Friday, October 29, 2010

Who does what?

A follow-up to my last post: While going through the theses and dissertations i’ve found on Mormon cultural patterns over the past few months, i found reference to a study* that found that Mormons express more intolerance for nontraditional gender roles in household labor (e.g., a husband doing the cooking, or a wife setting up a computer) than Catholics or Protestants, but that Mormons actually don’t differ from Catholics or Protestants in the way household labor is actually divided. Intriguing difference/non-difference there.

* Necessary disclaimer: The summary here is from a secondary source, i haven’t read the original, so i can’t vouch 100% for what’s here. The article that this comes from is referenced in the thesis as Bahr 1983—and then it isn’t listed in the works cited! Grrrr…How am i supposed to find it without a full citation? Well, i’ll be looking for it, definitely…

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Researching Mormonism

So i was looking for some scholarly work on Mormon culture, and i ended up at the Brigham Young Universisty’s online library of BYU master’s theses on Mormonism. I spent more time than i should have allotted there, ’cause it really was fascinating.

One thing i discovered: Back in the 50s and 60s (and to some extent in the 70s), the theses in the collection take pains to toe the line of Mormon culture (so that, for example, even if the data pointed in a direction that went against Mormon cultural norms, there was generally a discussion of why the data was flawed or why it actually went along with those norms—even when it clearly didn’t—or somesuch). In more recent work (which includes stuff found in the general collection, now that all of the school’s theses and dissertations are online), though, there seems to be a general tendency to go wherever the data leads, even if that goes against Mormon cultural norms.*

I’ve often heard the idea (mainly from con-Mormons**) that believing Mormons can’t do serious scholarship on Mormonism ’cause it’s impossible for a faithful Mormon to run the social risk of going against the intense normativity that is involved in being Mormon. It may be that that was once true, but that that idea is now outdated.

Or, at least, that’s my hope.

* I, for one, see this as a positive development.

** “Con-Mormon” is a term that Craig Olson came up with to describe someone who isn’t anti-Mormon (that is, they aren’t after tearing down the Mormon church at any cost), but has reasoned or at least reasonable arguments against some aspect(s) of Mormonism and the Mormon church. The crucial difference between an anti-Mormon and a con-Mormon is that rational (well, as rational as religious debate can be) debate leading to a worthwhile exchange of ideas is possible with a con-Mormon.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What’s valuable?

You know what bugs me about the young women theme? the “values” that it lists aren’t all actually values. I mean, divine nature? How in the world is that a value? A nice thing to think about, sure—but not a value.

And, of course, there’s the fact that the logo creeps me out for some reason.

Anyway—that is all. Just a brief vent for tonight.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why missionary efforts are doomed

I’m tired of being told i have to be careful about teaching my children correct gospel principles, because otherwise they’re guaranteed to be lost (in the religious sense) forever. I mean, it just doesn'’t work logically—consider:

  1. Assumption: If children aren’t taught correct gospel principles, they won’t live according to them when they grow up.
  2. The only reason that assumption could work would be if there’s no way someone who’s not taught gospel principles in childhood would follow those principles when they’re older.
  3. Therefore, the church’s missionary efforts are doomed because conversions to the church are completely impossible, since the missionaries’ efforts largely target those who weren’t taught gospel principles as children.

Or, in other words, reductio ad absurdum.

More seriously, i still don’t get why we have so much trouble coming to terms with the idea that people make their own decisions about their spiritual lives, even those who were raised in the church.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Partial truths

Some primary songs really bug me. Take, for example, the song “The Family Is of God”, which includes the lines

A mother’s purpose is to care, prepare,
To nurture and to strengthen all her children.

Are you kidding me? How about telling the truth: The purpose of human beings is to care, prepare, nurture, and strengthen children. (And not even just their own children, at that.)

So why the need to present this partial truth as a contrast to a previous verse describing a “father’s place” (which also only gives a partial picture)? This whole cultural need within present-day Mormonism to try to place mothers and fathers (well, maybe actually women and men) into neatly separated boxes strikes me as weirdly wrongheaded, and possibly even dangerous. So how did we get into it?

Thursday, October 14, 2010


My last post, and particularly the exchange following it between Heather and me, led me to wonder something about general conference: Since the written report is the official record of the conference and effectively overrules what was spoken there, and since the written report is freely available, why are we encouraged so strongly to actually listen to the could-be-changed speeches when they’re given?

Monday, October 11, 2010


So the bloggernacle is abuzz with the report that Boyd K. Packer is revising his general conference address in a couple of not insignificant ways before it’s published.

