basses." (He's a bass, of course.) The kids not only have better voices -- their jokes are better too.

-- A Reader in Arizona

Letters to the Editor

I enjoyed the comments of M & J McQuivey (Women and the Premortal Councils, Vigor #13). I projected myself into that fireside for temple recommend holders as the patriarch attempted to lift the men by putting his foot in his mouth about the role of women in the premortal world. I would not have left the meeting. I would have raised my hand and said, "Brother, let met get this straight. In the pre-earth life, I sat at home while someone else decided my eternal salvation?"

A woman who had somehow developed a belief that she wasn't as important to God as her husband and son is a woman who needs to become God centered. When one has received personal revelation, personal testimony (another kind of revelation), answers to prayer, peace to a troubled soul, and many other manifestations of the spirit, she will know of her own importance to God, and also feel her own unworthiness to receive such love. When she has depended with faith and hope for the spirit of God to get her through a situation she was totally incapable of handling on her own, and she gets through with great accolades and pats on the back, then she can know the meaning of the word dependent.

We are all second class to someone else. No one achieves a position that he or she is not subject to or less in authority, attributes, or opportunities to someone else. I want to follow my husband, as he follow Christ. However, I have observed that men are no better than women in following Christ. I have observed that men are no better than women in leadership skills. I personally have better leadership skills than my husband and am perfectly capable of taking over and running the ship better than he is. Or so I have thought in the past. Just as I have faith in the spirit of promise to sustain and direct me for good, I and all women must have faith in the priesthood. (This often takes a lot of faith.)

Sometimes we must encourage and sustain and motivate a men for years before that priesthood potential is reached. Just as a great and strong man of the priesthood must sometimes love, encourage, and sustain for years a woman who is weaker than he is.

My personal fantasy (since no one really knows) about the grand council before the world was, is to suppose that we had divided ourselves into families of lineage and we all met in those groups and discussed the plan of the Father and considered carefully the potential of both plans. There were noble and great ones even then, both male and female, who bore testimony to both plans of salvation. We all made our choice freely; we were fully informed, and once we accepted the great plan of happiness, we accepted all the conditions. No one placed our vote before the Father, but we did it alone. Our will is totally ours and only we can give it away.

We Need Your Articles!
      Vigor is an open conversation among the Saints about the common problems, challenges, and opportunities that we face in ordinary Mormon life in our wards and stakes. Nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something about how to make wards and stakes work together well.
      We'd like to hear from you. Activities that worked well; problems you faced and overcame; problems you're still facing and would like to have advice about; anecdotes about funny or wonderful things that happened in your ward; tips and tricks for handling common situations from basketball to ward dinners, from printed sacrament meeting programs to Sunday School lessons - just write it down and send it in! [See "How to Submit" box.]

We do live in a culture that prizes capital accumulation above all else, and it is sad that men feel so superior because of it. I worked out of the home for 13 years and found out I was also able to master these skills -- both of capital accumulation and feeling superior because of it.

"O the cunning plan of that wicked one. When they are rich they think they are wise."

O the cunning plan of the wicked one. When they hold the priesthood, they think they are superior. I feel sure that Jacob won't mind my changing some of the words to this great admonition found in 2 Nephi 9:28-29 to illustrate the point.

We all have our personal battle with humility. In the priesthood God has placed the leadership authority, but I often continue to see it the other way. I hear the Lord say, "Enter into my rest, and oh, yes, because of your faith, long suffering, and prayers, you can bring your husband with you. He did the best he could."

The Lord has given us the standard. We must be "one" as he is with the Father. Wives and husbands must be one in this same way. Each is incomplete and unsanctified without the other. As long as we continue to compete, we are dividing our individual strengths which by them-selves are nothing, but together are eternally glorious. The husband cannot be the bishop and the wife the first counselor in the marriage relation-ship. The husband and wife must be one, an eternal unit, undivided, joined, always to further the aims of the other, because they are the same. Each needing and desiring the other eternally. If we have not reached this standard, then we must have faith that the Atonement makes up the difference, after all we can do. Each has a key and they must turn them in the lock, exactly together otherwise the door will not open.

-- A Reader in Florida

I am writing in response to your essay "Silly New Doctrines" (Vigor #15). I had never heard the phrase "healing atonement" prior to reading your article. However, I have read and taught the concept of drawing upon the Atonement to help us bear any burden we might experience -- sin, ill health, discouraging circumstances, etc. I believe this is part of what is being taught in Alma 7:11-12 and also in Hebrews, Isaiah, Psalms, and other places.

