Message leaves much to ponder: Voices of the Clarion

Even a hippie with an Army haircut finds wisdom in Hinckley's words

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's difficult being a hippie in an Army haircut, but nevertheless, I spent a good part of the late '60s and early '70s devouring such peace and universal love teachings as Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" and a little breast-pocket guide called "Springs of Indian Wisdom."

After my hitch in the Army, I started becoming aware of the works of such religious people as Mother Teresa, who spent so much time helping the impoverished of India, and Pope John Paul II, whose lifelong passion was trying to end war and teach people to love one another.

Into the '80s and '90s, I came to appreciate the writings of Dan Millman, if for no other reason than the title of his best seller, "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior."

In the late 1980s, I had a moment of clarity and was informed by some new friends that "Religion is for those who are afraid of dying and going to hell; spirituality is for those who have already been there."

Considering myself to be somewhat of a hard case, I embraced both religion and spirituality.

Spiritual gurus, inspirational writers and eloquent speakers have often crossed my bow, and every once in awhile, a truly holy person comes along, and it seems I need to learn from him or her and rethink a lot of things already learned.

Recently, with the passing of Gordon B. Hinckley, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who died Jan. 27, I was reminded of his writings in "Standing for Something."

Though the head of a church many would call an institution run by a bunch of old men, Hinckley once responded to TV news commentator Mike Wallace that he was flattered by not being considered a "dotty old man."

Instead, Hinckley thought it wonderful that the Mormon church was run by a man of maturity "who isn't blown about by every wind of doctrine."

Hinckley, who served as the church's president for more than 12 years until his death at age 97, was one of the most loved of modern church leaders because of his quick wit and humor.

In his later years, he rarely was seen without a walking stick and often would jokingly raise it above his head as a prop during his eloquent speeches. He also used a white handkerchief to dab the corner of his mouth as he spoke.

Upon his death, thousands of mourners lined the funeral procession route through Salt Lake City, many waving canes and white handkerchiefs as the hearse passed by.

"Standing for Something" is not a book about Mormonism; in fact, it's not about religion at all.

Rather it's about virtue actually 10 virtues which Hinckley felt needed some bolstering in America.

Love, honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness, thrift, gratitude, optimism and faith are approached as being neglected, but necessary to heal hearts and homes.

It's probably that first one, harkening back to my hippie days, that drew me to the book ... plus the fact that I was working for a magazine publisher in Utah when "Standing for Something" first came out.

Called the "lodestar of life" as the first chapter opens, love is described by Hinckley as being "the only force that can erase the differences between people or bridge the chasms of bitterness."

That's likely the belief that drove him to preach tolerance of all people regardless of their race, gender, religion or national origin.

I recall one event that took place soon after I moved to Utah in the mid-1990s.

The Catholic Cathedral of the Madeline in downtown Salt Lake City one of those old grey-stone Gothic cathedrals was in need of $3 million-plus in repairs and seismic upgrades.

Without hesitation, Hinckley pledged $1 million from his church toward the renovation.

One of my Catholic friends quipped, "The Mormons are just hedging their bet."

Hinckley would have loved the joke.

One of the most traveled of the LDS leaders in the history of the church Hinckley is said to have visited more than 150 countries he relates one story in his chapter on morality, about a conversation he once had with a young man in a South American airport.

Described as having unkempt hair, a bearded face and clothing giving the appearance of "total indifference to any generally accepted standard or style," the young man was asked what he was after in life.

"Peace and freedom," was his response.

Pressed on, the man told Hinckley he used drugs to help him obtain the peace and freedom he sought, and modern morality gave him "much more freedom than any previous generation had ever known."

"I shocked him when I declared that his freedom was a delusion, that his peace was a fraud, that they would be bought at great personal and social cost, and that I would tell him why," Hinckley wrote.

The two men's flights were called before Hinckley could finish the conversation, but he said he thought much about the discussion.

Hinckley said the man represented a generation in search of freedom from moral restraint, and peace from a guilty conscience, and sought to legitimize "practices that enslave and debauch and, if left unchecked, will destroy not only individuals, but also the nations of which they are a part."

In the chapter, Hinckley says the churches of the world can help.

"Pope John Paul II's repeated warnings against moral pitfalls are impressive and wise. The Baptists have launched an important and earnest campaign for chastity. Many good people representing many faiths are standing strong against the wiles of the world," he wrote.

In his foreword to "Standing for Something," Mike Wallace said Hinckley is far from dotty.

Readers of the book will find "an agile, thoughtful and engaging mind bent on persuading us to ruminate ... on old-fashioned values: by name, Virtue and Integrity."

I had the pleasure of hearing Hinckley speak a number of times. The messages laced with wit and laughter never failed to leave me with much to ponder ... with much knowledge.

As you leave, President Hinckley, I wave a cane.

Phil Hermanek is a Peninsula Clarion reporter.

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