Chess, Shar’ia & Church Callings

July 22, 2004 | 51 comments
By

arabchess.jpgAccording to legend, the game of chess arose out of a family squabble. Two brothers were warring for the throne of an Indian kingdom. After one brother killed the other in battle, he invented chess to show his mother how he had brought about his sibling’s demise. Another story has an Indian philosopher inventing the game as a way of instructing young princes in the art of war. Regardless, authorities agree that chess was first played in India in the fifth century A.D. From there it migrated to Persia, where it was eventually picked up by the Arabs. The game emerged as an issue in medieval Islamic jurisprudence, which leads naturally to the discussion of church callings.

In Islamic law any act can be fitted into one of five categories: forbidden, discouraged, indifferent, encouraged, or required. Because many jurists, including al-Shafi, one of the earliest and most influential shar’ia scholars, thought that chess was a form of gambling, it generally got classified in the “discouraged” category and some ulumas went so far as to claim that it was forbidden. Despite legal disfavor, however, chess was quite popular among medieval Islamic lawyers. Some of them became incredible players, battling several opponents simultaneously while blind folded. The first books on chess tactics and strategy were written in Arabic, some of them by lawyers. (In contrast, Europeans played chess more or less randomly for centuries before looking at the game theoretically.)

Perhaps there is something about the analytical nature of chess that appeals to the lawyer’s mind, but there is a more mundane explanation for its popularity among medieval Islamic jurists: They wanted to avoid becoming judges. According to an old Arabic proverb for every three judges, two are in the fire. The reason for this dire view of judicial soteriological prospects flows from the Islamic conception of office, namely there isn’t one. What this means is that Muslim judges are personally responsible to God for the correctness of their legal rulings. Applying the wrong rule of law to a case can land a judge in hot water (or worse) at the Final Judgment. The kicker is that some rules of divine law are unavoidably ambiguous and the ambiguity is not a theological defense in the case of error. In other words, a judge can be punished by God for screwing up the divine law even when it is not at all clear what the proper rule is. Hence, the desire to avoid being made a judge. It could be the short road to Hell, literally.

This is where chess comes in. Because it was a discouraged pass-time, addiction to the game evidenced the kind of moral weakness that could disqualify a legal scholar from becoming a judge. This meant that the chess playing lawyer could confine his analysis of the divine law to the safe realm of hypotheticals, which did not carry with it the risk of damnation and the other inconveniences of judicial appointment.

I wonder to what extent the petty iconoclasm of the Mormon intelligensia flows from a similar set of motives. Does the fact that I have a beard and drink Diet Coke insulate me from becoming young men’s president? Might a subscription to Sunstone or Dialogue be motivated at some conscious or unconscious level by a desire to avoid burdensome callings. All of these things – beards, Diet Coke, Sunstone, etc. – are fun, and no doubt therein lies the bulk of their appeal. Nevertheless, their (arguable) status in the shadowy realm of the LDS discouraged (but not forbidden) may point toward a simpler motive: The desire to avoid church work.

[Note on the picture: This painting appears in the 12th-century church located in the palace of the Norman kings in Palermo, Sicily. The artist was Muslim, although his patron was Christian. At the time Sicily, which had been conquered by the Arabs at one point, was a multi-religious kingdom. This is the earliest know depiction of the game of chess. We don't know if the players are lawyers, although they are well dressed.]

Tags: , ,

51 Responses to Chess, Shar’ia & Church Callings

  1. danithew on July 22, 2004 at 7:51 pm

    Very nice post Nate.

    Drat. My mother did teach me that Sunstone was an apostate mag but she never taught me it could be a strategic tool to avoid positions of church responsibility. That was a vital and missing piece of information.

    Personally (though I’ve never pulled this off due to the wifely veto powers) I always thought wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt to a church activity could accomplish the same thing.

  2. D. Fletcher on July 22, 2004 at 8:24 pm

    All you have to do to avoid callings is to inadvertently come out as a gay man while bearing your testimony.

    Works like a charm.

  3. Bob Caswell on July 22, 2004 at 8:38 pm

    “…fitted into one of five categories: forbidden, discouraged, indifferent, encouraged, or required.”

    What an interesting system… What kind of consequences would we face if the Church were to formally adopt the same system and “officially” label rated-R movies, cooking with wine, shopping on Sunday, swearing, drinking Coke, etc. Wouldn’t that be fun…or maybe not…

  4. Randy on July 22, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    When I first moved to Atlanta, I intentially never wore a suit. Instead, I wore khakis and a colored shirt, all in hopes of avoiding a heavy duty calling. In retrospect, I should have taken more drastic measures.