In Elder Jeffrey Holland's new book, Christ and the New Covenant, he writes:

Furthermore, we know that Christ took upon himself other lesser but still painful burdens as well -- sickness and afflictions, sorrows and discouragements and infirmities of every kind -- that these sufferings might be lifted along with the suffering for sin and disobedience. (p. 92)

I see a scriptural illustration of this principal in the lives of Alma's people at Helam placed under bondage to Amulon. By turning to the Savior they were able to "bear up their burdens with ease." (Mosiah 24:14-15) I have experienced this with both physical illness and emotional pain, as I have turned to the Savior. Granted, complete healing does not always come, but there is a measure of peace and comfort that can take away some of the sting of the suffering.

I wonder of the BYU religion professor you spoke of might not have been teaching something like the above, but his ideas were misunderstood, or misinterpreted by one or more students? I was first exposed to the idea of the Atonement applying to more than big-time sinners by Bruce Hafen in his masterful work The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life's Experiences. I wish every teaching in the Church could have his or her vision of the Atonement expanded by the concepts taught in that book.

Like you, I believe some people are healed by their faith in Christ. It is a gift of the Spirit (D&C 46:19, 42:48-52). However, there are many other manifestation of great faith by those who do not have the faith to be healed. It may be that the faith to stay faithful even when one's desired healing does not come may be an even higher manifestation of faith in Christ than the faith to be healed. Certainly experience tells us that the majority of physical ailments must simply be born in faith, but for those few who are miraculously healed, it is a great blessing, and another witness of the grace and mercy of our Savior, possible because of the Atonement. For those who are not healed, they can also draw upon the Atonement of Christ to help them bear their afflictions and infirmities. Knowing he suffered in every way enables us to say, "There is at least one person in this universe who knows how I feel, and who has promised to succor me." When I am tempted to "give up" or "throw in the towel" over circumstances that are painful, the Savior's Atonement gives me strength. This is how I interpret Alma 7:11-12.

The key point is that the Atonement of Jesus Christ opens the door to divine grace allowing us the opportunity to overcome the effects of our fallen nature and partake of the divine nature. This applies not only to deliberate sin (which requires that we repent), but also to poor choices, bad judgment, adversity beyond our control, including physical sickness (which circumstances require that we exercise faith in Christ, be submissive and obedient, and develop a broken heart and contrite spirit). The Atonement then opens the door to Christ's healing influence, peace of mind, the Comforter, and strength to endure.

Hafen also adds one other category of fallen man that requests the Atonement to surmount, and that is the gap between human nature and the divine nature -- human inadequacy. He suggests that we must develop submissive obedience and sacrifice to the extent of our capability, and then (through the Atonement) will come an endowment of "enabling power" or grace -- divine assistance to purify, empower, and perfect us. This would not be possible without the Atonement.

Physical healing may, as you say, follow different rules than the forgiveness of sin, but both physical and spiritual healing are possible precisely because of the Atonement, and there is great relief available through the Atonement that can help us bear our physical sufferings. Hafen entitles the opening chapter of his book "The Atonement is Not Just for Sinners!"

-- A Reader in Utah

One Rock at a Time

When trials come into our lives, they are somewhat like a large rock slide blocking our road. All too often we look at it, kneel down and ask Father in Heaven to move it out of our way. When that doesn't happen we walk right up to the biggest rock in the pile and try to move it. When we find that it is too heavy, we kneel down and say, "Heavenly Father, this is too much for me to bear, give me the strength to handle it."

What we need to do is look for the smallest rock in the pile and move it, then find the next bigger one and move it, eventually we will get the pile moved. And slowly, without our even knowing it, we get stronger with each larger rock we move until, when we finally get to that last big one, we pick it up and move it with not much more effort than it took to move the very first little one.

Of course sometimes when we are walking along and the rock slide comes down, all of the dust and debris can cloud our vision, making it hard to see clearly. It is then that we should kneel and ask Father in Heaven to help us to distinguish the big rocks from the little ones, so we will know where to start. Maybe exercising our faith to move mountains sometimes requires us to do it one pebble at a time.

-- A Reader in Utah

Singing as One

I belong to an aspiring professional choir in Salt Lake City. The group has been together for 4 years and has matured into a well rounded and full sound choir. The organization is non-denominational, though probably two thirds of the group, including myself, are LDS. The music director/founder and his wife are Presbyterian. We also enjoy several Catholics, Lutherans and a few other religions in the group. As a whole, we are able to sing good music, have a good time, and share some spiritual experiences.

I am one of the few original members left in the group, and I have been choir president for about a year. On a trip to Salt Lake with a choir from Ricks College, a friend at BYU told me about auditions for an ensemble that was being formed in the city. I arranged to meet "John," the director and was very impressed with his sincerity and talent. I knew at once that this was the group for me. I had no desire to sing with Mormon Youth or the University of Utah where I was planning on attending school the following fall. This choir only rehearsed one day a week and fit my needs perfectly.

