Earnestly Seek the Reality of Discipleship
I want to tell you what a privilege and an honor it is to speak here. I’m going to really have to work hard on my peripheral vision to look at the whole audience, but I appreciate very much President Richards’ introduction. We actually were bishops together in the same building, and so I can say from firsthand experience over the 40 years that President Richards is an endless wellspring of faith and love and cheerfulness. He is about the most cheerful person that I’ve ever met. And you’re very lucky to be in his hands.
I have come to appreciate what a special place this is because, three times a week when I come home, my wife tells me about the wonderful experiences she has and how much she learns from watching you care for each other. So I’m really here as her companion, grateful to come to a place she loves so much.
I was given nearly complete latitude on the topic, which is quite unusual. And it’s in fact easier to be given a topic than to be given that breadth of choice. So I’ve prayed and pondered what I might say, and my hope and prayer is that what I say today will give you ways to think about your own life and to make changes for the better in your life.
We’re told in the Scriptures that in such settings we are to instruct and edify, and I hope that both happen today for you.
I want to share with you an idea that I was blessed to receive, in a way, many years ago, that has had a profound impact on my life. I hope it will suggest to you some of the ways that you can think about your own lives and that it will have a similar impact. One of my very favorite quotes is from Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, “A mind expanded by an idea can never return to its original dimension.” And for me, when I came to understand this idea, it expanded my life and the way I think about it.
This idea came from a book that was published, now, 50 years ago, and it was discovered by me as a student about ten years later. The book has a respected author and a strange title. The author is a man named Daniel Boorstin. He was a professor of American history and a social commentator at the University of Chicago. In 1975, he was appointed as the 12th Librarian of Congress, in which position he served for 12 years. And he was the author of a number of books—some, The Creators, The Discoverers, and one three-volume set, The Americans that Won the Pulitzer Prize. The title of his book, which is strange, and here it is—it’s The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. I’m going to have to explain to you what that means, but the thesis of his book is that we as Americans have come to prefer illusion to actual experience, to prefer the image of reality to reality itself. And these illusions, or images of reality, we call pseudo-events. By pseudo, he means something apparent rather than real, a pretender—close but not the real thing. And I’ll give some examples that will make it a little clearer, because this is a little foggy. But Boorstin says this phenomenon of preferring illusion to actual experience, the image to reality, is partly the result of our accommodating technology, our raised expectations and the convenience of the image. And then he quotes at the beginning of the book the commentator Max Frisch, who said: “Technology is the knack of so arranging life that we don’t have to experience it.”
Now, the examples Boorstin gives will, I think, help to make this clear. He contrasts news gathering, which he says is the substance, with news making, which is the image. And you have to think about what the idea of news is. News is things that happen. And he says news gathering means that we go out and cover natural disasters or national elections or wars. News making, by contrast, is the image of news but not the substance, and the examples would be interviews and polls. You think about the last presidential cycle, how many of us were consumed in the image of news but not the substance—polls, talking heads telling us which way the election was turning—and Boorstin would say that’s the image of news but not the substance.
He gives another example. He says, “Tourism is the image of which the substance is traveling.” And in his day, when there was a lot less technology, we had a history of what we called “Travel books,”—The Adventures of Marco Polo and others, where writers would go to strange places and describe in great detail what we couldn’t see or know. And he says [that] traveling then meant to get on a ship or a boat and to travel someplace where you felt the change of climate, you went and ate strange foods, you lived with people with different habits, and you really felt what a different environment was.
He says tourism, which is the image of travel, means you travel in air-conditioned planes, people pick you up on a bus, they take you to a Marriott Hotel, you’re led around by English tour guides, you always have American food so you don’t get sick, and you think you’ve been to someplace different. Now today, in a way, we go to a foreign country to see if the reality lives up to the image we have, actually.
He gives a third example. He says, “Graphics are the image of which art is the substance.” Originally, we had to go to museums to see great pieces of art, and then graphics came along and we have a print of the “Mona Lisa” on our refrigerator. And he tells the story of being in the Louvre and having a woman go through a line and say, “Gee, it’s not as vivid as the print I have at home.”
So another example he uses is artificial flowers and greenery which we keep in our offices. They give us the illusion of being outside, which we’re not; they give us the illusion of being adjacent to agriculture, but there is none of the pruning, none of the watering, none of the getting the dirt under our fingernails—so we have the image of an association with horticulture but not the substance.