  5. Aaron Brown on July 22, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    D. — I haven’t tried that one yet, but I’ll have to remember it. It may come in handy…

    Seriously, I joke about this issue all the time with various LDS friends. I’m in a ward without a large pool of priesthood holders with leadership potential. As my current bishop’s tenure presumably draws to a close, those of us in other leadership positions in the ward (convinced we’d never be called as Bishop elsewhere) worry a bit that we may be next in this ward. I’m more conservative-appearing in my ward than I am in the Bloggernacle, so I worry that I haven’t been controversial enough. I try to mention Sunstone once in a blue moon, just to warn members of the Stake Presidency that I may not be “Bishop” material. Of course, I also rarely wear a white shirt, and almost never wear a suit, so I’m probably on somebody’s “Apostate List” already anyway. That, and my Evil Aura, will hopefully be enough to save me from new, unwanted eccesiastical responsibilities.

    Last Thursday, I attended a Stake Leadership Training meeting for which attendance by Ward Mission Leaders was optional, but I mistakenly thought it was required. I was complemented by one of the High Counselmen for showing up, as I was the only WML that did. On Sunday, he saw me again at another leadership meeting, and he complemented me again for arriving on time, insisting that if I wanted to move up in leadership in the Stake, I was doing the right thing.

    Alarmed, I promptly left early.

    Aaron B

  6. Kingsley on July 22, 2004 at 8:52 pm

    Another thing you can do to avoid being called Bishop is walk around with a huge erection all the time. Just pop a few Vs before church and welcome to easy street.

  7. Silus Grok on July 22, 2004 at 8:58 pm

    Aaron B: All you had to do was reply “Well, councilman, it’s not easy being a gay man in this church… I feel that I have to really go the extra mile just to keep up. (Touch him on the back of the elbow, look him directly in the eyes.) Thank you for your kind words.”

  8. Charles on July 22, 2004 at 9:14 pm

    Very interesting about the history and potenial use of the game to avoid certian “callings”.

    I understand that there are many things that we may view discouraged or that at best they straddle the fence. Diet coke, beards, et al.

    Has anyone ever thought of just turning down the calling if it were asked of you. I used to wear khakis and colored shirts. I didn’t own a suit and now only own one. I have had a beard since before I was investigating the church. My wife and I are sometimes visibly goofy in church, should anyone be watching. None of these things discouraged my callings with the youth, EQ presidency, or now as EQ president. I still have my goatee and bought one suit and a sport coat.

    Personally, I don’t mind the callings and welcome the challenges but if I were called to something I did not want or feel comfortable doing, Bishop, scouting, primary etc. I would simply refuse.

    Why be sneaky just be truthful.

  9. danithew on July 22, 2004 at 9:22 pm

    Aaron,

    I think the Spirit is guilefully leading you into compliance with higher celestial standards than you could ever have previously imagined. No doubt you are being prepared for a much higher calling. Good luck.

    Kingsley,

    I am seriously laughing out loud over here. I was worried that my Led Zeppelin t-shirt comment was too heinous, but after reading what you wrote, I feel entirely relieved of that burden.

    I want to reiterate to you my wish that you would create a blog and write regularly. You are hilarious. I know you prefer to lurk and comment… but we really need to see more writing from you. If others express any support for this idea, I’ll start a petition at Wump Blog to bring pressure to bear (ooh, aren’t you scared?). If not… well, then not.

  10. Jeremy on July 22, 2004 at 10:14 pm

    Maybe that’s why my stake pres. gave me all his back-issues of Dialogue–his strategy had failed, so why keep them around any longer?

    Doesn’t seem to work in this area anyway: high priests group leader (yes, that’s right, high priests, not EQ pres) is a vegan and has a foot-long beard. He remains utterly beyond reproach in his personal behavior, though, so he was tapped.

  11. Jason on July 22, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    Kingsley, maybe walking around with an erection in church just means really, really, really love the church.

  12. Jedd on July 22, 2004 at 10:45 pm

    Our recently-departed Elder Maxwell said it best: “While casual members are not unrighteous, they often avoid appearing to be too righteous by seeming less committed than they really are—an ironic form of hypocrisy.”

