Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Shakespeare Continuum and LDS Missionaries

I have read the inscription above a few times and have given some thought to this principle that was internalized by President David O. McKay. These are my impressions and I am still trying to conceptualize so any refinement or suggestions or constructive criticisms are welcome.

In a continuum you move from one state to a second state to a final state. Mormons like to use analogies that show us progressing down a track towards greater enlightment and eternal progression so I thought I would throw out this Shakespearian Continuum as a way to conceptualize missionary work. I think David O. McKay would enjoy the effect he has had on me.

In a continuum you usually end up being somewhere in the middle moving toward the ultimate state after a period of time. You may achieve final phase but usually you never arrive at the farthest point in the process due to barriers that are internally and externally impacting you. When a young man or woman decides to go on a mission and arrives at the Missionary Training Center they are on the left side of the Shakespeare Continuum in the To Be or Not to Be phase. In this phase they are deciding whether to even go on a mission and have a beginning commitment to the process which is to lead men and women to Christ.

Next they move to the What E're Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part phase. In this the missionary must sort out who they are and what they eveb are doing. They start out in the MTC learning what it is they teach and then begin to internalize the teachings. They practice on a few guinea pigs in the MTC by doing mock discussions and a few investigator discussions. Many end up becoming converted themselves to the gospel here or shortly after they arrive in the m ission field. As they move towards the final phase in the conversion process the principles of the gospel are internalized and take hold so they begin teaching investigators at a higher level. As they move from a rote recitation of the missionary discussions to helping others realize their full potential and achieve real conversion.

They apply the Three Person Problem in the To Thine Own Self Be True phase as espoused by Stephen Covey and Walter Gong where there is a relationship between God, the missionary and the investigator. This higher ethical consciousness in the To Thine Own Self Be True phase involves the person knowing themselves, as well as their relationship to God and applying their social responsibility by sharing the thing that makes them who they are which are their core beliefs.

This is the phase in which they apply theory to practice and do missionary work for the right reasons and motivations out of a pure love of Christ and a love for others. The greatest thing that we all have is our testimony of the gospel. A testimony is not just the ability to say that Jesus Is the Christ, Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and that this is the Lord's Church on the Earth. It is that and the transformation that occurs by real conversion when the Spirit begins working in the missionary and manifesting itself outward in a love that involves sharing what they feel is of the greatest worth.

The path they take is the Shakespeare Continuum which moves from the TO Be or Not to BE phase to the What E'ER Thou ART, ACT WELL THY PART phase to THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE phase.

It is interesting how we as LDS came to using these Shakespearan similes. It all began in August 1897 when David O. McKay was called on a mission to Scotland. In the Presidents of the Church Manual we read of how David O. McKay was influenced by this inscription that was to shape LDS missionary doctrine:

“As we returned to the town, I saw an unfinished building standing back from the sidewalk several yards. Over the front door was a stone arch, something unusual in a residence, and what was still more unusual, I could see from the sidewalk that there was an inscription chiseled in that arch.

“I said to my companion: ‘That’s unusual! I am going to see what the inscription is.’ When I approached near enough, this message came to me, not only in stone, but as if it came from One in whose service we were engaged: ‘Whate’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.’ “I turned and walked thoughtfully away, and when I reached my companion I repeated the message to him.

“That was a message to me that morning to act my part well as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is merely another way of saying . . . ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ (Matt. 7:21.)” (Cherished Experiences from the Writings of David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss [1955], 174–75).

He resolved that he would act well the part of a committed missionary. In 1955, as President of the Church, he revisited the same spot and shared the story with those who were there. The stone was later acquired by the Church and is now in the David O. McKay exhibit in the Museum of History and Art next to Temple Square.

I think the final phase that a committed missionary must face is the To Thine Own Self Be True phase. Just because you have a commitment doesn't mean you will share the gospel effectively. In the highest level of commitment a missionary must be true to their core beliefs and the only way to touch other hearts is spirit to spirit. A successful missionary is one that is committed and teaches and baptizes as a reflection of their commitment to their beliefs which is based on a relationship to Christ whose message they carry. Missionaries who are true to self have made the atonement effective in their lives and desire that others feel the healing power of the Spirit. This desire moves them to offer the most priceless thing they have which is their thoughts about Christ and his gospel and Church. It is possible to baptize people at any point in the continuum but the most fulfilling is when you do it for the right reasons in the true spirit of love for their Savior and fellow person.

1 comment:

S.Faux said...

Dr. B:

I love these thoughts, and I like your continuum.

A long time ago, when I was a missionary, I made it past the "To be or not to be" phase, but not much farther. I had great intentions to serve, but mostly found myself struggling. The good news is that in two years I converted myself, even if I did not bring along too many others.

Missionary work is NOT my natural talent, and I have learned a lot from your blog.