Last night (thanks to Jenny) I got to see Ira Glass speak at Kingsbury Hall in SLC. I'm a huge This American Life fan. I love it. I think Ira Glass is funny and interesting and curious about people. I like that. The whole evening was wonderful. We started by eating In and Out on the road--a fitting beginning to any adventure. After a cursory discussion of Pottermore, Jenny asked me sincerely which Hogwarts House I thought I belonged in. Gryffindor? Ravenclaw? Hufflepuff? Slytherin? FLIGHT OR INVISIBILITY! There's a lot to talk about.
We got to Kingsbury Hall and a parking attendant gave us an insider's tip about certain parking meters right in front of the hall which are never enforced on weekends. "Is this Heaven?" I wondered. During the KUER fund drive Jenny scored an invite to a cupcake reception and photo-op with a cardboard cut-out of Ira. We were game. Cupcakes, cardboard cut-outs--who could complain? But then real Ira Glass walked in. I was totally unprepared. Such a life-like cardboard cut-out! "This iiiiiiisssssss Heaven!"
The show was funny, thought-provoking, interesting, and great. Ira was exactly what any Ira-lover would expect--genuine, smart, charming, hilarious, and able to make balloon animals. It was a genuine treat, I tell you. I was in a cool venue with like-minded people watching someone I admire talk about interesting things. It just don't get no better.
At one point Ira made some Book of Mormon the Musical jokes and played a few excerpts of songs from the actual play. He probably adds a locale-specific bit whenever he can on the road. Most good performers do. Ira did this respectfully. It didn't strike me as mean-spirited or offensive at all. The audience responded well and clapped loudly. I clapped. But not because I thought it was funny. I think I clapped to show Ira I was a good sport about the Mormon jokes. It made me think about this quote from an article in the Washington Post, "This new play will pander to our prejudices and treat our Mormon neighbors as we would never wish to be treated. Some Americans will allow it to confirm unthinking prejudice, while cowardly Mormons will applaud it hoping for crumbs of respectability." Is that what I was literally doing? I don't know. I don't think so. Maybe? I had confessed to Jenny on the way to the show that I lack the courage of a Gryffindor.
Bear with me. I want to make a point and I'm afraid it's not the point you might think, especially if you skim.
The next day I went to church. Everyone, including my son, had just gotten back from the Pioneer Trek. So the bishop randomly called on people to talk about it. The people were mostly unprepared. The talks were unpolished and not, necessarily, even that good. But they were great. And they meant something to me. Even though I think treks are kind of weird. Even though I sometimes have the thought when people tearfully recount pioneer stories that it is a genre more gruesome than zombie fiction. Even though I don't want to ever go on a pioneer trek. It was moving and beautiful and as good as This American Life. We sang "How Firm A Foundation" and I glanced at the 7th verse which we, gratefully, didn't get to. But I like the last lines because they are kind of crazy-zealoty and I often hear them in my mind, "I'll never, no never, I'll never, no never, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!" Maybe sometime? NO NEVER.
OK. So. There's more. Because here is the point I am NOT making: I would never forsake my religion and all its lamer parts for Ira Glass or anything even as cool as him. I'm not making that point. It's true that I wouldn't (no, never) but that's just really not the point I want to make. Which reminds me, when I was little I used to imagine that the time would come when I would be in a movie theater and a bad person would ask every Mormon to stand up so he could shoot them. I always wondered if I would have the courage to stand. I never pictured the gunman as Ira Glass. (Still don't!) No one ever taught me this, but it was before the cold war ended; I think we all thought something like that might happen. In case you're wondering, I wouldn't stand up--no, never. I've got 4 kids now! What am I, crazy? (Just my luck--it would be Porter Rockwell reincarnate giving us a really unfair test of faith.)
But here is the point I want to make:
Ira Glass talked a lot about--in fact it was the whole premise of his show--the structure of each piece on This American Life: A narrative is set into motion with another story and possibly another, ending with some kind of extrapolation or even just a conversation about what the story means. It's a basic formula that works. It also instructs. Ira admitted that while he thought he invented it, priests and rabbis and a resourceful character in The Arabian Nights figured out this formula before him and have been using it to teach empathy in various forms for a while. "It's kind of neat though," said Ira, "to find a way to use it secularly on the radio."
As if empathy were a secular concern.
As if listening and being interested and finding common ground and considering the experiences of another person and making an effort to understand them were somehow the opposite of sacred.