VISITING THE SACRED SITES OF MORMONISM

By Richard Packham
Together with a report on the Ex-Mormon General Conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 5-7, 2001, and a personal revelation from God!

October 2001

My never-Mormon wife Janet and I recently drove from our home in Oregon across the United States as far as Wisconsin and Illinois, to attend several conventions of organizations to which we belong. I took the opportunity to visit some Mormon historical sites in the area. This is my report.

CARTHAGE JAIL

Our first stop was the old jail in Carthage, Illinois, where Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob in 1844. The Smiths were under arrest and incarcerated there. I was last there forty-six years ago. The jail is now owned and maintained by the Mormon church.

My never-Mormon wife was very patient as we toured Carthage, Nauvoo, and Independence (we were between conventions in Wisconsin and Nebraska, so we had some time to kill). We did not watch the video at the Jail visitors' center, but simply joined the walking tour of the jail itself. When we headed up the stairs to the actual room where the Prophet was martyred, my wife bailed out and went and sat in the car. I was in a group of about fifteen people, and my guess is that every single one of them was a faithful Mormon. Our guide was an old guy who couldn't remember much of the details of anything that wasn't directly connected with the Events of That Day.

As we all entered the room where the Prisoners were at the time of the attack, our guide closed the door reverently. I noticed that boxes of tissues were placed strategically around the room, so that if we were overcome with emotion in that Sacred Place, we could grab one and weep appropriately and without restraint. He paused for a moment, crossed his hands piously over his abdomen, and said quietly, "I'm sure you all feel the Spirit in this room."

I couldn't resist. I said, "Of course, what spirit one feels depends on what one believes, doesn't it?" He said, somewhat flustered, I think, "Of course," and said that we would now listen to a tape recording which re-enacted the sounds of the Prophet's last minutes on earth. One man knelt down and bowed his head as the tape played.

When the tape ended, our guide bore his testimony, assuring us of his admiration for Joseph Smith, for his divine calling, for his great contributions to mankind, and so on. After he finished, he just stood there. Nobody moved, nothing was said. There was a full two minutes of silence. I suppose there was a lot of silent praying going on among my fellow pilgrims. Even the children in the group were silent (having been well-trained, I suppose, in Sunday School). Finally I dared to break the silence and said, "May we ask questions?"

Our guide said that we could. I asked first, "Why didn't the tape recording say anything about the shots Joseph Smith fired at his attackers, using the pistol which he was carrying?"

The guide acknowledged that the Prophet did, indeed, have a pistol that had been smuggled to him, and that he did shoot it. He didn't say why no mention was made on the tape of this brave act.

I then asked, "Exactly how many widows did Joseph Smith leave behind?"

He said, "Well, we don't know, but a number of women had been sealed to him for eternity only." One woman spoke up and said, "We don't know how many!"

I said, "Todd Compton's book - you know, the Mormon historian? - lists about forty, doesn't it? You've read it, haven't you?"

My next question was going to be why there was no mention on the tape of the fact that Joseph Smith, just before he fell from the window, gave the Masonic sign of distress. But then I realized that I was standing right in front of that very window, surrounded by what was becoming an "angry mob," and there were no Masons standing below to come to my aid. Also, unlike Joe, I had no pistol. So I took the coward's way out, and scurried down the stairs.

My wife had entertained herself by watching Mormons having their photos taken in front of the life-sized statue of Joseph and Hyrum on the grounds.

NAUVOO

After visiting the Carthage Jail in the morning, we drove to Nauvoo the same day. It's a lovely drive, along the Mississippi, the waters of the great river almost lapping at the road. Driving in from the south, the first thing one sees upon entering town is the "Joseph Smith History Center," where we made our first stop. This is the center run by the Reorganized church, now officially known as "The Community of Christ." The center includes a very nice museum and the buildings and several acres of ground around the property that once belonged to Joseph Smith: the "Homestead," the "Mansion House," the "Nauvoo House," and the "Red Brick Store," as well as the Smith family burial plot where Joseph's, Emma's and Hyrum's graves are located. These properties are now all owned by the RLDS because Emma and her boys did not follow Brigham Young to Utah, and later participated in the "Reorganization," with her son Joseph III becoming the first RLDS president. Naturally, the RLDS ended up owning those family properties, rather than the "Brighamites" in Utah.

