Hugh Nibley’s mind, a whirlwind tour

For a ‘cineminute’ view of Duane and his guitar performing ‘Hugh Nibley’s Mind’, click here.

Music intro:

I mentioned last week (November 23, 2010) Hugh Nibley’s unique approach to choosing a wife. Dr.. Nibley was original in many ways. He had a once-in-a-millennium mind, and an unquenchable thirst to fill it. But brilliance brings its own challenges. According to one story, an admirer asked him, “Dr. Nibley how many languages do you speak?”
He rolled off a string of Middle Eastern tongues ancient and modern, some number in the middle teens as the story goes.

The admirer said, “You also speak Spanish, French and German I understand”

“Oh, everybody speaks Spanish, French and German,” he replied in English (fortunately). Such assumptions led to the saying that listening to Hugh Nibley lecture and teach was like drinking out of a fire hose.

At Brigham Young University I was twice assigned to head projects to record on video Hugh Nibley’s mind in action. Come with me for the adventure of one day. In the interest of full disclosure, I interpolated the students’ responses based on their facial expressions and body language. Actually they said very little. But the rest is pure Nibley.

“Students, turn to Third Nephi. As you can see the High Priest ruling the land is named Laconius. Why are we not surprised to find a Greek name in the Book of Mormon?”

(Silence mixed with muttered “It’s all Greek to me”)

“Come now. Critics Love to pounce on this sort of thing. What is your response?”

(More silence)

“First of all, we know that naming is very conservative. The most popular names in Judean/Christian cultures for millennia are what? John and Mary, Juan and Maria, Jean and Marie, Johan and Meike, Ivan and Marya, plus untold variations among Jews and Muslims. You knew that right?”

(Nods of heads)

“Secondly the greatest authority on war and statesmanship was a German named who?”

“Kaiser Wilhelm?”

“No. Carl von Clausewitz and his seminal book was titled On War. What was his thesis on land and naval forces?”

“Winner take all?”

“Not exactly. von Clausewitz showed that throughout history superior war power alternates between sea and land forces. So based on your research and previous study, did the land or sea forces have the upper hand in the days of Lehi.”

Land armies?

“Close. Care to try again”

Sea navies?

“Very good. Why?”

Ships don’t have to march?

“Actually one might suspect that because of the trade routes land armies would be more important. But the real riches were in commerce across the Mediterranean. Is that what you meant to say?”

Pretty much.

“And what was the most powerful weapon in the days of Lehi?”

The sword of Laban?

“The trireme, surely you’ve studied that. And who built the trireme?”

The Triremians?

“The Greeks. And who bought the whole fleet?”

The Phoenicians?

“It was Necco the First, pharaoh of Egypt at that time, of course. Don’t they teach you anything in high school?” The Grecian triremes were shipped to Egypt complete, with the crews who knew how to sail them. So there were Greeks running all over the major cities of Egypt. And who else was always traveling to Egypt to do business. A very prosperous merchant named…?”

Alexander the Great?

“Lehi the prophet.” He and others would have brought the Greek names to Jerusalem. Then they traveled in the memories of Lehi’s party, and later with the Mulekites. They become part of the Nephite Lamanite culture. In fact the trireme war vessels were constructed on an island in the south of Greece. The name of the Island was…?”


“Close, Laconia. So there we are full circle back to Laconias, high priest of the Nephites. .Far from being an argument against the Book of Mormon, Laconius is an etymological proof. In fact, we would be surprised if we didn’t find Greek names in the Book of Mormon. Isn’t that right class?”

(Dizzy nods)

Ok, so Hugh Nibley didn’t always connect with us lesser mortals. But he struck fire with young intellectuals who have since entered the doors he opened and are broadening and deepening gospel scholarship in linguistics, history, biology, archaeology, medicine, computerized analysis and other disciplines. They are mining veins and unearthing nuggets of truth even more stunning than a Greek name among the Nephites.

Let’s exit stage left here with a little theme music from the movie “Zorba the Greek” who incidentally is not in the Book of Mormon.

