Fly On! Fly as One!
Elaine L. Jack
Ricks College Devotional
April 10, 2001
You are a pretty dramatic sight! Here you are, young men and women sharing in the spirit of God - in the middle of the week, the middle of the day demonstrating how you contribute consistently to our Father's kingdom. You share in a singular college experience here at BYU-Idaho. When I attended the University of Utah there was only a small Institute to fulfill that role.While I was Relief Society president I served on the Board of Trustees of the Church Educational System which governs this college. I was impressed whenever your President, President Bennion at that time, reported on your activities, your winning sports teams, your original music productions, your practical and fair admittance policy, and the need for new buildings to keep up with growth.
I am honored to be with you because I feel your goodness. You are preparing in the right way to lead families, congregations and nations in these difficult last days. You are the leaders who will see through the mists of darkness and who will stand firm while so many tumble and turn with the latest method or jargon or round of applause. You have heard from your youth, from prophets of God , that you have been saved to come forth at this period of time. Let it remind you of your nobility and your shared purpose to Come Unto Christ.
We stand alone in this effort. Our society has become obsessed with the satisfaction and gratification of self. Selfless living that has the capacity to unite us has been overpowered by self-expression, self-development, and self gratification. Self-centered living is the becoming the norm. Standards have been relaxed or have simply been dropped to allow every one to do their own thing, whenever and with whomever they please. This self-driven society dominates so much of what we see and do. It so clearly repeats the pattern from the Book of Mormon where self indulgence destroyed nations and peoples, over and over again.
What a welcome relief it is when I see the unity of this student body. I think of the scripture: "That we may be one". (1) And that we may "stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. (2)" For "ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (3)
This powerful focus reminds me of one of my favorite images: Canada Geese. As you may know, I was raised in Cardston, Canada (a small town just across the U.S. border) and I have just returned from living there for three years while my husband was president of the temple. The community is nestled at the edge of the wind-swept prairie and with the exception of our grand Cardston, Alberta Temple, (the only true temple!), the environment is distinctly rural and agrarian.
I am certain it was my early years of playing in the fields and hills around my home that shaped my love for nature, the mountains, pine trees, wild flowers, and contributed to my joy in simply being outside looking up at the sky. Each spring I would see the Canada Geese in their distinctive "V shaped" flight migrating home for the summer. In the fall, the familiar honking as they returned south signaled the change of seasons. Each fall, I still find myself checking the sky -- hoping to see the swoop and flow of Canada Geese. As a little girl I was attracted to the pictures their formations made in the sky. As an adult, I am intrigued by their patterns, for they fly together, in flocks. We could go so far as to say they "fly as one."
We can learn some important truths from the Canada geese that you can apply to drawing your college community together, "That you may be one."
The truths begin with this first concept: Geese do not fly alone.
They fly in flocks, synchronized together, one at the lead and the others in their relative positions. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an "uplift" for the bird following. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds as much as 70 percent more flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Here's the lesson. Those who share a common direction and means of achieving community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of another.
Second: Geese are resilient, hearty, determined and tireless. They instinctively seek to develop the character traits that contribute to the experience of each participant.
What's the lesson? Bring out the best in each other. Build each other up. Prize what each one brings to the association. Accept every one no matter their circumstance. I teach the fourteen year-olds in Sunday School right now. Teenagers are dismayed as they watch high schools under siege of gun-wielding young people. They see others handcuffed and taken to jail for shooting or another form of violence. When we ask, "Why did this happen", we often learn that the gunman was taunted, ridiculed by peers. And finally they snapped. It is no excuse, but it is reality that put-downs, abuse of another, cruelty and mocking may have tragic results. Whether you are fourteen, nineteen, or seventy you can learn from the Canada geese.
Third: Geese attach to each other, just as we do, living in a form of family life. Young adult geese select mates and stay with that partner for life. They are loyal and committed.
The lesson: Know the worth of building relationships. They last, and you learn from them. When you find a companion, form a union that is impenetrable.