Since then I have formed very strong friendships with most of the choir. John and his wife "Nancy" are wonderful people who have raised four very well-behaved young men. Having LDS friends here, they moved from the Seattle area wanting to get away from, as they put it, all of the crime and violence. They were received warmly at first and were able to put together a pretty good group of singers.

For me the experience has been wonderful. There is no animosity in the group. We are all free to talk about our religions. No one feels threatened or uncomfortable. I have been able to give our pre-concert pep talk on several occasions, feeling free to offer a prayer and share my deepest feelings about music and singing. I have learned a great deal from watching and knowing others in the group.

Unfortunately, as the group has become better, John and Nancy have increasingly been shut out of the musical community here. They have received terrible phone calls and letters from supposed members of the LDS Church. I was somewhat skeptical at first because I do not know anyone who would be so prideful and mean spirited. Then one day John showed me a letter that they had received from someone purporting to be a member of the Church. Nancy was crying and John was trying his best to make a joke out of it. Reading the letter made my blood boil. I have never been confronted with something so blatantly pride ridden and mean. I will not quote the whole letter, but will try to summarize.

The person started the letter with a compliment saying, ". . . I have heard your choir and yes you have probably the finest sound these ears have ever heard." The rest of the letter basically says, you are not LDS, you are not of Utah, therefore you do not belong. They even go so far as to say that as we are performing our little concerts in pagan churches that certain bishops have made it clear that the LDS community is not to promote or encourage the group. I think that bishops have better things to do.

Consequently, due to other experiences like this and for financial reasons, John and Nancy will be moving by the end of summer. I still do not understand where this kind of animosity comes from. We just wanted to make good music. What a tragedy. I am reeling trying to grasp on to some lesson or moral. Pride is a very ugly thing. As an active member of the Church I feel responsible somehow. These are very gracious people who have not turned bitter towards the Mormons but have dismissed the incident as an outburst from a weirdo.

Nonetheless, we are performing in New York at Lincoln Center in March and will have one more spring concert. What a wonderful four years it has been.

-- A Reader in Utah

Silence is Golden

I am a firefighter in a city in the south. It is no surprise that most of my co-workers are good Christian men and women, although there are a few exceptions. This was the case one day at station 6 where I was assigned.

A full company of men for a truck is four. The minimum manning for a truck is three, so another man has to come from another station to keep engine 6 in service. This particular day one man was on vacation and one man called in sick, leaving myself and one other firefighter whom I will call David. While serving on the fire department, David was putting himself through divinity school. (He has since left the department to become a Baptist preacher in a large church.) I had known David for three years and knew of his morals and beliefs.

I am a Mormon working in a man's world where talk of pretty women and off-color jokes are a part of life at the station. But, as I have said, most of my fellow firefighters are good Christians.

The man coming from the other station was known to be a coarse and profane man, and I did not look forward to spending the day with him. He had to be the center of attention by entertaining everyone around him with his gross stories and jokes. I told David not to laugh at the crude language or encourage him in any way.

When this man started with his foul jokes and stories, we just looked at him with no expression -- no disapproval or approval -- just blank faces. After ten minutes he stopped, and the rest of the day he was enjoyable to be with. We talked about his life and David's and mine, just like other people do. When I see this firefighter now, he is always careful of his language around me.

I learned that day that even silence can speak volumes about someone.

-- A Reader in North Carolina

Basketball Doctrines

When I was a young man in the Orem 31st Ward, there was a youth program. I vaguely remember occasional meetings and field trips, during which all the other young men seemed only to be marking time until the real activity of the evening: basketball.

That's not how it had been in my previous ward in Mesa, Arizona. There we went from speech competitions to road shows to dance festivals -- elaborate shows of folk and ballroom and square dancing. I barely noticed how much I hated Scouting, because there was so much that did interest me to do.

But the program was in the midst of a great sea change at that time, and by the time I reached Orem, the great churchwide and regional dance festivals and road show presentations were a thing of the past.

All that was left was basketball.

They would divide the young men into teams, and they would play "shirts" vs. "skins" -- one team would strip off their shirts so you could tell at a glance who was on your team.

Now, at that point I had not yet learned to hate basketball. In fact, I wasn't bad at it, as a kid in elementary and junior high school. I hit the basket sometimes. I could maintain a dribble. I sometimes got a rebound or stole a ball. I caught most passes sent my way, and I had been known to save a ball heading out of bounds. I actually understood the game, knew the rules, and played hard. I was never remotely a star, but I also wasn't a complete drag on my team.

However, there was no chance that I would ever play a game in which my shirt had to be removed. I wasn't a fat kid -- at least I flattered myself that the first thing you thought of when you looked at me was not that I was fat. (More likely it was that I needed a haircut.) However, I was soft-bodied, not lean like most of the boys, and I bore some obvious scars that I didn't wish to explain. There were girls watching those games -- most of the girls in the ward. My shirt was never coming off, and since you couldn't know until teams were counted off or chosen up whether you'd play "shirts" or "skins," I simply left the building and went home when the basketball began.

