Friday, April 30, 2010

In which David B may commit heresy

I suspect this is cultural heresy, but here goes:

I don’t believe that midweek activities for the youth are really all that helpful at encouraging church activity among said youth.

I’ll step into my asbestos suit now. Fire away.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Voices, an epilogue

The title of my last post reminded me that the song “Voices” from Saturday’s Warrior was the only halfway-decent song in the entire movie/play.

(And yes, “In Our Humble Way” is listenable for the humor value, but being funny doesn’t make it any good. Sorry.)

Monday, April 26, 2010


Just a little note stemming from the fact that i’ve probably listened to more pre-1970 general conference audio than anyone else born post-Woodstock.

Most people my age (and older) associate Spencer W. Kimball with the slow, intensely gravelly voice that came from him surviving a bout with throat cancer by having a chunk of his vocal folds removed.

When he was first called into the quorum of apostles,* though, he had one of the most beautiful speaking voices i’ve ever heard. In my tradition of asking unanswerable questions, i wonder whether he would have been perceived differently had he never had his voice disfigured like that.

* Yeah, i know that’s not the standard name of the quorum—it’s accurate, though, so i’m sticking with it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Who presides over what?

Another one that comes from thoughts during general conference:

Mormons generally say that the father (when present, of course) needs to preside in the home. However, given the discussion of parental stewardships in the document generally but slightly improperly called the Proclamation on the Family, i wonder whether it’s actually the mother (when present) who should preside in childrearing decisions.

(Of course, Jeanne and i are evil, since we operate by consensus rather than by one or the other giving direction, but what else do you expect from pinko commie liberal hippie types like us?)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On problems, worldviews, and bishops

I’ve held a number of callings over the past decade and a half that have given me the opportunity to closely observe several bishops and their counselors, while never having to be one myself. One thing that i’ve noticed is that bishops and (to a lesser extent) their counselors tend to really intensely believe in the church vs. world contrast i wrote about recently, with the world being a scary, dangerous, sinful place, and one that we in the church need to keep ourselves removed from.

I’ve wondered about this for a while—what is it that makes bishops have such a jaundiced (that may be a bit too strong) opinion of the world around us?

One contributing reason has recently occurred to me: If there’s some sort of major problem going on in a ward, it goes through the bishop.

→Someone committed a major sin? The bishop has to deal with it.
→A couple’s going through marital stresses, maybe even planning to divorce? The bishop has to deal with it.
→Someone has decided they aren’t going to fulfill a calling in any sort of reasonable way? The bishop has to deal with it.
→The youth are carrying on in high-risk ways? The bishop has to deal with it.
→Someone’s having financial problems, maybe not even having any food to eat? The bishop has to deal with it.

Really, this can’t be emotionally healthy for him.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

On being away

All [insert small number here] regular readers of this blog may have noticed i’m overdue for a post here. This is because i’ve been unable to post—i’m out in Chevak, Alaska, where internet (and cell phone, for that matter) access is tough to often impossible to come by, so no posts to this blog until sometime early next week.

(I’d planned to post something to this effect from the airport in Anchorage before i left, but their public internet access was down, even. So it goes.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The world and its motes

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s bothering me anew and from a slightly different direction, so: What’s up with the whole the church (meaning quite specifically the Mormon church) vs. the world dichotomy? And, in particular, why is it that the world is always presented as being irredeemably evil, or at least teetering at the edge of irredeemable evilness?

For my part, i see lots of good in all sorts of bits of the non-Mormon world. In fact, there’s some rather non-good elements in the Mormon part of the world, i’d argue. So what’s actually going on here? Is this (as it always appears to me) simply a case of the mote and beam problem, or am i missing something here?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Letting speakers speak freely

Here’s something i posted in my list of thoughts from general conference, but i wanted to pull it out on its own. (Actually, i may do that in coming days for a few other things buried in those posts.)

When are non-native-English-speaking speakers finally going to be allowed to speak in their native languages in general conference? I remember listening to Ángel Abrea speak back in the day, and being able to tell he had something to say, but not being able to really follow along when he spoke (and i tend to be better than most at following along with non-native speakers). I’d rather have had him speak perfectly fluently in his native language, and let me listen to a translation.

