The Mormon Magnificat

I love President Hinckley's humane interpretation here, and his metaphor begs extension. Viewed through one end, binoculars enlarge an image, but through the other they diminish. Does a calling likewise have a diminishing effect at its other end? I suggest that it does. Because callings are not sought or requested—that is, because they don't represent our personal choices or desires—they offer a salutary corrective to the false and unstable vocabulary of consumer-style choice that insidiously infuses our discussions of agency and self.

The health, wealth and personal autonomy that Saints in the developed world enjoy—unprecedented in human history, and surely welcome in and of themselves—mean that our children (and ourselves) can grow up under the mistaken impression that "free to choose" means "free to choose what I want." In the long American culture-war, combatants have only to insist that their lifestyle—whether shockingly reprobate or shockingly retrograde—is freely chosen to win a grudging truce from the other side. Socially conservative Mormon culture may deplore this development (and oh, how it does!), but it lacks the language to fend off its advance. On the contrary, the emphasis we place on robust free will and moral choice is all too easily conflated with libertarian consumer-style choice.

Except when it comes to callings. Callings are absolutely central to LDS lived experience, and they are not chosen. Because they are not chosen, they provide blessed respite from our covert selfishness, our vanity, our inherited prejudices and our artificial preferences—in short, from the host of subterranean influences that determine our supposedly free choices. I do not choose where I serve; I am chosen. And should I be tempted for a moment to believe that, having been chosen, I have special status or power, the small end of the binoculars is there to remind me: to be chosen only means that I did not get to choose this. At the small end of the binoculars is my own diminished reflection, called to serve.

9/1/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Rosalynde Welch
    About Rosalynde Welch
    Rosalynde Welch is an independent scholar who makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children.
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