The Two Travelers and the Farmer (aka, explaining the Bloggernacle’s relationship to the church)

This was one of my father’s favorite tales:

The Two Travelers and the Farmer

A traveler came upon an old farmer hoeing in his field beside the road. Eager to rest his feet, the wanderer hailed the countryman, who seemed happy enough to straighten his back and talk for a moment.

“What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger.

“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.

“They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.”

“Is that so?” replied the old farmer. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town.

Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.

Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked.

“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again.

“They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”

“Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”

I think this explains the relationship between many LDS bloggers and the church.  They find what they expect, rather than what is there, and this is due more to their own intellectual baggage than any failing(s) on the parts of leaders or members.

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About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was over 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has six kids and four stepkids.

32 thoughts on “The Two Travelers and the Farmer (aka, explaining the Bloggernacle’s relationship to the church)

  1. I had a bishop once tell me based on what move-ins told him about their previous ward he could predict what kind of members they would be in our ward.

  2. Wow that’s interesting John.

    I knew a stake president who once told me tgat when he found out what new bishops thought about their ward members he could predict what type of bishops they would be… Strange that these two folks thought they were so good at predicting the future.

  3. Sorry, I have tried to see a pattern in the real world… but I believe this tale is just naive folklore. It could even be harmful. If we are not careful, it shuts down dialogue and provides a justification for unrighteous judgement. There really are bad people and dysfunctional communities. There are great people and outstanding communities. I’ve seen my current ward morph and evolve from one to the other and back again. People are abused unjustly in some communities, even LDS wards.

  4. Old Man,
    When you learn to look to the inherent strengths and value an individual regardless of how flawed they are you are becoming like Christ. A true act of humility is being able to see the value in others.

    That doesn’t mean excusing their sins without recognizing a need for repentance, but it does mean trying to follow Christ and descend below worldly praise and acclaim to bring them back to their Father in Heaven. As you decide how to act in regard to your fellow saints, might I suggest you look toward the Lord’s servants and in the process both live up to the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, while also becoming a more dedicated disciple (these two things are distinct, but linked).

    How do the General Authorities speak of the members of the church? With praise, while occasionally pointing out areas of improvement? Or with accusations? Which would you prefer to be?

    So if you were at a ward of insular judgmental types, you’d no doubt find sadness in some of their judgement, but it’s impossible — if you’re being Christlike – to not find good in them because it’s there. It’s only your hangups on their flaws that keeps you from seeing it (mote/beam).

    It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say, Jesus would do such and such. It’s harder to walk in his steps and follow-up and strive to be a disciple in word and deed. And the reality is, it’s only when become a disciple of Christ that you actually gain a fullness of an understand about what Jesus would do.

    The analogy is good. It obviously shouldn’t be used to condemn without further argument, but to spark thought about how we ought to humble ourselves and see the positive contributions others make.

    Certainly, this could be applied to how the traditionalists are often fed up with the progressives in the church and want to just pressure them to get with the program. Those who do that, I’ve found it best to dismiss their failings and look to their other positive traits of discipleship. Occasionally, where appropriate you may even have an opportunity to teach correct principles — but those principles should be inline with what the church authorities teach and it’s not something you continually beat over their heads. Patience, long suffering, looking to the Lords servants, hope, charity, virtue — these are the things the Lord wants us to do.

    What do you think works better?

  5. GSO has it pretty much exactly right.

    Sure, there are dysfunctional wards, etc. But when I see people who always seem to think nearly every ward they were ever in (except that one in Berkley…) was a dysfunctional mess of overzealous, self-righteous, judgemental (etc. etc.) Mormons, and/or people who claim their ward is dysfunctional and then extrapolate that to the whole of the church – well, at that point, the data points one particular way.

    And GSO is right – it works in all directions. This is just as easily aimed at those who can’t stand their progressive urban ward or whatnot else.

  6. It is completely uncontroversial and obvious that if you tend to see the negative in the people around you, the pattern will repeat itself. This applies in work situations and in our wards and stakes. We all know the person at work who is always complaining about the boss. Isn’t he or she a pain to be around? I am sure there are bad things about the boss he or she is complaining about, but there are also good things, but the complainer never sees it. So, if we can accept this at work, why can’t we accept that the same principle applies with people who are always complaining about the people at church?

    By the way, the best way to have a positive attitude towards the people at work or at church is to have a positive attitude towards the people at work or at church. Concentrate on their good qualities rather than their negative qualities. Give it a try and see if things improve.

  7. This entire mindset or approach is dangerous in that (at times) we are essentially blaming the victim. I’m sure that those victims of sexual abuse, those who are maligned through various other types of abuse, etc. are not the most positive sorts of people, but the Savior would be found with them, trying to help and heal. And yes, I am sure the church or BSA leader who is a pedophile has some positive attributes, but those attributes are rarely helpful for the victims, in fact, they make the pedophile all the more dangerous. But should we really worry about trying to come up with positive things to say and think about a rapist or pedophile? You know, those who say negative things (even though they are true and need to be said) are negative people, and as the tale implies, cursed to have negativity follow them the rest of their lives.

