Saturday, June 27, 2009

Independence Day

It seems like I have been too busy lately to keep up with my blog. But I finally had to write something, not because of the blog, but because the bishopric called earlier this week and asked me to talk at sacrament on Sunday. I just finished my draft (it is 5 pages long). So, I figured I would post it for everyone to read (remember, it is just a draft). Those of you not of the LDS faith may not understand all of the references but I hope it gives you the incentive to continue researching your family lines. Have a great 4th of July weekend and watch out for the potato salad!

My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy! ~ This is a quote by Thomas Jefferson one of our countries founding fathers.

As we are coming upon the 4th of July holiday, also known as Independence Day, we will be gathering as families to enjoy food, friends and fun. We will be visiting, swimming, having bar-b-ques, and watching fireworks as part of our celebration of our country’s independence from the tyranny and oppression of England. One of the freedoms our country was founded upon was the freedom of religion. This freedom of religion has allowed for a diversity of faiths, including the LDS Church, to grow within our country.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated in the Feb 1992 Ensign “I have always felt that the United States Constitution’s closest approach to scriptural stature is in the phrasing of our Bill of Rights. Without the free exercise of religion, America could not have served as the host nation for the restoration of the gospel, which began just three decades after the Bill of Rights was ratified. I also see scriptural stature in the concept and wording of the freedoms of speech and press, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, the requirements that there must be probable cause for an arrest and that accused persons must have a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, and the guarantee that a person will not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. President Ezra Taft Benson has said, “Reason, necessity, tradition, and religious conviction all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights.”

As a note, the author of the Bill of Rights was James Madison (4th President of the US).

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must……undergo the fatigue of supporting it. ~Thomas Paine

Colonel James Taylor, cousin to Zachary Taylor (the 12th President of the US) fought in the French and Indian War in 1758 and served in the Virginia House of Burgess. After the House of Burgess was disbanded, Colonel Taylor served in the Virginia Conventions of 1775-1776. This is where Patrick Henry made his famous give me liberty or give me death" speech. He was also a member of the Virginia Senate after the Revolutionary War. Colonel Taylor had a daughter, Elizabeth Hubbard Taylor, who married Thomas Minor. Thomas Minor was an officer during the entirety of the Revolutionary War. He was present for the surrender of Yorktown. He served as master of ceremonies for the reception of Lafayette and also at the age of 83 was the chief pall-bearer at Lafayette’s funeral. He marched in the procession on foot, got overheated, and took cold, which turned into pneumonia and died shortly afterward.

Whose responsibility is it to maintain our freedom? It is all of ours.

Freedom requires responsibility. And yet how many of us are truly willing to take responsibility for our own freedom, for our own lives? How many of us, for example, take true and total responsibility for something as basic and fundamental as our own food, for that essential connection to the earth that sustains our very lives? Almost all of us rely on someone else to provide the food that we eat.

The same ideas of freedom and responsibility relate to our life in the church. We are expected to be debt free, have our own food storage in case of emergency, be self reliant and magnify our callings. We hear these statements often and many of us have tried to abide by these to the best of our abilities. How many of us are relying on aunt Bertha to take care of our food storage, or grandma Bess to read our share of the Book of Mormon? We know that our spiritual wellbeing relies on us performing these tasks for ourselves. However, in one part of our church responsibilities the majority of us are relying on only a few members to perform 100% of the work. That is family history.

Why is family history important? Well on a personal scale it helps us appreciate the sacrifices of our ancestors. Remember that story I told about the patriots of the Revolutionary War? Let me explain the importance of these people to my wife.

  • Colonel James Taylor (7th great grandfather)
  • President Zachary Taylor (2nd cousin)
  • Patrick Henry (9th cousin)
  • Elizabeth Hubbard Taylor (6th great grandmother)
  • Colonel Thomas Minor (6th great grandfather)
  • James Madison - author of the Bill of Rights (3rd cousin)

(The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, [1946], 157). "Among the first in this dispensation to sow seeds of interest in family history were the brothers Orson and Parley P. Pratt, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Their efforts resulted in a Pratt family genealogy and the performance of temple ordinances for about 3,000 of their ancestors.

"Yet there were many Church members who did not fully understand the responsibility for their own kindred. President Wilford Woodruff was so concerned that he made the issue a matter of fervent prayer. Then, at the April 1894 general conference, he presented a revelation to the membership of the Church. From it I quote: 'We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. . . . This is the will of the Lord to his people' "

In previous years, the church has asked that all members complete ordinances for the last 4 generations. Many members have completed this and figure that is all that they need to do. But what President Woodruff, and many other authorities in the church, has said is that we are told to trace our genealogies as far as we can.

In October 1975, Elder Packer told a group of Regional Representatives:

“During the last two months … I have visited a number of high priest groups. Mostly I have been listening. I have been trying to determine what high priests quorums are doing about this work—and why not! It has been a most interesting inquiry. …

“I visited a high priest group with 39 members, well educated, well-to-do, and many of them retired. During the last year they have been responsible for 1,122 endowments at the temple. During the same period they have submitted, from their own genealogical research, from their own family records, two names—one of which had not yet cleared. This, I find, is about typical.

“Genealogical work in the Church, for the most part, is left to those few members who have taken a keen interest in it, who have found great excitement in it, and who devote themselves totally to it.”

Many of the names provided for our own Ward and Stake temple trips have been contributed by only a few members. I spoke to a member in another ward who had provided 100 names per month for 10 years so that the Wards in her Stake would have names to perform ordinances for. Do you think it is time for the rest of the Stake to step up, take responsibility and become independent in their own family histories?