How to choose the right husband or wife

“Cineminute” is a short video of Duane and his guitar talking about this post. To view it click this link

As a bishop of a ward (congregation) of young single adults in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was constantly counseling individuals on love and marriage; i.e. how do you know who is the one? Then what do you do?

Various systems have been promoted. Apostle and later president of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball purportedly told an audience of college students, “I could march you out of here two by two at random and if you married and kept the Lord’s commandments, you would all have successful marriages.”

A chill shot through the 12,000 spines in the seats before him. Neither Elder Kimball nor the Church ever advocated such a system, much to the relief of all young lovers, but there is great wisdom in those words.

One member of our ward from another country was the daughter of parents whose marriage had been arranged by their parents; the custom in that land. She said her parents considered it no big deal. They cared for each other and their children and had a happy and successful marriage.

How do smart people make this important decision? The most brilliant man I ever met, Hugh Nibley knew it was time he should be married as he headed for Brigham Young University to become a member of the faculty. To fulfill that obligation, he promised the Lord he would marry the first girl he met at BYU. He assumed the Lord would pick out his bride and arrange the meeting. Apparently He did, and he did, and they lived happily ever after.

My experience was this. A recently returned missionary and having come of age, I was looking for a wife, but apparently not looking hard enough. Some of us need a “whap upside head” with a spiritual two by four to get our attention. Thus it was as I knocked on the door of a coed apartment looking for my sister Diane. Diane opened the door, but it was not my sister Diane, it was my wife Diane; or would be. I could not have been more sure if an angel had appeared, introduced us, and performed the marriage ceremony on the spot.

How easy was that to choose a wife? Not as easy as I supposed. The impression that thundered into my spiritual ear apparently forgot to mention it to Diane. It took me a year and a half praying, pondering, courting, impressing, and pleading to heaven and to her before she shared my decision. It was worth every agonizing second.

I should be twice as wise as most of the people I know because I got to choose again 26 years and 15 children later. Diane died of cancer.

But now I was not a confident (okay cocky) youth but a half century old father bearing weighty responsibilities; heart broken and miserable, lonely and apprehensive. I was committed to move forward, but chained by memories and raw grief to the present. I stumbled even in simple social situations. I certainly didn’t trust myself to make any eternal decisions. The experts I read said that losing one’s spouse is not just a monkey on your back. It’s the 800 pound gorilla of grief. Some recommended don’t even work with power tools, drive heavy equipment or fight traffic until you get your head together. This would take about a year. That was my decision.

Until the Lord brought into my life seven months later a beautiful, talented, loving, righteous angel not the least intimidated by the prospect of becoming the instant new mother of 15. About one sixteenth of my head said, “Be careful. Go slow.” My heart, my emotions, the rest of my brain, and my hormones (50 year-old-men still have them) said, “Go slow? Are you out of your mind? Sweep this woman off her feet and marry her before the word gets out that she is available. The battle of the brain was over. Two months later I was a man twice blessed at the marriage alter.

In choosing a mate, it seems the recipe is not as important as the ingredients. The successful matches include love and the Lord in the right order. To paraphrase the foremost expert on the subject, “Love the Lord with all your heart…and your (closest) neighbor as yourself.”

Singing to the President

“Cineminute” is a short video of Duane and his guitar talking about this post. To view it click this link.

Last week (November 9, 2010 ‘Ghosting for the Presidents’) I alluded to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to President Ronald Reagan during the parade at his first term inauguration in 1981.

I thought it was a memorable moment. But memorable moments don’t just happen. So, as Paul Harvey used to say, “This is the rest of the story.”

That election saw a surge of support for Reagan from some conservative churches. While the Republicans appreciated the support, they didn’t want to overemphasize it, and thereby alienate other power bases of the party, so they ruled that no churches could be represented in the parade.

I was writing some scripts for the Osmonds at that time, and I knew they had been helping with Reagan’s campaign, and that they wanted to have the Tabernacle Choir included in the parade. Bill Critchfield, president of the Osmond operation was a fearless and effective negotiator. He told the Republican powers that the choir was not just the Mormon Choir. Reagan himself dubbed it “America’s choir.”

