Exact Change
By Marvin Payne

We don’t get a lot of religion coming to the door, apart from our home teachers, whom we welcome with joy. Randy Beck and Chad Hegerhorst always bring a useful message, but Randy also always – almost always – brings a magic trick. The magickest part of the trick is how the kids subsequently listen so eagerly to the message.

The only others who come with any regularity are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My wife has become good friends with the lovely Leah, who brings a different companion every time – brought her mom, once. Really good folks. Neither friend is likely to convert the other – Laurie just remembered doors being slammed on her when she was a missionary in Holland and couldn’t quite do it to Leah. Of course, months earlier I had already let in Leah’s predecessor, who had the amazing grace to recognize me from plays I’d worked in at Sundance.

Oh, I just remembered Elaine Robey, who calls me every week with a helpful scripture. She’s ninety, probably not a Latter-day Saint, and doesn’t get out much. She found me when she was just calling through the phone book. A real sweetheart.

What’s nice about all these people is that they’re mainly in favor of certain lovely ideas. Every now and then, though, you encounter someone who’s out on the street mainly because they’re against certain lovely ideas. Like the Restoration of the Gospel, for example. The following journal entry is about this.

21 April 2008

“A skinny old lady (Gilda is her name) came to the gate today, calling people away from their devil-worship, and selling shares in the Dream Mine. She linked nearly everything I love with Satan, including the latter-day apostles and prophets, the temple, and the Book of Mormon.”

One of her many weapons was the whole “number of changes” proof. “X” (“X” being very very many) number of changes in the Book of Mormon. “X” number of changes in practice and doctrine. “X” number of changes in the words of the Brethren.  “X” number of changes in the dress and grooming code. The constant change in “only true and living” quarterbacks at BYU.

The trouble with that logic is, we freely acknowledge these changes. Most of them are about the size of me writing “whom” when I should have written “who” in Backstage Graffiti, except the quarterback changes. Other changes, though, are when we discover we were wrong about something. (Some early church leaders went to their graves not having enjoyed the blessing of discovering that some small notion they were fond of was wrong.) With just about every Book of Mormon prophet apologizing for how poorly they write, and apologizing frankly for mistakes they make in their writing, it’s surprising that errors are so few, and so small.

(I recently got one of those hardback “First Edition” replica copies of the Book of Mormon. No verses. Chapter breaks in different places. It reads like a book, a story. I wanted to read what Parley P. Pratt and Brigham Young saw as they stayed up all night, reading. It’s great fun. Part of the fun is noticing the mistakes (“mistakes” because they’re different from what we have now – but hey, when I spell-check this column before I send it off each month, I trust Apple, not Oliver Cowdery. Apple doesn’t have to study it out in their own mind first). The Book of Mormon prophets were humble. The prophets today are humble.

It takes humility to change. For someone whose words are being written down, it requires the willingness to place your pride of authorship subordinate to the desire to get it right.

Hence, because I have realized that there is a pitfall of potential misunderstanding in my previous column, I want to make a change. I didn’t willfully deceive – I was, in fact, trying to be accountable to my best light. But further light has made this course correction necessary. This is the position in which the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie found himself, at least once, and I want to follow his example of courageous humility.

I wrote, you will certainly recall with clarity and fondness (misplaced fondness, I fear) my testifying last month that self-destruct timers always stop at 00:01. I should have couched my words in terms of belief rather than knowledge. The irresistible inference that I failed to infer, but which many logically might, is that nothing ever self-destructs. 

The morning breaks. New light shines. My son revealed at the dinner table tonight that at his Aunt Rilla’s house he had seen on TV (we don’t have TV) a car driven by a friend of Spongebob Squarepants (the reason we don’t have TV) spectacularly self-destruct. In a blazing flash, I realized that Certain self-destruct mechanisms, The Ones Without Timers, do, in fact fulfill the measure of their creation. When found, then, in the near proximity of any particular self-destruct mechanism, don’t procrastinate the day of your repentance unless the device has a timer on it. A digital timer. With red LEDs. Large ones.

We change our columns to get them right. We abandon our preconceptions and cherished conclusions to get things right. We change the particular articulation of scriptures (not much) to get them right. (And, of course, the “we” here is limited to those apostles and prophets who, alone, have the stewardship over the proclaiming of the gospel to all the world and, one might surmise, even somewhat beyond.)

