I spent most of this week at corporate training in Denver, which is one of my favorite cities to visit. Like Idaho and Utah, it’s high desert, the climate of heaven: crisp, dry air with blue skies. Plus, Denver is the best city I know of for walking around. When I’m there, I sometimes leave my hotel an hour early and walk for a while in the wrong direction before doubling back to our office. It’s a city made for walking.
Denver has lots of great food, even if it also has way, way too many people who tell you about how great the food is and how much they love eating the food.
It’s easy to find bison and elk meat, which I love. Plus there are lots of German-influenced menus. I had some amazing schnitzel and spaetzle on Tuesday night. Absolutely delicious. I would have taken a picture of it, but then I’d seem like just one more person in Denver telling everyone how good the food there is.
That risk notwithstanding, I did take a picture of a dessert I ate on another night. It was a “grilled Nutella sandwich.” Much as it sounds, it was a sandwich made with pound cake slices, slathered with Nutella, and grilled on a buttered skillet.
The redeeming feature of the dessert was a delicious cup of creamy sauce that came with it. It was amazingly good. I dipped the sandwich in the sauce over and over. I couldn’t get enough of it.
And, that’s the funny part of the story. Because what I didn’t know is that the “sauce” was Bailey’s Irish Cream, which is a liqueur containing 17% alcohol. If my math is right, I think I gobbled down enough of it to equal about the amount of alcohol in a pint of beer.
So…….that was a surprise.
I was mortified. And super embarrassed. Especially since I just got my new Temple Recommend on Sunday.
Did I need to tell my Bishop? Had I sinned?
What kind of double-life-living monster was all this work travel turning me into?
But then I remembered a story about David O. McKay, who was the notable prophet of my parents’ generation. An unfailingly kind and humorous man, he once shocked a group of reception guests by having a slice of rum cake. All aghast, one confronted him: didn’t he know what was in that cake? But he just smiled and reminded them that the Church forbade drinking alcohol, not eating it.
President McKay must have offered kind relief to the Mormons of my parents’ generation. Among them were some of the most conservative and uptight teetotalers you could imagine. As a young boy in the church, I distinctly remember people who had disavowed chocolate because it had some caffeine in it. I remember believing that even cola-flavored gummy candies were a sin. And I knew plenty of people who were 100% convinced—against all obvious evidence—that references to “wine” in the scriptures just meant fruit juice.
We don’t drink alcohol nowadays. It’s against our health code, and we consider it a sin. If you drink alcohol, you forfeit the opportunities of temple ordinances and other important services of the church. It’s easy to see how someone could apply that backwards through time and reason that, since alcohol is so strictly forbidden today, it must always have been so.
Fortunately, we’ve always been reminded that this isn’t how the gospel works. Its principles are universal and eternally binding. But its applications and its ecclesiastical operations must necessarily vary through times and circumstances. Lorenzo Snow, a different prophet from a much earlier time, reminded the church of this important principle. As he explained it, Joseph in Egypt was called to build granaries, not to preach without purse or script like Paul, and not to build an ark like Noah. Just imagine if he’d ignored the needs of his day and built an ark!
So It doesn’t bother me in the least that I don’t drink alcohol when other disciples did so two thousand years ago. My circumstances and needs are different than theirs. It’s not different to me than reading in the New Testament where first, Paul claims that it was by their faith that Abraham was justified and Rahab was spared (Hebrews 11:17-31) and then, turning just a few pages forward, James argues instead that it was by their works (James 2: 21-25).
Each prophet delivered the message their respective audience most needed to hear. Each was correct. They were no more out of sync than a weather report in Seattle telling me to wear a rain coat on the same day that a different weather report in Phoenix tells me to wear shorts.
This all reminded me of a splendid talk delivered at the April 2012 LDS General Conference by Donald Hallstrom. In it, he talks about the key difference between the immutable gospel itself and its derivative, the structure of the Church. The latter is outward and visible, while the former is more personal and hidden. One is like a compass to the other, but you shouldn’t confuse the needle for the North Pole to which it points.
Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed.
By contrast, the things of the gospel are usually less visible and more difficult to measure, but they are of greater eternal importance. For example, how much faith do we really have? How repentant are we? How meaningful are the ordinances in our lives? How focused are we on our covenants?
And so, as I sat and stared at the remaining crumbs of my alcoholic dessert, I asked myself harder questions than the one about whether I had sinned by eating it:
How forgiving had I been today?
How focused had I been on my covenants?
How much love had I expressed to my family?
How conceited had I been in success, or grumbling in failure?
How uplifting had I been to those around me?
How much had I emulated Christ in everything I did?
It was sobering to review these tough questions and to realize that, despite the shock of it all, my accidental indulgence might have been the least of my worries that day. I came up short on many of the questions.
And so, as I prepare to travel once again this week, I hope to start on a better note. Both as a member of my Church and as a sincere disciple of Christ. I’m eager to live the gospel better, to emulate my Savior, and to be a comfort and uplift to those around me.
I feel confident tonight that it will be a better week than the one before.
And I’ll definitely pay more attention to menus.