A crucial influence at a pivotal time

A crucial influence at a pivotal time October 19, 2022

 

The old San Gabriel Ward building
This building, at the corner of Mission Avenue and Walnut Grove Drive in Rosemead, California, is the chapel that I attended with increasing regularity over the course of my childhood and adolescence, first in the Rosemead Ward and then in the newly created San Gabriel Ward. I’m grateful to Wade Englund for locating this photo for me on Facebook. I recall it being mostly faced with green stucco as I grew up, and then being changed to white.

 

Astoundingly — who could possibly have predicted such an event? — something new went up on the website of the Interpreter Foundation this afternoon:

 

Conference Talks: “Covenant and Temple in Psalm 105,” by Stephen D. Ricks

Stephen Ricks takes a close look at the literary structure of a psalm, reintroducing us to chiasmus both in modern and ancient texts, including the Book of Mormon, then uses this literary structure to show how the psalm contains the basic historic credo of the Israelites, as seen in Deuteronomy and mirrored in 1 Nephi 17. Ricks then goes on to show how an essential part of the psalm is a covenant (“a binding agreement between man and God, with sanctions in the event of the violation of the agreement”), which ties it back to the temple. Ricks shows this by pointing out the points of covenant: Preamble, review of God’s relations with Israel, terms of the covenant, formal witnesses, blessings and curses, and reciting the covenant and depositing the text. This form is maintained in Exodus 19, 20, 23, and 24, and in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 1-6. Psalm 105 follows this form, too. In the sacrament prayers, which in Mormon understanding is a covenant, points 1 to 5 are also present.

 

One of my great heroes
Truman G. Madsen  (1926-2009)

 

Occasionally, I fall into a reminiscent mood.  It’s probably part of my increasing age and a product of my approaching demise.  Barring some unforeseen medical miracle, much of more of my life — much more, even, of my adult life — behind me than lies before me.  Many of the people who most formed my life and (for good or ill) my personality and character have now moved on.  Occasionally, this thought really sobers me.

 

The late Truman G. Madsen, for example, was an enormous formative influence on me, at a time when I was ready to receive such influence.

 

When I was about fourteen or fifteen, some members of my home ward in San Gabriel, California — Tom and Mary Simmons — apparently thought that I might enjoy BYU Education Week.  (I had never so much as heard of BYU Education Week, but they were very right.)  So they invited me to come with them when it was being held in either (I can’t remember exactly) Covina or West Covina.  (Back in them thar days, there wasn’t only the one huge Education Week at BYU — in fact, for all I know, that hadn’t even begun yet — but four-day regional Education Weeks.)  On the roster that summer were such lights as Hugh Nibley, Truman Madsen, Daniel Ludlow, and — believe it or not — Bruce R. McConkie.  At that point, from having heard him speak in General Conference, I was only really familiar to any degree with Elder McConkie; I was probably also vaguely aware of Hugh Nibley, but I’m not quite sure.

 

Truman gave four nightly lectures.  I blundered into the first but, thereafter, I made absolutely sure to attend the next three.  Two were on “Existentialism” and “Logical Positivism.”  I don’t recall the other pair of titles.  “Marxism” might have been one of them.  I sat spellbound.  I had never before had any real inkling of the potential depth and intellectual fascination of the Restored Gospel.  I had only recently become really interested in the claims of the Church, having grown up with a non-member father and a marginally active mother and few if any Latter-day Saint friends among my contemporaries.  (Another influence was a recent reading of Nephi Anderson’s 1898 novel Added Upon, which, for all its serious limitations and flaws, provided me with my first real sense of the Plan of Salvation, a glimpse that proved transformative, firing my imagination and casting the world in a whole new light for me.)

 

Anyway, had it not been for that invitation to Education Week — thank you, Tom and Mary! — I might not, a few years later, have even bothered applying to Brigham Young University.  I certainly had never thought of any such thing prior to then.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  My entire career of vicious character assassination, mercenary lying, shameless pseudo-scholarship, and mean-spirited rage might never have happened.

 

And I’m grateful to say that Truman and his wife, Ann, ultimately became friends.  Great people.

 

Funny story:  During my first freshman semester at BYU, I was enrolled in one of Truman’s classes.  I was still star-struck.  But I went once to his office to ask him a question.  I have no idea now what the question was about.  Anyway, as I was waiting to speak to him — he was talking about something fairly substantial to somebody else — he suddenly realized that he had parked his car in a spot where it would become illegal within just a minute or so.  He turned to me:  “Could please move my car for me?”  Surprised, I nodded that, yes, I could.  He reached into his pocket and tossed me the keys, tell me where his car was and what it looked like.  Thrilled to be of service to someone whom I so admired, I trotted outside, opened his car, and discovered that it had a manual transmission.  I had turned seventeen not all that long before and, at that time, had never driven a car with a “stick shift.”  I managed to move it to a better parking place nearby, though.  With a number of jerks and stalls that probably really amused any onlookers that there might have been.  I then returned his keys to him, and he was very gracious in talking with me.  It was my first direct personal contact with the great man.  I’ve never forgotten it; I like to think that he did, though.  (It’s amazing to me, by the way, to realize that he was much, much younger that day than I am now.)

 

There is an interesting website devoted to the life and work of Truman Madsen, whom I really, really miss:  http://trumanmadsen.com.  Please explore it a bit.

 

Erster Tempel in Kalifornien
The Los Angeles California Temple.  When I was a teenager, it was my temple. (LDS.org)

 

Sometimes, it’s just really fun to contemplate vast questions.  Here’s a pair of stimulating items for you:

“The Intergalactic Alien Hunt”

“For the first time, astronomers saw dust in space being pushed by starlight: The finding could help researchers understand how light sculpts matter throughout the cosmos”

 

Where my chapel used to stand.
The San Gabriel and Rosemead Ward chapel was demolished some years ago. It was quite a shock to me when I drove by one day and saw this scene. (Thanks to Wade Englund for locating this photograph.) I had exactly the same shock one day when I drove to see the house in which I had been raised until I left for college, and saw only am empty lot with a portable construction outhouse on it. The sensation of seeing the sites of one’s childhood erased is an arresting one. The ward building was still standing, though, in the summer of 1977, because, by invitation, I was back speaking then in my former ward’s sacrament meeting — my parents had moved to Whittier and I had just graduated from BYU — when, out of the blue, a young Colorado woman whom I had dated twice at BYU and who was just visiting California (but who had found out from my parents where I was), suddenly swept into chapel with a non-LDS high school girlfriend who was studying at Caltech. That young woman and I were married the following year.

 

Too often, these blog entries of mine conclude without a chilling specimen from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File©.  I apologise for that.  But my time and my energy are limited.  Here, though, is something from the Hitchens File that will absolutely send shivers of horror right up your spine:

 

“Providing a Pathway to Education in the Middle East and North Africa: Innovative online program helps students earn their degrees”

 

As if North Africa and the Middle East didn’t already have enough problems without religious people trying to meddle in the area!

 

Posted from Miami, Florida

 

 


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