Skip to main content

The Soul of BYU–Hawaii

Good morning Brothers and Sisters. Aloha.

In 1941 London was being routinely bombed by Hitler’s assault on England. One of those bombs found its target to be the chamber of the House of Commons. A few years later as WWII was coming to an end in Europe, Parliament debated how to rebuild the House of Commons. Some, including Winston Churchill, wanted to retain its original rectangular pattern with a center isle instead of changing to a semi-circular or horse-shoe design favored by some legislative assemblies. Churchill insisted that the shape of the old Chamber was responsible for the two-party system which is the essence of the British parliamentary system. Churchill noted that “we shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

Our surroundings, the physical world we live in, does much to influence us, it shapes us as human beings. Not just the shape of our buildings but the landscape, the weather, the sights, sounds, smells as well. Our world shapes us.

Creation of Earth to Shape Us

Before Churchill made his statement about buildings shaping us and even before Adam and Eve were placed on this earth, we all sat in a council where a plan was laid out to build an earth, a physical place, that we would inhabit. This earth would help shape us into Gods like our Heavenly Father. Our spiritual bodies already were created, now we need physical bodies to progress.

We often hear why this earth experience is so important for our eternal experience. But have we pondered how the design of this earth helps to shape us to be more like our Father in Heaven?

In the Garden of Eden, Adam was commanded to dress and tend the earth. While in the garden and after leaving the garden, Adam and Eve learned to take earths resources and shape them for their benefit. They provided food and shelter from the earth.

I have wondered at times why this earth was shaped as it is. God’s purpose is to bring to pass the eternal life of man, and mankind are to be happy. The diversity of our landscapes plays a part in that enjoyment and adds to God’s purposes.

This earth life is also a place and a time to be tested. The physical world also provides us challenges that help us build strength in body and in character. Many of us are drawn to and enjoy experiencing our oceans, mountains, valleys, forests, and streams. Our great outdoors. We also find enjoyment in shaping our world for our beauty and comfort. We build homes, gardens, parks, and temples from the natural resources of the earth.

We, mankind, have been given the freedom, indeed the charge, to maintain and shape our environment from the resources provided from our maker.

From the church’s statement on environmental stewardship we read that this beautiful earth and all things on it are the creations of God. As beneficiaries of this divine creation, we should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations. The earth and all things on it are part of God’s plan for the redemption of His children and should be used responsibly to sustain the human family. All humankind should gratefully use what God has given, avoid wasting life and resources, and use the bounty of the earth to care for the poor and the needy.

To truly reverence the Creator, we must appreciate His creations. God intends His creations to be pleasing to look upon and to enliven the mind and spirit. For that reason, making the earth ugly offends Him. It is important to see and appreciate the glory and grandeur of God in everything about us, because the state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected—each affects the other. The earth, all living things, and the expanse of the universe all eloquently witness of Him.

It pleases God that He has given the earth to us and the good things that come of it are blessings for us. They not only provide for our temporal needs but are given to “gladden the heart” and “enliven the soul”.

So, God created this earth for our benefit and to shape us. It is part of His plan to redeem us. We have a clear responsibility to care for the earth and we are charged to use the earth’s resources for our benefit and learning.

Campus Being Reshaped

Last year while in Rome for the dedication of the Rome Italy Temple, President Russell M. Nelson called the dedication of the Rome Italy Temple “a hinge point in the history of the Church.” He said “Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace, The Church is going to have an unprecedented future, unparalleled. We’re just building up to what’s ahead now.”

A hinge is a pivot point, a turning point. It does not come apart or disassemble. It changes the direction of what is already connected. I believe what President Nelson was saying is not that the church is changing in any dramatic manner but that it is adjusting and focusing more intently toward the millennial reign of the Savior and that events preparing for that time will accelerate.

BYU–Hawaii is also at a hinge point. Our future and our mission are being honed, focused, and our role in preparing earth’s people for the millennial reign will accelerate.

Our campus physical environment is also changing. We are replacing, adding to, and renovating our campus buildings. This University is going to have an unprecedented future.

Building upon our rich heritage, we will find ways to both build facilities, and persons of talent and character, that will influence millions of earth’s inhabitants to be prepared for Christ’s millennial reign.

This year, right now, we have under construction a new cafeteria, a new Laboratory building, more married student housing, and several smaller projects. We will soon have more single student housing under construction. We are planning toward renovations of many other parts of campus including the renewal of the iconic McKay complex of buildings and the Snow administration building. Campus is in the midst of a physical renewal.

How our buildings are maintained, designed, and constructed will have an impact on the work that occurs within them. Just like the shape of the house of common’s chamber impacted democracy; just like how the shape of this earth impacts mankind; the shape of this campus will impact those that come here. Campus should inspire and teach.