Boorstin says then, interestingly, there’s a human pseudo-event. And he says that celebrities are the image of which heroes are the substance. And he says because of this confusion, we may worry or care more about our personality, our image, than we do our character or our substance. And he says the focus on celebrity is rooted in the world’s power to make men or women famous, People Magazine being the chief example, and a celebrity is just someone who is well-known for being well-known. I don’t mean to defame them, but the Kardashians would be an example.
By contrast, heroes are real, substantive human events. And although the word heroes is overused and at risk of becoming cheapened, there are real celebrities in our culture. About a month and a half ago, we went to the funeral of one of our neighbors, a man named Dr. Homer Warner. I don’t know if any of you would know him. But he was the father of medical informatics—using computers to collect data about people to help improve lives. And at a crucial time, he developed one of the first computer programs to do that. Instead of patenting that and making a lot of money, he made it free so that everybody could use it. He eventually became the area medical adviser in Germany to help missionaries, and when he would go to hospitals to make arrangements for missionaries to go there, it was not unusual for the staff to line up and applaud him as he walked in the door. He was a real hero although many of us don’t know him.
I imagine that Dr. Boorstin would find modern reality shows on television classic examples of the image of reality but not its substance. Now it’s important to understand that Boorstin was not anti-technology, nor should we be. Technology is not inherently bad, and it can and does bring many blessings and extends our capacity for good works and personal growth. And any of you who have communicated with your parents by e-mail from the mission field will know one of the advantages of technology, and now I think on the Christmas call, missionaries can Skype. And people with little means can be exposed to tremendous knowledge. We have online learning; there are many good things.
One of my favorite examples, frankly, is something I realized when I was reading the Doctrine and Covenants on the mission. In September of 1832—so when the Church was in its infancy in Kirtland—the Prophet Joseph Smith received this revelation, from the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “For I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment”—think about the offer to have our sins forgiven—“that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer, in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto you. Therefore, go ye into all the world.” Now think about this little band of recent converts. The Church is in its second year, being told, “Don’t go proselyte to Illinois; go to the whole world.” And then the Lord gives this amazing statement: “And [unto] whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world unto every creature.” (verses 61-62)
I don’t know what they’ve got back then. Does that mean we crate up copies of the Book of Mormon and send it to the South Sea Islands? I don’t know what they thought. But we know what it means today. “And unto whatsoever place ye cannot go, ye shall send.” Because we now send mormon.org and conference everywhere in the world. We had in our mission a missionary from Chengdu, China, whose mother was converted by looking up the Church on the Internet. So we can now fulfill a prophecy which I’m not sure the Saints understood when they received it, because of technology.
Rather, Dr. Boorstin is warning us about something else, and that is the potential for technology to estrange us from reality rather than enhance reality. We may become confused about what is real and what is imaginary in our lives, because we are embracing the image of things and not their substance. And when we do that, we can miss the reality in our lives. We can become disillusioned with life or ourselves, or disappointed with things because we misunderstand the image rather than the reality of them.
The prophet Joel in the Old Testament warned us of this in a phrase that is really powerful. He said, “Rend your heart, and not your garments.” (Joel 2:13) What he meant by that is that some people wanted to show their humility by tearing their clothes. And he said, “Don’t tear your clothes, rend your heart.” He is warning about the image of humility or devotion and not its substance.
Almost immediately from reading this book, the implications of it became clear to me. First as a student, because I realized that as a student, thinking about the process of learning and education, it was easy to confuse getting good grades with real learning. We all know this phenomenon, because we’ve all been trained from an early age to be grade grubbers. And yet there is a danger—and this is a bit of a confession—but when I was a student at the University of Utah, I had the privilege of taking four classes from Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who was then a professor of political science. And one of those classes, he would give three tests, on a third of the course each, during the semester, and your grades were a combination of the two highest scores. So I took this class, studied hard, loved it, and did well on the first two tests. And I saw him just before the third test, and he said, “We’ll see you tomorrow for the third test.”
I said, “I’m not coming.”
He said, “You’re not coming?”
I said, “No. I did well enough on the first two tests, I don’t need to come take the third one.”
