Monday, October 31, 2011

Things to be happy about

Can i just say how happy it makes me that our church is cool with Halloween, and lets us dress up as devils and witches (or even angels and teachers) if we want to?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Choosing to debate, or not

So i’m at a research conference right now, and it’s being hosted this year by Georgetown University. Georgetown University is a Roman Catholic university (specifically, a Jesuit one).

So while i was wandering around campus i saw tables set up by some student groups, and one of them was by Hoyas* for Choice. This is, as you might expect from the name, a group of Georgetown University students who favor the continued legality of abortion.** Of course, this goes against Roman Catholic dogma, which is firmly and completely against abortion under any circumstances. (Oh—and they were giving out free condoms, another practice against Roman Catholic dogma.)

This got me thinking that i can’t imagine the administration at Brigham Young University accepting the existence of a “Cougars for Choice” group, and particularly not tolerating such a group having a table on campus, or giving out free condoms. I’ve heard some Mormons say that this is a good thing, and a sign that Brigham Young University is something approaching perfection in higher education, because dissent from religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy simply doesn’t happen there.

It leads me to wonder whether such a lack of debate is actually healthy, though. I mean, how does someone really learn to defend (or even argue for) their religious perspective if they’re sheltered from alternative points of view? Relatedly, i know that there’s a diversity of opinions on a lot of really intense issues among Mormons—but does it actually serve us well to reinforce the idea held by a lot of non-Mormons that we’re a bunch of groupthink types, when we’re actually not?


* Georgetown’s sports teams and students are called Hoyas. No, it doesn’t make any sense to me either.

** And any comments on this post that even begin to hint at arguing about abortion rather than the main topic i’m getting at here will be summarily deleted—i find abortion flamewars tiresome.

*** That is, discuss while keeping footnote ** in mind.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

People who died

I’m tired of the frequently repeated claim that only a (relatively) few people are going to make it to the celestial kingdom—i mean, it doesn’t even pass the logic test, since such a huge proportion of the humans born throughout history have died before reaching the age of eight, which means that (according to canon) they make it into the celestial kingdom automatically.

And four internets for whoever got the semi-obscure eighties reference in the title without reading this line first.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Getting it right

True story: My oldest is twelve years old, and so attends young women classes at church. One recent Sunday, the topic of abortion came up, and there was a bit of a pile-on about how it was a horrible, sinful thing, no exceptions. My daughter eventually pointed out that the church’s official position on abortion is actually a bit more nuanced than that (and she then got backed up on that by one of the adults present).

It led me to wonder how often that happens—that is, how often discussions of hot-button issues that start going beyond the church’s actual teachings get reoriented to what the church’s position actually is, and how often things go completely off the rails (which, of course, would lay the foundation for further off-rail-going in the future).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On honoring and sustaining the law

Can we give up on the meme that one of the things that marks Mormonism as the true church of God is that we as a church always obey the law?

I mean, i guess it might be the case that Mormons always obey the law, except that i didn't realize that John Taylor was saying to obey the laws on polygyny when he died while in hiding from the federal government...

(Similarly, yeah, the people of Alma didn't pray out loud when it was illegal for them to do so—but Daniel did pray, and vocally, when it was illegal.)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Telling on myself

One time a list of blessings you get from attending the temple was included in the printed program for sacrament meeting, and one of them said “You will be thin.” I was rather surprised, since i figured that was a promise only God could make, and then only individually, until i realized that i had misread it. What it really said? “The veil will be thin.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011


So Blogger has been telling me that my blog is popular,* and that i’m missing out on making money by not placing ads on my blog (or, in their focus-group-tested language, i haven’t “monetized” my blog). Surely they’re only looking out for my best interests, and they want me to have some extra pocket change, right?

Actually, what i suspect is that Blogger knows it is missing out on the pocket change that they would get if i and a few thousand more like me were to allow ads to be placed on my site.

But i would like to publicly state my position: I will not place ads on my blog. Ever. I do this thing for fun, and advertising just doesn’t seem to fit in my ethos of fun, you know?

Anyway, just wanted to say that out loud for some reason. Back to the regularly scheduled snark in a couple days.