Does anyone else feel the same way?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

In honor of the date

So can we finally lose the idea that Jesus was born on 6 April? I mean, he certainly might have been, but the way that one verse in the book of Doctrine and Covenants has been spun into some sort of absolute “doctrine” by many members of the church disturbs me.

Things to remember:

  1. Back when Jesus was born, there was no such thing as “April”. In fact, the calendar he was born under didn’t even always have twelve months, and any given day of any given month didn’t always occur at the same point during the earth’s orbit around the sun—it was a lunar calendar.
  2. For that matter, 6 April doesn’t even always occur at the same point in the earth’s orbit every year—there’s slippage of a few seconds here and there.
  3. And if the birth actually happened at night, when it occurred would make a difference, since the next day began at sundown back then, not at midnight.
  4. And finally, the biggest reason this insistence on 6 April bugs me, you find collocations exactly parallel to “being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh” in all sorts of writing back then, both secular and religious. It’s just a fancy way of saying, in English, anno Domini 1830 (that is, in the 1,830th year of our Lord).

After all, you’d think that a people who quite happily recognize that the seven “days” in Genesis don’t each literally refer to a 24-hour day would be able to recognize that not all scriptural references to time are literal.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon

And now, after the big leagues of the Sunday morning session, we move to Sunday afternoon. I don’t have any evidence for this, but i’ve long strongly suspected that this is the least-watched of all the conference sessions.

(And as an aside, i sometimes wonder if i’m the only person in the church who absolutely loathes the song “Abide With Me, ’Tis Eventide”. Oh, well.)

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

(Closing speaker)

  • “The world seems to have slipped from the moorings of safety…” Well, i seem to remember reading that the earthquake in Chile wobbled the earth’s axis a bit, so that would be correct. (Sorry. I know. Sometimes i just can’t help it.)
  • Anyway, not much to jot down here as notes from this speech—as with most closing addresses at general conferences, this was more of a pep talk and closing blessing (a benediction in its classic sense, i suppose) than anything else, which doesn’t lend itself to specific commentary.

Neil L. Anderson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • There are no assigned subjects or themes for general conference speakers. Why, then, do we assign topics (or, more often, general conference addresses as topics) for speakers in sacrament meetings? What is the crucial difference?
  • Lots and lots and lots about teaching children in this conference, including this address. That’s always a topic, of course, but it seems like a pretty intense focus this time around.
  • How many single fathers are there in the church? We get another set of comforting thoughts directed to single mothers, but unless i missed it i haven’t heard anything for single fathers this weekend.

Francisco J. Viñas (of the first quorum of seventy)

  • Interesting—if Ammon taught people “all things pertaining to righteousness”, and that led to a conversion so deep that they “never did fall away”, what does that tell us about what we need to teach those around us? I mean, “all things” is a pretty long list, and it probably goes beyond the bounds of what’s in any of the church’s lesson manuals.

Gregory A. Schwitzer (of the second quorum of seventy)

  • So is this the great day of the second quorum’s power, or what?
  • Ah! A public resuscitation of the image of Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus. (For what it’s worth, i don’t read the story of Mary and Martha as being as harsh on Martha as most seem to think it is—but there aren’t a lot of us with such a point of view, i’ve learned.)
  • Good point about one’s actions not necessarily reflecting one’s internal state.

James B. Martino (of the second quorum of seventy)

  • Appreciative laughter all around from our family for the baseball story he opened with.
  • I like the reminder that even if someone’s trials don’t seem like much, they’re still very real to the person going through them. Probably not gonna stop anybody from playing “my trial is bigger than your trial”, but apparently we’re overly competitive that way.
  • Well, count him as a general authority who doesn’t put much stock in the claims of those who believe that immunizations aren’t worth it.

Bradley D. Foster (of the second quorum of seventy)

  • I don’t know that the story about the picture book illustrates the influence of mothers so much as that it illustrates that kids get used to specific practices really easily. (Good laugh line at the end, though.) Also, it is forcibly reminding of the P.D. Eastman book Are You My Mother?, which is, really, one of the dumbest children’s books ever.
  • I don’t like the claim that caring is a feminine attribute—i’ve known too many women with no propensity toward caring, and too many men who were amazingly caring individuals. Do most modern cultures encourage caring in females more than males? Sure. Are women inherently better at it than men? I really don’t think so.
  • Demographic thought: Single parents nowadays are more often mothers. I wonder if that’s been the case historically, given mortality rates in childbirth in the past.
  • Cool thought that one of the things that Jesus had to accomplish as part of the process of the atonement was to make sure that his mother was taken care of.

