MI Podcast #127: ZION EARTH ZEN SKY
Charles Inouye writes, “I am Japanese but was born and raised in rural central Utah. At ﬁrst, my parents were afraid that our involvement with the Church would weaken our grounding in Japanese tradition. As it turned out, it only reinforced my interest in animism, Buddhism, and other aspects of Japanese culture. As a scholar of Japanese culture, I have discovered that Latter-day Saint culture and Mahayana Buddhist culture are similar in many ways, and that the paths to the building up of Zion, on the one hand, and to Zen enlightenment, on the other, are one and the same. The genius of both faith traditions lies in how they push the abstract ideas of salvation down into the world of material practice. Raking sand in a Zen garden reminds us that mortality is similarly a “high maintenance” situation, where constant service is required if we are to grasp our purpose here on earth.”
Come learn more about Charles’ life, work, and what Latter-day Saints can learn from a life of faith, service, and “raking”: the slow and steady daily practices that promotes spirituality and humility.
Joseph Stuart: Welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Joseph Stuart.
Latter-day Saints, whether they recognize it or not, often live in many religious worlds. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be a Church member’s first language, we live in a world filled with people who practice many religions, or no religion at all. I remember growing up with Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Sikh, and Hindu neighbors and their invitations to participate in their religious lives sharpened and bolstered my own growing faith. For some converts to the Church, like Professor Charles Shiro Inouye, they find meaning and comfort in connecting their family’s ancestral religious traditions and practices into their lives as Latter-day Saints. Today we’ll discuss Charles’ book, Zion, Earth, Zen, Sky, which will be released in late August as a part of the Maxwell Institute’s “Living Faith” series. We are always anxious to hear your constructive feedback; please send any you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also be sure to subscribe to our newsletter at mi.byu.edu.
Joseph Stuart: Charles, welcome to the Maxwell Institute podcast.
Charles Inouye: Thank you.
Stuart: So glad to have you here and one of the things that stuck out to me most in the book, a theme that you return to is the idea of raking. What does it mean to practice raking?
Inouye: Well, raking is something that is done often and to maintain rather than to usually do something great. It’s just something we do in a kind of routine way and so what metaphor Christ uses is to tie our religious life, our spiritual life to the everyday things that happen, not the unusual stuff but the usual, grind-it-out kind of stuff.
Stuart: Right, the things that we do day to day. Actually when I first read the book and I thought about raking, I actually thought about baseball fields and how they bring their rakes out to go in between the bases and just make sure that the soil is safe for people to be able to participate on. And also thinking about golf, right? If you hit a ball into a sand trap, you rake it out and so it’s not causing any danger or issues for other people. What value has raking brought in your life? I know you literally rake; you have a garden where you are able to rake. But then also in your life as a Latter-day Saint, in the book you talk about the small and simple practices that bring you meaning in your religious life.
Inouye: I’ve been a member of the Church for a long time and I’ve learned how to put my efforts in places where they’re needed. I think that one of the things about doing the day-to-day stuff is that they can become habitual and meaningless, and just sort of do them in a routine kind of way. So, what I noticed about Zen Buddhism for example is the focus on the routine, repetitive, actually has a spiritual meaning. The idea is that you allow yourself to feel the power of the quotidian, the day-to-day common things, and receive your spiritual rejuvenation from the activity of being involved with things you would do just to maintain– they call it– equilibrium. The idea is not to aspire to positive one or positive two because if you do that you’re likely to fall back to negative one or negative two. Rather, the idea is to find a spot near zero, neither positive or negative, where your life is maintaining a kind of peacefulness, a kind of quietude, a kind of connection you have to things and by things I mean everything. The things that we overlook like, when was the last time you thought about the dish you were washing or when was the last time you were thankful for the fork in your hand. It’s that sort of thing.
Stuart: Yeah absolutely. In somewhat of a silly example, setting up chairs in church for the first time was really important to me for some reason. I remember thinking, “I am setting up charis because people are going to be attending here.” And as you said that sort of quotidian that…finding meaning in the everyday practice of certain things that at some points of your life you may see as drudgery, as something that creates meaning. Now, you mention Zen Buddhism and in growing up in Richfield, Utah, I can’t imagine that there were a lot of Zen Buddhist influences. So, could you tell us how your family came to live in Central Utah?
Inouye: My father’s family was living in the Bay Area and my mother’s area was living in Washington state. After Pearl Harbor, they were relocated to the same camp in Wyoming in Cody, it’s called Heart Mountain. And after that experience, they chose to move to Utah to kind of be away from the world that has betrayed them, rather than move back to the West Coast. They decided to settle in Central Utah in a little town called Sigurd. I’s a little town that hardly anyone knows anything about, 200 people on a good day and we lived miles away from that town in a farmhouse. They chose to live there to be away from other people. Of course, there were other people there, including the Latter-day Saints who had fled the persecutions of the Midwest. So, I grew up with the Dastrups, the Warnicks, the Jordans, and the Jensens. Mostly Northern Europeans. My parents, when the Korean War started, they feared that there might be another wave of persecution–
Stuart: –right because Heart Mountain was a Japanese internment camp. So for listeners who may not know, this is during World War II after Pearl Harbor. The U.S. government that people of Japanese descent, including those born in the U.S. would be forcefully relocated to places on the interior. So your family in San Francisco bay are moved to Wyoming. Where people form Los Angeles might be moved to Topaz in Utah or other locations, right?
Inouye: It just so happened that my parents ended up in Wyoming in Heart Mountain. That’s where they met, that’s where they got married. So, there were some good things that came out of that, it got our family out of the West Coast, or else I would’ve been the son of a business man in the Bay Area and I would’ve had a very different life. I wonder if I would’ve found the Church, the gospel. And my father, though he rarely talked about the experience, he did say a few things and I remember them very clearly. Once he said that, I remember this because we were sitting in the shop on the farm eating lunch and he said, “The one thing the war taught me was that you can’t trust people. You can only trust ideas.” And being the youngest son in the family, I didn’t say much but it struck me as funny that my father would believe in ideas because I think that ideas can be the source of our worst tendencies, depending on the idea.
Stuart: Right, like if our mind takes hold of a certain ideology, if it’s a good one then it will shape our life for good, but if it’s harmful it will have real effects on other people.