There’s a lot of discussion on various fora about what this might mean for Mormon dogma with regard to homosexuality, but that’s not what really caught my attention about this. What caught my attention is that this pokes a bit of a hole in the idea a lot of Mormons have that every time a prophet or apostles sneezes, then it’s automatically church doctrine.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Age and leadership

A question that i posted during my general conference semi-liveblogging sessions, but one i want to highlight separately, ’cause i really do wonder what people’s answers might be:

Joseph Smith was a teenager when he was first called as a prophet (though he was in his twenties once his ordination occurred). The original quorum of apostles was made up of fairly young guys. Why don’t we have notably young people in the highest levels of church leadership any more?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Knocking doors

So i heard about a friend of mine who’s really, really annoyed at the Mormon church because a pair of our missionaries rang her doorbell, not just invading her space but also waking up her son, who had just unwillingly gone down for a very, very much-needed nap.

It’s not just the Mormons her ire is directed against, though—it’s all groups or businesses or whatever that intrude on her privacy* by coming to her door without permission.

There’s got to be a better way. In fact, if you read church history, knocking on doors isn’t mentioned—it seems that the preferred methods were along the lines of street preaching or renting a hall and preaching.** And yeah, i know the whole thing about member referrals, but i’m talking about finding through missionary efforts here—isn’t there some worthwhile way for missionaries in the United States to use their finding time that doesn't involve bothering people who are relaxing at home?

* As she perceives it, at least. Of course, having—like her—grown up in the urbanized part of the eastern United States, i completely understand and actually feel pretty much the same way.

** What ever happened to renting a hall for preaching? Was it the victim of social changes? It’s not like it was an ineffective method back when it was used.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon session

So we’ve finally gotten to Sunday afternoon, where the speakers can relax properly ’cause they know that everyone’s attention span has been used up by now.

As with all of these, i’ve written this post bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, up to the final speaker at the top of the post. My thoughts on each speaker, though, are given in the order i write them. Therefore, to get a chronological view of the session you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of this post and read upwards.

Closing thought

  • If they cut out all of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir bits, i’m thinking we could get general conference over and done with in something like two sessions instead of five.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • So he requested that people read the conference addresses. Leads to the interesting question of why we’re requested to listen to all of them live, too.
  • Kind of a mellow benediction, overall. I have to admit—and here’s more proof that i’m evil—that near the end some of what he said reminded me of the philosophy Bill and Ted (of the pointless eighties movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) provided for the world: Be excellent to each other.

M. Russell Ballard (of the quorum of apostles)

  • So i’m guessing Elder Ballard is into trout fishing.
  • Addiction is bad. (I suppose that at this point i should disclose my own struggles with my addiction to oxygen.)
  • Wow! I don’t think i’ve ever heard a list of specific drugs like that in a general conference before—one may have been delivered, but i don’t recall it. (Of course, this makes me happy largely because i’m a fan of specificity—some parents may have been horrified that such things were mentioned where there kids could hear about them. As is so often the case, your mileage may vary.)
  • It’s sort of sad that he had to give a disclaimer that prescription medications (including painkillers) are a good thing—but i’ve seen people take statements by general authorities in similar weirdly wrong ways, so i guess it’s a sad necessity.
  • Hey! I’ve texted my wife when we were in the same room! Good way to keep the kids from overhearing our conversation, you see…
  • Interesting to hear the source of LDS Family Service’s addiction recovery program cited as Alcoholics Anonymous’s twelve-step program.

Mervyn B. Arnold (of the seventy)

  • A family of nine in a two-bedroom house, with an enclosed porch being pressed into service as a makeshift bedroom? What with the whole enclosed porch thing, i’m assuming he didn’t grow up in Alaska. (Quick googling: He was born in Maryland, but grew up in Arizona. That makes sense.)
  • He called For the Strength of Youth an “inspired pamphlet”. What did he mean by this? Did he mean that the contents are divinely inspired, or that its simple existence is inspired? It’s certainly not canon, and it’s subject to revision at any time, so the first of those possibilities doesn’t really work, at least not completely—but i suspect that’s closer to what was intended. Anyway, this leads to a deeper question: What does it actually mean for something to be “inspired”?

I didn’t have a hope of getting this name from the audio feed (of the seventy)

  • If sin is a willful disobedience of God’s laws, what about passive (but not ignorant) disobedience? I suspect it’s sin as well, but i’m not certain.
  • What does it mean to go to bed early and not sleeping in? I realize that it’s mentioned in the book of Doctrine & Covenants, but what were sleep patterns like back then? Most of what i’ve seen leads me to think eight hours a day would have been very low for back then.

