The Book of Mormon

November 4, 2012

Clay Nelson

All Saints' Day     Homily at 8am service


Today we have a guest preacher, Ian Douglas, the bishop of Connecticut. Unfortunately for you I am not he. He is not available for this service.


So Glynn at the last minute asked if I could substitute, “You can just give them a travelogue about your trip to North America,” he suggested. I can just feel the excitement and anticipation running through you. Remember when people would invite you over to see slides of their recent travels. Thank God those days have passed. So don’t worry I’m not going to set up a slide show. All the pictures are on Facebook if you are curious.


Let me tell you in brief about our travels, but there is just one small piece of the trip I want to dwell on.


For those who don’t know, Lynette and I have nine of our fifteen grandchildren in North America. So we scrimp and save to see them every 12 to 18 months. Some live on an island a ferry ride outside of Seattle, some live north of Denver at the foot of the Rockies and some in a suburb of Toronto a few blocks from Lake Ontario. As usual it was fun and an active time, since six of them are between the ages of 3 and 7 and three are between 10 and 15. They had us sailing in the Puget Sound and riding 1km zip lines down Canadian hills just over the tops of trees full of autumn’s colours. We saw countless soccer games broken up with the occasional karate and gymnastics class and an ice hockey practice.


Usually we then just come back, but this time we decided to have some time for the two of us. Since Lynette had never visited the east coast of the US, we travelled from Boston to Vermont to New York City to Washington, DC. In Washington we spent five nights at the seminary I was trained in. It hadn’t changed a great deal in 30 years, but they had made two great improvements. We had WiFi and they had added a pub opened in the evenings. (The new dean is an Englishman.)


But the piece I want to tell you about was during our stay in NYC. In planning the trip I decided Lynette should experience a Broadway play, so I got tickets for one called “The Book of Mormon.” It was written by the same people who write the satirical cartoon, South Park. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew it was a hit and likely to be irreverent. I was not disappointed. The first song was Africans singing a cheerful and joyous song about how to pray when bad things happen that they taught two new newly assigned Mormon missionaries. When they translated it for them it was basically about when bad things happen give God the finger.


But I get ahead of myself. I thought the play was going to take the mickey out of Mormons in particular, and religion in general. It did that but it offered something in return.


The play begins on graduation day from missionary school for young men in short sleeve white shirts with black ties and black slacks. They are waiting to find out who their partner will be and where they will be assigned for the next two years to ring doorbells and hand out the Book of Mormon. The star of the class is hoping to be assigned to Orlando, Florida and expects to have a cool partner. Well, his missionary buddy is Arnold who barely got through missionary school, and is an embarrassment not only to his classmates but his family. Worse, they don’t get to go to Disney World. They are assigned to Uganda. Thanks to warlords and poverty they have lots of opportunities to sing their newly learned prayer to God.


When they arrive they learn that those missionaries who have been assigned earlier have converted and baptised exactly no one during their time there.


I don’t want to spoil the plot for you because it will certainly come to NZ someday, and I do want you to see it if you can, but in brief what happens is this:


The nerdy missionary befriends a young woman who is about to be forcibly circumcised by the warlord who tyrannizes the tribe. Arnold protects her. During their hiding he tells her about the Book of Mormon. One problem. He’s never read it. So he tells her about the parts he thinks he knows and blends that with big parts of Star Wars movies and Star Trek episodes, which he loves. He creates an outlandish myth, which changes her life. She shares the myth with father and the people of the tribe, and Arnold successfully converts the whole tribe. They stop giving the finger to God for one thing. All goes well until the Mormon bishop comes to meet this amazing missionary and the tribe tells the story he has taught them. I won’t tell you any more. I’ll leave that to your imagination, but there is a happy and unexpected ending.


What I got to thinking about after seeing the play is about how most religious myth is a little on the weird side, so we should be careful when we challenge the myths of others. I know we Christians claim to have the one true myth, but what really makes a myth true is how it changes our lives and how it inspires us to treat others and ourselves. While I find Arnold’s myth more believable than the Book of Mormon, I think I will stick with our own outlandish one. And since this is All Saints’ Sunday I will hope that my belief in it will lead me to live a life that one day counts me amongst the saints of God.

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