Write my talk for me, Part II

Once upon a time, I asked all of our faithful readers to write my talk for me.  Many of you dutifully obliged, but I regret to inform you that all your efforts were in vain.  That’s right — a few days before my wife and I were to speak, the first counselor in the Bishopric called and informed us of a scheduling error.  Our talks were thus postponed until July 24th, and our topics were changed.  Care to guess what we’re speaking on now?  (Hint:  We’re speaking on July 24th…)

You guessed it:  We’ve been asked to speak on the "Pioneers."  Yikes!  What the heck are we going to say?  I know this would be easy for some of you.  After all, you could drone on and on and on about how your great, great, great-grandfather was Brother Brigham’s shoeshine boy, and how you come from a long line of Allreds and Cannons, and how your great, great, great-aunt Eliza’s journal talks about crossing the plains with all that coffee and booze.  But my wife and I don’t have that luxury.  You see, both of my parents are converts.  My mother gave an oral report in her Palo Alto highschool on Joseph Smith when she was 16, invited the Mormon missionaries over, and got baptized when she was 18.  My father was baptized at age 10 by traveling missionaries in rural South Carolina.  Neither side of my family comes from pioneer stock.  Same is true for my wife.  So there’s a real sense in which the pioneer experience is much more removed from our identities than it is for many Church members.  And I’m thus left wondering how to do this topic justice.

So far, I’ve played around with a couple of ideas.  I was thinking I’d speak on "Why I’m So Thankful I Don’t Have Polygamous Ancestors," while the wife could tackle "Thank Goodness I’m Not From Pioneer Stock, Or I’d Likely Have Been Born in Utah."  :)  But somehow these titles don’t strike me as Sacrament meeting-appropriate.  So I’m back to the drawing board.  What to do?

Perhaps this all sounds silly.  After all, I’m just as much a Mormon as those of you with more established Mormon pedigrees.  Surely any and all Church members — even new converts — can be moved by the pioneer experience, impressed by the sacrifices and devotion of the early Saints, and grateful for the accomplishments and faithfulness of our religious forebearers.  Being a member of the LDS Church means identifying with a community that has been shaped by the unique history of the 19th Century pioneer experience, with its many persecutions, sacrifices, theological novelties and all.  Yet, truth be told, I’ve always felt there’s a sense in which the story of the pioneers somehow "belongs" to those who descendended from actual pioneers, rather than those of us who just signed up later on.  Maybe it shouldn’t seem this way.  In fact, maybe the problem is simply that I’m just a heartless bastard (but that’s the subject of another post).    

Am I making any sense, or am I just proving that my interminable snarkiness has, over time, done damage to my Mormon identity?  For those of you, like me, who don’t come from pioneer stock, do you ever feel that the story of the pioneers isn’t as much your story to tell, as it is your friend Joseph Ezra Fielding McConkie Allred’s?  For those of you that do come from pioneer stock, do you think my talking about the pioneers constitutes treading on sacred ground that would be better and more authentically presented by someone like you?  Or am I just being stupid?

Anyway, regardless of your ancestry, you are all invited (ordered) to provide me with good ideas on how to approach my talk. 

Aaron B


  1. Actually, I think you ought to include a (substantially less sarcastic) version of what you just said in your talk. A very high percentage of current church members have a somewhat attenuated connection with the pioneer part of our history. In fact, compared with folks outside the USA, Aaron is relatively directly linked with the pioneers, I’d say.

    One of my prized mission memories was the entire youth program of the Villa Mella stake in the Dominican Republic pushing “handcarts” and “wagons”–with rubber tires, etc., highly realistic–along the highway to celebrate the 24th of July. I talked with a couple of the kids, curious to know what they thought about all of this. They knew that the pioneers were a part of church history, but that’s about it. None of the kids even realized that the pioneer episode had happened in the 19th century; they all thought it was much more recent than that. (The church has been in the Dominican Republic for less than 30 years, so it must seem relatively new there.)

    The pioneer migration is a formative aspect of Mormon identity in the USA. But it isn’t necessarily a central aspect of Mormon identity elsewhere. (I’m sure it is in some places outside of the US; my point is that it isn’t necessarily a universal.) Nor am I sure that it needs to be. If that particular historical episode doesn’t serve the needs of members in some places, do we need to push it on them anyway? It’s worth remembering that the pioneer episode has no doctrinal or theological content; it’s pure identity stuff.

  2. Last Lemming says:

    Perhaps you are reading more into the term “Pioneers” than you need to. Did he really use a capital P? Are there no other pioneers than those that crossed the plains in 1847? Are there any frontiers that need to be pioneered today?

  3. alamojag says:

    I’m with Last Lemming. A “pioneer” can be anybody who was the first, going into a new area, a new frontier. For example, the first blacks to recieve the priesthood in 1978 are real pioneers, in my book.

    But then, both my wife and I have family who crossed the plains, and I have Allreds in my line. As such, I have seen the Crossing the Plains story a story about identity, much like I imagine Jewish people see the 40 years in the wilderness.

