We Must Walk Where He Walked: Jeffrey R. Holland’s Facebook Chiasm

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Jeffrey R. Holland (facebook.com)

Jeffrey R. Holland has been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since June 1994. Prior to this he served in the First Quorum of the Seventy beginning in April 1989.

Professionally, Elder Holland was a religious educator in the Church Educational System. After serving as dean of the College of Religious Education at Brigham Young University and Church commissioner of education, he served as President of Brigham Young University from 1980-89.

Elder Holland is known for his engaging talks, skillful teaching, and tender heart.

Like the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Holland has had a Facebook account since 2013 “to provide people a safe and official way to follow the ministry of the Brethren.” Elder Holland occasionally posts experiences and photographs from his world-wide ministry, his thoughts on specific issues, and his witness of Jesus Christ.

On February 5, 2017, Elder Holland posted his concern for those “in the midst of a struggle.” Chiasmus in his post emphasizes how challenges are an inescapable part of mortality and that we need to remain strong as disciples of Christ, “come what may.”

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Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant, Illustrated hardbound edition [2006], 262.
Elder Holland is no stranger to chiasmus. In his classic book, Christ and the New Covenant [1997], he diagrams the first day of the Lord’s visit to the Nephites (3 Nephi 11-18) to show its chiastic pattern. Accompanying the diagram, Elder Holland writes: “In reviewing that day, it is impressive to note the cohesive, chiasmic nature of the messages that were delivered. Note the reinforcement and revealed unity of the manner in which this day’s experience began and the way it concluded” (Illustrated hardbound edition [2006], 261).

This article presents a diagram and detailed analysis of Elder Holland’s Facebook chiasm, which features complementary and equivalent pairs. For an in-depth explanation of our methodology read our article, “Recognizing Parallelisms and Chiasmus in the Scriptures,” under the Methodology tab.


Diagram and Analysis:

A: I often think of those of you who are in the midst of a struggle. As much as we want life to be easy and comfortable, as much as I wish it could be that way for you, it simply cannot be.
B: We are all, in one way or another, at one point in our lives, going to deal with a moral conundrum or a difficult issue without an easy answer. At that point, we need to ask ourselves, “How much does the gospel of Jesus Christ really mean to me?” How will you act when that call comes? Will you defend Christ and His gospel, come what may?
C: John Taylor wrote that he once heard Joseph Smith say to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. … God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”
C: The life of Christ was like that. It is not coincidental that the word that is used for Christ’s experience in Gethsemane is that He was in “agony.” If we say we’re disciples of Christ, we will on occasion be in agony. We must walk where He walked.
B: When those moments come—contemporary issues, historical complexities, personal problems at home, challenges in a mission or a marriage, wherever it is—I pray and ask and bless you to the end that you will be strong.
A: May you follow Christ with every ounce of your being, in good times and in bad.

jeffrey-r-holland_fbchiasm
(facebook.com)

A=A: “As much as we want life to be easy and comfortable, as much as I wish it could be that way for you, it simply cannot be” equals “good times and in bad.” Life inescapably consists of both good and bad experiences. Knowing this helps us consistently “follow Christ with every ounce of our being,” whether we are “in the midst of struggle” or enjoying a period of ease and comfort.

B=B: “We are all, in one way or another, at one point in our lives, going to deal with a moral conundrum or a difficult issue without an easy answer” equals “When those moments come—contemporary issues, historical complexities, personal problems at home, challenges in a mission or a marriage” and “Will you defend Christ and His gospel, come what may?” equals “I pray and ask and bless you to the end that you will be strong.” The moral conundrums or difficult issues we encounter in life include (but are not limited to) “contemporary issues, historical complexities, personal problems at home, [and] challenges in a mission or a marriage.” In these moments we have the choice as to how we will respond. The “strong” response is to “defend Christ and His gospel, come what may.” The prayers and support of others help us to endure through and benefit from these challenges.

C=C: “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” equals “disciples of Christ” and “God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings” equals “we will on occasion be in agony” and “[I]f you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God” complements “We must walk where He walked.” While Joseph Smith’s counsel (recorded by John Taylor) was directed to the members of the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” it applies to all “disciples of Christ.” The “agony” that we experience from “all kinds of trials” is by divine design. It is the process of God feeling after us, taking hold of us, and wrenching our “very heart strings.” It is the same process that Jesus Christ, our Great Exemplar, endured through His life. This process is required of us if we are to become “fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”


Conclusion:

Elder Holland’s Facebook post helps us understand the divine purpose to the challenges of our lives. With the understanding that trials refine and prepare us for life in the presence of God, we are motivated to stay true to the Gospel. Additionally, with the knowledge that we are walking where Jesus walked — that He experienced that same types of trials we experience — the scriptures take on new meaning and added value as guidebooks for enduring as Jesus endured. Chiasmus in this post defines terms and provides a means for better understanding and applying Elder Holland’s encouraging message.

