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What Is Your Story?

Jeff Simpson Managing Director BYU Broadcasting
March 21, 2023 11:15 AM
Hello Ensign College. I’ve been asking about and reading about some of your stories. Many of you have overcome much and worked hard to be here. I believe that ALL of you have amazing stories.

I love stories. I love watching them, I love listening to stories as others tell them and I’ve enjoyed telling them myself. In fact, I've worked my whole professional life in and around the business of stories. There is this moment in stories, where the audience let themselves go, where we surrender to the story. I love that moment that the images leave the screen, and the audience rises to meet them. I love it when the music leaves the speakers or earbuds and we let it into our heads. I love that we love to experience each other’s stories. I love that we let each other’s stories move us, inform us, and impact us and our thinking. 

But I have a quick warning:

Sometimes listening to the voices of others can get us side-tracked. To be sure, there are a bunch of smart people and collected wisdom we can all benefit from in TED talks, speeches, classrooms, and social networks. But let's face it. Ideas and understanding change over time. The thing everyone thinks today can evolve tomorrow. AND to complicate that further, validation and self-interest have become a huge part of the equation. Of course, we all seek validation in different ways during our lives. But now, maybe more than anytime time in history there is a "motivation for validation”. More than ever, there are more folks whose actual job is to be popular. This “sharing” culture, driven by social currency and the economy of clicks and likes and subscribes…and validation, is too often what is driving the sharing of thoughts and ideas with each other.

But. I believe that you and I, in our heart of hearts, know that there is something more. We believe there is something greater than all of us, right?

In the church, and at least weekly, we gather to listen—to read and reflect on stories that help us look beyond ourselves. Stories both current and recorded throughout millennia. Some of these stories we even gather up, write down, and remember—and a few of those we canonize as scripture and set them apart from other stories. But the point of going to Church, reading scripture, and listening to others is not to just believe the stories, but to take from them.

We are not to simply listen, envy, judge or blindly obey the stories or voices telling the stories, but we are to listen for the Voice of God in them and how that connects to the divine gift in us.

So, when we gather and share stories, we are to listen for what Divinity is trying to tell us about our story…our journey and the divine truths we are reclaiming as a part of it. I hope that as we share stories today, that you and I can hear and feel and seek the divinity that is offered to us…and the divinity that is in us. 

And with that I am going to tell you a story … :) 

When I was a boy, we lived in a little house in Huntington Beach California. It had a flat roof. The kind of roof where frisbees and footballs thrown by four and six-year-old boys could easily get stuck.

One time, when we must have run out of footballs and frisbees, I remember that my dad was going to send us up on that roof to get our supply .

Near the porch of the house there was a lower corner that made this possible. If my dad lifted us up over his head, then we could scramble on our bellies onto the roof. Now, believe me, I get that this is not a terribly safe notion, and I am NOT recommending it. And none of you should report my dad to child protective services, but that’s what we did.

I got up first because, you know, I am the older brother. Then of course my little brother HAD to get up. So, my dad lifted, and my little brother scrambled on up. I think I might even have helped pull him up a bit, feeling like a good older brother.

I don’t think I realized how “high up in the air” I would feel until we turned around to start throwing the balls and the frisbees and whatever else was up there out into our yard. I am guessing that each throw reinforced how high up we were (at least in my mind). Then the time came. Our task was done, and it was time to come down. It was then that I began to fully understand the reality of my predicament. How would we get down?

My dad’s solution was “jump and I'll catch you”. That didn’t seem like a good idea. And as I just sort of stood considering how bad an idea it was to jump off this roof and into the air…trying to figure out if my dad really would or could catch me … then whoosh… my little brother ran past me and leaped out into space and into my dad's arms.

In my mind's eye I can still see my brother moving away from me through space, spread eagle, back arched and arms outstretched, squealing at the thrill of being able to fly. Was he crazy? Was he insane? My stomach cramped with those thoughts.

