Mr. Emil Gower: I owe everything to George Bailey. Help him, dear Father.
Giuseppe Martini: Joseph, Jesus and Mary. Help my friend, Mr. Bailey.
Ma Bailey: Help my son, George, tonight.
Bert: He never thinks about himself, God, that’s why he’s in trouble.
Ernie Bishop: George is a good guy. Give him a break, God.
Mary: I love him, dear Lord. Watch over him tonight.
Janie Bailey: Please, God, something’s the matter with Daddy.
Zuzu Bailey: Please bring Daddy back.
In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, we see the life of George Bailey. He spends his life serving the people of his community Bedford Falls. He constantly is making decisions to sacrifice his own desires to serve others. We see at times that he feels conflicted and frustrated that the life he dreamed of is never coming to fruition. But we also see how rich and abundant his life becomes, through this life of discipleship and service. He has real riches: love, family, friends, self-respect and respect of others, peace.
Jesus Christ taught these truths that are so difficult to understand intellectually but so rewarding when you try to live them:
Matthew 16:25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Matthew 5: 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 20: 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last
John 10:10 I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
When Richard Bushman was asked what it meant to say the church is true, he had this to say as part of his answer.
When I hear the statement that the church is true we normally put the emphasis on the word true but I would put the emphasis on the word church because I think what we do have is we have particular missions that we can do as a church that may be distinctive or that we may be particularly good at and ours is producing people of good will. People that grow up as Mormons learn to be generous with their time. They learn to sacrifice, they learn to get along with other people, to respect other people’s feelings, to avoid competition in striving to get ahead and I think those are wonderful gifts that come to us through our church experience, and I do think we have a mission to carry out that goodwill into every area of our lives. Into board rooms and playing fields and stages and classrooms wherever we go. We should be the people of good will.
We are the people of good will. Mormonism is not about Kolob or polygamy or seerstones or patriarchal order or blood oaths or even the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith or living prophets. It’s not about all those things that Mormons and Exmormons fight over. It’s about helping people follow Jesus Christ. And the result of that, in the Mormon view, is that we become people of good will. We become George Baileys.
The classic South Park episode All About Mormons makes fun of the Joseph Smith story and implies Mormons are dumb for believing it. But illustrates the Mormon family in the episode as being super nice, clean cut and wholesome, inviting strangers into their home, giving them cookies and milk, smiling ridiculously, being focused on family, etc. The episode ends with the Mormon kid, Gary, confronting the South Park gang, after they were picking on him.
GARY: Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, (I disagree) but I have a great life and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my <redacted>.
CARTMAN: Damn, that kid is cool, huh?
In the Epistle of James, we have a perfect description of the purpose of religion. James 1:26-27.
26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Religion is about two things. And in my view, the Mormon church is about as good as it possibly could be at helping people accomplish these two things.
1. Serve Others. We become people of good will. Wearing out our lives in the service of others.
2. Keep oneself unspotted from the world. I see this as attempting to keep ourselves free from the vices of the world. Drugs, alcoholism, addiction, unhealthy sexual behavior, lying, cheating, stealing, killing, oversleeping, overeating, greed, anger, lust, jealousy. The things we humans do to distract ourselves or medicate pain, when we should be living instead. The LDS church is not perfect in this. Sometimes goes too far. Sometimes puts a false priority on some of those over others. But overall, I’m very grateful for the approach the church takes on this.
In the great Police song Message in a Bottle, Sting tells us about a man stranded on a desert island.
More loneliness than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair
He sends out an SOS. He sends a message in a bottle. Telling someone, anyone, that he’s stranded and lonely. Please save him. He wakes up one day and to his surprise finds one hundred billion bottles. All filled with the same SOS messages.
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home
This world is rough. This world is lonely sometimes. Counter intuitively, we don’t solve our own problems and loneliness by going inward. We go outward and look for someone else’s loneliness to cure. Someone else’s problems to pitch in and help solve. And magically, our own loneliness is cured. Our problems suddenly seem insignificant. The man in the hymn Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief found this out after he rushed to help the stript, wounded, beaten man he found.
I had myself a wound concealed,But from that hour forgot the smart,And peace bound up my broken heart.
This year for Christmas, the Church introduced the LightTheWorld campaign, which was designed yet again, to lead us to Jesus Christ by becoming people of good will. I’m not one of those people who are naturally prone to Christlike traits: humility, service, gentleness. I have really tried to take each day seriously, and I had so many good experiences. Giving food to someone in need. Forgiving someone I needed to forgive. Writing a letter to my parents. Pondering on what I have to be grateful for.
I participate frequently in the debates between Mo’s and Exmo’s online, especially related to the paradigm of Mormonism I have that focuses more on the lived experience of Mormonism and less on the exclusivity and historical claims. One of the frequent things I hear church critics say is “Whatever is unique about the Mormon church is not good. And whatever is good about the Mormon church is not unique.” I think there are many answers that counter that, but here is one example.
According to this report, 68 million people clicked on the church’s lighttheworld video. What the church is doing with lighttheworld may not be unique. It might not be unique for a church to encourage its members to do stuff like visit the lonely or comfort the sick. But, Mormons, in a way that’s somewhat unique, take these charges very, very seriously. I think it might be unique for a church to introduce a program like this and have its members take it so seriously, both in doing the acts of good will and in sharing and inviting others to join, that the church’s site gets 68 million clicks.
So, this Christmas, please watch It’s a Wonderful Life Again, and think about how to follow the Christ-centered Mormon life in becoming a George Bailey in your world.
A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town.