Having something to share
I was back in Orem, Utah, last Sunday, and we attended the ward where I met my wife, and where her parents still live.
It may now be called the Sharon 3rd Ward instead of the Orem 31st, and they may be meeting in a building that didn't exist back in 1973, but there were many familiar faces, and it was good to visit in a ward that still felt like home.
After all these years, most of the ward consisted of faces new to me and families I had not met. My parents-in-law, by sheer coincidence, spoke in that sacrament meeting. But there was also a talk by one of the Young Women, Abby Budd.
She had prepared well and spoke clearly, and as she neared the end, she bore a testimony of how prayers are answered that came from her life and her heart. I was both moved and instructed.
I thought back to my first talk before the whole ward. It was in the days when Sunday School was a separate meeting in the morning. I had just graduated from junior Sunday school into senior, and was asked to give my first two-and-a-half-minute talk in front of a congregation that included most of the adults of the ward.
Not long before, I had read The Autobiography of Parley P Pratt, and I was determined to talk about the most powerful scene in the book, when Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, and others were prisoners in chains, and their guards tormented them with tales of crimes they and others had committed against the unarmed, helpless Saints whom Brother Joseph was powerless to protect.
"On a sudden," said Pratt, Joseph Smith "arose to his feet" and roared these words of rebuke:
"SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT!"
For the first time in my life, I felt the power of language when spoken with authority, and when I was asked to speak, I immediately decided that I had to use those words.
Not just use them, but begin with them. Oh, it was a theatrical idea, but I came by it naturally. My parents made some effort to discourage me from beginning with that speech, without any kind of explanation, but when I explained that I wanted to give the congregation a shock like the one those guards got, they agreed that my plan would certainly wake up any who might be dozing.
I think they loved the theatricality of it, too.
I knew I couldn't roar like a lion, but in my unchanged eight-year-old voice, I was going to do my best. The day came, my turn came, and at the last minute I thought perhaps I should explain a little first.
But no. I had a plan, and it was a good one, and I had no reason but fear to change my talk. And if my point was to speak bold true words with courage, then I couldn't set a bad example by chickening out!
So I stood up on the little stepstool and cried out, "Silence, ye fiends of the infernal pit!"
That was a very quiet chapel, and I suddenly had every eye on me.
I went on and finished roaring the quotation, and then explained the context and finished my talk.
No one had helped me with the talk, though my mother typed it up for me, since no one, least of all I, could read my handwriting (a fact still true). I have no idea whether I said anything profound, but it felt profound to me, because it was about things I had only recently learned in my own gospel study.
From years of listening to my parents discuss sacrament meeting talks, I knew that the talks that my parents most admired and appreciated were the one that were about the gospel.
The best talks brought up ideas that my parents mulled over and discussed with us kids in the car on the way home from the Cleaves Street chapel in San Jose (where the Santa Clara Ward met in those days).
That was the standard I was determined to meet. And, growing up in quite a different place, my wife grew up being taught the same kinds of lessons by her parents.
I rejoice when a young speaker knows -- from example or precept -- that sacrament meeting talks are for preaching the gospel with authority and without distraction. Recently the four graduating students from my wife's seminary class were assigned to speak in sacrament meeting, with my wife to follow in cleanup position. She was prepared to talk from ten to thirty minutes, depending.
Instead, she took a minute and a half, because all four of those kids gave excellent sacrament meeting talks.
Weeks before, Nathaniel Lundrigan of our teachers quorum had been asked to speak on media and entertainment.
I can't convey to you the way he spoke, except to say that while he was personable, he was also dignified, and did not waste our time with frivolities or self-consciousness. I'm including the entire text of his talk in the online version of this column (with his permission). But I'll quote one short passage here, about the danger of online pornography:
"Once involved you are unworthy to go to the temple, which is one of the greatest blessings on earth. It makes you unworthy to go on your mission, an experience that I want to have.... It can affect the relationship we will have with our future spouse and our family. It weakens our self-control and changes the way we see other people."
When he said the words "an experience that I want to have," I felt the fervor and sincerity of his statement wash through me. He was not repeating words that someone else gave him; he had thought about these things himself, and was speaking from his heart.
He offered his study, his thoughts, his feelings to us, in the name of Christ; he made no excuses or apologies because of his youth. And so his words became something fit for the Spirit to carry into our hearts. Just as Abby Budd's words affected me last week.
If we tell our young people that we expect them to meet adult standards in their sacrament meeting talks, and then teach them and show them how it's done, they will rise to meet those expectations.
When they speak the words of prophets and apostles, the words of Christ, and their own words from their study, thinking, and experience, they are doing something real: the work of the Lord, an adult labor that is well within their reach.
Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card
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