    Casual or not, some of us—including me—“let [our] light so shine,” but do so strategically. I’ve seen too many highly capable individuals brag of their “dropping a few swear words within earshot of the bishop” to ensure a light workload, or talk up their unique ability to “offend nearly everyone in the ward.” Everyone gets a good laugh, but eventually the tactic causes unintended consequences, and you start becoming what you’re not.

    But we all know that some poor soul with two other callings will always be there to pick up the slack.

  13. Kevin Barney on July 22, 2004 at 11:01 pm

    The beard and the colored shirts are the best strategies, because they are visual. Too many bishops and stake presidents love diet Coke themselves, and in my stake, at least, hardly anyone has even so much as heard of Sunstone or Dialogue, so my subscriptions to those journals do me little good.

  14. Silus Grok on July 22, 2004 at 11:21 pm

    So we know have a new euphamism: “playing chess”.

    Other: “Man, look at Karl over there… he’d be such a good member, if he’d just straighten up and fly right…”

    You: “Karl? Ah, don’t worry ’bout him… that boy’s just playin’ chess.”

  15. Jack on July 22, 2004 at 11:33 pm

    Some of us need do no more than be the schmows(spelling?) that we are to avoid the big callings. I get to hunker-down behind the piano for two hours in primary every sunday. I love it!

    Danithew: I add my vote to yours in support of a Kingsley blog.

  16. Jason on July 22, 2004 at 11:45 pm

    That clinches it. I’m bringing a chessboard to the foyer this sunday. Thanks for the idea, fellers!

  17. gunner on July 23, 2004 at 1:08 am

    I am semi-active and a rather anti-social individual. I have found that whenever I move to a new ward or branch the following happens. A calling. This normaly occured after they found out about my on and off attendence. I took many of them and found one thing out. Most were not a job for me to do, but a reason for me to go and stay active. This resulted in me finding a dislike for callings. I hate feeling manipulated, even if it is for my own good. They might have had good intentions but the end result was for me to question all attempts at giving me callings, good or otherwise. Callings should be about finding the person who can do the job well and with strong faith, not to trick someone into going to church weekly.
    Right now I am without any callings. Being new in the ward and of questionable health has insulated me for the present in this regard.

    All grammer errors the result of goofing off in high school.

  18. Silus Grok on July 23, 2004 at 1:21 am

    (I’ve always seen it written “schmoe” or “schmoes”… it’s Yiddish, and I wouldn’t recommend using it.)

  19. John on July 23, 2004 at 11:30 am

    In a special meeting for ward leadership prior to ward conference we were asked to tell something about ourselves that nobody in the room knew. Though I have many odd quirks, they were well known by many people in the room, so I professed that I am an open book with no secrets. Another member of the ward chimed in, “He appreciates the distinction between real Dr Pepper and fake Dr Pepper!”

    Given that I had mentioned Kosher Coke in EQ recently I hadn’t thought that my Dr Pepper habits would be worth mentioning, but now I was asked several questions about the merits of Dublin Dr Pepper and how one might obtain it.

    After the meeting a member of the stake presidency asked even more questions about the taste of Dr Pepper with real sugar. I promised to get a can to him.

    Some time later there was a multi-ward activity that I was told all the members of the stake presidency would attend. I brought a bag containing two cans of Dr Pepper, one with real sugar and the other with corn syrup for a taste test. Unfortunately only one member of the stake presidency showed up, so I gave the bag to him and asked if he could deliver it to the other fellow. He seemed so intrigued by the experiment that I regretted only bringing the two cans. I suggested that they could do a taste test at the next presidency meeting with small cups.

    I would have thought that pushing Dr Pepper on the stake presidency would have put me in an undesirable category. Little did I know that I would get such an enthusiastic response. Next time I’ll bring a matte gord…

  20. D. Fletcher on July 23, 2004 at 11:33 am

    In the last year, I have turned down callings. I turned down teaching Priesthood, and I turned down teaching Sunday School. It’s perfectly easy to do, and it feels great. And if you do it with the right spirit (“I’m going through a hard time right now”) the Bishop will love you all the more for being honest.

  21. Nate Oman on July 23, 2004 at 11:35 am

    John, you should check out our earlier thread on the eternal significance of sugar beets, which touches on the issue of corn syrup v. sugar in soda. See “The Quandry of the Sugar Beets”

  22. John on July 23, 2004 at 11:39 am

    In a special meeting for ward leadership prior to ward conference we were asked to tell something about ourselves that nobody in the room knew. Though I have many odd quirks, they were well known by many people in the room, so I professed that I am an open book with no secrets. Another member of the ward chimed in, “He appreciates the distinction between real Dr Pepper and fake Dr Pepper!”