* I suspect that that means they’ve discovered that more than two people read it, which certainly is an achievement for a blog, but i’ve seen the numbers—with the possible exception of my twice-a-year general conference notes, this blog is not what i would call “popular”.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Some interesting stats

I was reading the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s 2008 U.S.  Religious Landscape Survey results for a linguistics research project,* and i ran across some interesting statistics that had nothing to do with my research, but i thought they were worth repeating here (but note that these stats reflect patterns only among U.S. adults):

Of all the adults who said that they grew up Mormon, 70% have stayed in the faith—and comparatively, that’s a pretty good rate.** Of those who left Mormonism, effectively half joined another church and half are now unaffiliated with any religion (which is pretty much normal for those who leave non-Protestant religions).

On the other side of things, 26% of all adult Mormons have converted from another faith, with fully half of those coming from Protestant faiths. Not necessarily surprising, that, given that pretty much half of all adults in the United States are Protestant—what surprised me was that only 1% of our adult membership grew up in churches that are neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic, even though those groups make up better than 7% of the nation’s population. (5% of our members were initially unaffiliated, though.)

* There’s actually a tangential Mormon connection to it—i’ll have to post something about it here sometime.

** Higher than us: Hindus at 84% retention, Jews at 76%, and members of Orthodox faiths at 73%. Roman Catholics are close at 68%. Interestingly, the majority of those raised unaffiliated with any religion have ended up affiliated with a religion, which actually surprised me.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Songs you get wrong

Two things you probably didn’t know about church songs, or at least wouldn’t know if you listened to most Mormons sing them:
  • The end of the chorus of “The Lord Is My Light” is not “He leads me, he leads me along”—there's only one instance of me in that line.
  • In the primary song “‘Give,’ Said the Little Stream”, it is not the case that wherever the stream goes “the grass grows greener still”—rather, the fields grow greener.
That last one is so surprising, there’s even been some scholarly research on it—I was at a Deseret Language and Linguistics Society Symposium one year (2000? 2001?—sometime around then) where there was a presentation on that lyric and people’s misperception of it, even when they saw it printed in front of them.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Songs as you never expected them

Back when i was a full-time missionary, i lived in an apartment that held two companionships. One of the members of the other pair could sing the chorus of “Behold! A Royal Army” sounding just like a late eighties/early nineties highly filtered dance/house/techno singer.

The song works surprisingly well that way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An attempt at crowdsourcing

So i’m looking for old (i.e., 1940 through 1970) general conference transcripts for research purposes. I used to be able to find them for free through (don’t bother clicking on it, it hasn’t worked any time i’ve tried it during the past couple months), and’s general conference archive only goes back to 1974.

So, a question for anyone who reads this: Do you know of a free online source for still-in-copyright pre-1974 general conference transcripts (like there used to be), or do i have to break down and shell out some cash? (I mean, for all i know, was violating copyright, but it looked legit at the time.)

And a secondary question: Why does the church make it relatively difficult to access old general conference proceedings?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon session

And now it’s time to chill with Saturday afternoon, the session that all the slackers members of the church with very harried lives tend to skip out on, so the speakers tend to be a little bit more mellow, or at least toned down.

I like that.

Anyway, as with others, the entries for the session are arranged bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post and the final speaker at the top of the post, but with each individual speaker’s entries given in the order i write them. This means that the start of the session is down by the bottom of this post.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)
  • Lots of thankage.
  • We all have a part to play, and with the help of God we can play our part well. My part, i’m thinking, is court jester—though one day i hope to be promoted to Shakespearean fool.
  • And that’s it, closing us off (after what was easily my favorite session of this running of general conference) with a really, really mellow pep talk—so ’til April, folks!

Quentin L. Cook (of the quorum of apostles)
  • Do i sense a problem of evil sermon? Oh, i do think so!
  • A passing reference to September 11, 2001—you don’t get those very often in general conference.
  • A reference to the sinking of the Titanic. Do i get to bear a grudge against Elder Cook for pushing that horrible, horrible Celine Dion song into my head?
  • And a second September 11 reference!
  • I wonder when general authorities stopped interviewing prospective full-time missionaries.
  • This address is doing a good job of softening some of the rough edges of the preceding one.
  • This seriously is one of the best problem of evil general conference addresses i’ve ever heard. (And i’ve listened to a number of them, going back to 1936.)
  • So Harper’s magazine relatively recently made the claim that Mormonism preaches a prosperity-type gospel. I think Elder Cook is having fun sticking a fork in that one, you know?
  • I think i still like Brother Richardson’s address better, but this one’s a really, really close second.

