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Testimony and Other "Wicked Problems"

Some problems have no easy answers. When it comes to testimony, Eric Gillett shows how design thinking—including the acceptance of ambiguity and divergent thinking—can help as we sort through those problems.

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Recent Speeches


On Failing and Finishing

Play Through Your Mistakes Music has always been a very important part of my life. Nearly every major memory of my childhood involves music of some kind: singing with my family on road trips to pass the time; learning barbershop music with my mom and sisters; listening to the Tijuana Brass band on the record player while decorating our Christmas tree; singing my father’s favorite song, “Love at Home” (see Hymns, 2002, no. 294), for family home evening; and admiring my mother as she played the organ in our sacrament meeting every week—something she still does at the young age of eighty. Given that music played such a prominent role in my youth, it will not surprise you to know that I took piano lessons for ten years, from the age of eight to seventeen. My first piano teacher—we will call her Mrs. Smith—was very strict and had high expectations for mastery. During my lesson she would often follow the music with a pencil as I played. Sometimes, after I hit a sour note or used the wrong fingering, Mrs. Smith would flick my fingers with that pencil. She intended to help me recognize the mistake so that I could correct it. Unfortunately, after several experiences with the dreaded pencil, I learned that the least painful way to handle my musical mistakes was to remove my hands from the keys as quickly as possible. This habit of abruptly stopping after a mistake was also unintentionally reinforced when I would practice at home. Our piano was positioned on a wall that was opposite our kitchen; in fact, it was back-to-back with our stove. I would often practice while my mother was making dinner on the other side of the wall. When I would make a mistake, she would make a staccato “ah” sound. Startled, my hands would fly from the keys. I know this was not the intended outcome because I heard her do the same thing when she made her own mistakes at the organ or piano. She still does this today, but only in practice. When she is at the organ or piano for performance, there are few errors, but when they occur, they are hardly noticeable. She can play right on through a mistake like nothing happened. I, on the other hand, cannot. Most of my piano recitals with Mrs. Smith took place in the chapel of my home ward building. These were reverent occasions—no clapping after the end of each performance, just polite smiles from the audience as we each took our turn at the grand piano. We were not allowed to use our music, so for me, the walk up those three velvety red steps to the piano felt like walking into a battle unarmed. I was terrified that I would make a mistake, take my hands from the keys, and be unable to find the right placement again. This terror of performing would follow me into adulthood. When I was still in the early years of my public accounting career and had two small children at home, I was called as the Relief Society pianist. The first week was a disaster. I lur

A Banquet of Consequences: The Cumulative Result of All Choices

One of the most cunning aspects of the adversary’s efforts to thwart our Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness is his deceitful teaching that there is no evil influence or devil1 and his attempt to redefine evil as good and good as evil, darkness as light and light as darkness, and bitter as sweet and sweet as bitter!2 This is sometimes called a paradigm shift—or “when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way,”3 thus portraying things to be exactly the opposite of what they really are. In his classic novel The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis wrote from a senior devil’s point of view. Lewis inverted traditional values using irony and satire to make evil appear good and good appear evil.4 In this vein I had a provocative meeting with an internationally recognized advertising expert a few months ago. He is an unusually gifted and creative thinker. We were discussing the influence of evil and the consequences of bad choices. He envisioned an interesting hypothetical account of the adversary (Lucifer) meeting with an advertising agency. The adversary described his dilemma: He and his followers had rebelled and rejected the Father’s plan and had come to understand they could not prevail against God. Lucifer understood that while the Father’s plan was about joy and happiness, his own plan was resulting in grief and misery. The problem, Lucifer explained to the ad executive, was how to attract followers. After contemplating this problem, it was determined that Lucifer’s only hope of success was to achieve a paradigm shift or values inversion—in other words, to characterize the Father’s plan as resulting in grief and misery and Lucifer’s plan as resulting in joy and happiness. While this contemplated meeting with an advertising agency is hypothetical, it serves a useful purpose. The truth is, not only do the enemies of Father’s plan attempt to undermine the doctrine and principles of the plan, but they also attempt to mischaracterize the blessings that flow from the plan. Their basic effort is to make that which is good, righteous, and joyful seem utterly miserable. I will discuss some of the adversary’s efforts to mischaracterize and undermine the blessings of living according to the Father’s plan. Word of Wisdom My first example is the Word of Wisdom. I fully recognize that you magnificent students understand the importance of the Word of Wisdom and have agreed, on your honor, to live by it. However, over the course of a lifetime I have seen many of my friends’ lives blighted and sometimes destroyed by alcohol. An alcohol culture isn’t just about Church doctrine; it is about the health and happiness of everyone. You can be an important voice in educating society about the consequences of this issue. In the Father’s plan, the Word of Wisdom—secti

