Reconciliation and Thanksgiving

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

The following is a talk President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, gave November 19, 2013, at the Salt Lake Rotary Club.

There is a story told of an aging man who made a meager living by selling apples on a busy New York City street corner for fifty cents apiece. Each morning a dynamic businessman passed by this corner on his way to work. He didn’t care for apples, but he wanted to help this elderly man who reminded him of his teacher in grade school. It was a way he expressed gratitude and thanksgiving daily for his former teacher.  So each morning he would give him 50 cents and not take the apple.

One morning, after the daily ritual, the old man called him back. The businessman said, “I know, you are wondering why I never take the apple.”

The old man replied, “I couldn’t care less, but you should know that the price has gone up to seventy-five cents.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I mention President Thomas S. Monson, who is an honorary member of Rotary International.  He sends his love and greetings to all of you.  He is one who always encourages us to have an Attitude of Gratitude.

Service above Self

Almost 40 years ago while I was in charge of our Lufthansa Pilot School in Phoenix, Arizona, I became a Rotarian.  Today, I am grateful to be with Rotarians once again.

Back then, I learned to appreciate the purpose of Rotary International: to bring together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards, and build goodwill and peace in the world, regardless of race, religion, gender, or political preference.

The motto “Service above Self” resonated with me back then, and it still does.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partners with Rotary in many worthwhile efforts. Over the years our charity organization has contributed over $5 million to Rotary in 31 different countries. Our major efforts have been in the field of immunizations, wheelchairs, clean water, medical equipment for hospitals, and help for refugees.

Reconciliation in Action

As a child I learned what it means to be a refugee.  I was one, not once but twice, first fleeing as a four-year-old from Czechoslovakia to East Germany, and then at age eleven escaping across the Cold War border to West Germany.  Both times my family left behind all we owned and started again with nothing.

With heartfelt gratitude I remember the care packages and the generous help that came from the LDS Church during those years.  I can still smell and taste the sweetness of wheat and peaches that came from Utah at a time of great need.

And I will never forget the blessings that came from the Marshall Plan, how it helped Europe and especially Germany to get back on its feet.

Of course, at the time there were also other voices after the terrible war and the destruction Germany had caused. The Morgenthau Plan focused more on harsh punishment instead of reconciliation or compassion. In early 1947 four million German soldiers were still being used as forced labor in the UK, France, and the Soviet Union.1 The last prisoners of war returned in 1955.2

Under the leadership of the U.S., moderate voices―more compassionate voices―succeeded. Blessed compromises were found; reason, common sense, and reconciliation eventually made friends out of foes. Competitors became partners.

Only 14 years after the end of WWII, I was 18 years old when I joined the new German Air Force. I was privileged to be sent to the U.S. for pilot training.  Not to brag but to make a point, I want to mention that I graduated first in my class, receiving the Commander’s Trophy, and returned to Germany as a fighter pilot in the German Air Force.

How grateful I am for all those moderate and wise voices that influenced far-reaching decisions and made my path in life possible. I have seen reconciliation in action.

Thoughts on Gratitude

Let me just share a few quotes about gratitude:

"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."3

"Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving."4

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”5

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.”6

A Wonderful Legacy

The U.S. has such a great and inspiring history. It is now 392 years since the pilgrims celebrated their Day of Thanksgiving. 

These people of the Mayflower Compact were 44 Saints and 66 Strangers.7 Nevertheless, it was a contract of equality and unity.

During their first winter, 47 died.8 But hope and harvest came again.

H.U. Westermayer said, “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished; nevertheless, they set aside days of thanksgiving, days of praise and prayer.”9

What a wonderful legacy for building a people and a great nation. It is very similar and comparable to the faith in every footstep of the early Mormon pioneers, who built the LDS Church and this great state of Utah. 

Today, some think that Thanksgiving Day should not be connected to God the Almighty but only to country and history.