I didn’t have a hope of getting this name from the audio feed (of the seventy)

  • It occurs to me that his metaphor of the hollow tree is a warning that we shouldn’t let ourselves become spiritually “hollow”, but i find it interesting that the tree was still able to stand with support from other sources—maybe there’s another lesson in the metaphor, which is that we ought to support others, no matter their weaknesses?

Larry R. Lawrence (of the quorums of seventy)

  • (I’m not certain i got who it was precisely correctly—we’re listening on the audio feed, not on video, so i don’t get to see their names on the screen.)
  • He’s speaking to the parents of teenagers. We don’t have any teens, only tweens—does that mean we get to take a nap now?
  • Actually, what with my oldest being who she is, telling her to get off the train tracks might get her to stay on more stubbornly…
  • The example of Alma correcting Corianton versus Eli not correcting his sons was well-done. There is another important situation to remember, though: Lehi, who corrected his sons but was unsuccessful in reaching all of them.
  • Interesting that he says that if either parent feels uncomfortable about their children doing something, they should support each other in their limits. This, of course, means that the most restrictive parent would always win; this isn’t necessarily a problem, i suppose, as long as the parents talk about their limits in private—it’s always possible for someone to be worried about something that isn’t worth worrying about, after all.
  • A well-placed warning about the dangers of sleepovers, and how they can lead to children’s first experience with various dangerous practices. Of course, sleepovers can also lead to a child having experience with a family praying together, or reading the scriptures, or doing other good things—but that doesn’t make for good headlines, i guess.

David A. Bednar (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Listening to this discussion of the Holy Ghost leads me to wonder what else, if anything, it does aside from acting as a messenger. You’d think a god would have more to do, but maybe not—maybe it’s an actual full-time divine job.
  • We can’t command the companionship of the Holy Ghost. That leads to an interesting question: Can we command the Holy Ghost to leave us?
  • Interesting definition of the word living in “true and living church”: essentially, that we have the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  • So if you have no malice, strife, or evil in your heart you have the Holy ghost with you? I’m not sure i got the details of that quote (of Joseph Smith) right upon hearing it, but it certainly sounds reasonable.

L. Tom Perry (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Lots of discussion of “traditional values” today. If my generation and younger haven’t been taught them, though, i’m thinking it’d be worth telling us pointedly and explicitly what exactly that phrase means. As it is, i think i know, but i can’t be certain.
  • Interesting that he said the exercise of the ministering of angels will add wisdom and such to one’s life. That’s not the way we usually think of that sort of thing, i think.
  • This address exhibits an interesting tension in Mormon rhetoric. There’s a lot of despairing of the youth of today, but then there are lots of stories about how wonderfully and excellently they’re acting.
  • I’m starting to think that what Elder Perry had really wanted was a speaking slot in priesthood session.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency), opening remarks

  • Yes, this is the fifth general session of this general conference, making the priesthood session a “general session”. One would normally think that a session with restricted attendance like that wouldn’t count as “general”, but that’s the way these have always been counted as long as i’ve been watching them (and, as can be verified by listening to the recordings, for some decades prior). I wonder why?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning session

The big leagues! Yep, it’s Sunday morning, the the session of conference anybody who watches conference watches if they only watch one session.

Time to see who got the prime speaking slots.

As with the rest of these, this post is written bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, with the final speaker at the top of the post. My thoughts on each speaker, though, are given in the order i write them. Therefore, if you want a chronological view of the session, you need to scroll to the bottom of this post now and then start reading upwards.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • Interesting that he refers to becoming president of the church as his “appointment” to that office.
  • Hurrah! A reminder that there is much that is good in the world! It’s altogether too easy for people, perhaps especially religious people, to dwell on everything that’s non-good in this mortal realm. Good to have reminders not to do so coming from the top.
  • So does my habit of seeing the good in the world around us mean that i’m a grateful person and never realized it? That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? Always good to have something going for you, i suppose.
  • Given that we believe in the immortality of the soul, is it ever too late to express gratitude to someone?
  • Nice indirect reminder that it’s altogether too easy to get used to what we have, and therefore feel that there’s no reason to be thankful for it.