The Power of Your Words

I would like to explain the sequence of how I was first contacted to speak at this devotional. It was on a Monday that I got a text message from a number I didn’t recognize. It had been a hectic day, and I didn’t read the text fully. Thinking it was a request to speak at an upcoming Church assignment, I texted back politely asking who the text was from. Matthew O. Richardson, BYU advancement vice president, responded that it was he who had sent the text asking me to speak at a BYU devotional. The first thought that popped into my mind was, “Are you crazy? Do you not realize that I can barely speak the English language, let alone speak in front of so many people?” My wife, who was with me at the time, responded without hesitation, “That is desperation, not inspiration!” I texted President Richardson back with, “I think you have the wrong Craig Manning.” He then replied, “Oops, sorry, I do have the wrong person!” But he then clarified that he did have the right person. As intimidating as it is to speak in front of you, the experience of preparing for this devotional has been great. I have found that every time I have put on the radio, in every activity I have participated in, and with every thought I have had, I have double-checked myself to make sure I was in alignment with the Holy Ghost so as to have the Spirit with me. I do pray that the Spirit will be with me today as I deliver my thoughts. I would like to talk to you today about a couple of life-changing lessons the Lord has taught me. I was born and raised in Canberra, Australia. My mother was, and still is, a Catholic, and my father was a member of the Church of England before he passed away from cancer twenty years ago. We attended church on Sundays, and I attended Sunday School, completing my first Holy Communion. As I got older, I started playing rugby. Games were on Sundays, and it wasn’t long before we stopped attending church. I remember coming home from a rugby game one Sunday when my mother said to me, “You are really good at sports, so you won’t be very good at school.” This statement confused me. Although I didn’t have the maturity and clarity of thought at the time to articulate my emotions, I can look back now and see why this statement bothered me. Was there some phenomenon that controlled my destiny? I couldn’t help being good at sports; it just seemed to happen. Every time I participated in an athletic contest, I was reminded that I was a good athlete. So did that mean I had no chance of ever being a good student, and did I have any say in any of this? I don’t share this story to accuse my mother of bad parenting but rather to illustrate what can happen when we don’t understand the Lord’s plan or, more important, when we don’t learn to live and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ. I spent my teenage years focusing the majority of my attention on sports, par

The Doctrine of Christ: Our Daily Walk

Brothers and sisters, it is difficult to express what a surreal experience it is for me to stand at this pulpit and speak at a BYU devotional. For many years I have been somewhat of a BYU devotional junkie. When I was a student here, I discovered that you could purchase cassette tapes of selected devotional talks, and I bought several. I remember well Stephen R. Covey’s talk “An Educated Conscience.”1 Listening to Truman G. Madsen’s talk “House of Glory” was perhaps the best temple preparation I received.2 Nowadays I have the BYU Speeches podcast and listen regularly. In all my years of listening to these devotionals, it never occurred to me that I would be speaking in one. Since receiving this assignment a few months ago, I have pondered and prayed earnestly to know what the Lord would have me share. As I pondered, I was reminded of these words from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Strength comes . . . from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light. It comes from placing our attention and efforts on the basics of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It comes from paying attention to the divine things that matter most. Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian ­discipleship—the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace.3 We live in days in which the mists of darkness are “exceedingly great.”4 Satan is “the father of lies,”5 and his lies “blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men.”6 One of Satan’s subtle but more pervasive strategies is to distract us from the things that matter most with a never-ending array of mind-numbing trivialities. With President Uchtdorf’s counsel burning in my heart, I will focus today “on the basics of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ”—“the sublime . . . path of Christian discipleship.” My great desire is for each of us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.”7 My message is centered in that quest and how we can be more diligent, joyful, and successful in that journey. As you begin a new year and a new semester, I hope that some of what I say will help you focus your goals on “the divine things that matter most.” I invite you to pay close attention to what the Holy Ghost whispers to your heart during our time together. More important than the words I speak, I pray that your hearts and minds will be open to receive light and truth from the Holy Ghost. The light and truth that the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel has brought about can push away all darkness from our minds and lives. We need to remember that the Lord has also described our day as “noon-day.”8 Our Identity A foundational truth we need

