Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Can i just say how happy i am that Mormon congregations pretty widely hold Halloween parties? (Generally limited to those parts of the world where Halloween is celebrated, of course.) There are too many mainstream-to-radically-conservative Xians out there who worry that Halloween is actually a tool of Satan, so as to normalize Satanic sorts of things. Well, Mormons may have their paranoias, but at least we don’t generally share that one!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sex and teens

One thing that really bothers me about discussions in Mormon contexts (like Gospel Doctrine classes) of dating and courtship is the underlying assumption that kids’ll have sex if we give them even half a chance—that’s not even generally presented as a possibility, but rather as a certainty. Mormons are required, i suppose, to ignore the fact that more half of all teens in the United States finish high school as virgins, and i’d argue that most of that more-than-half certainly had adequate opportunities to have sex there. So how’d they manage, even though many of them didn’t have Mormon guilt trips teaching to stop them?

Oh, wait! I’ve got it! It’s just Mormon teens who are certain to have sex when presented with the opportunity. Now it makes sense!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Drinking tea

The German-language missionary discussions, at least back in the 90s, specifically said that Schwartzentee ‘black tea’ was forbidden. Tee ‘tea’ wasn't the word used, since that would have forbidden Kräutertee ‘herbal tea’, which is a different linguistic category in German. Interestingly, though, so is Grünentee ‘green tea’.

Therefore, given what we were teaching German speakers and what i got taught as an English speaker as i was growing up, i’ve wondered for a good while whether it’s legit for German-speaking Mormons to drink green tea, but not for English-speaking Mormons.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New tricks with terminology

I don’t like the term “family home evening”—it has all the worst hallmarks of a title developed by a committee. My family uses “family night” for it instead, which has led to my children telling their church leaders and teachers, quite honestly, that we don’t ever have family home evening (even though we actually hold it every week). This amuses me, further proving that i’m evil.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Talking about temples

Jeanne and i were both asked to speak in sacrament meeting during our first month in our current ward (though we spoke on different Sundays).

Nope, no pressure!

Anyway, just for the fun of it, here’s the text of my speech. One reason i wanted to post it—beyond the fact that this is a blog and therefore why not?—is that i got an interesting reaction to it.

After i spoke, a lot of people said that it was interesting (some even said it was good!) to hear such a deep sacrament meeting speech. Deep? And here i’d thought i’d kept it intensely surface, really.

So i’m inviting readers to offer their takes on why this thing would have been perceived as deep by multiple listeners. So, then, on to the text (note that some names have been elided):


Before I fully begin, I should say that I’m also coming off the cold that’s been going around, and it really messed with my vocal cords. This affects this moment in two important ways: first of all, what you’re hearing isn’t my normal speaking voice, but rather something a bit lower-pitched than what normally emerges from my mouth; and second, I’ve been having moments where my voice cuts out and I have to regroup for a moment, though I’m hoping I don’t face that while I’m up here.

Anyway, with that as more information than you cared to get, I’ll introduce myself for those of you who don’t know me—and I’ve been in the ward less than a month, so that’s probably most of you. My name is David Bowie. Jeanne, my wife, spoke in sacrament meeting just three weeks ago, so y’all are seeing a lot of our family pretty quickly.

When Brother H… asked Jeanne and me to speak, he gave us two tasks: One was to speak on particular gospel-related topics, and the other was to introduce our family a bit. Jeanne introduced us pretty well when she spoke, so I’ll just offer a quick recap: I’m a linguist at the university here, Jeanne’s a transportation engineer, and we have four daughters ages two through ten. We plan to be up here for a while, too—the position I’ve got at the university is a permanent one.

So. My assigned topic comes from an address that David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave at the most recent general conference of the church. He spoke on the centrality of temples to the mission of the church, and so that will, naturally enough, be my general topic for today. However, my rhetorical training is traditional enough that I like to have a specific text that I use as a theme, and so I start with a verse from the Book of Mormon Elder Bednar used near the beginning of his address. It’s actually most often used in the context of missionary work—that makes sense, since it’s from the story cycle about the four sons of King Mosiah, who all turned down kingship in favor of preaching the gospel to the Lamanites, where they had quite a bit of success. The previous speaker mentioned the way the story begins, but in the 26th chapter of the Book of Alma the end of the story cycle approaches, and one of them sums up what they’ve done and says to his brothers, “Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted.”