Dallin H. Oaks (of the quorum of apostles)

  • He’s dealing directly with one of the inherent tensions of Mormon doctrine—that there is a hierarchical structure directing the affairs of the church and the behaviors of church members, but that there is also revelation to direct individuals’ lives that is available to all. Interesting terminological coinage he comes up with, calling these sides of revelation respectively the “priesthood line” and “personal line” of communication with God.
  • If the personal line of inspiration is primary over the priesthood line in family governance, does that mean that such issues as how families determine who says prayers, when family scripture study is held, and so on aren’t subject to the directives of bishops and stake presidents? I know some people who may be surprised to have just learned that…
  • So, Elder Oaks, tell us what you think about nondenominational Xianity. I’m sorta getting the feeling you’re not impressed, maybe?
  • He pronounced the word shew as [ʃo] (i.e., the same as show), which is actually the pronunciation of that word. Cue the happy dance.
  • Summary: He didn’t eliminate the tension i referred to above (which might be an impossible task, actually), but he did do a nice job of outlining some of the relationships involved that make it less of a tension than one might think. Nice job, really—like i wrote about one of Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s earlier addresses, it’s nice to hear addresses by general authorities who have had decent training in rhetoric.

Mary N. Cook (of the general presidency of the young women)

  • Yet another reference to Joseph Smith’s leg infection! The meme lives…
  • I’m going to have to review what she just said about the baptismal covenant. I haven’t been able to find it written down anywhere (and yeah, i know, i know, there’s Mosiah 18:8–10, but i’m not convinced that’s the baptismal covenant so much as it’s the qualifications for baptism), so i want to see if she gave any concrete pointers.
  • Spending long periods on the internet or watching television is bad for us? You know, like spending eight or ten (depending on sex) hours listening to the internet this weekend?
  • What she’s saying about clothing styles brings to mind a real question: Are current devout Mormon standards of clothing something that we should wish the rest of the world would adopt? I ask because, for example, current devout Mormon standards of clothing require the covering of shoulders, but are uncovered shoulders an inherently evil thing? I’m not certain of that.

Jay E. Jensen (of the presidency of the quorums of seventy)
  • My linguist self must offer the following observation: He exhibited tooth-sucking a few times early in his address. This is interesting, because that feature is generally associated with African-American Vernacular English.
  • “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations and where is our religion? We have none.” Actually, quite seriously, that’s not true. Most other religions don’t have the Book of Mormon, and many (most, if you don’t count such things as the Bible or the Qur’an or the Bhagavad Gita) don’t claim revelations, and yet they still exist as religions. Would our church be very different without those things? Yes. Would we have as strong a claim to correctness? I believe the answer is no. But that’s not what was stated, you know?

Boyd K. Packer (president of the quorum of apostles)

  • There’s a lot of stuff in here, but at least so far (several minutes into it) there’s nothing really to remark on here—it’s essentially saying “Obey the law of chastity”. Probably pretty good, though, to use as a foundational text for a family home evening lesson for families with teens/tweens like ours, though.
  • There’s a lot of jumping from topic to topic here that’s making it semi-hard for me to follow—it’s all dealing with law of chastity stuff, but it’s hopping from, say, premarital sex to pornography to extramarital affairs to whatever else without a lot of signposting. This address, i think, is intended primarily for the written record.
  • There’s code words in this right now—he’s talking about the pointlessness of legalizing evil things by the ballot. I’m curious why he isn’t stating outright at least some of the issues that this is referring to. I mean, i figure it’s likely that that was a statement against legalization of same-sex marriage, but one can’t be certain without it being stated directly. So—and this is something i’m quite seriously curious about—why all the indirection?
  • ”Forgiveness means forgiveness.” Nice reminder.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)

  • The members of the first presidency traditionally speaks in priesthood session plus in one other session (and the president of the high priesthood traditionally gives additional brief opening and closing statements). That’s a lot of speechwriting.
  • Interesting that all three of the Biblical examples of people who didn’t trust/have faith in God (Jonah, Naaman, and Peter) ended up finally getting better at it. (Well, Jonah still had issues at the end of the book, but at least he had done what was asked of him by then.) He mentioned that about Peter, but it’s worth noting that the others figured out their errors, too.
  • His story of paying of their mortgage included a nice example of something that could be called a coincidence but worked to strengthen faith—it is, i suppose, the nature of such things that they could always be taken as either miracles or coincidences, and the crucial difference is how they’re perceived by those participating in them.
  • An acknowledgement that there are the honest in heart among those in power! Too often, i fear, Mormon culture (well, and Mormon history, really) leads us to be unhealthily distrustful of governmental authorities.

Opening prayer

  • Didn’t catch the name of who said the prayer, but he clearly was working to prove he was listening at priesthood session last night—i think he repeated all of the buzzwords from each address.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

Due to stuff my family is doing, people we’re hanging out with for conference, that sort of thing, my notes for the Saturday afternoon and priesthood sessions aren’t going to go up until i can transfer my notes from paper to an electronic format. This is a placeholder post until i can put my notes for the priesthood session up (probably Sunday evening), so that things stay in order.