The Pursuit of All Truth

Each year Oxford Dictionaries selects a word of the year—“a word, or expression, that . . . is judged to reflect the . . . mood . . . of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.” Past selections include unfriend in 2009 and selfie in 2013. In 2015 the word of the year was not a word but a pictograph: the “face with tears of joy” emoji.1 Recently, Oxford Dictionaries announced that the word of the year for 2016 is post-truth, a word they define as “an adjective . . . denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”2 Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, explained the selection: “Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time. . . . I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.”3 Reflecting this view, several commentators have recently asserted that we live in a post-truth world, or a world in which truth “has become unimportant or irrelevant.”4 It is hard to know with certainty whether truth is really less important than it has been in the past. But it is clear that because we live in a digital age, in which there is so much information and there are so many different contending views of what is accurate, some people find that new information confounds and confuses rather than clarifies and enlightens. Modernizing the plight of the thirsty Ancient Mariner, who proclaimed, “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink,”5 many today lament, “Data, data, everywhere, and not a thought to think.”6 Living in a post-truth world in which there is more information available than there is time to process it presents particular challenges. Many do not know how to determine the accuracy or the truthfulness of new information. Some deal with the matter by looking for reinforcement of their own preexisting, and sometimes ill-informed, notions, limiting their pursuit of truth to only those sources that support their views. Stuck in an echo chamber of their own making, they stunt their ability to learn truth by sealing themselves off from any meaningful dialogue with any who may have different viewpoints. A manifestation of this is the increasing polarization in American politics.7 Others go to the opposite extreme, finding any piece of information that disrupts their prior views as sufficient reason to throw aside, without further inquiry, truths that have provided sure guidance to them and others in the past. These individuals, to use the words of the apostle Paul, are “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of do

A Safe Place

When we moved to Provo thirty years ago, I was in my twenties. Our oldest son was two, and our youngest son was just a few weeks old. I had been a member of the Church for less than ten years. Shortly after arriving in Provo, I met Bertha. Bertha was in her sixties. I knew a little bit about Bertha. I knew she lived in our stake. I knew she was respected by those who knew her. I also knew that she was a leader and a woman of service. People sought her advice. I remember attending a stake Relief Society function at which Bertha was one of the women on a panel that was answering questions and giving advice to those in attendance on a variety of topics. I noticed that Bertha was being asked for a lot of advice about raising children. I soon discovered why. She was the mother of thirteen children. I appreciated her responses to the questions. She seemed to have all the wisdom and experience that I lacked. Another thing I knew about Bertha was that she seemed to like walking. Sometimes I would see her walking in the neighborhood. One morning while I was walking with my friend, she asked me if it would be okay if Bertha joined us occasionally on our walks. I told her that was fine. But privately, the thought of walking with Bertha intimidated me somewhat, mainly because I held her in such high esteem. A few days later my friend invited Bertha to walk with us. Before Bertha met us for our walk that morning, my friend told me a couple of things about Bertha that she thought would be helpful to me. She told me that Bertha sometimes had a little difficulty hearing and that her shins sometimes bothered her—especially when walking uphill. I thought these things were good to know. Our walking route that day began in the Tree Streets south of the Provo Temple. We headed toward the temple, which is a steady uphill walk. I don’t remember much of our conversation that day. I remember only the question I asked Bertha once we reached the top of the road by the temple and began our steady descent toward home. Remembering that Bertha’s shins sometimes bothered her, I asked, “Bertha, how are your shins?” There was a bit of an awkward pause, and then, with much earnestness, Bertha replied, “I’m working on them, and hopefully they are improving every day.” I responded, “Oh, that’s good. Thankfully it’s all downhill from here.” I was feeling pretty magnanimous about my expressed concern for Bertha. For a couple of minutes we walked along in a somewhat awkward silence. Then my friend suddenly got a relieved look on her face and, turning to me, exclaimed, “You said shins, didn’t you?” My first thought was, “Yes, of course I said shins.” Then it occurred to me that they had both thought I had asked Bertha how her sins were doing! I was mortified! There I was, this inexperienced young mother, asking Bertha, this accomplished and

