One of the more interesting characters in my lifetime is G. Gordon Liddy: lawyer, FBI agent, CIA operative and Watergate burglar. While the others tossed the hot potato of blame at each other during the Watergate investigation, Liddy fearlessly took the heat and went to prison for his president. During my university years he was something of a hero for me. His biography, Will, resided in my backpack throughout my tenure and I often used examples of his life to illustrate points in college papers.
A favorite story was how he learned to overcome his fears. When Liddy was a child he was terrified of the rats that scurried around in his basement. So overcome with fear was he, that he had panic attacks at the slightest perceived noise when he had to go down there for something. Finally, he became so frustrated and ashamed with himself, that when he was 13 he went down into the basement, waited for a rat to emerge, and then he killed, cooked and ate it. This so exhilarated him, that that’s how he approached the rest of life.
As members of the Church we are, from time to time, confronted by rats in the forms of callings and Church assignments. Most of my assignments have been pretty agreeable. I like to teach and give talks, I’ve done enough theater to get off on running road shows and Christmas programs, and I’ve had enough leadership callings to feel somewhat comfortable going in, with the possible exception of my first stake calling and feeling the weight of that HPGL gig.
But I have my rats, too. I hate hospitals and being asked to go visit and bless gravely ill and dying people. The first gravely ill person I blessed was on my mission, and though her doctors gave her 6 more months, my laying-on-of-hands took her out that very night– so you can understand at least part of the reason for my squeamishness.I have a horrible bedside manner and it’s all I can do to think of what to say to them. Needless to say, my visits are brief and as innocuous as possible. Unfortunately, an 86-year old high priest with whom I was particularly close (and whose family I home taught) was on the brink of death last year and I ended up visiting him a few times a week, giving him a gaggle of blessings and torturing him with bad jokes (he was very susceptible to my jokes). Amazingly, he suddenly rallied and made a full recovery. I can’t say the same for my phobia of hospitals and sick people.
I hate doing blitzes. I don’t know if all wards do this; basically, it’s making a list of inactive members found in the computer and then splitting up in pairs to find them, make contact and invite them to church. As far as I’m concerned, if these people were really where the computer said they were and they didn’t come to church, that’s their prerogative. I don’t think I can recall one member who reactivated because we hunted them down and happied them into submission.
Another big fat rat loitering in my basement is missionary work. As a recent convert to the Church, I sent in my mission papers swept up in the romance that I’d be a savior to the world, met by the outstretched arms of good people starving for the truth. What a maroon. It was a tough gig on several levels: I went to the Bible belt, North Carolina, where Mormonism was the perpetual Cult Playmate of the Year; I was almost immediately met with jerk companions and leaders that resembled nothing I saw on My Turn on Earth; and I learned that my success was gauged by how many doors, discussions, “golden questions” and baptisms I got every month. It didn’t take long for the romance to go down like the Hindenburg and be replaced by my predisposed aversion to infringing on people I didn’t know with a sales pitch. I persevered because I knew my attitude was wrong and I was called of God, and while I was sent home as a ZL and a “successful missionary,” I was glad to put it all behind me. No lie, to this day I have a recurring nightmare that I’m sent back to that mission 28 years later, becoming companions with some 20-year-old hotshot and separated from my family for two years.
So when the Preach My Gospel campaign went into full swing, my blood ran cold. Were we going to be monitored for “golden questions” again? Was I expected to ask my fair-weather neighbor over for burgers and discussions? As the GL I had to push Preach My Gospel fever to the quorum like an Herbalife team leader, and I did, but it went so against my grain. Couldn’t we just be good examples and let them notice our shining lights? Okay, yeah, I know it doesn’t work that way, and it doesn’t work that way. But it’s my big, ugly pet rat– pushing the product. ‘Scuse me ma’am, watch what happens when I throw dirt on your clean carpet…
So I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, having those rats in the basement. Maybe it goes something like, “See how strong and fearless Liddy became after he caught, cooked and ate his rat?” And I guess that’s what we’re supposed to do with all of those dreadful, unsavory callings and assignments we get from time to time: Embrace them, make them our own, become them. Convert to them. We don’t have to believe they were given to us by divine inspiration, but we can show the Lord that we have a handle on faith and the tools that He left at our disposal.
Actually that would be just the first step. From there we should probably strive to make that stewardship more about others and less about ourselves and making points with God.
And it’s at this point the rats and their metaphor jump ship.