    Given that I had mentioned Kosher Coke in EQ recently I hadn’t thought that my Dr Pepper habits would be worth mentioning, but now I was asked several questions about the merits of Dublin Dr Pepper and how one might obtain it.

    After the meeting a member of the stake presidency asked even more questions about the taste of Dr Pepper with real sugar. I promised to get a can to him.

    Some time later there was a multi-ward activity that I was told all the members of the stake presidency would attend. I brought a bag containing two cans of Dr Pepper, one with real sugar and the other with corn syrup for a taste test. Unfortunately only one member of the stake presidency showed up, so I gave the bag to him and asked if he could deliver it to the other fellow. He seemed so intrigued by the experiment that I regretted only bringing the two cans. I suggested that they could do a taste test at the next presidency meeting with small cups.

    I would have thought that pushing Dr Pepper on the stake presidency would have put me in an undesirable category. Little did I know that I would get such an enthusiastic response. Next time I’ll bring a matte gord…

  23. John on July 23, 2004 at 11:56 am

    Nate,

    Thanks for the link. I am shocked that a thread about sugar and US trade policy would barely mention soft drinks. There were riots in the Phillipines in the early 1980’s when Coke switched to corn syrup. The inefficient Florida cane industry is a major source of pollution and environmental damage. But worst of all, it is very difficult to get soft drinks that taste good in the USA.

    Oh, and sorry about the double post above.

  24. Renee on July 23, 2004 at 12:03 pm

    Looks like any sense of decorum has been tossed out the window here. Nice to know you have rules for for posting here as far as “being respectful”. I guess the rules don’t cover vulgarity so that’s perfectly fine.

  25. Steve Evans on July 23, 2004 at 12:17 pm

    Renee, Dr. Pepper made with corn syrup is inferior, but hardly vulgar.

  26. marta on July 23, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    Many Mormons would be horrified to know the meaning of a number of yiddish words they use, one hopes in ignorance; or perhaps they are doing it deliberately to avoid callings.

  27. John on July 23, 2004 at 12:34 pm

    Steve, I think the vulgarity of corn syrup Dr Pepper depends on the context. Dr Pepper (no period) with corn syrup is just acceptable on its own. But I challenge you to have a can of Dublin Dr Pepper and then follow it up with the regular stuff. You will spit it out and call it all sorts of things. The contrast is amazing. If you are in SLC you can buy it at Liberty Heights Fresh. I haven’t found a local source here in Boston so I buy it on the internet from dublindrpepper.com. I am not sure why, but it is hard to find Dr Pepper of any sort in Boston.

  28. Steve Evans on July 23, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    Perhaps the vulgarity of the soda world enters in once we begin discussion of dopplegangers, such as Pepsi v. Coke, Crush vs. Shasta or (shudder) the evil Mr Pibb.

  29. danithew on July 23, 2004 at 2:17 pm

    Steve,

    You forgot to mention the abhorrent and abominable Tab soda brand.

  30. Steve Evans on July 23, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    Danithew,

    Tab, along with Fresca and Ricqles, fall into the category of “Sodas that dare not speak their name.”

  31. danithew on July 23, 2004 at 2:28 pm

    I just thought I’d add that in reality I’m never seeking to impress/disgust a leader so that I can get out of a calling. If I get called to do something, barring an unusual circumstance or disability, I’ll accept the calling. To me, the thought of acting out a cultural taboo that isn’t actually forbidden by theology is amusing.

    By the way, speaking of cultural (and I guess now theological) taboos, I won’t forget the time I ran into an elder on his p-day who had both arms completely covered by tattoos. We were playing ball so he was wearing short-sleeves.

    Every time I see anyone with lots of tatoos, I secretly want to examine them to see how cool they are. But unfortunately that’s not very polite. “‘Scuse me sir, could you stand still for a few minutes while I stare at your arm?”

  32. gst on July 23, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    Danithew, I’m not sure why it would be rude to stare at a tattoo. Surely people get them so others will stare. Unless you’re the dude from Memento.

