Lessons from Primary

My five-year-old daughter came home from Primary one Sunday and told us all about her lesson the Word of Wisdom. Her teachers had creatively made pictures of things that were “bad” so the children could throw them away. They threw away images of cigarettes, alcohol, tea, and coffee – all the things that are restricted based on D&C 89 and other, later admonition from the prophets.

I usually have some grumble about her Primary lessons, as I seem to have about everything else, but I also let it go quickly, as I seem to everything else. But this one must have had quite an impact on my daughter because,  even months after the lesson, she still talks about it. In fact, it has become part of her play – she’ll be joking with her brother and she’ll say something to effect of: “you’re alcohol – I’m going to throw you away!”

I suppose I ought to be a proud papa; at least, I probably should thank her teachers for so thoroughly teaching her WoW principles. Really, it just made me laugh. Well, laugh until I heard her say of someone (within ear shot, as kids always do), “She’s drinking coffee – she’s bad!”

After the embarrassment cleared, the whole story gave me pause for thought. Sure those things are bad for you, but so is high fructose corn syrup – particularly in high quantities. In fact, we eat a lot of stuff that is technically “bad” for us, like potato chips, candy bars, and whatnot – often in excess – that the Word of Wisdom doesn’t mention.

Well, this could turn into another tirade on how we focus too much attention on some things (e.g., alcohol in the WoW) and too little on other things (e.g., meat in times of famine). But instead, another thought came to me.

What if the main reason God asks us not to drink coffee or smoke cigarettes has less to do with what is “good” or “bad”, and more to do with setting us apart from the world? What do you think?

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5 Responses

  1. Joe, nice post.

    I had this same thought a couple years ago while traveling back from an academic conference. Having been in the “bubble” for so long, I’m not used to being surrounded by coffee, tea, and alcohol drinkers. At this conference I thought it was interesting, not simply that people drank these substances, but the extent to which many people’s lives are structured around them. For me, it was meaningful to recognize that my life is not structured around these substances, and–putting all argument about health concerns aside–this separation from the world is an important reflection of being in the world but not of the world.

  2. I think that’s a very good point. We’ve all noticed in recent years how much more important to society as a whole those substances have become, and we are meant to be a “peculiar people”. I’m inclined to think that the WoW is, as well as being for our health, a way of setting us apart.

  3. Joe,

    Great post. One of my girls had a similar lesson and she similarly refers to it all the time. Interesting, huh?

    I was running some gear for a convention at a SLC hotel just yesterday when one of the members of the Texas based production company that hired me asked if the firm that owned the hotel was a “Mormon company.” When I asked him what he meant by that he responded that one of the other guys was cranky because there was no mini-bar in his room, which he usually relies on.

    I’ve had countless experiences like that that illustrate just how much the Word of Wisdom does set us apart and how much other people do structure their lives around these substances. To me, that means they (the substances) have at least one quality of a captor.

    I think the Lord gives us His main reason for the WoW right in the opening of the revelation. In verse 4, right after the “thus saith the Lord” where the revelation formally begins, are these words:

    “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation.”

    I take that to mean that above and beyond all the other reasons for the Word of Wisdom is this: it helps ensure our freedom from “evils and designs” (note that not all designs are necessarily evil) both foreseeable by us and otherwise.

    I think the setting apart is a natural result of that; an essential element of freedom is to be separate from those who would bring you into captivity. That’s not to say that you have to be physically separate, but rather distinguished according to the criteria on which you desire to establish your freedom.

    The “evils and designs” mentioned are probably related to these substances and lifestyle choices, since they are subject of the revelation. Some of them might be the designs companies that produce unhealthy foods and substances have on us as consumers, by which I mean that they want to take as much of our money as possible with little or no concern for the effects of their products on our welfare.

    I can think of others, but I’ve gone on too long, as usual. I’m sure you see what I’m getting at. It’s just my opinion, of course.

  4. Adam K.-

    That last point, about evils and designs and processed food (my interpretation) is the way I taught the lesson to my priests. My passing mention of HFCS in the post was meant to be an aside which suggests that our focus on those “unhealthy things” that we should throw away also distracts us from talking about all the other unhealthy things we eat on a daily basis – like gummy worms…mmm…gummy worms…

    Anyway, I appreciate what you say about evils and designs because it’s so easy to be deceived into eating something we may not want to eat just by adding it to something that ostensibly appears good for you (e.g., HFCS to sliced bread).

    Having said that, I ought to note that setting ourselves apart from the “designs” seems to me to be just as important as setting myself apart from the rest of the world whose lives are at times consumed by the specific things forbidden by the WoW.

    Incidentally, could you imagine how peculiar we would be if we shunned HFCS? Ha ha.

  5. I am also very amazed at the number of people in our church that rely in their “coke, pepsi, Dr. Pepper, even chocolate to make it through their day.
    Are we really set apart from the world if we are as reliant on those as non members are to their tea and coffee or need to smoke?
    What about drug addictions, not just illegal, but those that can be acquired legally.
    You mention HFCS, nasty yucky stuff found in much more than just candy. Try to find a loaf of bread without it in it, or a can of soup. It is everywhere and in nearly everything.
    I’m addicted to carbs, my body craves them all the time, I have to constantly work to over come that. I think we have taken much to extremes, and although I thought I was living the word of wisdom for years by eating all the grains I thought I could, I have now learned I am wrong and I have damaged myself.

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