The imagery there is fairly common in the scriptures—the ripe field ready to be harvested is the world, those wielding the sickle are those sent out to preach the word to the world, and the sheaves are those who accept the word. This is pretty straightforward missionary stuff, right? We who have accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ are commanded to go to the rest of the world and preach the word to those who have not yet accepted it.

Well, sure. Like I said, though, Elder Bednar spoke about service in the temples of the church, not missionary work. That’s kind of weird, really—I have to admit that when I read that part of his address, after it was clear that he was talking about temple work, I experienced a mild moment of mental whiplash.

Anyway—rather than beat the oddity of this into the ground, I’ll deliver a bit more setup, and then return to this seemingly misplaced scriptural text. So, then, here’s an abrupt shift in focus, introduced by a question: What is it that we do in our temples, anyway?

This is a useful question to ask, even for those of us with a great deal of experience in the church—and if I’m going to be standing up here talking about temple work for the next however-many minutes it’s worth explaining a bit. I haven’t lived here long enough to come even remotely close to knowing which of you out there are members of this church and which of you aren’t, or which of you may be relatively new to the church, but I figure that given the demographics of this church it’s likely that there are some out there who are visiting today and unfamiliar with this church and the concept of temple work, or those who may have experience with this church but not so much with the work that goes on in the temples. So here’s definitions.

First of all, I should point out a distinction between the temples of the church and its meetinghouses. Both are ecclesiastically dedicated spaces, and the purpose of both is focused on the performance of what most branches of Christianity call sacraments, but that in this church we generally call ordinances. There are lots of different ordinances performed in meetinghouses and temples, and there’s a lot of overlap between the two locations—things such as baptisms, confirmations, and marriages can be performed in both, for example. However, there’s are some important differences between those ordinances as performed in meetinghouses and in temples—and I’ll be talking about those differences in just a few minutes.

There are also church meetings held in both sorts of buildings, though the meetings held in the meetinghouses are held more regularly and with a wider audience than those held in the temples (and that’s reflected in the actual term meetinghouse, I suppose).

In addition, there are some ordinances that are only performed in temples. Of these, the one that gets the most attention is the one called the endowment, which was described by John A. Widtsoe, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles early in the twentieth century, as a “survey and expounding of the gospel plan…one of the most effective methods of refreshing the memory concerning the entire structure of the gospel”. As part of this ordinance one makes promises to—here quoting James E. Talmage, another apostle of about a century ago—one makes promises “to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the [human] race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive…Jesus Christ.”

As an aside, that’s really the purpose of this whole religion thing anyway, isn’t it?—trying to do good so as to further the designs that God has for this world. It’s just kind of cool to have that formalized in some way.

Anyway. Another difference between temples and meetinghouses would be the requirements for entrance. To enter one of the church’s meetinghouses and be present at the meetings and ordinances that are held there, the only requirement is desire—that is, if you desire to enter, you can find a meetinghouse and enter it to observe or participate as applicable. (One is requested to be polite while there, as well, but I chalk that up to simply being a reasonable human being, rather than being a formal requirement for entry.)

With temples, though, it’s different—along with the desire to enter the temple, there are a number of other requirements for entry, in partial fulfillment of the command in the book of Doctrine and Covenants to “not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled”. Some of these requirements for entry relate to religious belief, and others relate to religious practice. So, to offer just two examples, to enter the temple one must profess belief in the role of Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer, and one must also practice honesty in one’s dealings with others.

Of course, the line between belief and practice is a fuzzy one, but I’ve long thought that it’s interesting that for temple attendance it’s not enough to simply profess belief, nor is it enough to simply act in a way that’s consonant with ecclesiastical law. Many people profess to find some sort of irreconcilable difference between the content of the epistles of James and Paul that we have in the New Testament, where James tells us that faith without works is dead while Paul tells us we can only be justified by faith and not by works. If the requirements for temple attendance are divinely inspired and are intended to teach us somewhat of how we should be ordering our lives—and I do believe that that’s the case—then we’re being taught that any argument over whether faith or works is primary is missing the mark, since they’re actually interconnected in one great whole, and we shouldn’t be focusing on one while we minimize the other.

If all of these requirements for entry are met, though, one can be issued what’s called a temple recommend, which allows entry into the church’s temples for a period of time. This means that it takes time and effort to enter into a temple, and this sort of barrier—for lack of a better word—this sort of barrier to entrance into the temples of the church has one obvious effect, in that fewer people are qualified to enter temples than to enter meetinghouses. However, this doesn’t mean that holding a temple recommend and entering the temples of the church is intended to be limited to some sort of elite club—as Howard W. Hunter said many times during his brief tenure as the ordained prophet and president of the church, “It would please the Lord for every adult member to be worthy of—and to carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.”

