Monday, April 28, 2014

The Lighthouse of the Lord

In the early 17th Century, my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather Simon Hancock was living somewhere in the region of Devonshire, England. Sometime before 1642 he came to America, married Sarah Gilbert and settled in the region of Norfolk, Virginia.  They had ten children, one of whom was my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather William Hancock, who, in 1675 also had a son named William.  

On August 2, 1712, William's son Hector Hancock was born in Carteret County, North Carolina, where he also died on October 27, 1751, but not before having sired Joseph Hancock, who in turn fathered a son named Calvin Hancock.  Calvin Hancock was born just prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence (which document bears the signature of my namesake, though not a direct relation, John Hancock... no it's not Herbie Hancock), and his son James was the father of yet another William Hancock, who was the father of Charles Sterling Hancock, who was born on December 13, 1869 on Cape Lookout, in Carteret, North Carolina.  When I was but a wee lad, I had the privilege of meeting Charles Sterling's youngest son, and my great grandfather, Charlie William Hancock.  

During summer vacations, my family would often travel to North Carolina to visit my great grandparents, Charlie William and Margarette, and other relatives.  I trace some of my fondest childhood memories to the Island where my grandfather, Ralph Louis Hancock, was born on October 17, 1928.  From my earliest days, Harkers Island, North Carolina has always been one of my favorite places on earth.

It is also the place where my grandfather, Ralph Louis, first met missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the place where he was baptized on March 14, 1948.  (As another historical side note, only two months after my grandfather was baptized, the future Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.)  My grandfather's brother, Joel G. Hancock, later wrote a history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Harkers Island entitled Strengthened by the Storm, a phrase that teaches a parable about trees on the Island that grow stronger because of the heavy seasonal winds and rain.  In this inspiring account, my great-uncle Joel recorded that in the spring of 1938 (just a decade prior to my grandfather's baptism), an apostle of the Lord, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, was said to have prophesied that Harkers Island would one day become a Mormon Paradise.  Those who visit the Island today may witness the confirmation and the fruition of that prophecy.

Which brings us back to the story of my great grandfather Charlie William Hancock.  Like many of those who settled the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my great grandfather was a fisherman.  His son, my paternal grandfather, Ralph Louis Hancock, once wrote a brief but elegant essay called The Seasons of My Youth, a title fitting for the subject matter of the essay, namely, a month by month summary of family life and fishing on the Island.  When my parents, siblings and I visited the Island, my grandfather would often take us out on the boat to go fishing.  For a variety of reasons, my brothers and I especially enjoyed trawling.  The net drew in fish and sea creatures of every kind, from sea turtles to squid, and from shrimp to sharks.  After our excursions, we would return to great grandpa Charlie William's home (one that he had built himself), where great grandma Margarette Hancock would prepare a delicious meal of fresh caught shrimp and dumplings.  As the adults rocked in the porch swings and whittled sticks, my siblings, cousins, second cousins and I would roam about the property, playing games, and climbing the family tree, a tree in which we each carved our names.  The Island was not just a Mormon Paradise, or even a childhood paradise.  It was paradise, plain and simple.

Not long after he was baptized, my grandfather Ralph Louis Hancock left the Harkers Island paradise to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he met Jacquelyn Tebbs, whom he married soon thereafter.  Their marriage was solemnized in the Idaho Falls LDS temple, and many years after that, my great grandparents' marriage was solemnized in the Washington, D.C. LDS temple.  My grandfather's first son, Ralph Cornel Hancock, married Julie Lynn Higginson in the Provo, Utah LDS temple, and I am the eldest son of the fruit of their loins.

Over the years, our family returned often to Harkers Island.  My gratitude and fondness for our family heritage increased with each visit.  Only last year, I returned to Harkers Island once again to visit my ailing grandmother, and other relatives.  As was customary in my youth, I also took a ferry out to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.  There are few things I enjoy more in life than to feel the salty breeze on my face, to watch the galloping wild horses, and to peer out over land and sea from the top of the lighthouse.  I hope to visit the Island again soon, and as frequently as possible thereafter.

