J. Daniel Crawford is the blogger formerly known as John C., now known as HP, and likely known here as JDC. He is affiliated with the blog known as Faith Promoting Rumor. He is a graduate student somewhere back east, although he currently lives and occasionally works in Utah. He is the proud father of the two best children in the world and the humble husband of the reason that is so.
A little while ago, I promised to make a case for the sneaky genius of President Thomas S. Monson and to use his Apr 2006 First Presidency message as an example. Um, here are the results, such as they are:
President Monson reminds us, initially that the Savior is the manner of [person] like whom we ought to be. He then says the following:
In His earthly ministry, the Master outlined how we should live, how we should teach, how we should serve, and what we should do so that we could become our best selves.
One such lesson comes from the book of John in the Holy Bible:
“Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
“And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
At first, second, and (possibly) third glance, this is a baffling anecdote. Certainly it is funny (for the New Testament, at least). But what does it teach us regarding “how we should live, how we should teach, how we should serve, and what we should do so that we could become our best selves”? Initially, nothing. However, God himself often fails to offer straightforward answers to questions (see, for instance, Alma 32 or Moses 6:53). What is the one thing that commands us in this exchange, that applies no matter what the context is in which we read it? “Come and see”. To approach the Savior and to observe what He has done (is doing) is the only real way to learn of Him and the only way to learn what we must do. Of course, we must then do it, as President Monson proceeds to point out.
We soon come to the following passage:
In the search for our best selves, several questions will guide our thinking: Am I what I want to be? Am I closer to the Savior today than I was yesterday? Will I be closer yet tomorrow? Do I have the courage to change for the better?
Once again, no practical advice is offered regarding how to begin answering these questions affirmatively, as there are no universal answers. Instead we are given these general individualisms in an attempt to make us do the intellectual and spiritual legwork required in application. As the tangential anecdote makes us strive to create meaning, so the unanswered questions causes us to review, relate, and (ideally) change our lives.
Next we have:
Choosing the Family Path
It is time to choose an oft-forgotten path, the path we might call “the family way,” so that our children and grandchildren might indeed grow to their full potential. There is an international tide running. It carries the unspoken message, “Return to your roots, to your families, to lessons learned, to lives lived, to examples shown, even family values.” Often it is just a matter of coming home–coming home to attics not recently examined, to diaries seldom read, to photo albums almost forgotten.
The Scottish poet James Barrie wrote, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” 6 What memories do we have of Mother? Father? Grandparents? Family? Friends?
What exactly are we being asked to do in this section? It begins seemingly to discuss family history but soon veers into the areas of Sabbath breaking, prayer, and educating children (speaking of the ‘family way’). Where have the tangents taken us and why did we wind up there? It seems to me that once again we are called upon to work this out on our own. As best as I can tell, Pres. Monson is deeply concerned with our families in an eternal sense. It is thoughtless and inconsistent to focus all our efforts (worthy though they might be) on our relatives here on earth. It is our position to work to save both our posterity and our ancestry in this dispensation. God would have us work in both directions.
As a boy, I made a startling discovery in Sunday School one Mother’s Day which has remained with me all through the years. Melvin, a sightless brother in the ward, a talented vocalist, would stand and face the congregation as though he were seeing one and all. He would then sing “That Wonderful Mother of Mine.” The bright, glowing embers of memory penetrated human hearts. Men reached for their handkerchiefs; women’s eyes brimmed with tears.
We deacons would go among the congregation carrying a small geranium in a clay pot for presentation to each mother. Some of the mothers were young; some were middle-aged; some were barely hanging on to life in their old age. I became aware that the eyes of each mother were kind eyes. The words of each mother were, “Thank you.” I felt the spirit of the statement, “When someone gives another person a flower, the fragrance of the flower lingers on the hands of the giver.” I have not forgotten the lesson learned, nor shall I ever forget it.
Note, once again that we are not informed what the lesson is that was learned. Is it that we should honor our mothers? That mothers/parents should sacrifice? That geraniums are really nice? Certainly it could be any of those, but to me the lesson here is regarding the service of the young to the old(er). That Pres. Monson stills remembers and shares this event is greater evidence of its effect on him than on those he served. Once again, we receive a message of service going up and down our family tree.
Giving Our Lives in Service
The years have come and the years have gone, but the need for a testimony of the gospel continues paramount. As we move toward the future, we must not neglect the lessons of the past. Our Heavenly Father gave His Son. The Son of God gave His life. We are asked by Them to give our lives, as it were, in Their divine service. Will you? Will I? Will we? There are lessons to be taught; there are kind deeds to be done; there are souls to be saved…
When we do, we will come to realize that we have been on His holy errand, that His divine purposes have been fulfilled, and that we have shared in that fulfillment.
May I illustrate this truth with a personal experience. Many years ago, while serving as a bishop, I felt impressed to call upon Augusta Schneider, a widow from the Alsace-Lorraine area of Europe who spoke very little English, although she was fluent in French and German. For years after that first impression, I would visit with her at Christmastime. On one occasion, Augusta said, “Bishop, I have something of great value to me which I would like to present to you.” She then went to a special place in her modest apartment and retrieved the gift. It was a beautiful piece of felt, perhaps six by eight inches (15 by 20 cm) in size, to which she had pinned the medals her husband had been presented for his service as a member of the French forces in World War I. She said, “I would like you to have this personal treasure which is so close to my heart.” I protested politely and suggested there must be some member of her extended family to whom the gift should be given. “No,” she replied firmly, “the gift is yours, for you have the soul of a Frenchman.”
Shortly after presenting this special gift to me, Augusta departed mortality and went home to that God who gave her life. Occasionally I would wonder concerning her declaration that I had “the soul of a Frenchman.” I didn’t have the slightest idea what that meant. I still don’t.
Many years later, I had the privilege to accompany President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) to the dedication of the Frankfurt Germany Temple, which temple would serve German-, French-, and Dutch-speaking members. In packing for the trip, I felt impressed to take along the gift of medals, without any thought concerning what I would do with them. I’d had them a number of years.
For a French-speaking dedication session, the temple was filled. The singing and messages presented were beautiful. Gratitude for God’s blessings penetrated each heart. I saw from my conducting notes that the session included members from the Alsace-Lorraine area.
During my remarks, I observed that the organist had the name of Schneider. I therefore related the account of my association with Augusta Schneider, then stepped to the organ and presented the organist with the medals, along with the charge that since his name was Schneider, he had a responsibility to pursue the Schneider name in his genealogical activities. The Spirit of the Lord confirmed in our hearts that this was a special session. Brother Schneider had a difficult time preparing to play the closing number of the dedicatory service, so moved was he by the Spirit which we felt there in the temple.
I knew that the treasured gift–even the widow’™s mite, for it was all Augusta Schneider had–was placed in the hand of one who would ensure that many with the souls of Frenchmen would now receive the blessings the holy temples provide, both for the living and for those who have passed beyond mortality.
This story remains mysterious to me as I try to divine its purpose in our discourse. What is Pres. Monson seeking to convey? How we can be instruments in the Lord’s hands? How God prepares “tender mercies” for us? The importance of delegation? What do any of these have to do with the stated theme of “Giving our Lives in Service”? I’ll leave that for you to figure out. I am sure that as you do, hearts will be touched, words will be typed, and sagging hands will be lifted up.