Let me share with you what George Washington had to say in his October 3, 1789, Thanksgiving Proclamation:

“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor;  both Houses of Congress have, requested me to recommend to the people of the United States a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."10

Count Your Blessings

With all the busyness and the business going on during this time of year, it is easy to focus mainly on the feasting and not so much on prayer and praise!

Occasionally I like to remind myself of one of my favorite hymns, which reads, “Count your many blessings; Name them one by one. Count your many blessings; See what God has done.”11

A wise man once said, “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables you to count your blessings.”12

Shakespeare said, “O Lord, who lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.”13

Enlarging our capacity for gratitude enriches our entire soul.

Gratitude is one of the most important human virtues and one of the most common human deficiencies. Gratitude does not develop without effort.

We can learn this from the fearless handcart pioneers who, by their own strength, pulled their meager belongings in handcarts across the scorching plains and through the snows of the high mountain passes to escape persecution, and then expressed their gratitude in peaceful worship in the Salt Lake Valley.

Our Debt of Gratitude

How can we pay our debt of gratitude for the heritage of faith and courage handed down to us by pioneers and pilgrims?

Elder James E. Talmage said, “Gratitude is twin sister to humility; pride is a foe to both.”14

President James E. Faust said, “A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness.

“[It is with gratitude as with all other] types of human strength: ‘Use it or lose it.’  When not used, muscles weaken, skills deteriorate, and faith disappears.”15

President Hinckley said, “I am asking that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life we ‘accentuate the positive.’ I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort.

“I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance.”16

And from President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 50 years ago this week:  “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”17

We live in challenging but also beautiful times, with great opportunities.

“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.”18

A wise man once said:
Conquer the angry man by love.
Conquer the ill-natured man by goodness.
Conquer the miser with generosity.
Conquer the liar with truth.19

These values are expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving. They are urgently needed in a time of serious challenges and uncertainty worldwide.

There Is Always Hope

We need only to open a newspaper to realize that we are living in a cynical time.  Trust in public institutions, corporations, and organized religion is declining.  Almost daily, media reports describe the decline of moral decency and the erosion of basic ethical conduct.

In this time of uncertainty, mistrust, fear, rumors of war, and political road rage, is there still hope for integration and openness across different cultures, religions, societies, and political interests?  Is there still hope for virtue, moderation, and divine moral principles?

My dear friends, my answer is a clear and resounding yes! 

But I am also convinced that the axiomatic and eternal principle of moral agency demands that there be “an opposition in all things.”

It ensures that meaningful choices can be made—choices not only between good and evil, but also from among multiple righteous alternatives.

Moral agency refers not only to the capacity to act for ourselves but also that we are accountable for those actions.

I believe one reason for today’s decline in moral values is that the world has invented a new, constantly changing, undependable standard of moral conduct often referred to as “situational ethics.”  Some convince themselves that ends justify means, and that agendas or ideologies must be advanced regardless of collateral damage.

This delusion is in direct contrast to the God-given standards.  The Ten Commandments and other divine laws constitute the commandments of God.  These divine laws are instituted by God to govern His creations and to prescribe behavior for His offspring.

Building Bridges of Brotherhood

The members of our Church throughout the world accept and try to live by ethical principles reflected in our Articles of Faith.  I quote:  “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, . . . and in doing good to all men.  If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”20

This basic declaration is part of our theology and describes the principles and ethics of our desired behavior.

We are not perfect—we know this—but our goals, aims, and ideals are high. If we lived by these principles, courtesy would overcome cursing; dignity would replace disgust; hate would diminish; and love and respect for one another would increase across geographic and ideological boundaries.

It takes courage and humility to put away old hatreds, divisions, and traditions that constrict and confine people into a blind succession of destructive behavior toward others.

“Where there is gratitude, there is humility as opposed to pride; there is generosity as opposed to selfishness.”21

I believe that it is within our reach to breach barriers of hate and build bridges of brotherhood and understanding between opposing cultures, religions, political ideologies, and world views. 

The Power of Christ’s Teachings

Today, the power of Christ’s teachings could bring to pass a miracle, similar to the one Paul described to the people of Ephesus, a people ripe with divisiveness. 