  33. Gordon Smith on July 23, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    This is an unofficial response to Renee (“unofficial” because I am not speaking for the other bloggers at T&S). I am assuming that you are referring to Kingsley’s comment above, not to soda pop, and I didn’t want you to leave thinking that you were the only person who found the comment vulgar. I stand with you on that issue. I also hope that T&S is not the sort of community that trivializes objections like yours.

    On the other hand, you seem to be hinting that we should have “rules” against vulgarity, and here I tread more lightly. I have such a rule on my own blog: “if you post something that seems abusive, profane, vulgar, or offensive to me, I will delete it.” But I look at that blog as I do my house. I make the rules, and if you don’t like them, you can leave.

    T&S is a different place. It isn’t my house or Kaimi’s house or Nate’s house or the Lord’s house. It’s a public space, albeit a space with certain standards of behavior established by those who have created it. Kaimi drafted a non-exclusive list of blog policies to provide some guidance to commenters, but these are minimum standards. We expect more, and in certain cases, we have demanded more.

    So, where are the lines that mark the limits of appropriate discourse on this blog? We have decided that the community would not benefit from our creating a list of banned words or banned topics, and I hope that the rationale for this decision does not require explication. The result is that official decisions about standards of appropriate behavior are left to the principal bloggers. As a rule, we are committed to the free exchange of ideas, believing that the best antidote for a bad comment is a good response. When official action is required, in my view, we are a diverse enough group that any consensus among us is likely to represent a pretty solid decision.

    The bottom line is that I do not want to get into the business of officially policing vulgarity, unless it is persistent or unquestionably offensive to our community. I hope that we can work out borderline cases — and my sense from the reactions to Kingsley’s comment is that the community views this as a borderline case — without the heavy hand of blog government. To accomplish that, we need to develop a culture in which objections and differences are freely aired, so I am grateful that you took the initiative in this instance to make your feelings known.

  34. Mathew on July 23, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    Drinking Coke is somehow iconoclastic? I can see the other things mentioned, but I’m truly puzzled by the idea that Coke is frowned upon by the leadership–even the leadership at the stake or ward levels.

  35. Kaimi on July 23, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    Gordon, thank you for your comments, and you too, Renee. I’m sure no offense was meant. And I agree very much with Gordon. We’ve got a lot of different viewpoints around here; hopefully we can keep this a place where many different types of people feel welcome.

  36. John on July 23, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    Matthew, not Coke, Dr Pepper! In any case I don’t see it as significantly better or worse than blue shirts, beards, mentioning Sunstone, or walking out of a meeting a bit early. I am not going to classify the vulgar suggestion.

    You would think it was funnier if I told you who it was that I was giving it to, but I don’t think it would be appropriate to “out” someone as a Dr Pepper drinker here.

  37. Kristine on July 23, 2004 at 10:50 pm

    Hey guys, you’ve missed the best way of escaping executive responsibility at church–having ovaries *and* opinions! It’s a shame you have to spend your time developing such elaborate alternatives :)

  38. Mathew on July 24, 2004 at 1:03 am

    But I’m not convinced that people really want to escape church callings at all. Every time a high position opens up in any ward I have ever been in there has been a frizzion of speculation and expectation. And let’s face it, it’s human nature to aspire to prestige and position–as I see it, the Mormon intelligentsia that Nate refers to wants to exert power one way or another–as a group they are happy to have it conferred on them through from above–but in a pinch they will seize it from below with “petty acts of iconoclastic behavior”. In other words, I think it is the rare person who engages in certain acts as a means of avoiding a calling–and entirely common to claim no desire in high callings while harboring quiet interest.

  39. john fowles on July 24, 2004 at 1:47 am

    And Mathew, I think that the opposite effect is even more common. Rather than trying to defame themselves through the much discussed “petty acts of iconoclastic behavior,” people actively (if subconsciously) avoid certain activities or “taboos” because they want to be ready at the time the calling comes so that they can serve if the Lord needs them at the moment. (And so that such petty things don’t get in the way of their service to the Church and through it to the Lord.)

