I was asked to give a talk in church yesterday. Because I eventually want to get all of my church talks from over the years on the blog (for posterity more than anything else), I figured today would be as good a day as any to publish my most recent talk. This one is deeply personal to me because at the end I used Mary: A Mother’s Testimony which I wrote back in 2003 for a different occasion. Writing that was a daunting and humbling experience that drove me to my scriptures and to my knees and gave me a love and appreciation for Mary that I hadn’t felt so deeply before. I was, uncharacteristically, nervous to give my talk yesterday because I was including that piece of writing in my remarks. Writing it was a profound experience for me, the end result sacred to me, and my current congregation . . . well, I never know when somebody is going to take me aside to tell me what a horrible person they think I am or what a horrible thing they think I’ve done, so I was afraid to share it. I was afraid I was casting my pearls, as it were. I was afraid I was doing exactly what Mary didn’t do. But it’s done now. The talk has been given, and no rotten produce has been hurled my way. Yet.
Anyway, enough blather. Here’s the talk:
In his April 2017 General Conference talk, Whatsoever He Saith unto You, Do It, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy said:
“The Savior performed His first recorded miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Mary, His mother, and His disciples were there as well. Mary apparently felt some responsibility for the success of the feast. During the celebration, a problem arose—the wedding hosts ran out of wine. Mary was concerned and went to Jesus. They spoke briefly; then Mary turned to the servants and said:
‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’
We usually remember this event because transforming water to wine was a demonstration of the power of God—it was a miracle. That is an important message, but there is another important message in John’s account. Mary was ‘a precious and chosen vessel,’ called by God to give birth to, nurture, and raise the very Son of God. She knew more about Him than anyone else on earth. She knew the truth of His miraculous birth . . . She had unshakable confidence in Him and in His divine power. Her simple, straightforward instruction to the servants had no caveats, no qualifications, no limitations: ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’”
Mary had an unshakable testimony of her son. It is interesting to contemplate and try to study her testimony of and relationship with her son. There really isn’t a lot in the scriptures to go on. More than anyone, she would have reason to have that unshakable testimony, to know that her son was the Son of God. At the same time, as a mother, I can see how it might be difficult at times to remember that that child whose hair you have washed, face you have scrubbed, and, let’s face it, diapers you have changed is your Lord and Savior. On the one hand, motherhood is a high and holy calling, and being the mother of Christ himself is the highest and holiest version of that calling. On the other hand, motherhood is filled with a lot of mundane tasks and moments that can quickly and easily dull the sparkle of it all, no matter how many times we are told we are doing the most important work we can be doing. Yet Mary, even through the monotonous moments that must have existed, maintained not only her testimony of her calling, but also her testimony of her Son. I think, though only in part, this can be attributed to Mary’s strong sense of the sacred.
The scriptures don’t really tell us a whole lot about her, but in Luke we are told that, after the angels appeared to the shepherds, the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to see the babe in the manger and, after seeing Him, “they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child,” yet Mary, “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” So while the shepherds ran around sharing the sacred experiences they had just had, Mary kept her sacred experiences and knowledge to herself and pondered them in her heart.
Looking at Luke 2, verses 17-19, we read:
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
From the perspective of a writer, I think it is interesting that we are told first how the shepherds reacted, next how those that heard the shepherds reacted, and finally how Mary reacted. The juxtaposition of the first two reactions with the third, that of Mary, emphasizes her sense of the sacred.
Now, I’m not saying the shepherds didn’t have some fantastic news to share. I’m not even saying that they weren’t supposed to share it. But I’m also not saying that they were. The scriptures don’t really clarify that one way or the other as far as I can tell. Regardless, as I read these verses, I get a picture in my mind of the shepherds eagerly saying things like, “Guess what I saw!” and “Have you heard? Well, let me tell you . . .” as people are wont to do when they have witnessed something spectacular. And from there, I imagine the news might have spread pretty quickly in a “Well, my cousin’s wife’s brother told my next door neighbor who told me” kind of fashion. Then, in stark contrast, there is Mary keeping all of these things and pondering them in her heart. She could have been saying to every shepherd and wise man that came along, “Look! See my baby? He is the literal son of God. Yeah, that’s right, I gave birth to the son of God.” But instead, she heard what the angels had told the shepherds and “kept all these things and pondered theme in her heart.” I can only imagine that she was thinking about what the angels had said in the context of what the angel Gabriel had told her, and she knew that all of it was sacred.
