“We’re scaring our children to death,” says prominent Wall Street Journal editorial writer Peggy Noonan (1). “Have you noticed this? And we’re doing it more and more … For fifty years in America, whenever the subject has turned to what our culture presents, the bright response has been, ‘You don’t like it? Change the channel.’ But there is no other channel to change to, no safe place to click to. Our culture is national. The terrorizing of children is all over … This is what TV will be like in Purgatory … I would hate to be a child now.”
On the other hand, think of pearls. Turn off the TV, shut Newsweek, close that thriller, and visualize a perfect, luminescent, modest pearl. In Matthew, such a pearl is compared to the Kingdom of Heaven (2).
We, as Latter-day Saints, have Priesthood power. This gives us power over Satan, over his empire, over every hateful, evil thing that happens in this world. Do we use it? As Elder David R. Stone of the Seventy has said, “We have to create Zion in the midst of Babylon.” (3)
Have we become so overwhelmed and drugged by the constant barrage from that Great and Spacious Building that we can no longer see the beauty of the pearl? Of the Kingdom of God?
We have the knowledge, not only of the Restoration, but of the true power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Getting that knowledge deep into the heart of every man and every woman should be the mission of every possessor of the truth. It is our only hope for happiness. It is our only chance for eternal survival. All pearls have modest beginnings. As they are created, layer by layer, from the inside out, so is man changed from the natural man to the spiritual man from the inside out – starting with a change of heart, as King Benjamin tells us. (4) But the pearl’s beauty is quiet and subtle. How can we hope to entice people to hear the still, small voice amid the devil’s cacophony of noise?
One of the greatest tools for building pearls is the creative arts. True beauty, majestic harmony, and the perfect allegory are the tools that Christ would use. He would not hit anyone over the head with the word of God and get into a bashing contest with Satan.
In his mortal ministry, He used what I choose to call “Pearl Power.” A masterful teacher, He used everything around Him to testify – the elements, a coin, a seed, a herd of swine. He healed everything He touched, not with magic, but with love. He knew that, to the honest in heart, nothing was more powerful than love.
Pearl Power. Using the arts as Pearl Power is amazingly effective. People are drawn by the power of love in a painting, poem, novel, or symphony as if magnetized. It speaks to the Light of Christ within them.
I am not counseling sentimental mediocrity. I am pleading for the dedication of the pure in heart to refine their talents until they reflect the reality of redemption. The greatest art is always born in pain unto the redemption of the spirit. It conveys ultimate, triumphant love.
Satan has striven to counterfeit the reality of human love by every horrid trick he has in his devilish bag. Yet because of our pre-mortal existence, there is a memory of true love in the heart of every man and woman. Moral art appeals to that memory. As John Gardner, renowned literary critic, puts it:
Art builds; it never stands pat; it destroys only evil. If art destroys good, mistaking it for evil, then that art is false, an error, it requires denunciation … Most art these days is either trivial or false. There has always been bad art, but only when a culture’s general world view and aesthetic theory have gone awry is bad art what most artists strive for, mistaking bad for good.For the most part our artists do not struggle – as artists have traditionally struggled – toward a vision of how things ought to be or what has gone wrong; they do not provide us with the flicker of lightning that shows us where we are. Either they pointlessly waste our time, saying and doing nothing, or they celebrate ugliness and futility, scoffing at good. (5)
I have had my own battle here, as I struggle with agents who want “dark literature,” “erotica,” and “chick lit.” Were I to give in to the standards of 99% of the New York Times bestsellers, I could write a blockbuster, for I always have been a bit of a drama queen. However, I try to restrain myself, and struggle as John Gardner says, to bring forth my own best art, born of triumph over pain.
The Pearl of Great Price
Are you willing to consecrate all that you have, like the man in Matthew, to purchase the Pearl of Great Price? Will you, in fact, give your talents to the Lord to magnify and build the Kingdom? I suggest you make a prayerful visit to the temple to contemplate this question.
Early in my married life, President Boyd K. Packer gave an address entitled “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord.”(6) Though it is long, I have practically memorized it. I have a tiny talent. A mustard seed of a talent, but I have been moved tremendously in my artistic quest by the words President Packer attributed to early apostle Orson F. Whitney:
We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. God’s ammunition is not exhausted. His highest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God’s name, and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth.
Where, you ask, are our Miltons and Shakespeares? That statement was made in 1888. President Packer has some pretty stern words to say about that:
The greatest poems are not yet written, nor the paintings finished. The greatest hymns and anthems of the Restoration are yet to be composed … We move forward much slower than need be, and I would like to underline the things that stand in our way … It is a mistake to assume one can follow the ways of the world and then somehow, in a moment of intruded inspiration, compose a great anthem of the Restoration, or in a moment of singular inspiration, paint the great painting.When it is done, it will be done by one who has yearned and tried and longed fervently to do it, not by one who has condescended to do it. It will take quite as much preparation and work as any masterpiece, and a different kind of inspiration .The reason we have not yet produced a greater heritage in art and literature and music and drama is not, I am very certain, because we have not had talented people. For over the years we have had not only good ones but great ones. Some have reached great heights in their chosen fields. But few have captured the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the restoration of it in music, in art, in literature. They have not, therefore, even though they were gifted, made a lasting contribution to the onrolling of the Church and kingdom of God in the dispensation of the fullness of times … I am reminded of the statement: “There are many who struggled and climb and finally reach the top of the ladder, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall.”
Out of Small Things
A pearl is a small thing. A hymn is a small thing. Even most novels are small things. But the Lord tells us, “Wherefore, be ye not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.” (7)
Do you feel weak when you are assaulted by the blatant strength of today’s media? I know I do. But the Lord, again, has said, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (8) And to Joseph Smith, an unlearned farm laborer, “I am well-pleased with your offering and acknowledgments, which you have made; for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth.”(9)
A String of Pearls
In the end, there will be two societies, a Zion Society and Babylon. But for now, we must do as Ammon was counseled before he began his mission among the Lamanites, his deadly enemies:
Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good example unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls. (10)
There are many who are just as horrified as Latter-day Saints at what is going on in our cultural universe. They can be gathered together with us if they recognize our fruits. There is strength in togetherness; a string of pearls is more heavenly than a single pearl. A Zion society will be such a string – a collection of the pure in heart, with all that is most divine in music, literature, and art. We can draw people to us in this dark world through our light, if we choose to let it shine.
Let us not submit to ugliness. Let us aspire to true beauty, even if it is in our own small way. Remember the pearl. Remember Pearl Power – Christ’s love.
The greatest act in the history of the universe, forward and backward in time, was the atonement of Jesus Christ. It is that atonement that makes it possible for us, like pearls, to grow in beauty from the inside out. To shine in quiet, modest luminescence. That true beauty creates beauty. It is the only thing it can create.
Let us celebrate triumph over pain, light chasing away the dark, valor in a world of false values. We can do it. We have been endowed, each in our own way, with talents and abilities to polish and shine until we can take our place on that string of pearls that is the Kingdom of God.
(1) “We’re Scaring Our Children to Death,” Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2007.
(2) Matthew 13:35-36
(3) “Zion In the Midst of Babylon,” Elder David R. Stone, Ensign, May 2006.
(4) Mosiah 3:19
(5) Gardner, John, On Moral Fiction, Harper Torchbooks: 1977, pp. 15-16.
(6) “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord,” Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, August, 1976.
(7) Doctrine and Covenants 64:33
(8) 1 Corinthians 1:27
(9) “The Expanding Inheritance from Joseph Smith,” James E. Faust, Ensign, November, 1981