Yesterday, one of the speakers in church talked about ‘spiritual twinkies,’ and how they differ from good spiritual nourishment. In other words, some people substitute silly, shallow, faddish notions for actual gospel truth. What we need, she said, is a commitment to solid gospel scholarship, found in the scriptures, and not fill our minds with the intellectually fashionable whims and caprices of ‘the world.’
It was a good talk, and I enjoyed it. But the speaker didn’t really define her terms very well. She didn’t give examples of what she meant by ‘spiritual twinkies,’ or of ‘good gospel nourishment.’ It was probably just as well that she didn’t. I think if you ask most Mormons ‘do you agree that we should avoid ‘spiritual twinkies’ and fill our souls with ‘substantive gospel nourishment,’ 100% would agree. But if you got more specific about it, there’d be a lot of disagreement. I think what you’d see is a massive display of confirmation bias. I think everyone would say that their own pet ideas are ‘solid nourishment’ and that ideas they dislike are ‘twinkies.’ And we’d get all polarized, and once again American culture wars would seep over into Mormonism.
I remember two particular priesthood lessons, back to back, many years ago that illustrate my point. In one lesson, the teacher talked about how important it was that we live by the standards of the gospel in all things, including our amusements, and that we should therefore never play with face cards.
I was outraged. I grew up playing hearts and euchre with my folks. My Dad taught me gin and blackjack. My grandfather supplemented the family income by playing poker for cash at the union hall. He spoke heavily accented, immigrant-y English, and would pretend to not really understand the rules of poker, sort of shambling over to the table, looking pretty clueless. But in fact, he was an exceptionally intelligent man, with the ability to compute poker odds in his head. He’d clean up. My parents love Michigan rummy and played pinochle with friends for years. I love playing cards. I still play hearts on-line. So when this dweeb of a priesthood instructor quoted someone saying we shouldn’t use face cards, I tuned him right out. Obviously, that was just his opinion; a spiritual Twinkie if ever there was one.
The next week, we had a different instructor. And he based his lesson on President Kimball’s ‘Don’t shoot the little birds” talk, and went on to talk about how hunting was probably inconsistent with a gospel-centered life. This was in a Utah ward, and most of the guys in there loved hunting; went deer hunting every year. Uproar! Outrage! How dare he! “My father took me hunting, his father took him hunting, his father took him hunting. Nothing, nothing has strengthened our family more!” And so on.
I don’t hunt; have never gone hunting in my life. Can’t imagine wanting to, ever. The closest I’ve ever come to hunting is fishing, which I did do, as a kid, whenever Dad wanted to and I couldn’t figure out a graceful way to refuse. I’ve always regarded fishing as the boringest sport on the planet Earth, right up to the point where you catch something, at which point it becomes the most disgusting. Do not see the appeal. So this anti-hunting lesson in Priesthood seemed very appropriate to me. I thought it was a great lesson. Solid gospel nourishment, that one.
So can that be the standard? If we agree with it, if it confirms us in self-righteousness, if it gives us a nice warm glow of moral superiority, then it’s obviously spiritual sustenance, but if it involves some petty practice, perhaps even a sin, that I personally enjoy committing, then any talk condemning it is probably a Twinkie. And cultural norms are affirmed, and anyone disagreeing is probably an apostate.
So maybe we should dig a little deeper into this question, this tough little Twinkie vs. Nourishment conundrum. If all we’re doing is confirming our prejudices, then I’m not sure why we should bother even going to Church. And I’m not entirely sure that the answer is something simple, like ‘read the scriptures.’ Because, let’s face it, you can find support for almost anything in the scriptures.
I agree that we should read the scriptures, and I do, every day. Right now, I’m working my way through the Old Testament. Really enjoying it, especially now that I’m using a different, better translation than the King James, and can mostly understand what’s going on. But let’s face it, there’s a lot of crazy stuff in the Bible. A lot of crazy stuff. I’m not sure how much spiritual nourishment we can get from the story of Lot and his daughters. Or Elisha and the she-bears. Or the entire pro-genocide book of Joshua.
So what exactly does qualify as non-Twinkie spiritual nourishment? It seems to me really it’s just a few basic things. Jesus, and his life and example and atonement and resurrection. The restoration of the Gospel. Continuing revelation. And the attempt to live a Christian life, according to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount. Forgive. Empathize. Live lives of charity and kindness and service. Be kind, be reasonable, be gracious, be decent.
That’s all what nourishes me. It’s also really hard, to live your life that way. Forgive those who trespass against us? Turn the other cheek? Wow. Seems impossible, sometimes. But isn’t that the essence of the good news of the gospel? Jesus Christ, and him crucified? His example, his precepts, and the nearly impossible standard of goodness he did, in fact, require of us.
So here, tremblingly tentative and unsure, is a possible rule of thumb. If someone’s sermon or lesson or talk involves asking something difficult of me, asks me to try to live my life in a way that I personally find really really hard, then that’s gospel nourishment. Pretty much anything else is Twinkies.