Priesthood session, the weird in-between session. It’s called a general session, but it’s only open to less than half the membership of the church (male members twelve years of age and older).

As with all the rest of these posts, this is presented bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, up to the final speaker at the top of the post, with my thoughts on each speaker given in the order i write them. This means that to get a chronological view of the session you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of this post and read upwards.

Closing thought

  • Yet another bit of evidence i’m evil: I’m really curious what an “Auto-Tune the General Conference Speakers” (along the lines of “Auto-Tune the News”) would be like.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • Lots of stuff about choices. I was particularly gratified to see that he made it clear that there are some choices that really don’t matter in the eternal scheme of things.
  • Wow—he said “In closing…” and there was an immediate rustle of people sitting up a bit throughout the room. Rather amusing. (Especially since he went on for a few minutes after that.)
  • He said not to make exceptions to obeying commandments for extenuating circumstances, because life itself is a series of extenuating circumstances. There’s one to ponder on for a while.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)

  • What is the gift of the Holy Ghost? It’s central to our religion, but it’s not nearly as well-defined as, for example, the sacrament or even sealing.
  • He said that if we’re called to speak in a meeting in the name of the Lord, we should banish all self-doubt. Hurrah! Now nobody will ever start a sacrament meeting address by apologizing for their lack of speaking skills, right? Of course!

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)

  • He noted that after Ezra Taft Benson’s 1989 sermon on pride, it became taboo for members of the church to say that they were “proud” of anything (their children, their country, their work, or whatever). I remember that, and i remember thinking that that was taking things a bit too far. I’m glad that Elder Uchtdorf and i agree on that point.
  • He said (though in different words) that social darwinism is bad. My social welfare-fan self gave a little internal cheer at that sentiment.
  • He said that sports fans who vilify opposing teams and fans are exhibiting the sin of pride. Interesting. Has the Brigham Young University-University of Utah rivalry been particularly nasty lately?
  • He said that such vilification also spills over into politics, ethnicity, and religion, and that it’s equally sinful in those spheres. Well, at least there’s little to no vilification of political opponents going on these days, so we’re okay there. Right? Right?
  • There’s yet another reference to James E. Faust. Interesting—there’s been at least three so far today, at least that i’ve caught.
  • It took a long time for this address’s first mention of flying airplanes.

Juan A. Uceda (of the quorums of the seventy)

  • ”Only the home can compare to the temple in holiness.” We hear stuff like this a lot—but what does it actually mean?
  • Yet another bit of evidence i’m evil: All the repetitions of “I am sorry” as something we need to say started Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” looping in my head—probably not what was intended.

Patrick Kearon (of the quorums of seventy)

  • Not much to really report on here, except to say that i think this guy is actually a superhero, MetaphorMan! (However, his full name is English Accent MetaphorMan!, so it’s all okay.)

Russell M. Nelson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • He asked all of the full-time missionaries, wherever they might be in the world, to stand. You don’t get audience participation like that very often in general conferences.
  • He repeated President Monson’s call for every worthy young man to serve as a full-time missionary, and said he hopes that counsel will be followed in every home in the church. Well, for those of us who are in homes without any sons, that’s going to be an interesting one to try to follow…
  • Do people really not know they’re welcome to visit our church meetings? I thought it was generally assumed that the default is that religious meetings of all types are open to all who wish to drop in unless there’s some sort of signage stating otherwise.
  • Interesting news: You can now create a personal member profile at for nonmembers to view.
  • This address was a fun listen—he was on tonight, even though the subject was fairly pedestrian.

Opening thoughts

  • Dieter F. Uchtdorf was conducting. He read the order of service from paper—you could hear it rustling—and not from the teleprompter. I though that was interesting.
  • ”Hark All Ye Nations” still sounds better in German than in English, no matter how it’s arranged.
  • People were still filing in during the opening song. I’m mildly surprised that they didn’t have everyone seated a few minutes before the meeting began.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon session

Due to stuff my family is doing, people we’re hanging out with for conference, that sort of thing, my notes for the Saturday afternoon and priesthood sessions aren’t going to go up until i can transfer my notes from paper to an electronic format. This is a placeholder post until i can put my notes for the Saturday afternoon session up (probably Sunday evening), so that things stay in order.

Saturday afternoon is kind of a weird session—it’s stuck on a Saturday and therefore not what people are likely to default to watching if they don’t watch all the sessions, but some years it’s kind of a must-see, what with it being the session with the sustainings (and therefore the announcements of who the new apostle is during conferences with an opening in that quorum). Not this year, though.

