Author’s Note: This essay was first published in October, 2020. I have since revised it, adding some additional observations about the Abrahamic Covenant and what it means to “honor our father and mother.” I have, of course, retained the touching story at the end about one man’s (and one nation’s) eternal debt to his mother. I have chosen to republish it today as we commence our annual tribute to the matriarchs in our lives.
When my parents married, my mother was not a member of the church and my father, who hailed from a long line of Latter-day Saints, had been inactive for some time. But each of them had strong religious convictions and desired to find a place to worship where they would feel comfortable.
It is December 1847, and Brigham Young is throwing a temper tantrum in the company of the other members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. It has been three years since the murder of Joseph Smith, the first President of the Mormon Church, and Young believes it is high time the Quorum reconstitute the First Presidency with Young, to use his words, as “King” of the Quorum with the power to rule “perfectly untrammeled.”
Unsurprisingly, several members of the Quorum of the Twelve have reservations about Young’s proposal. They prefer to govern the church together, collectively holding the keys of the kingdom, while permitting Young to act as the church’s spokesman.
Dear Reader: When I began this series of essays on leadership, I never anticipated the final installment would chronicle recent events that have triggered the biggest spiritual struggle of my life. So, this is personal.
Quem Iuppiter vult perdere, dementat prius
“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first deprive of reason.”
When I began my college career at Brigham Young University (“BYU”) in the mid-1970s, there was a creative writing professor who would give his students two essays on the same topic. The author of “Essay A,” the class was told, was a general authority of the Mormon Church while “Essay B” had been written by an Ivy League professor. After the students had finished reading both, the professor asked the class, by a show of hands, which one was best. Virtually everyone sided with the general authority. In some instances, it was unanimous.
The professor then proceeded to dissect each essay, illustrating how the logic and reasoning of the Ivy League scholar was far superior to that of the general authority. But many students were reluctant to agree with their instructor, though they struggled to refute his analysis. They only yielded when their teacher revealed that he, in reality, was the author of each essay.
The year is 1906 and B.H. Roberts, a senior official in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints, is not a happy camper. To be precise, he is appalled at the lack of critical thinking on the part of the members of the church and some of his colleagues. And he has just said so publicly. What set him off?
The outcome of virtually all human interaction hinges on the leverage possessed by each party.
When a person, organization or country has little or no leverage, sometimes persuasion, ingenuity, good fortune, or the generosity of others, will allow them to achieve their objectives.
The Two Rules of Life, by Eric F. Facer
God made a great mistake when he limited the intelligence of man but not his stupidity.
On February 17, 1933, Adolf Hitler disembarked from his plane at the Cologne Airport and was infuriated by what he saw. Absolutely nothing.
Three weeks earlier he had been appointed as Reich Chancellor of Germany whereupon he decided to call a general election in hopes of increasing the representation of his political party, the National Socialists, in the German parliament. He had come to Cologne for a campaign event and had been assured by his advance team that the mayor, Konrad Adenauer, and a group of local dignitaries would be there to greet him, as protocol required. Because Adenauer disdained Hitler and the Nazis, he sent only a deputy to meet the Reich Chancellor. Hitler was so offended he chose to spend the night in neighboring Godesberg.
Allen Gewalten zum trotz, sich erhalten! (“Despite all the powers, maintain yourself!”)
The life of Sophie Scholl changed on the day she and most of her siblings were arrested by the Gestapo. Along with her brother Werner and her sister Inge, she was summarily removed from the family home in Ulm (a small town about 75 miles from Munich) and taken to a local jail.
Their parents stood by helplessly as their children were handcuffed and their home was ransacked by the secret police. Sophie was 16 years old at the time while Inge and Werner were 20 and 15, respectively. Her older brother, Hans (19), had been taken into a custody a few weeks earlier. The year was 1937.
In 480 BC, Xerxes, King of Persia, invaded Greece. He hoped to conquer and subjugate the region, succeeding where his father, Darius, had failed. Athens and Sparta, along with their respective allies, united to drive the Persians from their shores a second time. Their decisive naval victory at the Battle of Salamis arguably changed the course of history.
In the late summer of 1786, the Continental Congress authorized a meeting in Annapolis, Maryland to address the problem of burdensome restrictions placed by the various states on interstate commerce. Only five states sent representatives. Lacking a quorum, they were unable to conduct business. So, with time on their hands, a group of them planned a rebellion.
The first step in their plot was to send a seemingly innocuous letter—penned by Alexander Hamilton—to the Continental Congress. In this missive, he asked Congress to direct the states to appoint commissioners to gather in Philadelphia in May of 1787 to consider such changes to the Articles of Confederation as would “render the constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the union.” Congress assented to their request but limited the remit of the Philadelphia gathering to revising the Articles of Confederation.
Set forth below is the text of a talk I gave on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2022, in the Sacrament Meeting of the Arlington First Ward, Arlington, Virginia.
When Margaret was expecting our first child, a colleague of mine asked whether we were planning on a natural, drug-free birth. That was our original intent, I told him, until I learned she wanted me by her side in the delivery room. There was no way I could endure the ordeal of child birth without a couple of really stiff drinks and a valium beforehand. [Pause till laughter subsides.]
As much as Margaret would love to be the subject of my talk, I have been asked to speak on women in the Old Testament. This is a vast topic about which many books have been written, so I will focus my remarks on the way women in general were regarded in the Hebrew Bible and on experiences in the lives of a few of them.
In a recent essay, I discussed the many flaws in the “wise choice” explanation for Eve’s decision to partake of the forbidden fruit. In this piece I advance my own explanation of Eve’s actions in the Garden, to wit: when she partook of the fruit, she was engaging in what I call a “praiseworthy rebellion.” Specifically, she made a conscious decision to yield to the serpent’s entreaties because, for her, Eden was no longer Eden. This thesis is not entirely of my own creation, though I do give it my own “Latter-day twist.”