Inouye: So, I’ve been thinking about that idea all my life. And another thing he said just before he died, was that he told me that he was very disappointed and hurt by all that had happened. But in the end he thought that God’s hand had led our family out of California to Utah. We were able to live with a group of people who really practiced what they believed– the Dastrups, the Jorgensens– these people were not wealthy people, they were not people that the world paid much attention to I assume, but they were good to us. And I think the fact that they were kind to my parents changed the course of our lives. For that reason, my father was thankful in the end that we ended up in Utah.
Stuart: Thank you for sharing that. It’s something to reflect upon for Latter-day Saints that your neighbors live their religion by loving people and taking care of them. And it’s something that in a town of 200, I don’t necessarily think of Sigurd, Utah as a place where it might be comfortable to be a Japanese American to move to a small town where it’s primarily filled with people of European descent. But they made it a home for you. Now, as you’re reflecting on your life growing up, your father worked very, very hard and so did your mother. You discuss not only working at dry farms, so the idea that you are doing the irrigation yourself, but that also you and your father and other family members maintained all of the equipment, you brought in the harvest, and your mother was working at home. It’s one of those things that I think is important to remember is that hard work is part of the American dream, but in the end it’s still a lot of hard work. And I think in a lot of ways, like raking, no one is going to write a book about someone who got up at 4:30 in the morning and went to their dry farm and worked for 12 hours and then came home. But in the same way, it made a lot of meaning for you, especially as you were able to spend time with your father and be there.
We’re speaking with Charles Inouye about his book Zion, Earth, Zen, Sky here on the Maxwell institute podcast. So, once your parents had moved to Central Utah to Sigurd, you had begun to attend Latter-day Saint meetings, but in the book you say that your parents would drop you off and come back and pick you back up. What was your experience like being a child in a religious congregation that your parents didn’t subscribe to?
Inouye: My parents were pure land Buddhists. Pure Land Buddhists is one of two most successful sects of Mahayana Buddhism, which is the tradition that moved north into China and was spread throughout North Asia by Silk Road people who ended up in Korea and eventually Japan in the 6th century. But they were pure land Buddhists, they actually met– they were both Sunday School teachers in the Buddhist Sunday School at Heart Mountain. They wanted their children to have some sort of spiritual training, but the Buddhist option wasn’t very viable because the temple was in Salt Lake, two hours north. So they sort of decided something is better than nothing, so they took us to the church on Sunday and dropped us off and we went to the meetings and they came back a couple hours later to drop us off.
Stuart: What was your first memory, or do you have a first memory of attending church in Sigurd?
Inouye: Yes, well again I think of Sister Miriam Dastrup, she was matriarch of the Dastrup family. She was a kind, yet stern woman who stood in front of the junior Sunday School class every Sunday and directed the proceedings. I remember the time she got mad at me for writing on the walls with my finger. I said to her, “I’m not writing on the walls, I don’t have a pencil.” And she said, “Well, you could still write on the wall with your finger.” Rather than keep arguing, I just shut up.
Stuart: That becomes sort of an existential question. Like, “What am I doing to this wall that my finger has such power over it?”
Inouye: Yeah, she was also the woman who started with us after church was over and my mother sometimes it was late, so we would play with the organ and she stayed there with us, just to make sure that we were okay and people like that were wonderful to us. I tell these people, they don’t believe me, but I tell that to them because it’s true that my testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is largely based on the experience I had at the Christmas party. Every year we had this party and all 200 of us would gather together and we were included in that party. I remember I think I was a sheep in the nativity program that year. They passed out these huge sugar cookies. It must have been flour, lard, sugar– lots of sugar– some salt with a thick coating of icing on the top.
Stuart: As all the best sugar cookies have…
Inouye: I saw that cookie. I think it was as big as my head. And I saw it and I couldn’t believe that I had gotten a cookie like everyone else in the Church. I was given this cookie and it was amazing. I bit into that and it tasted like nothing I had ever eaten. My mother was not a baker. Baking is not a big part of Japanese cuisine, but it’s a big part of Mormon culture. And it’s important for Mormons, or Latter-day Saints I should say, because making cookies and bread and rolls, again it’s kind of a raking, it’s an everyday thing that people do and it’s often the way that they express their love for other people. If you have a baby or break your legs or discover you have cancer, somebody brings you cookies and I think that culturally speaking, to be a true Latter-day Saint, you need to know how to bake, I still don’t know how to bake so…
Stuart: It was something that during the pandemic about 90% of people in the U.S. started baking.
I like that you point to the idea of the duality or the twoness of your growing up, both in a Latter-day Saint culture, but also within Buddhist culture and food playing into that. Do you remember what your mom would make for you or any special meals that she would make? Maybe creating a distinction between what your neighbors were eating and what you ate at home?
Inouye: Yeah, we grew up eating rice rather than bread. My mother would cook rice, I can still hear the sound of her hand washing the rice in the sink every morning. And I still feel the horror when I went to elementary school in Richfield and of course for school lunch they served us rice pudding. I had never seen rice in that form before, as sweet. It’s kind of gooey, creamy form. For me, it was just repulsive because that’s not how rice should be. So, the Japanese American diet is rice with vegetables, some fish, not too much cause we’re in the middle of the desert.
Stuart: Central Utah is maybe not the place to be picking up fresh fish.
Inouye: Right. We ate what we grew. We had pigs, we had chickens. But my mother was also quite experimental and she learned how to make enchiladas, she learned how to make tuna noodle casserole, which turned out to be one of my favorite things and other forms of casserole.
Stuart: And it’s something that I think about as mid-century Latter-day Saint cuisine at its finest.
Inouye: Yeah, she even did jello for a while there. Never became the fixation that it’s become for some Latter-day Saint families but we did have jello and all those other things we learned how to eat.
Stuart: I love the idea of connecting food to memory and thinking about places that we’ve enjoyed food together, often with other people. Those memories are often sharpest. Now growing up and dry farming with your father especially, you had a lot of time to think I imagine. And on page 44 of the book you write, “My problem is that I think too much.” And I’m just curious how as a young man who has a lot of time on his hands to just think and to be able to think not only about the problems that need solving, the farming that needs doing, the equipment that needs maintaining, but also to think about your place in the world. I can imagine it becomes existential at times. Do you remember thinking about your place in the world and sort of those big questions: why am I here? Where am I going? Is there a point to all this?
Inouye: Absolutely. So, we spent a lot of time weeding huge fields of beets and potatoes. ANd this is again, raking at its best cause you do the same thing all day long, over and over, every day of summer. And the mosquitoes are there, the gnats are there, it’s hot, it’s hard work. But one thing I learned is that even though my body was engaged in the process of pulling weeds, my mind was free to wander. It just took off; my mind just wandered everywhere and anywhere it could. I started asking to pass the time, questions to myself like, “If you had a pile of all the coins people had lost, how big would the pile be?” Or, “If you took all the hair that people cut off the heads of people when they had hair cuts, if you piled all that hair in one pile, how big would that pile be?” I spent hours thinking about questions like that.