Keep that quote in mind—I’ll return to it in a bit.

So what is it about the temples of the church and what happens there that requires not just desire but correct belief and practice for entry, while at the same time all are encouraged to meet those requirements so that they can enter?

There are, actually, many different correct answers to this question. The one i’d offer here, though, is that the ordinances that are performed in the temples of the church are qualitatively different than those performed outside of the temple, and they are different in ways that it seems reasonable that God can require some degree of devoutness on the part of those who participate in them. In particular, the ordinances performed in the temple allow service to others to be rendered in ways that can’t be done elsewhere, because God has designated temples as places where we can perform ordinances on the behalf of those who have died, and who therefore don’t have the power to participate in those ordinances directly themselves. As I said earlier, ordinances such as baptism, confirmation, and marriage can all occur in a meetinghouse like the one we’re in as well as in a temple, but these ordinances are of a different sort in the temple.

Any of you can receive baptism and confirmation in a meetinghouse (or anywhere else that is authorized by someone having the authority to do so, in fact). However, there are a huge number of people who died without ever having the opportunity to accept baptism or confirmation—and those who enter the temple have the opportunity to stand in the place of those people who have died, so that even the the dead can receive the blessings God has promised that are attendant upon receiving baptism and confirmation.

The ordinance of marriage is slightly more nuanced, but the basic framework is the same: A couple can be married in a meetinghouse or anywhere else a suitable authority permits, but a marriage can only be ratified as valid for eternity in a temple. However, a large number of people have died without having the opportunity to have their marriages sealed for eternity, so those who enter the temple have the opportunity to stand in the place of those who have died so that even the dead can receive the blessings that God has promised that are attendant upon receiving a sealing of their marriage for eternity.

And what are these blessings that God has promised? There are several, but among them is a pretty big one: Accepting these ordinances opens the door to salvation and exaltation in the kingdom of God, “which is the greatest of all the gifts of God”. Rather amazing, really.

And it is at this point that the scriptural text I started with suddenly makes sense: “Behold, the field was ripe, and blessed are ye, for ye did thrust in the sickle, and did reap with your might, yea, all the day long did ye labor; and behold the number of your sheaves! And they shall be gathered into the garners, that they are not wasted.”

Yes, this applies to those who share the gospel with those around them—but it also applies to those who serve in the temples so that others can receive salvation. By serving on behalf of those who can’t participate in the ordinances of salvation themselves, we are laboring to gather sheaves—that is, souls—into the kingdom of God.

This is—and this is probably obvious—this is a good thing to be a part of. And this is why we have been encouraged to give ourselves the opportunity to serve in the temple. Once again quoting Howard W. Hunter: “It would please the Lord for every adult member to be worthy of—and to carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it.”

Up to this point I’ve tried to keep my remarks fairly general, so that they could inform anyone who might be out there, regardless of their background (or lack of background) in the church. However, since President Hunter addressed these remarks to the adult members of the church, I think it’s worth stressing their importance to that group.

I don’t know how many of the adult members of the church out there today have ever attended the temple, nor do I know how many continue to carry current temple recommends, or who regularly make use of them to attend the temple that the church has here in Anchorage, or any of the temples elsewhere. For all I know, every adult in this ward holds a current temple recommend and uses it regularly. However, I also know enough of the statistics on those statuses and behaviors churchwide, as well as enough about human nature, to know that that’s unlikely.

Near the close of the address that I’ve used as a springboard for my speaking to you all here today, Elder Bednar addresses four groups directly. One of these is the children and youth of the church, and he encouraged them to continue to grow in the gospel and serve in the temple when they have the opportunity. Another group he addressed was those who hold temple recommends and use them by regularly serving in the temple, and he commended their service.

The other two groups, though, are more interesting. One is those adult members of the church who, for whatever reason, have not yet gone to the temple to serve there. With Elder Bednar, I urge those of you in this situation to move toward receiving a temple recommend so that you can receive the joy that comes with service in the temple. Some of the things you need to do may take time, but it is worth it.