Up to this point I have been speaking of physical places; the earth, campus. Now I want to propose that campus also has a spirit, which is the collective spirit of all who are here.

The buildings and grounds are the body of BYU–Hawaii. The students, faculty, staff are its spirit. Together they are the soul of BYU–Hawaii.

Our campus needs to reflect the light of the gospel in both body and spirit. We see with our eyes the physical or body of campus taking shape. How is our spiritual campus taking shape? Just like each building is made up of many bricks and parts, our campus spirit is made up from the spirits of each individual person.

While we see the physical transformations of campus taking place, we should also be considering a spiritual transformation. For BYU–Hawaii to fulfill its prophetic role and do its part in ushering in the Second Coming of our Savior, we need the “soul” of campus to be healthy and aligned.

Reshape Our Own Lives

We personally should also be at a hinge point. Our BYU–Hawaii experience should be a hinge point in our spiritual progression. What can we do to hone in our lives and to focus our lives more on the coming of our Savior and his millennial reign?

In last April’s General conference there were two talks that used a physical place to inspire our spiritual growth. One of our later day apostles, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, talked about the rebuilding of the Salt Lake temple and challenged us to rebuild our own spirits. Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the seventy talked about what makes the finest homes.

Elder Stevenson said as we contemplate the next four years of the life of the beautiful Salt Lake Temple, envision it more as a time of renewal rather than a time of closure! He challenged us to in a similar way ask ourselves, “How can the extensive renewal of the Salt Lake Temple inspire us to undergo our own spiritual renewal, reconstruction, rebirth, revitalization, or restoration?”

Closer to home, I could issue a similar challenge as we rebuild campus. What can we do this year as we build a new Cafeteria, a Laboratory building, and new housing units to renew, rebuild, and add to our spiritual strength? What can we do next year, and the year after that to further build our campus collective spirit?

Can we strengthen our resolve to live more completely the Honor Code, to keep our covenants, to know our Savior? The basics of our Honor Code that we all have committed to live is to

  • Be honest.  
  • Be chaste and virtuous 
  • Respect others 
  • Obey the law including campus policies 
  • Abstain from substance abuses 
  • Participate in Church 
  • Observe dress and grooming standards 
  • And Encourage others to comply 

Can we resolve to better fulfill these commitments?

Elder Stevenson further suggested that we take an introspective look into our lives which may reveal that we too and our families could benefit from our doing some needed maintenance and renovation work, even a seismic upgrade as is taking place on the Salt Lake Temple. He suggested we might start by asking ourselves:

“What does my foundation look like?”

“What comprises the thick-walled, stable, strong cornerstones that are part of my personal foundation, upon which my testimony rests?”

“What are the foundational elements of my spiritual and emotional character that will allow me and my family to remain steadfast and immovable, even to withstand the earthshaking and tumultuous seismic events that will surely take place in our lives?”

Events in our lives that shake our testimony, like an earthquake, are often difficult to predict and come in various levels of intensity. The best defense against challenges in our lives lie in our spiritual foundation.

What might be the spiritual cornerstones of our personal and family lives? They may be the simple, plain, and precious principles of gospel living—family prayer; scripture study; temple attendance; and gospel learning.

The principles included in the questions discussed as part of receiving a temple recommend serve as a strong basis for a spiritual foundation. President Nelson reviewed four of these recommend questions with us in general conference just over one year ago. They are spiritual cornerstone questions.

Those questions are:

Do you have faith in and a testimony of God, the Eternal Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost?

Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of His role as your Savior and Redeemer?

Do you have a testimony of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator and as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?

Elder Stevenson’s challenge to us is to examine our spiritual foundation, and concurrent with the renovations we may see taking place in our physical surrounding (such as here on campus and on the Salt Lake Temple), make a plan to renovate, remodel, and strengthen our spiritual self.

We want visitors to our campus to find not only a physical environment (buildings and grounds) that reflect the gospel but also to have the spirit of those persons that work, live, and study here to reflect the light of the gospel as well.

Elder Clayton reminded us that the qualities of a finest home is not just its layout and furnishings, but it is the spirit and personal qualities of those that dwell there. For BYU–Hawaii to be the finest of Universities we need to have the finest of personal qualities. We need to strengthen our spiritual fortitude. We need to become more like our Savior.

I suggest that building a campus that emulates the light of the gospel and the missions of this University will have much to do with the light within the persons that work, live, and study here.

Elder Clayton provides several characteristics of those that live in the finest homes. I suggest these will also help us build the finest University.

First, establishing the finest homes, or the finest campus, has everything to do with the personal qualities of the people who are here. Personal qualities are not made fine in any important or lasting way by the social or academic status of the occupants. The finest characteristic of any place is the image of Christ reflected in the residents. What matters most is the interior design of the soul, not the structure itself.