(Elder W. Grant Bangerter, of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke at General Conference, April 1982) "I have heard some members say, "But our family names are all done." It is all right to say such a thing as long as you realize you are only joking. "Your genealogy has not all been done. My own grandparents performed 'all' the temple work for their deceased relatives fifty-five years ago. Since that time our family has discovered sixteen thousand others."

The prophet Joseph F. Smith stated, “Even IF...and it's a big IF...all of our ancestors work is done, and there is nothing more we can find to do, we are STILL responsible to LEARN about our ancestors lives.”

I feel that this is what we miss when we think about family history. We should be learning about our ancestors not just collecting names, dates and places. Each of these people had lives, some were patriots, others may have been farmers, while still others might have been horse thieves. But each performed a duty that has helped to make our families what they are today. If we think of them as individuals we will love them and feel the spirit grow in our research and temple work.

Have you experienced or can you imagine the thrill of going to the temple for your own grandfather or great-grandmother? My son Colin and niece Alexis were able to be baptized for family members on their most recent youth temple trip. Nothing is so precious as those experiences we call spiritual experiences. And in no other area of Church activity are such experiences more available than when we are seeking out our kindred dead and going to the temple for them. Speaking of these things, Elder Packer has observed:

“Members of the Church cannot touch this work without becoming affected spiritually. The spirit of Elijah permeates it. Many of the little intrusions into our lives, the little difficulties and the petty problems that beset us, are put into proper perspective when we view the linking of the generations for the eternities. We become much more patient then. So if you want the influence of dignity and wisdom and inspiration and spirituality to envelop your life, involve yourself in temple and genealogical work.” (The Holy Temple, pp. 224–25.)

Just as there is something special about having Sister Neil’s homemade bread during sacrament, there is something special about the temple experience when you go for someone whose name you and your family searched for, prepared, and sent to the temple. In having both we can fill our whole soul with the joy of being part of the glorious work of the redemption of the dead.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said “Our effort is not to compel everyone to do everything, but to encourage everyone to do something. There are many different things we can do to help in the redeeming of the dead, in temple and family history work. Some involve callings. Others are personal. All are expressions of devotion and discipleship. All present opportunities for sacrifice and service.” (Ensign, June 1989, 8)

If we work on our family history as a family we will begin to build tighter bonds. Some of us may know the family stories. Those stories should be recorded before they are lost. Others are good at using the computer. Take that knowledge and use it to document your ancestor’s lives with the multitude of records that are currently available. Some may have free time that they could devote to extracting documents for others to use through FamilySearch Indexing. While others may be able to attend the temple more often and can take these newly found family members to get their ordinance work completed.

Elder Russell M. Nelson 2008 April General Conf:

Any discussion of family responsibilities to prepare for exaltation would be incomplete if we included only mother, father, and children. What about grandparents and other ancestors? The Lord has revealed that we cannot become perfect without them; neither can they without us be made perfect. Sealing ordinances are essential to exaltation. A wife needs to be sealed to her husband; children need to be sealed to their parents; and we all need to be connected with our ancestors.

Joseph Smith (D&C 128:15) – “Let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation…they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without them be made perfect.”

I think many people may avoid doing their family history because they have been discouraged by the thought of searching for records in cellars and basements of government buildings far away. Travel is a hassle and who wants to search through volumes of old documents in the hope of finding that one page that holds the information they need to continue their family lines.

But Pres George A Smith said – “If we do our part, our genealogies will be unfolded to us – sometimes in one way, sometimes in another. So I want to suggest to you, my brethren and sisters: Let us do our part.”

We need to realize that in this day and age, family history research doesn’t have to be looking through old books in the basement or long trips to our families homelands. Many people can begin their family history at home in their slippers and pajamas on the computer. Genealogy has become one of the largest hobbies in the United States. There are millions of people online posting information on their families which may be able to assist you. Dozens of companies and many national, state and local governments are providing online access to their records archives. BYU and Google have provided online access to hundreds of thousands of out of print books. Never before has it been so easy to find documentation on family history.

Elder Mark E. Petersen has emphasized:

“What is our obligation then? Each one of us—if we pretend to obey the gospel at all—must search out our dead and have these saving ordinances performed for them.

“Many suppose that they are discharging their responsibilities by simply ‘going to the temple.’ But that is not wholly true. We must go to the temple, of course, and often. If we do not as yet have the records of our own dead kindred, then while we search for them, by all means let us help others with theirs.

“But be it understood that if we go to the temple, and not for our own dead, we are performing only a part of our duty, because we are also required to go there specifically to save our own dead relatives and bind the various generations together by the power of the holy priesthood.

“We must disabuse our minds of the idea that merely ‘going to the temple’ discharges our full responsibility, because it does not. That is not enough. …

“God holds each of us responsible for saving our own kindred—specifically our own.” Ensign, May 1976, pp. 15–16.)

Let me leave you with these last facts:

If each of the approximately 50,000 families baptized each year were to send to the temple the names of only their deceased four-generation ancestors and the deceased children of these ancestors, at least 3,500,000 people would receive these sacred ordinances each year.

James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights which entitles all of us to the freedom of religion was 17th cousins with the prophet Joseph Smith, the person who translated the Book of Mormon.

Patrick Henry, the man who said “give me liberty or give me death” was 18th cousins with the prophet Joseph Smith who died for his religious beliefs.