As with all of these, i’ve written this post bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, up to the final speaker at the top of the post. My thoughts on each speaker, though, are given in the order i write them. Therefore, to get a chronological view of the session you’ll need to scroll to the bottom of this post and read upwards.

Closing thoughts

  • This closing song, “Home”, is…Let’s just say i vote no on the lyrics. That is all.
  • Wait—the women are singing about fathers and the men about mothers? Heresy! (Well, at least the children sang about the children, so maybe lightning won’t strike.)

Richard G. Scott (of the quorum of apostles)

  • He has two basic speaking modes: the really quiet, mellow, and frowny one, and the really quiet, mellow, and almost-but-not-quite-smiley one. He seems to be in almost-smiley mode today.
  • Jeanne just whispered to me “I’m finding this very hard to follow.” Amusingly, that’s pretty much what i was just about to type. That makes two votes—anyone else?
  • Satan has no ability to take away blessings. I’m not sure that Job would agree—maybe he means that Satan has no ability to do that without clearance from God?

Neil L. Andersen (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Good warnings against taking offense and having that push you away from the church. Part of the problem, though, is that it’s difficult to see the difference between reasonable and unreasonable reactions when you’re in the midst of them (or, for that matter, reasonable reactions with ultimately unreasonable effects).
  • I don’t know that we’re actually all that different from other people—it’s just really easy to recognize differences rather than similarities.

Gerrit W. Gong (of the quorums of the seventy)

  • Fresh-baked bread in the Missionary Training Center? Man, do you realize how much you could sell that stuff for in some of the side hallways of that place?
  • Okay, the thank-you notes from the missionaries was one of the best general conference opening jokes i’ve heard. I’m normally not a fan of trying to open with a joke, but for this guy i’ll happily make an exception.
  • Okay, but i didn’t get the “Blackberries, when read in church, make green bishops blue” joke. Why green? (Still, one for two is better than a lot of these get.)
  • It took me a while to get the “temple mirrors of eternity” thing—i must have somehow missed the first mention of it, or at least the context for it.

Kevin R. Duncan (of the quorums of the seventy)

  • Is this the first extended riff on the Mormon pioneers of this general conference? We’re past the halfway mark in the second general session—that may be a new record.
  • I’ve always been curious whether Jim Bridger ever paid up on his challenge about corn grown in the Salt Lake Valley.
  • Having lived in the Utah Valley (immediately next to the Salt Lake Valley, i have to say that whether the Salt lake Valley has actually “blossomed” is somewhat debatable. You see, i grew up in the southern mid-Atlantic, where we actually have a reasonable amount of vegetation…
  • I wonder if this guy heard the address given this morning on Ezra Taft Benson’s “14 fundamentals” about prophets, and had this intense sinking feeling, figuring he’d been preempted. (Fortunately, as a Mormon you can always get away with saying “Because this is so important, i’ll repeat it now.”)

Richard C. Edgley (of the presiding bishopric)

  • “Yes, faith is a choice” and, by extension, a lack of faith is also a choice. I’ve known people, though, who wanted to have faith, desperately wished to have it, but found that it eluded them. How are they choosing to lack faith? Or are they? Can lack of faith simply be a simple trial of life?
  • I like the admission that there are things in his religious beliefs he can’t explain or doesn’t understand—it’s something we don’t here much from church authorities (or rather, we hear it but we don’t usually hear it quite so bluntly).

Quentin L. Cook (of the quorum of apostles)

