To hono(u)r

As we ponder the questions of whom and how to honor, our varied answers should lead us through the principles of respect, affection, and forgiveness to charity, or the pure love of Christ.


As many of you know, Susan, Fiona, and I lived in the District of Columbia before we moved to New York. As the capital of the United States, D.C. has many monuments and memorials to people and events that are important in our nation’s history. Some of these, such as the memorial to the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, appear on our money. Others, such as the gargoyle of Darth Vader on Washington National Cathedral, do not.

$5 bill, reverse
The Lincoln Memorial is on the back of the $5 bill.

The city was actually designed to be this way. The city’s planner, a Frenchman named Pierre Charles L’Enfant, laid out the streets of the federal city in a grid over which he laid diagonal avenues that connected major landmarks in the city, such as the Capitol and the White House. These are the avenues, such as Pennsylvania Avenue, that are named after the states of the Union. Where these avenues intersect the grid and each other, they form circles and squares and triangles, which Mr. L’Enfant — or Peter, as he preferred to be known, because he loved America so much — thought would be perfect for statues and monuments and memorials. Today, almost no square or circle or triangle in the District of Columbia is without a sculpture or plaque or monument of some kind. And if it doesn’t have one of those, it usually has a subway entrance.

Pierre Charles L'Enfant's plan for Washington, D.C.
A depiction of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, D.C.

At the center of the city, Peter — Mr. L’Enfant — planned a grand national avenue. Today we know it as the National Mall. It is a park that stretches for two miles from the Capitol to the Potomac River and it is home to the capital’s greatest monuments. At the center is a monument to the first president, George Washington. [Note 1] The people who built it considered him the greatest man who had ever lived and felt he should have the greatest monument ever constructed. It is 555 feet (169 meters) tall — which made it, in fact, the tallest manmade structure in the world when it was completed in 1888, although it was surpassed the following year by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. [2] And I have already mentioned the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the Mall by the Potomac.

Of course, everyone thinks that their monument deserves to be on the National Mall. And of course if we let that happen the Mall would be nothing but monuments. There is a group called the National Capital Planning Commission that decides what gets to go on the Mall, and for the most part the only additional monuments allowed today are to major wars in which the United States has been involved. The most recent of these, the National World War II Memorial, opened in 2004.

But as you go west from the Washington Monument, a little to your right as you get near the Lincoln Memorial, you will find a memorial to another war that was probably the most controversial monument in D.C.’s history. It was controversial for a couple of reasons. First was its architect, a woman named Maya Lin whose parents were immigrants from China. Not only did some people feel this memorial should be designed by a “true American”, but this war was also fought in Asia, and though it was not fought in China, for some the association was a little too close. Second, some people felt it should be a classical, massive, monumental memorial with columns and eagles and the sort of design that we have come to associate with great, big memorials (kind of like the World War II memorial). This memorial was simply a hole in the ground — or, rather, a gash or wound in the earth. It was a simple wall of highly polished black stone so that when you look at the names inscribed on it you see your own reflection. There are 58,307 names on this wall, and names continue to be added: six were added to the wall on 4 May 2010.

This monument is, of course, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and it is perhaps the most moving of all the memorials in the nation’s capital.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The black reflective walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are inscribed with the names of 58,307 members of the United States military who died or went missing in the Vietnam War.

The point of all of these monuments and memorials and statues is to honor the lives of those who have gone before — those who have made our country and, in turn, our lives what they are today. But, as you can see, the answers to the questions of whom to honor and how to honor them can take on very different forms, and they can also generate debate and controversy. For example, some question whether the third president, Thomas Jefferson, who somehow wrote that one of the “unalienable rights” given to us by our Creator is liberty but was also an unabashed slaveowner, should be honored with a major memorial in our nation’s capital.

$20 bill, obverse
The secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, announced on 20 April 2016 that a portrait of Harriet Tubman would replace that of Andrew Jackson on the obverse of the $20 bill.

Consider also the recent discussion over who should be honored on the $20 bill. You may recall that last month the secretary of the Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman, a former slave who helped other slaves escape the South over the Underground Railroad, will replace the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, who may have been a hero of the War of 1812 but who also forced American Indians from their homes and land in the Southeast in the Trail of Tears.