Later in that same chapter of Luke, Christ was 12 years old, and his parents had traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem before realizing he wasn’t with them somewhere in their company of fellow travelers, so they went back to find Him and Mary said, essentially, “Why did you do this? We were so worried!” We know the reply, “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (v.49). The very next verse tells us, “they understood not the saying which he spake unto them,” but instead of a typical, “don’t talk back to me, young man,” Mary, once again, “kept all these sayings in her heart” (v. 51).
So, again, though the scriptures don’t tell us a whole, whole lot about Mary, I think we can safely infer that she was a thoughtful woman with a strong sense of the sacred.
In his 2004 CES broadcast address, A Sense of the Sacred, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in part, “A sense of the sacred should lead us to act . . . with reverence . . .” Can we question whether or not Mary acted with reverence where her son was concerned? I don’t think so. Elder Christofferson also said, “. . . those who do not appreciate holy things will lose them. Absent a feeling of reverence, they will grow increasingly casual in attitude and conduct.” As we see later in the Savior’s adult life, Mary still appreciated the holiness of her son, she still had reverence for Him as the Savior, the Savior of mankind as well as the Savior of a wedding feast, as she said, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”
Way back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, in 2003, I was asked to participate in a skit in which various sisters of my ward were asked to deliver monologue testimonies of Christ as if they were a woman from the scriptures or church history. A few years back we did this same Testimonies of Christ dinner theater activity for our Relief Society here in Canada South, so this may be familiar to some of you. Anyway, I was asked to portray Mary, the mother of Christ. Additionally, I was asked to write my own part, as the script had not yet been finished. It was a daunting, humbling, and moving experience for me that involved a lot of scripture reading and re-reading, pondering, and praying, so I hope it is not inappropriate to end my remarks today by sharing with you what might have been Mary’s testimony:
Mary: A Mother’s Testimony
Mine was the unparalleled privilege of bearing the Son of God and watching over Him as he increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. I would not have chosen to bring Him, or any child, into this world in such surroundings as I did — a stable, a manger; but looking back, I understand that He who is greatest among us all had to descend beneath us all in order to complete His mission, and so this was a fitting beginning to His mortal life.
Mine was a unique role as I was His mother, responsible for his care and upbringing; and He was and is my God, responsible for my eternal welfare.
I watched Him turn water to wine, heal the sick, bless the children, and raise the dead. No other mother can possibly know the profound joy I knew in the presence of my son. Yet, through it all, the words of Simeon the prophet came to my mind, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.”
As we fled Egypt to escape the slaughter ordered by King Herod, I thought perhaps I was understanding Simeon’s prophecy. Then, as we had traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem only to find my son was missing, I felt sure a sword was piercing my soul. Finally, I knew I understood his prophecy as I watched my tortured son dying on the cross.
No mother will know the pain I knew, for I was not merely watching the agony of my son, I was watching the agony of the Son of God — agony that I knew was being suffered on my behalf, and even on behalf of those who were inflicting it. Even as God in Heaven left Him to suffer His final agonizing mortal moments alone, I, his mother, stood helplessly watching, and a sword truly pierced my soul.
What do I think of Christ? He is the son of my flesh, the brother of my spirit, the father of my world and the author of my salvation. He is the son of the Living God. He paid the price for my sins, and your sins. He overcame death for us all. It is by Him and through Him that we can reach our full eternal potential and return to live with our Father in Heaven.
I hope this is an at least somewhat accurate portrayal of Mary’s testimony. I can say with certainty that it is my testimony. I am so thankful for Mary and other faithful women who have come before us and set the unshakable example: Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
I’m calling this post Mormonish because I will undoubtedly share my own interpretation of things, and I, amazing thought I might be in some alternate universe, do not speak for the church as a whole. So, with that caveat, let us begin.