J. Devn Cornish (of the seventy)
  • Okay, this guy gets my vote for best general authority middle name.
  • I have to admit that “God answers little prayers, and that proves he loves us” arguments bother me, when people don’t always get prayers answered (even for big things, like say “Please don’t let me get stabbed right now”). Is a prayer not being answered evidence of God not loving us? I don’t think so—so why do we preach the opposite?
  • That said, i have to say i like his exegesis of the Lord’s Prayer, both because it as pretty well done and because you don’t hear nearly enough exegesis in Mormon sermons.
  • He included a quote from yesterday in his address. So much for the Mormon urban legend that states that the content of every general conference address has to be approved weeks in advance.

Randall K. Bennett (of the seventy)
  • Things i already knew that this address has reminded me of: Remember, if caught by a rip current, don’t try to swim directly toward shore, but rather on a diagonal relative to the current. (Of course, “swim only sort of against dangerous currents” isn’t probably what he wanted us to remember from this.)
  • And another: Small children don’t react well to clear logic.

Kazuhiko Yamashita (of the seventy)
  • Some family traditions i just don’t understand. Yeah, it was a sweet story, but i wore out my mission coats pretty thoroughly—and i wore out the last one i had during the year or two following my return. I can’t imagine having stored a coat for long enough to have one of my children wear it, in any event.
  • I don’t remember my own baptism. In a way i sort of feel some jealousy for people who can tell stories of their baptismal experiences like this.
  • Proud parenting moment: He says he wants to speak to all of the future missionaries, and my daughters shush each other and start listening. (The six-year-old even says “I am a missionary in training!”)

Matthew O. Richardson (of the Sunday school general presidency)
  • A male non-general authority speaking in conference!
  • You know, watching this guy, i’m suddenly struck by how few of the speakers in general conference wear glasses.
  • “We may need to change our way of teaching to emulate the way the Holy Ghost teaches.” (I may have a couple words wrong, but the content is right.) The Holy Ghost is non-corporeal, and can dwell within us—i’m not sure i get what he’s asking us to do.
  • As he’s going through the address, i think i’m starting to get what he meant (and i think i like it), but it’s going by so fast that i don’t have time to really figure it out. Part of me feels like he figures this is his one general conference speaking chance, so he’s going to pack as much as possible on his topic into the address and let people digest it from the written report.
  • Now that it’s done and i’m catching my breath, i have to say: Quite possibly the best address of conference so far—and there’s not a lot of chances left for people to top it.

Dallin H. Oaks (of the quorum of apostles)
  • Interesting opening swipe at a decent-sized (though, i expect, not majority) chunk of mainstream Xianity.
  • This is an interesting rhetorical method—he’s framing it as directed in part (largely, even) to those who don’t agree with him, but the claims he’s making assume more shared assumptions than you’d expect from such disagreement.
  • ”We return to the Father by doing his will.” Nicely succinct, that.
  • He notes that we should have no more disputes concerning points of doctrine. I can only assume that this means that, from this point on, nobody will argue about caffeine ever again.
  • Absolutely true story: My four-year-old goes up close to the computer screen, stares at Elder Oaks, and asks, “Daddy, is he mad?” I had to answer, “No, he just usually has that expression.”
  • ”We should not use a visa to visit Babylon.” That’s because they only take American Express. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Russell M. Nelson (of the quorum of apostles)
  • Wait a minute—a description of a religious concept in legal terms? You’re stealing Elder Oaks’s fire, dude!
  • Is the usual Mormon definition of a covenant as a contract actually accurate? Are covenants actually usually binding quid pro quo agreements in the same way that Mormons tend to describe them?
  • Serious thought: If someone can’t (by canon, even!) be punished because of the actions of their ancestors, why can blessings from covenants with God be inherited? There’s something deeper going on here, i think.
  • Children of the covenant have a right to the fullness of the gospel. That’s a pretty heavy claim, really.