Stuart: Nothing passes the time quite like a question that doesn’t really have an answer.
Inouye: Right, so I was preparing myself for the Zen koan, what is the sound of one hand clapping? Can a sharp sword cut itself? If a tree falls in a forest and no one heard it, did it make a sound? And so on…
The purpose of the koan is to show you the limitations of thought and in some ways, I think you could say that both Pure Land Buddhism and Zen and the restored gospel are anti-intellectual in a way, anti-textual. To say that is heresy I suppose because here we are in the Maxwell Institute.
Stuart: Yeah at the Maxwell Institute we love to read and think about texts, but we certainly don’t interpret them authoritatively. We look at texts from a variety of religious traditions in that way. But there is a certain sense of practice that is as important as a close reading of the text. Would you say that that’s fair?
Inouye: Absolutely. What really matters is not what you– well, it’s not like thinking doesn’t matter. Thinking does matter and there are good ways to think and bad ways to think and ways to train your mind in methods of thought and it’s very important. But, at the same time, we don’t separate ourselves, our thoughts and our actions, what we believe our values are and what we actually practice are meant to be harmonized in a way, right? So that we can’t say that we love everyone and have racial prejudice, it doesn’t make sense. In that way, Zen is the most Japanese of the Buddhist sects in that it was the most influenced by Animism.
Stuart: Will you tell us more about Animism?
Inouye: Animism is the idea, the very basic idea that the world is alive, that things have an anima– rocks, trees, even beings we consider inanimate have an anima. And the power of those things can or cannot be felt, it depends on our ability to feel them. And there are things we can do that make us more sensitive to the power that things have. So for example, my wife and I once moved to a restaurant in Takarazuka and I noticed that the waitress, every time she took a cup or a bowl from our table and set it on her tray, she didn’t just put it down, she put in on her tray and turned it just a little bit, the cup she put down, she’d turn. The bowl she put down, she’d turn it. What that little turn means is the difference between being aware of the cup and being a waitress that is unaware of the cup.
Stuart: It speaks to me about equilibrium I think in some ways, like you were discussing earlier. Would you say that that’s fair?
Inouye: Absolutely. So, what she was doing, whether naturally or not I don’t know, but she was taking the time to feel the power of the cup as she was doing her job. One of the things you notice in Japan is, this is a big generalization I know, but I rarely see people in Japan who are bored. I think about what that means and I believe that part of the reason that the Japanese are not bored on the job is because they’re actually getting a vibe out of what they’re doing, whether that’s making change at a cash register or stocking shelves or driving a taxi. They’re into what they’re doing and I think it’s their animistic roots that is allowing them to feel the power of the car. The carpenter is feeling the power of the wood, the potter is feeling the power of the clay and so there’s a respect for the concrete, material reality of life. And I think that Zen allowed itself to push the abstruse doctrines into what I call “below the line.” Below the line separates the concepts from the materiality of things and it made things like raking a garden, arranging flowers, judo, the martial art. Anything that ends with “do” is one of these ways– judo, kendo, bamboo stick fencing, kado, flower arrangement– all these “do” are ways to gain in life. So, we often think of praying, we often think of giving talks, that sort of thing is really just practice. But the Zen people think that raking your garden, mowing your lawn, could be a religious practice.
Stuart: I certainly see a Latter-day Saint resonance with this. I already talked about putting up chairs, but one of the most powerful spiritual experiences that I’ve had outside of a church building was laying down sod with my elders quorum. The process of bringing the sod over, laying it down, folding it in, cutting it so it fits, and working with other people. SO it’s not just something that is individualistic, although often processes in the sort of day to day tasks that we do, we do as individuals. But in the power of doing it with community it becomes something just as powerful.
Now, all of these existential questions, all of these big questions about who am I? What does the world look like? Sort of abstract questions, you’re a great student and you end up attending BYU and you had a mentor there who really changed your life. Could you tell us about him?
Inouye: Yeah, I happened to sign up for a class in aesthetics from Dennis Rasmussen. In fact, that semester I signed up for two of his classes. One was intro to philosophy. And so he saw a lot of me. Not only did I go to his classes, but I would bug him during office hours because he intrigued me. I went to BYU in the first place because I wanted to be around people who were both educated and also faithful. We often put those two things in opposition to each other. Maybe there was a part of me that thought, my overthinking self thought that it was maybe possible to have an intellectual life and a spiritual life at the same time. So I met Dennis Rasmussen who is obviously a faithful member of the Church who is equally dedicated to his craft as a philosopher; he went to Yale. And so, he kind of took me under his wing and it made all the difference because until I went to BYU, I was going to be a farmer. In high school, Gunnison Valley High School was not intellectually a rigorous place. In fact, I tell this joke that the only foreign language they taught at Gunnison Valley High School was English. And so, you know I did the FFA thing, Future Farmers of America; I was a state-star farmer–
Stuart: I hope that still leads your CV, after PhD…
Inouye: (Laughs) But when I got to BYU I was rooming with my brother Dwight, Roland Monson, Ed Hardy, and I was the only freshman and they were returned missionaries. But I remember Dwight coming by my desk and he saw this pot of crinkled papers and pages that were all blackened with frustrated erasers and he said, “Wow Charles, you really surprised us. We thought you were pretty much a lost case cause you liked rock and roll and you were a farmer and you come to BYU and you kind of brightened up, you take this stuff kind of seriously.” And I said to him, “Yeah, I kind of like thinking and writing papers.” And then he said something that just totally shocked me. He said, “Well, that’s too bad.” And I said, “What do you mean ‘That’s too bad’?’’ And he said, “Well, you know, it doesn’t last very long. You’re not going to be writing papers for the rest of your life. It’s just something you do cause you have to do it for your classes, but once it’s over it’s over. You go on and you have a life and become a doctor,” like he became a doctor…and I thought about it and I said to myself, “You know, I’m not sure I want to stop writing papers.”
I drove down to Gunnison and I told my dad and my mom that I wasn’t going to be a farmer. I was their last hope. Dylan and Dwight and Warren all went different ways, they weren’t going to be farmers. My father had worked so hard to build up this empire and he wanted to pass it on to somebody and I was his last hope and I had shown some promise! I was an FFA member, I did 4H, I had a dairy cow, the whole bit! Then I show up my first semester at BYU, I show up and say to him, “I think I’d rather write papers.” And my father, as disappointed as he was, said, “Well, you have to please yourself. Go ahead and do whatever you do, but whatever you do, do it well.”