Finally, Elder Bednar addressed those who have attended the temple previously, and who have held or even currently hold a temple recommend, but for whatever reason have not served in the temple for a while, even though they have the means and opportunity. For this group, the prescription is the same as it is for the preceding group: Find what it is in your own belief or practice that is holding you back from assisting in the work of God that service in the temple is part of, and make the changes that are necessary for your situation.

And normally one would expect some sort of pat wrap-up at this point, but I think that calls to action are actually a good place to stop—so I’ll close here, as is traditional, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why serve in Utah?

I’ve heard people say that full-time missionaries from countries where the church is emerging often get called to missions in Utah so that “they can see the way the church should be”. (And yes, i’ve heard that multiple times from multiple people, and not all of them from Utah, even.)

I tend to think that that’s not the reason at all, but that it’s rather for the psychological boost—they get to see that it’s possible for church membership to make up a sizable chunk of the general population, which is a nice thing to be reminded of every once in a while.

Friday, October 16, 2009

An immovable feast

In much of the Bible Belt, there’s no school activities on Wednesday nights, ’cause that’s the night that churches traditionally hold Bible study. Monday nights, on the other hand, are fair game for school activities. This can be a problem for Mormon students who are effectively shut out of school extracurriculars if they can’t participate Monday nights due to family home evening. However, this seems to me like it could be a nice luxury for the church in those areas—they’ve been handed a free night (Wednesday) for family home evening. Rather than do that, though, wards in those areas fight to hold youth activity nights on Wednesdays, and reserve Mondays for family home evenings.

This leads to a weird situation, though—sabbath observances can be moved from Sunday to another day in those areas of the world where it makes sense to do so (like in Israel, where sabbath services are held on Saturday), but moving family home evening to a night other than Monday just isn’t done. Why?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Women’s work

I’ve actually heard people (multiple people!) claim in sacrament meeting addresses that women aren’t supposed to work outside the home in part because women working outside the home is a modern innovation that changes the way things had been done throughout history.

Um, dude? Women working outside the home was the norm since the time of Adam and Eve (according to the opening of Moses ch. 5, at least)—the fact that it wasn’t the norm for the middle classes in the 30s and from the late 40s to the early 50s doesn’t really lend historical validity to the argument.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I continue to dislike the common sacrament meeting meme that a sense of guilt automatically means that you’re violating the commandments. I mean, if you’re gonna make that claim, could you at least get into how to tell the difference between real conscience-based guilt as opposed to simple stress about violating social norms?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Red legs

Random walk down memory lane, only Mormon-related because of the context: After my first full day of bike-riding as a full-time missionary, not only did my legs hurt, they were bright red. It was actually rather scary.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

No preaching for the non-ideal

Mormon culture (at least as i’ve experienced it in lots of places in the US the past several years) is, i think, really hung up on familial roles right now, which leads to a lot of “This won’t work for everyone, but we won’t even mention the possibility of alternatives” sorts of statements in church meetings. This bothers me—why not at least occasionally deign to preach directly to those that don’t fit your particular ideal?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Teaching my children well

It may just be me, but every single time i hear someone in church meetings advise us to “teach your children well” i immediately start hearing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singing in my head. I mean, i like that particular song and all, so i don’t find it annoying, but it does seem a little weirdly out of place at times.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon

Thomas S. Monson
→Not much time to say anything with huge content—mostly a pep talk. I wonder what would happen with these conference-closing addresses if general conferences weren’t constrained by satellite bandwidth sessions.

D. Todd Christofferson
→I vote that the best moral for the opening story should be: Being passive-aggressive goes against gospel principles. (Might be an unpopular interpretation in Utah County, though.)
→So is he saying that small government would be best, but given current situations paternalistic governmental regulation is needed? I don’t think that’s his intended point, but it sure sounds like it.
→Is the claim that moral discipline must come from faith in God, or merely that moral discipline best comes from faith in God? The rhetorical structure seems to point toward the former, but i don’t know that that’s actually a defensible position—and the actual text of the address seems to be ambiguous between those possibilities.

Joseph W. Sitati
→I have to look up the quote from Joseph Smith he gave—did it say, basically, that some nations haven’t had the gospel preached to them ’cause they don’t have enough of a clue? Harsh, if it does. I’ll check up on it once the transcript comes out.
→Interesting discussion of ways the church is helping to bring social stability to its members in areas with rapid urbanization and de-agriculturalization (like Elder Sitati’s Kenya).

Michael T. Ringwood
→So an “easiness to believe” is good—fine. But how do we develop that? The answer: Do the things believers do. However, if someone doesn’t believe, they’re unlikely to do all the stuff one who believes would do. I’m sensing a Catch–22 here.