Saving the Youth

This alarmed the adult leaders of the program, who tried to encourage me to "join in" with the other boys and be "part of the group." What never seemed to cross their minds, at that time, was that perhaps they should have something besides basketball for young men to do. For all their talk about being "concerned" about me, they made no effort whatsoever to vary the program so as to include any activity but basketball. They knew they were losing me; they knew they were losing me because basketball was their entire program; it made no difference at all.

Their only effort was to persuade me that I would really enjoy basketball if I'd give it a chance. It never seemed to cross their minds that I played basketball all the time in the driveway at home, shooting at the hoop over the carport. What I needed was a church program that provided me an opportunity to do something that I would be proud to do in front of the young women of the ward. What I did not need was a church program that would require me to look like a fool while other guys always got to look great.

After I had completely dropped out of Young Men and then left on my mission, my ward did develop a very active drama program, which became the main activity of a core of young men and young women, some of whom also played basketball, and some of whom, like me, would rather not. But that program lasted only as long as the drama director remained in place. It was perceived as her program, not as a church program which should continue even after she was released from her position.

And so it goes in ward after ward: Basketball is the only "program" that continues no matter what; every other activity has to be pushed into existence against great inertia, and collapses as soon as the driving force is gone. And in ward after ward, those trying to do a drama program or a dance program find that if they need to use the cultural hall during traditional basketball hours, the fights that ensue are never worth the results. With rare exceptions, people called to run these non-basketball programs discover that they have the support of ward and stake leaders only as long as the basketball program is not even remotely inconvenienced. And it doesn't take much to set the basketball diehards to whining.

This set of priorities, if it had been in any doubt, was finally clinched when the Church began putting up meetinghouses that had no stage. It was official: Drama -- you know, the program Brigham Young believed in -- was dead. But now there were chapels with basketball hoops hanging from the ceiling, waiting for a room divider to block off that boring old pulpit and turn the space into the basketball court that God intended it to be.

The first time I saw that, I thought: This is like the old Mesoamerican ball courts, where teams would play holy games as offerings to the gods. Of course, the Mayas and Aztecs used to sacrifice the losing team. So we've still got a ways to go.

The irony in all of this is that when you challenge the supremacy of basketball, you are always told, "If we didn't allow the boys to play basketball all the time, there are boys who would never come to church at all. Don't we want to save 'the one'?"

When you answer with the truth, that they are constantly losing a lot of boys precisely because basketball is being played continuously whenever the lights are on in the building (except Sunday), their eyes glaze over. The message is clear: They want to save 'the one,' as long as 'the one' is a basketball player. If 'the one' is an indoor artistic type who likes to act in plays or give speeches or (shudder) dance, maybe it's just as well if he goes somewhere else to do it.

Official vs. Unofficial

Officially, basketball is just one of many possible activities for the health and social interaction of youth and adults in the Church.

Unofficially, in most wards and stakes it is the main program for young men and is the second highest priority on the annual calendar, with only stake conference taking precedence.

It's no great surprise that there's a gap between the official and the unofficial. We face the same thing with the two great holidays in Mormon worship services. Officially, we would have to say that Christmas and Easter are the two most important Church holidays, with Easter being more important than Christmas.

Unofficially, though, we all know perfectly well that in most wards, when it comes to preparing sacrament meeting programs and special talks and presentations, the two most important holidays are Christmas and Mother's Day, with Easter barely on the map as a distant third, and Father's Day merely an afterthought, sort of a dinghy bobbing in the wake of Mother's Day.

No one really believes that Mother's Day is more important than Easter. But that's the way we spend our time, and that's where the emotional outpourings come.

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With basketball, however, the priority has a lot more official sanction. There's that practice of building churches without stages -- that's a big one, throwing away a century of Church tradition, and in effect also throwing away a chance to provide opportunities for precisely the young men who are most at risk of getting caught up in the anti-gospel culture of the artistic and intellectual elite.

And, in case there was any doubt about how much the Church loves basketball and mistrusts every other activity, basketball is the one worldly activity that missionaries are not just allowed but encouraged to take part in. Any missionary who doesn't take part in basketball games must nevertheless spend a significant part of his P-Day sitting mindlessly in the chapel, waiting while his companion plays. And if he complains, he's told, "So play. Nobody asks you just to sit there."

And just sitting there is all he can do. He's forbidden to read a book that doesn't qualify as gospel study. He's forbidden to practice a musical instrument, unless the instrument is a piano, and unless the music is a hymn. He can't write a screenplay or film a documentary or compose a sonata, should that be his interest. He can't see a movie or watch a television show, or even read a newspaper or a newsmagazine to keep up on events in the world outside.

