Conservationism and LDS Meetinghouses

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One of my favorite temporal/practical things the LDS Church is doing recently is making more energy-efficient buildings. This is not a new philosophy or theology or practice of the Church, we just are living in a time when it is starting to be cost-effective to have energy efficiency as a goal in architecture. “H. David Burton, presiding bishop of the Church, said, ‘For decades we have looked for innovative ways to use natural resources in our meetinghouses that reflect our commitment as wise stewards of God’s creations.'” A new meetinghouse was recently built in Mesa, Arizona that includes an array of solar panels on its roof to help offset energy costs. Not only that but it also includes a number of other features that reduce electricity use, water use, and waste. It’s a combination of technology, conservationism, and religion.

Just like all we’ve been given by our Father, we are asked to be wise stewards – to take care of, nourish, and nurture – of the earth. Just like we would not abuse other people, ourselves, or animals, we should not abuse the earth. It is God’s creation and we are not to treat it lightly. This does not mean that we cannot use it, it is for our benefit, but we need to be wise in our use of the earth and its resources. This transcends political ideology. Church spokesmen are talking about reducing carbon emissions or “footprint”, which often is a politically-charged term but using that term or worrying about carbon footprint does not change the underlying principles of these energy efficient meetinghouses. The LDS Church is trying to do its part to use resources more effectively while taking care of the earth.

Some of the other improvements of the new meetinghouse include:

  • Energy efficient windows
  • Improved insulation
  • High efficiency furnaces
  • More efficient lighting
  • Automatic light switches that turn off when rooms are not occupied
  • Landscaping that uses drought-tolerant plants and automated irrigation sensors

Will these meetinghouses be built en masse? It’s possible if they turn out to be viable solutions in certain areas. While solar panels will not work in all locations, there are other principles of conservation that will work in many locations. While touring the Atlanta Temple last week, we saw some of the enhanced efficiencies of the temple, including efficient laundry appliances. These are all wonderful steps in improving our use of the earth.

We have been commanded to be wise stewards: “All things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” (D&C 59:18-20).

The Saints have been promised an inheritance of the earth if they are righteous: “And I have made the earth rich, and behold it is my footstool, wherefore, again I will stand upon it. And I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, upon which there shall be no curse when the Lord cometh; And I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts. And this shall be my covenant with you, ye shall have it for the land of your inheritance, and for the inheritance of your children forever, while the earth shall stand, and ye shall possess it again in eternity, no more to pass away.” (D&C 38:17-20). If the earth is the Lord’s footstool, we should treat it well. We should not abuse it. Even if the earth shall be renewed at a future date (see D&C 29:23, for example), we do not have free reign to use with excess.

How do we do this? Do we limit human population as many propose? No. As Pres. Packer said recently, “And the Gods said: ‘We will bless them. And … we will cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.This commandment has never been rescinded.” (Oct. 2010 General Conference). There are enough resources for everyone. “For the earth is full [of resources], and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” But we need to share with others and not horde or abuse what we have: “Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” (D&C 104:17-18).

How we treat the earth, I believe, is reflective of our faith in Christ. Does this mean if you hunt or run a mining company or use resources, you somehow have less faith in Christ? No. What I mean is that our faith in Christ can help us be more aware that the earth is His creation and that we should treat it well. The LDS Church is trying to do its part to leave a smaller footprint on the Lord’s footstool so that there are adequate resources for everyone and so that we are better able to keep the earth beautiful so that it might “please the eye and gladden the heart.”

The Love of Money

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President Spencer W. Kimball taught of the importance of keeping the Sabbath Day holy. He said:

“In a stake recently I interviewed a man for an important position in the stake reorganization. And I said to him, ‘What is your occupation?’ And he said, ‘I operate a service station.’ And I asked, ‘Do you operate on the Sabbath?’ His answer was, ‘No, I do not.’ ‘Well, how can you get along? Most service station operators seem to think they must open on the Sabbath.’ ‘I get along well,’ he said. ‘The Lord is good to me.’ ‘Do you not have stiff competition?’ I asked. ‘Yes, indeed,’ he replied. ‘Across the street is a man who keeps open all day Sunday.’ ‘And you never open?’ I asked. ‘No, sir,’ he said, ‘and I am grateful, and the Lord is kind, and I have sufficient for my needs.’

