Especially at Church (I even stopped wearing an ascot so as not to appear eccentric). You won't even find a bow tie in my closet.
On Sundays, dressed in a white shirt and conservative, non-sports-team-themed-tie, I dutifully return my chalk to the library; I volunteer to substitute in the primary; I open the door for others and sing the hymns in Sacrament Meeting each week.
The problem? I can't help being . . . me.
Several years ago I was an instructor in the High Priests Group (before they were disbanded). One Sunday I was teaching from the Book of Ephesians and asked the class, "How many bodies does God have?"
Shortly thereafter I was summoned to meet with a counselor in the Stake Presidency, who told me to stop teaching "deep doctrine" and to stick to General Conference talks.
The Counselor in the Stake Presidency told me "priesthood meetings are not an appropriate place to discuss the mysteries."
I asked him innocently, "But President, if we can't discuss deep doctrine in High Priests Group, where can we?"
He had no answer.
Misadventures of a Gospel Teacher
After meeting with the Stake Presidency I felt terrible. I had tried so hard to blend in; to not rock the boat and to behave like a model Mormon man should (back when we were still Mormons).
The worst part? Wondering who the anonymous tipsters in my quorum were who had gone behind my back to complain to leadership (those snitches), whilst shaking my hand with smooth faces and smiles.
Why didn't these guys tell me they had a problem? Didn't the scriptures direct them to come to me, personally?
And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone.
Conflict (even in the Church) is typically handled passive-aggressively ― which is why, as an attorney, Ward Council gives me the creeps: in Court, at least, they don't allow ex-parte communications (meaning you can't talk about a party in front of the Judge (bishop) unless the party is present to defend themselves).
Whereas in Church, leaders often report to the Ward Council information they've heard second-hand (hearsay) or read on Facebook (lacking foundation), spreading gossip (under the guise of "member needs") ― all while the subject of the rumors is not personally consulted or included in the conversation.
But back to my story: among the High Priests Group, I no longer felt safe; trust had been breached. So in our next meeting I stood before them and said:
"I am sorry if some of you have been offended by my lessons. After several of you complained, I was reproved by leadership. But now I feel like I have to record everything I say to use as evidence in case someone lodges another complaint against me."
And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking.
A high councilor was present in the priesthood meeting and accused me of having the "spirit of contention." That made me feel even worse. My wife wisely counseled me, back at home, "All you can do is kill them with kindness."
So I grabbed my kids and we took homemade cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting over the high councilor's home, trudging through the snow (it was wintertime), and standing on his doorstep, I handed him the cinnamon rolls, saying, "I was not angry, only hurt. But I love you and hope you'll forgive me."
I was released soon thereafter.
History Repeats Itself
Fast forward several years, and under a new administration (same ward, but we have a high turn-over rate) I was called as an Elders Quorum Instructor.
I think many of you can relate: my lessons were either loved or loathed; they attracted strong opinions on both sides (but they were never boring). Mind you, I wasn't trying to be divisive; but regardless of how hard I tried to fit the mold, I failed.
It wasn't long before a member of the EQ Presidency complained about my lessons to the President (and my unorthodox views) and asked for me to be released.
On my last Sunday teaching I taught on the doctrine of the atonement and on becoming "new creatures" in Christ and the relationship of time with eternity; that was several years ago.
Since then, I've been shuffled around in non-public callings, like Quasimodo, where, it is hoped, my spiritual nonconformity won't offend others.
Recently a friend told me he had been in Ward Council and heard the Bishop say, "Pray for brother Merrill; he's struggling with his testimony."
I reacted shocked. "What? I am? That is news to me."
My friend said, "Tim, your problem is, you know, you're just too Christian for the Church."
I quipped, "Well, whose Church is it?"
But afterwards I sensed the sad irony of what I had said; how could a person ever be "too Christian" in Christ's own Church?
So what Church was I in?
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.
(2 Nephi 25:26)
"Teach One Another?" You're Kidding
But enough about me. Let's look at what the Lord said about teaching in the Church. I take confidence from His words, when He said:
I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another [okay; but teach what, exactly?] the doctrine of the kingdom [which doctrine?].
Right away, the thing that strikes me as odd is the fact the Lord recruits us as His teachers ― when the Holy Ghost is a far superior teacher. And surely the angels would make better gospel doctrine instructors (or are they too busy sharpening their scythes?).
So why us?
It seems a bit strange when we consider the stakes; just think about how unqualified we all are ― like God rounding up a bunch of rowdy kindergarteners on the playground during lunch recess and telling them, "The Yale English Department is coming tomorrow to see if there are any promising students; Mrs. Montgomery went home for the afternoon and left instructions that you should teach each other John Milton's Paradise Lost."
. . . and we can barely read. "Go Spot, go. No Spot, no go Yale."
"A mind not to be changed by place or time / The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n."
"See, Spot run. Run Ivy League, bye."
So why does God conscript us clumsy fools into teaching each other when our eternal lives hang in the balance? Sure, some of you are given "the gift of teaching," but what about the rest of us?
For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom; And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge.
No, the whole enterprise seems doomed for failure when we realize how absurd it is ― that is, if the Lord's goal were to get us to be smart, fresh-faced minions who march in time.
But what if the Lord had an entirely different purpose in mind? What if He wasn't worried about educating us to beome a bunch of smarty-pants, vying for magna cum laude honors?
No, it seems God is quite content with us being a class of simpletons:
That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed [by prophets? Spiritual stud-muffins? San Dimas High School quarterbacks? No, no] by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.
"Reporting for duty, Lord: the 'weak and simple.'"
Grace Shall Attend You
When it comes to gospel instruction, look at what the Lord has in mind, specifically:
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you.
See that? The goal of gospel instruction is more than just gaining knowledge, far more: it is to receive God's grace.
