By Marvin Payne

We just had a terrific stake conference. Our family, in particular, is kind of expected to attend, because we live on the corner of the four-way stop through which all members of our stake must pass if they wish to leave the stake. (We could require a password and exact a modest fine from anyone who didn’t know it, and never have to work again.)

Pretty nearly every member of the stake has left it, at one time or another, simply because there is no grocery store or barber shop in our stake. As colorful as it might be to imagine a stake comprised only of skinny and hairy Latter-day Saints, stout and shaven General Authorities might feel marginalized when they come to visit, so we leave periodically, painful as it is to do so. And come back again laden with groceries and relieved of hair.

(Have we talked about the word “marginalized”? I can’t remember. If we are to be a morally responsible people, we must accept that to “marginalize” someone is a pretty serious offense. Some of the more contemporary translations of the Old Testament go so far as to have God command us that we not marginalize our neighbor’s wife, nor his cattle, nor his maidservant, nor his manservant, nor the stranger that is within his gates.)

Although no one has, with any malice whatsoever, marginalized our family, we live on the extreme margin of the stake-the very edge, in fact. Beyond us is “Terra Incognita.” Not really, just the other stake (you know, people we used to know and serve and love who are now “Personae Incognitae”).

Because of this strategic frontier location, anyone in the stake who wishes to communicate information to the rest of the stake posts a sign on our corner. I even removed a cedar fence gate from around back and leaned it up against the corner so that people can tack signs there. That impromptu signboard has hosted notices about blood drives, posters for Seusical the Musical, pictures of lost puppies, and arrows pointing to wedding receptions. All these have been welcome, even though they’re all in violation of city statutes.

Some folks, though, have surreptitiously posted advice on weight loss, invitations to speculate on real estate, and once even an appeal that young men come and date their daughter who has just returned from a mission, complete with larger-than-life-sized head shot of said daughter. These latter notices, immediately upon being discovered, have been recycled into whole-foods packaging, Obama-Biden bumper stickers, and the kind of computer paper that will make your rsum look like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(On the subject of rsums: In the process of completing my recent historical novel about the 1776 Ute Country expedition of Fathers Escalante and Domnquez, with a protagonist from actual history named “Joaqun,” I learned how to type accent marks, having to do it on about every fifth word. With a mac, this is done by pressing “option” combined with the letter “e,” and then typing the letter over which you wish the accent to appear. ((Of course! Makes me feel like my ability to intuit went the way of my hair.)) On a windows-based machine, the accent is created by pressing “alt” and “enter” combined with the code y<uuuasciiXdos-https://,html:::oops222xl, re-booting, praying, and then typing the letter over which you wish the accent to appear, if you can remember which letter it was. The discovery of this skill is vital to my maintaining the spirit of lan and mission of global dtente that I insist are characteristic of my clumn. No columnist who values his literary image will admit that he’s going out for a burger when he can instead leave the impression that he’s attending a soire at McDonalds.)

Humanitarian Note: I didn’t recycle the returned-missionary appeal. I left it up out of pity for the young lady. She was awfully pretty, too. Must have been some other reason for her parents’ desperation.

So on our corner is this signboard. And for this past week, there was a gargantuan sign on it announcing stake conference. And everybody saw it (except this one really skinny, hairy family that can’t bear to leave the sanctity of the stake under any circumstances and don’t even risk approaching the frontier-heeding the Brethren’s caution against “walking too near the edge” or, less literally but just as aptly, “flying too near the treetops”). And nobody was about to believe us if we said something like, “Stake Conference? Why didn’t we hear about it?”

Our stake center is the last building on a remote dead-end in a corner of town-nothing between it and the mountains-where the plows pile snow scooped from all over the northern quadrant of the county. It has a very baroque-sounding organ and a fun sloped floor that makes it so that everybody in the chapel can see really well. The only downsides are that everybody back in the gym (flat, for basketball-pretty intuitive choice) can only see the pulpit with the aid of mirrors or a special video feed, and all the cheerios in the chapel roll down to the front (wait, maybe that’s not really a downside, hmm. no, it is, because then the deacons march all over them, and it’s noisy). We sat on the stage and could see just fine.

