The Robe is not without its problems. The writing style is sometimes cumbersome and verbose. Like the Narnia books, the story is really a vehicle for the author's own philosophy, and sometimes the characters are ridiculously profound. My research (such as it was) into its historicity shows that Douglas only very loosely paid attention to Roman history at the time. In truth, our information isn't great. There are very few histories from the time and it was a really LONG time ago. The work is a fiction, start to finish, and not superlative fiction to boot.
And yet, it is probably safe to say that no other book has had as profound effect on me.
I read it in college in the midst of a very tumultuous freshman year. Just as the Work and the Glory books can give one a testimony of Joseph Smith because you gain some insights into his character, The Robe's purpose is to provide testimony of Jesus Christ by letting you walk side-by-side with those who knew him. Just as the main character takes a journey from mocking skepticism to ardent faith, so does the reader. There is one paragraph in particular that I can point to in the book that was a turning point in my life. I remember where I was sitting and in what apartment. I remember the feeling that came over me, profoundly and deeply. Oh, I had felt the Spirit many times, and I even recognized it. But until that moment I had never heard the Spirit whisper to ME that He was my Savior too. Admittedly, I haven't been all perfect faith since then, but after that moment I never harbored the doubts again that plagued me through all my teen years.
I wasn't as deeply affected during my reading this time--my experience before was in the order of once-in-a-lifetime, but I was still very moved. I hope that it moves me to action.
Some months ago I was listening to an interview on the FAIR podcast. I don't remember who the interviewee was, though I'm inclined to say it was Richard Bushman. When the interviewer asked him about how he saw the future growth of the Church, he paused for a long moment. He said that he believed the Church would continue to grow, though he wouldn't be surprised if the growth slowed and we still continued to lose a lot of members because it isn't really an easy row to hoe. But the man's answer wasn't complete. He said that sometimes he wondered if rather than just grow in members, the influence of Church members would be felt in broader ways. That we would take what we knew of the gospel and improve our communities and our nations . . . becoming the yeast in the meal spoken of in the scriptures. He said he wasn't sure that our numbers would be exponential, but he believed that our influence had unlimited power if members would harness this idea.
For months this has ruminated with me.
I have a bread recipe (mentioned repeatedly on this blog) that only takes 1/4 tsp of yeast. And yet, if you let the bread sit long enough, that tiny bit of yeast makes the bread large and fluffy and gives it delightful flavor. 1/4 tsp in cups and cups of other ingredients. The difference between life and death to bread.
Is it possible that we limit ourselves by saying that our sphere of influence is small? Is this something we say to alleviate stress or pressure to transform our communities? Is it the defense mechanism of young mothers just trying to keep above water? Is it kind of a pseudo-humility?
After all, didn't He ask us to set our light on the hill? Or at least to lead others to His light?
There might be a lot of resolutions I could set this year. I'd like to write more. I need to certify for an Oregon teaching license, graduate college and begin applying for jobs. I'm helping Plantboy work on a blog. I'd like to research our options for moving. I'd like to go to the temple every month. I'd like to keep up with the habit of exercise that I've been working on sporadically since September, etc. etc. These things are of varying degrees worthiness and importance.
And yet . . .
I can't help but think I'll be happier if I boil down these goals to one single question: "How can I be the yeast in the meal?" In other words, what can I do every day to be more Christlike? To spread His influence to more individuals? To work to realize His vision for mankind?
It isn't an easy thing to report on. That is all the world needs: one more Christian who makes sure that others know about her good deeds. Instead, as I seek to share His Light, I will share stories of others who are doing this same. We will let the more public stories of others inspire us.
The first I want to share is this one, from an essay found at the website SquareTwo.org, and originally shared by Elder Dallin Oaks at BYU-I in 2009:
“Following the perestroika movement in the Soviet Union, popular
demonstrations in Mongolia forced the Communist government to resign in
March 1990. Other political parties were legalized, but the first
Mongolian elections gave the Communists a majority in the new
parliament, and the old repressive attitudes persisted in all government
departments. The full functioning of a democratic process and the full
enjoyment of the people’s needed freedoms do not occur without a
struggle. In Mongolia, the freedoms of speech, press and religion — a
principal feature of the inspired United States Constitution — remained
“In that precarious environment, a 42-year-old
married woman, Oyun Altangerel, a department head in the state library,
courageously took some actions that would prove historic. Acting against
official pressure, she organized a “Democratic Association Branch
Council.” This 12-member group, the first of its kind, spoke out for
democracy and proposed that state employees have the freedoms of
worship, belief and expression, including the right to belong to a
political party of their choice.”
“When Oyun and others were fired from their state
employment, Oyun began a hunger strike in the state library. Within
three hours she was joined by 20 others, mostly women, and their hunger
strike, which continued for five days, became a public demonstration
that took their grievances to the people of Mongolia. This
demonstration, backed by major democratic movement leaders, encouraged
other government employees to organize similar democratic councils.
These dangerous actions expanded into a national anti-government
movement that voiced powerful support for the basic human freedoms of
speech, press and religion. Eventually the government accepted the
demands, and in the adoption of a democratic constitution two years
later Mongolia took a major step toward a free society.”
“For Latter-day Saints, this birth of constitutional
freedom in Mongolia has special interest. Less than two years after the
historic hunger strike, we sent our first missionaries to Mongolia. In
1992 these couples began their meetings in the state library, where Oyun
was working. The following year, she showed her courage again by being
baptized into this newly arrived Christian church. Her only child, a
22-year-old son, was baptized two years later. Today, the Mongolian
members of our Church number 9,000, reportedly the largest group of
Christians in the country. A few months ago we organized our first stake
in Mongolia. Called as the stake president was Sister Oyun’s son,
Odgerel. He had studied for a year at BYU-Hawaii, and his wife, Ariuna, a
former missionary in Utah, graduated there."
One woman. Democracy and freedom of religion to a nation. The mother of a dynasty of Church leaders in Mongolia. Do you think she believed it was enough to content herself with a tiny sphere of influence?
May your new year bring you lots of joy!