I spent most of the weekend in Melbourne at an SES Unit Controllers' Conference. I had some time spare on Sunday and so I went to an LDS Church service in Wantirna South, not far from the conference venue. I hadn't been to one before and it seemed a good opportunity.
|LDS Temple, Wantirna South, Victoria, Australia (Image from here)|
|In my Sunday best.|
I think I was allowed into the third part of the service - the Priesthood Meeting - as a favour. It sounds terribly catty to say it (and I only mention it because it's a strong recollection) but it was at this point I realised what I could smell: soap. Every man present was not only clean shaven but seemed clean enough to be performing surgery. This was appropriate: the discussion finished by noting elderly and infirm members of the congregation who needed help in one way or another. Everyone was genuinely keen to see that these people were safe, looked after and cared for. The outer cleanliness matched inner goodness.
The church seemed (I don't say it lightly) like a little vision of heaven. It was clean. It shone. The people genuinely radiated the love believers are called to have for one another and for God. This fitted: the more I learn of Mormon doctrine, the more I find in it which approaches perfection. And I think this is why, right now, I doubt it's for me. I don't belong in heaven, or at least in its earthly analogue. Everything I know about serving God and loving my neighbour I've learned giving quick and dirty advice in a free community legal centre, or tarping rooves in the rain, or extricating casualties from wrecked cars. The only things I do which are good involve dirty hands and cut corners. I think that's why I love Pope Francis' call for the church to be a field hospital. One columnist has put it particularly well -
One of Pope Francis’s gifts as a communicator is a peculiar feel for the memorable image: .... The most striking analogy in the interview is this: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” No doctor doing triage on a battlefield is going to be fussing about his patients’ cholesterol or blood sugar levels. He is going to be treating major wounds and trying desperately to stop the bleeding.
I think my place is to be where people hurt and where I can help them, and where everything is imperfect and shopworn and down-at-heel and damaged. I don't think I can serve God and neighbour as well anywhere else as I could do where I am.
I have arranged, despite all of this, to speak to the missionaries in Shepparton next week. At the very least one should put the question to them and hear their side of the matter. They're such plainly good people that it would be a sin not to hear them out. In the end, one must find the best place to serve God and neighbour and act accordingly. Everything else is details.
* I'm endebted on this point to Camus -
They have wagered on the flesh, knowing they would lose. ... These men have not cheated. They were gods of the summer at twenty in their thirst for life, and they are still gods today, stripped of all hope. I have seen two of them die. They were full of horror, but silent. It is better that wayAlbert Camus, 'Summer in Algiers' (transl. E.C. Kennedy) in P. Thody (ed.), Lyrical and Critical Essays (Vintage Books: New York, 1970), pp. 81, 91-2.