Robert D. Hales (of the quorum of apostles)

  • The way he presented the scriptural line “we do not doubt our mothers knew it” gives it an interestingly different spin than the way i generally read it.
  • Church leaders often plan scouting events, but do these serve their most important purpose? he asks. Well, in my unhappy experience with scouting, that’d be a no, unless their most important purpose is to push away kids who prefer drama to guns…
  • Great—now i have the Pink Floyd song “Is There Anybody Out There?” looping in my head.
  • There really is an inherent tension in the ideas that it’s vital to raise children in the light of the gospel, and that every individual has free will to choose their spiritual path.
  • Given the content of his address, it seems that the ones who really needed his blessing would be those children not growing up in homes where the gospel is lived well.

Russell M. Nelson (of the quorum of apostles)

(First speaker)

  • Interesting job of making sure to include young people in the process of genealogical research.
  • He says that oral histories (among many other things) are a crucial part of family history research. This makes me happy.
  • I think it’s cool that the revised Family Search system lets people submit corrections. What happens when you get the Family Search equivalent of a Wikipedia edit war, though? What if both sides have equally valid documentation of their claims (which is entirely possible, even likely in some cases)? This is a problem for any database that is built on an assumption that all datapoints have a single correct entry. I figure it’s a known issue, maybe even has a solution, but i don’t know where to look to find the answer.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning

So here we are, the Sunday morning session, the big leagues, the Christmas-and-Easter-mass equivalent of general conference. I know a number of Mormons who believe that full attendance at general conference means watching one of the four main sessions of conference plus, for some, priesthood session for the priesthood holders. (If you think historically, this makes sense—back when the only way to attend conference was to go see it in person in Salt Lake City, most could only attend one session, if any.

Anyway, for most such people, this is the one session to watch—so pay attention, these are the ones people will remember. (Though i did know one family who held that position on conference attendance, and so—this was back in the day when you had to go to the stake center to see a conference session—they’d always go to one of the Saturday sessions so as to avoid the crowds.)

And speaking of Easter, that’s today. I sometimes wonder how many Mormons miss out on general conference when it falls on an Easter Sunday because non-Mormon parents or grandparents require family presence on those days.

Finally, it still seems kind of weird to me to talk about the Saturday or Sunday “morning” sessions, ’cause growing up on the east coast every conference session came after noon. I still remember being vaguely confused as a kid when they’d welcome everyone to the morning session of conference at 12:02 in the afternoon.

And remember, as in other posts in this series, the first speaker is at the bottom of the post, and you scroll upward as the session progresses. This is so that you can end up with all five posts (once the Sunday afternoon session is up), and scroll bottom to top through the whole thing to get every speaker in chronological order.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

(Final speaker)

  • You don’t actually get this much of a focus on death as death in many addresses in the Mormon church.
  • The “I have read, and i believe…” formulation is nicely compelling.
  • I read a couple of scholarly articles once about views toward death in nineteenth century America, and how Mormons tended to deal with the deaths of children very differently (and, to modern sensibilities, in healthier ways) than the general population. The authors made the interesting claim that this led to nineteenth-century Mormons often putting more emotional investment into their small children, as well. Anyway, for presumably obvious reasons, this address reminded me of that.

Quentin L. Cook (of the quorum of apostles)

  • He said that taking the sacrament renews our baptismal commitment. This is a very common statement, but i don’t see the parallel between the sacramental and baptismal covenants. I figure it must be there, though, since it’s so widespread—so what is the parallel?
  • Interesting thought, that the way we interact with each other is a reflection of our commitment to God.
  • Ah! I’ve been wondering if we’d get anything like what he just offered: An indirect statement telling the more extreme elements among the Tea Partiers to chill out a bit. (It was phrased more generally, of course, as such statements always are, but most of the disagreement-spawned contention and vandalism in the news of late in the United States has come from that quarter.)
  • Do we ever get intense stories about righteous people who don’t survive disasters? I’m guessing they’d be harder to document (there might be a lack of surviving witnesses to tell the story, after all), but i wonder if sometimes we get into a groove of thinking that the righteous will always be protected while the wicked will not, founded on stories like the one he told about the tsunami in Samoa.

