Top 5 Talks You Should Read if You Haven’t

By: Jake
October 13, 2011

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Recently a friend asked me to give them a list of talks that I would recommend that they should read.  There is something exhiliarating about making a list of your top five things. In The Sound of Music, Maria lists her favorite things to cheer up her young charges. Lists also play a key role in one of my favorite films: High Fidelity. Throughout the film Jack Black and John Cusack create lists of their top 5 records as the film follows Cusacks top 5 break ups. Lists are used  as a way of ordering the narrative and to make sense of the complicated web of relationships in Cusack’s past.

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Lists are vital for culture to exist and survive. We make lists of books we must read before we die, places we must see, things we must do and films we must see. History books list kings, rulers, and thinkers to impose order on the chaotic fragments that constitute the past. Great works of literature are put into lists of “classics” to encourage their study. Religions list the sacred writings that constitute their canonical works and embody their articles of faith and doctrinal creeds. Lists are found embedded throughout society. They are the infrastructure that underpin encyclopaedias, maps, catalogues and anthologies. Language itself depends upon lists of words (dictionaries) to help us understand the vast expanse of language.

Part of the beauty of lists is that make the infinity of the world managable. A list has both opens up and closes the world. More can always be added to any list. Lists are really just a starting point. On the other hand a list also has the function of restricting and controlling. It can become instrument of exclusion by orthodoxy who proscribe a list of what is acceptable or can be included. Lists focus our energy on what somebody else feels is important.

I like to make lists of my top 5 things.  They change over time, but it gives me a way of ordering the world at least for this point in time. In this process, I came up with five talks that I thought my friend should read. I chose talks that I thought more people should read; talks that are perhaps overlooked and underappreciated despite their merit.  Here they are:

1. Bringing Humanity to the Gospel by Elder Stephen L. Richards

“I fear dictatorial dogmatism, rigidity of procedure and intolerance even more than I fear cigarettes, cards, and other devices the adversary may use to nullify faith and kill religion. Fanaticism and bigotry have been the deadly enemies of true religion in the long past. They have made it forbidding, shut it up in cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery, out of the sunlight and fragrance of the growing world.”

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This talk was so refreshing to read. To read a member of the quorum of the twelve apostles speak out against dogmatism and fanaticism gave me hope that the church was not intended to be so dogmatic. It articulated many of the concerns that I sometimes feel about neo-orthodoxy and those who are overly prescriptive about how faith in God can be expressed and doctrine can be understood. Re-reading it as part of writing this post it reminded me a lot of President Uctdorf. There seem to be a similarity between the two, who both favour a gospel focused in people rather then dogmatism and procedural rigidity.

2. The Gospel and the Church by Elder Poelman

“Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity.”

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A lot has been said about the censorship of this talk the major changes made in the published version and the cough track added to it after it was given. Whilst I think that this is an important part of understanding the talk (Rock Waterman over at Pure Mormonism has done a great job expounding on this), I still think that its a very good talk even after the changes made to it. The distinction between the church and the gospel is articulated very well in this talk (although not as clearly as it was in the pre-edited version), and it is a call for spiritual independence and a call for less reliance upon the church and more spiritual self-reliance.

3. Dealing with Uncertainty by Bruce C. Hafen

“We must develop sufficient independence of judgment and maturity of perspective that we are prepared to handle the shafts and whirlwinds of adversity and contradiction as they come to us. When those times come, we cannot be living on borrowed light. We should not be deceived by the clear-cut labels others may use to describe circumstances that are, in fact, not so clear.”

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As a postgraduate philosophy student I wrestled with existential and epistemical questions. It was inevitable that I would apply philosophical methodology to gospel principles. This talk gave me an anchor that stopped me from drifting into an abyss of philosophical doubt. It told me it was ok to question and that if we are honest with ourselves there is much we don’t know. I think members should all read this so that they can understand that its ok not to know something “beyond a shadow of a doubt” (or any other trite over-used metaphor).

4. Work we Must, but the Lunch is Free by Hugh Nibley

“You are perfectly free to make all the money you can; just as you are perfectly free to break any one of the Ten Commandments, as millions do every day, though God has forbidden it, as he has forbidden seeking for riches.”

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I remember reading this as an angst 18 year old fueled with indignation at capitaism after a diet of Naomi Klein’s No Logo and the works of Micheal Moore left me in disgust at the globalised world imposed by America. The combined criticism of capitalist values and the contradiction to the Gospel that Nibley elucidates upon that I found in this talk was a refreshing antidote to the conservatism that I saw rampant within LDS culture. I think it is worth reading because it is very rare to find a liberal interpretation of the gospel (outside of the bloggernacle of course) and even if they end up throwing it on the floor in outrage at it, at least it shows them another perspective on the gospel. (Worth mentioning is Nibley’s talk on Leaders and Managers which was a close runner to this talk)

5. Endure it Well by Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“Endurance is more than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance; it is not only acceptance of the things allotted to us, it is to “act for ourselves” by magnifying what is allotted to us.”

