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A Cowboy’s thoughts on LDS President Nelson’s charge to “Think Celestial”

Cowboy Pat was born to a 16-year-old maid and a father he never met or knew. His early years were marked by uncertainty. However, he was eventually adopted into a bustling household of 11 siblings, where his engaging and attractive personality quickly endeared him to all in the family. However with feelings of self-consciousness or even shame with his adopted status, Pat’s fierce independence led him to strike out on his own at the earliest opportunity.

After high school, Pat enrolled in Navy Boot Camp, where he excelled and graduated in the top 10% of his class and where his engineering intuition eventually landed him a job as an aviation mechanic. His remarkable friendship with Eke during this time, a Japanese man who had experienced life in a concentration camp during the war, demonstrated Pat’s goodwill and respect for all people, transcending boundaries and prejudices.

Pat’s younger brother Dee had a school teacher named Faye. One day she was out with her friends and Pat was out with his. Faye liked what he saw in her and bet one of his friends 10 cents that he could pick up Faye and get her a hamburger.

Pat and Faye were soon married in a small town in Idaho, in an LDS temple.

They were a vivacious couple, known for their open hearts and charismatic personalities. Their home was a hub of entertainment, where friends and family gathered to share in the joy and warmth they radiated.

Together, they raised five children. Faye was very clean and lived in a home where she kept the floor waxed slick. At night they could hear the mice running around the house, and when they turned on the lights the mice would try to scamper away, but as soon as they hit the waxed floors they lost traction and slid.

Pat had a farmer mentality and old-school common sense that won the respect of everyone he met, captivating those in his farming community, who regarded him as more than human. His confidence, paired with an unwavering work ethic, earned him the title of the hardest working human being on the planet – a testament to his relentless determination and success.

A twist of fate led them to Wyoming, where Pat embarked on a new farming adventure, this time managing 160 acres of potatoes and wheat. Pat’s tireless work ethic was evident as he and his crews hoisted 120 pound bags of grain onto railroad carts single-handedly. Looking back, Pat remarked, “They won’t let you lift heavy sacks anymore. Men will become wiser but weaker.”

His accomplishments extended beyond just farming, he was an innovator. He engineered a new variety of potatoes in Idaho, achieving remarkable financial success. Pat’s dedication to fun and mental exercise was evident in late-night card games, chess matches, and snooker sessions with loved ones. His generosity was boundless, using snooker as a means of fellowship for those in need of a positive escape.

Pat adored his sweetheart for four decades until her tragic passing from a brain tumor in 1987.

After she was gone, Pat knew he couldn’t continue on as the same person.

It hurt too much.

He was no longer the same farmer rooted in shared dreams with beloved Faye. He had to become a new man, unfettered, saddling up to lasso the world alone under new wide open skies.

With horses in tow, but the passenger seat empty, he’d play Bing Crosby’s “Don’t Fence Me In” while driving to and from his ranch to saddle up for solo saddle adventures. The lyrics epitomized Pat’s newfound spirit – heartbroken but moving forward toward liberation and untethering from his former identity. The music accompanied him as he embraced the cowboy life with gusto, tipping his hat to the sun as he rode off to wrangle and ride with a renewed sense of purpose.

Pat’s reinvention allowed him to chart a bold new course, always with the memory of the woman he had loved for so long. The familiar tune reminded him he was no longer confined to who he was. A new chapter had begun.

President Nelson’s General Conference Talk on “Thinking Celestial”

In a recent conference of the LDS Church, President and Prophet Nelson encouraged church members to “think celestial.” This directive likely emphasizes the importance of aligning one’s thoughts, values, and actions with the principles and ideals of the Celestial Kingdom, which is considered the highest and most desirable level of heaven in LDS theology.

Regarding the meaning of “Think Celestial” he stated:

This means making the celestial kingdom your eternal goal and then carefully considering where each of your decisions while here on earth will place you in the next world.

The Lord has clearly taught that only men and women who are sealed as husband and wife in the temple, and who keep their covenants, will be together throughout the eternities.

Thus, if we unwisely choose to live telestial laws now, we are choosing to be resurrected with a telestial body. We are choosing not to live with our families forever.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, how and where and with whom do you want to live forever? You get to choose.

When you are confronted with a dilemma, think celestial! When tested by temptation, think celestial! When life or loved ones let you down, think celestial! When someone dies prematurely, think celestial. When someone lingers with a devastating illness, think celestial. When the pressures of life crowd in upon you, think celestial! As you recover from an accident or injury, as I am doing now, think celestial!

Origins of the Theology of Three Heavens

The concept of three heavens and the qualifications for them existed before Joseph Smith and the LDS Church teachings. The LDS heavens are known as Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial, each having distinct characteristics and levels of glory. The highest level, the Celestial Kingdom, is where the best Mormons aim to reside with their families, while the others may find themselves in the Terrestrial or Telestial Kingdoms, where family connections may not be as prominent.

In a book called “Heaven and Hell”, written in 1758 (fifty years before Joseph Smith was born), and a chapter titled “There are three heavens,” it is explained that there are three heavens that are entirely distinct from one another, much like the head, body, and feet of a person. This order is essential, as it reflects the Divine order that proceeds from the Lord. Each heaven corresponds to a specific degree of openness within our souls, leading to varying levels of perfection among us.

Because of these distinctions, angels from one heaven cannot easily enter another. Attempting to ascend or descend between heavens can lead to discomfort, anxiety, and even a loss of wisdom and communication abilities. Some from the lower heaven may mistakenly believe that being with higher angels will grant them greater heavenly happiness, but this is not the case.

