Yesterday my wife mentioned that she had to give a talk today. That was the first I had heard of it. When I came home from watching the UFC fights, at about midnight, she was still up working on it. I felt bad for her, because I know how much she hates speaking, and she has vowed never to give another talk. But as agonizing as it is for her, she always does a wonderful job.
So this morning she gave her talk, and it was simply outstanding. I thought she hit it out of the park. I’m biased, of course, but our bishop agreed and told me how much he loved the talk. And after listening to it it occurred to me that there was a blog post to be had there. Because I’ve been a vocal critic of the practice of assigning General Conference talks for regurgitation as sacrament meetings talks, and yet this talk originated as just such an assignment. But it was really good, which suggests that it is indeed possible to give such a talk well. So I thought I would try to figure out how Sandy managed to take the lemons of an assigned GC talk and turn them into the lemonade of the talk she actually gave.
Her assigned topic was temptation. I’m not sure which article they gave her to use, but she didn’t like it, as it was focused on pornography, and she thinks the church’s pornography discourse is overblown. So she just went and found a different conference address on temptation and used that instead. And why not? The local leaders didn’t care; I’m not convinced they even noticed. The catcher calls the pitch, but the pitcher is the one who has to actually throw the ball, and so she ought to be able to waive off the pitch if it doesn’t work for her. Since the address she actually used was from President Monson, I think it would be pretty tough for anyone to fault her for throwing a change up.
Here was her opening:
I was asked to speak about TEMPTATION and gear it to the youth. I started thinking about this talk two weeks ago but of course I left it until yesterday to pull it all together. Unfortunately the Chicago Blues Fest is going on this weekend and Honeyboy Edwards was playing. He’s one of the last of the original Mississippi Delta blues guys who found their way up north to Chicago in the 1950s. He’ll be 95 years old in a couple of weeks. I’ve seen him a few times before but who knows how long I’ll get the chance! So I was very TEMPTED to go and procrastinate writing my talk even more. Actually I did succumb to the temptation and had a wonderful time. BUT succumbing to temptation doesn’t always result in consequences as unimportant as a really bad talk.
So she starts out by flashing her own personality and interests, together with a little charming Kristine Haglundian self deprecation. You’re not going to find a reference to Honeyboy Edwards in a General Conference talk; you’ve got to add your own personal touch.
Then she gives the gist of the conference address message she had chosen:
President Monson has spoken to us about some of the more serious temptations we will face. When I was doing research for this talk I came across Pres. Monson’s talk about Maka Fekes. You’ve probably heard this talk before but I’m going go ahead and relate it anyway because it makes things easy to remember.
President Monson told of visiting the Tongan islands while on assignment years ago. He visited a classroom at the Liahona High School. The kids were paying rapt attention to their instructor who was holding in his hand a strange looking fishing lure made of a round stone and large seashells. He learned the Tongan word for this lure is maka feke. It means “octopus lure.”
SHOW MAKA FEKE
Quoting President Monson:
“The teacher explained that Tongan fishermen glide over a reef, paddling their outrigger canoes with one hand and dangling the maka feke over the side with the other. An octopus dashes out from its rocky lair and seizes the lure, mistaking it for a much-desired meal. So determined is the grasp of the octopus and so firm is it’s instinct not to give up the precious prize that the fisherman can flip it right into the canoe.
It was easy for the teacher to point out to the wide-eyed youth that the evil one—even Satan—has fashioned maka fekes with which to ensnare unsuspecting persons.”
President Monson goes on to say:
“Today we are surrounded by the maka fekes with which Satan attempts to entice us and then ensnare us. Once grasped, such maka fekes are ever so difficult—and sometimes nearly impossible—to relinquish.“
Here’s the cool part. Sandy actually went on the internet to find what a maka feke looked like, and she actually made one to use as a model to show us all what it looked like. She even was able to get the right shell to use. I realize there is some sort of rule against the use of props in sacrament meeting, but this was a seriously cool one, and it really brought President Monson’s point to life.
Then she gives her own application of President Monson’s point:
So what are some of those maka fekes or Temptations?
I think of these as involving RESPECT.
There are those temptations involve respecting yourself – things that are detrimental to your health such as a taking illegal drugs, smoking and drinking alcohol. There are those that reflect poorly on your moral values such as dressing immodestly and partaking in entertainment that is suspect.
