I Love Trees: Chiasmus in Gordon B. Hinckley’s Description of the Conference Center Pulpit

gordon-b-hinckley_photo
Gordon B. Hinckley (history.lds.org)

Gordon B. Hinckley served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from March 1995 until his death in January 2008. Prior to serving as President of the Church, he served as a counselor in the First Presidency beginning in December 1982 and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles beginning in October 1961. The 13 years he served as President of the Church were known for expansion, growth, and building, including his initiative to construct many small temples throughout the world by the end of 2000.

Also during his presidency, the Church constructed a new meeting hall to hold its twice-yearly General Conferences. The completed building, known as the Conference Center, first hosted a General Conference in April 2000 and was dedicated at the following General Conference in October 2000.

In his introductory address in April 2000, President Hinckley reviewed the construction of the Conference Center, describing its exterior and interior and the purpose for which it was built. Chiasmus is found throughout this address. This article, however, will focus on two chiasms near the end of his address that describe the origin of the Conference Center’s pulpit.


Chiasm #1:

A: I love trees.
B: When I was a boy we lived on a farm in the summer, a fruit farm. Every year at this season we planted trees.
B: I think I have never missed a spring since I was married, except for two or three years when we were absent from the city, that I have not planted trees, at least one or two—fruit trees, shade trees, ornamental trees, and spruce, fir, and pine among the conifers.
A: I love trees.

A=A: “I love trees” equates with “I love trees” to emphasize, through repetition, his admiration of trees.

B=B: “[P]lanted trees” equates with “planted trees” to describe his familiarity with and family tradition of planting trees.

This brief chiasm celebrates President Hinckley’s lifelong love of trees. Applying the metaphor established below in Chiasm #2, “trees” also refer to his lifelong love of hearing the teachings of modern prophets at General Conference, which are declared from a pulpit of wood.


Chiasm #2:

A: Well, some 36 years ago I planted a black walnut.
B: It was in a crowded area where it grew straight and tall to get the sunlight.
C: A year ago, for some reason it died. But walnut is a precious furniture wood.
D: I called Brother Ben Banks of the Seventy, who, before giving his full time to the Church, was in the business of hardwood lumber.
D: He brought his two sons, one a bishop and the other recently released as a bishop and who now run the business, to look at the tree.
C: From all they could tell it was solid, good, and beautiful wood. One of them suggested that it would make a pulpit for this hall. The idea excited me.
B: The tree was cut down and then cut into two heavy logs. Then followed the long process of drying, first naturally and then kiln drying. The logs were cut into boards at a sawmill in Salem, Utah. The boards were then taken to Fetzer’s woodworking plant, where expert craftsmen designed and built this magnificent pulpit with that wood. The end product is beautiful. I wish all of you could examine it closely. It represents superb workmanship,
A: and here I am speaking to you from the tree I grew in my backyard, where my children played and also grew.

gbhpodium_mormonnewsroom_dot_org
mormonnewsroom.org

A=A: “I planted a black walnut” corresponds with “I am speaking to you from the tree I grew in my backyard.” President Hinckley, as a prophet speaking from that tree, establishes the metaphor of “tree = pulpit = teachings of modern prophets.” With this understanding, the phrase “where my children played and also grew” recalls the sublime promise in Isaiah 54:13: “And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.” By heeding the teachings of modern prophets, this promised peace can be realized in our families from generation to generation, even as the world swirls with turmoil around us.

B=B: “[S]traight and tall” is complemented by “magnificent … beautiful … superb workmanship.” Because the tree was planted in “a crowded area,” it “grew straight and tall,” reaching to “get the sunlight.” Applying the metaphor of “tree = pulpit = teachings of modern prophets,” the opposition the Church and its members have faced has necessitated a reliance on the teachings of modern prophets spoken from the wooden pulpit, which are “magnificent,” “beautiful,” and “superb.” As a result, and by extension of the metaphor, these teachings have caused the Church and its members to grow “straight and tall” and to “increase in beauty” (D&C 82:14).

C=C: “[P]recious furniture wood” compares with “[S]olid, good, and beautiful wood.” Just as black walnut is a “precious” wood, the teachings of modern prophets are “solid, good, and beautiful” to those who recognize them as the word of God.

D=D: “Brother Ben Banks” corresponds with “his two sons.” To deflect any criticism that his black walnut tree was used to craft the pulpit for the Conference Center out of personal vanity, President Hinckley is very clear to give credit to those who made the original suggestion. This central focus emphasizes President Hinckley’s characteristic modesty and humility concerning his high calling, which is characteristic of all true prophets.


Conclusion:

gordon-b-hinckley_at_pulpit
lds.net

Gordon B. Hinckley’s use of chiasmus in describing the Conference Center pulpit helps the reader identify and understand his metaphor of “tree = pulpit = teachings of modern prophets.” Significantly, Alma the Younger uses the same metaphor to illustrate the need to exercise faith in the teachings of the prophets, which, if we do, will eventually grow within us to become “a tree springing up unto everlasting life” (Alma 32:41). Perhaps, in an effort to make his metaphor more clear, President Hinckley concluded his address by thanking those who had a hand in building the pulpit, “for making it possible to have a small touch of mine in this great hall where the voices of prophets will go out to all the world in testimony of the Redeemer of mankind” (emphasis added).

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