  4. I have Mormon pioneers in my ancestry and I don’t feel that special. Sure they sacrificed to do what they felt was right, but all of us do that. Just because the Lord’s will at that time was to cross the plains doesn’t make them any more righteous than I am as I follow the Lord’s will in avoiding R-rated movies.

    Actually, this would be an interesting topic to talk about for me because I truly don’t feel any different than anyone else because of my ancestry. It’s not like I feel an obligation to work harder because of them or anything. I’m working out my own salvation so that I can please the Lord, not some family legacy.

  5. a random John says:

    Your original subject was much better. This one is a toughie. I’ll tell you what though, the kiddies love a good pioneer story, so figure that they are your audience and speak in a sing-song voice like Johnny Depp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so that they’ll know that you are giving this talk for them. I also suggest a collaboration with Elisabeth at M*, who has been cursed with this same subject for next Sunday. You could each give the same talk on opposite coasts and nobody will be the wiser.

  6. Would it help at all to point out that the vast majority of the pioneers were converts to the Church? Only young children were actually born into Mormonism then crossed the plains. And all those converts streaming across the sea from the UK and Scandinavia were all converts.

    The Pioneer story truly is about conversion – people who joined an organization and sacrificed all for it because of their belief. This struck me as I recently read about the Colesville saints. They lived away from Joseph and the other body of the Church in New York and then were assigned to go to Missouri – not Ohio. None of these people could’ve been members for more than a year when they were asked to do this. Quite remarkable, actually.

  7. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    The Saints have co-opted the term Pioneer. As pointed out above, it can mean *anybody who was the first, going into a new area, a new frontier*. In US history, it has typically meant those who opened the American West. My ancestors seem to have loved being on the frontier. Kentucky (when it first opened), Texas (an ancestor at the Alamo), Nebraska (they gave food to the Mormons as they passed through because they thought they looked so pathetic), California (before 1849), Oklahoma land rush, and the Pacific Northwest. They were pioneers but were not LDS.

  8. Anything that can help the congregants realize that these were real people would be good. Read from the diaries (especially if they mention coffee, booze, tongue speaking and women blessing by the laying on of hands).

    My ward just had our “Trek” sacrament meeting. The Bishop knows I have a hard time with this, so after he took the opportunity ;) to relate some moving experiences from the endeavor. While I can see what he was getting at, I still feel like Trek is poor imitation that may even spill over to mockery (among other things). You can use your talk to shine a light on what the Saints really did and, as John H. mentioned, show the depth of their conversion in process.

    Most of all the sketchy aspects of nineteenth century Mormonism is for me mollified by example of their conversions and experience.

  9. Talk about pioneers from other places and times.

    The African pioneers are just an moving and amazing and the trek acrossed the plains. Except few american saints know much about them. People like Joseph W. B. Johnson. Who brought to gospel to Giana before the church was willing to bring it to them. He helped somewhere around 14,000 souls come Christ. He also used struggles of the early pioneers as teaching examples to keep them in the church while they waited.

  10. Mephibosheth says:

    While everyone tends to focus on the pioneers that paid the ultimate sacrifice as a result of crossing the plains (ie, the Willie-Martin Handcard Co. etc), most of the pioneers were just putting one foot in front of the other and crossed the plains without incident.

    If wonder if they could understand the significance of what they were doing at the time. Do you think that while they were crossing the plains, or building some faraway western settlement, Ezekiel Smith taps Hyrum Kimball on the shoulder and says, “Hey, I bet someday kids are gonna dress up like us! And celebrate what we’re doing!” Maybe they did, but I like to think that for most of them, they were just following the prophet.

    Makes me wonder if someday kids will dress up like us and pretend to go on a mission, or to early morning seminary or something…

  11. Wow Aaron, you are always trying to be just like me aren’t you? I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to give my sacrament meeting talk on “modern day pioneers” next Sunday, when I opened BCC for a little inspiration and here’s your post.

    Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…feel free to rip it off.

    “Good morning Brothers and Sisters. You probably don’t know me–I’m one of the new women in the ward that got kicked out of the singles ward for being too old. I’m glad that a fair number of you have talked to me, and several of you have not been freaked out that I don’t have children. Ha ha. Anyways, today I’m going to be talking about modern day pioneers. This reminds me of my mission. I served in Russia. In Russia, we tried to talk to the youth about how they were modern day pioneers, but it kind of freaked them out. It turns out that the Russians are already familiar with the term “pioneer” because the youth communist organization was called the young pioneers. So when we talked about the pioneers having faith in every footstep, they weren’t picturing families in nineteenth century clothes pulling handcarts, they were picturing little kids in short shorts and bandanas saluting Vladimir Lenin. But, since there probably aren’t too many communists in the audience today, we can move on…ha ha.”

    I think it’s a good start. And I think I might never have to speak in church again. Good Luck!

  12. Aaron Brown says:

    Karen, I promise to at least use your first two sentences, verbatim. That should wake every up.