The properties are all very well maintained, and furnished with many actual items from the Smith family. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and was able to add many personal touches because of his familiarity with Joseph III's memories of his life as a child in Nauvoo. The guide often referred to the Prophet as "young Joseph's Daddy." He did not hesitate to mention some of the less "faith-promoting" stories, such as Joseph's installing a public bar in the Mansion House, the establishment of the secret "Council of Fifty," and his using the office in the Red Brick Store for the first secret endowment ceremonies. He did not, however, mention, as we climbed the staircase in the Mansion House, the story that Emma supposedly threw Eliza R. Snow down that very staircase, causing her to abort Joseph's polygamous child. (Probably because it may be just a legend.)

Not once did our RLDS guide bear his testimony. I suspect that everybody in the tour group (about 25 people) except us were "Brighamites," because when we left at the end of the tour, not a single person in the group put any money in the donations box (labeled "To Help Maintain The Property"). Every single Mormon stiffed them. I was not surprised. I know the mentality: Why would I want to support those apostates?! They shouldn't even OWN these sacred places! But my wife was astonished and angry. She insisted on going back to the visitors' center and finding our guide. First we thanked him for such an informative tour, unlike the earlier tour at Carthage, which had been mostly preaching and very little history. Then my wife suggested that the RLDS should put a fence around the whole compound and charge admission, so that the throngs of Utah mormons who will be coming in ever greater numbers once the temple is completed will HAVE to help maintain the places they want to visit. That had never occurred to them, he said (so I guess they are no more inspired of God than the Brighamites). He called over a couple of other staff people, and they decided they will suggest it to the higher-ups. So, if you should visit Nauvoo in the future, and are charged a couple of dollars to visit the Smith homes, you will have my wife to blame. (My wife was much more attracted to the RLDS than to the LDS: she heard one of the RLDS guides at their visitors center ask another: "Hasn't anybody made the coffee yet?" They also don't wear white shirts, but dress rather casually. And their local minister [bishop] is a woman!).

We visited the Nauvoo Masonic Temple, owned by the LDS. Four older sister missionaries were sitting around in period costumes, quilting. No visitors were in the building, so one sister offered to show me around. She was totally clueless about Masonry in Nauvoo, its connection with Mormonism, or the history of the building. She offered to show me the "Masonic markings" on the cornerstone, but it was just a Masonic date, and she had no idea what it was.

At the LDS Visitors' Center I went in alone. Janet said she wanted to wait in the car and have some coffee from our thermos. It is a huge, cavernous building at the foot of the hill below the temple, occupying four lots, but with not much inside of it in the way of historical artifacts. I asked the old missionary who offered to answer my questions if he could tell me where the office of the Nauvoo Expositor was, which Joseph Smith ordered destroyed (leading directly to his own death). He had no idea. But I could watch a video about early Nauvoo, if I wanted. I declined.

I asked him if the reconstruction of the temple was going to be faithful to the original plans (aside from including modern plumbing and electrical systems). He assured me that it was. I asked specifically about the endowment rooms, since in the original building, the endowment ceremonies were conducted only in the rooms on the top floor, what one would call the attic. He admitted that some "modifications" had been made so that more of the building could be used for endowment ceremonies than in the original.

I asked, "Are they going to show the movies, or will it be live?"

He said, "It will use films, yes, but,..." - and here he paused dramatically - "they will move from room to room!" "Oooh!" I thought.

We checked into our hotel, the Hotel Nauvoo, an old Mormon-built house, very nicely restored into a bed-and-breakfast by non-Mormons (it had a very well-stocked bar, no Book of Mormon in the bedside table). The hotel is in the small present-day business district, at the top of the hill, just a block from the temple.