Dale G. Renlund
→I don’t think that i’m getting the moral from his story that i’m supposed to be getting. (What am i getting, you may ask? Simply this: Avoid swing shift work at all costs.)

Now, the choir and congregation sing together
→They cut it off after one (short) verse? Ooh, somebody went past their time limit!

Brent H. Neilson
→A member of the Seventy focusing laser-sharp on missionary work and nothing else—makes me feel like i’m in the 1950s!
→So is it that we’re doing well, or that we’re not doing well?
→Cool—a direct invitation to the young men and young women of the church to grow up to be full-time missionaries. (As a father of daughters with no sons, i notice these things.)

Quentin L. Cook
→An address largely about sex, but without ever once using the word. (Not that unusual, actually.)
→A thought comes to mind: If God forgives completely, then that means we ought to, as well. This, presumably, includes not gossiping about others’ misdeeds. Linking gossiping and forgiveness isn’t a link i’ve ever heard made (though i’m sure it has been somewhere).
→Back a few decades ago, detailed financial reports were given during general conference, including (in some years) stats like which stakes and missions had the highest tithing and fast offering rates per capita. I know some of the reasons the church doesn’t do that anymore, but it’d be fun to get some competition going. (Hey! Can’t let the Anchorage Chugach Stake have a higher fast offering rate than us!)

Jeffrey R. Holland
→Is anyone else picking up on a marked uptick in references to Lehi’s dream? It seemed to have fallen out of frequent use as an image, but it’s back with a vengeance this weekend.
→Direct references to claims against the Book of Mormon’s authenticity? Wow—you often get vague references, but usually not nearly so specific.
→This one is, i think, simply in terms of style of delivery, the most compelling address of the conference so far.

Opening thoughts:
→The opening prayer called Thomas S. Monson God’s “chosen prophet” rather than our “beloved prophet”. There’s certainly going to be some sort of ecclesiastical punishment for a slip like that!
→The prayer also made direct mention of the recent earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific islands—i may have missed something, but that’s the first direct mention of them i’ve noticed at this conference.
→A female organ player? Gotta be yet another thing the fundamentalists’ll start using as evidence of our apostasy (under the reasonable assumption that anything that makes someone like me happy would make them intensely unhappy). And was she wearing a pantsuit? Couldn’t quite tell, but it would seem only sensible, given the mechanics of playing a pipe organ.
→Ah, Sunday afternoon conference—after the excitement of the one everybody watches, we have the session that nobody watches. I kind of like this one best, the stepchild of questionable paternity among the conference sessions, though—the speakers act more relaxed, like they know the stage isn’t as big for this one.
→Why is it that the video feed switches from live as sessions approach, then to pre-recorded for a minute or so, and then back to live? Is there some sort of secret-not-sacred ritual that occurs immediately before a conference session?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning

Finished seven minutes early! Is that legal?

Thomas S. Monson
→Nice contrast between intent and action, followed by a nice turn of phrase on why that gulf exists: “…we may find that we’ve immersed ourselves in the thick of thin things.”
→Good to know that a random statement of desire from a president of the church can result in near-immediate measurable good results. Pity to know that people needed prodding from a president of the church to aggressively do good.

Primary song interlude!

Russell M. Nelson
→He called his wife Wendy, not Sister Nelson! Cue the happy dance!
→His definition of “real intent” was pretty obvious (really intending to do something). Kinda sad if we actually need such definitions, and i suspect we do
→Serious question: Why does it so often take personal tragedy or difficulty to get people to change their lives? Is it simple mental inertia, or is there something else at the core of that tendency?

Ann M. Dibb
→Yes, the M stands for Monson, and yes, she’s the daughter of that Monson. I was very happy when she switched from calling him President Monson to calling him dad. Very, very, very humanizing, for both her and him—and in my opinion we need more of that.
→St. Catharines? I’ve stayed overnight there! (Cue music from the most annoying Disney World ride ever.)
→She points out that there are very few stories in the scriptures about people who lived in blissful times. It occurs to me that there are very few novels about people who lived in blissful times, either—narrative tension is apparently a positive in both religious and secular writing.

H. David Burton
→Are kids still expected to memorize the Articles of Faith? You hear all sorts of stories of people “having to” memorize them in order to graduate from primary—but then again, i never memorized them, and i didn’t get held back a grade (or whatever the church equivalent is).
→This speech leads to an interesting question: Can all the rest of the virtues he lists be subsumed within integrity?