From my journal:

11 January 2009

“Every speaker this morning has come to tears considering the love, gifts, and beauty of Jesus Christ. Our stake leaders have given us, as part of the vision for our stake that we should share this year (not in some miraculously altered future), the charge that we ‘become united and supportive of one another and make sure there are no poor among us.’ President Allred wants us to have as a goal that we be part of the answer to our neighbors’ prayers.”

Achievable Zion ? It was a good conference.

But even though I attend conference regularly, they’ve taken away my Sunday School class (course 14 for the past three years, great kids) and made me the assistant executive secretary for the ward (I’ve been working on an acronym for this, but the best I can do is asstexecsec-intuitive, but not strong).

Mostly I’ll ask grown-ups to pray, and youth to talk, and keep track of keys, and make sure that person B knows what person A wants them to know but won’t tell them because the asstexecsec needs to have something to do.

It sounds dreadfully mechanical, but on the one Sunday I’ve done it, I had great visits with people that I otherwise would have just smiled at in church, so I think it’s going to be a great experience. And I have a password on the computer! (Not a mac. I once saw the only mac the church owns. It’s in the basement of the Conference Center in Salt Lake City , and I don’t think the Brethren know about it.)

My password was going to be “banjo” like on my computers at home, but the church requires that there be a “numeric” element, so it’s “banj9,” because 9 is right by “o.” Since we started observing our overdrafts online, our account password has been the name of the General Relief Society President, because she’s the wife of the bank manager (we find that password choice to be “intuitive,” which is fully as essential in the modern lexicon as is “marginalize”). Then the bank, too, pulled that “numeric” requirement on us, so now it’s “Julie9.” (The “9” is silent.)

I have this chronic bias that whatever we express (write, sing, enter, say) should at least try to mean something. I’ve always abhorred the opinion expressed by a rock guitarist that “lyrics are so the singer has something to do.” The combinations I’ve chosen for various locks around the house are things like a beloved street address or the birthday of my wife. I think passwords, especially, should have a layer of meaning that is all their own-beyond merely mnemonic.

(“Mnemonic” is a word that can crank up a columnist’s aura even without an accent-“lexicon,” too.) My Amazon password, for example, is “nozama.” This has enormous meaning-sonic meaning. It takes a word that’s already cool and then gives it powerful lan (how’m I doin,’ ditors?). And the kicker? Amazon rates my password as “very strong.” Go figure. If I didn’t already have a better Paypal password, I might consider “Lapyap.” Doesn’t that just sound like the kind of thing an outfit called “Paypal” would do?

(Revealing this data isn’t at all reckless, because it’s of no use to bad guys unless they know our user name, which, in the case of the bank, is the name of the play I asked my wife to on our first date, which they’ll so never guess, because it snowed two feet that night and we went to a movie, instead.)

I may be seeming to demean “numeric elements,” here, even linking them to the church’s suspicions of Apple. But, the church remaining true and living as ever (even more so), I think I should declare that I’m looking hard for the value in them-numeric elements, I mean.

I once read the book Watership Down , in which most of the principle characters are rabbits, with nary an Elmer Fudd in sight. Somewhere near the end of that long book, I found myself reading a statement (a curse, actually) expressed entirely in Rabbit, and I understood it completely. It wasn’t until a couple of sentences later that I even realized what I’d done, and then I stopped reading and was amazed. (I would quote it here-I remember it clearly-but it isn’t really a nice sentence and, among the infinity of inter-galactic species that the Meridian editors assure me are reading my column right this second, the odds are that multitudes of you may be fluent in Rabbit.)

So, knowing that powerful truth can be conveyed in Rabbit, why not in numeric elements? Well, it remains a philosophical question of some weight (.02 grams is a weight, just as $.02 persists in being a value-which ain’t much, but it’s my two cents). Still, the really big passwords, the ones with the deepest and richest meanings, the only ones that actually get us anywhere worth going, the ones that aren’t on the tip of our tongue or the ends of our fingers, but pounding in our blood and singing in our bones, are not alpha and numeric, at all. They are Alpha and Omega.

After the last session of stake conference today, I paused alone in front of the restroom mirror and raked my fingers through my hair for no very good reason. Right then the stake president came in, stopped, looked at me, and said, “For a moment I couldn’t tell if you were combing it or counting it.” He had the gallantry not to say, “Y’know, Brother Payne, you could pretty much hang out right here in the stake about all the time if you wanted-we’d feed you.” But I inferred as much.


“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)

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