Stuart: That strikes me as a really profound moment for a parent because he had spent decades by this point assuming that you had been the one that had turned over. And in that moment, you two had built such a relationship that he knew he could trust you to do what was important and that you would figure out what the thing that was going to be best for you was going to be.
Inouye: Yeah, but it was his fault too because he had gone to Stanford himself and although he was a farmer, he was an educated farmer, “Peasant Intellectual” he’d call himself. There were writings of marks on his bookshelf and knowing that schooling in rural Utah was not that great, he said, “Charles, people who read live many lives. But people who don’t live one life.”
Stuart: I think that’s really a profound statement and something for us to consider, especially as Latter-day Saints who are commanded to read out of the best books. We are here with Charles Inouye here on the Maxwell Institute Podcast discussing his book Zion, Earth, Zen, Sky. So, after you recognized that you’re not only really good at writing papers, you like to write papers and it’s something you like to do, you decide that you would like to serve a mission. And in the book you talk about how you were at BYU for three semesters before going on your mission. Can you tell us about the process of deciding to serve?
Inouye: Well, I went to BYU and I did find people that were faithful and dedicated and so I knew that it was possible for me to be a thinker and also have faith. I learned to be thankful at BYU for what I had experienced and had many good teachers, many good friends, good examples for me. And I decided to go on a mission. I spent some last days working on the farm with my friend Henry. He was a Piute Indian, a man who had worked his whole life with my father. I remember showing up for my mission in Salt Lake, pretty much as is. I was sunburned because of the snow and the sun and I still had long hair because I didn’t want to have that last hair cut with my mother who always cut my hair because I knew that one time I had sitting in the chair with my mother, cutting my hair, was the time we always had to talk about things. I just knew that I was so thankful for my mother that I couldn’t have that. So when she offered to cut my hair I told her no. I ended up in the room in Salt Lake and the first thing they did was they pulled me out of the crowd. They walked around and called me out and said, “Come on over here buddy.” They pulled me out and said, “You go get a haircut!” So, I went down a block away, there was this guy who probably made his living off of people like me who forgot to get a haircut. I sat there in that chair, stared at my long black hair on the floor and he talked about his daughter who was serving a mission. So that prepared me to go on a mission and separate myself. I gave up dancing and hunting, two things that I considered a sacrifice.
Stuart: I think that’s something with mission service, is that somebody gives up something. The question is what you’re going to give up. And this is something that you discuss on your mission because you’re called to Japan in the Sapporo mission, if I remember correctly. And you spent a lot of time in very cold climates, which is not something that I think about, I think mostly because I know Japan from action movies and from watching the Olympics, but could you tell us what it was like in the different climates in Japan, whether weather or spiritual or anything else that comes to mind.
Inouye: Yeah, I remember I got there just as the snow was melting, it was Easter Sunday. And it was raining and the rain was melting the snow. I learned from the missionaries there that the snow usually starts falling in November, it stays on the ground until Easter. And I learned soon enough that we were always cold. I made the mistake of taking a coat that was a dress coat and not a parka. Our motto was, “Many are chilled, but few are frozen.” And we were proud of being basically cold all the time. We did things like put our things in the refrigerator to keep them from freezing, if you can imagine!
Stuart: That is cold! I’m also remembering an investigator that you had. Your mission president encouraged you only to teach families with the idea that– the Church really wanted to encourage family baptisms so that they could grow together in the Church and eventually attend the temple and be sealed together. But you made a great friend who was a single man in his forties. Could you tell us about him?
Inouye: Yeah, I ended up in Muroran, which was sort of the last place you want to be on my mission because it was a hard place to find investigators, but we found this guy, who was kind of like Buddhist figure Hotei, the “Laughing Buddha”, and he was this small town, happy guy who walked down the street and everyone was saying hello. He loved hymns, he loved talking about the atonement especially. Every time we went there, he lived in a very modest house, the coal stove he had had heated up so much at some points that it had melted. It was an iron stove but it had melted so the gravity had made it collapse so it looked like an Oldenberg toilet, but it was a stove. He would make us boiled eggs on his stove and feed us these crackers that he bought (laughs) that sailors used to eat. I remember eating those crackers and eating those boiled eggs and thinking that this guy was giving us everything he had. I was transferred away, but luckily I was able to come back to Muronan for a Zone Conference, I think it was, and he got word that I was in town and I remember just as I was getting ready to go, he pulls up on his scooter and he gives me this paper sack and I get on the train and the train takes off and I look into the sack and it’s boiled eggs and these crackers.
Stuart: Now, we all recognize the story of the Widow’s mites and the idea that someone who gives all that they have, even if it is less earthly value, it has more value in an eternal sense, it shows a commitment and I love rethinking about this story of, instead of the parable of the Widow’s mite, the parable of the hard boiled egg and crackers. Now, while you’re in Japan, you are also working in the mission home with the mission president and President Spencer W. Kimball, the prophet and the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes and speaks to missionaries. What do you remember of that experience?
Inouye: It was something I will never forget. I think that one of the reasons he showed up in our mission was because his grandson, Elder Mack, was working in the mission home too. So, he stayed and we had an all-mission conference and I just remember being struck by how spiritually pure this man was. You could tell that he’d been through a lot, or that he’d done his share of raking. Maybe this is a me thing to say, but compared to the people in his entourage, his doctors and medical people, he was just so much more spiritual. I remember being relieved meeting him because I realized that to become like him would take the rest of my life. It wasn’t something that I could force, it wasn’t something that I could do for two years and arrive, I was, if anything, overdedicated as a missionary. I worked probably too hard, I probably drove my companions to the ground and I feel sorry about it because I think I actually missed the point of my mission, but that’s something we can talk about later. But Spencer Kimball, he was just like a– like, he was made of something different.
Stuart: Right, there are just those sorts of people that when you see them you say, “There is something different about them,” Like what the Zen Buddhists would say, “There is something different in their aura.” “There is something different in their countenance,” is what Latter-day Saints would say, that tells you this is someone special.
Inouye: It reminds me of Father ??? in ??? how he was so revered, it’s like the devotion meeting the pure. I became very interested in Spencer Kimball. I remember reading his essay, “The False Gods we Worship–”
Stuart: One of my favorites too.