Any egghead with a laptop and a set of scriptures can "understand all mysteries" of the gospel (1 Cor. 13:2) from the bowels of his basement, by home study.
Then why send us to the public synagogues on Sunday, where we pick up germs and get bullied? How does that bring "grace" into our lives?
Well, for one thing, grace loves a good party:
Where (1) two or three are (2) gathered together (3) in my name, (4) as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them.
We are commanded to teach one another ― not to get gooder, but to get gracier.
The "doctrine" the Lord wants us to teach each other is pretty all-encompassing; He tells us to build our temples of faith with theories, principles, and laws:
That you may be instructed more perfectly in: (1) Theory, (2) In Principle, (3) In Doctrine, (4) In the Law of the gospel, (5) In all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God.
We'll need a little bit of everything; combined, these things give us a very wide net with which to catch some delicious fish to sup on with the Savior, shoreside (He's got the coals ready and is waiting).
The Lord taught using a diversity of techniques and styles; so can we. You know why? Life is messy; love is a lottery; marriage is a gamble; happiness is a firefly blinking in an out among the stars. And through it all, God wants us holding hands, teaching and strengthening each other with His grace.
Because of God's grace, the inadequacy of the teacher becomes swallowed up in the love (edification) that is shared between class members.
So congratulations ― you've taken a leap of faith just by waking up and wanting to teach the gospel.
Staring into the black eternity of unknown tomorrows, holding hands, let us follow the glimmering colors that reach outwards, towards Christ ― and in His grace, teach one another.
Leap of Faith
Teaching is tough because it requires us to become vulnerable; we share a part of ourselves with our classmates, and what if we're misunderstood? Or (as I felt in my priesthood quorums) rejected?
Christ, having been cast out of the synagogue for the things He taught, and facing the Cross, said:
They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever [casteth] you [out] will think that he doeth God service.
And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.
We don't need a crystal ball to predict our future; by following Christ we know how it ends.
Following Christ, we enter into the fellowship of His suffering. But Christ showed us it can be done. He sprinkled blood on the straight and narrow path so we might follow the scent. "Be of good cheer; don't worry; be not afraid. Follow the smell of cinnamon."
Last year was a changing point for me (at least in terms of how I approach my time at Church). I learned an important lesson. People are not "woken up" by being told they're wrong; it was useless for me to go around Church, trying to wake others up by hitting them over the head with the hammer of "truth."
Yes, it's true we need to "awake from the slumber of death" (Jacob 3:11), but people at Church come "to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul" (Jacob 2:8).
I realized that many of the words I spoke at Church were cutting, not healing. And so I decided to change. I learned the way to wake someone up is not all at once, by splashing cold water on their face, but with the smell of breakfast (bacon) cooking on the fire.
People are waking up; that is God's doing, not ours. Our job is to have something hot for them to eat when they hear their stomachs growling.
People will be attracted to our fire and will share our scrambled eggs when they feel our love, not judgment; when we teach them to see the divinity within themselves more than the sin which so easily besets them.
Clark Burt is like that, patiently tending the coals of the fire and waiting for stragglers. They come, one or two at a time, and he hands them a hot chocolate.
Clark commented once to one of my posts: "My friend Mike once had a dream after an experience similar to yours. In his dream he saw people who had oil all over them and they were upset because it was messy and they couldn't wipe it off.
"He realized that the oil was light and truth for the virgins' lamps, but his Quorum members were not ready to receive so much light and truth.
"Sometimes we give them too much and it shouldn't surprise us if it gets messy."
A Paradoxical Path
The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of plot twists; the Lord loves a good "mystery."
We saw that using "straight-line, right handed power" (i.e., force) to achieve righteous ends is misguided ― it is an absolute death knell for grace (Treason and Triumph).
This applies to preaching the gospel, too. Using right-handed power will snuff out grace quicker than we can say lickety-split. In order for grace to abound, there must be love and liberty, else the Spirit will be quenched and grieved.
Ironically, by imposing our will on others, we thwart the very good we're seeking to accomplish.
Jesus showed us that freedom is found in submission. Jesus yielded to Pilate and Herod; He placed Himself in the hands of the Roman soldiers (never summoning the legions of angels champing at the bit to swoop down and rescue him). He showed us that to transcend our enemies, we must submit to them.
I say unto you, That ye RESIST NOT evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
(Matt. 5:39, 41)
As a Teacher, everything Jesus taught was filled with grace; He showed us how to speak the truth in love. Because we'll never convert a single soul to Him by condemning others (this goes both ways).
Instead, Jesus tells us to walk a mile (and more) with them, beside them, and learn their names, their hopes and fears, and to become brothers and sisters with them.
Can we become more precious to each other than the preciousness of our cherished values?
Question: Can we really claim we're following Christ's command to "love our enemies" when we're engaged in a virtual spitting match with them ― as if we're no better than Caiaphas (see, Matt. 26:67)?
Teaching What For?
In 1831, right at the outset of the Restoration, the Lord gave us the Law of His Church (Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants).
The Law is an excellent blueprint on teaching:
(42:12) And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospelwhich are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.
Well, now we know there's a textbook for our subject, at least. The principles of the gospel in their fulness are found in the scriptures.
(42:13) And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them (this refers to Section 20), and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.
Mmm; that's interesting: our teachings are to be "directed by the Spirit." Which is right in line with what Moroni taught in Moroni Chapter 6 about our meetings being guided by the gifts of the Spirit.
(42:14) And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.
Well, this explains a lot.
(42:16) And as ye shall lift up your voices by the Comforter, ye shall speak and prophesy as seemeth me good.
Now we come to it: the Lord invites us to teach one another so His grace may attend us in order for us to have the Spirit . . . so we may prophesy.