Bill rolled out his heavy artillery. The choir was born in the cowboy country of the old west, had performed for 10 previous presidents going back to William Howard Taft, consoled the country for the whole day on CBS radio when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. The Choir has won gold and platinum records, and a Grammy, is an unofficial American ambassador to millions in other countries, has the longest running program in American radio history, and is the standard against which every performance of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is measured, He convinced them that the world and the inauguration would be bleak indeed without the choir in the parade.

The party officials capitulated, but with one stern stipulation. The choir could not stop to sing in front of the president’s box. Nothing would stop the parade.

Ironically, I had worked with Bill when I was president of America’s Freedom Festival at Provo. Bill was our parade expert since he had been an official at the Rose Parade in Pasadena California, probably the world’s premier parade. Bill was adamant with us that our parade have, no gaps, and certainly no stops. When the Republican bosses told Bill the parade would not stop, they were preaching to the choir (no pun intended)

But even choirs have to weigh one virtue against another. To build the massive float (actually one float the maximum size that would make it around the corners, then they hooked on a smaller trailer float to hold the rest of the choir), to transport the choir and their entourage to Washington D.C., bus them around, feed and house them, and then not sing “Glory, glory hallelujah” to the president was like writing the Declaration of Independence and not signing it.

But good fortune sometimes smiles on worthy deeds. Fortunately as the choir float came abreast of the president’s box its tow truck’s engine died. The driver jumped out, threw open the hood and worked frantically to correct the problem.

Fortunately he fixed it, just as the last, “His truth is marching on” echoed over the crowd, and president Reagan wiped a tear from his cheek. The truck engine roared to life, and the parade rolled on.

Fortunately the mechanical problem only cost $50 to fix. And fortunately the repair bill had been covered by an anonymous donor a few hours earlier in this exchange:

Anonymous donor, “How much to have engine trouble in front of the president’s box?”

Truck driver: “Fifty bucks should do it.”

Bill told me later that somebody blew his cover to Church president Spencer W. Kimball. The whistle blower apparently hoped to whip up a scandal. The president listened then replied with a twinkle, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”

Ghosting for United States Presidents

“Cineminute” is a short video of Duane and his guitar talking about this post. To view it click this link

I have ghost written speeches for two presidents of the United States. One delivered the speech word for word. He was elected as many times as is legally possible in America. The other adlibbed his own version of the speech I wrote him. He was later defeated at the polls.

I would like to hereby announce that my speeches were the difference between the success of one president, and the defeat of the other. I would like to announce that, but the logic of it would be similar to the little boy madly blowing on his whistle when a person passing by asked, “Why are you splitting our ear drums with that whistle?”

“To keep elephants away.”

“There are no elephants around here.”

“See. It’s working.”

So maybe I didn’t change history with my little speeches. Still it was an honor to hear my words (or a garbled version of them) uttered by the leader of the most powerful nation in the world.

I have done considerable ghost writing in my day; enough to support ten sons on their Church missions. I always felt I had done my job well when my writing blended seamlessly into the style, timing, vocabulary and mind set of the person delivering it. If ghost writing is done well, you are not aware of the effort that went into making it seem invisible.

The president, (actually former president) who did the masterful rendition was “The Great Communicator” as his supporters called him, Ronald Reagan. When he delivered the words, I thought I could hear echoes from the Gettysburg address. Reagan, as you know served the legal maximum two terms.

The president who adlibbed his way half on and half off the cuff was the sitting president at the time, George Bush senior.

The occasion was a commemoration that happens every ten years celebrating the longest running program in the history of radio, “Music and the Spoken Word” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They asked me to write the script including speeches by notable national leaders in business, entertainment, government and other areas. I wrote the words, and the famous people delivered them.

Ronald Reagan’s sincere delivery reflected the moment in his first inauguration parade when the Choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in front of the presidential box. The cameras caught a close up as the President wiped a tear coursing down his cheek. America’s president and “America’s Choir” saluted each other.

George Bush started out with the prepared text, then launched into his own commentary, something like, “I suppose the Mormon Choir does good stuff. I don’t know much about them. Personally I go for Dolly Parton.”