For introverts especially, there is no real P-day, no break from the endlessly extroverted missionary routine. Tracting and starting conversations with strangers are excruciatingly difficult for introverts -- even when they become skilled at it, it is exhausting. They need respite, a chance to be alone. But alone is the one thing missionaries are never permitted to be. Always there's a companion, and quite often one who is quick to condemn any perceived variance from his interpretation of the mission rules. The one thing the introvert craves, solitude, is the one thing he can't have.

So how did I, as an extreme introvert, survive my mission? Because the rules were a little looser then. I read books. One novel or nonfiction book each P-day. It kept me sane. It kept me, quite possibly, on my mission. (And to those who say, Why not just read the scriptures? the answer is simple: To a missionary, scripture study is work. It's part of the job. Clearly the Brethren think that missionaries do need a break from that job, once a week, or the basketball wouldn't be allowed either!)

Thus it is that even though no one would ever claim that it is LDS doctrine that basketball is superior to all other non-gospel activities and should take precedence over them, as a practical matter that conclusion is inescapable.

How Did Basketball Come to Rule?

There are many reasons why basketball has become so pervasive. Perhaps the most common reason is sheer laziness. Adult leaders don't have to plan basketball. You don't have to go anywhere or bring anything or set anything up. It doesn't take very large teams of a fixed size -- in fact, you can play some kind of game with only a couple of guys, and even one guy alone can shoot at the hoop. Nor does it take any training to get a game started -- every American male has played enough basketball or variant games like "horse" to be able to pretend to be a leader.

Most important, there's always a large -- or at least vocal -- contingent of young men who want only to play basketball when they come to church, and regard any other activity as a waste of time, an irksome duty they have to perform before being allowed to play. So when a youth leader says, "Nothing planned tonight, guys. Just a little roundball," he is likely to be greeted with cheers. The boys who hate such nights either quietly go along or wander out into the halls or parking lot or go home or, eventually, stop coming at all. But they tend not to be as vocal about it as the basketball diehards; or if they do speak up, they're very quickly shut down by the b-ball boys.

Basketball is also safe. When you put on a dance -- the second-laziest choice for youth leaders -- you have to have music, and because you want the kids to enjoy it you have to choose music they like, and if you let them choose their own music, pretty soon you find yourself listening to amazingly vile lyrics and fielding complaints from irate parents. Basketball, on the other hand, never has offensive lyrics, or if it does, you blame the boy and not the game.

Basketball is also cheap, primarily because the heavy expense of putting up basketball hoops has already been paid for out of tithing money. Yep, that's what the widow's mite was spent on, hoops. So it costs nothing from your ward budget or your own pocket to put on a game.

Most important, a large proportion of the men who lead the Church at the stake level and higher tend to be committed to organized sports. This is entirely accidental, I think, but here's how it happens. I read recently about a study of CEOs of major corporations, trying to see what they had in common as predictors of their success in business. It wasn't their education or social background or family upbringing. The one thing they almost all had in common was participation in organized sports in their youth. The business world promotes that athletic-team culture -- competitive, ambitious, winner-take all -- so only those who fit into that culture tend to get promoted or finesse deals.

While there are exceptions -- and more of them these days than there used to be -- Church leadership positions at the level of stake president and higher tend to go to men who have the power to arrange their own schedules so they could fit in these time-consuming callings. This means that most such callings go to college teachers, Church employees, self-employed businessmen, top corporate management, the independently wealthy, and retirees. I'd be willing to bet that the self-employed and top-executive categories account for the largest portion of the stake presidents and mission presidents in the Church, and in the U.S., at least, they bring with them the demographic characteristics of top management in American culture.

They all played ball.

This is what explains a curious phenomenon. As a member of a bishopric, I was trying to deal with a man of about twenty-five whose immaturity, violence, and vulgarity were legendary in our stake. He and his wild mostly-nonmember buddies would play basketball every night if they could, and, while I won't bore you here with endless stories of their intimidation of regular Church members, let's just say that they brought contention and fear and unhappiness with them whenever they showed up and started bouncing that ball.

And yet, as I spoke to a stake leader, trying to get stake cooperation in severely curtailing this fellow's ability to interfere with our ward's activities and terrorize our ward members, he kept saying, "But he's a good guy. You've got to understand that he's really a good guy."

Approaching the Veil

I lean on tiptoe,
Taut, poised at the edge,
Eyes prickled with stars.

Spirit percolates.
I am brimming, wakening,
Fresh-whetted and ripe.

You, god-whisperers,
Hover like angel mothers,
Priestesses of light.

My lips follow yours,
Invocation and blessing,
Strange sounds of power.