Opening thoughts
  • I see that the MoTab women are still rockin’ with the pinkaliciousness! (Sorry, but that shade really isn’t doing it for me.)

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning session

So we’ve arrived at Sunday morning, the big leagues of general conference—the one that people actually watch, if they’re going to watch a session of conference.

As with all of these that i do, the entries for the session are arranged bottom-up, with the first speaker at the end of the post and the final speaker at the top of the post—but with each speaker’s entries given in the order i write them. This means that the start of the session is down by the bottom of this post.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)
  • So he’ll conclude this session and (if tradition holds) the next session? Interesting.
  • A reference to Elder Hales as “Bob”. Always nice to see humanizing language.
  • You know, ancient warfare techniques involved the regular killing of absolutely everyone in a defeated city, or at least the (often sexual) enslavement of the population. I’m not convinced the world is more immoral (or even amoral) nowadays—the locus of the immorality may have changed, but has the degree of it?
  • Now this, though, i can fully get behind—that we can each do our individual part to create moral character in our own selves.
  • A five dollar bill when he was ten? I just checked, and that’s $75.10 in 2010 dollars—a serious amount of money to lose, especially amidst the Great Depression.
  • ”I’m always humbled and grateful when Heavenly Father communicates with me”—not a surprising line, but a memorable one.
  • “Elder Hawkes, who was known to drive rather rapidly…” I continue to like moments of humanity in general conferences.

M. Russell Ballard (of the quorum of apostles)
  • It sounded at first like he was going to call it evil to use the word “Mormon” to mean anything other than the father of Moroni, but it seems like it’s settled more into a discussion of why the full name of the church is a good thing—much better.
  • So it’s okay to use “Mormons” to refer to members of the church, but not “the Mormon church” to refer to the church as a corporate entity? Is this an attempt to strike a middle ground as they recognize that nobody’s really listening to general conference addresses about the word “Mormon”? (Sidebar: As a professional linguist, i feel the need to point out that top-down directions on language use are almost never successful.)
  • Let’s see if i’ve got this right: Mormon church is a problem because it creates confusion with fundamentalist Mormons, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t because there’s no possible confusion with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (I think my head hurts.)
  • My opinion: Just because the name of a church has “Jesus Christ” in it isn’t going to convince anyone that that church is a Xian religion.

Elaine S. Dalton (young women general president)
  • As a father of daughters, no sons, i have to say that i like mentions of fathers and daughters—it’s a relationship that in my experience gets short shrift in church addresses, both general and local.
  • I have to admit that i never had a “How do i raise a daughter?” reaction. If i’d had any sons, on the other hand, that’s what would have freaked me out.
  • So wait a minute—it’s my job to make sure my daughters are righteous, not their own job? I don’t think i agree, actually—my job is to make sure my daughters can make decisions, not to make decisions for them.
  • Why do general conference speakers get visual aids to buttress points of cuteness, but sacrament meeting speakers don’t?
  • I don’t entirely follow the logic—she said the best way to raise (good) daughters is to love their mother, then went on a whole long thing about guarding daughters’ virtue, and then summarized it by saying the best way to raise daughters is to love their mother. Huh?

Tad R. Callister (of the presidency of the seventy)
  • A repetition of the meme that there is no middle ground between good and evil. I have to admit that i remain unconvinced, but he’s giving some interesting evidence.
  • We really ought to be careful of saying that the using Bible and the Book of Mormon together means you only get one interpretation. His claim conveniently ignores the existence of, say, the Community of Christ, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a. the Strangite church), or others—not to mention doctrinal disagreements (caffeine, anyone?) among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints themselves.