    Just my thoughts on the issue. Thanks for the responses.

  8. It is rarely a bad idea to have a good attitude no matter what the circumstance is, in my experience. It can make life so much better.

  9. Old Man, I don’t think extreme examples like rapists and pedophiles really have much at all to do with the moral behind this tale. What you are doing is like the people who read too much into parables of Jesus and find predestination in the parable of the sower.

    A fable/parable/piece of folk wisdom can only be taken so far and not much further. That usually goes without saying.

  10. Ivan: I guess it goes pretty far, you’ve just used it to evaluate and pass judgement on large numbers of people you don’t even know, including me. Or did I misread your original post?

  11. Since I have no idea who you are, I can’t say if it applies. Like any piece of folk wisdom, if it applies to you, than it applies, and if not, then it doesn’t.

    I find that those it doesn’t apply to tend not to care, and still see the general wisdom in the take, and those that it does apply to tend to get angry and argue it’s pointless.

    But everyone is different and we all have our sore spots and berserk buttons. I can’t judge you (or anyone really) since I can’t see your heart. I can judge actions, and I weary of people I do know spending too much time on the internet slamming and insulting Mormons in their wards, stakes, and the overall church for being a bunch of bigots and fanatics (to use the terms Dallin H. Oaks used in General Conference).

  12. I think in general people who complain about one ward will complain about the next and the opposite applies as well. It is true that every ward has issues and I do not think all wards are equal but our attitude will make it better or worse than it is.

  13. I’m with Old Man here. You need to have people willing to face the badness of people. As a matter of personal enjoyment, yeah, sure, focus on the positive. But don’t forget that someone has to deal with the Nazis, and it would just be weird if they did that while talking excessively about all the good points of the Nazis. Winston Churchill even felt it was necessary to vilify all Germans to give his people the heart to do the job. Christianity in Germany had been largely co-opted by the Nazis precisely because of their confusion about how to defeat worldliness in their own congregations. There were many who genuinely believed a Christian embrace of Nazism would help missionary efforts.

    The thing is that the Savior reconciles us to the Father, who is completely intolerant of sin. It must therefore not be wrong to feel intolerant toward sin and bothered by it’s presence. The Savior is not in the business of reconciling us to sin. Religion is a matter of reconciling with God, and it would be hoped that a community built upon religious principles would be about helping us do that, rather than demanding that we reconcile ourselves with sin. It’s tricky, and there are some more up to the job than others, but we should be in the business of proclaiming God’s truth, not just holding friendly meetings devoid of conflict.

  14. I wonder how many of the folks who draw analogies between LDS wards and pedophiles, rapists, or Nazis; would tolerate the same sorts of analogies being applied to–say–gay people?

  15. Lucinda,
    Elder Eyring illustrates the point,

    “That leads to another principle of unity. It is to speak well of each other. Think of the last time you were asked what you thought about how someone else was doing in your family or in the Church. It happened to me more than once in the past week. Now, there are times we must judge others. Sometimes we are required to pronounce such judgments. But more often we can make a choice. …”

    I love how he connects it back to our agency. Always it comes right back at us. He didn’t say, maybe those people are Nazis needing judgement. He brought it back to your choice of whether or not to view them charitably and the moral responsibility of that judgement falls on you. We can make a choice. How simple. How true.

  16. I think Old Man is right in reminding us that being helpful and cheerful to some is being cruel to others. It is important to remember that. The Good Samaritan didn’t bother running after the thieves to help them feel less guilty. He helped the relatively innocent wounded man. Yes we can choose, but we should spend some time deciding which choices help those we believe deserve help in their goals. And there are groups and individuals that are fundamentally at odds. How many people have had to choose which nasty-divorced parent to invite to their wedding, etc.
    Bringing up abusers and Nazis is just a way of making it obvious that there are true examples where things have been unacceptable, because it is difficult to argue with examples that are less universally understood as unacceptable. Efforts directed at shaming people for trying to build on this basic common ground makes people feel like you don’t want to reason, which is why I found Old Man’s point valuable. I don’t like the OP, even though I’m not one of its targets, because it rings false to me. What would be the point of striving to live with God if any other arrangement will do just as well, as long as I have a ‘good attitude’?
    The scriptures simply do not support an idea that heaven and hell are the same place, but just hell for those with nasty attitudes and heaven for those with nice attitudes.
    I do understand the need get along, and that it’s easier to attract bees with honey, etc. But I felt Old Man had a good point (and was mistreated) and I thought it was only fair to say so.

  17. Lucinda, I think you and Old Man may have not envisioned how (or to whom) Ivan meant that the parable be applied. If I had not previously been a reader of certain blogs, I would not understand how he meant it either.

