Sunday, October 21, 2012

I See…The Priesthood Chili Law of Preparation

We have more than our share of laws in this church- all good, important laws. The Law of Consecration, the Word of Wisdom, the Law of Sacrifice, etc. However, in the daily churn of living the gospel and meeting our obligations as husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, scoutmasters and young women’s presidents and much much more, we too often lose sight of some of the lesser laws that don’t get the attention they deserve.  Since the Mormon Third Eye is a champion of the oppressed and unforgiven, I’ve decided to bring to light one of the tiniest and most overlooked laws in the amazing array of gospel obligations: the Priesthood Chili Law of Preparation.

Ever since I can remember (which, incidentally, is 1996- I’m starting to selectively, intentionally forget undesirable moments prior to 1996, but that’s a story for another Sunday blogpost), the priesthood conference session and chili have always gone together, like bread and butter, BYU football and winning, and kimchi and Junior Mints (I double-dog dare you to try it). Twice a year the brethren of our ward meet exactly one hour before the start of the priesthood session in one end of the cultural hall and consume copious amounts of chili, cornbread and ice water, then top it off with a big bucket of a cold, sugary substance that tastes suspiciously like ice cream.  Then we herd ourselves into a dark, cramped, chapel for two hours and strive to rise above rising indigestion to seek inspiration and encouragement on our priesthood duties.  What makes this tradition unique is how much effort we put into NOT preparing for the event. We strive to create the ultimate anti-Relief Society experience.  In short, the priesthood chili law of preparation states- less time spent in preparation before, and clean-up after the chili meal will result in more enjoyment.

Ostensibly the goal of this proud tradition is to provide an opportunity for the priesthood brethren to bond socially and promote a sense of camaraderie regardless of our stations in life. I’ve dined with janitors and jet pilots, doctors and drive-thru cashiers, sometimes at the same table, and they have to listen to my old jokes and new stories, all by virtue of the fact that I hold the same priesthood they do.  It’s a great place and time for normally unacceptable people to feel accepted. 

Our hidden agenda, however, is to highlight the awe-inspiring difference between the required preparations for priesthood and relief society events. We seek to single out the sheer insanity signified by our sisters bound by their own church culture and traditions to prepare six months for a little over sixty minutes of enriching activities.

The most efficient and impactful tool to make my point is the following table comparing the traditional timelines of a typical Relief Society and Priesthood dinner; it’s almost as good as a chart or a picture (the brethren are not as in love with words as the sisters- we relate much better to tables and charts and pictures…)
Relief Society
Six months before the event
12 committees involving every sister in the ward have been formed to plan every element of the dinner- the gravy committee, the condiments committee, etc.
We are up all night with indigestion from the priesthood conference dinner we just consumed.
Six weeks
Time to order miniature ice sculptures to be used as table decorations.  Sisters hold testimony meetings where they share their feelings about the “joy of the journey;” how preparing for the dinner has enriched their lives.
Watching sports, hunting wild animals, or driving to/from work.
Six days
Sisters begin setting up tables and decorating the cultural hall based on the dinner theme.
The first and only announcement about a chili dinner for the brethren next Saturday evening is made in priesthood opening exercises- everyone is invited to bring some homemade chili.
Six hours
Sisters begin final preparations- ensuring that the tabletop ice sculptures are all pointed in the same direction, and the designer water bottles at each table setting are exactly 12 centimeters to the left of the fork.
We rifle through food storage in the basement for cans of beans and canned vegetables close to or past their expiration date, throw it in a crockpot with some chili powder, and turn it on high for five hours and 54 minutes.
Six minutes
Somebody forgot the grapes for the Chinese chicken salad; luckily Sister Smith always keeps a backup supply of grapes in the bottom of her church bag, right next to the homemade quiet book on Helaman’s stripling warriors and the kitchen sink.
We mobilize into action.  The Elders Quorum presidency rummages through shelves in the kitchen and the Relief Society closet for leftover plastic and paper cups, plates, and utensils; the High Priests Group presidency sets up tables and chairs.
Six minutes after the dinner starts
The opening prayer is over and the Relief Society president begins her opening remarks.
Brethren arrive with crockpots and dutch ovens full of murky, mysterious substances they want to call chili
Six minutes after the dinner ends
They don’t want the dinner to end. The sisters have lost track of time deep in discussion about how wonderful it is to be Relief Society sisters  
Everyone pitches in to put away tables and chairs; rolls of butcher paper used as tablecloths are rolled up and thrown away, along with all the paper plates and utensils.
Six hours “”
Sisters finish taking down table decorations and storing leftover food in 13 color-coded Tupperware containers to give to the missionaries
We are spending the night on the toilet dealing with the consequences of taste testing seven different types of chili
Six days “”
The Relief Society presidency spends an evening handwriting thank you notes to all members of the 12 committees that worked so hard to host the dinner
The last day we have to consume a daily dose of Immodium to deal with the aftermath of the dinner
Six weeks
Planning for next year’s dinner begins- see “six months before the event” above.
We are struggling to remember who gave that inspirational talk on repentance at the last priesthood conference.

The bottom line to this over-standardized stereotype of Relief Society and Priesthood dinners is that while the brethren look forward to just enjoying the event, for our sisters the art of preparation is the event worth enjoying.

And that substance we call chili is just chili. 

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