In addition to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments (King James version), everybody knows (I think), that we have another book of scripture: The Book of Mormon (no, I do not want to see the musical). What is probably lesser known is that we have a third book of scripture: The Doctrine and Covenants. This third book of scripture is comprised largely of revelations received by the prophet Joseph Smith during the early days of the church. One section, Section 89, is specifically referred to as The Word of Wisdom. It is not particularly long, so I will copy it in it’s entirety for you:
4Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
5That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.
6And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.
7And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
8And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
10And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
14All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
15And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.
17Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.
The sticking point for many people is verse nine, “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” Now, without apology or an in-depth attempt at explanation (because I don’t have one for you), later prophets have said that “hot drinks” means coffee and tea. In our lesson manuals and on the official church website, the official position is that “hot drinks” means coffee and tea.
Some people assume that since coffee and tea (and we’re talking actual tea here – from tea leaves – not various concoctions of herbs an fruity things that make up the endless arrays of herbal teas) are high in caffeine then that means that we don’t drink anything with caffeine. But the official position is “coffee and tea” not “coffee and tea because they contain caffeine.”
So do we drink caffeine?
Interesting question. On campus at BYU one cannot buy caffeinated beverages of any sort. Back in the mid 1990s, then-prophet Gordon B. Hinckley did an interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes and said we do not drink caffeine. Yes, that Monday was an awkward one for me as I arrived at work with my 64oz. of fully-leaded Diet Coke. Furthermore, we have been cautioned more than once by general authorities (Prophet and apostles) during General Conferences (twice yearly internet/satelite t.v. church) to avoid addictive substances. Caffeine is addictive.
And yet? The official interpretation of “hot drinks” is still “coffee and tea.”
This, of course, means it’s up to us each individually to decide what we feel is right when it comes to other caffeinated beverages like sodas and hot chocolate (it has caffeine and is hot!). I had a friend who regularly drank herbal teas, but she would only drink them cold so that they were just an herbal “drink” and not “tea.” I have known people who wouldn’t even do that. I have known those who will not drink any caffeinated soda, and I have known those who would gladly drown themselves in it if they could. I have been to parties at LDS homes, with only LDS guests, where the hosts have put out two beverage coolers: one with caffeine-free pop and one with caffeinated pop. Leaded and un-leaded, we call it.
Myself? I never drank caffeinated pop until I was a student at BYU. Diet Coke became a staple of my diet. I gave it up for a while when I was about 30, but then the good people at Dr. Pepper came out with a berries and cream version for a while, and what started out as one 20 oz. bottle in the name of curiosity turned into a re-addiction. But I can’t blame it entirely on the Dr. Pepper people. By that time my migraines were becoming more frequent, and caffeine really does help those. Really.
I am off the pop again. I have been off it for . . . I don’t know how long now. Several months, anyway. But in my pantry? I have three bottles of Water Joe (which means I’ve used three). In case you aren’t familiar with Water Joe, it is caffeinated water. Really, I’d say the people who sell caffeinated water should be shot, except? It’s nice to have around in case of a migraine (or extreme stress) (I’m not perfect, and it helps me feel happier). Much better than the chemical-laden diet sodas which are more addictive and much less healthy.
So do we, as Mormons drink pop? Yes, many do; no, many don’t; my personal belief? Nobody should, regardless of religious affiliation – but that, of course, makes me a complete hypocrite. Well, not complete, since I don’t drink it any more. I guess I could say it makes me more the voice of experience. I understand the happy factor that comes from a bubbly combination of caffeine and phenylalanine (in diet sodas). I have, at times, relied heavily upon that happy factor. I don’t know if it’s the same with regular pop and all the high fructose corn syrup. All I know, is that I believe, for myself, all religion aside, that soda really isn’t good for anyone.
Caffeine? I believe has it’s place if used very sparingly.
But while the rest of the world is scratching it’s collective head and wondering about Mormons and the caffeine thing, here is, to me, the bigger issue: The Word of Wisdom tells us not to drink alcohol, do drugs, use tobacco, or drink coffee and tea, but what about the rest of it? What about the part where it says to eat meat sparingly, mostly in winter or times of famine? What about the part that tells us to eat fruits and herbs in their season? I think we focus on the things we should not do (which is a good start, to be sure) but ignore the things we are supposed to be doing. I think as church members we get too hung up on judging or being defensive when it comes to others’ and our decisions about herbal teas and caffeinated sodas when we should just be worried about our own personal adherence to all of the Word of Wisdom.
