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Grant Hardy
Monday, October 17 2011

Flying with Augustine, Alma, and President Uchtdorf

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Augustine would be cheering you on, having led the way with his own, more concise preflight checklist. Which brings us to President Uchtdorf.

Of all the current general authorities, we might expect that he would have made ample use of the analogy of pilots’ checklists. After all, many of us eagerly await references to aviation whenever he comes to the pulpit.

So far he has avoided this exact analogy, perhaps because it has already been used several times.
For example, Elder High Pinnock spoke on “Your Personal Checklist for a Successful Eternal Flight” in October 1993, and Elder Duane Gerrard gave an address titled “The Plan of Salvation: A Flight Plan for Life” in October 1997.

In fact, despite an entire career of mandatory preflight checks, President Uchtdorf has shown an awareness of how, despite their usefulness, checklists can in some circumstances seem like just another burden: “We know that sometimes it can be difficult to keep our heads above water. In fact, in our world of change, challenges, and checklists, sometimes it can seem nearly impossible to avoid feeling overwhelmed by emotions of suffering and sorrow” (“Happiness, Your Heritage,” October 2008).

And in the most recent conference, he cautioned us that “in our diligent efforts to fulfill all of the duties and obligations we take on as members of the Church, we sometimes see the gospel as a long list of tasks that we must add to our already impossibly long to-do list, as a block of time that we must somehow fit into our busy schedules. We focus on what the Lord wants us to do and how we might do it, but we sometimes forget why.

This recognition of the limits of checklists is also significant. When I read Alma 5, I am even more impressed when I continue on to chapter 7, which is a transcript from the next sermon on Alma’s preaching tour. This address, given at the city of Gideon, stands in striking contrast to the first: it is less than half as long, and rather than presenting fifty rapid-fire questions, it has just one, which Alma answers himself: “And now my beloved brethren, do you believe these things? Behold, I say unto you,

Yea, I know that ye believe them” (Alma 7:17).

The people in Gideon had suffered greatly during the Amlicite Rebellion, and they still retained their faithfulness and desires for righteousness. Consequently, they were mostly in need of comfort and encouragement, unlike the inhabitants of the capital Zarahemla, whose pride required the sort of spiritual shock treatment that a lengthy series of leading questions might provide.

Apparently for Alma, as for President Uchtdorf, there are times for long lists, and there are other times when another approach might be more helpful. The people of Gideon are in a different spiritual state than the people at Zarahemla, and Alma carefully tailors his message accordingly. (I can’t say the same for myself — I’m often tempted to reuse old talks in the different wards that I speak in.)

Sometimes outsiders criticize The Book of Mormon for apparently having the same style throughout — it’s just Joseph Smith echoing the religious language of his day, they might say. Yet for a single figure to speak in such remarkably different ways, just two chapters apart, says something about the kind of person that Alma was, and his sense of the needs of particular audiences. He was the sort of leader whom the Lord could trust to guide his people to safely, if they would only heed his counsel.


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