    In some ways this whole conversation could be viewed as insensitive by many in the Church who are convinced that callings are just given to people who are friends of people already in leadership. I know several people who lament the fact that despite being older (50s and 60s) they have never been asked to serve as a bishop or in any other position of leadership, despite having been active and willing and ready to serve their whole lives. Rather, it is not so much that they lament it as that they are offended by it, taking it as a slap in the face, a negative ruling on their capacity to serve. It’s not necessarily that they wish the rigors of the calling upon themselves, from what I can tell, but they wonder why no one has seen fit to extend them a call, and it makes them wonder if people think there is something wrong with them (and there isn’t). True, some of these people might have the wrong attitude in the sense that they are coveting a position of leadership to fulfill selfish desires for attention or respect. But others, I think, are sincerely discouraged and (the specific individuals I am speaking of) have become convinced that even in the Church, it’s not what you know or how well you can serve, but whom you know (and what your job and income are). That, in my opinion, is a very harsh judgment and one that I do not wish to subscribe to; however, I have wondered about the role of inspiration in the assigning of callings.

    I tend to think of inspiration in these things in a pragmatic way. I actually think there might be something to the notion that the calling you get is largely based on whom you know and on whether you are their friends or not. After all, that is how human society works, and in most cases in order for someone in the position to give out a calling to you, he has to know you first. Sure, there are myriad anecdotal deviations from this general pragmatic view: the stake president who calls the bum sitting in the back of the meeting to be a bishop. Even my wife’s grandfather had this experience: he was inactive and called out of the blue to be in the bishopric of his ward. However, even his experience doesn’t fully skew the pragmatic view: he was a partner in a large and prestigious LA law firm (i.e. well respected, well known, etc.).

  40. Jim F. on July 24, 2004 at 1:48 am

    I think that Mathew is right: fewer people wish to escape Church callings than pretend to. Talk about avoiding them is often a kind of self-deprecating joke. Sometimes, as Mathew suggests, it may instead be a cover for ambition, but I think it is mostly a way of making harmless banter.

    In spite of that and though I take part in the joke as often as anyone else, I wonder whether my jokes about various ways of “playing chess” might not sometimes belie a reluctance regarding my covenant to consecrate everything to the Church.

  41. Jim F. on July 24, 2004 at 2:00 am

    John Fowles is clearly right that often people are called or not called for reasons that have little to do with revelation. Nothing else would explain why, in Provo, I have known several Central and South Americans and Koreans who come here with incredible amounts of leadership experience (State President, counselor in a Temple presidency, Bishop, etc.) but almost can’t even get a calling as a home teacher after they arrive. That can be even more discouraging than wondering why you’ve never been called to a position though, at least from your own point of view, you are as qualified as the people who are being called.

    In principle, I think that worrying about why a person hasn’t received a “more important” calling is wrong, but I understand how it happens and I am sympathetic to those to whom it happens.

    And I assume that the problem takes different forms in other places than it takes in Provo, but I would be amazed if there was a place in the Church where the problem doesn’t exist.

  42. smalltownlawyer on July 24, 2004 at 4:15 am

    Some random responses to points raised.

    Renee, thanks. I snickered inside at first at Kingsley’s comment, but then your comment made me realize that I was laughing at a picture of someone walking the halls of the church with a huge erection. I don’t call that borderline.

    The other observation I want to make related to the general topic is that the reluctance of members to lose themselves in the service of others manifests itself in a myriad of ways. I live Sedona Arizona, a great and beautiful place in Arizona to live, only a couple hours from Phoenix and Mesa, which is a one-ward town, and a very small struggling ward at that. Weekly half our chapel is filled with visitors from Salt Lake, Mesa, Gilbert and other LDS strongholds where there is a different ward on every block. These visitors joke about there being dozens of ex-bishops and stake presidents in their high priests groups. In contrast, we struggle to find enough priesthood Aaronic or Melchezidek to pass the sacrament. I ask myself, is it Sedona and the stigma of being the vortex capital of the world, or is it that members want to avoid a ward that is perceived as having an inadequate labor force.

    We’ve probably all heard the maxim that the purpose of the Church is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.” And I guess that it is only natural to want to avoid any such afflicting. But I think that this is one of the distinguishing features of the Gospel, and a feature that to me, sets our church so much apart from mainstream Christianity and is a strong evidence of the Church’s truthfullness. The structure of the church and the concept of Ward and Stake organization is designed to avoid the prevailing theory in Mainstream Christianity that the bigger the congregation, the more comfortable we all can become. We are putting all the leven in one loaf of bread in order to remain comfortable and thereby avoid real opportunities to serve. Put another way, to avoid being called to a “difficult” calling just flock together with other comfort-seeking members in huge LDS mega-cliques where the church is so predominant that you can dress with a suit and tie every Sunday, bear your testimony every month, pay 15% tithing and never be called to anything more significant than an assistant door greeter.
    If you choose to go to church with your shirt untucked in order to avoid church callings that are designed to help you lose yourself, then you are really missing out on the whole vision of eternal progression. You might as well join the throngs of mainstream Christians who are able to feel religious by just sitting in a pew for an hour each week.

