People who are profoundly religious seldom learn to laugh at their faith, much less their own . . . ah . . . embodiment of that faith, shall we say. I learned to do so early and often, partly due to living in a country where one's faith/tribe/skin color/whatever could get one killed. What was there to do but shrug one's shoulders and laugh at the inevitability of something going wrong? It was that, or cry, and there was no future in the latter.
Nevertheless, sometimes one comes across a delightfully funny encounter between faiths. Reader M. K. sent me this one. The author was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at the time he describes, and working part-time at a local bookstore. Here's an excerpt.
These [Mormon missionaries] decided that spreading the message of the late prophet Joseph Smith was a poor career choice. They eventually gave up on evangelism and quietly dumped two massive cases of “The Book Of Mormon” at the back door of Taylors Books and said “screw it”. Maybe they would’ve felt too guilty about throwing the books into a dumpster, but figured that a bookstore might sell them. We never saw them again, and as far as I know they took their bicycles to I-20 and pedaled back to Salt Lake City.
. . .
Let’s just say that I wasn’t happy [at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary]. I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life enmeshed in those debates. I had already blown off half of my classes and was half-auditing the others just to learn more, with no intention of taking any final exams. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and didn’t have an immediate goal.
But someone had given me 250 copies of The Book Of Mormon. I took that as a sign from God, or Jupiter, Zeus, Zool, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (who had not yet been revealed unto us, Bless His Noodly Appendage), that those books should be put to use.
Early one Saturday morning, I put on a generic denim shirt, one that could’ve been issued to someone’s maintenance crew. I got my cases of Joseph Smith’s Epistle To The Polygamists, a couple of shopping bags, and drove to school.
Other than the professorial and administrative offices, Southwestern Seminary classrooms were as open and empty as the tomb of the slain Galilean. I decided to hit the school of Theology first. I went into a classroom and propped a copy of “The Book Of Mormon: Another Testimony Of Jesus Christ” on the chalkrail of the blackboard. Front and center. It felt good. It looked right. A Hustler centerfold of Hillary Clinton couldn’t have been more offensive in that environment. I took a few steps back to admire my work, “and saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:10 )
I went from classroom to classroom, like a Utah Johnny Appleseed, spreading the Mormon Gospel of Sacred Undergarments, Celestial Marriage, Republican Governors, and large families. What were they going to do to me, throw me out of school? Plus, the only way I was going to get caught was if I kept breaking out in loud giggles.
I went to the Preaching Lab, a mini-church sanctuary with a pulpit, piano, and pews. I put a copy in the hymnal rack on the back of each pew, left one on the pulpit, and then propped open one on the piano.
Next, I entered to the chapel. Entering this room with those Joseph Smith’s books was like performing a Muslim ritual Hajj to Mecca, approaching the holy Kaaba, and then whipping out a Pizza Hut Deep Dish Pork Lover’s special (with extra bacon) just to see how it would go over with the other pilgrims. I decorated the chapel with my heretical books. Thus was The School Of Theology evangelized.
. . .
Tuesday morning, there was a massive uproar all over campus. Outrage. Sturdy, strapping young Baptists discussed marching on Salt Lake City to plant copies of Herschell Hobbs’ landmark tract “The Baptist Faith And Message” in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir loft. Some professors declared it to be a harmless prank, while others began their classes with a prayer that all Mormons/LDS church members would listen for the Spirit’s voice, find the true path, repent of their errors, and blah blah blah freakin’ blah.
There's more at the link. Go read the whole thing. It's great!
The story reminded me of the presence at the Second Vatican Council of a Pentecostal observer, David du Plessis, who was originally from South Africa (like yours truly). He'd been effectively excommunicated from his denomination for warning that the Holy Spirit and Pentecostal gifts would one day 'bust loose' in the Catholic church, and when they did, watch out!
It's many years since I heard the story, so I apologize for any lapses of memory, but it seems he was present at the plenary Council session which adopted the document proclaiming Mary to be the Mother of the Church. Over tea and sticky buns afterwards (or whatever churchmen imbibe and consume on such occasions), he was approached by a few of the Bishops, who asked him how he, as a Pentecostal, related to the idea.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but you've got it wrong," he's said to have replied.
"Oh?" they inquired, allegedly rather snootily.
"Well, Mary is the mother of Jesus, right?"
"Yeeesss . . . "
"And the Church is the Bride of Christ, right?"
"Yeeesss . . . "
"Then surely that makes Mary the Church's mother-in-law?"
Apparently the shattered sensibilities of the Bishops took some time to recover!