It’s hard to eat things in season these days, since almost everything is available all year long, but it’s something I want to tackle at some point. We’ve made strides in cutting back meat, but there is still a lot of room for improvement in that area.
So, now that the whole caffeine issue is clear as mud, Tewt the Newt needs to go get the chicken tacos ready for dinner. Hmmm . . . maybe the chicken could go back in the freezer and the tacos could just be brown rice and beans? I’ve done them that way in he past when the budget was REALLY tight, and you know what? They are pretty darned good.
Okay. Change of plans. Tewt the Newt is going to put the chicken back in the freezer.
Yesterday a Mormon Bishop was shot and killed in his church in Visalia, CA. I wanted to embed the local new coverage but I can’t get it to work. You can see it here.
The suspect is now dead, and no motive is known.
My heart is so heavy for that Bishop’s family: his wife and six sons, ages 3 months to 14 years. And my heart is heavy for his congregation. And my heart is heavy for the young man I know from my previous ward who is serving his mission in that area, who is currently assigned to that ward, who was just down the hall when the shooting occurred and was one of the first to see the Bishop after it happened.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we do not aspire to leadership positions. Such positions, all positions in the church, are callings extended by higher leaders, and our choice is to accept or decline the calling. We do not vie for callings, we do not campaign for them, we do not get paid for our church service, we just do it. This man seems to have died because he accepted the call to be a bishop, a call which is demanding and requires a great deal of personal sacrifice (though there is some speculation it may have had something to do with the company he owned, witnesses say the suspect came in asking for the leader of the church but did not ask for him by name).
I cannot imagine the depth of grief and sorrow his wife and children must be feeling. I cannot imagine how difficult it will be for the members of his ward to go back to church. Church . . . a place that is supposed to be safe, a place that is supposed to be like a second home; a place where we go to feel uplifted and edified, not downtrodden and terrified.
I also cannot imagine how the family of the suspect must be feeling. Grief, sorrow, probably confusion. It is horrible.
Because I have a crazy father-in-law who hates the Mormon church and loves to shoot things, I have contemplated this kind of thing in the past. What if . . . what would I do? How would I protect my children?
Apparently, this bishop took what little opportunity he had to yell for people to get out of the building.
Today my thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is suffering due to yesterday’s events.
So I woke up this morning feeling much better (my fever got up to a whopping 100.2 yesterday and I was about to offer autographs to my blog readers), and I immediately stripped my bed and took a shower (because Quinn wound up in bed with us last night and there was a pull up malfunction) and began making all kinds of plans for how I was going to mow some grass and weed the garden and be productive in general.
By the time I’d gotten myself dressed I needed to sit down. Blargh.
Anyway, rather than share my talk with you today as I’d planned I am just going to share a brief quote by Eliza R. Snow that one of my new friends here in Canada South emailed out to a bunch of us this morning. She is such an awesome person! (My new friend, that is; though Eliza R. Snow pretty much rocked as well).
"Tell the sisters to go forth and discharge their duties in humility and faithfulness and the Spirit of God will rest upon them, and they will be blest in their labors. Let them seek for wisdom instead of power and they will have all the power they have wisdom to exercise!!!” – Eliza R. Snow
I think I might have that quote cut in vinyl and stick in on a wall where my girls will see it every day.
And to Liola and anyone else who might be thinking about doing Mormon Monday posts I say: have at it! I think it would be great to get a Mormon Monday movement going in the blogosphere.
I hope you all had a happy Easter! We had General Conference (internet/satellite church) this past weekend, which means we were the only body of people in the Christian world who made a less than normal effort to get our bodies into an actual church building.
I can’t begin to describe how much I love General Conference (and not just because I can go to church in my jammies on my couch) (at noon)! The Saturday session, especially, left an impression on my soul (maybe the Sunday sessions would have had the same impression had it not been so difficult to concentrate due to the Large Family Gathering). Hopefully I’ll be able to share portions of some of those messages with you in Mondays to come.
In the meantime, enjoy your Sundays.
And George, if you’re out there, Tewt the Newt says hello.