Now I’m very embarrassed thinking back about that, because I remember the disappointment on his face. But as I’ve thought about it, it was a classic example of me caring about grades but not what I was learning. Obtaining a degree is the image of which the substance is specific skills and abilities in a subject matter area. When I was a bishop, I had a young man come to me who had attended a certain technical school or college, and when he had gotten the degree he went out, and no one would hire him because he didn’t have the right skill sets. He thought the degree would get him a job. But that is the image. The substance is the skill set.
Let me give you another example, because there’s an implication to this in our relationships. It’s possible to go through the emotions of a relationship without their substance. One of my favorite examples—we think about charity, serving others—a writer I like, C.S. Lewis, once said, “It is … easier to pray for a bore than to go and see [him].” (Letters of Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer) And we can sometimes think we are charitable if we are praying for others, when in reality the substance of charity is going to see them.
Going through the motions can apply in a lot of settings. We had wonderful missionaries. On very rare occasions, there would be companionship issues. And sometimes, companions would get so angry at each other that it was palpable, and yet they would say to each other, because we trained them to do so, “Elder, I really love you.” They were going through the emotions, but both they and their companions knew there was no substance to it. And if you think about this, sometimes we go through the motions of charity without its substance.
If you think about this, one of the reasons we prize authenticity and genuineness is because it’s substantive. We can tell that we are dealing with the reality of another person and not their image, and so if you think about the application of this in relationships, another word for substance is authenticity.
The most important aspect of applying Boorstin’s idea actually came as I thought about it in my religious life and its application to discipleship. Because I recognized almost immediately that for many people, including myself, there is a real risk that we might come to arrange the gospel in such a way that we don’t have to experience it—to seek a church commitment that is convenient and comfortable, to embrace the image of discipleship rather than its substance. And I have to say that in some respects, there is a greater risk of that in the center of Zion where there is some status associated with church membership and position.
And I think sometimes we can get off track because we embrace the image of discipleship to communicate to others that we are part of the large group, but sometimes in a subconscious way, we confuse ourselves, because we’re holding a church position or we’re doing things that we say to ourselves constitute discipleship, but it’s the image and not the substance. Again, I remind you what Joel said: “Rend your heart and not your garment.”
We may look like we are on the Lord’s errand when we are only going through the motion, and when this happens, in a sense we have “a form of godliness but …[avoid] the power thereof.” (see 2 Timothy 3:5; Joseph Smith—History 1:19) Now the potential and how it works in the gospel can be seen with a number of examples. So let me walk through them, and see if these ring true with you.
Attending church is the image of which the substance is worshipping the Lord. We may start thinking—think how often we have attended sacrament meeting, but our minds are on whether the Ravens or the 49ers are going to win. In fact, it may sometimes happen that we start to think that sacrament meeting is boring and we have a hint that we may be missing the substance. In other words, it is quite possible to attend a church service without actually worshipping. And again, we can be disappointed with what is happening to us because we have confused the image with the substance.
Secondly, partaking of the sacrament is the image of which the substance is renewing our covenants. Think how often—and it happens not deliberately, but it happens. It has happened to me—we go through the motions of taking the sacrament, but the act of renewing and being renewed or made new doesn’t happen. So that’s another example of how this can happen.
Third, going on a mission is the image of which the substance is preaching the gospel. One of the joys of our experience together was watching missionaries go through this change, when the mission stopped being about them and became about the work. And when that happened, the substance of being a missionary began to transform them. But I know missionaries who served for two years, who wore white shirts and ties and badges but missed the miracle. They had the image of being a missionary but not its substance.
Calling ourselves Christian is the image of which the substance is taking upon ourselves the name of the Lord. Holding a Church job or position is the image of which the substance is magnifying our calling. When I was a stake president at the University of Utah, I would interview, sometimes, some of our stake members as they were leaving, graduating. I interviewed a great young woman who had come to our stake—it was a family student stake—at age 18 with three children. She had escaped from a polygamous relationship, and she spent four years getting a degree. She got a teaching certificate and graduated on her own, no family support. And I said to her, “Tell me, what’s been the best experience you’ve had in our stake?”
And she said, “It’s easy. It’s my home teacher.”
And I said, “Really. Who is your home teacher?”
And she said, “Brian Carroll.”