Inouye: Yeah, the thing about that essay that just completely blew me away was just how it begins. It begins with a description of a desert and he at the time was living I think in a very Southern part of Arizona, making his living as an insurance agent or something. But the way he wrote about the sky and then he went on to talk about how we place our crust in all the lotteries, how ambition leads to all the wrong goals. I just read that essay and I could understand his mind and then when I came back from my mission I transferred to Stanford, I remember hearing the news that African Black people were no longer restricted from getting the priesthood. I remember a weight just being lifted from me because it really had bothered me, it was something that I couldn’t reconcile with my understanding of the gospel. But it took that man to ask the questions, to be in part to it and insist on an answer. To organize it must have required countless meetings, countless people to have them understand something the same way that he understood it.
Stuart: Yeah I think this is something that actually President Kimball as well, in an article that his son, Ed Kimball wrote, called “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” which you can read for free from BYU Studies and is a large part of the gospel topics essay on race and priesthood, that you can find on your gospel library app. President Kimball, it seems, really wanted to make a change much earlier than 1978, but as you said it takes patience to help others to see your vision for what’s going on and that’s something that gives me strength is even the prophet works within councils and does not do things unilaterally. That, the spirit, it takes time to work on people. Also, I appreciate your candor that when you returned home from your mission it was really difficult for you to return home. And you mentioned your friend Henry before, who is a Piute. And when you return from your mission, you had further experiences with him. Can you tell us more about Henry and what it was like to speak with him after your mission?
Inouye: Yeah, so, I come home from my mission, my mother shows up from Hawaii and we visit our relatives in California. We stopped in Palo Alto and saw my brother John who was getting his PhD in psychology at Stanford and then we drive home. And my mother makes a welcome home dinner for me. And while we’re sitting there at the table, the phone rings, my mother picks it up and I could tell from the conversation that something is not right. The call is from some Mexican workers who are living in a farm house at the north end of the farm, which is a couple miles away. And they’re making a call from the farmhouse in Gunnison and they say, “Henry has a gun. He’s drunk and we’re afraid that he’s going to shoot us.” So we left. My dad, he’s troubled of course by this, and after dinner he starts putting on his coat to go see Henry and for two years of my mission, I had forgotten about Henry totally. Hearing about his troubles, all the memories come back from all the times that he came to our home drunk in a rage, just angry. He’d swear and cuss and yell at my dad and we’d have a back and forth and my dad would say, “Why do you do this? Why do you spend all your money on alcohol?” And Henry would say, “Cause it’s my money! I’ll do anything I want with it and it’s none of your business.” So, my dad he’s leaving the house and I say, “Let me come with you.” And he says, “No, you stay. You’re tired” And I say, “No, no, no I want to go,” because I had wondered if someday Henry would not shoot my father, kill my father in his drunken rage. So we get in the truck and we drive to the north farm and we find Henry. He’s just flying on this mattress. He’s thrown up all over it. My dad was talking to him, the usual conversation: “What are you doing? Why do you have a gun?” And Henry said, “I have a gun because if I didn’t have a gun, all those white kids would steal your gas!” Because they’ll suck gas out of the tractors. And I remember talking and I walked around the room and I noticed the gas burner, his gas burner on his stove was turned on. So, I quickly shut it off, but I remember the windows were covered over with this green plastic you’d draft out. So he was a goner because this room was sealed and gas was going.
So on the way home, about halfway home I mentioned to my dad, I said, “Dad, Henry had gas going.” My father’s response to that was a surprise because he said to me, he got mad at me and he said, “Don’t think you can save him!” We got home and it was at that moment, walking from my truck into the house and realizing that for all of my efforts as a missionary, all those hours and hours going from house to house in the cold, I had totally missed the point of my mission. I had thought that my mission was my time to demonstrate my obedience, to show God that I would do what He wanted me to do. But what I misunderstood was that what God really wanted for me was to remember people like Him. And I remember I had been given this opportunity to do something and I had totally missed it.
And in the months that followed on the farm that summer, I became really, really despondent, depressed, even to the point where the spirit left me on my own. And being on my own, feeling like I had failed miserably, I began to entertain thoughts of suicide. This came from my fundamental weakness which is something that my brother Dwight had pointed out to me. He said once, “The problem with you Charles is that you avoid situations and people that you don’t like.” He was exactly right, that was a part of who I was. And I think that my tendency to separate myself from unpleasant things, unpleasant people, people I disagreed with, had allowed me to have a false notion of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus, someone who is obedient for the wrong reasons. In other words, I was obedient because it was a way for me to separate myself.
Stuart: I think this will sound familiar to a lot of Latter-day Saints who have served missions, right? You have to think, am I raking through obedience, am I finding meaning, am I achieving a sort of equilibrium to where I can be my best self? Or am I being obedient for the sake of setting myself apart and disconnecting myself from others, putting myself above others? I get up at 6:30, I do X, Y, or Z. I don’t rest the entire time we’re out. But moving it back towards being obedient because you love the Lord rather than you trying to separate yourself from the Lord’s children.
Inouye: But God had given me the chance to live on my own and as painful as it was, it had to be learned.
Stuart: Thank you for sharing that. Again, we are talking to Charles Inouye here on the Maxwell Institute Podcast, discussing his book Zion, Earth, Zen, Sky. Now, after this episode with Henry, you came to recognize that maybe your mission hadn’t changed you in the ways that maybe you had hoped that it would change you. And you end up going to Stanford with maybe some lingering doubts about your place in the Church and what you’re doing as a disciple of Christ and ultimately you decide that you need to leave the Church. Can you tell us about how you arrived at that decision?
Inouye: Yeah, well, I concluded that my problem was that I didn’t understand how the world worked very well. And that my mission hadn’t really helped me much in that regard because I was always thinking of the world as something that I should kind of stay away from, which is half true I guess? But the other half is that I needed to understand how things really worked and so, I knew that I needed to get out of Utah and expand my fear as it were. So I end up at Stanford and it’s an exciting place. I study hard; I learn all kinds of things. And one of the things that I discovered, I guess it isn’t a surprise to anyone but me, but I studied the world. A difficulty is that you become morally yourself. So, I started to think about other ways of framing my experience and I got a little bit confused I have to say. And I thought about it and I came to the thought that if there’s one thing that I can be clear about, it’s that I ought to be honest. I ought to be honest about how I feel. And if I am honest, one thing I have to say is that my membership in the Church was actually making me confused about things and that I was trying very hard to fit in but not feeling like I did fit in.