The hotel seems to be a popular place to have dinner. It offers a very nice buffet dinner for about ten dollars, and there were a lot of people eating. Most were Mormons - you could tell by the white shirts on the men and the absence of wine, beer or coffee. Janet insisted that we order a glass of wine - "otherwise people will think we're Mormons!" The assistant manager brought the wine list, and became very friendly as he talked about the wines he had available. We asked him about a local wine, "Nauvoo Red," which we had seen mentioned. It has apparently been made in Nauvoo since the days of the Icarians, a French communal group that occupied Nauvoo after the Mormons abandoned it. He suggested that real wine drinkers would probably not like it. So we ordered something else. Our wine order had the effect Janet desired: a number of water-drinkers at other tables gave us looks as though we were drinking human blood.

After dinner, since it was a very pleasant evening, we strolled around the temple block, just a block away. Although it was already dark, workers were still busy, both on the interior and the exterior, some even working by flashlight. We learned that much of the labor is being performed free of charge by volunteers, who give up working in their own towns as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and so on, to donate their skilled labor at the temple. The exterior stonework appeared to be about 80% completed, the tower is complete, with the statue of Moroni on top. It is another sign of apostasy, I believe, that it is not a replica of the original Nauvoo Moroni, which was depicted as actually "fly[ing] in the midst of Heaven (Rev. 14:6)," horizontal, with a pole supporting him at his chest and his feet extended behind him, but the more modern one, showing the angel just standing there, tooting his horn.

It is unfortunate <smirk> that the temple is overshadowed by the City of Nauvoo water tower, just a block away. Devout Mormons wanting to photograph the temple will have to position themselves just right if they don't want their photos to show Moroni appearing to be rising toward heaven in what looks like a huge white balloon with "City of Nauvoo" written on it.

Facing the temple across the street (and somewhat obscuring the view of it from the foot of the hill) is a complex of buildings with a huge cross and signs indicating that it is the home of the Sisters of a Catholic monastic order. There were some young people sitting in front of it, enjoying the pleasant evening and watching the activity at the temple building site. We stopped a chatted for a few minutes.

We learned that the Catholics had recently sold the monastery to the LDS church, and the buildings now house "The Joseph Smith Academy," which is now part of the church education system. These young people, regular students at BYU, were spending a semester there to study church history. I mentioned that we were going to be attending the Exmormon convention in Salt Lake City in October, where we were going to hear Sandra Tanner speak, an authority on Mormon history. They were completely ignorant: "What's 'Exmormon'? Is that some kind of church?" "Who's Sandra Tanner?"

I discovered that even though they were "studying church history" they had never heard of the Tanners, Michael Quinn, the Adam-God theory, the Danites, the Council of Fifty, the various versions of the First Vision - in other words, anything in church history that is problematical. I suggested very gently to them that they should realize that they were probably getting a pasteurized version of church history, and that they should delve into original sources if they really want to learn about church history.

With the completion of the temple, Nauvoo will swarm with Mormons. The LDS church is frantically building replicas of early homes. We saw perhaps half a dozen under construction. As the RLDS folks put it, "The Utah Mormons are busy building a theme park!" There is plenty of room to do so: even though the town is fairly large in area, with streets all laid out, there are few buildings. It resembles a large, grassy park more than a town.

If one had money to invest, one would probably make money by building motels in Nauvoo with Mormon tourists in mind (e.g., lots of rooms with a double bed for the parents and bunk beds for six to eight kids).

The temple dedication is planned for four days: June 27 - 30, 2002 (I've always wondered what actual good any of the ceremonies are after the first one: didn't the very first ceremony do the job properly?). Public open house will be held daily except Sundays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (to 6 p.m. on Mondays) from May 18 through June 22. Unlike other temple open houses, although admission will be free of charge, tickets will be required. You can request them after November 1 at www.lds.org or by a toll-free telephone number that will be at that website. I'm going to request some tickets, just in case. They may become scarce, and I can maybe scalp them on eBay <eg>.

