Tyler and the Giant Gumball Machine

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Reviewed by Edward Jones III

The Not Even Once Club
By Wendy Watson Nelson
Illustrated by Brandon Dorman
Deseret Book, 2013
32 pages, $18.99

A boy named Tyler moves to a new ward. Friends from Primary invite him to a tree house where he can join their club—but only if he passes their test and makes a promise. The test requires him to avoid coffee, tea, and alcohol at a pretend restaurant. The promise binds him “never [to] break the Word of Wisdom, lie, cheat, steal, do drugs, bully, dress immodestly, or break the law of chastity” or look at pornography. Ever. “Not. Even. Once.” Tyler passes the test, makes the promise, and is accepted by the group. He gains access to games and “jars of pretzels and popcorn and candy” that the kids’ Primary teacher provides for the clubhouse, but only as long as they keep the promise.

This is the story of The Not Even Once Club, written by Wendy Watson Nelson, Ph.D., a former professor of marriage and family therapy and the spouse of Elder Russell Nelson. Elder Nelson has been developing the theme of obedience since before his apostleship, and he and Sister Nelson have spoken much in recent years about the exact obedience that binds God to distribute blessings. In 2003, Elder Nelson taught that God’s love is not unconditional, but—as with blessings—is reserved for the obedient.

This is a rather mechanistic view of our relationship with our Heavenly Parents. They are not people—much less parents—but cosmic gumball machines that spit out blessings and eternal glory when we insert our quarters of obedience. In Nelson’s book, it does not matter why Tyler obeys the commandments—candy is as good a motivator as any—only that he obeys. The standard is perfection, and no back-up plan is discussed.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is somewhat different. The two great commandments Jesus taught address motivation rather than action. He asked us to love—and that motivation is precisely what is missing from Tyler’s world.

In Jesus’ story, Tyler obeys the commandments not out of hope for a reward or a yearning for acceptance, but because he loves his Heavenly Parents. He loves them for themselves. He loves them because they loved him first. And as he comes to know them, their love grows inside him and transforms him until he cannot help but radiate love to the whole world. The Heavenly Parents will give Tyler salvation not because he has obligated them but because they cannot resist him.  They will know him when they see him because he will be like them.

Jesus did away with the Not Even Once Club long ago. In his gospel, there is no other test or promise but love. To Tyler, and to everyone, he says: The kingdom of heaven is within you.