A pause, and I hear
Through your reverence for the Words
Sounds of rushing wind.

Holy escorts
Midwives to the quickening
Reach, grasp, launch . . .

I am beautiful, aflame,

Burnished bright and fierce.
Alleluia my birthcry,
I greet Pentecost.

- Darlene Young

I kept trying to figure out what my stake leader meant by this. The man's wife had divorced him for ample cause, he had bullied and abused almost everyone in the ward -- including intimidating a timid little retarded girl in an incident that I had just reported to this stake leader -- and he was notorious for swearing and violent fouling even during basketball games. But finally, by the end of the conversation, I was able to determine what the stake leader meant. "He's really a good guy" meant "he's really a good ballplayer." After all the fouls and swearing, he could hit the basket. He was a winner. Never mind that his life was a mess and that the thing he needed most was for someone, somewhere, to make him face the consequences of his wickedness. For some people, at least, the benefit of the doubt would always be his because he was deft with the big round ball.

What's Good About Roundball?

Of course, almost none of those whose decisions make basketball the primary and often sole program for young men in the Church would ever admit that laziness, cheapness, safety, or the cultural biases of businessmen are their reasons for doing so. Instead, they have an elaborate defense ready for anyone who dares to suggest that basketball is inadequate as a youth program.

1. Basketball teaches important values.

2. Basketball is good exercise.

3. Basketball builds "team spirit" or unity among the young men.

4. If we didn't have basketball, we'd lose many of our youth.

Let me take these points in reverse order. I've already pointed out that for every youth that basketball brings to the church building, there may well be another that it drives away. But there's more to it than that, because it's not a zero-sum game. You don't have to choose between these young men -- we could keep them all. If basketball were merely one of many activities, confined to its proper time and season, with just as much emphasis placed on other activities in their time and season, with the same amount of encouragement to take part, then those who disliked one activity would still have hope of soon being involved in something they did like. All the young men would get a variety of experiences and so discover many things that they never knew they might enjoy, and many talents they didn't know they had. So the argument that we want to hold on to our youth should lead us to a balanced program, and should drastically reduce the amount of time and priority given to basketball.

As for unity, it's worth pointing out that team spirit only applies to those who are on the team. In fact, it mostly applies to those who are valued members of the team. I have heard rumors of teams where every member is equally valued, but I've never seen one or met anyone who was actually on one. Most of the time, "team spirit" means feeling lucky to be allowed to play on the same team as the really good guys, because they don't need you and resent the time you're on the floor.

In fact, I daresay that drama and dance programs create far more team spirit than sports ever do, and that there are sports -- like volleyball, for instance -- that do a better job of building unity than basketball ever could. In volleyball, for instance, every position has value, because the ball could go anywhere, and the strict rotation means that every player is in every position in every game.

As for drama -- if you do enough plays, you can give good roles to everyone who wants one, and everyone can have his or her moment to shine. Yet all of them are involved in creating something together, and the applause at the end is shared by all. You can't count up how many "points" each actor won. Those who have been in good church productions know that nothing creates more unity.

The same goes for dance programs, for every couple in the production number has to do their part for the whole presentation to work well, and when it worked well, everyone has the exhilaration of having danced exactly as much as everyone else in the number.

And need I point out that a good service project does at least as good a job in building unity as any sport or artistic production? You sweat together, getting to know each other while serving someone else. Compared to service projects, basketball isn't even on the map.

In other words, the argument that we want to create unity and team spirit once again leads to the conclusion that basketball should be drastically de-emphasized in favor of activities that do a much better job of building unity by letting the youth get to know and like each other.

Basketball can be good exercise, it's true. But that can hardly be the reason for its privileged position inthe mission field, because walking and bicycle-riding are far better exercise -- they're aerobic and far less likely to cause injury. And missionaries walk and ride bicycles constantly on their missions -- if anything, P-days should be days of rest.

As for the exercise value of basketball for Young Men in our wards and stakes, let's remember that basketball is only good exercise for the five boys on each team who are on the court, and even then, it is only sporadically aerobic. When I was Young Men's president, I think my boys got far more and better exercise from our summer of long-distance bicycle riding than they ever got from their winters of basketball. And they saw a lot more scenery, too. (Come to think of it, their "team spirit" was also stronger, because they rode their bikes cooperatively, making sure everyone could keep up, watching out for each other on the road. We never had a fight break out, as so often happens in church basketball.)

The "Values" of Basketball

Finally we come to the last argument -- that basketball teaches important values that are good for LDS young men to learn.

I've wracked my brains to try to think of what those values might be. I've come up with a few. See what you think of my list.

1. Get the Ball to the Guy with the "Hot Hands." This is one of the most important principles of professional and college-level play. Whoever is hitting the basket should get the ball.