The attributes of Christ are acquired in the “process of time” by intentional progress along the covenant path. Christlike attributes adorn the lives of those who strive to live with goodness. They fill our homes and our campus with gospel light. We follow the Lord’s counsel to “organize [ourselves]; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house by organizing, preparing, and establishing our spiritual lives, not our real estate.

As we patiently pursue the Savior’s covenant path, our homes and campus become “a house of glory, a house of order, [and] a house of God.”

Second, Elder Clayton reminds us that the residents in the finest places make time to study the scriptures and the words of living prophets every day. President Nelson has invited us to “transform” and “remodel” our homes through gospel study. To refine our lives, we need personal growth and constant remodeling of our weaknesses. Daily repentance is a transformative tool that enables us to grow a little kinder, more loving, and more understanding. Studying the scriptures brings us closer to the Savior, whose generous love and grace assists us with our growth.

Third, Elder Clayton suggests that we follow the blueprint created by the Lord for His finest home, the temple. Building a temple begins with basic steps of clearing brush and leveling land. Those initial efforts to ready the ground might be compared to keeping the basic commandments. The commandments are the foundation on which discipleship is built. Steady discipleship leads us to become firm, steadfast, and immovable, like the steel framework for a temple (or the framework of Cafeteria building you see here on campus). This steady framework allows the Lord to send His Spirit to change our hearts. Experiencing a mighty change of heart is like adding beautiful features to the interior of a building frame.

As we continue in faith, the Lord gradually changes us. We receive His image in our countenance and begin to reflect the love and beauty of His character. As we become more like Him, we will feel at home in His house, and He will feel at home in ours. We can maintain our home’s close connection to His home by qualifying for and using a temple recommend as frequently as circumstances allow. As we do so, the holiness of the Lord’s house rests in our house as well.

Nearly 130 years ago the Salt Lake temple was dedicated. As Elder Stevenson noted, the engineering principles used to design the temple have been replaced by newer, safer standards. Similarly, our McKay building was built by pioneers over 60 years ago. Failure to enhance the temple’s and campus building’s and repair structural weaknesses and deficiencies would betray the confidence of those pioneers, who did all they could and then left these buildings to the care of succeeding generations.

We should follow the example being given to us by the Salt Lake Temple renovation and our own campus renovations and take time to evaluate our own spiritual engineering and to make sure it is up to date. Periodic self-assessment, coupled with asking the Lord, “What lack I yet?” can help each of us contribute to the building of a finest home and the finest University.

Lastly Elder Clayton reminds us that the finest places are refuges from the storms of life. The Lord has promised that those who keep the commandments of God “prosper in the land.” God’s prosperity is the power to press forward despite the problems of life.

We want visitors to our campus to find not only a physical environment of buildings and grounds that reflect the light of the gospel, but more importantly to find that the spirit of it is community, reflects that gospel light as well.

There are many ways our physical environment shapes the spirit. There are many examples we can take from the physical places we visit and know, to help us shape our spirits. I believe our Father in Heaven gave us this earth for our benefit. I believe it is shaping us in a manner to help us become like Him. I believe he gave us stewardship of the earth for us to learn and grow. We build our houses, our campus, our communities to benefit our lives. Let’s at the same time make the effort to build our spirits as well.

The body and the spirit is the soul of man. The buildings and grounds of campus is the body of campus. The collective spirits of the faculty, staff, and students of BYU–Hawaii are the spirit of this place. Together they are the soul of BYU–Hawaii.

As you walk around campus this year and next and see all the changes and maintenance being performed, let it be a reminder and let it inspire us to make those changes in our lives that may be needed.

Closing Testimony

Now is the time for us to put our house in order. Now is the time for us to prepare for the second coming of our savior. Now is the time to prepare our campus to meet its mission. Both the body (the physical) and the Spirit (that within) need to be prepared. Let’s work together to strengthen our campus soul and be prepared for the millennial reign of our Savior soon to come.

This I know, that God lives. He knows me and he has a plan for me that includes events in this life that will give me experiences for growth and will prepare me for an Eternal life with Him. He likewise knows you.

He knows us better than we know our self. Turn to Him and he will bless us.

I am thankful for this earth that was designed and built for my benefit and happiness. I am thankful I can be a part of the “soul” of BYU–Hawaii.

I leave you these thoughts and my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


House of Commons Rebuilding. HC Deb 28 October 1943 vol 393 cc403-73 The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

Environmental Stewardship and Conservation

President Nelson Calls Rome Temple Dedication a “Hinge Point” in Church History

“A Good Foundation against the Time to Come”, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. April 2020 General Conference

“The Finest Homes”, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy. April 2020 General Conference