“Without Christ, we were aliens, having no hope.  But now in Christ Jesus we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.22

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”23

Too often the teachings of our respective faiths are kept in an abstract religious box, cautiously separated from personal conduct.  Nevertheless, divine leadership principles are based on the commandment “love one another.”  By reemphasizing this commandment, the Savior has made feeding His sheep one of our ongoing responsibilities that cannot be dismissed without serious consequences.

Selfless adherence to eternal principles and the unwavering commitment to divine truth should be the expression of our gratitude toward our Creator.

Many of you are exemplary bridge builders between nations, cultures, and religions.  The world needs builders, not destroyers.

“Service above Self”—a worthy motto for all of us.

Enthusiastic Ambassadors

Today, our Church has over 80,000 missionaries serving worldwide—young and old—all volunteers.  These missionaries are men and women who serve the people of nations around the world on their own time and of their own money.  They practice service above self, every day, all around the globe. 

When these missionaries return home, they become enthusiastic ambassadors for the countries in which they have served. They come back with a broader view of life. They have the potential to be bridge builders.

These young people leave home to serve with a message of hope, peace, and neighborly love.  They do not tear down other religions but work with them to improve the world by changing the hearts of individuals.  They enter homes and nations through the front door.  They have nothing to hide.  They honor the laws of the nations in which they live.

Though members of our Church are human and thus make mistakes, they are men and women of integrity and honesty, reaching out to those who are hungry, grieving, and in distress. 

They are good citizens in any nation, political system, culture, or economic environment.  They work hard to make their families, schools, communities, and nations better, regardless of culture, language, religious beliefs, or political preferences. 

Trust in God

My dear Rotarian friends, it has been a pleasure and privilege to be with you today.

Let us never forget, God is not merely an abstract concept.  He lives!  As we trust in God and listen to His voice, regardless of our faith and our religion, He will help us personally and collectively, even in challenging times. 

There is always hope.  There is a great future ahead of us.  It is in our hands to make it happen.  You are the ones with compassionate hearts and strong hands. You are the ones who put “Service before Self.” With trust in God, you can do it.

As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I express my love and gratitude at this time of Thanksgiving for all of you, and for the good you accomplish.

Thank you, and may God bless you all.


Notes

  • 1Herbert Hoover (February 28, 1947).
  • 2John Dietrich (2002), The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet Influence on American Postwar Policy, New York: Algora, 123.
  • 3Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency (Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden, 1990), 218.
  • 4W. T. Purkiser, The Gifts of the Spirit, Beacon Hill Press, Feb 1, 1975, 34.
  • 5Cynthia Ozick.
  • 6Marcus Tullius Cicero,  Pro Plancio, section 82.
  • 7Thomas Prince, (1736) Chronology 73, 84–86. Internet Archive.
  • 8Nathaniel Philbrick (2006). Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York: Penguin Group, 80–84.
  • 9See http://www.quotegarden.com/thanksgiving.html.
  • 10“Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives (ver. 2013-09-28). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, 131–132.
  • 11Hymns, no. 241.
  • 12Eric Hoffer (1973), Reflections on the Human Condition, New York: Harper & Row, 94.
  • 13King Henry VI, Part II, act I, scene I.
  • 14Sunday Night Talks, 2nd ed. (1931), 483.
  • 15“Gratitude as a Saving Principle,” Ensign, May 1990, 86.
  • 16Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Continuing Pursuit of Truth,” Ensign, April 1986.
  • 17"Proclamation 3560 - Thanksgiving Day, 1963," November 5, 1963. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
  • 18Henry Van Dyke.
  • 19Siddhartha Gautama (aka Shakyamuni Buddha) atr. Dhammapada, v. 223, (a version of the translation can be found here.
  • 20Articles of Faith, 1:13.
  • 21Gordon B. Hinckley, “How Lucky Can You Be!” BYU Devotional, October 13, 1964.
  • 22See Ephesians 2:12-13.
  • 23Ephesians 2:19.