Thank You, President Packer

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Boyd K Packer

As you probably all have heard by now, President Boyd K. Packer passed away this past Friday at the ripe old age of 90.

I imagine the hosts of Hell cheered.

Me? I cried.

He was ordained an Apostle when I was a child. He has always been a part of the leadership of the Church and a fixture at General Conference as long as I can remember. As I have read the many articles and biographies that speak to his life of service, I have been trying to figure out how I can pay tribute to him without rehashing what you can find elsewhere.  So I decided to try and share with you how Elder Packer influenced my life.

As I was preparing this, I did a search on my own blog and found countless instances where I have quoted him, or used a teaching moment from a General Conference or BYU talk, My blog is bursting with Boyd K. Packer.

When word began to spread of his passing, I received several kind notes from friends and readers letting me know that they were thinking of me, because they know what love and respect I have for him, and how I have sustained him and referenced him so often in my writing.

I can’t think of a greater compliment.

Today’s post will just be a smattering of recollections of things I learned from Elder Packer, and how they impacted me. Remember, these are my thoughts, and my recollections. Yours will be different. (The main reason I am writing this is for my family and for myself.)

1) Black and White. I am not a fan of a gray version of my religion. I have had friends tell me that I am “the most black and white person they know.” And I’m OK with that. I even wrote about it once several years ago.

President Packer is someone I have always been able to look to as an example of spinning down the complexities of the Gospel, and living the Gospel, into the core elements. Simplification. He had little use for gray areas. He excelled at differentiating between truth and error, wrong and right. What a gift.

Yesterday, the New York Times referred to him as “a vigorous advocate for a highly conservative strain of Mormonism.”  I think he would be OK with that. So would I.

2) Training. When I was called to be a new bishop, I immediately wanted to learn more about my duties. First place I looked? Wrong. I looked at the Handbook. Second place? A Boyd K. Packer talk from General Conference entitled, “The Bishop and His Counselors.” It helped secure my shaky footing and establish some priorities.

3) Conference Addresses. Years ago, my in-laws gave me a copy of the Packer book, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled.” I have lots of church books, but there was one difference between this one and most of the others I have: I actually read the whole thing. And I returned to it often.

The book is a compilation of thirty of his talks from General Conference. Now I know there are brethren who give better talks, use cooler metaphors, and are more eloquent, but it seems that Elder Packer’s talks spoke to me quite often. And often served as a catalyst for the Spirit to speak to me.

I wrote about one very personal example of this in my post, “A Conference Epiphany.” It has stuck with me, even though it was a few years ago- but it is as timely as ever.

There was often a simplicity – or a matter-of-fact quality to his teaching that just resonated with me, and helped me to understand. In his very last General Conference talk he said this:

“Over the years I have frequently taught an important principle: the end of all activity in the Church is to see that a man and a woman with their children are happy at home, sealed together for time and for all eternity.” (link)

That is simply wonderful, and wonderfully simple. You could chew on that for a long, long time.

4) Cohesion. Some twenty years ago, I attended a leadership training meeting where Elder Packer presided. I was exited to hear what he had to say. He ended up speaking on the importance of the lay ministry in the church, as well as why we attend where we live. Do you know what was amazing about that talk? That I still remember it – even though at the time I was not excited about it.

Elder Packer focused his remarks on what I thought were two pretty irrelevant topics. As I have matured in the gospel, I realize that none of the topics are irrelevant, but that they fit together to make the Church strong and functional.

One of the tragedies in the Church is the “Cafeteria Saint” mentality – where we look at the doctrines and teaching of the Church like our personal buffet, and pick and choose which ones we like. Some items we like and will follow, others which we don’t like, we ignore or oppose. Never has this idea been more widely demonstrated as this past week when so many saints turned up their noses at Church doctrine and celebrated the gay marriage ruling.

Presiden Packer was all about embracing the whole enchilada. All of it. He understood how all the doctrines fit together to support the Gospel. He wanted us all to be fully “in” – both in testimony and behavior.

5) Pure Doctrine. I have always admired President Packer’s love of teaching and teaching doctrine. As I study, or even prepare blog posts, I often ask myself, “I wonder what President Packer has said about this?” And I’ll go searching – and I’ll usually find something.

