Set forth below is a short piece I wrote several years ago about my father for an essay competition sponsored by Jana Riess, a prominent Mormon blogger for the Religion News Service. Even though it was selected for publication on Jana’s website, I am republishing it this Father’s Day weekend as a tribute to my father, one of my heroes.
Not too long ago, stakes and wards were expected to devise fundraising schemes—everything from bake sales, to service auctions, to car washes—in order to subsidize their local operating budgets. Today, funds are dispensed from church headquarters, and local units are discouraged from raising money on their own.
Note to reader: I am republishing this essay—with substantial revisions and additions—to mark the 45th anniversary of the day on which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lifted its “Priesthood Ban,” becoming the last major Christian religion to accord equal treatment to individuals of African descent.
The whole concept of…the image of God is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected…that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that….
Martin Luther King
One of our favorite family traditions when I was young—one we shared with millions of other Americans—was gathering around the television every Sunday evening to watch Bonanza, an American Western set in Nevada near Carson City. The show chronicles the adventures of the Cartwright family, owners of one of the largest ranches in the state: the Ponderosa.
The family patriarch was the thrice-widowed Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), who had three sons of varying temperaments. The show, which ran a record 14 seasons on NBC, was popular because it offered both comedy and drama, and told compelling stories about the family, and those in its orbit.
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.