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I have always been a big fan of Neal Maxwell and this list needed to have one of his talks on it to reflect this. This one was chosen as it really altered the way that I understand the principle of enduring to the end. It made me think more about the process of enduring and how often I impose my time scale upon God. Whilst, it is hardly a hidden diamond, its on the list simply as I think too often enduring has a bad press within Mormonism and is portrayed as a painful thing which one must accept and bear. This talk was a wonderful alternative to the stoic form of endurance that I hear so often at church.

This list has been brief and reflects my own personal bias. Undoubtedly, there are many worthwhile talks that didn’t make my list.  So what talks would be on your list of talks that aren’t read enough by members? What talks have I overlooked? What talks would you recommend to others?  Do you find value in list-making as I do?

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10 Responses to Top 5 Talks You Should Read if You Haven’t

  1. Jacob M on October 13, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    Elder Neal A Maxwell’s Willing to Submit talk from the same conference as McConkie’s last talk is quite a gem. I came across it on my mission, and it was one of those paradigm shifting moments. Another talk I came across was Elder Holland’s Cast Not Away Your Confidence which he gave at BYU before he was an apostle. It helped me understand principles of revelation better.

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  2. Jake on October 13, 2011 at 6:37 PM

    I agree Elder Hollands ‘Cast not away your confidence’ is an amazing talk. I was very tempted to put it on the list. The only reason it didn’t make it was I figured that many people would have read it already. I just love the way he explores the passage about Moses crossing the red sea as an example of revelation.

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  3. Stephen Marsh on October 13, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    I really like all of Nibley’s talks that were collected in Approaching Zion. You’ve picked a good one though.

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  4. Aaron R. on October 14, 2011 at 3:46 AM

    I’m going to disagree on a few counts here, although I have enjoyed most of these before. When you say under-appreciated I am going for a perspective on the general membership perspective.

    Why the Church is as true as the gospel: Eugene England.
    What the Church means to people like me: Richard D. Poll
    Lusterware: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

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  5. Jake on October 14, 2011 at 6:10 AM

    Why the church is as true as the gospel was a very close contender as it is a very excellent talk that more people should read. In the end the reason I didn’t put it on was all the others were either BYU devotionals or General Conference talks so I thought I would keep it within the church approved sphere.

    I shall have to look up the other two talks as I have not read them.

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  6. brandt on October 14, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    FYI – Going along with #2, the Poelman talk, Mormon Expression did a big long podcast comparing and contrasting the two talks, and giving their thoughts on it (including bringing Rock Waterman on to give his thoughts as well).

    And I’ll also second anything that comes from Approaching Zion. I read it in college, and it totally changed my outlook for the rest of my schooling.

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  7. Aaron R. on October 14, 2011 at 8:46 AM

    Lusterware is not available online as far as I know but Richard Poll’s classic is available from Dialogue.

    Lusterware is a collection of fantastic essays called ‘A Thoughtful Faith’.

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  8. Aaron R. on October 14, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    Edit: Lusterware is in

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  9. CS Eric on October 14, 2011 at 11:32 AM

    “The False Gods We Worship”, Spencer W. Kimball. He tells the saints that we need to look to God for protection, not to the military machine.

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  10. Badger on October 14, 2011 at 8:50 PM

    I think J. Reuben Clark’s “Demand for Proper Respect of Human Life” from the October 1946 General Conference is worth an honorable mention. It’s available online through scriptures.byu.edu, but I don’t see how to link to it directly. It’s the only talk listed for the Saturday afternoon session (Oct 5, 1946).

    It’s sort of a pre-correlation time capsule, and it’s fascinating to count the ways in which it is utterly different from conference talks given today–starting with the title—and what it has in common with them.

    Clark introduces his main topic by saying, believe it or not, “I thought perhaps it might be useful…if I were to trace out very briefly and imperfectly some of the principles governing the intercourse of nations in times of war.” He praises at length the work of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and in particular his book De jure belli ac pacis, whose title is given in Latin and left untranslated. In effect, part of the talk is a lecture.

    As the talk continues, it becomes a personal, passionate anti-War statement. Clark names names and condemns the United States (among others) using language like this: “we must find some way to curb the fiendish ingenuity of men who have apparently no fear of God, man, or the devil, and who are willing to plot and plan and invent instrumentalities that will wipe out all the flesh of the earth.”

    In view of Stephen’s recent posts on WMDs and several discussions I’ve seen elsewhere (or possibly in comments here) about the present-day implications of the Book of Mormon’s teachings on war, I think Clark’s anti-war message itself may be of interest to some here. But beyond the ideas, the manner in which they are expressed is remarkable–the passion, the Grotius, the (in my opinion) rather distant connections of the scriptural citations, and not least the title (“Demand”). Times have certainly changed.

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