Board's clear! Area's clear!

During the summer of 2009, the teachers and priests in our ward chose to participate in a week-long summer camp at the Boy Scout Claytor Lake Aquatics Base near Radford, Virginia.  Activities at this camp all centered on aquatics activities.  Our young men participated in canoeing and kayaking, waterskiing, large boat sailing, snorkeling, motorboating, and even a pilot program for personal watercraft (jet-skis).  One of our goals for the week was that the experience would provide strong spiritual experiences as well.  In order to accomplish this goal, we started the week by challenging each of the young men to look for spiritual analogies in their activities.

One example came from a class on the large boat sailing.  The youth had learned about a principle called tacking.  They reported that if you just try to sail with the wind to your back, you can only go as fast as the wind and would be at the wind's mercy.  Sailboats, however, are built with a keel which acts like a sail in the water.  When the wind is blowing from the side and would otherwise push the sail of the boat over, the keel uses the water to counteract the tipping and transfers a fraction of the wind's force into forward acceleration.  A sailboat can make progress even against an opposing wind by heading at an angle into the wind.  Tacking consists of alternately heading into the wind at an angle to the left and then to the right so that the average direction is directly into the wind.

The spiritual analogy for tacking was to compare the wind to the winds of adversity.  We could just let our trials push us to and fro and live our lives at the mercy of our circumstances.  But if we can redirect the force from the trials, we can still move forward.  I have since continued to reflect on this lesson.  We need to be able to adjust our sails, which could represent the attitude with which we accept our trials.  We need to have a keel extending deep into the water to keep our ship upright.  The water could represent the gospel and the power of the atonement of the Savior, and the keel could represent our testimony.

A second example came from the young men's experiences using personal watercraft.  These small vessels have handle-bars that are linked to the jet-like motors under water.  By turning the handlebars, you turn the direction which the motor pushes the jet of water.  The young men learned that the steering mechanism only worked when the engine was running.  Even if they were moving through the water, turning the handle-bars had no effect unless the water was being pushed through the jet.  If the engine was off, they kept drifting in the same direction.

The spiritual analogy related turning the handle-bars of the jet-ski to changing our desires and wishes.  A desire to change, perhaps prompted by hearing the word of God, might prick our hearts.  We might be prompted to ask, as was asked of Peter and the other apostles, "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).  Wishful thinking alone, however, is like turning the handle-bars while the engine is off.  We must exert our own spiritual effort if we want our desires to be turned into action, or else we will continue to drift under the momentum of our past misdirected actions.

A third example came from experiences of one young man learning to waterski.  During a subsequent sacrament meeting talk, he shared with us the challenge that came the first time he jumped in the water behind the boat.  After struggling to get his skis put on, trying to turn his skis to be inline with the direction of the boat, and then get in position, he signaled to the driver of the boat that he was ready.  He was expecting to get right up and ski.  When the boat engine roared and started forward, he pulled himself up but could not stay and had to let go of the tow rope.  The driver circled back and asked if he knew what he had done wrong.  The instructor explained, "You tried to pull yourself up, instead of letting the water pull you up."

This young man found an interesting analogy for his experience in skiing.  He pointed out that if we isolate ourself and then try to continually pull ourself up, we will tire and eventually just let go.  But we don't really need to pull ourself up.  We have a network of help all around us that will help lift us up just as the combination of the boat pulling the tow rope and the water pushing on the skis can pull us out of the water.  The church is organized to provide this lifting power.

One of the most significant analogies for me personally was found in a pattern of safety at the camp.  Safety is particularly important in water activities.  Everyone was required to pass a swimming proficiency test at the start of the week.  Every activity began with a review of safety principles and requirements, including the proper use of personal flotation devices.  One of the principles of safe swimming and safe boating is the buddy system.  At every activity, each participant was required to have a buddy, and boats were required to have a buddy boat.  This way, everyone always had at least one person that was committed to watching out for their safety.

At each of the activity areas, the camp had what is called a "buddy board."  When each individual passed the swim check at the beginning of the week, he was handed a buddy tag, marked with his name and his success in passing the test.  This tag was required at every activity.  Buddies brought their tags together and hung them together on the buddy board.  At any time, the supervisor could look at the board and see who was out on an activity and who their designated buddy was.  This was especially important on a lake, where activities often took participants out of view.  When the activity was finished, buddies would go back to the board and retrieve their tags, leaving the board clear and showing that they were no longer in an area of risk.

The procedure at this camp was to go one step further.  The principal aquatics director was typically at the main dock supervising all of the activities.  When any activity was complete and all of the participants had retrieved their buddy tags, everyone held their buddy tags high in the air and then shouted to the aquatics director, "Board's clear!  Area's clear!"  And the aquatics director would yell back, "Thank you!"

This tradition was repeated hour after hour, day after day.  I knew there must be an analogy in this pattern of safety.  One afternoon, as I was thinking about this pattern, a powerful analogy came to my mind and was confirmed in my heart.  I saw in the pattern of safety the true purpose of priesthood quorums and the church as a whole.

Following a long pattern of earlier teaching, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, then one of the presidents of the Seventy, taught that the priesthood quorum should properly be considered a fraternity ("The Priesthood Quorum," October 1998, Priesthood Session of General Conference).  This fraternity is one of sincere love and concern for one another's well-being and spiritual safety.  Elder Christofferson then referred to a quote by President Hinckley (and repeated this quote in the October 2012 priesthood session):
It will be a marvelous day, my brethren—it will be a day of fulfillment of the purposes of the Lord—when our priesthood quorums become an anchor of strength to every man belonging thereto, when each such man may appropriately be able to say, ‘I am a member of a priesthood quorum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I stand ready to assist my brethren in all of their needs, as I am confident they stand ready to assist me in mine. Working together, we shall grow spiritually as covenant sons of God. Working together, we can stand, without embarrassment and without fear, against every wind of adversity that might blow, be it economic, social, or spiritual.’
Overcome with emotion, I pondered the possible significance of being able to spiritually stand together as a priesthood quorum, to look at the lives of ourselves and those we love standing with us, and to be assured of one another's safety—to know the board is clear.  But this is not all.  Together, as a priesthood quorum, we also have responsibility to declare God's word to those around us.  As home teachers, we can reach those in need of rescue and bring them to safety.  As members of Christ's church, our reach extends to all others around us.  Indeed, our desire can be to stand together and shout as a quorum to the Rescuer and Redeemer of us all, "Board's clear! Area's clear!"  I hope to hear, "Thank you!"


  1. Feels like I just read a great conference talk. Very well thought out and well written! Amen.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I love that the youth were asked to look for analogies. The ones I connected with the most were tacking and steering with no running engine. Love the deep thoughts.


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