Lessons from Joseph Smith

Brothers and sisters, it is a surreal experience to be standing here talking to you today. Forty-eight years ago I first set foot on this campus as a seventeen-year-old freshman. I remember attending BYU devotionals in the Smith Fieldhouse (because there was no Marriott Center yet), listening to speakers just like you are doing. Things have changed a lot since then. The female students were not allowed to wear pants on campus—yes, we were cold all winter long. We whitewashed the Y on the mountain every year with a very long bucket brigade, and the Y was lit with real fire. David O. McKay was the prophet, Lyndon B. Johnson was the president of the United States, and I had lost a good friend in the war in Vietnam. The good news is that I did graduate from BYU. The bad news is that it took me forty-one years to do it. I was very elated at the event, but I do not recommend that educational strategy! I can assure you that there is nothing in my life that could possibly have given me the notion that someday I would be standing at a podium in the Marriott Center delivering a devotional address. Just as with so many events that have taken place in my life during the past three and a half years, I truly relate to Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley, who often said that she was “wondering how a nice girl like me got into a mess like this.”1 Maybe there are some lessons to be learned from this. Lessons from the Life of Joseph Smith The month of December is the birth month of the Prophet Joseph Smith. With that as inspiration, I would like to talk about three principles inspired by events from the early life of Joseph Smith that might be of value in your current situations and lives. Lesson 1: You Have an Important Mission to Fulfill President Gordon B. Hinckley once quoted Reverend Edward T. Sullivan, who said: When God wants a great work done in the world or a great wrong righted, he goes about it in a very unusual way. He doesn’t stir up his earthquakes or send forth his thunderbolts. Instead, he has a helpless baby born.2 After a long period of apostasy and spiritual darkness, the time had come to fulfill the promises of the Lord that the Church of Jesus Christ would be restored to the earth with all of the keys and authority found in the original Church in Christ’s day. How would the Lord accomplish this great task? A baby was born. On December 23, 1805, a poor farmer’s wife by the name of Lucy Mack Smith gave birth to a baby boy who was named after his father, Joseph Smith. He was their fourth child—he had two older brothers and an older sister.3 Who could have guessed that this little obscure baby boy born in a small rented log house in the woods of Vermont to a family of very meager means would one da

Listen, Lift, Rescue

You might recall in the beloved Dr. Seuss children’s book Horton Hears a Who! how Horton, who was an elephant, had a chance encounter with a speck of dust, from whence a voice, barely audible, called out for help. Horton recognized that the voice was coming from the speck of dust and proceeded to do all he could to protect and defend this colony of Whos, who were “too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes.” Horton perceived that someone was in distress and realized that he could help. Instead of discounting his newly discovered friends, and amidst scoffs and scorn from others, he did all he could to give aid. He had a clear understanding of his ability to rescue and protect the Who colony. Through his actions he demonstrated his ability to give aid, share his light, and serve. As Horton exclaimed, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Being Grateful Having just celebrated Thanksgiving this past week, and as we transition from November into the month of December and celebrate the birth of our beloved Savior, it seems particularly natural that gratitude has taken center stage in our minds and in our hearts—as it should. No matter how humble and meager our circumstances, we each have so much to be grateful for. President Thomas S. Monson said of gratitude: To express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven. [“The Divine Gift of Gratitude,” Ensign, November 2010] He also said: We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. [“Divine Gift”] Gratitude is an expression of our faith. Negativity most certainly breeds despair, depression, lack of enthusiasm, and critical analysis of that which is most likely not our right to criticize or judge. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, in a devotional address on gratitude given at BYU, said: Gratitude is a mark of a noble soul and a refined character. We like to be around those who are grateful. They tend to brighten all around them. They make ­others feel better about themselves. They tend to be more humble, more joyful, more likable. . . . Gratitude is a commandment of the Father. [“Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” BYU devotional address, 31 October 2000] Doctrine and Covenants 59:7 reads, “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” While it may be more challenging to feel grateful when we are in the throes of trials and disappointments, those are the very times when we need to stop, take a look around, and count and list our blessings one by one. It has not been surprising to me throughout my life how much I truly take for granted

The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?

The Book of Mormon Is the Keystone of Our Religion It is good to be with you today. I love BYU. It is where I attended school, where I met my wonderful wife, and where all six of our children have attended. The title of my talk today is “The Book of Mormon: Man-Made or God-Given?”1 Because the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion,” as described by Joseph Smith,2 the Church rises or falls on the truth of it. As a result, if the Book of Mormon can be proved to be man-made, then the Church is man-made. On the other hand, if its origin is God-given, then Joseph Smith was a prophet, and if he was a prophet, then The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. It is that simple. Once we have a foundational testimony of the Book of Mormon, then any question or challenge we confront in life, however difficult it may seem, can be approached with faith, not doubt. Why? Because the keystone of our religion—the Book of Mormon and its witness of Jesus Christ—has also become the keystone of our testimony, which keystone holds our testimony securely in place. Thus the Book of Mormon has become the focal point of attack by many of our critics: disprove the Book of Mormon and you disprove the Church and undermine testimonies. But this is no easy task—in fact, it is impossible, because the Book of Mormon is true. Eleven witnesses, in addition to Joseph Smith, saw the gold plates, millions of believers have testified of its truthfulness, and the book is readily available for examination. Critics must either dismiss the Book of Mormon with a sheepish shrug or produce a viable alternative to Joseph Smith’s account; namely, that he translated it by the gift and power of God. What then are those alternative arguments presented by our critics for the origin of the Book of Mormon, and what is the truth? Argument 1: Joseph Smith, Alleged to Be an Ignorant Man, Wrote the Book of Mormon In 1831 a clergyman named Alexander Campbell proposed that Joseph Smith wrote rather than translated the Book of Mormon: There never was a book more evidently written by one set of fingers, nor more certainly conceived in one cranium . . . , than this . . . book. . . . I cannot doubt for a single moment that [Joseph Smith] is the sole author and proprietor of it.3 Campbell also declared that “[Joseph was] as ignorant and as impudent a knave as ever wrote a book.”4 But this assertion that Joseph Smith, who was “ignorant” and lacked education, could write such a work as the Book of Mormon seemed so preposterous to other contemporary critics that they readily dismissed it. Even Campbell himself, who proposed this theory, later abandoned it in favor of another alternative.5 So the early theories about the origin of the Book of Mormon started to focus on the premise that Josep

