Book, Paper and Pen


Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

November 25, 2008
Dan McCormick
Author, Speaker

Brothers and Sisters ALOHA!

I hope you caught the part in the introduction from my daughter about me finishing college in 2 weeks; most call this dropping out¦ for me I call it finishing. I left with a PHD. I was poor, hungry and driven. However, I strongly encourage you to finish what you started here and let education be a life-long pursuit.

 Brothers and Sisters I'm always inspired by your surrounding beauty, the temple, your campus, great leaders and fine professors. And I'm very appreciative of sharing some part of my own journey through life with you. Not only do I get a thrill, but I really believe my wife gets a thrill seeing 2 of our daughters attend here. Deep down she still wishes she could have attended here but her father saw it better to attend BYU-Utah.

 On July 16, 1945 on an army testing site in the desert near Alamadero, New Mexico the first atomic bomb was tested. No one there that day was sure what would happen. In fact, there was a pool among scientist surmising just how big the explosion might be. There was an outside chance said one scientist that the bomb would set off a chain reaction that would destroy the entire universe.

 While the universe was spared the explosion was enormous. Its energy was equivalent to 40 million pound of dynamite, equal to all the energy produced in the United States every 30 seconds. That's every car, light bulb, dishwasher, jet airplane, diesel train and factory, EVERYTHING combined. However this bomb's energy was released in a few millionths of a second and in a volume only a few inches wide.

 The resulting explosion was terrible. The 100-foot tower on which the bomb was mounted was completely vaporized. The ball of air from the explosion was 35,000 ft. higher than Mt. Everest. For hundreds of square yards around the desert sand turned to glass. Yet the atom that started the explosion was so small that a million of them lined up end-to-end would roughly be the width of a human hair. How could something that small create so much power?

 The atom is the perfect metaphor of an idea. I believe ideas can change the world, and you only need one. Like the atom, the infinitesimally small idea can start a chain reaction that can change the world. Alma spoke of an experiment with faith that-beginning not with an atom but with a particle- "Even if ye can no more than to desire to believe let this desire work in you. Even until you believe in a manner that can give place for a portion of my words." (Alma 32: 27) Well, today, that portion of words, that particle of faith, is what I want to speak of.

 President Henry B. Eyring, in his talk "O Remember, Remember" in the 2007 October General Conference, states:

"When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property. He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind-not in my own voice-these words: I'm not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down."

"I went inside. I didn't go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn't have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.

"I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?' As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done."

 When I was married 25 years ago, to my wife Marilyn, I too got a journal. I was a new convert and it did not resonate with me the power of that idea (journaling) at the time. Today, however, I believe, after all these years, like the prophets of old and the great lives, like Emerson, Lincoln, Churchill, DaVinci, and many others, it is one of the wisest attributes I could have. And as I have studied them, I know them to be great leaders, great readers, and so often they were great writers.

 One former general authority was an amazing example to me by the name of Sterling W. Sill. He was a Carnegie Hero for saving a drowning boy in 1959, while nearly drowning himself. Sill had devoted every spare moment in his life, to meeting the great heroes of the past through what he called the majesty of books. He said, "I imagine this shelf in my library to contain a great collection of human beings were I may have the better of each one as his service is needed. The contribution of each may be brief in itself, but whatever may have been possessed of inspiration, dedication, and righteousness now belongs to me. How else but in a book can one go back into the past for a visit in ancient Rome or Gethsemane or Gettysburg? How else can we share in the wealth of the great thinkers who bring about the progress of the world? Books may contain the distilled essence of the greatest lives. They abound in inspiration and provide a motivation for the most magnificent accomplishment."

 I've read everything he wrote, all 30 books, which were the experiences that were most profitable to him after reading 987 of the greatest books about the greatest lives. I've been to the University of Utah and looked through many of the 34 boxes of letters and notes that were complimentary to Sterling W. Sill in his work and Church callings. And I have gone through many of the 7500 pages he left in his "idea banks," including 25 three-ring-bound books with 300 pages apiece, about what he would consider his great ideas. In addition to a marvelous speaking career he was the voice for over 17 years on 370 stations every Sunday night. When it came to picking a career he thought life insurance would be a good way to go, yet he was turned down in his first interview. Then he was given a chance by New York Life and became, according to some, the most influential agent in that 40-year span.

