I had the privilege again today of speaking in another ward’s sacrament meeting, on the topic of “faith of our fathers.” I tried to take a slightly different approach to the subject, mostly trying to connect it to the Savior, scripture, and basic gospel doctrines. I think it turned out pretty well:
This is the time of year when we build inspiration and faith by focusing on the great lives of our pioneer ancestors. Whether or not we have great grandparents who pulled handcarts across the plains, whether we were born into the church or were baptized yesterday, as Latter-day Saints, we all get to draw from this great well of pioneer devotion and sacrifice to fill our hearts.
This is not the only dispensation where pioneer stories have been helpful in strengthening the Saints. In Alma chapter 5 in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma gives a great talk where he does the same thing. First he introduces himself and explains that he’s there to speak to them with authority from previous leaders, like any visiting authority in the church today. Then Alma reminds them of the hardships faced by those previous generations who had founded their church, starting in verse 5:
I say unto you, they were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out of bondage by the power of his word; and we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God throughout this land also.
167 years ago today, Joseph Smith, first prophet of the LDS Church, was murdered by a mob in a jail in Carthage, Illinois.
As he and a few friends sat in a room in the jail, awaiting what they knew to be an imminent ambush, Joseph asked John Taylor, who would later become the church’s third president, after Brigham Young, to sing his favorite song for him. The song was “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” which is about a man who keeps coming across a humble, suffering stranger throughout his life; the narrator keeps helping the stranger, regardless the sacrifice involved, until the end of the song, when the stranger is revealed to be Jesus Christ, who then offers salvation to His faithful friend.
The song may have comforted Joseph in two ways. He probably identified with the singer, who , like Joseph, had undergone almost constant adversity in a life devoted to serving Jesus. Joseph also likely found some measure of peace in the fact that his difficult life was only a shadow of the suffering the Savior endured, as the song describes.
We have a tendency to take a General Conference of the Church and discuss it, analyze it, work on applying it, and cherish it in every way we know how…for about three weeks. Then we forget it until the next Conference six months later and by then, that last Conference might as well have never happened. So instead of posting my notes on April’s meetings along with everyone else, I want to put mine up now, three months afterwards, halfway between that Conference and the next one.
I hope that we might all be reminded of things we missed before, or have renewed motivation to live up to the teachings given. Just this week at a home teaching meeting, a man in my ward mentioned that President Monson had taught in the priesthood meeting that every Melchizedek priesthood holder should be studying the scriptures every day. I didn’t remember that; it wasn’t in my notes. I looked up the talk and there it was. The prophet did say that. I was grateful to my friend.
When I take notes, immediately after each talk I write a title for that talk in the right margin of the page. This is my way of summing up the most major point or topic. My titles for each talk are given in parentheses after each speaker’s name. It’s always fun to compare my titles to those later published online and in the Ensign. Here are some highlights from my notes:
Elder Hales (“Overcome Debt & Addictions w/ Provident Living”)–The most impressive thing here was just the subject. Along with Elder Perry’s “Let Him Do It With Simplicity,” this is the second consecutive Conference to begin with a talk about providing for ourselves better by scaling back our materialism. That fact alone speaks volumes. Perhaps the best things here were his admonition to “joyfully” live within our means, and the subtle chastisement that debt is money that we could have used to serve others. Application: Have I reduced my longing for physical possessions through Elder Hales’s prescribed cure of service, obedience to the commandments, tithes, fast offerings, and a family budget?
Sometimes I’m tempted to pull my head back into my shell and call it quits as far as the world is concerned. I think we all feel that way sometimes. Work is stressful–or lost, finances are tight, illness is soaking up strength, family problems are heartbreaking, addictions are threatening, or a combination of these or any of a thousand other adversities conspire to drag us down. Often we may feel that the best option to preserve what little sanity we have left is to circle the wagons and just worry about yourself, and let the rest of the world go its way.
When this temptation surfaces, it’s good to remember how the Savior conducted himself in the midst of the Atonement. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus Christ felt infinitely for “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and…the pains and sicknesses of his people…their infirmities…[and] the sins of his people” (Alma 7:11-13)–truly, every negative experience every mortal has been, will be, or even could be called to pass through–a sacrifice so profound that the “suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit–and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18), He did not pull his head into his shell, or circle the wagons, or give Himself up to worry or self pity, letting the rest of the world fend for itself.
It’s only on the title page of The Christmas Sweater that you’ll learn that Glenn Beck enlisted the help of two co-authors in the writing of his book. I don’t know just how much each of the three writers contributed, but I have a guess: though the book is uniformly plain throughout, there are segments that feel like little more than a glorified movie of the week, and others that produce some decently composed examples of subtlety, imagery, and thematic development.
The narrator’s running interior dialogue favors crediting himself with unlikely, convenient leaps in self-understanding and psychological perception; at times I half expected him to become aware that he’s a fictional character being manipulated by an author. However, one specific character trait rings true each time it’s used, and done so with increasingly frustrating realism: his conscious decisions to shut people out and embrace the cold comforts of anger and self pity. We’ve all been there, and it’s a dark place, one from which we do need to decide to be rescued.
That is The Christmas Sweater‘s strong point: ultimately, it’s a sermon about letting God into your life to help you find joy amidst life’s nearly-crushing sorrows. Though most of the story reads like a preteen’s coming-of-age after school special, the climax is surprisingly effective: the protagonist confronts the dark world “of his own making” in a very real way. That scene is genuinely harrowing, and his path through it (not around it, through it, with God’s help), makes the whole thing worthwhile. It’s a satisfying illustration of the power of the Atonement in our lives, and isn’t shy about telling readers as much up front.
Last week a popular evangelical Christian web site removed an interview with Beck about the book because of complaints that, as a Mormon, Beck shouldn’t receive any warm quarter from “real” Christians. Though this would be a perfect opportunity to vent my incensed spleen as a Latter-day Saint myself, the protesters, if they want to keep the mainstream gene pool unpolluted by Mormon toxins, might do well to avoid The Christmas Sweater. Continue reading →