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Generosity, 2 dogs and a tennis ball

I don't dream much at night, so I daydream to make up for it.

And today I've been daydreaming about two dogs and a tennis ball.

That, I've been told, is the most basic version of the type of conflicts we see in literature and politics.

In LDS romance novels, the story comes down to two guys and one girl or two girls and one guy.

Two dogs and a tennis ball.

In LDS science fiction, we often get two forces battling over one universe.

LDS Western writers give us stories about two dudes and one town.

Politicians are more interested in solving conflicts than writing about them, so they go at it all differently.

The free market folks would probably say, "Two dogs and a ball? May the best dog win."

More liberal souls would cut the tennis ball in half and give each mutt a slice.

But what about the world of religion? Say one of the dogs is LDS?

What is he supposed to do?

Does he give up 10 percent of the ball? The whole ball? Should he bake the other dog a tuna casserole?

The answer, I think, is uncomfortable but pretty obvious.

The Mormon dog — indeed, all Christian dogs — should let the other dog have the ball, then go get his favorite squeak toy and give that to him as well.

Harsh medicine, that.

But it's chapter and verse:

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also (Matthew 5:40).

Not much drama in that. And no good plots for Westerns, romances and sci-fi thrillers, either.

But the reason we're asked to do it, I think, is this:

As Mormons, we believe there's an unseen force at work in the world — the Holy Spirit.

We don't let other people have twice as much as they've demanded because we're old softies.

We do it because we hope such a generous gesture will send a beam of light into the heart of the other fellow.

We are trying to create a little space for the Holy Spirit to do his work.

Those who don't believe in such "forces" will chuckle and see us as patsies.

But believers will put a little faith into it.

In the novel "Les Miserables," the "two dogs" show up as a shuffling old priest and an escaped convict. The "tennis ball" would be the priest's worldly goods. The convict, Jean Valjean, grabs the goods and flees. He's later nabbed by the police, who take him to the priest to be identified. The priest says he not only gave Valjean those things, but Valjean ran off without taking a pair of gold candlesticks — which he gives the convict.

The moment is stunning, so unlike anything Valjean has encountered, that it fills him with Christian compassion for the rest of his days.

Giving someone twice as much as they've demanded of us isn't about us being a good example or winning a spot in heaven.

It isn't about politics or literature or neighborliness.

It is about winning souls for God — for creating a moment where God can speak.

Everything else is just, well, just hound dogs and tennis balls.

Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in Mormon Times.

e-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com