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.