L. Tom Perry
→I so have trouble focusing on the content of Elder Perry’s addresses, because he exhibits precisely the sort of linguistic behaviors i’ve been spending my career researching. I try to listen, but i find myself getting distracted by the shape of his vowel system.
→The Manti temple is in my top five prettiest list. (There’s a clear number one—try approaching the St. George temple from the south on I–15 and see if you don’t agree—but numbers two through five aren’t ordered in my mind: Manti, Utah; Kensington, Maryland; Cardston, Alberta; and Lāʻie, Hawaiʻi. (Hmmm…Can you tell i’m not an overwhelming fan of spires topped with Angels Moroni?)
→Cool story about building the roof of the Manti temple.
→He mentioned ward mission plans, and how excellent they are. I don’t know if i’ve ever seen a ward mission plan that everyone was happy with. I’ve wondered if part of the problem is that it seems very corporate (a succinct set of principles with measurable expected outcomes) for being something based in divine revelation.

Henry B. Eyring
→Yet another address saying it’s possible to become perfect in this life. Interesting.
→“I am often touched when someone asks, ‘How’s your family?’ and then waits to hear the answer.” I don’t think i got the precise phrasing right, but there’s a nice oblique commentary there on everyday impoliteness and the noteworthiness (and goodness) of politeness.

A couple opening thoughts:
→Sunday morning conference session, dudes and dudettes! It’s the big leagues now!
→I’m not a fan of the Mormon Tabernacle’s sound, as i’ve written before—and yet they get as much time as (if not more time than) any of the speakers. Oh well. This morning the fact that content doesn’t really start until about ten minutes in gave us the chance to get past a couple weird technical glitches without missing much of anything, so that was good for us.
→And speaking of technical glitches, the server load is clearly being pretty heavy during this session. I suppose that makes sense—this is the one session that everybody watches even if they don’t watch any of the others.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

Thomas S. Monson
→This was one of the most throughly focused-on-a-single-topic speeches from a president of the church i’ve ever heard in priesthood session.
→The story about the couple with the brain-damaged child was really weird, if not creepy—i kept having trouble figuring out why criminal charges didn’t enter into the narrative. I’m thinking that the fact that it took place some decades ago (according to some of the contextual items he mentioned) probably had something to do with that—norms were different then.
→I’d heard the story of Thomas B. Marsh’s apostasy before, but this was one of the best narrative versions i’ve ever heard. I thought it was weird, though, that he said the “home teachers” tried to adjudicate the dispute between Sisters Harris and Marsh, when there were no such things as home teachers back then. I’m curious to see what that line says in the published version of the speech.

Henry B. Eyring
→Can somebody tell me what it was with speakers giving lists of three things tonight?
→His story of the bishop who used the “no lights out” method of helping the young men remain active was really very interesting, and it had a good moral (that we need to take some responsibility for those we have stewardship over). My only worry is that, even though Elder Eyring explicitly said it wouldn’t work everywhere, eighty percent of the wards in the church will institute something like that program on the basis of an apostle having said it’s a good idea.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf
→It’s really unusual for a modern-era general authority to have been a refugee. It’s the kind of thing that really must affect the way you look at the world, you know?

Congregational singing!
→Can someone explain to me why we stand for congregational hymns in conference? I don’t get the purpose of it. (It made sense, certainly, when people had to sit on those painfully stiff benches in the Tabernacle, but most of us have padded seating nowadays.)
→Also, we sang “Praise to the Man”. Decent song, but the rhythm at the beginning of the final verse is weird.

Yoon Hwan Choi
→There’s not much to ofer commentary on here, but i will say that he offered a really fun extended story. If you didn’t hear it live, it’s worth digging it up and listening. (I suspect that it’s more fun in audio than in writing.)

Walter F. González
→He advocated a memorization and recitation approach to the scriptures, which i’m not a fan of. However, whatever the method one uses, i’m glad that his ultimate goal was much deeper: Reading and studying the scriptures until they become a natural part of our speaking and doing.