  • I have to admit that when i hear the name Vera Lynn, all i can think of is the brief song of that name from the Pink Floyd album (and movie) The Wall. This, of course, is proof that i’m evil.
  • He mentioned attacks on morality and religious liberty. I haven’t noticed any significant attacks on religious liberty lately in the United States (aside from some protests against the building of mosques), so i’m curious what exactly he’s referring to.
  • My oldest was thoroughly confused by his metaphor about “blacking out” attacks on the home and such—she thought he was trying to say we need to live in spiritual darkness. Lesson: Be really, really careful with metaphors, especially when they rely on images much of your audience has no experience with.
  • A straight-up naming of human trafficking as a significant evil practice! That may be a first in general conference.
  • He keeps talking about “Judeo-Christian” values and such, but the values he’s talking about are found throughout non-Judeo-Xian religions, as well, and even in non-religious traditions—and he acknowledges that. I’m curious, then, why he keeps coming back to Judeo-Xian traditions. (It’s clearly being used for some rhetorical purpose, but what the purpose is is being utterly opaque to me.)
Robert D. Hales (of the quorum of apostles)
  • It’s good for Mormons to learn that a lot of the words we use (agency, in this case) don’t mean to other people what we think they mean.
  • By using one’s agency, one can lose one’s agency. There’s a bit of irony there (possibly classical irony, even).
Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency), presenting the general authorities and officers of the church
  • He gave Neil L. Andersen’s name as “Neil Andersen” (no middle initial). It was almost jarring to hear it without the L.
Opening thoughts
  • The music is being given by a “family choir”. What in the world is a family choir? I’m assuming they’re not all part of one big family, since they’re pretty much filling up the choir seats. Maybe it just means kids are allowed in?
  • And how do they pick the non-Mormon Tabernacle Choir choirs for general conferences, anyway? Is there an application process? Auditions?
  • Okay, so i kind of understand the rationale behind those whose native languages aren’t English having to give general conference addresses in English (though i really think we have the technological ability to make that unnecessary), but can we let people at least pray to God in their native languages one day?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning session

Welcome, welcome once again to general conference. As i’ve done for the past few conferences, i’ll be semi-liveblogging each conference session. By “semi-liveblogging” i mean that i’ll be jotting down thoughts during each session of conference and posting them after the session ends.

A warning about a scheduling snafu for today: Due to stuff my family is doing, people we’re hanging out with for conference, that sort of thing, my notes for the Saturday afternoon and priesthood sessions aren’t going to go up until i can transfer my notes from paper to an electronic format. I’ll put up placeholder posts for them until they’re up, just to keep things in order.

Also, a note about the way these are ordered: I’m going to be arranging these the same way i did last time, which may be confusing at first. This is because blogs arrange things chronologically from bottom to top, contra millennia of Western writing practice. Therefore, if you visit this page after conference is over, the final session will show up first, followed by the Sunday morning session, then the priesthood session, and so on.

That said, just to make things less scrolling-intensive, each session’s post will be written bottom-up (i.e., first speaker at the end of the post, preceded by the second speaker, and so on, with the final speaker at the top of the post). However, each speaker’s entries will be given in the order i write them. This may be confusing, but i think it works. Anyway, this means that this is where you scroll to the bottom of this post, and then start reading upwards.

Closing thought

  • The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s arrangements were, for the most part, crazy slow and mellow in this session. (Not the closing song, though.) Must have annoyed the sort of people who get annoyed by sacrament meeting songs being sung slowly.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)

  • Very, very nice opening play on his own public speaking habits.
  • In all seriousness, listening to this address is forcibly reminding me of Mohandas Gandhi’s famous line that “there is more to life than increasing its speed”. Good thing to be reminded of, whether it comes from a Gandhi or an Uchtdorf, i have to say.
  • I like listening to general conference addresses by people who have clearly had some decent rhetorical training along the way.
  • It takes a confident speaker to take a glitch like your voice catching and weave it into your overall narrative.
  • Serious question: If we’re supposed to place that much emphasis on time spent with our families, does that mean, say, bishops will be expected to cut the time spent on church service each week to just five or six hours, max (and even that would be a bit much)? I mean, either that or limit the office to those who are properly retired (or maybe it’d be a good use of the male halves of senior missionary couples).
  • Note to self: Play bits of this address for a family home evening lesson or three. (Can you tell that i really, really liked this one?)

D. Todd Christofferson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • What’s up with the widespread use of first-name initials among general authorities? It seems more widespread among them than among the general population. I wonder where that practice comes from?
  • “…all honest work is the work of God.” Interesting meshing of the divine and the profane right there.
  • Can i hear cheers for his endorsement of the humanities and (especially) arts?
  • He draws a contrast between those who believe that our mortal bodies are the result of evolutionary chance and those who believe our bodies a a creation of God. Such a construction pretty much ignores, though, the fact that there are a lot of people who believe both at once—and that would be an interesting tension to explore. A general conference address probably isn’t a good forum for that sort of analysis, though.
  • So the ends don’t justify the means? But how in the world are all of Utah’s Amway sales droids going to make a living now?