“I was in another stake, also in a reorganization program, and another brother was considered for one of the highest positions; and when we asked him of his occupation, he said he was a grocer by trade. ‘Well, most of the stores keep open on the Sabbath. Do you?’ ‘We lock our store on Sunday,’ he said. ‘But how can you compete with these people who are open seven days a week?’ ‘We compete. At least we get along very well,’ was his reply. ‘But would not the Sabbath be your biggest day?’ ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘we would probably sell twice as much on the Sabbath as we would on an average day, but we get along without it, and the Lord has been kind; he has been gracious; he has been good.’ … And I could not refrain from saying, ‘God bless you, my faithful brother. The Lord will not be unmindful of these seeming sacrifices. Your dollars are clean. They will surely not hinder you in finding your way into the kingdom of God.’” (Source)

While these are nice stories about keeping the Sabbath Day holy, I want to focus on what Pres. Kimball stated about money: “Your dollars are clean. They will surely not hinder you in finding your way into the kingdom of God.”

Jesus taught on this principle: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19: 23-26).

Jesus taught at least two important things with this. 1) Rich people have a very hard time entering the kingdom of heaven. 2) People cannot save themselves but God can save them.

Actually, if we read these verses more closely we see that Christ was not just talking about rich people having a difficult time entering the kingdom of heaven; His disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” Why would they ask this if Christ was talking just about rich people? They wouldn’t. So while the Savior stressed the difficulty that rich people have, it is the same difficulty that we all share; namely, we are unable to save ourselves.

Elsewhere in the New Testament we read:

“And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness…. Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Tim. 6:8-11, 17-19).

There are many temptations that afflict the rich that do not afflict those who are not rich (conversely, there are temptations that afflict the poor that might not afflict the rich). But notice the terminology: “they that will be“, not “they that are“. I really think Paul was focusing on people who may or may not have a lot of money but who love money and will do anything they can to get more of it. That is where the problem is, in the people who worship money. If wealthy people love their money, much evil will ensue. A camel cannot fit through the eye of a needle, it’s hard enough to get a thread through one! And yes, when Jesus said “eye of a needle” he meant a needle and not some gate into the city. So wealthy people have a difficult time entering the kingdom of heaven. Why is this?

One thing that heaven requires is consecration. You have to give up all you have for the cause of the Lord. Wealthy people oftentimes have a difficult time letting go of their money (which is what happened in the context of Jesus talking about camels and needles). Money also brings pride. Pride brings love of money. Pride is the great sin. Loving money leads to much evil. I’ve seen a number of families and individuals destroyed because of fights over money.

The only way to counteract this is to trust in the living God. So is there any way for wealthy people to be saved? Yes. They need to trust God and make sure that their money is clean. That’s what Pres. Kimball said, “Your dollars are clean [because they were not earned on the Sabbath day]. They will surely not hinder you in finding your way into the kingdom of God.” In other words, filthy lucre is a curse, clean money is not a hindrance (notice he also didn’t say that clean money was a boon either). We need to invest more in heavenly things than in earthly things. We need to invest in the Church and in the Lord. Only the Lord provides eternal returns.

The Importance of Family and the Spirit of Elijah

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My father wrote a beautiful post about one of the great benefits of doing family history work. I’ll quote about half of his post:

“Slowly my heart turned to my ancestors…. The more I investigated, the more there was to investigate. Sometimes I would just sit and feel almost crushed by the weight of all those dead people. They began talking to me. How could I go on with all those lives? All those days of work and all the sorrow and tears? How can you keep on going when your son, your namesake, is crushed by the wheel of a wagon crossing the plains? How do you live through the loss of your twenty-two year old son, electrocuted by a power line? How do you live on when your mother dies and you are only eight years old? How do you live in a place with little water, when the wind blows 350 days a year and the temperatures in the winter are 20 degrees below zero? How do you go on when your home is burned by a mob and you are beaten over the head until senseless? How can you live in Boston with no job and no income and no food and watch your children starve? How do you live when you look out from your tiny ship after crossing the ocean and see a whole empty continent and face a winter of starvation? How do you keep from being crushed by all those dead peoples’ lives?

