Fire at LDS Meetinghouse

Firefighters Salvage Painting from Burned Meetinghouse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Cynical Public Relations Ploy, or Something More?

By Ken K. Gourdin

In the 187th Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Mark A. Bragg of the Seventy related an account of the response of Los Angeles County, California, USA firefighters to a grass fire in Glassell Park which then spread to an LDS meetinghouse in the area. For Elder Bragg’s address, see here (this and all other links last accessed April 26, 2017): https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/04/brighter-and-brighter-until-the-perfect-day?lang=eng.

Elder Bragg said a battalion commander called an Latter-day Saint friend to inquire where the sacrament cups and sacred relics were stored so that they could be salvaged from the building. The friend assured the battalion commander that there were no sacred relics which needed saving and that the sacrament cups were “very replaceable.” (I wondered if Elder Bragg himself, who has roots in the area, wasn’t the battalion commander’s “Latter-day Saint friend”). Elder Bragg said that the commander wanted to do more, and sent firefighters into the building to salvage pictures of Christ, one of which firefighters placed into one of their trucks “in hopes of being watched over.”

I posted my opinion that I don’t believe it’s possible for one to become a first responder (e.g., a police officer, a firefighter, a member of a search and rescue team, a medic, etc.) without altruism motivating the decision in some way. I wrote:

While there may be other significant factors which come into play in one’s decision to become a first responder* (such as being an “adrenaline junkie”), I don’t think it is possible for one to do such a job for any length of time if altruism played absolutely no role in one’s decision to take it. That said, the firefighters were motivated by more than altruism/selflessness etc. I think it is significant that the firefighters placed one of the recovered paintings in one of their trucks in the hopes that Deity would watch over them.

*To hear my dad tell it, his decision as to what MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] to pursue in the military (he chose law enforcement/US Army MP [Military Police]) was based mostly on what uniform looked the coolest.

P.S.:What?!!  What do you mean these paintings are available for $4.75 each at the [Church of Jesus Christ] Distribution Center!”

When another poster questioned the commander’s wisdom in sending his men back into the building to retrieve cheap, mass-produced art which many of its original purchasers simply then turn over to thrift stores run by the Church of Jesus Christ (named Deseret Industries, aka “DI”) to be resold, another poster wrote, “[T]he value of an item isn’t about how much it costs or how well it sells at DI,” I responded:

True. Sometimes, we tend to forget that something which isn’t worth a whole lot in terms of extrinsic value is (basically, in this case, the cost of the materials used to produce, or to reproduce, it) is worth a whole lot more in terms of intrinsic value (sentiment, emotional attachment, spiritual significance, and so on).

A couple of years ago, I gave personally-captioned copies of a painting of the Savior (the Good Shepherd) holding a lamb in His arms to several members of my family: The caption reads, “[Name], thou art my little lamb.” These aren’t worth a whole lot in terms of extrinsic value: ink, card stock, and so forth; not counting frames (which themselves weren’t very expensive), perhaps a dollar a piece (and that’s being generous). But I certainly hope that the intrinsic value to their recipients is much greater. I hope that each time recipients look at that captioned painting, they are reminded that Ken and Jesus love them. And I reiterate, in Elder Bragg’s retelling, even a cheap copy of the painting of the Savior had intrinsic value, even to a bunch of perhaps hard-bitten, cynical, profane firefighters who otherwise might not have had much use for religion, for religious symbols, or for religious art. In my opinion, that’s the light of Christ at work in their hearts. [I reread Elder Bragg’s address since posting this, and that was exactly the point he made.] For more of my thoughts about cynicism among first responders, see the following address, last accessed April 23, 2017:

https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/end-of-watch-sergeant-derek-johnson/

When another poster opined that the firefighters salvaged the art partly as a public relations opportunity, I responded:

Right. Ignore what was specifically stated about the firefighters’ motivation for putting a painting of Jesus they had salvaged from the building in a firetruck (“in hopes that they would be watched over”) in favor of your own supposition (“The commander specifically put a picture of Jesus in one of the trucks which strikes me as something that was influenced, in part, by the media being there and a PR opportunity”).

Seeing an unrelated story about a different department involving that department’s failure to properly equip its vehicles with necessary lifesaving equipment on line near where coverage of the Glassell Park fire was posted, another poster wrote:

Saw this while reading about the fire, it was to the side. The plot thickens?

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-compton-fire-chief-20150707-story.html

I saw it right below the picture on this link.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-freeway-fire-20150707-story.html

I responded:

If something needs thickening, I’ve found that equal parts of cornstarch and water added to what one is trying to thicken usually works fairly well. “The plot thickens” only for rabid conspiracy theorists who are incapable of separating one story from another, of getting their facts straight, are looking for an excuse to excoriate first responders (and/or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) … and when one is looking to do that, one club works as well as any other … and so on. : Separate agencies: http://www.comptoncity.org/depts/fire/.

The way these things usually work is that if, for reasons of economics, economies of scale, convenience, and so on, a municipality wishes to contract with the county in which it sits for police, fire, and/or for other emergency services, it may do so. However, if it wishes to maintain local control by establishing its own agencies, it may do that, instead. Apparently, Compton does not contract with Los Angeles County for fire services; rather, it has its own agency. In any event, the Glassell Park fire occurred in July of 2015, so even if we were talking about the same agency, that would be an awfully long timeline for connecting two allegedly-related events.

You’re free to thicken your plots elsewhere, thankyouverymuch fer playin’!

Later, I responded:

. . . If you think my response to your “The plot thickens” comment was unwarranted, I suppose I will have to ask, “What plot?” The only way a plot could thicken would be is if a plot existed in the first place. If you think that anyone involved in the response to the Glassell Park fire had some sort of an ulterior motive for reacting as s/he did, I have to ask, “Why?” Beyond bare speculation, exactly zero evidence of any kind of ulterior motive had been presented, yet we have more than a few posters proceeding as though such a motive is simply a given (including, with all due respect, you, if your “the plot thickens” comment is to be taken at face value). All you had to say to avoid this whole conversation is, “Oh. OK. I didn’t know they were different agencies.” End of story. . . .

About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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