Robert D. Hales (of the quorum of apostles)
  • Elder Hales is seatbound, like President Packer? Is this new, or had i just missed or forgotten about it?
  • This all brings to mind a thought i’ve had before: Jesus was convicted of treason and sedition, and we revere him as the Son of God; Joseph Smith was in prison awaiting trial on similar charges when he was assassinated. We of all people really need to be careful about rushing to judgment based on human concepts of justice (including, to the point of this address, when we see divine-punishment-looking things happen to people), you know?
  • It always gets me a bit when the more elderly of the general conference speakers get emotional talking about the deaths of family and close friends—you know they’ve experienced it, and it’s rather brave, i think, to talk about it in public, even briefly.
  • Good reminder that one of Job’s trials was a loss of personal reputation—we tend to forget that one when we talk about that story.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)
  • His description of the ward “day of service” project transforming the grounds of a church makes it sound like it wasn’t a Mormon church. (He mentioned the “ministers” of the church.) I’m hoping we had a good number of those, where we helped out or worked with other denominations—the perception people (including a number of Mormons, like me) have that we’re hyper-ourselves-directed can’t be healthy.
  • What kind of university invites a religious leader to speak at its graduation without thinking ahead of time that said religious leader might talk about religion a little bit?
  • Just letting everyone know: If I’m a terminal case, don’t bother to buy new shoes for me. Go ahead and polish the ones i already have, but i wouldn’t be able to take the shoes with me—save the money for a party for the living, i figure.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency), opening remarks
  • He called this the “fourth session” of conference, which is interesting—usually this is called the “fourth general session”, which has led me to wonder what non-general sessions there are during the week previous. I figure that what he used is simply a shorthand for the longer form, but it’d be interesting to know what the actual full general conference schedule is.
  • We get a song, then opening remarks, then another song, then a prayer, then a song. This is kind of a normal opening, but couldn’t we do with fewer songs? I mean, the people who are twisted enough to really like MoTab just got a half hour of that all to themselves with the “Music and the Spoken Word” program. If the purpose of general conference is actually for the membership of the church to learn from the general authorities and general officers of the church, then you’d think they’d cut a couple of the songs and squeeze another of the shorter speeches in, you know?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

Yes, priesthood session, the general session that’s only sort of general.

As with the rest of these, entries for the session are arranged from the bottom up, with the first speaker at the end of the post and the final speaker at the top of the post—so now you should scroll to the bottom of this post and start reading upwards.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)
  • The major theme for the whole thing: We need to have the courage to stand for our beliefs, even if it means standing alone.
  • With that, he told an interesting story with him having the courage to stand alone for his beliefs—only to find out that he wasn’t actually alone.
  • He also noted that if we stand alone on the side of good, God still stands with us, so we’re not actually alone.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)
  • If we ask whether we’re prepared for a priesthood assignment, the answer is always: Yes.
  • Interesting idea: Part of our preparation process in this life is to re-learn our premortal preparation.
  • Another interesting thing: He reminded everyone (leaders, particularly, i think) that God trusted Joseph Smith when Smith was an inexperienced (and, to all appearances, unprepared) teenage boy.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)
  • Our personal, family, and church actions should spring from the two great commandments—or, in other words, welfare principles.
  • If you focus on spiritual commandments while ignoring temporal commandments, you’re not doing it right.
  • What he said, essentially, was that “I got mine” isn’t just feckless, it’s a gateway to hell.
  • This may be evil of me, but when he started saying that if someone is in need then helping out is the responsibility of each one of us individually, well, i started thinking about old speeches by Eugene V. Debs.
  • Anybody cheering with me for his statement that exactly how welfare principles are put into action will differ depending on where you are?

W. Christopher Waddell (of the quorums of the seventy)
  • One of his claims: Sacrifice is made in vain if there isn’t an application of it. I don’t think that the example he used to illustrate the point was valid, but i suspect that he’s right anyway.
  • Lots of stuff about how serving as a full-time missionary is important, including that God has specific experiences, contacts, companions, &c. set up for us. I have to ask whether that means that God sets up mission companionships for full-time missionaries where one half of the companionship has decided they’ve done enough, and they’re too tired to go out and preach any more—’cause if so, i’m still trying to figure out why that was an important experience.