INDEPENDENCE

After we left Nauvoo, since we still had a lot of time to kill before we had to be in Nebraska, my long-suffering wife agreed to spend time in Independence to let me see some of the Mormon historical sites there, but only because we could then also spend some time visiting the Harry S. Truman sites.

The bed-and-breakfast where I had made reservations turned out to be right across the street from the Temple Lot and the RLDS temple and Auditorium. The LDS Visitors Center is just a block away.

Independence swarms with various "Restoration" churches, not only the LDS and RLDS, but also the Church of Christ Temple Lot, the Outreach Restoration Church of JC of LDS, the Remnant Church of JC of LDS, and probably a few others which we didn't see because they are probably housed in somebody's garage. After all, Brigham Young may have looked at the Salt Lake Valley and said "This is the Place," but Joseph Smith (who had seniority on BY) had said already in 1831 (D&C 57:1-3) that Independence was the Place, and that it would "not be removed" from there (D&C 90:37, 101:17).

I realized that the RLDS was even less the "true church" than the LDS by taking one look at their temple, built in the 1990s: if you can believe it, it is even uglier than any LDS temple I have ever seen, which I had thought would be impossible. It is bright silver in color, and looks like a shiny whirlwind turned upside-down, with a very sharp metallic point extending far into the sky, spiraling upward. It resembles a carnival ride ("Ride the Giant Twister!") more than a house of worship.

The RLDS like to point out that "ANYBODY is welcome in OUR temple!" and they offer guided tours of the whole building. We took the tour. It was very exclusive, since we were the only two tourists there. Our guide was a very pleasant lady who had moved to Independence with her husband so that he could be taken care of in the RLDS retirement home (it occurred to me that I couldn't think of any such church-run facility for Utah Mormons...).

The bulk of the building is occupied by the main chapel, whose ceiling spirals up and up and up (I was reminded of the scene in "Logan's Run" where the people rose upward and upward in their final life-crowning ritual, until they were zapped). Its main purpose seems to be a daily "Prayer Service for Peace" at 12:30. In another part of the building they were setting up for a luncheon meeting for 200 people. I thought that was an odd use for a sacred building, until I remembered that there is a movie production studio in the basement of the Salt Lake temple, and they show movies in all of the rest of the LDS temples, as well as provide cafeterias.

The Temple is also the meeting place for the RLDS Quorum of Twelve. We saw their official photograph. Their quorum includes two women and one black man. The actual church headquarters are in the huge Auditorium next door.

The walls of some of the rooms in the Temple were hung with paintings by the RLDS "official painter," depicting typical scenes in RLDS religious life. Again I was convinced that they are not the true church: I have never seen such awful religious art except in Watchtower publications.

Not a word was said about Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon, neither by our guide, nor in any of the printed matter I picked up. It is the blandest form of general Christianity. I asked about the RLDS view of the Book of Mormon. They view it as "inspirational, but not historical." I asked about the overwhelming evidence (denied for many years by the RLDS) that Joseph Smith had practiced polygamy. "Joseph made many mistakes," I was told, "and he will have to answer for them before God."

As in Nauvoo, the RLDS guide did not preach or bear her testimony, although when I asked what the RLDS office of "evangelist" was (it's equivalent to the LDS "patriarch"), she told us the inspiring story of an old RLDS sister who had died recently, and when the woman's daughter found her mother's "evangelist's blessing," given many years before, it had actually promised her that she would live long enough to "see the Temple built in Jackson County." And she DID, and we were actually standing in it!

From the RLDS Temple, we walked next door to the small and very plain wooden building which is the World Headquarters of the Church of Christ Temple Lot, "Founded in 1830." Again, we were the only visitors. This is the sect also known as "Hedrickites," i.e., followers of Granville Hedrick, who led the first Mormons to return to Jackson County after their expulsion, and who was able to buy the land which Joseph Smith had marked out and dedicated as the site of the temple to be built in the New Zion. Our guide (who I think must have been one of the Hedrickite apostles) gave us a brief history of the church and how they acquired the property, how the RLDS tried to get it from them by taking them to court ("But WE WON!" the apostle proudly cried). We saw the actual stones which Joseph Smith had set into the ground, with his marks. And they are just waiting for Christ to come back so they can deed the lot over to Him.