Stuart: So, when you say that the Church that it maybe wasn’t totally working for you, where you were trying to develop as a person, you didn’t see it as possible within the Church anymore?
Inouye: I guess, that’s an extreme way to put it, but it’s probably something like the truth. I decided that I would just try living without the Church. And so I decided that I would. It was a very conscious decision and I had no bad feelings about the people in my ward, I had no bad feelings about the Church in fact. I was very thankful for it. But I knew that somehow it didn’t quite fit me anymore and I made a decision to go one last time. And I went to the Stanford ward one last time, took the sacrament one last time and heard the talks one last time and when the meeting was over I tried to get out of there and as I slid over to the end of the pew, standing right there in the aisle was Dale Neilson, who was at the time a PhD student in physics. I think he later took a job at Livermore Lab and he was also the Elders Quorum president and on top of all that, my home teacher. And he was a bright guy and very insightful and he knew that something was up and he asked me if I was alright and I told him, “Yeah, I’m fine.” But I wasn’t really fine and he said to me, “Well, if there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know.” And, speaking of honesty, I knew he was totally honest when he made that statement. He was that kind of a person and I appreciated it, but I needed to get out of there.
So I walked to the back of the room, I took a turn to the right, the back door was not far away, but there was a pew along the back wall and sitting on this pew was a woman named Patricia Webb who was my home teachee, and she jumped up from her seat and stood right in front of me and blocked me and with tears in her eyes she said, “Oh, have you forgotten me? Have you forgotten about me? When are you going to come and see me?” And the truth was, I had forgotten about her. In my search for honesty, I had been so self-concerned that I had in fact forgotten about my responsibilities to other people and I didn’t have the heart to say to her right there and then, “Sorry Patty, you’re on your own now because I’m out of here.” So, I actually just sidestepped her, I just walked around her and I opened the door. I can’t believe I did that!
I got out the door and as soon as that door was closed and I was outside, I felt just this tremendous relief, as if all this weight had been removed from my shoulders and I realized that I was free for the first time in my life, I was free to live my life as I wanted. I didn’t have to think about all the commandments and all the promises and so on.
As I started walking towards the parking lot and my Ford pickup truck. I heard this voice, I started hearing this voice and it was a very tender, quiet voice and it started to talk to me about what I had just experienced. “Think about what just happened,” right? “You’re on your way right, you’re leaving the Church and what happens? You run into someone who basically is saying, ‘I love you.’ and you run into someone who is basically saying, ‘I need you to love me.’ and that is what you should be thinking about. That’s the most important thing. You have a lot of these questions and you’re confused and I understand that. But you really need to focus on loving and being loved and if you do that, I promise you that sooner or later these questions that you have will be cleared up.” And so, by the time I got to my truck, I decided that I would obey that voice again and I went back to Church that next Sunday and I’ve been going back every week since then.
Stuart: Something that is coming to my mind is something that Patrick Mason wrote about in his book, Planted where he says that there are largely two groups of people who don’t feel completely welcomed at church: those who are switched off and those who are squeezed out. And I’m wondering if this experience that you had in Stanford has helped you think about those who are having a tough time at church, how you can help them. Not only because of your experience, but knowing that it isn’t always the simplest answers that are going to help someone recognize how much they’re needed.
Inouye: Right. Well, I’ve known so many people who have had to struggle with these problems and invariably their questions are coming from an honest heart. They really are confused because they mean to do well and they think that because of the Church and their affiliation with the Church that somehow that they can’t be the best person that they could be, and I guess that I do have a deeper understanding of that question and that problem. But I think that the solution for them, if there is one, it probably is the solution that it was for me which is, it’s the long game. Something that takes time. And in our understanding of time, change is over time and sometimes the changes are so subtle that we hardly notice them. But for me, remembering the times when the Spirit really did talk to me. These are undeniable moments and experiences that if I were to deny them, I don’t think I could really be the honest person that I thought I was trying to be by walking away from it. It’s not so easy once you’ve had those experiences. We can forget them; we can ignore them. I don’t think we’re any better off if we do. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons we’re told every Sunday when we take the sacrament to remember. I even think that maybe we can remember what we were before we came here. If we really did have a pre-existence, then it’s worth wondering if we knew Jesus before and whether we made promises before that we’re trying to keep now. Yeah, I just don’t know. I can’t judge people for throwing in the towel, but I felt God’s love and I can’t deny it and I want other people to feel it. And I know if other people want to feel it, they certainly can.
Stuart: Thank you for that. Now something that did not change when you went to Stanford is that you still came back every summer and worked on the farm in Gunnison with your dad. What did you learn in those summers about family or about your father? Did it reinforce something that you already knew?
Inouye: I always thought that I was going to be a farmer and my father was counting on me taking over the business and I remember my loyalty I guess is the word towards my father. I was very loyal to him, partly because as I write in the book, because there was a time when I was a little boy and I saved his foot from being cut off by a machine. But, I was very loyal to my father and every summer, of course I needed the money too, but I did make the effort to go back and work on the farm and put my family, my larger extended family first and my parents and my ancestors and so on. To be honest with you, I spent my entire life wondering if shouldn’t I have been a farmer rather than a professor? Even today, I spend a lot of time outside tinkering around in my garden and relearning the lessons that my father taught me. They are lessons that are important. Just learning the importance of things, put simply. He was a man of things. I respected him for that.
Stuart: Yeah, that’s something that as you go on and you’re going back to your Stanford ward, you get your first tenure track job and one of the things that you’re doing in church is you’re serving as a home teacher. And you make this really beautiful connection I think between loyalty to family and caring about family, but also in creating these chosen families, what scholars call “kin relationships,” where you are choosing who you decide to care for and who you’re willing to open yourself up to. Could you tell us what you learned as a home teacher as you first moved to Boston that stuck with you?
Inouye: Right, well you could criticize home teaching for being a kind of artificial construct. What is more false than an assigned friendship? You say, “Okay, now you’re friends with this person,” when in fact you don’t know anything about them.
Stuart: And I think this is something that at least for me, if it’s an assigned friendship, I’m gonna have to work really hard so people don’t feel like it’s an assigned friendship because people can tell if you really care and if and when you do.