“Genealogy is not a pastime. Genealogy is not a hobby. Genealogy is not even a discipline. It is not technology. It is not a software program or backing up files. It is the hopes, fears and lives of your ancestors. It is life. It is who you are when everything else is lost and gone. At the end of your life, you have only your memories and your family. Truly said, what is it worth to gain the whole world if you lose your soul? Your family is your soul.”

The scripture my father quoted at the end comes from the New Testament. The Savior said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). If our family is our soul, do we sell that in our pursuits of other things? Do we neglect the roots and branches of our family trees? Do we give up what matters most for what might matter at the moment? Are we gaining fleeting things by ignoring what really lasts?

One of Shakespeare’s characters contemplated,

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?”

By neglecting our ancestors, particularly their temple work, we are neglecting the vine and selling, or at least delaying, eternity.

In 1977 Truman G. Madsen gave a devotional talk entitled Elijah’s Mission at Brigham Young University [link to all of his recorded talks at BYU]. He notes that the first (temporally) section of the Doctrine and Covenants is Section 2, which is something that Moroni told Joseph Smith when he visited on Sep. 21, 1823. He said,

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

Elijah’s mission, Elijah’s spirit and keys, are partially related to genealogy. If the hearts of the fathers and children do not turn towards each other and the promises (covenants) made, the “whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.” So just how important is genealogy (implying also temple work)? Well, it saves the earth so it probably could not be any more important.

Truman Madsen said a lot of things pertaining to this subject in his talk [note: this is a partial transcript I did because I’m not aware of a transcribed version of this talk]:

“He [Elijah] somehow bridges some gap, some alienation, some separation that has occurred in the human family. No subject preoccupied the Prophet Joseph Smith more than this. And in his late years he spoke at least 8 times, pleading with the Saints to ponder and pray over this principle. And for example, he gave us some insight. We ordinarily say, ‘Well, Elijah did something pertaining to the dead or work for the dead.’ A half truth. In the first place, no one is really dead. Those who are in the spirit world are, we are taught by the prophets, more alive than some of us. Elder Melvin J. Ballard used to say that they have every feeling intensified spiritually. And as for their being dead and gone. No, they are not gone either for the prophets teach us that the spirit world is not in some remote galaxy, it is here, it is near. And as the Prophet [Joseph Smith] put it, speaking of their feelings for us – those who are bound to us somehow by the anxieties of their fore-bearing; he said, their bowels yearn over us. He said, they are not merely idle spectators in the last days. He said, enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us. They know our thoughts, motions – one account says emotions – and feelings and are often pained therewith – and he could have added, rejoiced therewith. When the scriptures say all eternity is pained, that is I take it a metaphor for their pain. When it says that the heavens weep in joy – the same.

“So Elijah does have something to do with them [our ancestors] but the Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught he [Elijah] also has something to do with us and with the living. And there is this strange phrase that had he not come, then the whole earth would be cursed, or, in another version, the earth would be utterly wasted at Christ’s coming. Wasted I take it means at least two things. It would be in a sense, a waste, if this earth created by our Father and His Son as the dwelling place of their family turned out to be a house barren. Not a home, not a place of genuine familial love. And in that sense it would have been a waste to have created it. But secondly, it would literally be the case were there not a family welded and united and full of love for Christ, it would be the case that all mankind would be laid waste at His coming, unable to endure His presence. But thank God for the restoration of the power to prepare such a family! And that conferral came through Elijah.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said, speaking of this, ‘How will God come to the rescue of this generation?’ And answers, He will send Elijah. Well that generation may have been a difficult one, this generation in which you and I live is in some ways a worse one….

“Elijah had a revelatory function. There is a spirit that is somehow emanating through him and his work and ministry, which has reached out far beyond the pales of this Church. Turning hearts and not just heads. And one account says that it was his function to reveal to us the covenants made by our fathers and the covenants made by us with our fathers, again pointing to something that happened prior to mortality….

“Elijah has been patient through millennia to bring earth and heaven back together, to tie to together the old and the new worlds, to take the estranged and the alienated and the embittered and somehow transform their hearts and to prepare all of the family who will to be a family, welded indissolubly in order to greet the Christ.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said on an occasion to the Relief Society that he grieved that there was so little union of feeling among them – and they were marvelous! And he went on to say, by union of feeling we obtain power with the heavens. When on the other hand he introduced the ordinance of the washing of the feet among the brethren, he taught them that this ordinance, a sacred one, was essential to the union of feeling and affection among them – that their faith might be strong.