Fourth: Geese have an uncanny sense of direction. They know where they are and where they are going at any moment in their flight. They can fly more than 1,000 miles without stopping to rest.
The lesson here is that they have shared purpose and a common goal.
Fifth: Geese trust each other.
When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into formation and another--who has been trained and knows the way - flies to the point position.
I like the lesson here. Geese take turns. Their leadership and feeling of belonging is not a matter of where they serve, but how.
Now, one of the geese is probably in charge of the flight plan and another maybe has responsibility for meals, but they know their destination and the means of reaching it. For each one, the thrust is the same: work together, share in the process, stretch to reach the appointed destination. Don't fly off to the side. Don't buzz out in front. Keep up. Stay together. Fly as one.
How can you apply these lessons? How can students at Ricks be united and encourage more students to promote its righteous purposes?
I'll give you some suggestions.
Serve with one heart and one mind.
Every one of you is important, every effort is valuable: your determination, resilience and loyalty critical. Remember, Canada Geese fly in formation, united actually in heart and mind, one out in front, leading the way, and all the others contributing to a dramatic geometric pattern in the sky.
Relate this to the inspiring account of the city of Enoch, a people so united that they were "taken up into heaven." (4) The Lord describes them as Zion, "because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness and there was no poor among them." (5) One heart and one mind is the key. They lived the gospel so well and so fully that they felt the spirit in their hearts and understood in their minds the significance of a what they knew to be true.
In Moses we read that Enoch heard the Lord's voice telling him to prophesy unto the people and call them to repentance "for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off." Hearts are critical to our journey, especially open hearts.
All of us probably know someone who has drifted into spiritual bitterness: maybe some of you have been there yourself.
Enoch began his ministry with a people whose hearts were hardened. . Imagine his surprise when he heard the Lord's call to prophesy to the people. Enoch said: "Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech."
Enoch was not exactly the big man on campus. Enoch, like most of us, struggled with his limitations. He struggled with acceptance among his peers. He was not the obvious choice . But the Lord called him to "fly out in front" and lead the people. Why? Because the Lord knew his heart. And He made dramatic promises to Enoch. "Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore, walk with me." (6) Enoch was not alone in his assignment.
And we know that when Enoch began to preach, he drew people to him. And "All his people walked with God." (7)
There is no greater example of a community of saints, a united people. Like the Canada Geese, they had to draw strength for the journey from each other. They had to become loyal, hearty, resilient and faithful, leaving no one behind.
Recognize your responsibility for others.
Let's look to the analogy of the geese again. When one gets sick, wounded or shot down, two drop out of formation and follow their fellow member down to the ground to help and provide protection. They stay with this member of the flock until he or she either is able to fly again or dies.
Compassion, generosity, patience, kindness - these are the selfless qualities that make a difference. But they are not the qualities that reach the headlines or the 10 o'clock news.
And they are a far cry from the wail of Marley, Charles Dickens character in A Christmas Carol who had been so successful in his business. Before his death, Marley enjoyed money and clients, but he had no heart. It had been cankered over the years by his myopic view of success; he loved money; he had no love for people. While we usually recount this story in December, its message is universal and timeless. One Christmas eve, Marley came back as a ghost to visit his friend and partner Ebenezer Scrooge and denounce his life as a failure. Scrooge was stunned.
"You were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, . . .
"Business!" cried the ghost, wringing its hands. . ."Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence ,were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business."
His expression --Mankind was my business-- has become legend. It is based in the truth,. "the worth of souls is great in the eyes of God." (8)
Listen to the passage from Scrooge:
"You are fettered, Tell me why?"
"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link and yard by yard; it is a ponderous chain."
"Speak comfort to me, Jacob!"
"I have none to give," the Ghost replied. . ."I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. Weary journeys lie before me!"
"Seven years dead," mused Scrooge. "And traveling all the time."
"The whole time," said the Ghost. "No rest, no peace."
"You travel fast?" said Scrooge.
"On the wings of the wind," replied the Ghost.
Scrooge ran to the window and looked out. The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains; none were free.