Keith B. McMullin (of the presiding bishopric)
  • Interesting description of what it means to be “born again” in the Mormon scheme of things.
  • He told the young men (this is priesthood session, remember) that if they’re born again and do good, the young women will adore them and strive to be better themselves. I think i’m going to have to ask my daughters what they think of that before i accept that claim…

Jeffrey R. Holland (of the quorum of apostles)
  • When an apostle starts out with “I wish to speak rather candidly tonight”, you sit up and take notice. I don’t know that i heard anything that quite merited that preface, though.
  • He pointed out that we often gloss over Joseph Smith’s confrontation with Satan immediately before the first vision, but it’s useful to remember it, and that it tells us that Satan is real.
  • Not groundbreaking, but interesting nonetheless: Satan knows he’ll be defeated, but but is determined to take down as many as possible with him when he loses.
  • His claim: A missionary can’t be unrepentant of sins and then expect to be able to successfully call others to repentance for those same sins. Is that true, though? I’m not sure, given the Holy Spirit’s propensity to back up truth in whatever context.
  • An explicit salute to those who have wished to serve as full-time missionaries and have been worthy to do so, but were unable to do so due to health or other reasons beyond their control.
  • And the church certainly has lowered some of the barriers to older couples serving as full-time missionaries, hasn’t it? They can even fly home (albeit at their own expense) for big family events like weddings and such now—nice to see a recognition that people can have a personal life even if they’ve devoted a time in their life to God, you know?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon session

Second general session! (Speaking of which, i wonder how many non-general sessions there are? Priesthood session is technically a general session, since Sunday morning is the fourth general session, but the relief society and young women’s sessions aren’t included in the general session count. There used to be welfare sessions, but they’re gone now, unless attendance at them is a lot more restricted than it used to be.)

Anyway, a reminder: The entries for the session are arranged from the 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—but each speaker’s entries are given in the order i write them. This means that this is where you scroll to the bottom of this post and start reading upwards.

Closing prayer (i didn’t catch who said it)
  • I caught direct references to at least three, maybe four of the addresses this session. Nothing like proving your were listening, eh?

L. Tom Perry (of the quorum of apostles)
  • Four apostles (not counting the first presidency member) speaking in one session—seems a bit of an overload. This plus the temple announcements this morning feel like an attempt to reward the people who are actually watching today.
  • Lots of discussion of the church’s place as a topic for discussion and comment in the public sphere.
  • Okay, i’m an academic linguist, and i’ve published a number of articles on the card-cord merger—that is, the ability of speakers of certain dialects of English to pronounce the or in words like cord as an ar, like in card. L. Tom Perry exhibits that merger a lot—and it’s distracting me, on a professional level.
  • I’ve heard other Mormons characterize this blog as evil and a horrible public face for a member of the church to present, and i’ve also heard other Mormons characterize this blog as a quite positive and humanizing public face for a member of the church to represent. I’m curious how L. Tom Perry would categorize it.
  • Good to hear a general authority explicitly say that it’s good to have a two-way conversation about religion with non-Mormons, contra the occasional Mormon meme that our job is to teach others, not to be taught by others.
  • We need to be civil in our discussions of religion, no matter the tone others adopt when engaging us or discussing our religion. I think we tend to do that anyway, but it’s good to hear such direction from high levels occasionally.
  • Interesting statement: When talking about the church, we shouldn’t try to make it sound “better than it is”. Very nice indirect acknowledgment that even though we believe that we have the truth, we can’t claim to be using that truth perfectly. (And so maybe L. Tom Perry wouldn’t mind this blog, after all.)

D. Todd Christofferson (of the quorum of apostles)
  • What exactly is entailed in a “call to repentance”? He’s presenting it in a way that seems slightly different from what i expected, and i’m not entirely certain what exactly he means by that phrase.
  • His reference to the baptismal covenant didn’t really parallel Mosiah 18:8–10 (which i’m not certain is actually the baptismal covenant myself, no matter what lots of gospel doctrine teachers have taught me). I’m going to have to look for his description of it in the written report.

LeGrand R. Curtis, Jr. (of the quorums of seventy)
  • Cool—i thought for a minute he was going to talk about the importance of avoiding big sins and such. Yeah, that’s important, but he went in a more interesting direction—that it doesn’t matter whether our sins are big or little, since they’re all sins, and we all have them.
  • I really, really, really like his story of being told cascading stories about reactivation.

Carl B. Cook (of the quorums of seventy)
  • He’s doing a very good, focused job with his message (we need to remember to “look up”—that is, look toward Jesus), but there’s really nothing here i can hook into to comment on about it.