To Be Honest, To Be Kind: Chiasmus in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Christmas Sermon”

R L Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson

Like chiasmus in the ancient world, chiasmus in the modern world is not limited to the sacred writings of prophets. Just as chiasmus was used by Greek and Roman writers, it appears in the writings of Shakespeare, Milton, Hemingway, and others. Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Christmas Sermon” features several chiasms.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was a Scottish poet, novelist, essayist, and travel writer. His enduring fame is due primarily to his books Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the winter of 1887 he wrote “A Christmas Sermon” at Lake Sarnac, New York “while he convalesced from a lung ailment.” The essay was published in the December 1888 issue of Scribner’s Magazine, an American literary journal.

“A Christmas Sermon” is as much a funeral sermon (end of life) as it is a Christmas sermon (end of year). It reflects on man’s misdirected ambition, self-criticism, and judgement of others. In an effort to redirect man’s ambition, it encourages a focus on life’s true endeavor—that of being honest, kind, and patient—and of adopting a modest and reasonable view of one’s self.

As a point of interest, Robert Louis Stevenson has been quoted many times in LDS General Conference talks, especially in recent years (see LDS Scripture Citation Index). In particular, a passage from “A Christmas Sermon” was referenced by Marion D. Hanks in October 1973.

This article presents diagrams and detailed analyses of four chiasms from “A Christmas Sermon,” which feature equivalent, contrasting, and complementary pairs. For an in-depth explanation of our methodology read our article, “Recognizing Parallelisms and Chiasmus in the Scriptures,” under the Methodology tab.

[Note: Thanks to Professor Richard Dury at RLS Website for his assistance in locating “A Christmas Sermon” in Scribner’s Magazine.]


Diagram and Analysis:

#1: This chiasm encourages us to develop a modest and reasonable attitude about our moral progress.

A: The idealism of serious people in this age of ours is of a noble character. It never seems to them that they have served enough; they have a fine impatience of their virtues.
B: It were perhaps more modest to be singly thankful that we are no worse.
C: It is not only our enemies, those desperate characters
C: —it is we ourselves who know not what we do;—
B: thence springs the glimmering hope that perhaps we do better than we think: that to scramble through this random business with hands reasonably clean, to have played the part of a man or woman with some reasonable fulness, to have often resisted the diabolic, and at the end to be still resisting it, is for the poor human soldier to have done right well.
A: To ask to see some fruit of our endeavour is but a transcendental way of serving for reward; and what we take to be contempt of self is only greed of hire.

A=A: “It never seems to them that they have served enough” complements “To ask to see some fruit of our endeavour is but a transcendental way of serving for reward.” A result of the “idealism of serious people in this age of ours” is too much focus on the “fruit of our endeavor” and a “contempt of self” from not having “served enough.” Stevenson equates these with “serving for reward” and the “greed of hire.”

B=B: “It were perhaps more modest to be singly thankful that we are no worse” complements “thence springs the glimmering hope that perhaps we do better than we think.” Stevenson suggests a “more modest” or “reasonable” approach, wherein if we are “thankful that we are no worse” we will develop the “glimmering hope that perhaps we do better than we think.”

C=C: “It is not only our enemies” equals “it is we ourselves.” The central focus of this chiasm suggests that we are oftentimes our own worst enemies. Recognizing this can lead us to the “glimmering hope” described above..


#2: This chiasm invites us to redirect our ambition away from the grand and toward life’s true endeavor, that of being kind, honest, and patient.

A: It may be argued again that dissatisfaction with our life’s endeavour springs in some degree from dulness.
B: We require higher tasks, because we do not recognise the height of those we have.
C: Trying to be kind and honest
D: seems an affair too simple and too inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mould;
E: we had rather set ourselves to something bold, arduous, and conclusive;
E: we had rather found a schism or suppress a heresy, cut off a hand or mortify an appetite.
D: But the task before us, which is to co–endure with our existence, is rather one of microscopic fineness, and the heroism required is that of patience. There is no cutting of the Gordian knots of life; each must be smilingly unravelled.
C: To be honest, to be kind—to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to keep a few friends but these without capitulation—above all, on the same grim condition, to keep friends with himself—
B: here is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy.
A: He has an ambitious soul who would ask more;

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Scribner’s Magazine (December 1888), 764 (archive.org)

A=A: “[D]issatisfaction with our life’s endeavour springs in some degree from dulness” contrasts with “He has an ambitious soul who would ask more.” Man’s “dissatisfaction with our life’s endeavor” is the result of misdirected ambition.

B=B: “We require higher tasks, because we do not recognise the height of those we have” complements “here is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy.” Repeating the same idea as in A=A, man’s requirement for “higher tasks” is the result of misdirected ambition, of not recognizing “the height of those we have.”

C=C: “Trying to be kind and honest” equals “To be honest, to be kind.” Here Stevenson reveals life’s true endeavor, that of being “kind and honest.” In the second half, he defines this term: “to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to keep a few friends but these without capitulation—above all, on the same grim condition, to keep friends with himself.”

