Thursday, October 31, 2013

Joseph Smith

I admire Joseph Smith so much that I named my third son after him:  Matthew Joseph Langford.   

Matthew Joseph Langford
My reason for loving this man goes beyond words.  The depth of my feeling for him began to increase when about 16 years ago I read a historical fiction story about him and the early saints of the Mormon church:  The Work and the Glory by Gerald Lund.
Read the book
In this book series I didn’t feel like Joseph Smith was characterized completely accurately—a task that I’m sure is impossible to do—but what was depicted enabled my impression of who he was to take on a life of its own.  I could almost sense his person above and beyond the words on the page.  And I loved him, admired him.  

Listen:  "The Rising" by Jim Westbrook
So much persecution.  So many people against him.  He and his family were seriously injured by angry mobs several times.  And some of his children died because of the mobs and other natural causes.  It couldn’t have been easy for him.  He was misjudged.  People tried to discount him by twisting his words and actions, construing them as evil.  Sounds familiar.  But this is what he said of all that:

It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.

Paul, the Road to Damascus
“However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision. I have thought since, that I felt much like Paul, when he made his defense before King Agrippa, and related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light, and heard a voice; but still there were but few who believed him; some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.

“So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”

My feelings for the Joseph Smith later developed to astonishing heights when I saw the movie, “Joseph Smith:  The Prophet of the Restoration.”

When I sat in the theater after seeing this for the first time, I could not get up.  I just sat there under the dim lights as everyone exited.  Wave after wave of soul-piercing energy filled my heart.  I didn’t want to let the emotion out because it was way too powerful and sacred.  I just tried to contain it all inside of me.  It wasn’t like I was just touched.  It was more like the crashing waves of the ocean.  So powerful.  So true.  So utterly sweet.   

Again, even in this account of Joseph Smith, I knew the depiction was not perfect.  What movie or story can capture actuality?  But who he really was came through to me in the interstices—in between the scenes.  And the music certainly didn’t help in the way of controlling my emotions either.  So much admiration!  So much respect for him.

Some people say we worship Joseph Smith.  What I say is I worship Jesus Christ and if a man comes near to being like him, that worship mechanism in my heart activates.  It’s telling me, “This is a man you can trust” (D&C 1:38).