Dear 100 Hour Board,
If you had to choose 3-5 conference talks as your favorites, which ones would you choose?
Growing up, my mom had a number of books by Cheiko Okazaki on our bookshelf. They were on the religious book shelf with other church books (a.k.a. the boring books) and I never really thought twice about her books and I can't honestly say I remember a single conference talk from the years when she served as a counselor in the Relief Society. But the more I heard about how timely and brave and kind and Christlike her talks and her attitudes were, the more I've been astonished at how timely some of her talks were.
This is from her, I think, first talk in the Relief Society meeting of Conference, October 1991, "Rejoice in Every Good Thing"
Again, look around the room you are in. Do you see women of different ages, races, or different backgrounds in the Church? Of different educational, marital, and professional experiences? Women with children? Women without children? Women of vigorous health and those who are limited by chronic illness or handicaps? Rejoice in the diversity of our sisterhood! It is the diversity of colors in a spectrum that makes a rainbow. It is the diversity in our circumstances that gives us compassionate hearts. It is the diversity of our spiritual gifts that benefits the Church.
. . . As a Relief Society General Presidency, we are different. Elaine, Aileen, Carol, and I are married and single, homemakers and professionals, far travelers and homebodies, converts and fifth-generation members, high school graduates and graduate-degree holders. We have given service to our community and to the Church. But we know each other, we help each other, and we love each other. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. We rejoice in our diversity and enjoy a unified sisterhood. Do the same in your own wards and stakes.
She was well known for bringing a little object up to the pulpit in her talks: a piece of string, a fishing net that her father, a Buddhist Japanese immigrant plantation worker on Hawaii had made. For one talk, "Baskets and Bottles" she brought up a bottle of peaches and a basket of fruit:
The doctrines of the gospel are indispensable. They are essential, but the packaging is optional. Let me share a simple example to show the difference between the doctrines of the Church and the cultural packaging. Here is a bottle of Utah peaches, prepared by a Utah homemaker to feed her family during a snowy season. Hawaiian homemakers don’t bottle fruit. They pick enough fruit for a few days and store it in baskets like this for their families. This basket contains a mango, bananas, a pineapple, and a papaya. I bought these fruits in a supermarket in Salt Lake City, but they might have been picked by a Polynesian homemaker to feed her family in a climate where fruit ripens all year round.
The basket and the bottle are different containers, but the content is the same: fruit for a family. Is the bottle right and the basket wrong? No, they are both right. They are containers appropriate to the culture and the needs of the people. And they are both appropriate for the content they carry, which is the fruit.
Sister Okazaki, in talks and visits to members, in her books and interviews, talked about the challenges of being a racial minority in a predominantly white, Utah-based religion. She openly praised the moral teachings of her life-long Buddhist mother. She talked openly about divorce and infertility. She recorded a special talk addressing sexual abuse that was sold at Deseret Book and distributed to thousands of Mormon women and later gave an address at BYU on the topic as well, both major firsts for any Church leader. She talked about, as a student at the University of Hawaii during WWII hearing an apostle warning LDS servicemen "do not get into a situation where you might marry any of these [Japanese] people" and how an LDS Japanese friend marrying a white woman had to travel to the Alberta, Canada temple because Utah had a law against interracial marriage. She had worked full time and got angry letters from Mormon women that someone like that would be called as a member of the Relief Society presidency. If issues relating to diversity and women's role in the Church are considered contentious today, I can only imagine what it was like to boldly and openly talk about them in the nineties.
Cheiko Okazaki is someone I didn't know I should miss until she was already gone, but I'm so grateful people like her can be the kinds of people they are in the Church.
- Rating Pending (who, in place of a joke, will repost this link to a truly great interview Sister Okazaki did with Dialogue magazine in 2005. It's a must read.)
Dear May Schlepper,
- "What Lack I Yet"
- "Lift Where You Stand"
- "Fourth Floor, Last Door"
- "High Priest of Good Things to Come"
"Make the Exercise of Your Faith Your First Priority" by Elder Scott is easily my favorite conference talk ever. I swear I've mentioned it in every single Sunday School class I've taught and I read it at least once a week.
Also, it isn't a conference talk, but I also love Sister Kristen Oaks CES devotional address "To the Singles of the Church."
The Soulful Ginger