If you sort through his tremendous archive of talks and writings, you will see how much of it is comprised of basic, core doctrinal truths and values. He did not stray far away from the Tree or the Iron Rod as he taught the Church.  Through the use of stories and analogies, he made the Gospel more understandable. Here is one of a hundred examples.

Why the focus on doctrine? All the way back in 1986 he said this:

“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.” (link)

Holy smokes, that is an important concept that is totally lost n the world today. He took some heat for it from some circles, but I believe it to my core. Which leads us to #6

6) He is fearless. Often President Packer would tackle topics that brought the wrath of the Great and Spacious Building down on his head. Yet he moved forward, undeterred. Many times, after a particularly topical, and or strongly worded Conference talk, people would be very vocal in their opposition to what he had said. There are a lot of people who hate Boyd K. Packer. Sad, but true. I have even seen some celebrating and his passing, as I’m sure the adversary himself is glad to see him gone.

In a very tiny way, I can empathize with what it is like to be vilified for standing for truth. Over the years I have gotten plenty of hate mail, and hateful comments, and also been the target of derision on anti and ex-Mormon group discussion sites. I don’t enjoy it. But to put up with that for 40 years? Amazing.

That is probably why he spent his free time doing such peaceful and beautiful things. Many don’t know that he was an amazing artist and woodcarver.  Check this out.

And yet there were also many talks that were very sweet, laced with poetry and gentleness. A man for all seasons. I admire his versatility and his willingness to “go there,” as he felt inspired to do so.

7) Testimony of Savior. In what ended up being his penultimate Conference address, President Packer spoke of finding hope in Christ. The reason I love him most is demonstrated in the final paragraph of that address.

“As one of the Twelve Apostles, I bear witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He lives. He is our Redeemer and our Savior. “Through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved” He presides over this Church. He is no stranger to His servants. As we move into the future with quiet confidence, His Spirit will be with us. There is no end to His power to bless and direct the lives of those who seek truth and righteousness. I bear witness of Him in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. “

 

Thank you President Packer. You will be missed.

Now back to work. On both sides of the veil.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. This post made me cry about him passing all over again. He was truly one of my favorites. It makes me so sad that there are those that celebrated his passing! If only we could all be as fearless as him in standing up for the truth.

  2. If I felt a sense of celebration for his passing, it was with great joy for a valiant servant of God, completing his earthly assignments, and returning to the arms of our Savior, whom he knew so well. If those who celebrated his passing, being glad he was gone and thinking that without his “vigorous [advocacy] for a highly conservative strain of Mormonism” they will see a softening of pure doctrine, they are mistaken. The Savior, who is at the head of this Church, is in charge. Not the precepts of men.

  3. Awesome article. I loved Packer. I loved how he was a straight shooter and tackled the hard topics head on and never danced around them granted sometimes that made him unpopular but it personally made me love him more because he was a steady force against sin

  4. Thank you for your tender thoughts. President Packer was also a hero of mine. I loved his training regarding priesthood ordinances – I read from/quote that one often. I loved his reminder in the training on the new Handbook that there should only be one “significant” calling per family at a time. But my favorite experience was the one time I was able to speak with him in person. My companion and I were invited to Elder Packer’s sister’s home for dinner in Eureka, Ca. He called to wish her a merry Christmas and she mentioned they had the Elders over for dinner. He asked to speak to each of us – and my memory is that he talked longer with us than he did with his sister. I hope he called later after we left. I’m sure I was the dumbest-sounding Elder in the history of missionaries I was so awe-struck. It felt like I was talking to Captain Moroni. The world has lost two of the most powerful voices for goodness and Christ-ness in President Packer and Elder Perry. Heaven’s gain, as it were. I celebrate for them the reunions sweet, and sorrow for the members of their Quorum. I know the remaining Brethren are well-prepared and neither they nor the Church will miss a beat. But it is okay to mourn even as we cinch up the bootstraps and bend back to the work at hand… this one feels harder for me personally.

  5. Elder Packer was always one of my favorite speakers too. His influence affected both my church life and my secular life. As a teacher, learning to teach from the writings of a master teacher has been invaluable.