After putting my giggling little brother down, my dad looked up at me with his arms open for my “turn”. NO WAY. I was frozen. After a few minutes we must have had the “well then how are you going to get down?” talk. And the only thing I could think of was to go back down the way I came, so I laid down on my belly, and began to scoot, legs first, off the roof. I can still imagine the scrape of the asphalt and the little gravelly stones as I scooted my belly out to the edge. And I can imagine my dad trying to corral my dangling, squirming, kicking legs. I can still imagine my hands clinging and scraping the last inches as he pried me from the roof. I wonder what he thought. He must’ve smiled at my plan. It wasn’t the safest way to get down, but it was the only way I could.

I think I wanted to run and jump off that roof like my little brother. But I couldn't for some reason. Was I not brave enough? Was I not trusting enough?

For the rest of our growing up, I couldn't do what my brother could do. He learned to do back handsprings and backflips. He did all sorts of things that took that sort of courage, or stupidity, or leap of faith. Depending on how you look at it. And I think I was always jealous of his bravery.

For many years, when I have thought about my faith in my life I have thought about this story. And there are one or two lesson that have developed over time. 

FIRST: We are all different and our journeys are different. My brother and I love each other, but I think that, as I grew up, sometimes, maybe many times, my wishing I was more like him got in the way. Not just in the way of our relationship, but in the way of my own journey and my own growth. Whose way was the "right" way? Was I more mature and smarter and enlightened about the science of gravity and the whole thing -- or was my brother just braver? or brimming with belief and trust? As I’ve watched my mom and dad over the years it became clear to me that, not only did the differences not matter, but they loved our unique strengths and stories. The most important thing to them is that we love and learn and grow. That’s what they were watching for. I think it’s the same with our Heavenly Parents. They love our unique journey. 

SECOND: I’ve also come to learn that faith really IS a journey…and not an either/or. It really is more like a story. And there is a lot more to the story than either a lot of faith or a lot of doubt.

Faith is a story, and it is your unique story. 

So, what makes our faith story more than just a leap? Well, in all my career in and around the business of creating stories, it is interesting to me how many times we remind ourselves that stories need a beginning and middle and end. I know that seems simple to say, but at the heart of every story, is journey…a process… transformation.

And in story-making this journey is often referred to as a “Hero’s journey” – where the hero departs, meets challenges and overcomes obstacles to return changed. Sound familiar?

A beginning, a middle and an end.

How many of you were here just a few months ago and heard Brother Bruce and Sister Marie Hafen speak about the stages of faith? Do yourself a favor and read their book or go back and watch that devotional. Interestingly: they organized the stages of faith, or the STORY of faith, into three parts. A sort of beginning, middle and end.

They explain that, at the beginning, the nature of our faith is a belief in the ideal – simple and beautiful. Then in the middle part, we encounter the reality of things—and the idealism of belief collides with the glare of reality. What we believe and hope for, and our real experience seems incompatible.

The Hafens then describe a process of traveling and working and walking THROUGH that middle of the story to another place on the other side. A place more settled in a developed, chosen, integrated, and earned faith. To me they are describing a hero’s journey. A beginning-middle-and-end sort of story. 

And it turns out that there is some science to back that framework up. As we grow, our brain physically develops to be able to process differently. Not only do we gain the ability to learn and choose for ourselves, but our brain also develops the ability to hold on to complex things like “dichotomy” and “paradox” at the same time. Here is what I mean by paradox and dichotomies:

· Is Justice or mercy more important? Are these at odds?

· “I believe in, and stand up for, something completely different than you; BUT I still love and value you and support you.” – That can feel like a type of paradox.

· “Instructors, leaders and speakers are just people, and they are learning and making mistakes like everyone; BUT there can be wisdom and even divine truths in the things they share.”— How is that possible?

· “Our closest family and friends are imperfect themselves; BUT they are also great sources of truth for our own growth.”— Hard to get our mind around that.

· “We are imperfect believers, so the Church is naturally flawed; BUT the Church is also a beautiful vehicle, given to us, for communing in Christ's perfect path. Joseph was flawed BUT divine truth was restored through him.” Two things, seemingly at odds, can be true.

When our brain begins to consider these colliding realities, we are traveling the middle of our great faith story. Luckily, our brain develops to be able to hold on to and work through these things to reconcile them. And because “All these things shall give [us] experience and shall be for [our] good”, our journey with faith can now take on more color, more complexity, more agency, and more meaning. 

And that leads me to another thing that must happen in stories.