Reading the printed testimonies of the Josephites and the Hedrickites, they sound just as sincere and as Spirit-inspired as anything I ever heard from any Utah Mormon. The RLDS have published a little booklet of comments from their members about their reactions when asked to vote (yes, they actually vote, not just "sustain"!) on the change of name to "Community of Christ." Their testimonies are very moving, saying they "felt the Spirit," "a powerful manifestation," "a rush of affirmation," etc. So,... ??

You can get more information about the RLDS at www.CofChrist.org. The Hedrickites will send you free information if you write them at Church of Christ, PO Box 472, Independence MO 64051-0472. Ask for their newsletter "Zion's Advocate."

We went into the LDS Visitors Center. Same as their visitors centers everywhere else: swarming with missionaries with phony smiles, "free video presentations" (read: "propaganda and historical fiction") and not much else, in a huge building that must have cost several million dollars.

There is a guide to Independence called "Missouri Mormon Walking Trail," which is produced by "The Missouri Mormon Frontier Foundation" and the City of Independence. MMFF claims to be "non-sectarian," but its guide clearly tells a pro-Mormon version of the Missouri conflict. You can get the guide by calling 1-800-604-3100.

We did not take the time to visit other Mormon sites in Missouri such as Far West, Liberty Jail, or Adam-ondi-Ahman. Liberty Jail is only a modern reconstruction (cut-away, at that). And my impression is that there is nothing at Far West and Diahman to see except historical markers placed there by the Mormons. You can't even locate them on general maps of the area, they have so completely disappeared; you have to get a special map from the LDS Visitors Center. (The map indicates that several sites "cannot be reached by public road" and that others are only "accessible by dirt road only - do not visit in wet weather.")

It's too bad... I would have liked to see the actual stones out of which Father Adam built his altar. I've never been able to find out what happened to them, so I guess they must still be there. Or maybe Moroni took them back, along with the Urim and Thummim?

SALT LAKE CITY AND MY MESSAGE FROM GOD

The last stop on our long journey before returning home to Oregon was Salt Lake City. We were there the weekend of General Conference. But we attended the EXmormon Conference instead, which was held the same weekend. Although the Exmormon conference was smaller, it was much more interesting. Cheaper, too: only $75, which included two meals, whereas the other Conference costs ten percent of your annual income, and not even a sandwich is included.

The exmormon conference was, in my opinion, a tremendous success. Local radio and newspaper coverage the day before brought many people to the conference who had no idea that there even existed an organized group of Mormon apostates. It was truly exciting to see their delight at having found us. News coverage of the conference itself continued through the weekend, with television crews, news photographers and reporters from as far away as Los Angeles ever present. (The Los Angeles Times carried a long report about the conference on the front page! of its December 1 issue.) My Mormon niece in Ogden complained to her Mormon dad (my brother the bishop) that "the exmormon conference got more TV coverage than General Conference!" One of the TV reporters was a young Mormon woman who stayed around after she had done her interviews to see what it was really all about, and I think we started her thinking.

Friday's highlight was the evening get-acquainted party, with entertainment by Steve Benson, Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and grandson of Ezra Taft Benson, and Dan Barker, former Evangelical minister, composer of religious songs (formerly) and irreligious songs (now), talented piano-player and head of public relations for the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. Their presentation was called "Toons and Tunes," an hour and a half of witty, lively repartee, continuous music and cartoons, poking fun at Mormons, religion, politicians, and everything. Highlight for me was a song that they had composed on the spur of the moment just that afternoon, in honor of the conference: "I'm On My Way To Salt Lake City."

