Speaking Engagement

I've been tagged again. But this time it isn't one of those fun tags where I get to show off my purse and give everyone trips to Paris. This tag comes to me via a member of my Bishopric. Really I knew this day would come. While I was living in Northern Ireland I was speaking in church something like 5 times a year (way too much by the way), but since returning to Utah I haven't spoken a single time. It has been pure bliss. Well, the bliss has ended. This Sunday I am speaking in church (for those not familiar with my church (the LDS church) we do not have a paid preacher or priest that preaches to us each Sunday. We essentially take turns taking on the role of preacher. It really is a bit of nastiness in an otherwise upstanding institution that I wholeheartedly believe in). I only have to speak for about 10 minutes so that is good. And I was asked to speak a week ago so I have had some good prep time so that is also good. So anyway, yesterday (after almost a whole week of research and organizing) I finally sat down to write my talk. (STM--I did it in my room next to my bookcases and there were several long glances toward them) Now I understand that you may not want what is coming next, but you are going to get it anyway. Here is my talk (It is kind of long so I will hold no grudges against you if you don't read it):

You may or may not have noticed, but there is an increased interest in the study of Mormonism by scholars and academics around the United States and even the world. You can take a class titled Mormonism & the American Experience at Harvard. Claremont Graduate University, a very prestigious school in the field of religious studies, recently formed The Council for the Study of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/Mormon Studies and endowed the Howard W. Hunter Chair in the School of Religion. And throughout the world Mormon Studies seminars and symposia are being held at some very prestigious Universities and institutions such as the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the University of Durham in Great Britain, and the New South Wales Parliament in Australia. This attention comes partially as a result of our growing status as a global religion. As stated by Philip Barlow at Utah State University, “The study of Mormonism can be like going back in a time machine to the second century and studying Christianity as it emerged from Judaism into a new religious tradition.” So basically people are interested in studying us because of a belief that we are on the verge of becoming one of the major world religions and scholars have never before witnessed such an emergence.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend a Mormon Studies seminar and would like to briefly tell you about the keynote address that was given at this conference. While most of the presenters at this conference were LDS giving the expected sympathetic view on Mormonism, the keynote address was given by a non-LDS scholar who had spent the previous 10+ years studying LDS communities. Interestingly enough, the gist of his argument was that the LDS Church has all the answers. And he was not being sarcastic in this argument. He was being absolutely serious. He spoke to us for over an hour about how most of societies problems, problems ranging from cancer, AIDS, and diseases associated with obesity to problems such as racism, crime, pollution, homelessness, hunger, debt, and war would evaporate completely or nearly so if everyone would adopt and live by the tenets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was, as you can imagine, a very interesting address. Once he concluded his remarks he spent around 30 minutes answering questions from the audience. One young man raised his hand, identified himself as LDS, and asked if the speaker had ever met with the missionaries and if he was interested in joining the Church. The speaker tried to laugh off the question and move on but the young man persisted and asked again. And so the speaker responded the question. In his response, and I am paraphrasing here, he told us that he had spent over 10 years studying and living in various LDS communities and has found the LDS people to be good people who raise good families and generally do good things with their time and lives. And while all these things are good, he had observed that as a people we do not do what we say and so he was not interested in officially joining with the Church. Can you imagine the sinking feeling that hit me as he spoke these words? Here was a man who was absolutely sure that we as a Church had all the answers to the social ills that plague today’s world and yet because of his observations of us he was not willing to join with us.

In an Ensign article written by President N. Eldon Tanner introduces his topic by writing:

“Never in our time has there been greater need for all mankind to turn their lives around and live by the teachings of Jesus Christ. One has only to read a newspaper, listen to news broadcasts, or engage in conversation with someone to become despondent with the state of the world, his nation, or individual plights of his neighbor and himself. ‘Where will it all lead?’ we ask in dismay. What is happening to the leaders of men and of nations that has brought us to such a condition? Where, along the way, have we failed? The answers are found in an examination of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the nonconformity in our lives to the truths found therein. It is the individual responsibility of each of us to so live that we may extend our influence for righteousness to others who, seeing our good works, will be led to glorify our Father in Heaven.”

Later in the article President Tanner asks:

“But how committed are we to sincerely and honestly living as we preach? Each of us needs to reexamine his life and resolve to keep the commandments and be an example of righteousness and an influence for good in a troubled world.”

It strikes me that what both the Mormon Scholar and the Mormon Apostle are arguing is that the solutions to today’s most serious problems are found in the gospel of Jesus Christ and that those of us who have received the fullness of the gospel into our lives need to do a better job living it.

It is on this last idea, the idea of living the gospel or more specifically teaching the gospel or teaching of Jesus Christ by our example that I would like to spend the remainder of my time.

