Back in the days of “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” there was another slasher/horror movie that created a ripple called “Last House on the Left” (you were one lucky sucker if your local drive-in was playing them all as a triple feature). When “Last House” first came out, they had a radio ad with screaming and pleading and chainsaws in the background and a deep, ominous voice saying, “To avoid fainting, just keep repeating… It’s only a movie…only a movie…” (I found the movie trailer. It’s a real hoot!) In fact, the ad campaign proved to be so effective, it kept people away (except for lunkhead kids like me).
Recently, a couple in our ward let it be known they were going to the temple for the first time after having waited quite a while beyond their “eligibility” mark. They wanted to go when they felt they were ready to go. Part of me rolled my eyes (sorry, just being honest) because I think you go when the Lord (via the bishop) says it’s time. If we were to wait for the moment we felt ready, some members– psyching themselves out with anxiety, or over-thinking it– might never go. Now I said that’s part of me that feels this way. It’s the Temple Prep teacher part of me, the pragmatic (and I don’t know where the hell he came from) part. I mean, I don’t think they’re saying “Go to the temple! Go to the temple!” in every general conference ’cause they don’t want us to miss out on the fine cafeteria cuisine.
I wonder if some people put off that first time because they realize once they go in, they know the party’s over. They’re in the lair now– there’s no turning back. They know too much– it’s Cosa Nostra or sleep with the fishes. Uncle Ben to Peter Parker: With great power comes great responsibility. And so on.
Another part of me envies this couple because for them it’s not a knee-jerk rite of passage or calendared appointment, it’s a conscious step in their family’s eternal progression. It’s an act of complete free agency, independent of others’ expectations. Or, maybe it’s just yet another manifestation of You’re not the boss of me.
December, 2008 marks the 30th anniversary of when I received my first endowment. For me, it was a “next-step” thing– a by-the-book subsequence of my conversion the year before. It was in the Salt Lake Temple, and I was accompanied by my bishop. We went to a live session with sweet old grandpas and grandmas playing out the parts (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an 80-something Satan try to remember his lines and look menacing at the same time). In retrospect, I don’t think a (technically) live session is a good first experience in the temple. It was distracting. Had it not been for the raw power of my conversion, I might have been disillusioned, or at least disappointed. As it was, I was just lost– I went through the motions– the bishop helping me along the way– and kept hoping I didn’t do anything stupid. The second time I went alone, again to a live session, with little improvement. Thank goodness for the temple movie (at the time, starring Gordon Jump)! It was so clear, so easy to get. And, yes, the now-defunct minister was total Oscar material.
There’s a sister in the ward– married to a non-member– who waited years to get her recommend. When she finally got through the Temple Prep class, asked all her questions, flew through the interview and went… the next time I saw her, I asked how’d it go. Her expression looked like a United Daughters of the Confederacy member who just found out she was related to Sally Hemming.
“It was weird.” she said. “Just…weird. Really strange. Like nothing I expected.”
If you were a passerby you’d think she was talking about her wedding night or an eHarmony.com experience. She told me she hoped it got better with time. I didn’t know how to reply to that, so I said, “Hard to say. It could happen.”
“Was it like that for you the first time?” she asked.
I thought about it a moment and said,
“No… mine was a lot weirder. Trust me. Yours– it’s only a movie.”