  43. Kingsley on July 25, 2004 at 12:14 am

    Renee, all: I apologize for the Viagra joke. What struck me as funny was the idea of pretending to have this condition that is basically innocent, i.e. you are not actually aroused by anything, your body is acting on its own, but which is so horrifyingly gross that you can never, ever be called to any position requiring human interaction. I should have suggested faking something like Tourette Syndrome, which would also be hard to ignore, and yet has the advantage of not having to do with genitals, unless of course you’re screaming about them. So again, sorry to Renee and to all.

  44. danithew on July 25, 2004 at 1:54 pm

    Renee, Kingsley,

    I appreciate both your comments … that is, I appreciate Renee helping us find our consciences and I appreciate Kingsley’s apologetic remarks afterwards. I was perhaps one of those laughing loudest at the Viagra comments but Renee’s comment helped me realize I was in the wrong for enjoying that so much. Sometimes when we get in the mood to joke around, we can cross a line. I know I’ve had my fair share of those occurrences in life (and perhaps even while commenting here in Times and Seasons). Discussions like these can help us figure out where we want to draw our lines so we can be better in the future.

    I’m still a Kingsley fan and I still wish Kingsley would set up his own blog but I’ll stop bothering him about it from here on out. :)

  45. Davis Bell on July 25, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    I’m most interested in Nate’s summary of Islamic law, particularly the categories he listed: forbidden, discouraged, indifferent, encouraged, or required. What parallels does this system have in Mormon theology? I can really only think of the sins of omission vs. sins of commission dichotomy. I think Bob’s idea of plugging various Mormon “sins” into this framework is an interesting one.

  46. danithew on July 25, 2004 at 11:08 pm

    Forbidden: alcohol, coffee, black tea, iced tea
    Discouraged: caffeinated sodas
    Indifferent: herbal teas
    Encouraged: hot chocolate
    Required: orange juice/milk (with doughnuts when helping the elders quorum move somebody on a Saturday morning)

    Well, it’s a try anyway.

  47. Adam Greenwood on July 26, 2004 at 11:12 am

    One doesn’t have to resort to sartorial sloppiness, or abuse of Kingsley’s prescription drugs. I find that overdressing works just as well: one wears one’s patent leather shoes, ones three-piece suits, one’s linen suit in the summer, one’s fedoras and panamas, not to mention that one’s current bishopric occasionally holds their noses and ventures onto T&S and, as Joseph Smith would have it, “Amen to the power and authority of that man.”

  48. heather oman on July 26, 2004 at 6:48 pm

    “I think that Mathew is right: fewer people wish to escape Church callings than pretend to”

    C’mon, have you ever met a woman who actually WANTS to be the Relief Society president? She’d be certifiable, and therefore unfit for the calling anyway.

    As one woman wrote, “If drinking Coke could get you out of being the Relief Society President, I know one company whose stock would soar!”

  49. Jim F. on July 26, 2004 at 7:12 pm

    Adam, I suspect the phenomenon you note is related to that noted by D. Fletcher and Silus Grok: sartorial display is at least unconsciously associated with alternative sexual preferences.

  50. Silus Grok on July 27, 2004 at 12:11 pm

    I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jim: my Carrot &am’ Gibbs bow tie and Allen Edmunds monk straps never seem to have been an issue before…

    : )

  51. Christian on August 11, 2004 at 5:03 am

    Don’t knock the calling of assistant door greeter. Our stake presidency was recently reformed and one of the counselors who everybody was picking to be the next prez is now the door greeter in his ward. And recently I had the calling of sacrament bread coordinator (no, I am not joking). Despite all my attempts to appear counterculture I think I still come across as very conservative and white-bread, maybe even monk-ish. I’m not aspiring to any position but I always get fairly low-level callings (yes, I know all callings are important and it’s not where you serve but how you serve) like home teaching stats collector (my current calling) and sometimes I wonder why I haven’t been EQP yet if I’m a true-blue, through-and-through, white-shirt-wearing-every-Sunday-Peter-Priesthood-young-man-of-34-years-of-age. Maybe it’s because I went to BYU-Hawaii.