David M. McConkie (of the Sunday school general presidency)

  • Wait—he’s saying it’s important for teachers to prepare? Well, at least he’s in the Sunday school general presidency, so that sort of a drastic change clearly isn’t expected in elders quorum teaching.
  • If you listen to general conferences of sixty or more years ago, the offices held by the speakers usually correlated directly with the content of their general conference addresses. (For example, the presidency of the seventy—there were no other general authority seventies at that time—generally spoke on missionary work, the presiding patriarch—that office was filled at the time—spoke on blessings and especially patriarchal blessings, members of the presiding bishopric spoke on the needs of those holding the Aaronic priesthood and the physical facilities of the church, and so on.) By thirty years ago, though, that was no longer the case. Now that members of general presidencies are no longer drawn from the general authorities of the church, we seem to be going back to the future.
  • He said that it’s “contrary to the economy of heaven” for God to let us know individually what we’ve already been told collectively (in the scriptures). To be completely honest, i don’t think i agree with this idea.

name not caught due to audio glitches (of the quorums of seventy, i’d guess)

  • He said that the “We believe…in…prophets…” in the sixth article of faith means that we believe what they say and follow their directions. Is that really what it means? I mean, there’s a lot of ellipsis marks needed to render that verse that way. (The full verse reads: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.”)
  • What does it actually mean that the living prophet can never lead the church astray? I think that we tend to have an overly simplistic view of that idea.
  • Joseph Smith was a teenager when he was first called as a prophet (though he was in his twenties once his ordination occurred). The original quorum of apostles was made up of fairly young guys. Why don’t we have notably young people in the highest levels of church leadership any more?
  • A lot of this was presented as, in his words, “obedience to the prophet”. I have to wonder if obedience to the prophet or obedience to God is a more basic daily guiding principle. (Certainly the latter overall, but i’m wondering about day-to-day life here.)

name not caught due to audio glitches (of the general primary presidency, it sounded like)

  • It wasn’t her point, so no criticism of her, but it bothers me when the story of Joseph Smith’s childhood operation and his refusal of brandy as an anesthetic gets held up as a great example of following the Word of Wisdom—there was no Word of Wisdom at that point to follow, to begin with!
  • “The world will teach our children if we do not.” Well, actually, it’s more that the world will teach our children no matter what we do—and you know what, i don’t think that’s a bad thing. Of course, i also tend not to think that the world is going to perdition in a handbasket.
  • In the story she told about the woman whose children prayed for safety while she was driving though a blizzard, i suspect that the greatest answer that came to the prayer was the road being closed.
  • A sports celebration as an instance of the strait and narrow path? I think it’s now officially possible to make anything into a gospel metaphor.

Jeffrey R. Holland (of the quorum of the apostles)

  • Some discussion about the sustaining of church authorities and officers that’ll be done in this afternoon’s session. Leads me to sort of idly wonder when the last time was that the body of the church in conference assembled rejected a proposed name. I mean, i realize that it’s not a vote in the electoral sense (but rather a vote for ratification, like at a business board meeting). Still, you’d think there would be more frequent negative votes than there are.
  • He mentioned funeral potatoes! I seriously hadn’t heard that term before my exile in Utah. (Potato casserole is what i’d heard it called, on those rare occasions i’d heard it called anything.) Regional lexical variation in the public sphere makes me happy.
  • I like the story he told about how his parents paid for his mission so that his money would still be there when he got home. What i really like about it is that they didn’t tell him about it—they allowed him to focus on his work then so that he wouldn’t be distracted by the need to thank them until later. There’s something in there about why we’re generally not supposed to trumpet our good works before the world, i suspect.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • Did anyone else have issues with the audio feed on the internet here? I have no idea what he said, even though i could see the video perfectly. Hint to the techies running the church’s website: General conference video feeds are candy—it’s the audio that’s important.
  • Anyway, a few minutes into his address (read: about a minute before he was done) we got the audio-only feed going. (We had to fire up Windows to get that to work, and then later got the video to—sort of—work with the audio under WIndows. Was the audio problem a Mac-only issue, perhaps?) Anyway, we got to hear the end of a pep talk on how older couples should serve as full-time missionaries, which is always a nice subject to hear about, ’cause we don’t have to worry about feeling guilty about that one for a couple decades yet.

Opening song

  • So why is it that the men in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir wear business suits, but the women wear crazy tent dresses that no businesswoman in her right mind would ever wear?

Opening credits

  • I’m watching this on the internet, so i don’t know if everyone else saw the same opening credits video montage as i did, but it really just didn’t work for me. Sorry. Better luck to the church’s audiovisual department next time.
  • Our stake is really into the idea that people coming into meetings should be deathly silentreverent, and people shouldn’t speak to each other as they’re waiting for the meeting to start—any greetings or discussion need to occur outside the chapel in the foyer. Odd, then, that the general authorities of the church greet each other as they walk to their seats, and as they sit next to each other they pretty frequently lean over and exchange quiet words with each other. Hmmm…Might it be that reverence actually doesn’t mean silence?