Dreams, Faith, and Arithmetic
By Marvin Payne

It’s one forty-three in the morning on the day this month’s Backstage Graffiti column is due to be published, and a few moments ago my wife cried out in strangled, inarticulate panic. She did not cry out in strangled, inarticulate panic because the column was not, in fact, even begun. She cried out in strangled, inarticulate panic because she was suffering a nightmare. 

I, lying beside her in a certain oblivion with regard to Meridian’s publishing schedule, was awakened by the C. of S., I. P. and shook her shoulder (I think it was her shoulder), driven by a sudden collision of compassion and self-interest. 

“Wake up, dear!”

“Why?” she asked, reasonably. 

“You’re having a nightmare!”

“I am? … Oh! Yes! I am!” It all came rushing back to her. “He was going to eat the Primary children!”

The “he” in question who was going to eat the Primary children, was, it seems, a combination of Gollum and Mike Wyzowski.

“He was the Primary pianist!” Then she cracked up. I mean, she laughed – a sort of strangled, inarticulate mirth. She was laughing so hard she had trouble explaining to me that they’d been practicing for the upcoming Primary program, which was to be a joint commemoration of the pioneers and Halloween. Brother Gollum/Wyzowski had been lulling them to sleep (this would be the children, not the pioneers) and was, when interrupted by yours truly, eyeing them hungrily over the top of the piano. Laurie said his name was “Spike.”

While we’re on the subject of dreams and pioneers, my almost famous great-great-grandfather John Brown (who is also my wife’s almost famous great-great-great-grandfather, making him my son ((“John,” of course))’s almost famous great-great-great-grandfather and also his almost famous great-great-great-great-grandfather – but we won’t go there, because a pretty strong logic here suggests that my son would therefore be his own father and because if you type the word “great” enough times in quick succession without copying and pasting, it becomes a very funny word, and Meridian is a very serious magazine ((except for its one editor who lets me know with a twinkle in her font the night before a column is due that a column is due, which would be Kathryn Kidd, who wrote a few hours ago that if I sent her a column she would be “full of grate.” (((But then, that’s a different kind of word – but certainly as funny))) )) ) had an interesting dream that I can nearly write down from memory because we wrote it into a pioneer play and I spoke it out loud in a hundred fourteen performances of said play. 

John Brown’s dream:

“I dreamed that I was in company with several brethren and all at once I was naked. Except for my shoes and stockings and a vest. I was not ashamed, as I did not feel that I was to blame. While contemplating my condition, my stockings commenced growing and running up my legs and covering them and continued until my whole body was enveloped. I asked one of the brethren to help me off with my vest so that it would be out of the way, and we hardly had time to remove it, so rapid was the growth of my stockings. When I awoke in the morning, it was vivid on my mind that following the Lord would strip me pretty bare, but eventually I should prosper and do well.”

This brings me to the topic of this month’s column, which is “Dreams, Faith, and Arithmetic.” Last month I shared with you the following journal note, embedded deep in a treatise (reverent pause) on something else.

“On the 14th, it looks like I announced in my journal that I was going to pray steadily for a hundred thousand dollars (we could, in fact, spend this figure with no discernible change in our lifestyle), and wrote that I’d wondered who on earth would be rich enough and kind enough to step forward with the cash, but then had suddenly realized that the Lord is richer and kinder than anyone on earth has ever been. Maybe realization is learning. Maybe I’ve had a hundred grand worth of realization here and should forget about the cash.”

Within a few days of publication, I found in my mailbox an anonymous cashier’s check for fourteen hundred dollars. (I say “anonymous,” but it was actually wrapped in a note with language connecting it to “Santa Claus” and, this being a column for mature adults committed to spiritual verity, I count this as equivalent to “anonymous.” ((Don’t let your children read this. Unless they, too, are committed to spiritual verity.)) ) I surrendered gratefully (maybe even greatfully) to the conclusion that some extraordinary reader had taken exception to the idea that the Lord had a corner on richness or kindness. Or maybe they had the strange idea that their fourteen hundred dollars wasn’t really theirs, but the Lord’s to move his work along, and that as soon as it got to me, it wouldn’t be mine, either. Or maybe it was actually the Lord, which would certainly explain why it would have to have been a cashier’s check. (Or maybe it was Santa Claus, but I’m rather warmed by not thinking so.)

(Private note to “Santa”: as a tiny payback for your gift ((cookies and milk left on the table?)), go to ScriptureScoutsTV.com and watch “The Little Professor” and “Hooray For Babies.” Then go there in a couple of days and watch “Rameumptom.” Silver and gold have we none, but what we have is scattered across the Internet.)

(Public note to the 48 million, 675 thousand Meridian readers who the editors assure us are reading this right now: Gratitude is a blast! Nothing feels better, not even those one kind of brownies that are supposed to be better than … um, better than those other kind of brownies.)

Well, we sort of covered the “Dreams” part a little bit ago, so here’s the “Faith” part:

If you’re a servant in the Kingdom, whether it be, say, a Primary music leader who is right now upstairs laughing herself to sleep, or a an almost famous pioneer (who is only “almost” famous because when he rode up to the top of Big Mountain on July 19th of 1847 ((beating the holiday, parade, and rodeo by nearly a week)) to become one of the first two Mormon pioneers to see the Valley of the Grate … oops, Great Salt Lake, his companion happened to be the already famous Orson Pratt), or merely, say, um, a radically well-meaning vagabond poet and columnist in a radically well-meaning Mormon magazine, the Lord (or some combination of his partners in Work and Glory) will keep you alive and thriving, materially empowered to keep on crossing the plains, or leading the children’s singing while valiantly shielding them from the wiles and snares of the one-eyed primary pianist, Spike. 

We are told we fail to ask enough. It’s a faith problem. End of “Faith” part. 

Now, here’s the “Arithmetic” part: That leaves $98,600. ($100,000 minus $1400, or “98.6” as pointed out by my math-wise ((and wise-acre)) Scripture Scouts collaborator, Roger Hoffman, which would bring me to “normal.” Get it? “98.6”? Moving on,) This figure divided by fourteen hundred (assuming a certain parity among Meridian readers – in this case, a charity parity) yields a dividend of 70.428571428571 or, rounded for simplicity, 70.42857142857. This would be the number of Meridian readers who, wanting to be in on the Miracle, the Work and Glory, the Hurricane Katrina Relief Alternative, or merely the Backstage Graffiti Faith-Promoting Punch Line, would be required to purchase anonymous cashier’s checks. 

This, of course, is a patently impossible expectation, one which cannot be entertained with any grace in a serious magazine. 

I mean, who would sell a cashier’s check to .42857142857 of a person?


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