Inouye: Yeah, exactly. And so, i’ve learned over the years that if you take the idea of ministering seriously, then you become very close to the very center of the truth of reality which is that we’re here to help other people and the great thing about the organization of the Church is that it gives you these opportunities to haul somebody’s bicycle and all the stuff in his house. It gives you opportunities to bless people who are sick. It gives you opportunities to comfort people when they didn’t get into college and on and on and on and all that stuff comes to you because of these assignments, these assigned friendships. And they’re great! They’re wonderful! I make a point that in the book, one of the things that happened to me was that one of my families unfortunately experienced the death of the father. Cary Duke went home after church one afternoon and he was playing with his children on the carpet and he had a heart attack and died. A couple weeks after the funeral, he actually visited me and made me promise him that I would take care of his family. I remember he asked me three times and the first time I said yes, the second time I said yes. He stayed there in my office and he made me promise him three times that I would take care of his family. I realized only the third time that if I said yes to him, and I didn’t do what I promised him, then it would be very bad for me. It would become one of my greatest failures as a person if I didn’t do what I promised him. So I’ve been trying very hard to live up to that promise and I have to say that all the experiences over the years that I’ve had with the Duke family have taught me as much about the gospel as anything really. It’s just been a profoundly rewarding and moving experience.
Stuart: Yeah, you write in this chapter that being a home teacher is raking in its very essence. It’s this thing that you can’t do all at once. You can’t do all your home teaching for the year by showing up twelve times on one Sunday, right? You are continuously putting in work to be able to help other people and to develop relationships. So I love that you started to see that and that you have this experience that teaches you how seriously we need to take our assignments to bless the lives of others.
Inouye: Yeah, I thought about why he would come to me of all people because I wasn’t his best friend and I certainly wasn’t the most righteous person in Boston. He could’ve come to anybody. But he came to me. And the only reason I can think of is that he came to me because I had been assigned to be his home teacher and when I think about it that way, I realize just how important and significant these callings are. We sometimes don’t take them very seriously but they are a big deal. They are a big deal.
Stuart: This is what people miss with the primary answers, right? It’s not the actual thing itself that’s going to change people, it’s the fact that you’re willing to rake, you’re willing to read your scriptures and say your prayers and act on the impressions that you get that lead you to more and more opportunities to serve. It’s not just that the one time thing or even just a habit that isn’t infused with meaning is going to do anything. It’s that living in these habits will lead you to the types of opportunities to be able to serve and what greater trust can you have than being asked to care for someone?
Inouye: Exactly. It’s like the ultimate…trust is the best word really, trust. You know, we’re God’s hands. We’re His arms, we’re His legs, we’re the way that His will gets expressed and His plan gets fulfilled. It’s a very humble thing, nothing big and fancy. It’s just showing up and mowing the law or fixing the refrigerator or whatever it takes.
Stuart: So, even as you’re having these great experiences with home teaching, things aren’t always going well in your personal life and you and your wife end up divorcing. And after your divorce you met Rae Okamoto, could you tell us about how you met Rae and how she became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Inouye: Well yeah. We met at a conference of the Association for Asian Studies and I was actually the host of that conference at Tufts. And I remember meeting her at the reception after. Meeting her, getting a Sprite or whatever and immediately something kind of clicked in my head. We had just finished building the Boston temple and were asked to send invitations to people so I sent one to the President of the University, I sent one to some other people and I sent one to Rae. And like the President of Tufts, she actually shows up. She picks up a Book of Mormon at the table afterwards; she talks to the missionaries. The missionaries arrange to see her and she starts taking the lessons. And she does the reading assignments, maybe it’s because she’s a professor, I don’t know. But she does the reading and she takes notes and she asks them questions and she asked me to be there with her when she does this. And I couldn’t help but think, she’s really the investigator everyone dreams about. And she has this experience where they teach her how to pray and she’s never done it before so she tries to do this and she has this experience where she feels this warm, glowing sensation and she has never had that happen before and so she tells the missionaries about it and they point to the scriptures and they explain to her that it’s the spirit talking to her and as I did on my mission, I had the privilege of seeing someone respond to the spirit and change. Her life just changed in pretty drastic ways. We began seeing each other, but the problem was I was still trying to get divorced. It took me seven years to finally get divorced. But I learned a big lesson. In my first marriage, there are three ways to talk about it. Story #1 was it was all her fault, which is a very interesting story. The second one was it was all my fault, which is again very interesting. Then there’s the third one which is, we both kind of came up short, which is not a very interesting story but it’s probably close to the truth. But I learned stuff! I went through that and I had a heck of a stretch there for a while. I remember President Bowen, my stake president, had me give a talk about my divorce in a stake priesthood meeting. So in front of everybody. I had to say, “Well, I remember when David O. McKay said, ‘No success can compensate for failure in the home.’ Well, I’ve just had that failure and I am a total failure and I confessed my sins in front of everyone and tried to move on. And it was good for me to do that, very uncomfortable of course. But I’ve since tried, in the way of correction, to make sure that I keep the temple, make our relationship centered on the temple and make sure we do our prayers and those kinds of things. They’re small things, but the ability to agree with someone to do those things is a tremendous miracle and a blessing. I love Rae, but I really love her the most when she reminds me that we need to say our prayers or we need to do family home evening or whatever. It’s such a great blessing to be on the same page with somebody. I don’t know how people do it. I could probably have a Japanese-American marriage, and I could probably, and I am trying to have, a Latter-day Saint marriage, but I don’t know what if I would do if someone made me have an American marriage. I just don’t know how I would make any decisions that need to be made! Because there’s no playbook. There’s no common structure, there’s no common ground. There’s no easy way to make those 10,000 decisions a day. But with the nurturing of the Church that we have and the lessons we learn about how to be parents and fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, those things help so much.
Stuart: You have a memory of the day that Rae was baptized? A feeling or a mental image that you have when you think about that day?
Inouye: I was there, cause I actually baptized her. Strangely enough, one of the memories I have of that day is not of Rae, but of one of the members who fellowshipped her and came to the baptism. Anna Donovan was her name and I remember being struck by how lustrous her countenance was. She is now a member of the Arlington ward with us and as I write about in my book, one of the tremendous of truths that came to us was when she and Amy Duke, the wife of Cary Duke, who was the guy who had the heart attack, saw that Rae was struggling at work and they brought dinner to us. The fact that they would do that was amazing to me because it made me remember the time when I was a kid in Sigurd and those ladies, the Dastrups and the Jorgensens and those ladies made cookies for everybody and gave me a cookie like they had made everyone else a cookie. It was the same feeling, exactly the same feeling. That feeling of nurturing and caring was alive in these women who had been educated at Yale and Harvard, just like it was alive in these women who had spent their lives raising 12 children in Sigurd, Utah. It was truly an astonishing moment.
