Being Genuine Starts in the Loto (Heart)

"On Being Genuine" ~ Pres. Uchtdorf
This past Sunday (28th) I spoke in Sacrament meeting...again! (in less than a few months).  The assigned family was not able to speak and so Bishop texted me: Bro. Letalu, you’re speaking with the executive secretary on Sunday. This was mid week that he texted.  I said, “Ok Bishop.”   And the topic was Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk “On Being Genuine” given in the Priesthood Session in this past April conference.

The introduction mentions the Potemkin village (of Russian origin), which was a fake village - symbolic of a facade that aims only to impress.

So I started gathering some ideas, thoughts and jotted down some notes.  I read the talk again after having listened to it during conference.  One of the main points of the talk is the universal subject/theme of “Appearance vs. Reality”.  I was briefly taken back to my college days and how the subject  is a common theme in many of Shakespeare’s works.  Robinson’s "Richard Cory" (poem) also crossed my mind.  But I returned to the gospel context and tried to limit my references to the scriptures, supported by my Samoan experience.  Because our ward is mixed (Samoan and palagi) my talk was written and given in "Samlish" (and was cut short since there wasn't enough time).  I started by saying:

O le uiga o le upu “genuine” o le moni poo le faamaoni a’ia’i.  Afai e “genuine” se tala, o lona uiga o se tala moni, e le o se tala fatu pe o se tala faatupu.  We often use or refer to the word “genuine” through its antonym/opposite which is “fake”.  Afai la e “genuine” se tagata, o se tagata lena e le faa’ole’ole, e le fake, pe tau faasese, ae faamaoni ona uiga.  It's like wysiwyg!

In the talk under the section “Are our hearts in the right place?” is this quote:

“...when we direct our outward expressions of discipleship to impress others for personal gain or influence [,] it is then that we are at risk of entering into Pharisee territory, and it is high time to examine our hearts to make immediate course corrections.”

Yes, it's “time to examine our hearts” - so I took it and ran with it.  Heart is "loto" or "fatu" but it's the context of the former that is used in the talk.  References abound in the scriptures where the heart is important to God. Samuel being commanded by God not to look on the outward appearance but “looketh on the heart” when he goes to find a king for Israel among the sons of Jesse.  In Proverbs, we find that as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he, and the Lord requires of us a broken heart and contrite spirit if we have become truly converted to Him. The heart is at the core of a person’s character and the gospel especially our attitude of worshiping God. It literally defines an individual. A person’s genuineness lies in his/her heart.

Interestingly enough, this is no different from the Samoan experience as demonstrated in the native lexicon, notably the emphasis on the heart in describing a person’s deep and profound qualities - often whether good or bad.  The "loto" is used as the base/root word for the many basic human qualities and attributes (re: bolded list in next paragraph).

E faapea fo’i ia tatou o tagata Samoa, e taua tele le loto ae maise le iloaina ai o ituaiga tagata ma o latou uiga.  I le tatou gagana (Samoa), e faaaogaina le upu “loto” e faamatalaina ni uiga loloto  o se tagata. Silasila fo’i i upu nei: lotoalofa, lotolelei, lotomaualuga, lotoleaga, lotomalosi, lotofefete, loto'ele'elea, lototoa, lotomaulalo, lotoaiga, lotosa’o, lotoita, lotovale, lotofuatiaifo, lotomaa’a, lotogatasi, lotosalamo, lototaumafai, lotouso, lotopalapala ... Ioe, o le “loto” lava le faapogai o uiga lelei pe faale-lelei fo'i o se tagata.  E faamaonia i upu nei le taua tele o le loto i le olaga tauleleia poo le ta'uleagaina o se tagata ae maise fo'i i le va feagai o le tagata ma le Atua.

