Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mouthpiece? Or Just Mouthy?

I think I finally figured out part of my patriarchal blessing.

I received my patriarchal blessing thirty-five years ago. It's fortunate that my mother was the patriarch's transcriptionist at the time, because her off-the-tape transcript is the only copy I have of that blessing. I'm told there's a way to get an "official" copy, but I've never really had the time or inclination to pursue it.

I kind of like having the original. It's like listening to a recording of Wilford Woodruff bearing his testimony "into a talking machine" as he did over a hundred years ago. It's one thing to read it, and another thing altogether to hear it as it fell from his lips. I of course have no copy of the original recording of my patriarchal blessing, but having the unedited transcript is the next best thing. I remember the man's voice extremely well. He was a tenor, and tenors rarely forget other tenor voices. Also, he'd been our bishop at one time, and our family doctor for many years.

I received some wonderful counsel in that blessing. I was told in no uncertain terms that it was time to "turn away from the childish things." I'm sure that was included because that's always been a weakness of mine. I've been slow — very slow — to grow up. Part of being a performer for so many years, among other things. I was given many wonderful promises about my life as a husband and father, several of which have already come to pass. I was admonished to do temple work for my kindred dead. Took me a few years to catch on to that one.

The one phrase that always struck me, however, came about halfway through the blessing. I can still vaguely remember hearing it come from the patriarch's mouth when he said it. He said that I would serve as one of the Lord's mouthpieces, as it were.

A mouthpiece.

My siblings can read this and smile. They know what a mouthy kid I was (and still am, really). I may be painfully shy around folks I don't really know, but if I'm comfortable around someone, I talk. Probably too much. (This may be why I don't have many "close" friends.) At one point I wondered if this had anything to do with my acting skills. But the term "mouthpiece" usually put me in mind of a special witness. Something along the lines of an apostle or prophet. Something that I've never felt I could be.

Now I think I get it.

I've made no secret of the fact that I have a passion for teaching, and teaching the gospel is one of my favorite pastimes. I have taught in most of the Sunday School courses over the years, and substituted in nearly all the auxiliaries (excepting Young Women, of course). (Wait; not strictly true. I have on occasion taught young women as a visiting "specialist" on one topic or another. I guess that counts.) My favorite callings in the Church are teaching callings.

The funny thing is, most of us are called to teach. If we have families, we teach. We all teach by example, whether we intend to or not and whether that example is good or bad. Parents by definition are teachers, again for better or worse. Even as children and siblings we teach each other every day. It's a natural part of who we are as children of a loving Eternal Father.

The kind of teaching I love, though, is the kind that comes from having a spiritual gift. When in the presence of a teacher who has such a gift, I enjoy that experience more than going to the theater. When called to teach, no matter how challenging the class may be, I pour myself into that calling and will likely think back on it as my favorite. At least until the next such calling comes along. I believe this to be one of the gifts of the Spirit that were promised to me so many years ago.

When called to teach, I become a mouthpiece. I believe this is what my patriarchal blessing presaged.

I've been given a wonderful opportunity to do just that this summer. Every year our Stake sponsors a sort of Summer Institute, and I've been asked to be its instructor this year. Remember when I wrote that a member of the Stake Presidency can just lean over my shoulder in Church and tell me, "Say, Bro. Woody, I've been meaning to talk to you...?" Well, that's literally how I received this assignment. Fortunately, it's a temporary one.

Every Wednesday for six weeks I get to expound on the life of the Savior from the perspective of the Church's musical production of "The Savior of the World," which our Stake plans to produce next spring. Another Stake in our region produced it last year. We'd heard that they did fifteen minute devotionals before rehearsals to give the cast and staff the historical and spiritual settings for the scenes they were about to practice. Our Stake wants to expand on that idea and do something similar in six one-hour lessons beginning in June. That becomes my job, and suddenly I'm like the proverbial kid in the candy store. The problem is in deciding on which reference materials to use. The scriptures are a given, as are several of the available Institute and Sunday School manuals. But there are so many good scholarly books on this topic that it's nearly impossible to pare it all down into a manageable avalanche of information.

So if you're in the north Orange County area during June and July and have nothing better to do on Wednesdays at lunch time, poke your head in. I shouldn't be too hard to find. I'll be the guy up front wearing sackcloth and ashes. May even have a locust wing stuck to my long, flowing beard with a little dribble of honey.

I am a method actor, after all.

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