So let's apply this "basketball principle" to the rest of LDS life. For instance, give the pulpit to the person who's the best speaker. No more listening to the halting, uncertain, boring, doctrinally incorrect, timid, or weepy sacrament meeting talks of those who aren't skilled communicators. Let's find in every ward the speakers who have a gift for it, and have them speak every week. Everyone else could simply give short talks now and then, the way we bring the second-rate players off the bench for a few minutes every game. As a token.

In fact, we could apply it to General Conference, too. We all know that certain of the Brethren are much more dynamic and interesting speakers than others. Never mind that some of the "dull" ones nevertheless speak words that some members of the audience are greatly in need of hearing. It's about winning, isn't it? You always go with the best -- that's what we learn from basketball.

The corollary is even more pernicious: If you don't have "hot hands," you have no right to the ball. But wait ... if God ran the kingdom of heaven that way, wouldn't it make him a respecter of persons? I thought all the laborers in his kingdom got the same penny at the end of the day. Maybe those parables are as outmoded as meetinghouse stages ...

2. One Team Wins; the Second-Place Team is the Biggest Loser. We never say that the eighth-place team in an eight-team field "lost the championship." No, that dishonor belongs to the second-place team. Remember how the Buffalo Bills were ridiculed when they went to the Super Bowl year after year ... and lost?

How does this doctrine show up in LDS life? Whenever I see somebody trying to drive through a program that makes no sense at all, except to beef up the almost-meaningless numbers on statistical reports that are passed from wards and stakes up the chain, I keep thinking of groups of LDS young men, shouting "We're number one!"

I think of the nameless Area President who sent letters to the mission presidents in his area, telling each of them, "Your mission is the doormat of _______," then asking how that mission president could feel good about offering his term of service to the Lord when his numbers were so low. That's what the gospel is about -- making people ashamed of having done well, solely because they didn't do best. That's basketball thinking.

3. Defense, Defense, Defense. Get in the other guy's face. Rattle him. Anticipate his every move. Don't give him a moment to think, to set up a shot. One on one, that's how you go at it. Keep him from accomplishing anything.

For the life of me I can't think of any part of LDS life where that lesson would be useful.

4. If the Ref Didn't See It, There Was No Foul. When I was a kid, I heard stories about how a real sportsman would tell the referee the truth. "No, sir, I didn't catch the pass -- it hit the ground first." Yeah, right. Imagine any pro or college "sportsman" telling the truth; guess how long he'd be on most teams!

That attitude definitely has spread to the amateur games we play at church. In fact, the rule has been expanded, with the addition of the Ainge corollary: No Matter What You Think You Saw, I Never, Ever, Ever Committed a Foul. That is a basketball doctrine some of our young men have no trouble at all picking up. Never mind that it's a doctrine that breaks up many a marriage and leads to many a life-shattering sin. It's definitely one of the lessons learned on American basketball courts today.

And when vigorous young men play the game, another corollary often shows up: What Was Your Face Doing in Front of My Elbow? Which is what makes the institution of missionary basketball all the more inexplicable. How many missionary days are lost to basketball injuries? Compare it to how many missionary days are lost to sins arising from the reading of good books, magazines, and newspapers, or the practicing and occasional performance of flute, clarinet, or violin.

In fact, if you compare the lessons learned from playing a musical instrument -- practice makes perfect; follow the notes, but let your interpretation bring them to life; your skill is meaningless until you've shared it with others; listen to the orchestra or the soloist so your own playing will be in balance and in tune -- it is a surprise that it isn't a churchwide requirement that all missionaries must learn and practice a musical instrument while on their missions, and that missionaries don't gather at the meetinghouse on P-day to practice as woodwind and string ensembles. The doctrines of the orchestra seem much more compatible with the gospel of Christ than the doctrines of the basketball court.

What Can We Do, Unofficially?

What difference can this essay possibly make? The Brethren aren't going to change churchwide mission policy because of this essay, any more than they'll give up their commitment to Scouting just because it is also completely inappropriate for many young men. Church leaders who love basketball and believe in the old team spirit are simply baffled when they hear people like me talk with such hostility about a game they love so much.

In fact, their most compassionate answer usually is to try to find ways to force LDS teams to let even the incompetent players have some playing time. When such rules are enforced, of course, they only cause bitterness and resentment of the poor incompetent player, whose blunders cost their team the victory. Incompetent players are only valued when they bring the total number on the floor to five, so the game won't be forfeited. Thus, what is meant as a gesture of "inclusion" is really just a way of making it even more painful for marginal players.

And such measures do nothing at all for the boys who simply don't like the game or think of it as a waste of time -- which, for them, it is. These young men get a clear message from their local leaders: We don't understand you, and not only that, we don't care enough to try. In some cases, the message is even harsher: We don't like you. And the harshest of all: We wonder if someone who doesn't like sports is really a man.