Brigham Young University: A Visionary House

Over the past several decades my wife, Lisa, faithfully stood at our door to send our children off as they left our home for school. Without exception, she would call to them—usually in her pajamas—and say, “Stand up straight, smile, and remember who you are! You’re a Richardson, a child of God!” Without taking a breath, she would then say our family motto: “Reverence. Respect. Responsibility. Resourcefulness.” And then, with the excitement of a cheerleader, she would roll her arms and say the final word: “Reeesolve.” Oh, but wait, she wasn’t quite finished. She would cap it all off with an enthusiastic “Be a light!” After our children heard this charge nearly every day of their young lives, is it any wonder that this ritual has been forever engrained in their memories—and in the memories of their friends and quite possibly of our neighbors? With this image fresh in your mind, I would like to focus on the first part of my wife’s simple but profound instruction: “Stand up straight, smile, and remember who you are.” BYU has impacted my ability to stand up straight, has influenced why I smile, and has greatly molded who I am today. I have been privileged to be part of this university as a student, a professor, and now an administrator for more than three decades. I know what you are thinking, and yes, three decades is a very long time—and yes, I am old. After all these years you would think that I would know my way around campus, which I do; understand more about honor and integrity from the Honor Code, which I do; know all of “The Cougar Fight Song,” which I do; and know and enjoy BYU’s history and culture, which I do. Yet there are certain things about BYU that I earnestly hope I will never forget. President Ezra Taft Benson once said, “It is our privilege to store our memories with good and great thoughts and bring them out on the stage of our minds at will.”1 Sadly, remembering even the good and great thoughts can be difficult. I am confident that you, of all people, understand this well. After all, you have been taking quizzes and midterms lately and probably know that sick feeling in which your head is like a balloon with a small hole and all your preparation at the library is leaking out at an alarming rate as you make your way to the Testing Center. Oh sure, you try and pump your head up again by quickly reading through the stack of note cards as you walk, but you know deep down that all the good stuff is leaking out just as fast as you are putting it in. There is great power in knowledge, but it seems that there is even greater power in remembering. President Spencer W. Kimball once asked, “When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is?” He then answered, “It could be remember.”2 With everything you have tucked away, there are some thin

Audacious Faith: Appreciating the Unique Power and Singular Appeal of LDS Doctrine

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies officially began on January 1, 2000. The choice of date was purposeful, coinciding with the beginning of a new millennium. It also makes it easy for us to remember the answer when we are asked how long the center has been operating. In my role as associate director and now director of the center, I interact on an almost daily basis with people from around the world of almost every imaginable religious background—and with many who are not religious at all. Occasionally, usually at a reception or dinner toward the end of a conference, I am asked to explain something about what Mormons believe. Usually someone will want to know what is unique and distinctive about the Church or how it fits with other Christian denominations. I have come to welcome opportunities like these because they give me a chance to talk about not only similarities between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other faiths but also some of the things that make us different. It is these differences—as well as a few of the ­similarities—that I would like to speak of today. Audacious Faith I have entitled my remarks “Audacious Faith: Appreciating the Unique Power and Singular Appeal of LDS Doctrine.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word audacious as “daring, bold, confident, intrepid.”1 I have come to believe that many basic LDS doctrines are audacious in this sense. A Peculiar People I remember when I was a boy being taught to take pride in the things that make us different. We were taught that Mormons are and should be “a peculiar people”2 and that we were to be in the world but not of it.3 But in the second half of my life, which coincides with the entire life of most in this room, it seems to me that we as a church have become better at explaining and are more inclined to emphasize our similarities with other Christian churches. This is an understandable part of an effort of the Church and its people to be viewed as less odd and more like others. As recently as Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns, the Church and its members were still expected to address the tired, old question of whether Mormons are Christians. We have sometimes found ourselves in exasperation repeating the name of the Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has even changed its logo to emphasize the centrality of Jesus Christ. I, for one, welcome this renewed emphasis on Jesus Christ and His Atonement. But it is also true that some of our understandings of even basic doctrines are quite distinctive. The Premortal Existence I learned this fact as a freshman at Georgetown University. I was assigned to a dormitory called Darnall Hall and a roommate named Tom Warner, who was a good Catholic boy from Queens, New York. His

