This is part of the General Conference Odyssey.
In the film Gravity, there is a scene that–for me–captures the message and essence of the film. Following the destruction of their space shuttle by orbital debris, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are tethered together and making their way to the International Space Station via Kowalski’s propulsion unit. While en route, Kowalski comments on how beautiful the earth and sun are, accompanied by his ever-present country music. He begins asking Stone about her life back home and she eventually reveals that her 4-year-old daughter had died when she fell playing at school one day. Despite being in a fantastical context that was obviously capturing Kowalski’s attention, Stone’s experience suddenly becomes even more important in the moment. Her loss and her experience becomes just as deep and vast as the very space they are occupying. Instead of being left with the feeling of how small and insignificant we are in such a large universe, we leave realizing that the human experience is just as immense.
I was reminded of this scene when listening to John Vandenberg’s talk in the October 1971 Conference:
Some years ago I accepted an invitation to a fathers and sons outing, where the participants spent an arduous but interesting day mounted on horses on a trip to Bloomington Lake in the mountains of Bear Lake County, Idaho. Late at night, after the campfires had all burned out and everyone had settled down under the open heavens, I lay on my back, gazing overhead. It was a moonless night, and I have never seen such a beautiful sight. The heavens were alive with the brightness of stars and planets. How small I felt in comparison to that vast universe! A sense of appreciation came over me as I thought of God’s glory, of his handiwork, the earth, the heavens, all created for one purpose—his children, mankind. That experience has remained with me. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of it.
The section of the Book of Moses he goes on to quote is instructive. After witnessing “the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created,” Moses declares that “I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:8, 10). Yet, earlier the Lord told him, “And, behold, thou art my son…and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them all” (Moses 1:4, 6). Moses draws on this knowledge later when Satan approaches and tempts him with, “Moses, son of man, worship me” (Moses 1:12; italics mine). In response, Moses declares, “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13; italics mine). Following the departure of Satan, God returns and presents Moses with another vision. Following this, he learns that God’s “work and…glory” is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). The cosmos are awe-inspiring, overwhelming, and frightening. The sheer magnitude of creation can and should be humbling. But as Vandenberg points out, “[T]he creation of the world, the plan of salvation—all this is for us.” Human life and progress is that important to God. It should be important to us as well.
Other Noteworthy Quotes & Insights
One of the “requirements” according to his priest adviser as a young man was “to think a new thought every day.” Relevant for all classes and for Mormonism in general.
The teacher is a prophet. He lays the foundation of tomorrow. The teacher is an artist. He works with the precious clay of unfolding personality. The teacher is a friend. His heart responds to the faith and devotion of his students. The teacher is a citizen. He is selected and licensed for the improvement of society. The teacher is an interpreter. Out of his mature and wider life, he seeks to guide the young. The teacher is a builder. He works with the higher and finer values of civilization. The teacher is a culture-bearer. He leads the way toward worthier tastes, saner attitudes, more gracious manners, higher intelligence. The teacher is a planner. He sees the young lives before him as a part of a great system that shall grow stronger in the light of truth. The teacher is a pioneer. He is always interpreting and attempting the impossible, and usually winning out. The teacher is a reformer. He seeks to improve the handicaps that weaken and destroy life. The teacher is a believer. He has an abiding faith in God and in the improvability of the race. It was James Truslow Adams who said, “There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.” We are engaged in teaching people how to live.”
According to Dunn, the lost sheep in the Savior’s parable “are not basically sinners by nature or even choice,” but instead “get confused in what’s important. In other words, they have misplaced values.” In the parable of the lost coin, “there are those of us who are the responsible agents who, like the woman of this great teaching parable, let these priceless gems slip through our fingers.” Finally, there is “the great parable of the Prodigal Son, with the Savior saying that there are those who get lost by choice…There are those who get lost because their free agency takes them down that path. We can’t do a lot at some points to recover this kind of a person except open our arms and our church doors and let them know they are wanted”
Man is the sum result of what he thinks and does. Habit is the instrument that molds his character and makes of him essentially what he is. Habit can become a monster to tarnish and destroy, yet proper behavioral traits can bring lasting joy and achievement. To say no at the right time and then stand by it is the first element of success. The effect that both good and bad habits have on our lives is all too real to be ignored. Bad habits that violate the commandments of physical health (D&C 89) and of moral behavior (D&C 121), given by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith many years ago, will threaten and destroy all opportunities for real happiness.”
“Choosing good over evil and right over wrong is the crowning achievement of life, and in so doing man becomes the masterpiece of the Creator and fulfills the basic purposes of his mortal probation. An ancient prophet speaks of it in this way: “… he that ruleth his spirit [is greater] than he that taketh a city.” (Prov. 16:32.)”
“The fusing of ritual and commandment with everyday living calls for the best that is in us, that by our agency we may feel the affected condition by choosing good rather than evil, thus not only glorifying ourselves but glorifying Him who has made all things possible.”
After describing many loving, familial, yet mundane situations, he states,
Heaven is a place, but also a condition; it is home and family. It is understanding and kindness. It is interdependence and selfless activity. It is quiet, sane living; personal sacrifice, genuine hospitality, wholesome concern for others. It is living the commandments of God without ostentation or hypocrisy. It is selflessness. It is all about us. We need only to be able to recognize it as we find it and enjoy it. Yes, my dear brother, I’ve had many glimpses of heaven.”
- Strategies for Seeking the Lost (Nathaniel Givens at Difficult Run)
- LDS Conference October 1971- Shame, the Potemkin ’50s, and Generational Wonders (J. Max Wilson at Sixteen Small Stones)
- Where Are We and Where Are We Going? (Daniel Ortner at Symphony of Dissent)
- The Starry Heavens and the Moral Law (Ralph Hancock at The Soul and The City)
- “The True Gift” (Michelle Linford at Mormon Women)
- Lost People (SilverRain at The Rains Came Down)
- Life, and Living, With Simple Purpose