For several years I have struggled mightily with the 10th commandment. Most of the others I can handle. The prime number commandments I’m especially good at, being a math major. Graven images hold little appeal (math majors aren’t artistic anyway), I try not to bow down much because it aggravates my recurrent sinusitis, my mom and dad are easy to please, and I’m too immature to commit anything that has the word adult in it.
But that 10th commandment is a pesky one. Because for a long time I’ve been especially covetous. Now it’s not what you might expect. I’m not really covetous of my neighbor. His house is nice, but it’s about like ours. Besides, he’s unmarried and has no manservant, maidservant or ox. He’s quite fit, but I’m not interested in his ass. So there’s not much for me to covet, except perhaps his riding lawnmower, but I would consider that more of a transgression than a sin. No, my problem is much more serious.
I am like the people of Babel, who built a tower because they coveted God’s power. Or Simon, who tried to pay Peter for the priesthood authority he coveted. You see, I have long sought for that which I could not obtain–a particular calling in the Church. I’ve wanted to be important, to be looked up to by dozens of adoring faces each week, to play a crucial role in the life of the ward each Sunday. Yes, I confess, I have coveted the position of Primary pianist.
Recently my years of lobbying finally paid off. The counselor called me in and blew out his cheeks in exasperation: “You win, we’re finally calling you as the Primary pianist.” I doubt he had ever seen an endzone dance after extending a calling, but what mine lacked in coordination was made up for in enthusiasm. Now, I attribute this success to righteous living, although my “accidentally” closing the keyboard cover on the former pianist’s hands may have had something to do with it. The Lord works in mysterious ways, you know. Who I am to question?
Anyway, it’s a great calling. You get to play fun songs, you’re protected from all those rambunctious kids by a big, solid piano, and, unlike the chorister, you don’t have to prepare much. And it’s safer than being the organist, since there are no organ pedals. I have a vivid memory of one sacrament meeting where my dad nodded off during the talks and stomped on the organ pedals. (I still treasure the look on his face.) No need to worry about that as Primary pianist. You also get to hear stuff like, “As many of the Genitals as repent…”, or “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely impossibles, prophets, imposters,…”, or “The Holy Ghost?! I’m scared of ghosts!” And that was just in my first two weeks!
But the best thing about the Primary relates to what I call the golden ratio of Church teachings. Let me digress a moment to provide a brief math lesson on the golden ratio. Two quantities are said to be in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. Clear as mud? Thought so. Let me try to illustrate:
Now that we’ve got that straight, according to Wikipedia, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the golden ratio, believing this proportion to be aesthetically pleasing. It turns out the golden ratio equals approximately 1.6.
Now, unless you are well-versed in Church history and theology, you may be unaware that as an institution we have striven to follow the aesthetically pleasing golden ratio of acceptable to unacceptable teachings. So for every 1.6 acceptable teachings, we try to present 1 unacceptable teaching. When we are unable to achieve this as a worldwide Church, individual adaptation is practiced at the local level. As a rule of thumb, this means that for every 16 or so teachings on love, patience, compassion, and empathy, we try to include approximately 10 teachings on blind obedience, modesty policing, 1950’s gender roles, and exclusion of gays.
It turns out that churches that exceed this ratio of acceptable to unacceptable teachings either get translated (see Zion, City of) or else cause their congregants to lose interest (see Universalist, Unitarian). Churches with ratios less than 1.6 can be quite popular, with their us-versus-them tribalism and violent stirring of emotions. Remarkably, the Westboro Baptist Church is postulated to have a negative ratio, although how that would be possible I leave to the mathematicians and religious philosophers. (There is an urban legend that Fermat claimed a simple proof in the margin of his church newsletter, but no one has been able to complete the proof.) For obvious reasons we don’t want our ratio to slip too low, so the Church strives for the aesthetically pleasing 1.6 ratio.
But I digress. What’s great about Primary is that the ratio of acceptable to unacceptable teachings is through the roof. If “Follow the Prophet” were dropped from the Songbook and the hand gestures were dropped from “Book of Mormon Stories”, the ratio would probably exceed 10. Primary children are taught to love other people, be kind, tell the truth, accept differences, and listen to their parents. Great stuff!
The problem is, to reach the golden ratio for the Church as a whole, this means that other organizations must have a much lower ratio, you know, to balance it all out. Relief Society isn’t too bad, but Sunday school often approaches a ratio of 1. Now in High Priests’ group, according to my personal experience and understanding of calculus, the ratio of acceptable to unacceptable teachings approaches 0 as time approaches 60 minutes. But just as the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee, so we must respect the role of each organization in achieving the golden ratio.
But behind my cynicism and frivolity, I care deeply about the Church and find considerable value in what I experience within it. So the next time the Sunday school teacher or priesthood leader says something particularly cringe-worthy, I realize that I need to do the math and cut them some slack. As Mormons we have some pretty awesome teachings rounding out each group of 16. Maybe the job of moving some of the remaining 10 teachings into the acceptable column is not just for our leaders, but for me as well. No doubt my influence will be small, but I say (borrowing from my favorite children’s song not in the Primary Songbook), “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine! Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!” Perhaps my little light can help the golden ratio begin to be replaced by the golden rule.