Ian S. Ardern (of the quorums of seventy)
  • This is some of the most measured, slow pacing of speech i’ve heard in a general conference address in a long time (aside from, occasionally, Richard G. Scott). There’s sort of an irony about having that in an address about the importance of using time wisely.
  • Contrasting prayer with things like texting very seriously popped my brain over into imagining what it might be like to text a prayer. (I then realized i don’t have any phone numbers of deities on my phone, so it wouldn’t work. At least for now.)
  • Angry Birds mention!

Neal A. Anderson (of the quorum of apostles)
  • He’s working at walking a really, really fine line here: Saying that married couples should make their own decisions on the timing and number of their children, and also saying that married couples should make sure to have children (if they’re physically able, as he mentioned in passing), while criticizing limiting the number of children a couple has. I’m not sure he’s doing it successfully.
  • Sidebar: What’s the birth rate among Mormons, and does it vary by region?
  • Serious question: What if God tells a couple to delay having children?
  • Another question: What does it actually mean to “multiply and replenish the earth”? He’s presenting it as meaning to have lots of children. Jeanne and i have lots of children (well, well above the national average, in any event), and i’m not certain that’s what it means.
  • He’s doing a much better job of highlighting the problems inherent in judging people who don’t have children.

David A. Bednar (of the quorum of apostles)
  • If he’s right that nobody on earth had the sealing authority from Elijah’s ascension until Elijah’s appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration, does that mean the Nephites didn’t have the sealing authority (until, presumably, Jesus’s appearance to them)?
  • Genealogical research is a calling of children of God, and is not limited to those who have reached a particular age. (Nice point.)
  • Interesting job of drawing a line from skill in social uses of technology to potential skill in using technology for genealogical research.
  • Ah! An announcement (re-announcement?—i don’t know if it’s been previously mentioned) of a web site on family history directed toward the youth of the church.
  • On a related personal note, when Jeanne and i were in our late twenties, Jeanne was called as the ward family history consultant. We used to joke that she was the youngest family history consultant in the history of the church—rather certainly not true, but sometimes it felt like it was.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency), presentation of general authorities and officers
  • A full set of sustainings in October? I thought this was an April thing, not an every conference thing. Am i just misremembering past practice?
  • So Gary J. Coleman’s address in the previous session was a valedictory.
  • Yoshihiko Kikuchi has been made an emeritus general authority. There’ll be a lot of people in the church who miss having him around, i think.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency), opening remarks
  • A primary choir? Interesting—not something you see that often in meetings like this. (I do have to wonder—what sort of sedatives did they give them to keep them from fidgeting up there?)

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning session

Welcome, reader(s). As has become traditional for this blog, i’m going to be “sorta-liveblogging” (that is, jotting down notes during the session and then posting them in a chunk here, session by session) each session of general conference—it only seems like a sensible thing for a Mormon-oriented blogger to do, you know.

Those of you who have read these in the past probably remember the odd-but-it-works format i use for these, but here’s a reminder: Since blogs arrange things chronologically from bottom to top (contra millennia of tradition in Western writing), so 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. Given that, i’ll be ordering things the same way within each post so that you don’t have to do quite so much scrolling. This means that each session’s post is 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 are given in the order i write them. This is probably confusing, but so are any of the other alternative i’ve come up with (and certainly less confusing than a true live-blogging format, especially if you read one of those during an event).

In any event, this means that this is where you scroll to the bottom of this post, and then start reading upwards.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)
  • I like that he’s highlighting the simultaneous nothingness and glory of human beings. It’s a common enough meme in some other branches of Xianity, but we don’t seem to focus on it nearly so much in Mormonism.
  • So the qualifications for exaltation are personality attributes, really—so why do we focus so often on checklists of our actions rather than our attributes?
  • He taught elders quorum and Sunday school in a small Texas branch back when he didn’t know English very well? Baptism by fire, i suppose—and a really, really good way for him to learn a second language, too.
  • Speaking of which , who would have thought that the person who would take Neal A. Maxwell’s place as the general conference speaker most prone to memorable bouts of alliteration and rhyming couplets (not to mention similarly intricate thematic structures) would be a non-native speaker of English?
  • I really like the looping topic structure of this address—it appeals to me more than the story-based structure that, in my observation, most Mormons seem to prefer.