 It was Sterling W. Sill that introduced me to so many magnificent lives and he also introduced me to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans. When I had the privilege of attending there in the Bronx of New York City at the former campus of New York University it was a beautiful, warm, spring day. As I looked around, I was the only person there. It was quiet, and as I read the 6-foot inscription on the contribution of each of these great lives that was inscribed below a bronze bust, I had a sense and a feeling and a spirit come over me that resonated with goodness. They each spoke of freedom, country, values, virtues and principles, and you could feel that they were proud to be part of this incredible country that was founded on religious freedom.

 So, this great man has been the inspiration for the title of this talk today: Book, Paper, Pen. For your review I would urge you to look in the topical guide in your Bible Dictionary and ponder and liken these scriptures unto yourself that pertain to the words write, written and wrote. I have selected a few for the purposes of this talk a few scriptures to ponder.

 Moses 6:6: "And by them their children were taught to read and to write." This should say a lot to all of us and emphasize the importance of both of these attributes.  Isaiah also has striking remark for us in 30:8: "Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book." When I study the history of the scriptures great lives I find that they were both well read and spent much time writing out their plans and the things President Eyring spoke of-noting the hand of God had touched there lives.

 Romans 12:2 is one of my favorites: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. This oft quoted scripture by many has tremendous significance. When you ponder the power of the word transformed you literally can change, you can transform, an entire life through the study of ancient wisdom literature and heading the counsel of the prophets.

 Romans 15:4: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning. This counsel encourages us to study history, to study the prophets, and to stay the course and always be a student. For when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

 Hence, this remarkable quote by Francis Bacon, one of my favorites. I use it many times in my own life and when speaking:  "Reading makes a full man, writing makes an exact man."

 In other words, you have to think an idea through before you can write it down. And to write an idea down it gives it form, exactness, and makes it visible. And I think many of us are very visual in what we do. And we have to visualize, to realize, before we can materialize. That can be said for many of our goals and aspirations in life. And I encourage all of you to be great at setting goals.

 The 18th century was destined to be a time where the greatest nation ever to live upon the earth was born. It also produced a vast array of great men. Among these wise and spiritual men were the founding fathers-a specially selected group of men who God raised up to give our nation the start toward its destiny. One of these superb men went by the name of Benjamin Franklin.

 In 1728 when he was just 28 years old he said, "It was about this time that I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection."

 Ben Franklin then wrote down the qualities that he wanted to acquire, that we today know as his 13 virtues. Below each of these virtues he added a short precept that expressed the meaning he wished the virtues to have. He made a small book, which he carried with him constantly, from the time he was age 22 until the time of his death at age 84. In this little book he made a check each night of al the places where he had fallen down in his determination to develop these qualities of personality. After keeping this technique up after 57 years he made this marvelous statement: "it may be well that my posterity be informed that this little artifice of constant attention and daily checking." It is here where you can see the similarities of President Eyring's voice to write these things down. It may not be for you.

 Pictured here are some of my important books. While I am a novice, I learned as Sterling W. Sill and many other great lives that I too, should have two books with me at all times. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, "Every man should always have two books with him; one to read, and one to write in."  The reason being is that the mind has a tendency to forget things. Paper does not. Hence the notion that you can go through life and have a storehouse full of experiences, ideas, and memories that will be as a treasure chest, and a joy to be reviewed by you and your family and never to be forgotten.

 Because the influence this great man has had in my life I re-wrote and republished what I believe to be one of the most important books in my library. Of the over 30 books Sterling W. Sill authored I was most moved by Lessons From Great Lives, and it has been a guiding force in my speaking and teaching others how principles from great lives can never be forgotten.

 Thus Socrates gave us this counsel: "Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so you can gain easily what they have labored hard for." It is my belief that there are three promises that result from you becoming a student of the great wisdom of literature and a writer of your thoughts.