Stuart: Thank you for sharing that wonderful memory. Now, you and Rae ultimately decide to adopt later on. But it wasn’t a very easy process for deciding to do it. Could you talk to us about how you arrived at that decision and the difficulties that came with it?
Inouye: Right. So, we were both well along in age when we got married and although we tried to have a baby, we weren’t successful. We tried this and that and finally it occurred to us that the only way we probably were going to have a child would be to adopt one and so we contacted the LDS family services people and we made the first attempt to fill out the forms and whatever. And it was a lot more work than I thought it was going to be and it took a lot longer. So here we are a year later and we still haven’t finished the forms and the last thing we needed to do is we needed to write a letter to the birth mother. The idea is that you write a letter to the mother to explain to her what life will be like for her baby if she were to choose you to be the parents. And this was a tough exercise for me for a number of reasons, number one being it’s not a very Japanese thing to talk about your virtues. And it’s also, as a writer, not easy for me to write to somebody that I don’t know right. I had no way of seeing who I was writing to. It was hard for me to imagine that person. So, the months drag on and I still haven’t written the letter and I finally do produce something and when we send it off, the woman, Sally Lee in Hawaii, who knows someone who is going to have a baby and is trying to get us connected to that person, basically tells us that it’s okay but it’s kind of short.
Stuart: Sorry just to be clear, the letter was short?
Inouye: The letter was short, yeah. Very perfunctory. I think I started it with, “I’m not even sure I can raise another child.” Which is not a great way to start a letter to the birth mother!
Stuart: Lead with your strengths, Charles! Lead with the strengths!
Inouye: So here I am, I’m at the temple, working at the temple, and I’ve been given the assignment to work the desk and I’m disappointed because I’d much rather be in an endowment room, practicing the endowment. But here I am waiting for somebody to come through the door and there’s a Book of Mormon on the shelf near the desk that I open up to 2 Nephi 2, I think. And I read this passage about acting and not being acted upon and something about this just strikes my heart. It just comes with such force and I realize that if you’re going to try to get that baby, if you really want to have another child, you have to act on your faith! And so the next day, I didn’t go to work, I stayed home and I wrote another letter to the birth mother. And this time, I could kind of see her in my head. And I wrote with urgency and strength. It was already the afternoon by the time I finished I was dripping with sweat. And rather than even letting Rae take a look at it. I just attached it to an email and sent it off. And then a couple days later, I think maybe a week later, I had this dream and I saw a baby in a baby seat and I came downstairs and I said to Rae, “You know, Rae, I think we’re gonna get a baby. I think we’re gonna get that baby.” We have our prayer, our usual prayer, and we say the usual things, “Help us to adopt a child,” and then minutes later the phone rings and its the family services lady in New Jersey who is gonna tell Rae that in fact somebody in Hawaii has just decided that she’s gonna give us her baby.” And we go to Hawaii and we get this baby and this baby now is our Kan. We named him Kan, it comes from the word Kandai which means generous. So, Kan is reminding us every day of God’s generosity to us and the blessings that He has poured out on us because we happened to have enough faith on a certain day to rewrite that letter because we talked to the birth mother about this and she had already made up her mind to send her baby elsewhere, but she changed her mind. And the thing that changed her mind was in fact the second letter that I wrote. So I thought, there you have a good example of being in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing and getting the inspiration to do what is necessary and if you act on those impulses, sometimes great things happen.
Stuart: I wanted to close with something that you said in your book when you’re talking about serving for the second time as a member of a bishopric and you say that when you served in this bishopric, you accepted the calling to “bring God’s love to reach His children in need.” And I love that you phrased it that way. Could you describe an experience that you had while serving others that you knew that you had helped someone to recognize God’s love?
Inouye: There were many experiences I had. One was setting apart a woman for a calling and as we were climbing up the stairwells together, a voice came to me, “Make sure Charles, that this sister understands that she can have any blessing she wants from me.” And I set her apart and I gave her a blessing and I told her, “God wants you to know that He will give you whatever you ask.” And she broke down in tears and it turns out it was a very crucial moment for her, but it did give her renewed faith and she did act on her faith and things worked out for her.
Stuart: To close us out, I’d just love for you to reflect for a little while as you told us about your life, what does it mean to you now to rake? And why is raking such an important part of your life as a Latter-day Saint?
Inouye: Our faith has a very practical expression and that’s what I’m calling raking. It’s the things you do. It’s the baking of the cookies. It’s showing up for family home evening. It’s moving somebody’s piano when they need it moved. Those things are the kind of ways that we express our love of God and of people. When I put a garage onto my house recently, I went through the trouble of putting a zen meditation part on top of it on the roof so you can imagine it has a rock, there’s some pictures of it on the book actually, a rock and a bonsai tree and then 5 tons of sand. We’ve designed it and made it a place where you can just rake the gravel, enjoy the process of moving over the sound with the rake in your hand and feeling the tug of that rake and just concentrating on the here and now. The point of a zen garden is that it’s a high maintenance thing. You’re not really getting anywhere, but tidying something that gets messed up. And that’s the point! We’re not trying to get anywhere other than just to the point of zero where we maintain an equilibrium. So the idea is just to be present in the moment and try to be all there. It’s a kind of meditative, prayerful acknowledgement of how wonderful it is to be able to experience the world that God created, this world of things: the sunlight, the air, the sound of your boy practicing the piano behind you and so on. So it’s a way to be thankful really, to understand the value of things. If you’re going to Japan, you very rarely see bored people. And I wondered about this. And I think the secret to not being bored is to actually appreciate the things that you’re using at the time. So, if you think about it, most of the time when we use our computer or we use our microphone or our pen, or the paper, we don’t think about those things. We just use them, right? That’s probably how we think about most people, right? We just use them. We don’t think about them. But if you take just a second to acknowledge them, to feel about…to really pay attention to how they feel, whether that’s the smoothness of your laptop computer or the touch of your wife’s hand or whatever. If you just take a moment to be thankful and to feel and take in the power that everything has, it makes a world of difference. Our Heavenly Father has created for us this world that we’re not doing a very good job of taking care of. It’s burning down as we speak. That’s bad for us! That shows us how little we think about what we’re doing, how unthankful we are for what He’s given us. And I think yeah just the ability to know that He loves us, to feel His love, to know that He created this world and that our involvement in taking care of that world, raking, keeping it in order, it’s like the commandment to do your home teaching. It’s a small thing, but we’re being entrusted with this godly mission and it’s this raking, the process of raking that makes the world keep going.
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“Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)