So I guess I'm writing this essay to those who already know and feel the perniciousness of the Church's love affair with basketball. There are rather a lot of us, and while we can't do anything to dampen the enthusiasm of the proponents of basketball, we can do something for the young men who are being driven out of Church activity by it.

If you have any talent for drama, for instance, you can go to the bishop and ask for permission to put on a play. If possible, try to choose a play with a smallish cast, with lots of girls' parts in it (because in most wards, more girls than boys will want to take part; often you can change male roles to female roles, with a little creativity). Make sure to choose a play that can be performed or at least rehearsed somewhere other than at church, so you can avoid the conflicts that always arise because no matter when you rehearse, somebody thinks they have a right to play basketball during that time. Demand excellence and discipline from the youth who take part in the play, so that when it's performed, they'll know they were in a good show. Your local leaders won't mind having a drama program -- as long as it doesn't cost them any effort or interfere with basketball. And you'll be surprised how many of the basketball players also want to take part, if not at first, then later, when they realize how many girls are at play practice.

Or if your talent is music, make a serious effort to recruit youth for the choir. Have voice classes for those whose talent is trainable, to teach them correct technique -- it doesn't take much, really, for them to start getting remarkable results, surprising themselves with their own voices. Lobby to have the musically accomplished perform often in meetings.

Even if you have no particular talent of your own, you can make an effort to find out what activities these non-basketball-playing young men are involved in, and then show up and be part of their audience. Go to the art show at the high school, or the play at the community theatre, or the performance of the rock band. Go to the skateboarding exhibition; be at the marathon finish line to cheer. The message they'll hear is that their ward does value what they care about, that they are part of the church community. And you can do it without even having a calling. You do it for love.

In all of this, I've been talking about Young Men, but that's because, whatever imperfections the Young Women's program might have, it is far more balanced and far more likely to hold onto young women of widely varied interests than the Young Men's program. Even Young Women's basketball is, from my observation at least, a healthy activity that only rarely succumbs to the pitfalls of the Young Men's version. And it doesn't eat up the entire calendar.

What Should Be Done Officially?

Basketball became the highest-priority Young Men's program of the Church more by accident than design, and it remains in that position through inertia, laziness, and custom rather than because there has ever been any claim that the Lord chose basketball for our youth. But it has gotten so out of hand in many places in the U.S., at least, that the harm it causes far outweighs any benefits. That doesn't mean it needs to be eliminated; but it needs to be contained and moved far, far down the list of priorities.

If only to redress the long imbalance, particular emphasis needs to be placed on other things; strict limits need to be placed on the frequency and quantity of time that the cultural hall should be given over to basketball. Those who are called to put on alternative activities need to be given active support by local leaders. That means that when the cultural hall is to be used for play practices, the bishop or stake president should be there at the beginning of the rehearsal, to usher the basketball players out of the hall, so that it isn't the poor play director who gets all the hatred and bile that the basketball players almost invariably spew when deprived of their court for a few hours.

And in some wards and stakes, the bishop or president will need to remain throughout the practice, so they can stop the basketball players from loudly bouncing balls in the hall or from barging in and starting to play the moment the bishop or stake president is out of sight. Is it really that bad? Of course it is -- but many wards and stakes don't know that many basketball players act like that because they've never even tried to interfere with the playing of basketball in their meetinghouse.

If local leaders want to balance their Young Men's program, it can be done. It just can't be done without effort.

When it comes to missionary life, I have to admit that I'm completely flummoxed as I try to understand why the reading of unauthorized books or the playing of musical instruments is utterly banned, as if they were sins, while the playing of basketball is virtually required, so that elders either play ball or spend a significant part of their precious P-day time trapped in the meetinghouse, marking time.

I imagine that these bans on artistic and intellectual activities arose because some missionary, somewhere, had problems on his mission which the mission president blamed on these pernicious influences. But let's be even-handed about this: How spiritual are the missionaries who quarrel and fight and foul and curse on the basketball court? Any activity can be misused; I wonder why we can't show exactly the same tolerance toward reading and music and art that we show toward basketball. When it comes to P-day, why not try teaching the missionaries correct principles and letting them govern themselves?

Right now the message to young men, from the age of 12 on, is pretty clear. If you're one personality type -- the athletic extrovert -- you belong! Right on! You're the man! Cool, dude! If you're the opposite personality type -- the bookish or artistic introvert -- there's another message entirely: Get with the program! Learn to be part of the team! Come out of your shell! This will be so good for you. You're missing out on so much fun and fellowship!

And yet I suspect we'd notice more improvement in LDS life if the basketball players read more books than if the book-readers played more basketball.

But hey, what do I know about anything? I was never above thirty percent from the free-throw line.

-- Orson Scott Card

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