As I reflect on Simon Hancock's 17th century journey from England to the American Colonies, I am reminded of Lehi's prophecy in the Book of Mormon that the Americas would be a land of promise, and a land of liberty.  Lehi recognized the hand of the Lord in the migrations of many people: "Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.  Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them."  (2 Ne. 1:6-7)

America has been a land of liberty for my forefathers, and for many people.  It is also the land where the Lord restored the Gospel through His servant and prophet Joseph Smith.  Simon Hancock's great great great grandson Calvin Hancock was born during the period of the American Revolution and American Independence, just prior to the restoration of the Gospel in 1820.  Calvin Hancock's great great great grandson, Ralph Louis Hancock, my grandfather, was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just months before Israel's own declaration of independence.  Although my mother tells me that I was named after the beloved disciple in the New Testament, it cannot ignore the fact that my father is, among other things, a scholar of the American Revolution, and that I was born in the bicentennial year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which document bears the name of an early patriot whose name, John Hancock, has since become a synonym of the word "signature."  

All of these things remind me of the great blessings of freedom that we enjoy in the United States of America, and that the love of liberty can inspire our souls, as it did the souls of those who preceded us.  It reminds me that it is important to remember who we are, and that like the good timber on the Island, we too can grow stronger and become better through the trials and the adversities of life.  It reminds me that, like the Cape Lookout lighthouse beckoning to the ships at sea, the lighthouse of the Lord, His holy temple, beckons to all of God's children: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Last weekend my friend suggested that we go to Thanksgiving Point for a stroll through the tulip gardens.  Even though I worked for several years in the flower industry, both on the wholesale and the retail end of business, I had never before set foot in the Thanksgiving Point tulip gardens.  I agreed that tiptoeing through the tulips would be a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon, so off we went to enjoy the blooming buds and fragrant flowers.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the scenery of this stroll was not only amply supplied with tulips, but with a variety of sculptures, fountains, fish and waterfowl.  There were people from all over the world... people from India, from the Middle East, and even people from the thriving metropolis of Provo, Utah.  In one area of the garden, called the "secret garden," even though it was no secret, I even met a couple of Palestinian families from Jerusalem.  And this only moments after viewing a sculpture exhibit representing the life of the Savior, whose lived, died and rose from the tomb in Palestine. Truly, as the prophets and apostles declared not many years ago concerning Jesus Christ: "We offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth."

If you are in the area, and if you are looking for a way to enjoy the beauties of creation in a peaceful setting, may I recommend to you a promenade, or a tiptoe through the tulip gardens at Thanksgiving Point.  It's not the Garden of Eden, or the Garden of Gethsemane, but it is a beautiful garden nonetheless.  You won't be disappointed.  Here are a few pictures to give you a glimpse of what awaits you there:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hope for the Years Ahead

Last night at the Constitutional Symposium on Religious Freedom, hosted by the Utah Valley University Center for Constitutional Studies, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave an encouraging keynote address entitled "Hope for the Years Ahead."

Elder Oaks offered his perspectives and wisdom on behalf of all religious people in order to instill greater hope for the future.  Although he recognized a diminution of First Amendment rights in the United States, due in part to the restraining and restricting forces of political correctness,  Elder Oaks optimistically emphasized several positive trends in the defense of religious freedom.  In spite of increasing threats to First Amendment freedoms in the form of new laws criminalizing so-called "hate speech," the inability of scholars to publish unpopular ideas in journals, pressures from universities enforcing dogmas of political correctness, campus speech codes, rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry, the firing of a prominent corporate executive for his unpopular views, and so forth, Elder Oaks reminded his audience of the ancient wisdom that "It is easier to make friends than to make laws."

It is a troubling trend when people of religious faith are bullied from the public square on the basis of assumed motives or stultifying stereotypes, as Elder Oaks remarked, "Rejecting one’s right to be heard in official communications because of a stereotype replays an evil episode from one of the darkest periods of our Supreme Court’s history. In its 1857 opinion in the case of Dred Scott, the United States Supreme Court polarized the nation and propelled it toward civil war by ruling that a black African person, whether bond or free, had no right of access to the federal courts.  I see a parallel between denying judicial access to a person on racial grounds and excluding public consideration of a person’s opinions on religious grounds."

