He sat there quietly on this Sunday in November, his arms crossed and his tattooed biceps bulging beneath the short sleeves of his dark khaki jail scrubs. His shaved head could easily have perfected a very menacing image, but somehow it just wasn’t there. Instead, he projected a quiet confidence, a countenance that demanded respect without imposing fear. The day’s lesson topic was “Repentance, Forgiveness, and the Atonement”, and the conversation unavoidably drifted toward “the unforgiveable sin” which, in their minds, meant murder. We discussed briefly the concept of denying of the Holy Ghost, but that sin was far less interesting to them. It was then that Cameron spoke up quietly…sincerely… “What’s your opinion about something done during war? What about killing someone during war?” Others immediately offered their opinions, but his eyes never left me. I allowed the tide to recede before responding directly to him. “Cameron”, I said, “I assume you wouldn’t be asking this question if it weren’t something very personal to you”. He simply nodded. I said, “I could offer my opinion, but I don’t think that would satisfy you. We can discuss the philosophical pros and cons, but you will remain unconvinced and unfulfilled. I am only a man, and I don’t think there is a man on this earth, and certainly not in this room, who can give you the answer you seek. For me to pretend that I have your answer would be to disrespect the sincerity of your search. No, there is only one who can answer your question. I strongly recommend that you take a question of this weight directly to the Lord Himself, and I promise that, if you will do that, you will receive the answer you seek”.
The following week…same group, same classroom, another Sunday in November. I had planned to teach about agency, but something told me that the lesson I had planned was too practical, and that I needed to talk about something much more spiritual – something much more from the heart. I didn’t know what that lesson would be, so I began asking each man why they had chosen to come to the class instead of watching football. Most of the 12 men in the room responded with some form of “I come here because I feel good”. The topic of our impromptu lesson became clear. The question, “Why do you think you feel good?” led to a discussion of the spiritual trio…The Light of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Ghost:
– Why do you feel good? I can tell you one reason is that I don’t treat you like criminals. I treat you like men. I don’t judge you . I don’t feel like I need to protect myself from you, and I don’t act like it – but there’s another reason.
– You feel good because the spirit is taking this opportunity to testify to you that you have made a good choice. The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is confirming that, by coming to class, you have come to a welcome place, a place of peace, a place of love. It is confirming that you did the right thing.
The answers, of course, were varied in scope, yet eternal in their import. We discussed how essential it was to listen and obey, because if we ignore the promptings from any of the three manifestations of the spirit, their voice becomes indistinguishable from the cacophony of the world’s influence. Regardless of which form has evolved in our lives – Light of Christ, Spirit of God, or the Holy Ghost – if we don’t listen, we won’t hear their voice. We discussed the differences between the three, concluding that, ultimately, the Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead who becomes one’s constant companion. I was led at one point to explain how important it is to make and keep covenants, because the mere failure to do so produces so much spiritual noise that there is no way we can hear or feel the spirit. We cannot have peace when we are spending all our energy justifying lies to ourselves and others. I told them, “To become good at making and keeping promises we need to practice – at first by making promises that we know we can keep. As we get better, we graduate by degrees to making promises that are more challenging – challenging because they stretch us, and especially because they require us to exercise faith in ourselves. You see, we never make a promise or covenant that is not, above all else, a promise to ourselves. By adopting this as a common practice in our lives, we learn to trust ourselves. We learn self-control. We learn confidence. It is through the making and keeping of covenants that we develop a sense of honor. It is through the making and keeping of covenants that we develop strength. It is through the making and keeping of covenants that we develop power.”
It was at this point that I was inspired to look at Cameron and say, “Cameron! The Military! How important is it that you are a man of your word? How important is that you keep your promises; that you say what you do and do what you say?” Cameron was right on board, but he didn’t respond robustly, as someone else might have. His response was thoughtful and measured, but undeniably firm. “It’s huge” was all he said, but it couldn’t have been more effective. I didn’t need to say, “Look at Cameron. You all recognize his power, don’t you? Where do you think that power comes from?” His two simple words were enough. The lesson was clear, and everyone in the room understood. The spirit had testified.
“You see, Gentlemen,” I said, “we gain both peace and power by making commitments and then keeping them. Others may benefit when we do this, but not nearly as much as we ourselves do. Now, let me tell you a story about someone who was without a doubt the most powerful man in history. This man had the power to allow himself to be arrested even though he had done nothing wrong. He had the power to remain quiet while he was repeatedly being slapped in the face and spat upon. He had the power to endure a horrible flogging and suffer the painful indignity of a crown of thorns. Even when he was being horribly crucified, he still had the power to overcome the natural man and plead, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. This, my friends, is power! And where did this power come from? It came from complete obedience – from His making and keeping what were probably the most consuming covenants ever made by man or God. His power endures to this day, and will endure forever.”
Everyone sat quietly. I sealed my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. We closed the class with a prayer. As often happens, there was a group of men with questions and remarks – men wanting to hold onto the spirit just a few minutes more. A couple of them stayed behind even longer to ask for blessings. During the confusion, Cameron disappeared from the room, but not from my mind. You see, for these two weeks, Cameron and I were co-teachers. We were a team. I taught with words from the heart while I paced back and forth in my dark suit, white shirt, and blue tie with tiny rodeo cowboys. He sat quietly and humbly in his prison scrubs, teaching with his power and by his example. I left the jail, he stayed behind – hopefully not for long. Next week, I will take this post with me. Perhaps the guard will allow him to read it. If so, I hope Cameron will step a little lighter, knowing how it feels to have been an instrument in the Lord’s hands – to have done the Lord’s work – even if only for two Sundays in November.