Cheryl C. Lant (past general president of the primary organization)

  • You know, we don’t have any photographs of Jesus. There are a lot of different—and i do mean a lot of radically different—visual representations of Jesus out there. So why do we place any weight on a child identifying as Jesus a picture that they’ve been told is a picture of Jesus? Seriously, i don’t get it.
  • Her retelling of 4 Nephi was interesting—she said that multiple generations of people were righteous because they were taught well. Does this mean the children who were taught well weren’t taught how to teach their children well, and that’s why it eventually fell apart? I’m gonna have to think about that one.
  • Nice subtly delivered (but probably effective, for the listening population) reminder at the end that children need to be included in religious observance.

Donald L. Hallstrom (of the presidency of seventy)

  • I wonder about parallel stories like the ones he gives (one family that left the church after a death, another family that stayed in the church after a death). Are they really fully parallel? I always want to ask about the details that are left out in the telling—it could be that the one family was helped and comforted, while the other was criticized and effectively driven out, we just don’t know.
  • But that said, yeah, the story of Simonds Ryder leaving the church is pretty stunning.

Richard G. Scott (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Good point that we don’t know why God the Father had to withdraw from God the Son during the agony on the cross. (Doesn’t mean that us Mormons aren’t gonna keep speculating about it, of course, but that probably goes without saying.)
  • His address got me thinking: If the home is, in the end, preeminent over even the church, does that mean that parents have the right to alter, including in major ways, church programs for the home so that they fit their individual family’s needs? I tend to think the answer is yes, but i know a number of Mormons who would say that the answer is no.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (second counselor in the first presidency)

(First speaker)

  • The story of the statue that he tells is all over the net, if you put enough terms into Google to filter out extraneous stuff. It’s supposed to be at a cathedral in England, and the repair work was done at least in part by German volunteers. The inscription placed on the semi-repaired statue varies from account to account, which makes me wonder if it’s glurge or real. (Either way, a good message.) In any event, the most widely given reference is Paul Brand’s book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, if anyone wants to figure out where the story happened.
  • As someone who just doesn’t like the white-shirt-tie-and-jacket uniform of present-day male Mormonism (and so doesn’t wear it), i did a little happy dance when he said that we shouldn’t judge others by how they look or what they wear. I actually haven’t had much backlash from other Mormons on the way i dress (even back when i had a ponytail), but it has definitely happened now and again. I have a thick skin about such stuff, but not everyone does—and those are the ones we risk losing.
  • What? We don’t all have the same ability to judge as God does? But—but—but that means Mormon culture might have to change in lots of big ways! That can’t be right, can it? I mean, active Mormons are all already perfect, yes?
  • I liked the twenty dollar bill simile.
  • I hadn’t heard the story of Zimri and Avraham before. I liked it a lot.
  • I’ve said it before, but the experience of being marginalized as a refugee child really does seem to have had a pretty sizable influence on his outlook on life. I also think it’s good to have such an outlook represented in the highest councils of the church.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

First of all, i still don’t understand why the general priesthood session of conference is treated differently than the other sessions. Why isn’t this session available via the internet or regular satellite television? Not everybody in the church has access to a church building with a satellite dish, after all, which means that if priesthood session is so vitally important, the decision to restrict its distribution (and, at least in past conferences, to not release it in digital formats until some weeks after conference is over) is puzzling.

Anyway, that said, here’s some observations on priesthood session. As with the other entries i’m doing, the first speaker is at the bottom of this post, the final speaker at the top.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

(He was the final speaker.)

