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Orson Scott Card: With life’s parables, hyperbole not needed

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IT WAS THE finals of the stake basketball tournament, and our ward's Young Women were playing in the championship game. One family was gathered to watch their oldest girl play. It was an athletic family — they cared about the outcome.

And they were having a great time, because our team was winning in a low-scoring game. Six to nothing. Eight to nothing. Ten to zero. Twelve to zero.

And then the other team scored.

Now, our building is one of the older ones, constructed back when wards had a lot more say because they were paying a lot more of the costs. So we have a fantastic basketball floor and a cool electric scoreboard.

Where this family was sitting, though, they were looking at the scoreboard nearly side-on. And the scoreboard's design was such that while they could see both digits of the other team's score, only the second digit of our team's score was visible.

So what their 6-year-old saw was not 12-2, but 2-2. The first digit of the 12 was invisible to her.

"Dad," she said, "aren't we winning?"

"Yes," said her dad. "We're doing just fine."

"But the scoreboard says we're tied. Two and two."

Instead of trying to explain to her about the hidden digit, he simply said, "Run over to the other end of the cultural hall and look back and you'll see that everything's all right."

So the 6-year-old did what her father said, looked back, and saw the full score: 12-2.

Then she ran back and, full of awe, said, "How do they do that?"

I know this story because her dad is our bishop, and after the speakers in sacrament meeting, he got up and told us the story. The point was clear: From where we sit, we can't see the score. It can look like things aren't working out right. It can seem unfair.

But if you get farther away and take a look back, it all makes sense. It comes right. It's fair after all. Nobody missed the score.

The incident really happened.

And it was a wonderful parable.

If, as Jacob and Nephi did, we liken the scriptures to ourselves, we learn more. But we can also find parables in real life, if we're looking for them.

It's a funny thing. People get hungry for revelation, for miracles, for signs, for things to bring them awe. So they make stuff up.

That's why the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had to send out a letter debunking something that someone once said, trying to make the youths of the church feel good about themselves. The intent was probably good.

And the original speaker of it probably said something fairly mild. But it grew and grew, until it became doctrinally false — no, ludicrous — and it was attributed, not to the original speaker, but to various general authorities.

What began as hyperbole very quickly became a lie.

I remember that only two days after 9/11, I got a "Web weeper," one of those "faith-promoting" rumors that fly around the Internet.

The story was that a meeting of missionaries had been scheduled in the World Trade Center for the morning of the attack — but every single person who was supposed to attend that meeting was delayed, one way or another, so none of them were there. They were all miraculously saved!

There were so many reasons why this was an obvious lie. First, the church has a perfectly good building on the upper West Side — why would they ever pay the exorbitant rent and hold a meeting in the World Trade Center?

But it was also doctrinally offensive. What was the message of this: God protects the missionaries, but not the thousands of people who died in that tragedy? Not the missionaries who die from other causes each year?

Of course it didn't happen. What baffles me is why somebody thought that making up a lie about 9/11 would increase people's faith.

Likewise, why do you think you have to flatter the youths of our church with absurd hyperbole in order to motivate them? They don't need lies, they need truth. They don't need flattery, they need encouragement and trust and something real to do in God's service.

The gospel is true. If you live it, it works. If you pray and study, the Spirit confirms it.

Life confirms it. Real things happen all the time that, if you're watching with the Spirit of God in your heart, you'll recognize as parables, teaching us how to live and understand the gospel better.

We don't have to fake it. The secret is to look outside ourselves and "see what God has done."

If we're paying attention, the Spirit will make scripture all around us.

Orson Scott Card is a writer of nonfiction and fiction, from LDS works to popular fiction. "In the Village" appears Thursdays in the Deseret Morning News. A longer version of this column is available in the Mormon Times section of deseretnews.com. Leave feedback for Card online at www.nauvoo.com/contact_desnews.html.