The hero on the journey must act and decide. In the face of the environment, situations, or external forces, our hero must “take on” what the journey brings. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” and so, for our hero, the hurdles, obstacles, complex problems, and challenges are all part of the story. Our hero’s reactions to them are the keys to the story…keys to our hero’s transformation. And remember, this is your story, you are the protagonist, you are the hero. BUT it might be easy at this point to misunderstand part of the story.

It might seem easier to decide your role is to be judge…instead of hero. It may be tempting to sit back and say “well, convince me God”. “Convince me to believe in you”, “convince me that I am a spiritual being on this journey”, “convince me there is mystery in reason”, “convince me that there can be faith in doubt”, “convince me there is mercy in justice”, “convince me to see the beauty in ashes”, “convince me that an open heart is as important as an open mind.” “Convince me.”

But we are not here to say, “convince me”. We are not here to sit on the sidelines of the journey in the bleachers, or spacious buildings, like a judge of the journey—trying to determine if the journey is valid. Our role is NOT to judge like a referee or judge the referee like a spectator. We are the protagonist IN THE hero’s journey. We are NOT here to be convinced we are here to choose. We are here to choose and be changed by our choices. “It is better for us” Eve teaches in the temple. That is how the hero is made, or rather remade… transformed…redeemed.

So, what does “choosing and changing” look like? Well, we already know it is not one moment of “leaping from a roof” but a journey of choices. The hero won’t be transformed until they choose over and over again. And every choice may not be a leap but is almost certainly like a step into a dark room before the light turns on—before we know the outcome. It is a brave step. Scripture stories call it an “Experiment”, a choice in mist of darkness and doubt, “a desire to believe”; it is “I don’t know the meaning of all things, but I know [this]” moment.

A neighbor and friend, Sister Isabel Petersen, just recently gave a talk in church as she left on her mission and divinity spoke to my soul when she said: “A believer is someone who takes action.” Then she quoted “Be thou and example of a believer”. Our hero typically has to ask themselves: Am I a believer? What would a believer do? 

“What if I choose not to choose” you may ask. What if I don’t act in my story? Well, here is the thing. You will. You will because the story is moving all around you. You are in it. You are moving whether you choose to or not. Sort of reminds me of a river…and that reminds me of another story 😊 

How many of you know what “running a river” is? How many of you have “run a river”? Well, there was a time in my life I hadn’t ever “run” a river. I had floated on a river, but I hadn’t “run” a river.

Here is what I mean. Back when Karen and I were newlyweds, our former YSA Bishop had also been a Colorado river guide. He took the ward on an adventure outing to run a river and invited us back as newlywed “Chaperones” just months after we were married. When we got there, it turned out that one of the “boat guides” for one of the boats couldn’t come, so our friend asked if I would be willing to “Guide” one of the boats. Well, I had never run a river, let alone guided. OK, so these were not “class 5” rapids nor the heart of the Grand Canyon--but there were rapids and bumps, and we were bound to get tossed around, and remember, I had only ever floated in a river. Well, I wasn’t that confident, and Karen for SURE knew I didn’t know what I was doing—but our friend and guide assured us we would be ok.

He told us that, “when we get into the river, there will be some rapids, but don’t worry. Your boat will be ok. As we approach the rapids just line up behind me and follow my line in and you’ll be fine.” And then he adds “oh…and keep telling everybody in your raft to stay in the boat and keep rowing so you can steer.” I guess it turns out that unless you are in the boat and rowing it is hard to steer.

Well, it did get bumpy and we were tossed around. And I kept saying “keep rowing”! And we kept rowing, and we made it through. And we had a ball.

So here is a lesson. Even though it was bumpy, and we got tossed around, we didn’t think anything was broken. We didn’t say “Hey, this river is broken!”, “My boat is broken!”, “Something is wrong with this river!” That would be silly to say in a river run. And in that way, our story is like a river run.

Sure, there ARE times when something really IS wrong. But very, very often, the bumps in the rapids that you and I are feeling are part of the story. And our hero’s journey is to navigate and “choose” our way through them. And with all of that choosing and steering, we are transformed along the way.

You see, sometimes we think this life is happening TO us, it is not. But it is actually happening FOR us. This journey was created for us, and we are made for it.