Funny, we haven’t the least apprehension about changing the scriptures externally. I have seen green ones, blue ones, burgundy ones, and ones that are silver, round, and flat, about the thickness of a credit card. 

For many years I’ve had a set of scriptures that’s kind of fist-sized. Real nice leather, really handy to pack around, and impossible to read without advanced optical devices (I have advanced optical devices). It even used to have a little flap that folded around and snapped, to make sure that when you sat down to read the scriptures you really meant it (no casual, path-of-least-resistance scripture reading around here! ((Out home teaching last Sunday, we were talking about, you know, doing good and keeping commandments and such, and my excellent companion, Matt Chipman, said that, for him, anyway, keeping the commandments is the path of least resistance – no guilt, no deception, no hangovers, just divine support and blessings and a confidence that will wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy (((Matt’s))) soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy (((Matt’s))) constant companion, and thy (((Matt’s))) scepter an unchanging scepter of brighteousness (((Do you love the word “brighteousness”?!!))) and truth; and thy (((Matt’s))) dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee (((Matt))) forever and ever. (((Actually, Matt didn’t use this language exactly, but I know Meridian readers have warm spots in their divers hearts for authentic scriptural words, like “divers.”))) “Path of least resistance”! Who’d’ve thought?)), but, being more of a “quick-draw” (as differentiated from “casual”) reader of the scriptures, I cut off the flap and rebuilt the edge.

I also excised the Index, thinking that, with the inclusion of the new Topical Guide to All Knowledge in the Universe (formerly, this honor was reserved for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ((this very laptop upon which I type this very column has emblazoned on the lid, in large, comforting, yellow letters, the words “Don’t Panic”)) ), it was redundant – the Index. (I repented of this excision when I was cast in a film as Frederick G. Williams and, trying to research the character, found that he’s not in the Topical Guide. He’s in landfill down by Utah Lake.)

There is further customization. I knew a missionary in Australia (Elder Max Cornia from, I think, Utah) who had taken his scriptures and crumpled each page individually, or in groups of four, or five, and then flattened them out again. Having done this, he never again had the annoying difficulty of pages sticking together, which can be very awkward when an investigator is sitting there like a baby bird straining its beak open to the size of a volleyball for you to drop some nourishment in and you read, in your best Lloyd Newell voice, “Yea, even babes did open their mouths (intended single page turn) and they were married, and given in marriage.” (Elder Cornia’s scriptures had a SERIOUS page-sticking problem. They were kind of new.) 

I didn’t want to go there. So I did the same rumple-trick on my little scriptures several months ago. No stick! Ever! And my scriptures look like I study them more than the guys who work for the Sanhedrin! However, I can’t get them to stay closed. Whenever I set them down, they spray open like a panic-stricken kitten, or that blowfish in “Finding Nemo.” Place it in any space, and the book fills the space. It looks really inviting, lying there all fanned out as though whispering “Read me. Now. I’m ready for anything.” But this behavior runs counter to the fundamental appeal of this particular volume, which is compactness.

So (changing, courageously and humbly) I’ve taken to enclosing it in boards and twisting it tight in a vise – as tight as I can. It stays there all week while I study a different set (we have tons). Then, on Saturday evening, I un-vise it, transfer my markings over from the other book, then cart it off to Sunday School the next morning. Each week it’s a little thinner, doesn’t blow open so wide, doesn’t frighten my Sunday school class as much. The ideal would be to squeeze it to about credit-card thick, which is the most popular thickness for things to be in these days.

(I can’t believe I hadn’t taken into account that my mission occurred in an ancient day when we carried brass plates. Elder Cornia’s pages, no matter how rumpled, would, of course, when again flattened stay flat.)

The rest of the entry about Gilda:

“…Some part of my brain told me I should be defending the truth more vigorously than just suggesting that she might be wrong and telling her what I believe is true – something about swords of truth and the armor of God. But I was constrained to be kind. Afterward I thought it might have been because I have no idea how deeply she’s been hurt, or by whom.

Laurie’s family home evening lesson tonight was about the lost coin.”

We don’t much like to hear it from bus drivers, but it means at least a couple of different things when the Lord asks us for “Exact change, please.” (No credit cards, of whatever thickness.)

Visit marvinpayne.com!

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

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