    On a somewhat unrelated note: I’m currently taking a genealogy course in Sunday School. When I signed up, I anticipated learning about ways to research my ancestry. What I didn’t expect was the lesson about what I’m leaving behind for my posterity. As I read this post, the thought came to me that what you do here is quite a treasure for your posterity.

  6. Thank you. Shook hands with him once, at stake conference, back when I was in the trenches of young motherhood, the Church was much smaller, and we got visits from General Authorities more often. I have always loved the clarity with which he taught. And I was dumbstruck earlier this year to learn from BYU Relative Finder that I am one of his shirttail relatives. Fourteen generations back, through his father and my mother, all the way back to Richard Haynes. He did not shy away from the tough topics. (It’s cool to see that Elder Bednar seems to have taken on that mantle.)

  7. I love the way God selects His Apostles. Elder Bednar, for example was at BYU Idaho, Elder Oaks on the Utah Supreme Court when chosen for the apostolic calling. As I look back and remember all the inspiring talks from the Twelve I am in awe. Elder Packer was a strong voice for righteous living, but we can expect to be delighted with pure doctrine and encouragement as those who are called to replace Elder Perry and Elder Packer step up to the walnut pulpit in the Conference Center this coming General Conference. There are so many noble men from whom to choose. I am thankful that our Prophet has the final say.

  8. When I was serving as bishop my wife handed me a copy of “The Unwritten Order of Things” from his 1996 BYU devotional. He explains how the church works, and it was something I have referred to and taught from ever since.

  9. I have often found it sad when people make the comment “I didn’t always agree with him, but….” I spent a few years of my life when I was not in opposition to one of the brethren so much as just didn’t want to hear him because of something he said….That being said, I one day realized that my ignoring him, was in opposition to the Lord. Eventually I came to realize that what that apostle had said was the right thing, I just didn’t understand the principle at the time.
    Elder Packer…Sadly, I remember Neil Armstrong better than Elder Packer being called to the Twelve, but read “Watchman on the Tower” for a wonderful biography of a wonderful man. He has been a rock my entire adult life. I hope that when my time is done I can be remembered as half as stalwart as he was.

  10. I loved him. When I was a social worker, I thought of that quote about the power of gospel doctrine to improve attitudes and behaviors often. Like every single day, every client.

  11. I feel the same way about Pres. Packer. I totally identify with the black and white concept. I get chided by friends and family pretty harshly most of the time because of it, so thanks for articulating that so clearly. It was good to read — and nice to know there are others out there like this.

    I thought about the people celebrating his passing — ugh! and sad! I know there is a frustrating narrative that circulates in the bloggernacle, mostly from the grumblers, that once the “older apostles” die off, the younger ones will be free to “make the right changes” ie: change to fit the world. And that thought came into my head and I was really bothered by it, because I felt like these people were getting fuel for their fires. But then the spirit reminded me that the Lord is in charge, and he will call very qualified men to fill the two spots in the Quorum of the 12, and those brothers will be younger, but just as steadfast and strong as Pres. Packer and Elder Perry. That has been comforting. It will keep on going, the truth will still be taught, and the grumblers will still grumble so don’t worry about them.

    I just enjoy your blog so much, thank you for always being a treat to read!

  12. Whenever I see sugar cookies, I think of President Packer…and not just because of his recent conference talk. I met him over 25 years ago…when I was just a wee little thing, but I still remember it very clearly. He came to my Stake conference and was shaking the hands of the children afterwards. I was scared and wouldn’t shake his hand because my parents had taught me “don’t talk to strangers.” My father was a Bishop at the time and was incredibly embarrassed. While President Packer was finishing with the other children, my father explained who he was and I felt bad, so he snuck me out to the door by the Stake President’s office, figuring that’s where President Packer would exit. Indeed he did and my father explained the situation to him. President Packer then took me by the hand and had me walk with him out to his car. He asked me what I liked to do and for some reason I told him that I liked to make sugar cookies and Jello (my mother never made cookies so I don’t know why I told him that…I must have just liked to eat them). He was so kind and tender that I’ve always viewed him as such, and felt bad when “the wrath of the spacious building was brought down on his head.” He will be greatly missed on this side.

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