  • Not too long ago, i asked on this blog whether a sitting prophet had ever counseled the youth of the church not to date until age 16. Well, even if it had never happened before, it happened today.
  • In connection with that, i think it’s interesting that he noted that not all teenagers want or need to date. (Or, in other words, if your kid doesn’t want to go to prom, don’t stress out about it.)
  • Anyway, this address was basically a list of practices, a “here’s how to behave” sort of thing. It’s really hard to get anything substantive down from something like that.
  • Money quote of the night: “…and he said, ‘Brother Monson, do you remember me?’ I get that everywhere i go!”
  • And by the way, does the counsel to “avoid extremes” in grooming and dress include avoiding the extreme of looking like you just stepped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog? ’Cause if so, i can totally get behind that idea.

Henry B. Eyring (first counselor in the first presidency)

  • He quoted Brigham Young to the effect that priesthood holders who are diligent will not only receive the blessings of God, but will also receive a knowledge of how to receive them. That’s a really interesting concept, if you start thinking about it at all.
  • He called the sacrament “the sacrament of the Lord’s supper”. I’ve always liked the poetry (and historical accuracy) of that phrasing.
  • And in his address we got another use of the full name of the Melchizedek priesthood. Interesting.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (second counselor in the first presidency)

  • This was my favorite address on the night, but it’s hard to summarize, except to say that it was about patience. It was amazingly full of material—little to no fluff.
  • A couple of quotes i jotted down: “As the Lord is patient with us, let us be patient with those we serve.” “Never give up on anyone—and that includes giving up on ourselves.”
  • He explicitly used a non-King James Version rendition of a verse!Let happiness abound!
  • I like having someone speaking in general conference who smiles a lot.
  • Also, he talks with his hands a lot.

Congregational singing!

  • Why do we stand for these songs?
  • No, really—why?

David L. Beck (general president of the young men’s organization)

  • I often get vaguely annoyed—and i did even when i was in my teens—that the majority of addresses in the priesthood session of conference are addressed to the teenaged boys in the audience. (I mean, don’t the older types count, too?) The general president of the young men’s organization, though, i think i’d be weirded out if he didn’t address himself to that group.
  • So apparently i understood correctly earlier, and the church is tweaking the young men’s program.

Ronald A. Rasband (of the presidency of seventy)

  • He opened by saying that God needs every able young man to prepare to become a full-time missionary. Is this a shift from the “raising the bar” idea in which it was stated that not every young man should serve as a full-time missionary, or is the stress here on “able” young men, thereby restricting the population being referred to?
  • Interesting that in pretty much every reference to full-time missionaries after that opening, he was careful to include both male and female missionaries, plus one reference to older couples. (I have daughters and no sons, so i notice these things. He talked about his son and daughter receiving mission calls, so i wonder if part of it comes from having raised a daughter who served as a full-time missionary.)
  • I hadn’t known it was individual members of the quorum of apostles who assigned missionary candidates to missions—i’d always assumed it was the missionary committee or somesuch.
  • His story of observing and participating as Henry B. Eyring assigned missionaries was an interesting take on learning to receive revelation.

Dallin H. Oaks (of the quorum of apostles)

(He was the first speaker.)

  • He gave an explicit example of the prayers of non-Mormons leading to a miraculous healing.
  • Interesting that the “blessing” part of blessing the sick isn’t the essential part of the ordinance. I mean, i knew that, i just don’t think i’d ever seen or heard it stated so bluntly.
  • I have to admit that, even after listening closely to this address for anything on the topic, i still don’t understand what the effective difference between a prayer of faith for healing on the one hand and a priesthood blessing for the sick on the other really is.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon

By way of reminder if you read my last post, i’m posting notes on the speakers in reverse order, so to get to the beginning of the session, you should scroll down to the bottom.

Jeffrey R. Holland (of the quorum of apostles)

  • He called his wife “Sister Holland”—i’m going to have fun tracking this bit of variation. But then again, i’m a sociolinguist, so my sense of fun is bound to be a bit twisted.
  • Interesting that he defines “lust” as a fleeting, temporary thing. I don’t know that i’d define it the same way. Adopting his definition for the discussion, though, his points stand.
  • Ooh! Really, really nice job of playing on the multiple meanings of “prostituting”!
  • He’s having a lot of fun with wordplay in this address, actually. Heavy topic, but lightened a bit by the manner of delivery—it makes for a nicely effective preaching style, to be honest better in terms of style than i usually expect from him.