What are those chains? Regret, remorse, a haunting face, the phrase "if only", the busy-ness of life and all we have to do that keep us from serving one another. And what awaits those who travel fast but not with others? "Wandering hither and thither in restless haste"
Whether we are in college full time, or have part time employment or living in my neighborhood, we have so many opportunities to lift others. Do we see them, do we feel for them? Do we smile at them and at those we meet who need encouragement? Do we drop down, as do the geese, and stand vigil with those who need us, right now? Do we begrudge the interruption to our own cadence of daily living. How about the little gestures of concern?
Have you ever walked into Church and searched for a seat because the empty ones were all being saved "for someone." I have. I remember attending a missionary homecoming of a friend; I got there early, but all seats in chapel had coats or purses on them and were "being saved" I'm a pretty put together person but I was almost in tears. Being on the outside doesn't feel very good, does it. We've all been there. Do we find places on committees and give assignments to our friends first, leaving others on the edge with no opportunity to be one of us? Do we work at putting names with faces?
Know that the flight may be bumpy.Young geese have to learn that they can only land against the wind; if they land with the wind they may buckle and tumble to the ground. So it is with us. It is when our faces are to the wind that we make clear statements about what really matters.
Brothers and sisters, people matter.
To the Lord, there is no distinction between school, church and home. They are all three forums to exercise compassion, kindness, generosity, patience, understanding. In Relief Society we emphasize, "Charity Never Faileth." Charity is not the exclusive province of the poor, unless we are talking "the poor in heart. . . . the poor in spirit" and then charity is right at home. Charity unites us at our most vulnerable moments, because charity is the pure love of Christ.
I have always been fond of a story from the era of the Great Depression. The Mayor of New York City, Fiorella LaGuardia was an unusual leader. New York named an airport after him and perhaps that has something to do with how he cared for his people. While in office he sometimes presided at the Police Court just to keep in touch with what was happening in the streets. One bitter cold day the officers brought in a trembling, ragged man charged with stealing a load of bread. He defended his actions by explaining that his family was starving.
"I've got to punish you," declared LaGuardia. "The law makes no exception." So he fined the man ten dollars. But, as he said that, the Mayor reached into his pocket and brought out a $10 dollar bill which he tossed into his hat. "The fine is paid," he said. "And I'm going to fine everybody in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a man has to steal bread in order to eat. The Bailiff passed the hat and the incredulous man, with a light of heaven in his eye, left the courtroom with forty-seven dollars and fifty cents.
In the New Testament we read of the Lord's interaction with those who appeared to be unworthy or not to care about his message: the woman taken in adultery, the rich young man who went away sorrowful. "But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd." (9) The Lord said, "He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me." (10)
Brothers and Sisters, Be strong.
One of the truths of this life is that phrase we hate to hear: "There must needs be opposition in all things." That means sometimes things will be hard.
In a driving rain or a hailstorm, geese lay their feathers flat and stretch their heads high, reducing to a minimum the body surface exposed to the assault. They know how to handle what comes at them and so do you. But they aren't just in the tuck position, they are preparing for further flight.
Just as Joshua prepared to meet the inhabitants of the promised land. The Lord told Joshua, "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed."
What do I mean, be strong?
Accept disappointment. Forgive others and forgive yourself. Don't take offense, don't be sharp or callous. This character trait is the single most mature and endearing quality you can develop.
Shine the spotlight on others. Be excited when they do well; rescue them when they flounder. A friend of mine, Shirley Thomas, is just this kind of person. She's a former counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency. Everyone wants to be her friend because she makes so much of what they do and what they are. She will go to any length to see another person succeed, all the time never calling attention to herself.