The book “Heaven and Hell” states:

“There are three heavens, and these are wholly distinct from one another, the highest, the middle and the lowest. They follow in order and stand in relation to one another as the highest part of a man, or the head, his middle part or the body and the lowest, or the feet. Heaven is threefold. The Lord is seen in the celestial kingdom as the Sun and in the spiritual kingdom as the Moon.”

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Heaven and Hell: Also the World of Spirits Or Intermediate State from Things Heard and Seen by Emanuel Swedenborg. United States: Swedenborg Printing Bureau, 1758.

What did Joseph Smith teach about the Three Heavens?

Joseph Smith taught that there are three different heavens or kingdoms of glory that people can inherit after this life: the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms.

The celestial kingdom is the highest level, represented by the glory of the sun, where God dwells and where those who fully embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ in mortality will live in God’s presence and can become exalted as gods.

The terrestrial kingdom, represented by the moon, is the middle kingdom where honorable people who were righteous but did not accept the full gospel will dwell. They will be visited by Jesus Christ but not live in God’s full presence.

Lastly, the telestial kingdom, represented by the stars, is the lowest kingdom where the wicked who rejected the gospel will be saved, though they will never live in God’s presence. Their glory still exceeds human understanding. Smith taught that progression between these heavens is possible if ordinances are later accepted, but exaltation to the highest level is only for those who fully accepted and lived the gospel of Christ during their mortal lives.

What did Cowboy Pat teach about Heaven: “Generally speaking, the guy that seeks the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom doesn’t seek it for himself, he seeks it for the other people that are with him”

The formerly Farmer Pat, turned Cowboy Pat, is my Grandpa Pat.

Grandpa Pat rarely opened up to us grandkids about the deeper meaning behind how he lived. He simply lived, and we followed his example.

Grandpa passed away on his ranch in 2011.

In 2010, as a graduate student on a summer break, I found myself in Grandpa’s ranch home basement one last time. Grandpa Pat had been facing a series of health issues, and our time together was now more precious than ever. I caught him on a night where he was willing to talk about his life, thoughts and deeper meanings. His words didn’t come easily, the thoughts and feelings were still there, but he had trouble voicing them because of a recent stroke.

My wife had our small video recorder with her, and she pulled it out as Grandpa and I talked.

Grandpa and I had developed an open and trusting bond from working many summers together. In years past, we had spent countless days digging fence posts, tossing hay bales, and breaking horses, waking before sunrise and returning after sunset. Just him and I. One on one. I was very much a city slicker and it felt unnatural for me to work beside someone of his strength, instinct and ability, but I loved it and I extended myself to my maximum capacity to please him. We didn’t talk much when we worked, if at all, but because of the closeness forged side-by-side on the ranch, I could ask Grandpa straightforward questions without dancing around any topics. Our conversations were plainspoken and honest. I knew I could ask him directly about life’s biggest questions.

I’m not against LDS General Conference. I don’t hold signs of protest at temple square and I try to be respectful of everyone’s position. I’m happy that someone is motivated by it or feels the goodness in it. There are beautiful people with messages that can inspire and uplift. Yet, as I listened to President Nelson’s address on “Thinking Celestial”, I wondered what Grandpa Pat would think about this. Grandpa wasn’t a rebel in the way we think of rebels today. Though he was nonconformist in his own way, he likely wouldn’t fit the modern image of a Mormon rebel. And he was by no means anti-mormon. While in Wyoming, he was a bishop and had fond memories of the people in his stewardship. Where matters of church were concerned, I would call him open, committed, but honest. He conceded his limitations, whether intellectual or spiritual, but he also believed.

He just did.

But, there was something about President Nelson’s portrayal of heaven and “thinking celestial” that upset my being, I felt a complex and existential threat. It stirred negative emotions in me, and not knowing what to do with them, I turned to Grandpa and our old recording of his final interview. I was looking for a balm of Gilead, a soothing medicine for the soul, like the kind Edgar Allan Poe’s narrator hopes to get from the raven in his famous poem.

As we played poker and talked, my wife recorded us. I asked him about Faye. I asked him about life. I asked him about heaven.

How do we get to heaven Grandpa and are you concerned with where you are going?

Today, I needed the reassuring, plainspoken wisdom that only Grandpa could provide me. In the stillness of my basement, and before the sun rose with my children, I turned on the recorder and listened to Grandpa’s responses about life’s greatest questions.

I asked:

“Grandpa, will you be happy if you don’t make the celestial kingdom”

He answered:

“I’m satisfied wherever they send me. And I don’t want anybody to say well you should have done this better or that better than. Maybe I should have and maybe I shouldn’t have. But, I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“But I think some people would say, I want to be in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, I want to be right up there. Well, if I’m up there fine. But, if I don’t make it there fine. I’m not going to complain at the guy that does make it. “

“And I’m not going to be unhappy with him, if he makes me wait on the tables instead of something else.”

“Generally speaking, the guy that seeks for the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom doesn’t seek it for himself, he seeks it for the other people that are with him.”

When it came to heavenly rewards, Grandpa didn’t lose sleep over which kingdom he’d end up in. His outlook was simple: make the most of whatever spot you land. Don’t complain if someone else gets a higher glory. Seek to lift others, not boost your own.

That was and is forever Grandpa Pat – thinking of others first. He modeled selflessness and service, not preoccupation with rewards. In Grandpa’s eyes, true celestial living meant loving whoever was in front of you that needed to be loved.

See you in Heaven Grandpa.