I paused for a minute, because Brian was a quadriplegic, and this sister lived on the second story of student housing up on Sunnyside Avenue with no elevators. I said, “Well, that’s wonderful, but how was Brian able to home teach you.”
She said, “Oh, we went to his apartment.”
So that’s somebody who understood how to magnify his calling.
Being married in the temple is the image of which the substance is worthily entering into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. And as the stake president of a married/family student stake, I interviewed some couples who had been married in the temple but had only had the image of it and not the substance. And only in the substance can you partake of the joy of that covenant.
Saying our prayers is the image of which the substance is truly communicating with the Lord. You think about Christ warned about this when he condemned those who prayed to be seen of men. I remember getting a glimpse of what it meant to have the substance of prayer when I heard Elder Marion D. Hanks give a talk and said that at his bed he kept a notepad and pen, so that when he had impressions in his prayers he could stop his prayer and go write down what the impression was and then go back to his prayer. And I remember thinking, “Boy, Elder Hanks has got the substance of prayer,” something I have tried to model.
In repentance, saying “I’m sorry” is the image of which the substance is feeling godly sorrow. We have a grandson who is named after me, the name of James, who has just turned five. Last summer, he got in his dad’s car, which was parked in front of the house, and put it in neutral, and the car started rolling down the street. And James panicked, jumped out; the car—the back tire of the car rolled over his leg and [the car] hit a tree and ripped the left-hand door off. They rushed him up to the hospital. He was fine, no broken bones. They brought him home. That night as his mother was putting him to bed, she said he looked up at her and said, “You know, Mom, except for the car, I’ve been really good today.”
We say we’re sorry, but do we really mean it with the Lord? It’s easy to go through the motions of repentance without the substance.
The consequences of leading an image-focused spiritual life are obvious. If that happens to us, we may come to regard the Church or the gospel as empty or irrelevant, when in fact we are confusing our own superficiality for what the Church has to offer. And when that happens, like the people in Jesus’ homeland, we render the gospel incapable of doing any mighty works in our lives.
Christ, near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, gave the most profound warning of this, said, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
“Many will say to me at that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
“And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 27:21-23)
So it’s not enough to go through the motions. We must know the Lord and must do the will of our Father. And that’s the substance of the gospel. How can we avoid this? How can we better make sure that we’re not engaged in an imaginary spiritual life, but we are embracing the substance? I’d like to suggest four ways that we do it, very briefly.
First, I believe thinking about the distinction itself helps us to look at things the right way. The idea has expanded our minds, and we begin to see when we are going through the motions instead of embracing the substance. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, said, “Once you have read about a magical forest, you can never enter forests in the same way again.” And I think that’s, for me at least, having this idea in my head made a big difference.
When we know that there is a risk of this superficiality, we have a way to understand ourselves better, to set truly substantive goals, and to identify our weaknesses. One way to do this, of course, is to ask ourselves regularly, “Am I going through the motions?” Which leads me to my second point, which is, don’t stop going through the motions.
Going through the motions is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is often the way we start toward experiencing the substance. To the old question missionaries say, “I can’t go tracting until I feel the Spirit,” what is the answer? Go tracting, and you will get the Spirit. So it’s really important.
Let me give you one example from my own life that was important. As a young bishop, I guess the second time, I had a young family, and I was busy in my practice, and I remember one night almost dreading driving up to meetings and interviews. I just felt drained and empty. And that condition persisted for about a week. I was reading in the Book of Mormon and read a scripture that really had a tremendous impact on me in the moment.
It was Nephi, near the end of his writings, in the 32nd chapter wrote the following words: “For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teaches him that he must not pray,” something that President Richards referred to earlier this morning.
“But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform anything unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.” (verses 8-9)
So what does Nephi teach us? He teaches us two things: Whatever you do, don’t stop praying. That won’t work. Even if your prayers feel superficial, if you have the image of prayer, don’t stop praying. Then he gives us another thing. He says if you are going to perform anything unto the Lord, which may be almost anything in our lives, but especially our religious performances, we have to include something in our prayers we sometimes don’t—often don’t. And that is, we must in the first place pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, “that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.” And as a bishop, I had been praying for the people I was going to go interview, the people I was going to go counsel with, the work of the ward. I had never prayed that God would consecrate my performance unto me, that it would be for the welfare of my soul, that I would have the substance and not the image of what I was doing. And once I added that to my prayers, my reservoir began to fill and the emptiness that I had felt went away.