“Now we needn’t dwell on the point that the family in our culture is coming unglued and there are those that recommend it and who hold that the great wave of the future – a better future – is to totally abandon the notion of unit families….

“We’re in a real world and the alienation, the pain, the hostility, the torment, the trauma, even of Latter-day Saint homes is a long distance from Elijah who said he would turn the hearts toward and not away. Is there hope? I’m here to testify there is….

“It may be difficult to forgive your enemies but it’s even more so to forgive your loved ones who have sometimes manifested hate and you [have manifested hate], in response. It is harder to forgive your loved ones because you care about them and you have to go on living with them or struggling to and they can go on hurting you over the years and decades and it’s a little hard. But your hearts will never turn to your fathers in the way this spirit of which we have been testifying motivates you to do unless you forgive.

“See, you’ve inherited all kinds of things. There is a standard procedure for students with bad report cards – they can go home and say, ‘Look Mom’ or ‘Look Dad, which do you think it is? Heredity or environment?’…You willingly chose to come into the world, likely in this time and this circumstance and you may have had some choice as to your parentage and to your posterity….

“As you look back at the seventy men, and that’s what it would take – only 70 men – to get you back to Abraham, you might recognize that you have inherited the blood of generations. And blood might not be a correct word scientifically but it stands in the scriptures for seed, which is specifically the heredity, the inheritance of tendencies, and all of you have them. And so you have the blood of this generation, which Section 88 says you must become clean from – that’s a strong prepositional ending. Clean, from the blood of this generation. If so, you must be clean from the blood of every generation because it is compounded and cumulated into now and that includes the blood of some degeneration.

You do have problems that you can blame on them and if you forgive that and choose to stand close to the Lord in the process of purifying your life, that will affect your whole family – in both directions. You are not alone. There is no way you can gain solitary and neutral ground. You are in it – in involvement [with your family]. And this I take it one of the profound meanings of that long, laborious allegory in the Book of Mormon – Jacob’s allegory of the tame and wild tree….

“If you take a tame [olive] branch and graft it into a wild tree – in due time, if it is strong enough, it will heal and regenerate to the very roots. You will then have been an instrument in the sanctification, even of your fore-bearers. Do you believe it? Does that ever sober you in moments where you suppose that either no one cares for you or whether they care or not, your life makes no difference? To be that kind of branch and achieve that kind of transformation backward and forward is the greatest achievement of this world! But to do it one must be great, one must be linked, bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. He must be mighty! Why he must be something like a savior and that is exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith said you are – saviors on Mount Zion. And how are you to be saviors on Mount Zion, he asked once in a discourse, and he answered – and I’m paraphrasing – by going, first building, and going into the temples of the Lord. And in your own propria persona – in your own first person presence – to go through for and in behalf of loved ones – all of the ordinances, and he [Joseph Smith] names them all – and says by the way, that Elijah’s keys apply to all ordinances, not just the final one; sealing all of them, culminating in that final linkage that binds for time and for eternity. Saviors, redeemers of your families….

The sacrifice I suggest that the sons of Levi and the daughters of Levi are to offer in the end, is the willingness to give yourself in the cause of saviorhood and to care more about family and the preservation and intensification of family than you care about anything else in this world! And that has costs. Some things have to be given up; some things have to be postponed – and the focus is sacrifice.

“I have to say, honestly, that I find that I believe that it is painful. I have to say that I believe that there are many among us who are easily pulled in other directions, and I have to say that I consider that tragedy. I occasionally hear housewives say that’s what they are – mere housewives. ‘What have you done in the past 20 years?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Ah, I just fed my family three meals a day and more or less kept them together.’ ‘Is that all?’ Pres. Lorenzo Snow said with power on an occasion, ‘If a woman did nothing more than that [faithfully take care of her home and family], she would be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom.’ If she didn’t do one other thing! Our generation is making attractive every other thing but. And that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. So I plead with you, be forgiving and be sacrificial….

“It is our privilege and calling in our own limited way, to become redemptors of not just the human race but the human family – ours and His. It is impossible to love Him truly and not love what is His – and the Lord God assigned Him all of us. And it is not possible for you to really love yourself unless you love what is truly you, and that is whole house of Israel in which you belong….”

