The Gospel Principles class was always small, just my companion and I, an occasional investigator, and a handful of members most of whom had been in the church long enough that this would not normally be considered the appropriate Sunday school class. But I couldn’t blame any of them for their choice to attend. The teacher, Merrell Carter, was an extraordinary teacher, in addition to being the ward mission leader and stake mission president. Brother Carter was a every devoted missionary, leaving his job as a drama teacher at Springville High School to join the Army full-time as an artillery officer, so that he could do more missionary work when the Church got rid of Seventies quorums among the stakes. He had a unique flair that blended his backgrounds into an earthy spirituality more similar to the iconic J. Golden Kimball than to anybody else I’ve ever known.
I had been in Montpelier for just about a month when Brother Carter arrived at class with a most memorable contraption: a large ring-shaped air filter had been attached to metal clothes hangers that had been bent to form a ring, just the diameter to sit on an adult’s head like a crown. Walking over to Larry B., a member who the previous week had expressed extended consternation at a sacrament meeting talk, solemnly placed the homemade hat on Larry’s head and pronounced, “Larry, here’s a bullshit filter for you to wear to church so you don’t get too worked up when you hear stupid things.”
I’ve thought of that Sunday morning in Vermont more times than I could count. How often I wish I had had a bullshit filter with me. And while I’d love to have the audacity to wear an air filter around my head—or to give one to a friend who is struggling—I should at least do a better job of implementing a bullshit filter in the internal wirings of my head. Last weekend at a priesthood leadership meeting I could have used one. Some stupid statements were absurd enough to give the leaders pause, but others, particularly around the subject of the Boy Scouts of America and the question of homosexuality seemed well accepted. I wanted to lean forward and harangue Fred V., second counselor in our bishopric, about what I perceive as the disparity between the BSA stance and the Church’s own stance regarding celibate homosexuals serving in Church callings. But I didn’t, and I probably shouldn’t have, anyway. My bullshit filter should have caught it. Our son, Alec, could have used a bullshit filter when he was taught there would be no rainbows in the millennium or that Satan controlled his heart if he didn’t support Proposition 8.
If Brother Carter’s bullshit filter worked like noise subtraction headphones, some days at Church could be awfully quiet and peaceful, a great time to meditate. But in fairness, there is usually an insightful sentiment shared by someone, and one fear I have of such a tranquility-inducing filter would be falling asleep and missing what, say, a Steve Mori would share in class. Reflecting on my own set of silly things said at Church or at work or at home, I wonder if the filter could be bidirectional, saving me by subtraction when I say things I should regret.