So don’t stop doing the motions of religious observance. Just try to improve them. Try to get our heart in it. Do the things that make them substantive. One way of thinking about this is a quote from a writer I like by the name of Charles Williams, who said, “We must build our altars one place so that the fire can come down someplace else.” And what he meant by that was, every time we go to Church, we may not have a spiritual experience. But if we’re not going to church, we’re not likely to have spiritual experiences anywhere else.
The third way to do this is to read the Scriptures daily and deeply, because the Scriptures are about people who had real spiritual experiences. They weren’t engaged—I’ve been reading the New Testament lately, and if you read about Paul, that’s not someone who was caught up in the image of religion. His daily experience was substantive, demanding, trying, difficult. And when you read about him, you can’t be confused about it.
When you read about Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah as missionaries, you read about real people with real experiences that have tremendous application to our missionaries. One of the things we learned and became a powerful use of the Scriptures was that the most challenging time for our missionaries was 9:59 a.m. Those of you who have served missions know why, because it’s when you leave the comfort of your apartment and the wonderful experience of studying and at 10:00 o’clock go out to meet the world and start tracting. It’s the hardest moment. And we would have, in our mission, our missionaries—we had a card called “My Identity.” And every morning at 9:59, they would stand up and say what, Elder Jones? Stand up and be loud. [A former missionary who served under Brother Jardine arises and recites a scripture.]
For those of you who couldn’t hear, what we would say are the words of Mormon the editor, who in the middle of 3 Nephi stops and gives us an explanation of what he is doing and why. In the middle of that, he tells us his identity. He says, “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.” (3 Nephi 5:13) So that our missionaries would feel the power of that declaration by another missionary prophet.
So I just encourage you to read the Scriptures and learn about real people.
Lastly, seek out Spirit-requiring experiences. There is a reality to going to visit someone who is in distress, who has got something hard going on in their lives or is ill, maybe with a terminal disease. Not easy, but real. And you can’t fake it. You can’t “go through the motions” in that setting. When we were at the University Stake serving, every night we were required to have two elders in the University Hospital and two at Primary Children’s [Medical Center] to give any blessings they were called upon [to give]. It was one of my favorite things to do, because you can’t give a blessing to someone who is that ill, someone you have never met before, and not know that you need the Spirit. You can’t just say the words. It humbles you and brings you into a reality.
Accepting Church callings that stretch us has the same effect. If you are asked to be a teacher and you are shy, you’re on your way to a real experience. That’s just the way it works.
So let me conclude with a testimony and two final observations. One of the—I had someone relay an experience to me once that gave me a glimpse of—not the image of a prophet but the substance. And it was Elaine Cannon, a dear friend of my mother’s, who was the general president of the Young Women’s organization. She said after the Sunday afternoon session of a general conference that was then held in the Tabernacle, she stayed and lingered and talked to people for a long time. She was about the last person out, and she finally went up and around and down underneath where you get in the tunnels to go to parking and other places. She said she was the only one in the tunnel except, ahead of her in the tunnel about halfway down, was a golf cart driven by Arthur Haycock, who was then the secretary to the First Presidency, sitting on the cart with President and Sister Kimball. And about halfway down, the cart stopped, President Kimball got off, got a bag and some other things, put a key in a door, opened a door and went in and left, and then the cart went on.
Elaine said that a few days later, she saw Brother Haycock and said, “You know, Arthur, I was interested. I saw this happen, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Where was President Kimball going, with conference over?”
And he said, “Oh, he was going into the temple to report on conference.”
That’s what prophets do. That’s the reality and substance of religion.
There is one place in the Scriptures where we are told it’s okay to embrace the image, and it is when Alma the Younger is lecturing, teaching the people in Zarahemla where the church had been established. And he poses three questions to the people who were members of the church. And think how you will answer these three questions.
The three questions were: “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change [of] heart?” (Alma 5:14) When we can answer those three questions affirmatively, when we can have the image of the Savior in our countenances, that is the image our Father in Heaven wants us to have, and it’s no different from the substance.
I leave you my testimony and my love, that having the image of the Savior in our countenances is the way to a substantive, authentic, genuine life that will bless us all our days, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.