There is a lot there. Family is important, it is all that really matters in the end. Genealogy and family history work are part of Elijah’s mission. It is not just about building up databases of names; this work is about providing necessary ordinances to those who are waiting. It is about linking generation to generation and hearts to hearts. Our ancestors lived lives of joy and sorrow, they were people both good and bad. They can be, through their faith and ours and through the sealing power of the Priesthood, which keys Elijah bestowed upon Joseph Smith, forever ours.

Norman Borlaug: A Life of Service and Good Fruits

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The year 1914 was significant. The Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, which event led to the start of World War I, a devastating conflict between many nations that left millions dead. 1914 was also the year the Panama Canal opened, providing quick access by boat from hemisphere to hemisphere. It was also the year that Sir Earnest Shackleton left for his expedition across Antarctica. In the U.S., 50% of the people who were born in the early 1900s could expect to live to age 60 (less than 80% would have been expected to live to age 20). In contrast, 50% of people born in 2004 can expect to live to about age 83 (source). Thus, since around 1914 we have added about 30 years to the average human lifespan. Most of this has come from reductions in infant mortality. Around the world, similar improvements in life expectancy have been made.

The world was in upheaval in 1914 but in an obscure rural town in Iowa a baby was born who would change the world. However this person largely remains unknown, at least within the United States. His name was Norman Borlaug. He died on September 12, 2009 at the age of 95. He grew up and received a PhD in plant pathology. He helped create hardier grain plants that increased food production by enormous amounts throughout the world.

“In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug’s concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands “at the lowest level in human history,” despite the global population having trebled in a single century.” (Source).

Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work. He is one of the main reasons for a large increase in life expectancy worldwide. He spent much of his life living in the countries he was trying to help. His family went along too. In his own way, Borlaug was like Mother Teresa but on a much broader and macro level. His helping the poor and hungry was not ostensibly religious – it was based on science and plant genetics – but he had great devotion to helping and teaching those who needed help. Norman Borlaug was a man who was blessed with much and gave much. He never sought for fame and fame, for the most part, did not seek him.

None of us will likely ever have as great an impact on this world as Norman Borlaug did but we have all been given talents – spiritual gifts – that require us to use them for the good of ourselves and others.

“Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts. And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are…. For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C; 46:8-12; emphasis added).

All on the earth are given at least one spiritual gift by God. Many are given many. They should be used and expanded for the profit of all. In the New Testament we read the parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14-29). In this parable are three servants who are given talents (money) by their master as He leaves on a journey. The servant given five talents turned around and through wisdom and good sense turned the talents into ten. The servant given two talents turned those into four. The master was pleased with both servants. They were given talents and had increased them wisely. The third servant was given one talent. He, fearing his master, and not wanting to lose his talent, buried it; upon his master’s return the servant gave unto him his single talent. The master was not pleased. He stated that this servant should at the least have put the money in the bank, so to speak, where it might have earned some interest. Because this third servant had not been wise with his talent, it was taken from him and given to the servant with ten talents.

The moral of this parable is not based on how many talents the servants had originally; it is based on what the servants did with the talents allotted unto them. Both the servant with five and two talents had doubled their talents. They expended effort and did not hide or neglect their talents. The servant given one talent would have acted similarly had he been given ten talents instead of one. Again, it does not matter how much we have been given as it matters what we do with what we have received. That last statement is not strictly true in the broader sense (i.e., outside this parable), I believe, because those who have received more talents have a greater responsibility to wisely use and grow them. Jesus said unto Joseph Smith, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C; 82:3). The more we receive, the greater our responsibility.

To me it seems that Norman Borlaug was given much. He had the intelligence, training, creativity, and support that enabled him to help others have the food they needed to survive. He was not selfish with his knowledge. He spent the time himself training others so that they might in turn be able to train others. Borlaug helped start what is known as the Green Revolution, a revolution not of swords and guns but one of plows and tractors. It helped modernize the agricultural techniques of many areas of the world. Before where famine and starvation were rampant, Borlaug’s work helped pave the way for surplus and plenty. He is a man who was given much and gave much in return. I do not know what he was like as a person but his fruits were good.