Here in New York, consider the controversy surrounding the 9/11 Memorial and the reconstruction of the World Trade Center — or, if you’ve had the opportunity to visit it, consider how you felt when you were there.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that English speakers can’t even agree on how “honor” should be spelled: Americans spell it -or while all other English speakers spell it -our.

Honor — spelled -our in the Bible and -or in the triple combination — is mentioned in nearly 200 verses of our standard works. Among its first, ancient mentions is in the fifth commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother”. [3] Among its more recent uses is in the Twelfth Article of Faith: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” [4]

The Savior himself spoke of honor. One sabbath day in the temple in Jerusalem he taught, “… all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” [5]

Paul Writing His Epistles, attributed to Valentin de Boulogne
Paul is among those in the scriptures who wrote about honor.

Later, Paul wrote to the members of the Church in Rome, “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” [6]

In the Book of Mormon, honor seems most frequently to be spoken of in much the same way as pride. Nephi quotes words of Isaiah that are very similar to those spoken by the Savior to Joseph Smith in the First Vision: “… this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men.” [7] Captain Moroni, the leader of the Nephite armies, declared, “Behold, I am Moroni, your chief captain. I seek not for power, but to pull it down. I seek not for honor of the world, but for the glory of my God, and the freedom and welfare of my country.” [8]

Throughout these examples and in our everyday language, honor can be either a noun or a verb — something that just exists or something you do. As I have thought about it over the past few days, as I have sought answers to the questions of whom to honor and how to honor, I have primarily thought of it as a verb, an action. And, as a member of the 21st-century Millennial generation, I also sought the insight of my friends on Facebook. One of them wrote in part, “I think honor has to involve some level of respect; when I needed to reconcile with my mother, I had to decide what I respected in her, because I couldn’t maintain a close relationship with someone without respect for them. Honoring a parent, I think, involves a measure of respect and affection.”

Now we see that honor touches on principles such as respect, affection, and forgiveness. And consider forgiveness: when you forgive someone who has wronged or hurt you in some way, that often involves no small measure of humility. Now we’ve connected honor with something that you could consider its opposite: humility.

Now I ask you to move from thinking about what honor means to us as a society or to us as a church and to considering what honor means to you. Consider that what it means to you may not be what it means to someone else. Consider that those we honor — each of these men I’ve noted on our currency, for example, had some significant flaws, and yet we have chosen as a society to honor them — are not perfect people. And consider that if it can mean such different things to different people, is mass-produced honor really what we should seek?

I submit — and I’m using Susan’s words here almost verbatim — that to honor means more than a mere public display of affection. Indeed, honoring someone is something that is intensely personal and, ultimately, intensely private. It is more than cards and flowers and commercials that guilt-trip you into buying stuff for someone. It is more than an annual event or a scheduled obligation.

Those we honor should see in our honor a reflection of the love of our Heavenly Father and of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In this way, we connect honor with the principle of charity. We can think about it this way, using Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

[Honor] suffereth long, and is kind; [honor] envieth not; [honor] vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. …

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. [9]

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


NOTES

  1. Interestingly, you used to be able to see the Washington Monument on the $50 note, in the background of the depiction of the Capitol. But newer designs of the bill depict the Capitol’s west facade rather than the eastern one, so there is no more panoramic view of the capital city on the $50 bill. On a personal note, we could see the Washington Monument from the bedroom window of our apartment in D.C., and I loved looking at it, bathed in white light, as I went to sleep each night.
  2. The Eiffel Tower was originally 300 meters (984 feet) tall, almost twice the height of the Washington Monument. Today, with broadcast antennas added later, its height is 324 meters (1,063 feet).
  3. Exodus 20:12
  4. Twelfth Article of Faith
  5. John 5:23
  6. Romans 13:7
  7. 2 Nephi 27:25; see also Joseph Smith—History 1:19
  8. Alma 60:36
  9. 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, 1–3

Dustin gave this talk in the sacrament meeting of the Bushwick 1st Branch, Brooklyn New York Stake, on Sunday, 8 May 2016.

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