 Three promises are first your self-esteem will grow. And having a healthy self-esteem will be a tremendous reward in your relationships and career you select and the Church callings your serve in. Secondly, your self-worth. Self-worth is how you value and honor those things that you believe in. your self worth will leave its biggest deposits when you honor the principles and covenants that you value most. And finally your career. As you invite books, paper and pen to be with you on a regular basis you will align your lives with some of the greatest leaders that have ever lived. And that will have an accumulated affect on all those you come in contact with and will ultimately have an impact on your net worth in your career and how the world rewards you.

 So, in conclusion, I would like you to know that I spend hours pondering words thoughts, and actions of my own life. Including what I am reading, where I am traveling, who I am meeting, then I write them down in my journal and note the things that will be profitable in my own life. One of the words that I have given great consideration to over the past year is humility. After hours and months of pondering this word, and cross-referencing scriptures, I made this entry into my journal. While it may not be the very topic of the message today, it was an entry in my journal and may be worthy of your consideration:

 "To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. There is a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant and the time to pluck up that which has been planted. This is the time to plant the seeds of humility and pluck up its rewards.

 "The search to grow my wisdom will ultimately be born out of humility. Humility is a beginning. It is a door that leads to honor. Humility opens my mind and allows me to see others as to be as important as myself. It allows me to see my place among others in the world and in my life. It helps me to listen to their voices with an open heart and to value their thoughts and feelings.

 "Humility hones my ability to serve and contribute my knowledge to the world. It helps me to realize the worth of others' insights and to keep my mind open to the possibilities of sharing our work. It helps me visualize the value of others' future contributions to me. It allows me to accept their help.

 "Because of my own humility, I am willing to accept the worth of the knowledge of others.  I am willing to express my gratitude and thankfulness to them. I am willing to add their strengths and knowledge to my own, so that we may all be strengthened. I am willing to learn. I am therefore open to many sources of wisdom that are part of my life.

 "The incredible countless sands of the sea provide some of the most breathtaking views and scenes of beauty that the eyes can see. Yet the sands provide no crops. Why? Because the sands do not contain the rich organic soil that comes from humus. For humus is a dark dirt, topsoil that feeds the seeds of the most nutrient-rich crops . It is humus that sows the seeds of prosperity. Like the humus, my own humility is a source of rich growth that allows me to blend my abilities, talents and strengths with others to enhance all of our knowledge and skills.

 "Through humility, I am no longer afraid to be humble, and therefore I no longer have fear. I am willing to be taught. Therefore, I will accept wisdom into my life. Like the wisest man who ever lived says, 'I know not how to come in or how to go out,' I know that I have much to learn, and humility will help keep my mind fresh and open to new knowledge.

 "A fear of the Lord brings riches, and honor, and life. I deserve riches, and I now know that I too can plant the seeds of humility that will propel my growth. When that humility is rewarded, in due time, my riches will be present. My determination towards the study of these principles will one day find me honored amongst many great men.

 "Because my humility helps me appreciate the worth of each person and each moment, my life will seem as a gift each day. It will be a gift of such great proportions that I will spend every idle thought pursuing the actions of my life in serving others. For it is the service that is the joy. The search to serve many brings rewards in the form of riches.

 "My happiest moments of instruction reward me and my family with a peace of mind. Just being in the moment with my diary is my reward. For the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace, and guide me in my judgment. Therefore I will let another man praise me and not my own mouth. 

 "Wisdom can also be my warning. Woe unto them that are wise and humble in their own eyes. Pride go with a man before the destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of a lowly spirit with the humble, then to divide the spoil with the proud.

 "Humility will not be a sign of weakness for me but rather a sign of Divine strength. Humility will help me to work hard and serve selflessly.

 "This season I have harvested a record crop I have gained humility, while I am still a work in progress I have strived to eliminate pride and hate from my soul. I will now go forward in Faith and trust in that spirit which leads me to walk in humility.

 I find that sitting on long airplane rides, this is the best use of my time. After 26 years of practicing, growing, and maturing in the faith as a Church member the tiny atoms that make up an idea are still being planted in my heart and written in my journal. Hoping, as President Eyring, that my children will use it to their advantage. History does repeat and success does leave clues. I bear you my testimony that your life can be richer as you study the books, write it on paper, and use your pen. You will be mirroring the great prophets, leaders and skilled orators. I bear you that testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.