I must have had a sense of humor when I was born because I interrupted a temple endowment session.
My father was escorting his friend, Jim Faber, through the Oakland Temple. We lived in Fresno, California, about 3 hours away from the temple, and my mother was due anytime with me (her fourth child).
In the middle of the endowment session, a temple worker walked in with a note, asking, "Is there a Brother Merrill here?"
My mother had called the temple and asked them to find my father and deliver the message, "It's time."
My father immediately left, in the middle of the session, leaving his friend behind ("Sorry!"), and sped home as fast as he could and gave my mother a blessing. They traveled to St. Ames hospital and I was born 22 minutes after arrival.
I was 10 lbs. and have been a big boy ever since.
Four weeks later, I attended Church for my first time.
"We Interrupt This Sacrament Program . . ."
On April 8, 1979, my father gave me a baby blessing in Sacrament Meeting. He was joined in the circle by his friend Roger McGrady, Bishop Ashcraft and his counselor Ralph Freeman, and by our home teacher, Phil Mallory. The two full-time elders also joined us, Elders Rhodes and Neeld.
(I don't remember any of this, of course; but my father kept a detailed journal.) And on this day, he wrote:
"I blessed him with a strong voice to call to repentance the Lord's people."
My intent from the start has been to gently "cry repentance unto the Lord's people," however awkward and imperfect I may be (like a 300-pound Linebacker who snatches a fumbled football and runs it down the field as the more agile, faster athletes overtake him; I have never had the grace of a Running Back or the star-power of a Quarterback ─ but I am willing to hold the skirmish line and defend my teammates (and the truth) to the end of the fourth quarter).
Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
Sometimes people ask me why I direct my message to the Church and its members; do they need to be told to repent? Surely there are more deserving groups out there who need this message? I get the impression they think the Church already has all the gospel it needs and I should pack up my soapbox and take it to the barbarians in Timbuktu (or, you know, to those who vote Democrat).
And is it really my place to point out the ways the Church could do a better job at being Christian? Why not leave it alone? Why not let the leaders handle it?
Ah, but remember: the gospel must be preached to every kindred, tongue and people in their own language (Acts 2:6-8).
I am a native LDS-speaker; my cultural and spiritual language is Mormonism.
All I can say to them is, "I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, and have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life" (3 Nephi 5:13).
Like Jesus, we are often called to minister among "our own" kind, even if they don't listen:
I came unto my own, and my own received me not.
(3 Nephi 9:16)
Perhaps someday I'll branch out and preach to strangers, but for now I am sent to my friends (Luke 11:5-8).
Putting the "Global" in GPS
Clark Burt said, "GPS only works if you know where you are and where you are going."
Let's pause and see where we are, but in a new light. "Where we are" is not so much a function of place but of people.
It is not where we are but with whom that determines our location in the eternities.
When I was in my 20s, eager and inexperienced, I dreamt of changing the world by doing some grandiose work for God (this was before I came to understand that Christ had beat me to it).
As I grew older, I realized I didn't need to shout the gospel from the rooftops with the trump of angels because the Lord already had messengers assigned to each nation, people and tongue. Most of us are planted in His vineyard to tend a little bit of it, not the whole field.
And so my life changed when I reoriented my perspective from "changing the world" to "warning my neighbor" with cookies and milk (D&C 88:81).
The Lord wasn't expecting me to reach those in Pakistan or Bangladesh; he was expecting me to teach my family and those who live across the street.
A poem I love by Meade McGuire captures this sentiment:
Father, Where Shall I Work Today?
Father, where shall I work today? And my love flowed warm and free. Then He pointed me out a tiny spot, And said, “Tend that for me.”
I answered quickly, “Oh, no, not that. Why, no one would ever see, No matter how well my work was done. Not that little place for me!”
And the word He spoke, it was not stern, He answered me tenderly, “Ah, little one, search that heart of thine; Art thou working for them or me?
Nazareth was a little place, And so was Galilee.”
("Father, Where Shall I Work Today?" by Meade McGuire)
Where Are We Going?
Now that we know where we are, that is, in modest surroundings and with humble friends ― in our individual Bethlehems (it was a little town) and personal Capernaums (that backwater) ― let us address where we're headed.
Pretend for a moment we're owls using our spiritual sonar to navigate through this dark telestial terrain, our ears twitching as we follow the rumbling roar of the Lion of Judah.
We don't always know where He is leading us, because our destination is not a place but a Person. People are not fixed coordinates.
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me.
Do you remember when "enduring to the "end" seemed like such an easy thing at the beginning of our journey?
But after so many miles and millennia, after enduring eons and eternities that pass by endlessly, our travel-weary-and-worn pilgrims come to a startling realization: the "end" was not what we first imagined it to be.
Of Figs and Leaves
The most personal poem I've written is Fig Tree. While all my poems contain a bit of me, "Fig Tree" is the most autobiographical. It describes my pilgrimage up Moriah's mount.
As you read it, it wouldn't surprise me if you recognize the same trail, having walked it yourself.
Fig Tree a poem
Barely a leaf─ just a remnant remained to turn aside the heat of day. A shame no shade spread under the unforgiving shadow of Nazarite branches shorn of summer (a season somehow nigh, always near, but not yet). Was the tree’s nakedness or mine to blame for the present state?
I was an hungered and wished to God for a sign of precious fruit. But the east wind shook my palmerworm faith tunneling through grief. The wind scorched my cheek (but I marveled how the branches sat eerily still, unmoved by the storm). Is it better for me to die than to live a wasting death?
I did not ask as others: Why must the tree wither? And what of our aprons when no leaves remain for covering? Are we to gird ourselves with thistles?
I knelt beside the tree upon a marred girdle not caring who should discover my secret parts, crying: Lord, see my weakness─ my heart is an olive pitted by your hand, its stone carried forth with the ark of testimony. Where now the pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet clinging to your covenant vine? Graft me: shy not away your pruning-hook.
A fig appeared in my cradled palm opening as if split by the sharpness of God’s finger, its center cracked cleanly like hemispheres falling away from the Tropic of Capricorn.
The fig was filled with clustered seeds sinking into rivulets of blood. I tasted its helicoid promises and felt the trembling heavens through the dirt beneath my feet, the stars casting fruit like unripe hailstones to the earth. I picked one from the ground, comparing, and knew: