Category Archives: Greatest Talks, Etc.

Greatest Talks, Etc.: “The Joy of the Penetrating Light”

The talk “The Joy of the Penetrating Light” was given at the October 1984 General Conference by F. Enzio Bushche, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.  Though it is not related to this specific talk, the October 1984 General Conference also featured a talk entitled “The Gospel and the Church” by Ronald E. Poelman, also a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.  Apparently someone higher up than Poelman was not happy with the contents of his talk, and he was made to alter and re-record it after the fact for the official record.  (In 1984, in case the irony was not apparent.)

In any case, “The Joy of the Penetrating Light” is about an alleged new convert to the LDS church who is reflecting on how wonderful life is since he met the missionaries and joined the Church.  He has learned that God loves him, how to really pray, that the light of Christ is wonderful, etc.  I suspect that I liked this talk at the time I read it for two reasons: firstly, I was a missionary and missionaries introduced this person to the gospel and I could, too!  Secondly, it goes on and on about how wonderful our lives are when we have the truth of the gospel, and that was a message I was always ready to reassure myself with, because I often felt I wasn’t really good enough, for reasons I’m sure I’ve gone on about before.

Now, however, this talk comes across as containing contradictory messaging, backhanded holier-than-thou jabs at those who don’t belong to the Church, and of course an obligatory reference to tithing.  (“Obligatory” being hyperbole, naturally, but I think the tithing reference was really shoehorned in here.)

First, prayer.  The new convert remembers when he “learned… how to truly pray—not to say just a few nice words, but to open up his heart in sacred communication with his Heavenly Father.”  Later he “understands… that the words of his prayers became fewer and fewer until he became quiet and was changed from someone who was speaking to someone who was listening.”  So he isn’t supposed “to say just a few nice words” but rather “open up his heart,” but really he’s only supposed to say a few words and listen instead of speak.  Which is it?

Next, worldly people aren’t as good as he is, but he can “love them anyway.”  The thoughts are not directly connected in the text, but it’s difficult to ignore that he is referencing the same group of people:

He sees the people of this world as they are—running around in their vanity, in their vain ambitions, and their lack of awareness of the greatness of God and His plan of salvation.

[He] is not afraid of what is his friends and relatives might think of him now that he has taken upon himself Christ’s name.  Perhaps they will not understand, and maybe they will make fun of him.  But he feels now how easy it will be to love them anyway, because he understands them better than ever before; and he will do everything that is in his heart to show real interest in them, that they might be filled with light to penetrate the darkness of their lives.

And remember, before he was baptized he was a person of the world, by definition.  So when he says, “I always thought I was not a big sinner.  I have always provided for my family.  I was a good father, and I was a good husband to my beloved late wife,” those are good things, but not good enough.  In fact, he’s still not good enough, because of the “need for constant repentance” and the “need for a constant change of heart.”  But now that he is a member of the Church, he “feels with each new day as if the sun of a beautiful spring morning is quickening and refreshing his soul after a long, dark, Arctic night.”  (By the way, that is silly imagery.  If you’re in the Arctic, you aren’t waking to any fancy spring morning.  It’s just lighter, but guess what?  Still cold.  Maybe that’s why the gospel is so miraculous?)

Next, sin only comes from laziness, and it is the only reason to feel bad about anything in life:

[The] only burden, the only pain, and the only frustration of a human being is the burden of wrongdoing—the burden of sin… no matter how numerous the sins of a human being can be they can all be traced back to one single source or origin—the laziness, complacency and blindness that keeps us from looking and searching for our God and King in every phase of our lives and becoming totally his disciples.

This is terrible logic.  Let’s say you break up with your girlfriend because she cheated on you.  You are (naturally) sad and frustrated, therefore you sinned, therefore you are lazy and/or complacent.  Possibly your laziness forced her to cheat on you, so really, it was your fault, you filthy sinner.  But don’t worry!  Because you have gospel knowledge like this new convert, you possess “awareness of the need for constant repentance,” and are “able to fill all the hours of [your] life with the presence of this Spirit and, therefore, with great joy.”  Be happy she cheated on your sorry, complacent butt.

Last, the tithing reference:

He understands, in the light and the power of the Holy Ghost, what a privilege it is that the Lord allows and commands us to pay a full tithe and invites us to give service, that we can show through our actions every day how much we love our Heavenly Father.

Without the tithing insert, that’s a great sentiment: “I love God and His children, and I want to show it by helping out where I can.”  However, note that he said we are invited to give service, but allowed and commanded to pay tithing.  “Go ahead and help out, I guess, but don’t forget how awesome the Church is for letting you give us money, so make sure you do!”

The talk closes with an invitation to the membership to reflect if they, too have been truly converted, and are doing everything they are supposed to be doing, citing verses from Alma chapter 5.  After everything I just read about how much better the Church members are than the poor worldly people, though, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Zoramites on the Rameumptom.

I no longer consider this a Greatest Talk.

Greatest Talks, Etc.: “My Son and Yours—Each a Remarkable One”

The talk My Son and Yours—Each a Remarkable One was given at the October 1986 General Conference by Ted E. Brewerton, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.  It is offered in the form of the speaker talking to one of his sons, with the invitation for the fathers in the audience to imagine they were speaking the same words to their own children.  I find it interesting that despite this talk being delivered at a regular session of the conference, and not the priesthood session, it was specifically the fathers who were asked to advise their children, without mention of the mothers.  I’m sure I missed that detail at the time, but it stands out to me now as a married man, armed with the knowledge that my wife has just as much, if not more, to teach our children as I do about who they are.

The first part of the talk is largely devoted to describing how big the universe is.  The end goal is to assure Brewerton’s son, and by extension us, that despite its enormity and our relative smallness and insignificance, we are in fact children of God and therefore the reason that the universe was created, so we are all remarkable in our own way.  In describing some of the numbers of stars and distances of light years, there is an amusing definition of one million:

[A] million is like your mother telling you to clean up your room 274 times every day for ten years.

Having three children myself, that seems like a good way to get a kid to grasp the concept of a large number.

We are then assured that God knows us individually, “where [we] are,” and “who [we] are and what [we] may become.”  Just like out of the many stars in the universe, our sun is the remarkable one for us that provides our planet with light and energy, we too can be a remarkable one among many other people.  To illustrate this, Brewerton shares a couple of allegedly true stories about figures from Church history being a “remarkable one.”  (I say allegedly because while I do not necessarily distrust the account of the stories, I have no desire to independently verify them, and Church leaders have sometimes shown a track record to conveniently ignore any facts that may be unfavorable.)  He then closes with a quote from former apostle James E. Talmage, about which I’m not completely sure of my feelings:

What is man in this boundless setting of sublime splendor? I answer you: Potentially now, actually to be, he is greater and grander, more precious according to the arithmetic of God, than all the planets and suns of space. For him were they created; they are the handiwork of God; man is his son. In this world man is given dominion over a few things; it is his privilege to achieve supremacy over many things.

On the one hand, I agree that mankind has vast potential (and I believe there is some sort of higher power in the universe).  On the other hand, I’m not sure what to think about it being “his privilege to achieve supremacy over many things.”  I’ve been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my children for the past few months, and I cannot help but think of the Federation’s philosophy of respect and equality for all life, with no intent at “supremacy” over another.  But I think the intent of the statement is probably simply to emphasize the LDS doctrine that man may eventually become like God and enjoy his own multitude of creation.

A couple of other things I noticed about this talk:

As part of the description of the vastness of the universe, there are quotes from a 1975 publication by the National Geographic Society titled The Amazing Universe in an attempt to explain the scientific world is on the side of the Church in “[seeing] the evidence of a supreme being.”  I may be reading too much into it, but that seems like an odd thing to slip into a talk unless you are trying to reassure people that science and faith are not mutually exclusive.  (I don’t think they are, but there seems to be a large number of people who do.)

Also, after saying that we are God’s “most important creation,” there is an interesting statement:

So we must be master of our beings and control ourselves, and not be controlled by some habit or by someone else.

This, to me, is somewhat ironic given that the Church today generally expects members’ total obedience to the words of its leaders, and actively disapproves of dissenting or differing voices (see e.g. Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, Rock Waterman, Denver Snuffer).

All in all, I like the core message of this talk, that each person is remarkable and has something great to offer.

Greatest Talks, Etc.: “Godly Characteristics of the Master”

A little more than ten years ago, I compiled a list of what I called “Greatest Talks, Etc.”  This is a selection of 25 talks given by General Authorities of the LDS Church that I found particularly inspiring at the time.  They are mostly, and possibly all, culled from issues of the Ensign magazine that I found in various apartments while on my mission and from General Conference talks given during the same timeframe.  The moniker “Greatest Talks, Etc.” is an homage to Paul Simon’s 1976 album “Greatest Hits, Etc.”  Most of the talks are from various General Conferences, with a few being from other speeches given at different times and locations.

I always meant to continue to add to the collection with new discoveries as the years progressed, but I never did.  Now ten and more years later, I am revisiting this group of talks with my ten-and-more-years-older eyes and mind, to discover what value and wisdom I still find in them—if they are, indeed, the greatest.  I may also offer commentary on the speaker if I have any to give, and the reasons why a particular talk stood out to me, if I can remember them.

The entries in this series will be ordered alphabetically by the last name of the speaker, then chronologically by year where there is more than one discourse for the given person.

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