Nevertheless, Elder Oaks mentioned at least three specific reasons to remain optimistic: 1. An increasing recognition of the importance of religious freedom, 2. calamities can strengthen rather than destroy, and 3. the hope for mutual understanding and accommodation.  In connection with this last point, Elder Oaks decried the atmosphere of anger and contention that results from disagreements, while calling for a reawakening of the "'bonds of affection' that President Matthew Holland showed to be essential to the founding of our nation—'broadly shared ideas of biblical love, artfully refashioned into a guiding public principle.'"

As Elder Oaks indicated, these reasons for optimism in the face of challenges to religious freedom arise from the kind of hope that Elder Neal A. Maxwell once described: "Real hope is much more than wishful musing. It stiffens, not slackens, the spiritual spine. It is composed, not giddy, eager without being naïve, and pleasantly steady without being smug."

To conclude his speech, Elder Oaks extended the following invitation: "Such hopes can only be realized by concentrating on what we have in common, by striving for mutual understanding, by treating all our neighbors with goodwill, and by exercising patience. It is a time of hope for mutual respect and accommodation, but it is up to you and me to make it happen."

By following such Christian imperatives, there is certainly "Hope for the Years Ahead."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Facing the Future

"But our joy and rejoicing is not in what lies below, not in our past—great and glorious as that is—but in our present and in our future...  Nor are the days of our greatest sorrows and our deepest sufferings all behind us. They too lie ahead. We shall yet face greater perils, we shall yet be tested with more severe trials, and we shall yet weep more tears of sorrow than we have ever known before." - Bruce R. McConkie

"There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.'" - Harold B. Lee

Saturday, April 5, 2014

In a Word: April 2014 General Conference Notes

April 2014 General Conference

Saturday Morning:

President Thomas S. Monson - "True to the Faith"

*Be true to the faith

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland - "Defend the Faith"

*Defend the faith

Elder Ronald Rasband - "Angels in the storm"

*Serve and always be worthy to give and receive blessings

Elder Carlos H. Amado - "I love Him with all my heart"


Sister Linda S. Reeves - "The best filter"

*Start with yourself, sing a primary song, study For the Strength of Youth, take sacrament worthily, and prepare family names for the temple

Elder Neil L. Andersen - "Infinitely more precious to God"

*Show kindness to all, particularly those who struggle with same sex attraction, study the Book of Mormon diligently, and attend the temple

President Henry B. Eyring - "A heritage of hope"

*Keep all covenants with the Lord

Saturday Afternoon: 

Elder Russell M. Nelson - "Let your faith show"

*Live your religion, with personal integrity

Elder Richard G. Scott - "The Atonement of Jesus Christ"

*Focus on God's objectives, keep all the commandments, live the basic principles, strengthen families, trust and love children

Elder Hales - "Be obedient"

*Follow the Savior's example of loving and willing obedience, partake of the sacrament worthily, love of the Savior is key

Elder Zivic - "Abide in the True Vine"

*Be ye doers of the word

Elder W. Craig Zwick - "Minister grace"

*A soft answer, listen, minister grace

Elder Quentin L. Cook - "Hastening the work"

*Welding link, find ancestors, learn of them, do family history and temple work

Priesthood Session:

Elder Dallin H. Oaks - "Forget about rights, fulfill responsibilities"

*Fulfill responsibilities

Elder Donald L. Hallstrom - "Put away childish things"

*Exercise faith in Jesus Christ

Elder Ronald L. Ridd - "The choice generation"

*Educate your desires, know who you really are, plug into the prophets to charge spiritually, influence the world for good

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf - "Don't sleep through the Restoration"

*Serve and give of yourself, flee addictions, place highest priority on loving God and fellow man

Elder Henry B. Eyring - "Heros"

*Characteristics of heros = pattern of prayer, habit of service, rock hard honesty and integrity

President Thomas S. Monson - "Courage, not compromise"

*If you ever find yourself where you shouldn't ought to be... Get out!  Be the same person in the dark that you are in the light (Jabari)

Sunday Morning:

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf - "Thankful in our circumstances"