M. Russell Ballard
→This address was directed to fathers and sons. Since i only have daughters, i figured that that meant i could take a ten-minute nap. (It turned out to be applicable to parents and children, though, not just fathers and sons.)
→I was happy to see that he said that it doesn’t matter where and when you have meaningful conversations with your children, as long as you have them. There’s too much Mormon folklore floating around that you need to have formal “interviews” with your children—maybe this’ll get some people to relax about it a little.
→The address contained a warning to those in the courtship phase of their lives not to do the “hanging out” thing instead of dating. Whenever i hear this meme, i feel like channeling Inigo Montoya (you know: “You keep using that word. I don’t a-think it means what you think it means.”), since hanging out now means essentially the same thing that dating used to.
→Also, he pluralized son-in-law as son-in-laws. My word nerd self was very happy to hear this.

Some stuff from the songs before the first speaker started:
→So the choir sang “Sweet Hour of Prayer” The hymnal says to sing it at 42–48 beats per minute, but i think they sang it even slower. I half expected Elder Uchtdorf to stand up afterward and say “As out time is expired, we will close the meeting by…”
→The choir was a priesthood choir from a stake in Utah. (Jordan, was it? I’m not certain.) They made pretty good use of the boy sopranos in “High on a Mountaintop”, though not really in any of the other songs.
→I see that we’re back to panning the choir for non-pink faces.

A couple general thoughts:
→Not related to general conference at all, but fun: While walking into the church building, i passed a car with a bumper sticker that read “You have to be real secure to be seen in a car like this!”
→Also, can somebody explain to me why priesthood session of conference doesn’t get broadcast to all the same outlets as the other general sessions? (And priesthood session is a general session of conference—the Saturday morning session is the “first general session”, the Sunday morning session is the “fourth general session” you do the math.) I really don’t get it—it’s not like it all ends up being kept secret from non-priesthood holders, anyway, since it’ll all get published online and in the Ensign anyway. Oh well—add that to the list of church policies and traditions i doubt i’ll ever understand.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon

Boyd K. Packer
→He’s speaking from his seat. I’d known he’d been having health problems, but i hadn’t known they’d progressed so far.
→Hint for rail travelers: Don’t pull the emergency brake if you’re on a train going the wrong way—get off at the next stop. Pulling the emergency brake is a very, very good way to get a lot of people very, very angry at you.
→Thinking of a hymn to push immoral thoughts out of my mind doesn’t work—i simply end up thinking naughty thoughts to the sound of sacred music. Further proof that i’m evil, i suppose, as if you needed any more evidence.

Neil L. Andersen
→Addresses like this have to walk a fine line—is it pointlessly easy to repent, or is it pointlessly difficult? It’s actually neither, presumably, but it’s hard to strike a balance.
→Unless i’ve missed it, he hasn’t talked about “the steps of repentance” (or, even worse, giving a specific number of steps it takes to repent). Repentance is, as he points out, a continuous process, not a discrete one.

Kent D. Watson
→Temperance? I am reminded of St. Augustine’s famous non-penitential prayer, “Lord, give me chastity and temperance, but not now.”
→Anyone out there know enough Koine Greek to let me know what word got translated as “temperance” in the New Testament verses he quoted? I’m curious what precisely it meant in the Greek.

Tad R. Callister
→I got that the intro was about Peter after one and a half clues. Do i get a sticker for knowing my New Testament?
→The dude speaks very quickly but very clearly. I like his speaking style.
→We have to be careful when we claim that it only makes sense that divine revelation occurs nowadays ’cause God loves us now just as in ancient times. However, taking that to its logical conclusion would mean that God didn’t love people in the middle ages, or in ancient China, or other such cases.
→Were all the keys actually restored through Joseph Smith? Or does God reserve some keys, not to be delivered to mortals? I don’t know that it really matters for us, but i wonder.

Henry B. Eyring (addenda to the sustaining of church officers)
→I’ll bet the three guys he mentioned were relieved to find out they were getting released, after all—i mean, they’d probably planned a full night’s sleep and everything!

Jorge F. Zeballos
→When are non-native speakers of English going to be allowed to speak in their native languages in general conference? I mean, i remember listening to Ángel Abrea back in the day and being able to tell that he had something really, really important to say—but his facility with English was distracting enough (and slowed his delivery down so much) that it didn’t really come across. (Or is this yet another so much for being an “international church” item?)
→I like the implied (and nearly explicit) claim that it’s possible to become perfect in this life. The “nobody’s perfect in mortality, save Jesus Christ” meme lets us excuse ourselves of a lot of stuff we shouldn’t excuse ourselves of.

Robert D. Hales
→Interesting—a lot of review of fairly basic but mostly exclusive-to-Mormonism theology. I wonder if addresses like this in part an attempt to make sure that the rapid rate of conversion into the church doesn’t end up shifting Mormon theology toward something more mainstream.
→“Most of us will not see God as the prophets have…”—i thought D&C 130:3 says precisely otherwise, at least for the righteous, no?

Dallin H. Oaks
→“A young adult in a cohabitation relationship…” Can i just say how much this turn of phrase made the word nerd in me giddy?
→I’m pretty sure that he’s rather emphatically not saying that parents shouldn’t love their children who sin. I’m also pretty sure, though, that a number of people in and (probably mostly) out of the church are going to take some of what he’s saying that way.
→I like the fact that this directly confronts the fact that God gets angry at us sometimes—we tend to avoid that fact (out of discomfort?) in favor of focusing on God’s love.

Henry B. Eyring (sustaining of church officers)
→Why are area authorities sustained in general conference? They don't have, well, general authority—why do i (in Alaska) sustain someone who has authority in, say, Thailand but not here?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning

A couple final thoughts
→Interesting how short the prayers in this session were.
→And speaking of prayers, one last thought before moving on to the next session: Why don’t women ever give prayers in general conference sessions? I mean, it’s not like they have to be offered by general authorities (not too many decades ago the tradition was to have stake presidents offer general conference prayers)—so why not open it up a little?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf
→Interesting unasked question: Does one need a reason to love someone or something?
→He said that the closer we get to God, the more we love God. This raises another interesting question: If perfect love casteth out all fear, then does that mean that if we fear God (in the sense of being afraid, not the semi-obsolete sense of giving reverence), then we don't properly love God?

David A. Bednar
→I went googling for the text of an address of David A. Bednar’s a few weeks ago, and i discovered that he’s pretty intensely hated by a very vocal group of people out there. One of the most common charges? He’s bland, and therefore a stealth public-relations scheme to make Mormonism look reasonable to non-Mormons. Now, aside from this being paranoid on way too many levels to count, i don’t think they’ve been watching the same person by that name that i have.
→Nice use of the ambiguity in the term “bear testimony”.
→How long have general conference addresses been attempting to purge testimony meetings of travelogues and such? I’m starting to think that if they really want this to change, they’re going to have to change the format of those meetings somehow.
→Why do general authorities nearly consistently refer to their wives in public as “Sister X”? It’s always felt vaguely squicky to me.
→I’d like to say that i like the example of brushstrokes working together to create a painting.

Russell T. Osguthorpe
→“Osguthorpe” is officially the coolest name of the day so far.
→This guy’s the Sunday School general president, and he’s talking specifically about religious instruction—brings to mind the way the presidents of the Seventy used to nearly always talk about missionary work (which makes sense, given their charge in the book of Doctrine and Covenants).

L. Whitney Clayton
→Serious question: Do bad things ever happen simply because bad things happen? He’s dealing with trials/burdens that happen to us because we are evil (punishments) or to teach us lessons (blessings in disguise)—is he treating this as a conprehensive list, or as two possibilities out of many?

Vicki F. Matsumori
→We live in a skeptical age. I’m actually comfortable with this, but it does seem to have crept into our preaching, you know? The Holy Spirit is a God—so why do we focus so much on the tiny “feelings of peace and warmth” manifestations of this God, rather than the great and powerful manifestations that a God is capable of?

Richard G. Scott
→As someone who sometimes uses “obscure references” when i teach, i do think i should point out that some of us simply have those rattling around in our heads, so it’s natural to use them—from us, it’s not an attempt to impress people, it’s just what we do. (Now, that said, i do agree that some people use obscurity in weird ways.)
→Grapes and jalapeno peppers together—yummm!
→Strong emotions can block out communication with the Spirit? So does this mean those whirlwind BYU engagements work against the Spirit? Just wonderin’.
→I’m gonna have to go through Elder Scott’s conference addresses since he was called to the Twelve—has he ever not included an at-least-oblique reference to pornography?
→ General conference addresses that deal with pornography seem to assume it’s all about the men, but women can be pretty ardent consumers of porn, too. Do women and girls get similar messages in Relief Society and Young Women’s general meetings? I’m gonna have to look thatt up.

Thomas S. Monson opens us off:
→Temples in Brigham City, Utah (pretty close to existing temples) and Fort Lauderdale, Florida (read: Miami, not terribly far from Orlando but far enough to create logistical headaches). Russia still gets bupkis.