So, remember this is a hero’s journey. An unfolding story with beginnings, middles and ends.

And you were uniquely created by Divine Parents, so this is your unique story.

And you are who you need to be for this story. You were built for this story. For this river. Your boat is not broken, the river is not broken. Don’t try to scramble back upriver and flee to the sides, embrace the river.

Remember, we are here to choose, not to sit back and say, “convince me”. Show up in your story. Keep your oar in the water and be the hero of your journey so it can transform you.

Here is the good news. You are a generation who loves to learn by experience and that is the doctrine. Use that to your advantage. I think you were born for this story at this time in history. You were made for this river. 

But there is one more thing. Remember our Bishop and river guide friend. Remember he said to follow His line down the river and especially in the rapids. Well, you’ve no doubt guessed by now, in THIS story there is another character, another force. Christ is in the story.

His role in our story can take on many dimensions, but we must decide to choose that too. Christ is always there in many ways, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. For sure “The Spirit of Christ is given to [all]”.

But Christ invites you and I to “take up [our] cross,” Our story. Our oar “and follow [him]”. If we choose to follow Christ—to receive Christ, to take on his name, if we align ourselves with Him, if we immerse in him, if we always remember him, then there is something more. Even more than the peace and comfort of following his line in the rapids. It is the promise of baptism and the sacrament prayer. His Spirit will always be with us. His divinity, merging with the spark of divinity in us, re-awakening it. Giving it new life and new birth. This is how we are born again of the Spirit; this is how we “receive” it. Our choosing and steps become sanctified by Him. “I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” Christ promises.

Does that ring true to you? Can you feel the divinity of that resonating with the spark in you? Can you feel God speaking to you? Maybe it is like a little highlighter in your heart. Maybe gentle, maybe burning, maybe fleeting. Remember it is unique to us. Can you only hope to believe? Let’s this work in you. Act as if you believed. Take your step, immerse your oar in the river and see if you feel more of the divine in you. Follow Jesus and take the steps a believer would take, and he will help you and sanctify your step.

I love this quote from Sister Lisa Harkness:

"Our faith grows as we experiment on the word of God with hope and diligence, trying our very best to follow Christ’s teachings. Our faith increases as we choose to believe rather than doubt, forgive rather than judge, repent rather than rebel. Our faith is refined as we patiently rely on the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah."

Lisa L. Harkness, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, October 2020

President Nelson has invited us to "start today to increase your faith." He then gives steps *to Study, *to Choose to believe in Jesus Christ, *to partake of ordinances, and *to ask of Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ for help. And President Nelson also recently reminded us that "Overcoming the world is not an event that happens in a day or two. It happens over a lifetime as we repeatedly embrace the doctrine of Christ."

President Nelson; April 2021 and President Nelson; October 2022

The Lord does not require perfect faith to have access to His perfect power. But He does ask us to use our agency to choose to believe and to show up. So, show up for your story. Not just open minded-but, open-hearted. Not to feel guilty for what we are not. But use our agency and take the hero’s journey and be transformed. So let us choose. Choose to not only believe in God—but choose to know God and choose to love God.

May we all choose God and be changed in our story.

About the Speaker

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Jeff Simpson

Jeff Simpson was appointed as Managing Director of BYU Broadcasting in 2021. Prior to this assignment, he served as the President and Publisher of Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as the President of Deseret Book Company, a publishing company under the Deseret Management Corporation family of media companies.

Prior to his publishing positions, Mr. Simpson was the President and CEO of Bonneville International, a group of TV and radio properties based in the western United States.

Mr. Simpson’s diverse media background began at Walt Disney Pictures and Buena Vista Television. He then built Excel Entertainment Group, which became a top 10 independent media distributor. In 2004, Excel Entertainment Group was acquired by Deseret Book Company, where he served as Deseret Book's Executive Vice President and COO.

His volunteer time includes serving in various Church callings and on the boards of directors of the National Association of Broadcasters, the national News Media Alliance, the United Way, as well as other local community organizations. Mr. Simpson is a graduate of Brigham Young University. Jeff and Karen Zander met at BYU and are the parents of three children. Now that their three children are off building their lives, Karen and Jeff live with their dog, Scout, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
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