Friday, October 17, 2014

Conversations with David O. McKay and John R. Howard, Part 9

Posted: Friday, 17 Oct 2014
Updated: Saturday, 18 Oct 14

[Continuing the conversation...  See Part 8]

David O. McKay
John (Jack) R. Howard

Eugene N. Kovalenko: David, since we last talked on September 25, I have had two more conversations with George J. You will remember that I mentioned that my purpose in talking to him was because of having had two dreams where he appears as a character and my desire to determine if there was any divine purpose to my dreams. Just after my second dream of him as a character (13 July 14), you appeared [as a character] in a subsequent dream that same night, which is why I believe both your and his appearances [as dream characters] were for a divine purpose. Does this make sense to you?

David O. McKay: Yes, brother Eugene, it does make sense and that is why I am willing to discuss your experience and its purpose and meaning.

ENK: Jack, you then came into my dreams the very night after my [real life face-to-face] conversation with George, which was after my most recent dream of him. For you, of all people, to make an appearance to me that very night meant to me that the divine purpose was not confined to the Mormon Church, which I associated with David's appearance. Does this also make sense to you?

John R. Howard: Indeed it does, Gene, and I think I can see where this is going.

ENK: I am glad for that, Jack, and am encouraged by the willingness of both of you to discuss this process. This is because I was surprised and discouraged after my most recent [face-to-face] conversation with George.

DOM: Eugene, can you tell us why you were discouraged?

ENK: Yes, for several reasons. First, despite his willingness to dialogue with me on a regular basis and his impressive diligence in taking copious notes of what we talk about, he seems not to comprehend what he has written. 

JRH: What do you mean, Gene? Give us an example.

ENK: OK. When I asked what he thought about what I thought about the leadership of the Mormon Church--incidentally, he insists on referring to the Salt Lake institution only as "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and goes to great lengths not to refer to it as "The Mormon Church" these days--But, back to the example of what he thinks I think about the LDS Church leadership these days, he said that I think they are all corrupt and uninspired.

JRH: Is that not so, Gene? Isn't that actually what you believe?

ENK: No. While it's true that I have been very judgmental about many of those leaders and their decisions, it's not generally true. That is, it's a mixed bag. When I mentioned one leader in particular that I have great respect for and confidence in, he was glad to hear that.

DOM: And which leader was that?

ENK: Jeffery L. Holland, one of the current Twelve Apostles.

DOM: Yes, a good man. He came up through the Church educational program. He and his sons have distinguished themselves as able academic administrators.

ENK: I've learned only recently that his oldest son is now president of Utah Valley University and his youngest son is currently dean of the Harvard School of Theology. Wonderful achievements for all of them! Before being called to be an apostle, Jeffery was president of BYU. I think that legacy is benefiting the Church greatly and I applaud it.

DOM: What else about George has discouraged you, brother?

ENK: I think the most irksome for me is his insistence on the LDS Church as being "the only true and authorized religious institution by God on the face of the earth".

DOM: And why do you not believe that?

ENK: To me that claim is simple idolatry. I have seen and experienced the Holy Spirit alive and blessing many in other institutions. Jack, you can attest to this, can't you?

JRH: Yes, Gene, I think your request to be baptized during our trip down the Colorado River in May 1975 was a good example, don't you?

ENK: I'll never forget the experience. You were reluctant at first to honor my request that you perform that ordinance.

JRH: But when you convinced me of your sincerity, I could not refuse. I felt it an honor and privilege to do it.

DOM: But then you were baptized into the LDS Church shortly after that, weren't you? How do you explain this?

Saturday, 18 Oct 14.

ENK: Yes, David, I was baptized by my oldest son, Nick, a 17-year-old LDS priest on 25 July 1975. It took place in the Pacific Ocean just under the cliffs where the Laguna Beach house was, where I received official notice by two unfamiliar men representing the local LDS high council that I had been excommunicated in absentia on April 2, 1966.

After having been baptized by John in the Colorado River the previous May, I still felt there was something unfinished regarding my experience with the Mormon Church. And so, I went again to visit the bishop of the Laguna Beach Ward as I had done the month previous to the 12-day river raft trip through the Grand Canyon with John and his friends. But in the meantime time the bishopric had changed! So, I asked the new bishop [Rondell Hanson] the same test question I had asked the previous bishop [Stanley Kimball]: "If President [Spencer W.] Kimball were to tell you to shoot me, would you do it?" 

He replied, "Well, OF COURSE NOT! First of all he would never order such a thing and even if he did I would not obey it, simply because it would be wrong!"

With that reply, I applied for return membership in the Church, which he was delighted to accept.