    Aaron B

  13. Your parents were pioneers. It might have been interesting growing up Mormon in South Carolina 50 years ago.

    Also, I like very much this Buddhist saying, and I think it works well with the JRC quote about standing in our own shoes: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old – seek what they sought.”

  14. It’s outrageous that they would ask you to write a new talk because of their scheduling error. If they’re intent on a pioneer-themed talk they should get someone else and let you speak the following week. Otherwise, I suggest that you just give the talk you already prepared and read the first and last of Come, Come Ye Saints at the end in an appropriately solemn tone.

  15. I was asked to talk on the same Sunday a year ago. I’m a convert and have no LDS pioneer ancestry. So I talked about other types of pioneers–myself, as a convert, early black LDS members–and current black LDS members, and then I shared a favorite story of LDS pioneers.

    The LDS pioneer stories are inspiring, but as someone with no personal family LDS heritage, I’d like to hear something I can relate to a little more. Something about how we are all pioneers in one way or another.

  16. I can’t tell if Rusty (#4) is joking or not. Help me out.

  17. “Thank Goodness I’m Not From Pioneer Stock, Or I’d Likely Have Been Born in Utah.”

    I’d really like to give a talk someday titled “Crap, I’m From Pioneer Stock, and I was Born in Utah.”

  18. gst,
    Yes, that first paragraph was a joke. What? You don’t equate crossing the planes with avoiding R-rated movies? My second paragraph, however, was serious. I don’t feel any extra pressure to be righteous because my family, I put enough pressure on myself as it is.

  19. Though both of my parents are converts, I’ve always felt a connection to the pioneers because their conversion story began when my mother found a copy of the BOM while rummaging thru her parents coat closet and thought, “Yea! A book chronicling the story of the pioneers!! How exciting!” After overcoming her initial confusion that it was “another Bible” my parents investigated the church and eventually converted.

    Recently, I’ve become more alert to and annoyed with the subculture born of the pioneers’ day that continues to [in my mind] hinder the members of today. For example, there’s a mindset that if you aren’t suffering you aren’t worthy or righteous.
    If only it were PC to deconstruct some of the prevailing view points commonly accepted by our brethren & sisters…
    But, if you want to hold on to your temple recommend, I’d say go with John’s “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory” [and not “Critiquing Polygamous Families”] while of course adding the Buddha quote b/c kids love chubby bald guys.

    Oooh… For personal satisfaction you can write two versions: one that’s kosher for the ward and the one you REALLY wanted to give–saved just for us……

  20. Everyone knows the church video about the Italian man who finds and believes in the Book of Mormon while in seminary and is later cast out of his church for preaching from it. Well, this happened not all that long ago.

    My point is…with technology, journals, letters, etc. the church is able to turn any common conversion tale into an inspiring account. They seem to romanticise/dramatise the story, making this man and so many others “pioneers” in their own right.

    This caught my attention as a convert, helping me realize that yes, we are all infact pioneers in our own right. These stories, as well as documenting my own story has helped me connect to past pioneers, none of which I have any direct relation. Thus, even though I don’t come from pioneer stock and am a pretty recent convert, I can connect and appreciate this time of year and even the Sacrament talks that tend to just highlight those that crossed the plains.

    Someone already mentioned it above, but think about the future…perhaps our great, great grandchildren will be talking about us, referencing our journals and pictures, telling our stories.

    Good luck, Aaron, with the talk.

  21. Elisabeth says:

    Hi, Aaron – I’ve found a couple of Conference talks that might help you with your talk this Sunday. One by Pres. Janette Hales Beckham (no relation to David) given in the Young Women’s Conference of 1997 called “Modern Pioneers”, and another talk given by Pres. J. Reuben Clark in the October Session of the 1947 General Conference talking about pioneer sacrifices and personal responsibility. They’re online.

    Good luck!

  22. a random John says:

    This would be a great place to mention that my grandpa’s favorite memory of the 1947 centenial celebration was the church-wide beard growing contest to see who could look like Brigham the fastest.

  23. Elisabeth says:

    Aaron – how did your talk go?

  24. Aaron Brown says:

    Surprising well, I think. I really didn’t hardly prepare at all, and I had to go for 20 minutes. Sometimes I can pull that off, but when I don’t like the topic, I usually can’t. I managed to jot down a basic outline of stuff to drone on about (including a couple of comments made in this thread), and I just went with it. I felt it went well, and I only received positive feedback (of course, who’s actually going to come up afterwards and say, “Gosh, Brother Brown, that really sucked!”).

    I talked a bit about the early pioneers, a lot more about “pioneers I have known,” making sure to define the term so broadly that anyone who came to mind would qualify, and managed to tell a joke at the Bishop’s expense (always a necessity, IMO). Nothing completely original, but that’s O.K.

    (Now, if I can just figure out a way to pawn off my research assignments at work on our blog-commenters too …)

    Aaron B

  25. Gosh, Brother Brown, that really sucked!

  26. Aaron Brown says:

    That’s it… I’m going inactive!

    Aaron B

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