Orson Hyde, the Holy Land, and Brigham Young University

Thank you, brothers and sisters, for taking time from your busy schedules to be here today. From years of personal experience I know the demands and pressures of attending a large university. How grateful I am that you would step away from your studies or other responsibilities to participate in this devotional. Let me also thank those who provided me with this opportunity to speak. My wife, Tina, and I returned from Jerusalem in mid-August, after a three-year assignment at BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. We were blessed to have been in a unique university facility, where we worked closely with administrators, faculty members, staff, volunteer couples, and hundreds of students in a way rarely afforded most people. Let me also thank my lifelong and eternal companion for her constant support in what has been a very intense and very rewarding three years. Her sacrifices were many and her influence on others immense. Life is often filled with surprises. While I ­recognize the need we all have to set goals and to have lifelong plans in place, we often find ourselves taking detours. Some of these can be scenic and short lived. Others take us down unforeseen paths. I suppose my speaking to you today is one of those shorter detours. Let me explain: After three years in the Holy Land, my wife and I decided a change of pace was in order when we returned to Utah. Instead of me going back to my office right away, we would spend time with family, find a home, buy a car or two (we sold our home and cars before moving to Jerusalem), and arrange for a trip to Florida to visit Magnolia, our nine-month-old grand­daughter, whom I have never met in person. It was a good plan. Our first week back could not have gone better. We retreated to my in-laws’ cabin for some welcome family time, they loaned us a car so that we could get around, and our oldest daughter and her husband graciously took us into their home. Life was good! Then it happened: two weeks after being back, I received an unexpected invitation to speak today—clearly a deviation from the plan, a few ripples on the calm waters of life. In between finding cars (we have), a home (we closed on it last Friday), and spending time with family, I have quietly been slipping into my office on campus to prepare for this wonderful opportunity. I moved the piles of mail that had accumulated during my absence to one side of my desk and set to work, having determined to say something about the Holy Land. My first exposure to Jerusalem was in 1984, long before most of you were born. Sister Whitchurch and I had spent a couple of years saving money so that we could participate on a three-week Lands of the Scriptures Workshop offered through LDS Seminaries and Institutes. Our travels took us to Italy, Egypt, and many places throughout the Holy Land. From the minute the plane touched down on the tarmac at the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Avi

Receiving the Eternal

My friends, I commend each of you for taking time in your busy lives to consider the things of eternity. May the Lord bless you for it. I was originally scheduled to speak at a devotional in March, but two weeks before that day, I had a heart attack. While having three titanium stents put in my heart, I went into cardiac arrest and experienced what doctors call “clinical death.” Alas, I did not see a tunnel of light, nor was I asked about whether I wanted to stay on earth. If asked, I think I would have said, “I do miss my parents and grandparents, but my children and grandchildren still need me. And I really need my wife, Mary. May I please stay?” Well, the doctors got my heart beating again, and I am very happy to be here with you today—especially with Mary! My purpose today is to speak about the blessings found in receiving the eternal into our lives and also to speak a little on the related need to resist the ephemeral. Ephemeral means fleeting, transitory, and momentary. Most things in this life are ephemeral. It is easy to forget that we are actually eternal beings in the midst of a temporary mortal journey. In Lehi’s dream of the tree of life,1 there were various ephemeral things that posed challenges for those making their way to the tree, including great mists of darkness and a great and spacious building with finely dressed people pointing fingers of scorn.2 The things that helped people get to the tree included a strait and narrow path, an iron rod, and the examples of people pressing forward to the tree, whose fruit was “sweet above all that is sweet.”3 A central purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince “the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.”4 I was brought to Christ through the Book of Mormon when entirely undeserving of this blessing. Thus I embrace a sacred obligation to stand as a witness of God’s love and mercy “at all times . . . and in all places”—including this one.5 The best way I know how to do this is to tell you about my journey to Christ. Conversion to Christ and the Restored Gospel I was born and raised in Marin County, California—at that time the fifth-wealthiest county in the nation. Living just north of San Francisco, I grew up literally surrounded by great mists, since on most days a heavy, dark fog rolled in off the Pacific Ocean. My parents raised me in the Episcopal Church. I was baptized by Father Ewald, my dad’s adoptive father. My godmother was my mom’s best friend, a wonderful Jewish woman named Ann, and my godfather was my Uncle Gene, who became an Episcopal priest. From age nine to twelve I served as an altar boy. However, I stopped attending church at age twelve and spent my youth playing sports. I cared nothing for books or schooling, only for baseball, basketball, tennis—and girls. I lived t