David A. Bednar (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Is the Book of Mormon actually the only book that God has testified to be true? It seems to me that the book of Doctrine and Covenants and (less directly) the Bible both can be described that way, as well (minus the “only”, of course).
  • Hurrah! for the statement that parents should both teach and learn from their children.
  • Interesting that he talks about parents bearing testimony (and, therefore, teaching gospel principles) “spontaneously”. I wonder whether, if that was actually widespread in the church, there would be a need for family home evening.
  • More hurrah!s for his endorsement of pretty-much-unstructured family home evenings.

Bruce A. Carlson (of the second quorum of seventy)

  • Courtesy of Wikipedia: He was appointed director of the National Reconnaissance Office last year. That’s a pretty heavy government post. (He’s also from Minnesota, which makes me happy for some reason.)
  • Interesting application of the story of Jeroboam, saying that partial obedience can’t gain blessings. (I understand why he followed that up with the story of Naaman. Given the end of the scriptural account of that story, though, i don’t know that it fully supports his thesis. Understandable, though—lots of stories in the scriptures are complex enough that they don’t fit into the neat little packages we so often work on fitting them into.)

Koichi Aoyagi (of the second quorum of seventy)

  • A journey from Buddhism to Mormonism? I want to hear more about this.
  • I wonder if his future wife sent him the postcard he talked about because she was interested in him back then, or whether that came later. A cool story either way, but it changes the spin—and if the interest developed later, the vaguely knowing audience laughter is a bit less well-placed.
  • Also, he’s a native speaker of Japanese, which brings to mind something i’ve wondered for a long time: When are non-native-English-speaking speakers finally going to be allowed to speak in their native languages in general conference? I mean, i remember listening to Ángel Abrea speak back in the day, and being able to tell he had something to say, but not being able to really follow along when he spoke (and i tend to be better than most at following along with non-native speakers). I’d rather have had him speak perfectly fluently in his native language, and let me listen to a translation.

D. Todd Christofferson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • I like his idea of the scriptures being communal memory. I think it might be fun to have a conversation with him about memetics.
  • Interesting that he critiques the idea that God wants us to work for social justice, but doesn’t care how we behave. I suspect that a number of church members are going to read this as saying that God cares about our personal behavior, and doesn’t want us to work for social justice. Actually, the critique says nothing about whether God wants us to work for social justice.

L. Tom Perry (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Listening to all the learning his mother had them do at home, i’m surprised i hadn’t heard how days used to be 34 hours long when he was growing up.
  • Teaching in the church would be improved by improving teaching in the home. I agree, wholeheartedly—so does this mean i get to be with my children to teach them at home for more than 90 minutes on Sundays now? Just asking.
  • I’ve published linguistic studies on the card-cord merger—the variable pronunciation of or as are found along the Wasatch Front of Utah (among other places). L. Tom Perry’s speech is one of the clearest examples of this among the current regular general conference speakers, with reparted, carner, and such making regular appearances in his speech. Not a doctrinal note, simply something that makes me professionally happy.

Brook P. Hales (secretary to the first presidency): statistical report

  • It looks like we’ll hit 14 million nominal members sometime this year or early next year. Less than a third of a percent of the world’s population, but still.
  • So the number of full-time missionaries has remained more or less flat over the past many years, but the number of convert baptisms is down a bit from its peak around 20 years ago. I wonder what the comparative retention rate between then and now is, since the full-time missionaries are now used more intensely in retention efforts. That’s the sort of thing that’s interesting to stats and demographics geeks like myself, but it’s probably never going to get mentioned in this speaking slot, I guess.
  • What are the rules on who gets mentioned in the “prominent members who died” section of these reports?

Robert W. Cantwell (managing director of church auditing): church auditing report

  • This has to be the most boring speaking slot in general conference. It’s turned into a nearly-set bit of text—nothing like the full financial reports (the stake with the highest per capita fast offerings is…with an average donation of…) that used to be given. I understand some of the reasons for the change, but why use up the satellite time with an auditing report at all?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (second counselor in the first presidency): presentation of general officers and general and area authorities

  • I find it interesting that area authorities are presented in general conferences, rather than in area, regional, or stake conferences. I wonder whether and when the number of area authorities will grow large enough that the current practice will end.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning

So it’s that time of year again—general conference time! And so, as i did last time, i’ll be semi-liveblogging each conference session—that is, there will be separate posts for each session, with a few thoughts from each address.