JRH: Why did you do that, Gene?

ENK: It was a matter of LDS law, Jack. Your baptism was the one I felt inspired to ask for at a very special moment during that wonderful trip through the bowels of the Grand Canyon--there was something primitive and symbolic about that trip for me--but I felt the Mormon baptism was something also required to fulfill their ecclesiastical law, since they recognize no other ecclesiastical authority, such as you held as an elder in good standing in the Presbyterian Church. The fact that my son was an unbeliever [a fact that I learned many decades later from him as a mature man] was irrelevant to the local Mormon ecclesiastical authorities. They were focused on the letter of their law, as presented in their Handbook of instructions.

JRH: That is a puzzlement to me, Gene, can you say more about it? 

ENK: I'd be happy to.

DOM: Before you do that, brother Eugene, please say more about your "test question" to Bishop Stanley Kimball. 

ENK: OK, David. I had begun wondering about returning to the LDS Church as early as 21 May 1972, which is when I sang for a Newport Beach ward conference at the request of my 16-year-old daughter, a member of that ward, who had been tasked with providing special music for their meeting. (I'll be happy to tell you the details of that event later if you are interested.) By the summer of 1974, after my long hoped-for career in Soviet-American trade was abruptly cut short, I felt lost, disheartened and disoriented. And so, I put myself on an "active imagination inner trial", to ascertain God's direction for my now disoriented life. My first attempt to tie up the loose ends from my LDS upbringing was to revisit the ward from which I'd been excommunicated years earlier, which was the Laguna Beach Ward. 

Because I did not know the current bishop at the time, I decided to test his attitude and beliefs, which I felt my question would do. His reaction to it was an immediate "Of course I would do it!", without so much as a reflective moment. With that reply, I knew this was not the right time. So, I thanked him for his availability and left his office to bide my time. Shortly after that, my friend John Howard contacted me about the Colorado River trip and I eagerly agreed to it.

Does that answer your question, David?

DOM: Almost. Please explain the feelings you mention having on May 21, 1972 at the Newport Beach Ward conference.

ENK: It may surprise you to know (no, actually I don't think this is going to surprise you in your current spiritual state!) that I had only recently come out of an almost 7-year wilderness period at John Howard's invitation and was living as his house guest in his home in Portland. My daughter Katya had just learned where I was and called me with her request. She obviously did not know anything about my excommunicated status, but I was delighted to accept and immediately jumped into my car to drive the 1,000 miles down from Portland to Newport Beach to sing the next Sunday morning for her ward conference. 

Little did I realize that the Newport Beach ward building was the very building that my excommunication trial had taken place 6 years earlier and that therefore some of the high councilors from that excommunicating high council would be in attendance. I came into that building looking like a hippie (long hair and purple clothes) and sang a Negro spiritual "Steal Away to Jesus" a cappella. It was a wonderful moment! And the Spirit in that ward building was palpable. On reflection I am amazed that I was even let into that building in the heart of conservative Orange County, looking as I did, let alone be allowed to sing! 

The NB ward bishop Stone was scheduled to speak after my song, but could not say anything for a long time. I remember seeing him standing there at the podium silently weeping until he could compose himself enough to speak. All members of my first family were there on the front row: first wife, together with her and my five children.

As I left the building to join my family in their nearby home, I began to feel nagged by a most strange idea. It would not leave me alone, so I looked up the birth and death dates of the Prophet Joseph and added his age at death to my own birth date (November 17, 1933) and was shook at the date that corresponded to that very Sunday! [May 21, 1972!] "What does this mean?", I asked myself silently. "Is my business with the Mormon Church not over?"

Does this answer your second question, David?

DOM: It does indeed! And very well. Thank you.

JRH: But then you came back to take an assignment for the college, didn't you, Gene?

ENK: Yes, bless you, Jack. That was a marvelous opportunity and challenge you offered me of putting together an international symposium for Immanuel Velikovsky. I felt there was a kind of poetic justice for me to take on that assignment. Velikovsky, a contemporary colleague of Einstein, had become internationally known for his writings on cosmology, but had been shunned by the academic community. Until your courageous idea of giving him an academic stage opportunity at Lewis and Clark College, he had never had the chance to defend his ideas before an assemblage of international scholars. The results of the symposium were unexpectedly grand!

Two of my most cherished mementos are two hand-written letters from Velikovsky, which are now in the special collection archives of L&C College, along with the many-letter, 20-year correspondence between you and me.

JRH: I'm still waiting for your comments on the Mormon Church's Handbook of instructions, Gene.

To be continued in Part 10...

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