Boyd K. Packer (president of the quorum of apostles)
  • He repeats the common (not just among Mormons) claim that “standards of morality” are lower now than they used to be. This is leading me to wonder how broadly that definition goes—given where he goes later, he’s using it to include sexual things, but does he also include things like, say, charity or willingness to share or issues like war or social justice?
  • Interesting—unless i’m seriously misreading his intent, his claims about the way the Holy Spirit inspires us seems to be directly going against what Barabara Thompson said earlier (that is, she said inspiration comes in any of a large number of ways, while he says it comes via feelings). I have to admit that i’m more on her side than his here, given my own experiences.
  • You know, i’ve met some of the apostles, and they’ve tended to have very strong personalities. That the first presidency and quorum of the twelve have to function in unanimity, and then actually make decisions, really boggles my mind.

José L. Alonso (of the quorums of the seventy)
  • To help people who are spiritually lost “it is not necessary to create any new programs”. This sort of thing has been repeated over and over in general conferences for some years now—i think the message may finally be getting through to local leadership, given my observation.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)
  • This seems an odd speaking slot for the president of the high priesthood, but maybe i’m just recalling wrong.
  • I suppose that the opening laugh line won’t make it into the printed record—rather a pity.
  • Ah! He’s going to be announcing temples this morning—fun.
  • They’re rebuilding the Provo tabernacle, with full restoration!—and doing it as a second Provo temple. I’m betting there’ll be a lot more wedding photos taken at that one than at the existing one…
  • Other new temples: Barranquilla, Colombia; Durban, South Africa (a friend of mine served here mission there—she’s probably smiling right now); Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Star Valley, Wyoming. The Kinshasa one is really interesting—the church is placing a bet on the ultimate stability of the country, it seems.
  • He said the church is “moving forward” on plans for a Paris, France temple, which is an intriguing way of phrasing things.
  • And a blurb for the general temple patron assistance fund—it’s existed for a good while, but it hasn’t really been well-publicized.
L. Whitney Clayton (of the presidency of the seventy)
  • Elder Clayton was here for stake meetings a while back, and this opening story? He was test-driving it then, apparently.
  • What does it actually mean for the church to “fill the earth”?
  • Interesting thought: Our primary job is to spread the message that there is a Savior throughout the world. Here in the United States you wouldn’t think that’s a big deal, but worldwide? Yeah, it bit more interesting.
Barbara Thompson (of the relief society general presidency)
  • Point of trivia: Barbara Thompson is only the second unmarried woman to serve in the relief society general presidency (after Sheri L. Dew).
  • It makes me happy every time i hear someone in general conference mention that revelation isn’t limited to low-level feelings and the like, but can include hearing a voice or somesuch.
  • Is she reading this from paper? Her eyes don’t look like she’s using the TelePrompTer.
Choir, “We Ever Pray for Thee”
  • I see that we’re back to the game of panning through the choir in ways to make sure to attract focus to the one or two non-pale faces singing. <sigh />
Richard G. Scott (of the quorum of apostles)
  • The scriptures are useful for backing up religious statements “when cited correctly”. Did i get that right, and he said cited, not quoted or interpreted? I’m going to want to see how the written record of this speech reads on that one.
  • I realize that i’m evil and all, but he’s advocating the usefulness of memorizing scriptural passages pretty intensely, and memorizing scriptures doesn’t really do anything for me—it just makes it so i know the words, but i focus on their form to the exclusion of their content.
  • ”Do you use all of the scriptures?…I love the Old Testament.” Folks who like reading the Hebrew scriptures, represent!
  • I’m curious what the ratio of quotes from canon to original text is in this address.
  • His late wife served as a young-adult full-time missionary? That’s what it sounded like, but i couldn’t be certain from the phrasing, and a quick round of googling doesn’t turn up anything unambiguous on it. Either way, i’m curious how many of the general authorities are married to returned full-time missionaries, and how that compares to the Mormon male population as a whole.
Gary J. Colman (of the quorums of the seventy), opening prayer
  • A fairly short prayer, but admit it: A lot of you got faked out and almost said “amen” a couple times before he actually got to the end.
Opening thoughts
  • Canned opening video of the Conference Center and Salt Lake Temple that includes dark clouds! Is that a first? It actually works quite well, in terms of visual aesthetics.