Then there are temptations that involve respecting others such as stealing, lying, cheating, anger, and using bad language.
Next she takes President Monson’s image and extends it with a little research of her own (extra credit for using the word “pooped” over the pulpit):
Now I did go a little further with President Monson’s analogy and learned that there is a story or legend to why the maka feke or octopus lure looks as it does.
Legend of the RAT and the OCTOPUS
According to the legend, there was once a rat on a canoe. A storm came up and the canoe started to break up. The rat was freaking out and looked for help or something to cling to. Then the rat noticed an octopus swimming nearby and he asked if the octopus could take him to land.
The octopus agreed and allowed the rat to sit on his head while he carefully swam towards land. Once they reached the beach, the rat jumped off and quickly ran up onto the dry land without a word of thanks. The octopus was upset that the rat was so ungrateful and scolded the rat. The rat told him to feel the top of his head. Turns out the rat had pooped on the octopus’ head! So from then on the octopus has been seeking revenge against the rat and that is why he is fooled by the lure.
Unlike the poor octopus we can Decide to resist and prepare for temptation before we are faced with it.
I’ll skip a section where she goes through Christ’s temptations in Matt. 4 as well as Joseph’s youthful temptations as a teen as recounted in JS-H.
She follows that up with a couple of personal stories of her own illustrating the point:
Now I know this is hard to believe but I wasn’t very cool when I was young. I never went to a party in Middle or High School. Even though I wasn’t raised Mormon I didn’t try drinking, smoking, or drugs. I was a loner and preferred to hang out in my room listening to the radio, and drawing and reading or out riding my horse. So I didn’t feel much peer pressure. I was also conscious of not upsetting my parents when it came to the activities I participated in or the music I listened to. I remember when I was about 13 being embarrassed when the Kink’s song Lola came on WLS thinking ‘Oh boy I hope they can’t figure out what this song is about because they will never let me listen to rock music ever again’. [And I REALLY wanted to buy the Led Zepplin III album but I stuck to my Jackson 5 albums. Which reminds me – someday you will be embarrassed that you listened to B96. Seriously my daughter is! Anyway I do still listen to rock music.] [She didn't actually give the bracketed portion over the pulpit.]
Even though eventually you may go to a school or place where there are more members of the church, that doesn’t mean you will be able to let your guard down. I had been going to NIU in DeKalb where I grew up. After I joined the church I worked for a semester or two and then went to BYU. I was in an English class and we had to do a group paper. I really hate group projects! I can’t remember what the paper was about or anything specific about it but we all pitched in to write parts of it. Well it came time for our last meeting and the girl who was the group leader told us she had somehow gotten a copy of a really good paper and was going to hand that in instead. I had a serious problem with that and didn’t want to have my name attached. I finally decided to go to the teacher and tell him what had happened. I really really didn’t want to be a tattle tale but I couldn’t figure out any other way. The teacher was understanding and thanked me for bringing it to his attention. It was a big weight off my shoulders.
She also illustrates the point by an insight from a field she is knowledgeable about–art:
Ok…we’re always reminded of the DON’Ts. Don’t do this don’t do that. It might seem like you don’t have any freedom. But in order to have freedom you have to have rules or perimeters. It’s like what an artist does. It seems like artists have no rules but they actually do. As an artist I have set up things that I will and won’t do so when I begin a series it is in keeping with the perimeters I have established. I have restricted the subject matter, the media, the scale and so forth to reinforce what I want to convey. I still have plenty of possibilities and it is always exciting.
And she concludes with a simple restatement of the whole didactic point of her talk:
As members of the church you have the opportunity to be a good example for your friends. Don’t be afraid to speak up with kindness and let them know why you might not be able to go along. Don’t ever forget to be a good friend. You also have the Holy Ghost, prayer, family, teachers and leaders to help you make the right choices. We also know that we won’t be tempted beyond what we can bear:
In Corinthians 10:13, we read:
There hath no temptation ataken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be btempted above that ye are able; but will with the ctemptation also make a way to descape, that ye may be able to ebear it.
I say this in the name of….
So I think the takeaway point is pretty simple. If you’re assigned a GC talk to use as the basis for your own talk, the key to making the talk interesting and engaging is not to follow the source slavishly, but to personalize it and truly make it your own.