*Praise God always, be grateful, have hope in everlasting beginnings

Elder M. Russell Ballard - "Preach My Gospel, follow up"

*Reach out to the one - invite one person back into the fold, and study Preach My Gospel

Sister Jean A. Stevens - "God answers prayers"

*Put your trust in the Lord

Bishop Gary E. Stevenson - "This is your 4 minutes"

*Set aside sin and run the race of life with patience

Elder David A. Bednar - "The enabling power of the Atonement"

*Making and keeping sacred covenants yokes us to the Savior

President Thomas S. Monson - "Love is the very essence of the Gospel"

*Be kind, show love to all

Sunday Afternoon:

President Boyd K. Packer - "Will ye also go away?"

*Keep covenants always, remember that the Gospel and the Church are to make a man and his wife and children happy in the home

Elder William R. Walker - "Standing on the shoulders of giants"

*Honor the legacy of the pioneers

Elder L. Tom Perry - "Pro-active obedience"

*Follow the Lord and His chosen leaders

Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge - "There is always opposition to truth"

*Cleave to light and truth, the testimony of Christ and Joseph Smith, regardless of the opposition

Elder Michael John U. Teh - "Treasures in heaven"

*Seek heavenly treasure

Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis - "One should not roam through garbage"

*Experiment upon the word, liken and apply the scriptures

Elder D. Todd Christofferson - "The resurrected Christ"

*Testify of the Risen Lord

President Thomas S. Monson - "May we..."

*Study, ponder, pray, obey

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thinking Outside of the Ark: A Review of Aronofsky's Noah

The recent release of Aronofsky's film Noah has sparked no small amount of controversy, particularly among conservative viewers (see here, here, here and here).  Such critics have excoriated the film as an anti-theist, anti-Christian, anti-creationist, and anti-Biblical piece of liberal propaganda.  Many conservative critics went so far as to counsel the public not to go see this bad movie because it is simply an insult to intelligence.  From such a standpoint, those who perceived in Aronofsky's film an opportunity to open up a dialogue about eternally significant matters were reprimanded and summarily dismissed as kowtowing to political correctness: "Anybody who says Christians need to see the movie to promote dialogue is being a tool. Anybody who says the movie is visionary is jumping on an Emperor has No Clothes bandwagon. Any pastor who creates a sermon to coincide with this awful piece is being played for a sucker. And the Christians who are promoting the film for money should be ASHAMED of themselves. Really, how dare you?"

But what would Noah himself have thought of this film? The antediluvian prophets might have wished for such a cinematic weapon in their arsenal in order to better persuade souls unto repentance.  Noah and his family might have enjoyed such a film on a big screen in the ark... something to help them (and the animals) endure the one hundred and fifty days of unrelenting rain. Shem, Ham and Japheth probably would have gotten a kick out of Aronofsky's interpretation of their respective love stories.  And what about Noah's wife?  Well, isn't it about time that she had her day in the sun as the heroine of such an epic struggle?

But what about the Rock People?  And Tubal-Cain? What about Noah's hallucinations?  His violent rampage?  His drunken insanity?  What about all the Biblical inaccuracies?

First of all, do conservative film critics really believe that the public is stupid enough to turn to Hollywood for Bible lessons?  What is more insulting to the intelligence, a wildly creative interpretation of the Biblical story of Noah, or conservative pundits' rants about what constitutes good cinema?

Let's be clear.  Aronofsky's Noah is more conflicted than a Javert personality inside of A Beautiful Mind meeting Hermione in the Labyrinth.  But that doesn't mean that the film had no redeeming qualities.  In fact, there were at least three aspects of the film that, in my humble opinion, made it worth watching: 1. The themes of justice, mercy, forgiveness and kindness, 2. The healing of the womb, and 3. The echo of God's command to "multiply and replenish the earth."

Aronofsky's Noah is as politically incorrect a film as may be seen on the big screen today (in part because of its pro-life, anti-abortion message).  If you enter the movie theater expecting to be taught a Sunday school lesson on the ancient prophet Noah, I guarantee that you will be disappointed.  On the other hand, if while watching the film you consider the present relevance of the Noachite narrative in relation to Aronofsky's interpretation, you might just be pleasantly surprised.