Last year, the LDS Church sent around a letter to be read in wards that forbade the use of props during sacrament meeting talks.
Henceforth, there would be no more object lessons on the importance of baptism by holding up a squeegee, and no more examples of how prayer works by showing the ward your new CB radio.
NOTE: I actually witnessed both of those. Who knew that water spots were sin?
The letter from church HQ didn't come right out and specify what qualified as a forbidden prop, but it's safe to assume that it included stuff like fire extinguishers, marionettes, guns, Super Glue, nose pumps, helium and elephants.
It's really too bad. Using a prop to illustrate a point often helped convey a really fuzzy or even screwy point of doctrine. But it's also dangerous. Object lessons can backfire.
A talk about the Lord turning water into wine might be horribly boring, but I'd stare at the pitcher of Welch's grape juice so I wouldn't miss the moment it fell off the lectern. Hey, let's see a miracle get that out of the carpet.
Props or object lessons are best served on the unimaginative. That's because the impossible to bore will always stop making the analogy when the intended gospel point is made.
Not people like me. The hyperimaginative or the criminally irreverent will take the object lesson to an extreme, if for no other reason than that it keeps us awake.
If weightlifting is a good analogy for strengthening one's testimony, are anabolic steroids the Holy Ghost? If a real sword is a weapon of truth and right, what's a laser-guided bomb? If obeying the commandments is like perfecting your golf swing, is the Celestial Kingdom in Augusta, Ga.?
Alas, no more five irons, dumbbells or rubber swords are permitted on the podium in LDS sacrament meetings. We'll have to make do with the Scriptures themselves.
Not all faiths are hampered by a ban on preaching props. During Easter services at his north Texas megachurch, Pastor Ed Young Jr. hauled in an actual lion and a lamb.
NOTE: Two months prior to this, Young and his wife spent 24 hours in a bed on the roof of the church in order to illustrate the righteous bonds of marital sex (which he encouraged congregants to engage in with their respective spouses every day).
The lion and the lamb props were received less well. The lamb itself was OK. It stood in its cage looking biblically simple.
Conversely, the lion had to be jabbed by handlers in order to get it to behave like a lion. Every bit as annoyed by this were animal rights activists in the congregation.
Other congregants saw the props as a clear illustration of the paradox of the Savior of the world as both the lion and the lamb. It worked for them but only because none of them were me.
I would have been yelling for Young to climb into the cage with the lion. What better way to show how much God approves of your blather than a prop-driven re-enactment of Daniel in the lions' den?
On the other hand, if the lion had eaten Young, that would have put an end to the grandstanding for good. Hey, win-win.
I'm not sure just how much effect props like these have on understanding (or not) spiritual stuff. When it comes to that, our lives are the best object lessons of all.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/notpatbagley.