The heart is also where motives are manufactured.  The value and significance of the heart in man’s true and sincere worship of God set him apart from other fellow creatures.  Moreover, most if not all of the above “loto” qualities apply exclusively to man (vs. animals).  E le mafai ona tatou faapea: “Se e ‘ese le lokofefeke o le makou povi, poo se maile fo’i” (We cannot say “Our cow, or dog, is very conceited.")  We might be able to say e “loto alofa le matou maile” but that still doesn’t reach the depth of the same quality in man.  Compare the above "loto" qualities with other qualities like, fast, strong, clever, beautiful, etc., which can be ascribed equally to man and beast.

President Uchtdorf said:
It is part of human nature to want to look our best. It is why many of us work so hard on the exterior of our homes.... There is nothing wrong with shining our shoes, smelling our best, or even hiding the dirty dishes before the [guests] arrive. However, when taken to extremes, this desire to impress can shift from useful to deceitful.

The underlined text remind me of the nature and disposition of Samoans as being kind, loving and hospitable people.  Hence, taliga malo (hosting guests) is a common social and cultural practice among the Samoans. The thought prompted me to ponder this practical issue:

When we clean our houses in preparation for some expected guests, what is the real motive?  To impress the guests and boost our egos and reputation or is it out of love and righteous desire of making sure the guests are comfortable and feel at home?  Is it our interests or the guests’ interests at heart?  I then defended the Samoans (based on firsthand experience), especially those in the villages where I was raised and where humble circumstances exist, especially while I was growing up.

Samoan fale/hut
In the villages, the fales or houses are essentially “huts”. And whenever we expect guests, we start to clear any weeds and rubbish; lay some fresh sand (if the yard is a sandy one), or cut the grass (no lawnmowers at the time).  Nice mats are laid. The pola (blinds) are straightened in case a guest bumps his head against them upon entering.  All was done for the comfort, pleasure and ease of the guests.  The usual compliment “Nice house/hut” (or nice mats, blinds, etc.,) was not typical and not a native compliment in the villages.  (Unless of course the Flintstones were visiting, I guess.)  This is true since most guests will have come from families/homes of more moderate means (from town or NZ), and for them to say “Nice house/hut” will have rendered them disingenuous and insincere - or fake, aea?  Generally speaking therefore the main motive of the Samoans (esp those of more humble means and circumstances) was always in the interests of the guests, not theirs. If there was any selfish reason or motive, it would be subconscious and/or secondary.

Again the motives, including doing the right things for the right reason, are at the “heart” of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  About motives, here’s a breakdown:

1. A good pure heart can do ONLY good works.
2. A bad/impure heart likewise does bad works.  BUT, a bad/evil heart is also capable of doing good works, or seemingly good works (re: Matthew 7:11 discussed below).  An example is doing something good for someone, but from a selfish motive.

Here, I also struggled with the question of whether the “gift/work/service” given/done in the above example is still good, or tainted by the selfish motive. I’ve heard somewhere that a bad heart makes a gift bad too.  I'm not at all comfortable with such belief.  In Matthew 7:11, it says that  "...if you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"  It seems therefore that it’s possible for one with an evil heart to give good gifts.  And so I searched and found this in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 7:6-8):
 6 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent  it profiteth him nothing.
 7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
 8 For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
Notice how the giver - not necessarily the gift - is blamed because of the condition of his heart.  In essence what the scripture is saying (re: underlined texts) is that the gift profiteth the giver nothing (v6); is not counted unto him for righteousness (v.7); and he (giver) is counted evil before God (v.8).  It’s not saying anything about the gift being bad, evil or will not do any good.  Case in point, if one pays tithing solely and only because he wants blessings (i.e. without real intent, or love and a sincere heart), his motive is a selfish/evil one, and so therefore, the tithing will not profit him anything.  Here, we return to the heart as the place where it really counts as far as God is concerned.

Now say that the gift has been a person-to-person exchange, the heart of the receiver should also be in the right place and be truly grateful, otherwise the gift will profit him (recipient) nothing either as far as God is concerned. Through all that, the gift is unaffected, unsullied and ..... still GENUINE!

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