Since Dan Barker had not had much experience with Mormons and Mormonism, Steven Clark wanted to take him on a quick and private tour of Salt Lake City Mormon highlights. I was fortunate to be invited to tag along. Steve Benson, of course, rode shotgun. Dan wanted to see where the "holy underwear" was made, so we drove out there for some quick snapshots. Then we headed for the church's Distribution Center. Dan toyed with the idea of buying some garments there, I think. The Center is a huge store, selling educational materials, books, temple clothing, genealogical supplies, - everything a good Mormon would want. There were about two hundred Mormon customers shopping there when we burst in. Benson was wearing a black T-shirt that said in very large letters "ATHEIST." He found a large photograph of his grandfather (Ezra Taft Benson), and Dan took a snapshot of Steve, smiling, and holding his grandfather's picture (and, of course, "ATHEIST" on his chest). We tried to get Dan a catalog, showing the various styles of holy underwear, but they are out of print, and the new catalog is not out yet.

We next visited the Gilgal Garden, which is, without doubt, one of the strangest places anywhere. The featured attraction is the Joseph Smith Sphinx, a rough-hewn sphinx, with the nicely carved stone head of Joseph Smith about ten times life-size. Words must fail to convey the weirdness of that place - one doesn't know whether to laugh or to pray.

Barker and Benson had to take more time to rehearse (although they have done their act quite a few times already, and are very good at it), so Steve and I dropped them off at the convention site and dashed over to the Salt Lake Masonic Temple, where a tour of the temple had been arranged for the exmormons. Since the Mormon endowment ceremony is derived directly from the Masonic initiation ritual, it proved to be very interesting. Quite apart from the Mormon connection, the Masonic temple is an impressive and historic building, and our hosts made us feel very welcome.

It would be impossible to convey in words how impressive and moving the conference speakers were. Each had a slightly different viewpoint, each insightful and helpful, on the conference theme "Living In The Fold, But Not Of The Fold," that is, how an apostate manages to survive when surrounded daily by Mormons and Mormonism. Of course, there are no easy solutions to that problem.

On Monday, my wife and I did tourist-type things. We like to shop at thrift stores, so we hit both Deseret Industries stores. I spent quite a bit of money at the Tanners' bookstore. We toured the Beehive House, and strolled around Temple Square and the new visitors centers. Like used car lots, they now have what car salesmen call "sweat rooms": little rooms where hot prospects are taken while the salesman (here, the missionary) tries to convince the customer to sign. "You're hesitant about the ten percent? Wait here, and I'll see if we can get you a special nine percent tithing requirement, but you'll have to commit to baptism today, or the deal's off!"

I wanted to meet Greg Dodge, whose office handles the requests for name removal. So we walked over to the 14-story Church Office Building. Janet didn't want to go up to his office, so she waited in the lobby for me. Unfortunately, Brother Dodge was out, and the receptionist (who confessed that she was very new on the job) didn't know who else she should try to get for me. She would not let me past the front desk, nor would she use the intercom to summon someone. She left her desk and went down a long hallway to the "Confidential Records" office. She asked me "Are you a bishop?" Since I was wearing jeans, no white shirt, no tie, I could tell that she really was new. So I gave up, and did not meet the folks who facilitate our departures.

When I got back down to the lobby, Janet told me that a man in a dark suit had been watching her the whole time from a distance. I told her that she had been under the watchful eyes of Church Security. Of course: she was wearing jeans, and a baseball cap (she had insisted "I'm not going to walk around Temple Square looking like a Mormon!"). And with "no apparent business" there in the COB. She was not taken in for questioning, fortunately. Which was fortunate for Church Security - they were lucky they didn't tangle with Janet!

As we left, we walked by the church employment office, so I stopped and picked up an application. There actually is an opening for a lawyer at church headquarters (I'm a retired lawyer), but Janet said not to even think about it. There is a large space on the application form to list all the church callings you have held. You also have to check whether you have a valid temple recommend, and whether you served a mission. You must list your bishop as a reference.

When we were touring the Beehive House in Salt Lake City, at the end of the tour the guide (i.e. missionary) explained that they have a nice booklet about Brigham Young that they give free to visitors, but they were "all out" at the moment. But... if I would leave my name and address, "representatives from the Church" in my area would actually deliver it to me when I got home. So I filled out a little card and gave them my name and address.