  18. I understand that Bookslinger, but I stand by Old Man’s point, that this story is essentially demoralizing and harmful. I understand the desire to demoralize those perceived as essentially enemies, but it’s too much like throwing the baby out with the bathwater to make anyone who sees serious problems feel like it’s just in their head because they are grumpy. The vision of the tree of life gives a much better feel for the dynamics of religious community with its meaningful differences between destinations.

    The OP stands against those like Lehi leaving Jerusalem, the Israelites leaving Egypt, Alma and Limhi leaving the land of Nephi, Enoch’s Zion leaving the Earth, Brigham Young leading the saints west, and on and on. It stands against the very idea of Heaven and desire to return to God. It rings false, and demoralizes masculine vigilance against flattery and lies among the faithful. And that is depressing to me personally, since manly resistance against worldly encroachment to protect the vulnerable feels like it is in short supply… I admit, however, that I hope righteous manliness survives elsewhere or in hidden strongholds, and I refuse to give up on the hope that such places exist, however much I’d need to sacrifice before being worthy of such a place.

  19. Lucinda, your comments are hyperbolic and your counter examples such rarefied situations that I don’t really understand your concerns. Wards composed of Nazis and pedophiles, or else an exodus directly commanded by God to a prophet are all so far outside the point of this tale that bringing them up comes across as either bad faith or totally missing the point.

  20. Ivan,

    I think the bloggernacle types you don’t like just don’t like their wards because they don’t like goodness and truth, they prefer worldliness. Period. By setting up a standard that is simply a matter of whether someone is grumpy or sunny, you undermine the message that the details matter, that the truth matters. I find this disheartening because I generally have found M* to be a place where people have a genuine preference for goodness and truth in the details, not simply “nothing worth fighting for” mentality. The Gospel invites us to discover truth, and be willing to sacrifice for it. I don’t like seeing you give ground to the bad guys by implying that we just go along to get along, without investigating the details.

    By way of clarification, German Christians were not mostly Nazis, but they went along with it to remain ‘relevant’, which is what I think the dissenters in the Bloggernacle want us to do with sexual liberationism, to remain ‘relevant’. This is not a rarefied situation throughout history. It occurs in every generation, and in our generation, it is epict.

    So let’s fight the good fight, and admit that we do so because we care about what is right and true, not because we prefer peace at any price. I admit that some people seem to have the ability to be plucky and positive despite severe setbacks. But don’t throw the rest of us out of the battle. We are approaching a time when some wards might be torn apart by the friction between what the world teaches and what the Gospel teaches. It’s better to affirm truth, rather than making people feel bad for being honestly gloomy and fearful of betrayal..

  21. Old Man had a good point, and you guys refused it. This is from Matt.
    “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:”

    I just read some of “Witness to the Martyrdom”, and John Taylor uses some very strong language about the bad guys, even stronger than the language of your first “traveler”. Ivan, I know you want me to believe these are “rarefied” examples, but I just don’t believe that. In President Hinckley’s hymn, he describes the road to Christ as “lonely”.

  22. I heard it put this way while in the MTC.
    “If you get along with all your companions, then you are lucky,
    if you don’t get along with one or two companions, you are normal
    if you don’t get along with three companions your unlucky,
    if you don’t get along with more than three of your companions, you are probably the problem”

  23. Taylor’s comment makes me think of my own mission.
    This tale could just as easily be used to comdemn me, because I didn’t get along with most of my companions. In fact, I only got along with 2, and I had over 12. I even thought perhaps the problem was me.
    Then I found out the Mission President was deliberately setting me up with disobedient, slacker missionaries, because I had a reputation for hard work and keeping the rules, and he wanted those missionaries to have some experience at work. Giving me 7 of those in a row was not helpful.

    So, in that case, the tale doesn’t apply.

    And calling Old Man a prophet, and comparing our disagreements to stoning and killing the prophets? That’s almost as over the top as using pedophiles and Nazis as the counter-examples. I’m not so sure I can take you seriously at this point.

  24. Lucinda and Ivan: you two have been talking past each other. Please take this to email where Ivan can explain exactly who and what he is applying his parable to.

    I’ve been around the ‘nacle for 12 years so I “get” what Ivan intended to mean. And if you don’t know the history and friction between M* and other LDS blogs, you won’t understand how Ivan meant the OP.

    I would suggest M* bloggers just stop referencing the less-than-faithful blogs, both in posts and side-bar links. There are plenty of faithful blogs now, and I don’t see a need to take jabs at blogs and bloggers who don’t sustain the Brethren.

    Yes, let’s write/post/comment in support of church doctrine and policies. Let’s provide faithful answers to legitimate questions. Let’s correct misstatements in the media. But as long as the dissenters are staying in their own sand-box, let them play with their sand however they want.

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