D=D: “[S]eems an affair too simple and too inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mould” contrasts with “But the task before us … is rather one of microscopic fineness, and the heroism required is that of patience.” Stevenson provides the necessary redirection to help us understand that, although seemingly “too simple and too inconsequential,” the heroic “task before us” is micro, not macro. “Patience” and self-control are the required attributes that must be developed.

E=E: “[W]e had rather set ourselves to something bold, arduous, and conclusive” equals “we had rather found a schism or suppress a heresy, cut off a hand or mortify an appetite.” The central focus of this chiasm is man’s ambitious vanity that overlooks the true heroic quest in life, that of being “kind and honest.” However, as suggested above, man’s ambition can and must be redirected and turned into a positive force.


#3: This chiasm acknowledges that we will never fully succeed at being kind, honest, and patient.

A: he has a hopeful spirit who should look in such an enterprise to be successful.
B: There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert:
C: whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed;
C: failure is the fate allotted. It is so in every art and study; it is so above all in the continent art of living well.
B: Here is a pleasant thought for the year’s end or for the end of life: Only self–deception will be satisfied,
A: and there need be no despair for the despairer.

A=A: “[H]e has a hopeful spirit who should look in such an enterprise to be successful” contrasts with “there need be no despair for the despairer.” Paradoxically, life’s endeavor requires neither a hopeful nor a despairing spirit.

B=B: “There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert” complements “Only self–deception will be satisfied.” Despite “blindness” and “self-deception,” there is no way around this “one element in human destiny,” the need to become kind and honest.

C=C: “[W]e are not intended to succeed” equals “failure is the fate allotted.” The central focus of this chiasm reveals that we are “not intended to succeed” in being kind and honest. Recognizing and accepting this will help us avoid the disappointments of having a hopeful spirit and the limitations of a becoming a despairer. Only a reasonable approach will do.


#4: This chiasm celebrates the joyous effect of Christmas and discusses the eternal importance of developing a childlike character of gentleness and cheerfulness.

A: But Christmas is not only the mile–mark of another year, moving us to thoughts of self–examination: it is a season, from all its associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of joy.
B: A man dissatisfied with his endeavours is a man tempted to sadness. And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face.
C: Noble disappointment, noble self–denial are not to be admired, not even to be pardoned, if they bring bitterness.
D: It is one thing to enter the kingdom of heaven maim; another to maim yourself and stay without.
D: And the kingdom of heaven is of the childlike, of those who are easy to please, who love and who give pleasure.
C: Mighty men of their hands, the smiters and the builders and the judges, have lived long and done sternly and yet preserved this lovely character; and among our carpet interests and twopenny concerns, the shame were indelible if we should lose it.
B: Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect duties. And it is the trouble with moral men that they have neither one nor other.
A: It was the moral man, the Pharisee, whom Christ could not away with. If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong. I do not say “give them up,” for they may be all you have; but conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.

A=A: “Christmas … is a season … suggesting thoughts of joy” complements “If your morals make you dreary … conceal them like a vice, lest they should spoil the lives of better and simpler people.” Christmas is a season of “self-examination” and “joy,” not of “dreary” judgemental attitudes and behavior. To avoid spoiling the lives and holidays of “better and simpler people,” we should “conceal” our downer mindsets “like a vice.”

B=B: “[I]t is well he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face” equates “Gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality; they are the perfect duties.” If the dreariness of winter tempts us “to sadness,” Christmas helps us to put on a “smiling face.” The “gentleness and cheerfulness” that Christmas invites are the “perfect duties” and supercedes the gloom of criticism.

C=C: “Noble disappointment, noble self–denial are not to be admired, not even to be pardoned, if they bring bitterness” contrasts with “Mighty men of their hands, the smiters and the builders and the judges, have lived long and done sternly and yet preserved this lovely character.” It is possible to be “mighty” and accomplished and yet preserve “this lovely character” of gentleness and cheerfulness. A moral philosophy that brings “bitterness” should not be “admired” nor “pardoned.”

D=D: “It is one thing to enter the kingdom of heaven maim; another to maim yourself and stay without” contrasts “the kingdom of heaven is of the childlike, of those who are easy to please, who love and who give pleasure.” The central focus of this chiasm is the childlike attributes that are necessary for us to develop in order to “enter the kingdom of heaven.” These include being “easy to please” and loving to “give pleasure.” In contrast, if we adopt dreary and critical attitudes we will “maim” ourselves and prevent our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.


Conclusion:

Robert Louis Stevenson uses chiasmus in “A Christmas Sermon” to divide his text into mini-sermons, drawing our attention to specific passages and inviting us to ponder his words. As we do so, we will more likely reflect upon our own lives and apply his message to a greater or lesser extent. Perhaps we will begin to see ourselves in a more modest light. Perhaps we will begin to redirect our ambitions to being more kind, honest, and patient. Perhaps we will learn to be less discouraged at our apparent lack of progress in life’s true endeavor. Perhaps we will begin developing greater gentleness and cheerfulness, especially at Christmas time. “A Christmas Sermon” serves as a case study in the function of chiasmus to guide a reader’s attention and thoughts.