I spoke with a young man recently who was a freshman at a large university, (actually it was BYU-Provo.) Having come from a very small high school of less than 200, he was overwhelmed by the number of students. Everywhere he looked there were people, faces with no names. He was one of them. One Saturday night, however, he got up the courage to go to a dance. He was separated from his roommate and the others he had gotten to know and for 45 minutes he walked around by himself. No one stopped, no one looked, no one noticed this young man. I think there were probably hundreds, maybe thousands there that night facing the same plight. Desperately alone, he closed his eyes and prayed to one he knew was there, his Father in Heaven. He prayed for help. . " Help me not be alone." And then he turned to walk back toward the celebration. But he felt prompted to take another sidewalk. The Lord was at work prompting others onto that same sidewalk and sure enough, the young man ran into a group of students and one called out his name, someone from his home ward who had moved several years before. Someone who knew his name, drew him in. That's what we must do for one another.
Learn names, call people by their names. The Lord knows not only our names, he knows our hearts.
When it seems a challenge to be strong in living the principles you know are true, remember this mental picture, described by a Christian priest:
"When I am tempted to listen to hot, egotistic voices within my own heart; when it seems that love can never win but always lose; when it seems as though humility is ruthlessly trodden down by those who pass over it on their way to their own selfish ambitions; when it seems as though God cannot possibly triumph; when pity and love and mercy and kindness and tenderness are weakness; when it seems as though greatness is only possessed by those who know how to grab, and have the power to snatch at it, no matter what the cost to others -- ah, yes, when the voices sound in my own heart which say you must play for your own hand, you must think of number one, you must not let yourself be trodden down -- when I am thus tempted, may I hear in imagination the tinkling of water, poured into a basin, and see, as in a vision, the Son of God washing the disciples feet." (11)
Now, I want you to trust those you lead and those you follow.
Geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those in the front to keep up their speed. It is as if they are saying, "We are with you. Fly on."
When we speak of being one, we are suggesting that all of us reach beyond the borders of our own lives. It only makes sense that our reach extends beyond the borders of the Ricks campus and to the leadership of the Church in general. Last week we again raised our hands to sustain the brethren of this church. By so doing we are placing our trust in them. But it doesn't stop there. We must fly in formation with them. Those that pull off to the side, that honk not to encourage but to reroute, perhaps to blare disagreement, violate the trust that has been.
And finally, I would say know where you are going.
It is a magnificent experience to see geese arrive in the sky begin to circle and then land. Shortly before touching down on the ground, they thrust their feet forward and brake themselves with powerful wing beats. They are in control of their direction and in line with their purpose. They know the way back home.
These geese have a flight plan. It includes their route, their stops, their landing field. We, too, filed such a plan when we joined with Jesus Christ in the preexistence. We chose our direction and with it came definite and glorious responsibility. We recognized then the power of the Lord's plan to get us all the way home.
Jesus Christ in the last hours of his life laid down a template for us to follow. During his great intercessory prayer in Gethsemane, he prayed that his disciples would be one. (12) Imagine him walking out of the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples clustered, the soldiers jeering and mocking. Jesus Christ knew this was the path -- home. "If he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him" (13) his tormentors scoffed. They asked for signs to satisfy their narrow understanding of here and now. He gave them no answer. There was no drum roll for the world to hear, no cellular phone was on hand for him to call ahead and set up a triumphant arrival. He went quietly, humbly, carrying a burden that we can not even imagine. He had the responsibility to lead all mankind home to their Father in Heaven. This hour was not his alone, it was the turning point for us all. It was then that all of us were gathered into the fold of the good shepherd. One fold, one shepherd.
Today, by the power of the priesthood we, men and women, receive leadership directly from him. I pray that you will understand the significance of that power and with faith, humility and hope, draw upon it as we fly on, with unity of purpose.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
1. 3 Nephi 19:23
2. JST Philippians 1:27
3. Galatians 3:28
4. Moses 7:23
5. Moses 7:18
6. Moses 6:34
8. D&C 18:10
9. Matt. 9:36
10. Matt 10:40
11. "When I Am Tempted, Leslie D. Weatherhead, Treasury of the Christian Faith, edited by Stanley I, Stuber and Thomas Curtis Clark, Associated Press, NY, 1949, p.741
12. John 17:11
13. Matt 27:42
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