Build me a cabin in Utah,
Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout,
Have a bunch o’ kids who call me “Pa,”
That must be what it’s all about.
That must be what it’s all about.
These words were written by Bob Dylan for a wonderful album called “New Mornings.” I was going to use this verse (only changed to “built,” “married,” and “had”) as my bio in the program for “Pride and Prejudice” down to the BYU but wasn’t sure everybody would know who Bob Dylan is-we expected a youngish audience. Still, it would have been a perfectly accurate bio. I really do have a wife and bunch o kids in my cabin in Utah, although the rainbow trout usually get turned loose again.
In recent times, we woke up one morning to realize that the integrity of our particular cabin in Utah was in jeopardy. And you don’t want to wake up some morning to realize that the integrity of your particular cabin in Utah is in jeopardy, believe you me.
About twenty years ago, we planted a little ivy vine at the corner of the porch. It has, over the years, thriven. “Thrive” is based on an old Norse word meaning “grasp.” The ivy had, with passion and deadly strength, grasped the daylights out of our cabin, covering about a quarter of it. What began as tiny tendrils of springtime innocence had worked their way into the joints of wall and roof, and even between individual logs. Then the tendrils began to expand and harden, like stone sinews, separating elements of our home that were not meant to be separated. There were vines the size and consistency of an axe handle.
It was such a slow process, diabolically patient. I remember draping loose strands of ivy over rails on the porch, like you would wind lights onto a Christmas tree. Now they gripped those rails like a petrified serpent. (Am I frightening you? Please forgive me, I don’t mean to frighten you-just to sober you to your core. Mwah-ha-ha-ha!)
So a few weeks ago I sawed through the major vines, close to the source. A couple of days ago, I began pulling the dragon away from its prey. I’m not finished yet, but that corner of the yard is piled high with frustrated, malevolent ivy. I think I may have gotten there in the proverbial nick of time (late Middle English, of unknown origin-“nick” of time? What the heck? What’s a “nick”?).
There is a lesson in this ivy threat, and darned if I’m not gonna squeeze it for all it’s worth, because I am a Meridian Magazine writer. I mean, here I am, in the thirteenth year of writing this column, and I still haven’t learned to be didactic. Every column around me here is didactic and edifying (“didactic” makes me think of “edifying” every time) where Backstage Graffiti is just good for a couple of chuckles. It’s time for me to belly up to the pulpit and get with the program, to find the object lesson, to get didactic.
The lesson of the invasive ivy, obviously, is that if you want to safeguard the integrity of your home in these devious and perilous times you should be faithfully donating to fund research into developing an ivy that will remain soft and squishy and yielding and friendly. Surely BYU, dedicated as it is to the integrity of the homes of the saints, has something going in this field. Google it, and get involved.
Maybe you got something different out of this, a different lesson to “use in your daily life.” That’s okay. That’s the beauty (or the hazard) of object lessons; you will learn from them according to your individual spiritual needs.
The following story may serve as an example of this “different strokes” possibility with object lessons. About thirty-five years ago, a kid in our ward in Alpine went on a mission. I don’t remember which of the Carlisle kids it was, but I remember the farewell. (We no longer have “missionary farewells.” Now we just have regular sacrament meetings in which the prospective missionary is turned loose at the pulpit for six or eight minutes and forty-seven hundred of his friends ditch their Priest and Laurel classes to hear him, occupying every parking space for blocks and preventing the members of the ward from taking the sacrament.)
Neil Carlisle, the father of the missionary, had never spoken in church. When he stood at the intimidating microphone and, in a soft and halting voice, admitted this, we all expected to go home early. Nope. He spoke for about an hour. His talk included an object lesson, which follows.
A short while earlier, he’d advertised a horse trailer for sale. On a particular Sunday afternoon, somebody drove through the open country to Alpine to take a look. They asked if they could hitch it up and see how it traveled. Sure, why not? They pulled it around town and it worked fine. But they wanted to see how it would work on the highway, so they drove out to the Point of the Mountain, where they got on I-15 and stepped on the gas. They’d only gone a couple of hundred yards when the trailer jiggled off its hitch, dove through the median, emerged into oncoming traffic, and careened across several lanes to the far side of the highway, where it came to rest, unharmed. No one was killed. Not even maimed.
There had to be a lesson in this. Brother Carlisle took this absence of death and maimery as evidence of the blessings you can get from paying tithing, which he had done just before putting the horse trailer up for sale. But I was sitting next to my friend Mike Palmer, who was visiting from California. He leaned over and whispered, “Sounds to me like evidence of what might happen if you try to sell a horse trailer on the Sabbath.”
You see, Mike’s spiritual needs were different from Neil’s spiritual needs.
Be herewith cautioned, though, that object lessons don’t always work. This is not because certain objects are inherently non-didacticable (you’ll remember how the Savior compared Himself to such an unlikely object as a chicken in the only way He is like a chicken, which is to gather us under His wings). Rather, this is because the innocent objects-the ivy, the horse trailers, the chickens and things-are usually manipulated by our over-eager, but limited, imaginations.
Take the stick-of-gum object lesson, or the board-with-the-nails-in-it. The stick-of-gum one is where the teacher holds up a clean, crisp, virgin stick of gum and asks the kids in the class if any of them would like it. Invariably, they all would. Then the teacher chews it a bit. The teacher then offers it again, and of course no one wants it. It’s ABC gum. The lesson to the class is that no one will want an ABC spouse, because new gum makes us think of virginity every time.
In the board-with-the-nails-in-it one your life is like a smooth, clean, pine board. Then you sin and big, rusty nails are pounded into you. When you repent, the nails are removed. This is wonderful, but of course the holes are still there.
We use these object lessons and think we are clever. No harm in being clever. We want to teach the truth. We believe we have taught the truth. But there is harm in that, because we haven’t taught the truth. In constructing these object lessons, our imaginations have been limited by our observation that in the natural world a stick of gum cannot be un-chewed, and nail holes don’t go away. We need to remember that the Savior doesn’t offer us “the natural and predictable process of forgiveness.” He offers us “the miracle of forgiveness,” in which the apparent oxymoron “virgin again” can be made true by His atonement. (Emphasis added by the author.) The scars of the nails can be removed from our lives because He wears them in His hands and feet.
Can we sin with a grin, then, since repentance will remove the effects? Sure we can, if we happen to enjoy having the sweetness chewed out of us by someone who will spit us out when they’re done. Sure we can, if we enjoy having nails driven into us. Sure we can, if we don’t mind driving nails through the Savior’s skin, nerves, muscle, bones, and blood.
(If we have seen the light of truth and felt the Holy Ghost and then turn away, we “crucify…the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” -Hebrews 6:6)
Well, this is getting kind of serious-sounding less and less like Backstage Graffiti and more like the rest of the magazine. Am I succeeding in getting didactic? I’m real insecure about this. Perhaps I should revert to my pattern of kidding around for fourteen hundred words and then bearing my testimony.
My wife thinks I should get back to the ivy-she thinks I knew what I was talking about when we were in the ivy. (That object lesson, at least, was pretty clear ((emphasis added by the author)).) Perhaps object lessons are too hot to handle and I should abandon them altogether. Perhaps I should wish myself back to the early sixteen-hundreds, when you could write whatever you wanted in an online column and nobody would think you were out of place. If you googled the word “didactic” in the early sixteen-hundreds, it wouldn’t even be there-not for another twenty or thirty years.
Bob Dylan, ivy, horse trailers, gum, and boards without nails are all true. Just not as true as the gospel.