Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two Memories of Marlin K. Jensen

This past weekend, Elder Marlin K. Jensen was released and made an Emeritus Seventy after 23 years of service as a General Authority of the Church.

I'm sure he deserves the rest, but I will miss him. I met Elder Jensen during my mission and he said two things which meant a lot to me.


The first was during a missionary training he gave. Elder Jensen had just taught us a new way of quickly introducing future discussions to new contacts so that they would know from the beginning what we hoped to teach them, and I was thinking about how helpful these new instructions would be. Then Elder Jensen turned to us and asked, "Where do you think this idea comes from?"

I can't remember what we said, but most of us surely felt that there was an element of inspiration involved. And Elder Jensen agreed--but emphasized that the initial inspiration had come not to a General Authority, but to a missionary in another area. Just a regular Elder who had been thinking about the problem of expressing to new contacts just what missionaries want.

The role of a General Authority, said Elder Jensen, is not to come up with every piece of guidance independently--in most cases, the General Authority's role is to be guided in recognizing which of other people's inspired innovations should be shared with the larger body of the Church. That is to say: revelation comes in pieces to everyone, and the role of an inspired leader is to gather, organize, and transmit it.

This really changed my thinking about how the Church functions. Since hearing from Elder Jensen, I've had a clearer understanding about how individual revelation and presiding revelation work together. Imagine a body in which every cell was able to consciously change and adapt independently, but with a central nervous system that was able to transmit the best of those changes quickly across a whole system or even across the whole body. As the body of Christ, the Church is supposed to work this way: harnessing both our individual creative energies (to seek after new solutions to problems within our stewardships) and our humility (to allow for effective and organized adoption of new inspiration carried to us from elsewhere in the body).

It's easy, as a missionary, to cling to obedience as a simple way to feel in control of an otherwise-overwhelming calling. So I'm grateful to Elder Jensen for gently helping a few missionaries see how obedience is only one element of our larger obligation to serve in our appointed place. 


After the training, Elder Jensen took some time to interview a few missionaries as a way of getting a feel for the work of the mission. My mission president, Erich Kopischke, had asked me to be one of the missionaries Elder Jensen talked to.

I honestly don't remember a single thing Elder Jensen asked me about our work. All I remember from the interview is that at the very end, Elder Jensen stopped asking me questions and asked if I had any questions for him.

"Yes," I said. "Give me a second to think of one--but if I have the opportunity to ask, I'm not going to pass it up!" And then I thought of a simple question. I asked him if there was a certain scripture that had particular meaning for him personally, or that he often found himself thinking about.

And he told me three scripture from different places which made up one complete thought in his mind, one thought that sustained him through the challenges of his own life and work:

The first scripture was John 16:13:
 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
Elder Jensen said the promise is real, but the scripture as whole is a bit puzzling. If the Holy Ghost "speak[s] not of himself" but rather tells you "whatsoever he shall hear," who is he listening to?

To answer that question, he shared a second scripture--Alma 7: 11-12:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
 Elder Jensen said that when he'd really struggled, he'd also often felt the Holy Ghost's influence on him not just as the warm comforter we often think of, but as a messenger from a Savior who knows our sorrows through his own suffering.

And when he thinks about this knowledge of Christ's, Elder Jensen said, one more scripture--2 Ne 9:41--means a great deal to him:
O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
The same Lord who knows us and sends his comfort to us will also judge us. And no one else can--he may send others to serve us, to warn us, to teach us, but there will be no servant at the gate when we meet him in the end.

And it was that thought which gave Marlin Jensen strength. That combination of the knowledge that Christ had sustained him along his path and would meet him at its end.

I can still remember sitting across from this good and humble man, watching him look past me as he talked about Jesus.

To many casual observers today, our apostles and seventies probably look like old men in dark suits. Like boring business stereotypes, hardly worth our attention.

But for a moment, I got to see one of those men filled with longing. The deep longing of a disciple for his Master, of a saint for his Lord.


  1. I will miss him too. I heard him speak at a RS conference in Virginia. He told about his family reading the Book of Mormon and how they were experts on 1 Nephi because they had read it so many times! And then he proceeded to tell us of the many doctrinal nuggets in that first book. He is humble, funny, knowledgeable and just plain nice. It's been a blessing to hear from him over the years.

  2. I think Elder Jensen really had something special about him. One of my very earliest memories of conference is a talk he gave about kindness and humility. I was probably only about eight or nine. I also remember watching him discuss same-gender attraction on the PBS special about The Mormons with unbelievable sympathy and sensitivity. He has a unique ability to express love and show his humanity.

  3. I had a chance to take him 'home teaching' into the homes of newly baptized members of our inner-city branch in Boston years ago. He's the real-deal. Thanks for your blog. Fantastic.

  4. Thanks everyone for sharing memories. This is a cool collection of comments, gathering the sort of memories one man's years of service left in their wake.

  5. Thanks for these beautiful memories and insights. They made my day brighter

  6. I've been reading your blog for a few months now and really enjoy your thoughts. I eventually realized that you were also a missionary in former East Germany. I served in the Leipzig Mission from 2000 to 2001 in the cities of Dresden, Leipzig, Carl Marks Stadt and Gera. I'm now a German and choir teacher in SLC. I never met Elder Jensen, but I really like hearing him speak.

    1. I war in Gera beide Weihnachten meiner Missionszeit (2002 und 2003). Als ich das erste mal in Gera war, gab es Elders und Sisters. Als ich zurueckkam waren die Sisters in eine andere Stadt versezt worden...und die Elders waren in die Wohnung der Sisters umgezogen.
      Also haben wir wahrscheinlich in derselben Wohnung gewohnt. (Die Welt ist ja klein, oder?)

  7. President Kopischke was your mission president? I always knew there was something special about you, and now I know what :P
    (I'll go back to lurking now... I follow you around because of all the Mormon Renaissance thinks, because you prompt me to try to formulate a coherent thought about it.)



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