Here is my comment on his comment. Mr. President, I’m a Dolly Parton fan myself, but Glory, glory hallelujah we are talking here about one of America’s national musical treasures; an artistic icon. With all due respect sir, this is a moment to stand up, wave the flag, invite your mother in for apple pie. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is marching on and on, Amen, amen, and amen.

Ghost writing is an honorable trade, but now and then you just need to speak your own piece, so now I have, and that felt good.

Running around the country

‘Cineminute’ link of Duane comments on running:

Running around the country

“Running hasn’t been this popular since Atilla the Hun sacked Rome.” That was my opening sentence in an article I wrote for The New Era magazine a few years ago. Running/jogging was the new national craze, and this was a light-hearted approach on how to start your program. My counsel was to start slowly so you don’t get stiff or strain or sprain something and quit altogether. You really can’t start too gently. I mean the first day, lace up your running shoes, take a deep breath, and untie them. Your first workout is over. Next day, stand up from the bench, sit back down. That is day two.

“But I’m anxious to run.”

“Exactly. And you want to stay anxious. Day three, jog or run to the mail box, walk back. In future days gradually speed up and lengthen out from there.”

I got into running before it was popular or even acceptable. In those days, little old ladies would peek out from their curtains as I ran by to see if I had a stolen chicken tucked under my T shirt. I was motivated by, among other things, the true story of a depressed journalist who decided to end it all by running until he had a heart attack. Instead he just got pooped, so he ran farther the next day, and the next. Gradually his heart strengthened as well as his will to live. He was a born again jogger, getting high on his own adrenalin.

In The Three D’s, Dick and I used to run most every day but Sunday. Denis exercised in other ways. We ran on tour as well as at home, and I continued running when I traveled giving lectures and presentations for Church Continuing Education. I believe I have run in every state but, you guessed it, North Dakota. I have run in other countries including the islands of the Caribbean. In that warm, watery air you can break into a sweat just by thinking about running

I have run five marathons, never winning more than the free yogurt they sometimes hand out at the end of the race. They do that because it is cheaper than providing you a funeral and burial on the spot. At least that’s how I felt at the finish. My only marathon fame came when six of our ten sons ran the big race with me. My second famous running moment happened when I was puffing up a hill and a passing motorist stopped and offered me a ride. Normally I turn down such offers, but this was Donny Osmond. I took him up on it so I could tell my children that Donny and I sometimes go cruising together.

I have not won a lot of prizes, but I do love running and these are some of the hightlights:

Great moments in my running career: Running across the prairie grass chasing the wild cumulus clouds of Montana’s big sky; Breathing the oxygen rich air in Olympia Washington’s rain forest.

Happy surprises: The picturesque canal road path in Washington DC when I expected to be fighting traffic and monoxide; Boise Idaho’s downtown river path; Anchorage Alaska warm in September.

Disappointments: Flying into Spokane and seeing it surrounded with evergreens and lakes and finding each of them was landscaped in “No Trespassing” signs; Chula Vista, California where the beautiful farms and orchards were also home to snarling guard dogs and airplanes spraying for pests, one of which, I felt, was me. (On the other hand, for boosting your heart rate and your foot speed there’s nothing like a snarling guard dog on your heels.)

Memorable temperatures: Running in Phoenix the day thermometers hit a record 120 degrees, and in near record 36 below in Calgary Canada. The poet Robert Service was right, “If our eyes we’d close then the lashes froze ‘til sometimes we couldn’t see…”

Vertical running: Up and down the Capitol Records tower in Hollywood, California and the Washington Monument in D.C.

Benefits of running/jogging: Running, biking, and swimming are the best ways to enlarge and strengthen the heart’s capacity, it refreshes the body and mind and you can see as many interesting things running five miles in an hour as you can driving 65 miles in an hour.

My present running goals: Forget winning the Olympics or the Boston Marathon. My goal is to emulate my hero Larry Lewis of California. He was still running five miles a day at age 102. His cardiovascular system was so healthy, his doctor told him, “Larry, when you die we will have to take your heart out and beat it to death with a stick.”