A couple of years ago when I was living in a different Stake the Stake President directed us to purchase the Preach My Gospel study guide and begin a daily study of it. As you know the study guide is primarily written as a guide for full-time missionaries and so there are some areas that may not directly pertain to so-called “regular” Church members. Because of this I decided that when I came to these sections I would skim through them and then continue on with my study. I continued this practice for some time until I came to one section on page 123 titled Activity: Personal Study with a picture of a missionary name tag. I skimmed through it and was moving on when I changed my mind and went back and re-read it. It reads in part:

“Look at the image of the name tag. How does your name tag differ from that worn by an employee of a company? Note that the two most prominent parts are your name and the Savior’s name. How can you ensure that you represent the Savior as one of His disciples? Why is it important for people to associate your name with the Savior’s in a positive way? Write your thoughts in your study journal.”

I decided to do this particular activity with a bit of a twist and in part this is what I wrote in my study journal: “I don’t have a name tag which makes me think about how important it is that the things I say and do clearly manifest to others who I represent and whose name I have taken upon myself. I am a representative of Jesus Christ and that should be clear to those around me.” In a sense, I think, missionaries actually have it a little easy. They have a name tag that declares who they represent. We, though, through the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament have taken upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ just as surely as any missionary with a name tag and have the responsibility of representing the Savior at all times and in all places. In the March 2008 Ensign Elder D. Todd Christofferson states: “People should be able to see in us something of Jesus Christ. The way we act, speak, look, and even think will reflect Him and His ways.” So here is the question: Do the people in our lives know who we represent by the way that we live each day of our life. Do they know this not simply because we have explained it to them in words or because we have told them how righteous we are because we spend X amount of time preparing a lesson or attending the temple. Do they see it for themselves in the things we spend our time doing and in the manner in which we carry ourselves. Are we following the command in James chapter 1 verse 22 to “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only”? Or should we be applying the words of Christ when he addressed the scribes and Pharisees, saying: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me”?

Tough questions I know and not easily answered. In fact, Elder Dallin H. Oaks in his conference address in October when commenting specifically on choices for family activities stated “there is no easy formula for that contest of priorities.” I think this comment very well applies to this topic. There are plenty of good activities and things available to us. But filling our lives with merely the good will not necessarily be representative of the man that we represent and may place us at risk of becoming hearers only. While there truly is no easy formula, there is direction given.

In opening his talk, Elder Oaks declares:

“We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best…Most of us have more things expected of us than we can possibly do…We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.”

So step one perhaps is to begin a better system of prioritizing. But, choosing the appropriate activities to fill our time is merely the start of our quest to stand as a witnesses of Jesus Christ. To do this I think that we must not just merely fill our time with a so-called list of approved activities but we must fulfill these activities in a Christlike manner. If we are to witness of Jesus Christ by our example we must ourselves become more Christlike. In that vein may I recommend the same challenge given to me that I have already mentioned: That we begin (or perhaps continue) a study of the Preach My Gospel study guide. I would particularly recommend section 6 titled “Christlike Attributes” beginning on page 115. In this section you will find 9 topics that will instruct you on becoming a more Christlike person. These topics are brief and may take only 10 minutes each to read through but they are powerfully written and will give us a great deal of knowledge and a great deal to ponder over. They will, with serious contemplation, change our attributes and our lives. In addition to this book, of course, are a myriad of other means of learning about and applying the attributes of Christ in our lives and I hope we will or have chosen at least one course of study.

In closing his address, Elder Oaks provides an illustration of the need not to be merely doing good things but to be doing them in a Christlike manner that I think very much reflects my opening story. He says “It is good to belong to our Father in Heaven’s true Church and to keep all of His commandments and fulfill all of our duties. But if this is to qualify as “best,” it should be done with love and without arrogance.”

As I have prepared my talk I have very much been reminded of a quote by the Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” In closing I would like to leave all of us with the challenge to reexamine our lives to make sure that what we are doing speaks for what we say. [END]

There it is. I just wrote it last night so it is still a bit rough. Any suggestions? Normally I don't spend so much time introducing the topic but I decided that I wanted to shock people into seeing the need to examine their own lives rather than me giving them a point-by-point description of what they should and should not do. Sadly, though, it does seem to end a bit fast right now--but that may just have to be ok this time since I just timed myself and it takes me about 14 minutes to read it so I need to either read fast or cut 2 minutes out (they said ABOUT 10 minutes and the most I am willing to go with an about is 12 minutes). Also I am in the process of looking up that scholar's name so I don't have to keep refering to him as the scholar.


Stephen said...

That was a great talk. I certainly was moved to re-examine my life and chose things that are better, more Christlike. I was also moved to begin studying Preach My Gospel.

Thank you and good luck with your talk.

Yankee Girl said...

Thanks Stephen. I've fixed the spelling errors and cut a few things down a bit and have reached the 12 minute mark so I think I am just about good to do.

Any suggestions are of course welcome.

Jen said...

That was awesome! I loved the story at the beginning...it is a shocker! And I loved Elder Oaks talk. It was one of my favorites. I also loved Elder Bednar's on Clean Hands and a Pure Heart. We have to not only overcome the natural man and keep the commandments, but we have to change our natures and "have no more disposition to do evil." Great job!