Elections, Hope, and Freedom

I am pleased for the opportunity to speak at this BYU devotional. The first BYU devotional I addressed was exactly forty-five years ago, in 1971. That audience included my oldest daughter, just enrolling as a freshman here. Many years later I spoke at this devotional assembly to an audience that included several of my grandchildren. Today this audience includes our oldest great-granddaughter, a ­sophomore here. Time goes on. I. This opportunity comes at a unique time. I am the only General Authority assigned to address this BYU audience between the beginning of school this fall and the election on November 8. And this audience includes thousands who will soon have their first opportunity to vote. I, therefore, begin by speaking about our national and local elections. The few months preceding an election have always been times of serious political divisions, but the divisions and meanness we are experiencing in this election, especially at the presidential level, seem to be unusually wide and ugly. Partly this results from modern technology, which expands the audience for conflicts and the speed of dissemination. Today, dubious charges, misrepresentations, and ugly innuendos are instantly flashed around the world, and the effects instantly widen and intensify the gaps between different positions. TV, the Internet, and the emboldened anonymity of the blogosphere have facilitated the current ugliness and have replaced whatever remained of the measured discourse of the past. Nevertheless, as the First Presidency always reminds us, we have the responsibility to become informed about the issues and candidates and to independently exercise our right to vote. Voters, remember, this applies to candidates for the many important local and state offices as well as the contested presidential election. II. We should also remember not to be part of the current meanness. We should communicate about our differences with a minimum of offense. Remember this teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith: While one portion of the human race [is] judging and condemning the other without mercy, the great parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; he views them as his offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men.1 I spoke about this subject two years ago in an October general conference talk titled “Loving Others and Living with Differences.” My message focused on doctrine and its application to the differences we face in our diverse circumstances in Church and family and in public, but the principles I taught are also relevant to political differences. I said: We are to live in the world but not be of the world. We must live in the world because, as Jesus taught in a parable, His kingdom is “like le

The Light of the Y

Welcome to the start of a new semester. We are so glad to have you students here on campus. Our community comes alive in a new way because you are here. Most of our new students arrived two weeks ago. Many of them participated in what is now becoming a tradition: forming the Y at LaVell Edwards Stadium. This is a wonderful and symbolic reminder that you, the students, are the Y—meaning that you are both the reason why we exist as a university and, for those with whom you interact, the embodiment of what BYU stands for. You represent the Y wherever you go. I love this recent tradition. There is another BYU tradition, one that began long before any of you were born. In 1924, students hiked up to the block Y on Y Mountain, dipped mattress stuffing in oil, placed the mattress balls around the edges of the Y, and lit them with torches they had carried up the ­mountain—thus lighting the Y for the very first time. Since that time the Y has been lighted every year for Homecoming, graduation, and other special events. Fortunately the torch fires never spread to the rest of the mountain in the ensuing decades. By the 1980s, those involved decided not to tempt fate any longer, and the mattress balls and torches were replaced with a generator and a string of lightbulbs stretched around the Y, making the Y brilliantly visible throughout the valley. This past summer, permanent lighting was literally cemented in place, and new technology was installed to allow remote lighting, thereby ensuring that the tradition of lighting the Y will continue for years to come. Just as I hope that the more recent tradition of forming the Y in LaVell Edwards Stadium reminds you that you are the Y, I hope that the continuation of the long-standing tradition of lighting the Y reminds you of an invitation that I will give to each of you students today: Don’t just light the Y; let the Y light you. What do I mean by that? Perhaps it can best be explained by a familiar story told by President James E. Faust. In the 1980s, prior to his becoming a member of the First Presidency, President Faust worked alongside many others to establish the BYU Jerusalem Center. In a 2005 general conference address, President Faust recalled one historic meeting regarding the lease for the land on which the . . . Jerusalem Center . . . was later built. Before this lease could be signed, President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, agreed with the Israeli government on behalf of the Church and the university not to proselyte in Israel. President Faust then said: To our knowledge the Church and BYU have scrupulously and honorably kept that nonproselyting commitment. After the lease had been signed, [however,] one of our [Israeli] friends insightfully remarked, “Oh, we know that you are not going to proselyte, but what are you going to do about the light t