Sure enough, a couple of weeks later I had a telephone call from "Elder [Somebody]" in my town, saying that he had been informed that I would like to have missionaries visit me. I said, "Who told you that?"

"I don't know - I just have a note here from church headquarters saying that you wanted us to visit you."

I told him about the card I had filled out at the Beehive House, in order to get a book about Brigham Young, and if he could just bring me that, that was all I wanted.

"What's the name of the book you want?" he asked. "Maybe we can get it for you."

"I DON'T KNOW the name of the book! It's the book they hand out at the Beehive House."

"Well, we don't have any book like that. Would you like us to come visit you anyway?"

Of course I had figured that the whole book thing was just a ploy. But you would think that they would get their signals straight, so as not to look so hard-sell.

We drove on to Ogden and hit the Deseret Industries store there. I picked up a copy of "The Church and the Negro," written in 1967 by John L. Lund, explaining in great detail and with voluminous citations from both scripture and the prophets why the Negro cannot and should not hold the priesthood, and never will. It's a wonder it even made it to the shelf.

We spent the evening with my brother Michael (the bishop) and his wife, who live near Ogden. We went out for dinner to a nice Mexican restaurant. We had just been seated when Mike recognized a family at the next table (parents and about six kids). He jumped up and walked over to say hello. It turned out that this man is his stake president. So he took us over to the SP and introduced us. We chatted for a moment and went back to our table. I could not resist the evil impulse; I said in a loud voice, "Well, Mike, I guess you're not going to be able to have a beer with dinner now, are you?" Fortunately Mike has a sense of humor.

It was in Salt Lake City, however, that I had my great mind-opening insight. We stayed in the Wyndham Hotel, of course, since that was where our conference was held. It occurred to me that our hotel in Nauvoo had been just a block from the Nauvoo temple, and our bed-and-breakfast in Independence was across the street from the RLDS temple and the Temple Lot. And here, in Salt Lake City, the Wyndham was just a block away from the Salt Lake Temple. I had not chosen the lodgings in Nauvoo and Independence because of their proximity to those holy places - I wasn't even aware of that until we got there; it was the purest chance. And I hadn't chosen the Wyndham, either. And yet in each city I had slept, so to speak, in the shadow of the spires of the temples.

And then I remembered another astonishing coincidence. In the Hotel Nauvoo we were assigned room number 5. And in Independence, we were put in room number 5 there! Could that be pure chance? Or was something Greater Than Me at work here? I tried to ponder these things and perceive their hidden meaning.

I thought back to the other hotels and motels where we had stayed, and I realized that in four (!) motels we had been given room 120! And in still another we got room 19! (Nineteen, of course, is what you get if you take the 1 from 120, put the 1 under the 20, and then subtract.) I was stunned! But I still didn't "get it." Then I realized that our room in the Wyndham was room 1230! That, of course, is simply "120" with the 3 (for "make this a THREE-digit number") removed. What is the significance of "120"? Twelve, of course stands for the Twelve Tribes and the Twelve Apostles. Does the zero stand for President Hinckley? The 3 is the Godhead, or maybe the First Presidency? The Three Nephites? The Three Stooges? My mind was reeling.

I had to get a drink of water, and went into the bathroom. And then my mind was opened! You know how every motel or hotel room has a new roll of toilet paper, in case the one on the roller is used up. I have stayed in hundreds of motel rooms in my life, and I have never, ever, had to put in the new roll. But as I walked into that bathroom in the Hotel Wyndham, I saw that the roll was so near the end that it had to be changed, and I remembered that on this trip, in the twenty or so motels where we had stayed, in a very great number of them the toilet tissue roll was so near the end that before I left, I had had to change the roll!

THAT was the message: "Richard, it is NEAR the END, you must CHANGE your ROLL!"

I am now desperately trying to repent, having received such an unmistakable message.

Brothers and Sisters, pay attention to your hotel room numbers! And remember that God may speak to you from the toilet paper!


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