Choose to Be a Leader

BYU is a wonderful place because it has ­wonderful students. I hope you all realize how much potential you have. You are all future leaders. You will lead in the Church, you will lead in businesses, you will lead in communities, you will lead in volunteer efforts, and, most important, you will lead in your families. One of the things I hope you learn here is how to be better leaders. If you do, you will be an enormous force for good. I would like to share with you some things I have learned about leadership over the years, things I wish I had known about leadership when I was your age. I begin with a personal ­experience—one that provides several lessons about leadership. From the time we were first married, Kevin and I have gone to visit my parents at their cabin in the mountains about seventy-five miles south of Provo. A number of years ago, while we were preparing to come home after one of those visits, my then young son needed to get something out of our locked car, so I gave him the keys and told him to be careful to not lock the keys in the car. A few minutes later he returned, looking a little sheepish. He then hesitantly, but bravely, confessed that he had locked the keys in the car. What ensued was one of those moments that my children still refer to many years later: “Do you remember what mom did when the keys were locked in the car?” Yes, upon hearing the brave confession of my young son, I responded in a way that corresponded more to his age than to mine. I threw a tantrum. I raised my voice, and I even kicked the car tire. I let my emotions take over. Fortunately that lasted only a few moments. My father calmly reminded me that I had roadside assistance insurance for times like this. His calm reminder instantly calmed me. I called roadside assistance, and we were soon on our way home. Now you might wonder what lessons could possibly come from an experience like that. Let me suggest four. Learn from Your Mistakes First, I learned that we can learn from our mistakes. I immediately regretted the way I had behaved that day. I reflected on the fact that, as a mother, I was a leader and a teacher to my children. And I resolved to do better. That experience had a powerful impact on me. While I am not perfect, I think I am doing better in that regard. Fortunately, as Elder Bruce C. Hafen once observed, “Because of the Atonement, we can learn from our experiences without being condemned by them” (“The Temple and the Natural Order of Marriage,” Ensign, September 2015). That is a powerful lesson for leaders to learn. Learn from the Examples of Others Second, I learned that we can learn from the good example of others. My father’s calm reaction to my outburst quickly and powerfully reminded me how I should act in those situations. Although I already knew how I should act, seeing his example provided me with a distinct reminder that has

The Lord’s Pattern

I count it a great blessing and a privilege to speak today at this university conference. I love to come to this campus. Before I begin my formal remarks, I am going to tell you a little story about why I feel so strongly about this place. It is not only because as a student here for a year after my mission I found my professional calling to be a teacher and a scholar at the feet of truly, truly inspiring teachers like Larry T. Wimmer and others, but it is also because I met Sue here. I want to tell you this little story about why I get a chill that just covers me when I walk on this campus. I had met Sue, and we were in the same family home evening group. We went for a walk one night, and I had the very distinct impression from the Spirit: “This is your ­eternal companion.” Fortunately, she had the same feeling. Just a couple of days later I was walking along a diagonal sidewalk toward where in those days the sidewalks met in a big X, right about where the Harold B. Lee Library annex is now. I was walking along toward that X when the national anthem began playing, so I stopped. When it finished playing, I walked along the sidewalk and came to where the sidewalks crossed in an X. I ran into Sue right there in the middle of the X. It was on a Wednesday afternoon, and there were thousands of students in that area. And I ran into my eternal companion in the center of the X! I didn’t say this to the Lord, but I got it. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated our forty-fifth anniversary. She is the love of my life. I came here to find her because she wasn’t in Boston. She was here. I am so grateful. And whenever I walk on this campus I feel the same way. So I love to come here. And I love you. The Lord has blessed me with the gift of love for you. I believe He wants me in my responsibilities now to see you and love you the way He sees you and loves you. I pray that you will feel that love today. I also pray that the Holy Ghost will be with us as we consider together the implications of a very simple message. This message has come to me personally, but I feel that I should share it with you. The Need to Be Better Here it is: Whatever level of spirituality we now enjoy in our lives; whatever degree of faith in Jesus Christ we now have; whatever strength of commitment and consecration; whatever degree of obedience, hope, or charity is ours; and whatever level of professional skill or ability we have obtained, it will not be sufficient for the work that lies ahead. I believe this message fits into a beautiful pattern the Lord has established in the Restoration, beginning with His appearance with His Father to Joseph Smith in 1820. Line upon line, precept upon precept, and step by step, Jesus Christ has built up His Church and His people. He has said: For I will raise up unto myself a pure people, that will serve me in righteousness.1
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