A note about the way these are ordered: Blogs arrange things chronologically from bottom to top, which is kind of annoying, since it goes against a few millennia of Western writing practice. However, there’s nothing i can really do about that, which means that 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. (Grrr—sometimes the little things about blogging annoy me.)

That said, just to make things sane (in the sense of less scrolling-intensive), i’ll be writing each session’s post 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 so it goes. Anyway, this is where you scroll to the bottom of this post, and start reading upwards.

Henry B. Eyring (first counselor in the first presidency)

(Remember, this is the last speaker in the session, since i’m doing this in reverse order.)

  • There’s an interesting tension in Mormonism (and we’re not alone in this)—on the one hand, we hold that it’s important to teach children and youth well so that they won’t go astray when they grow up, and on the other that we have freedom such that people who have been raised well can go astray and those who have been raised badly can be faithful. This address doesn’t speak directly to the tension, but it clearly focuses on the first part of that paradox.
  • That said, i think it’s cool how much he’s focusing on the ability of children to learn and act, no matter what we adults might think.
  • New curriculum announcement! (I think—or is it a restatement of an already-existing part of the young men’s program?) If it actually is a change, i didn’t catch enough of the details to be sure of what’s going on, but it sounds like it’s a minor shift in the young men’s program to make it a bit more similar to the young women’s program. Maybe this is another step toward finally separating the young men’s program from boy scouting? We can only hope.

M. Russell Ballard (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Another first-name reference to a general authority’s wife! Maybe we’re going to see a trend away from the creepy (to me, at least) reference to guy’s own wives as “Sister LastName”.
  • Interesting take on pop-culture depictions of women—that women are portrayed as valuable only in terms of their ability to be seductive. I don’t know that that’s the only way women are portrayed in popular culture, though it certainly is widespread. It leads me to wonder how he feels about portrayals of women as strong leaders (often stronger than men) in popular culture.
  • A (slightly circumlocutive) statement that children shouldn’t be “protected” from ever hearing about sex and sexuality, but that parents should take the lead in teaching their children about such things.
  • I think his statement that highly revealing clothing on women and girls is wrong because it perpetuates problematic stereotypes may be the first time i’ve heard that done in a way that doesn’t, in the end, place blame for any lustful thoughts that result from such clothing on the person wearing the clothes. Now if we can remember that men and boys can wear revealing clothing, too…

Wilford W. Andersen (of the first quorum of seventy)

  • Interesting that the name caption on the video feed doesn’t tell you which quorum of seventy speakers are in. (How do i know which one this one’s in? Thanks, Wikipedia!)
  • He gives a discussion of the issues faced by church members in Haiti after the recent earthquake, and the example of their firmness of faith and optimism in the face of tragedy and struggle. You know, it occurs to me that once the immediate needs (sanitation, food, shelter, probably in that order) of the people there are dealt with, one of the best long-term things that could happen to Haiti would be to help the people there work on reforestation of that side of the island. Attention will fade before anything gets to that point, though, i fear.
  • He draws a distinction between depression and sadness. This is a Good Thing, i’d say, and not always considered.

Keith B. McMullin (second counselor in the presiding bishopric)

  • Similar theme (forgiveness, even under the shadow of tragedy) in the opening to a general conference address of James E. Faust’s from a few years ago.
  • There’s been an interesting shift in the content of general conference addresses by various speakers over the last 40 years or so. Back in the 60s and earlier, it was pretty reliable that the first presidency and quorum of the twelve gave addresses on spiritual life and the priesthood, the seventies gave addresses on missionary work, and presiding bishopric spoke on church physical facilities and the youth (especially the young men), and the presiding patriarch spoke on patriarchal blessings and the priesthood more generally. (And stake presidents gave prayers.) Listening to this address, given by a member of the presiding bishopric on the spiritual life (particularly forgiveness and prayer), i am reminded that these differences in themes by office don’t really reliably exist any more.
  • It’s nothing groundbreakingly new, but the address includes a very nicely succinct solution to the inherent paradox of prayer (that is, coming up with a reason to pray when you know that God already knows what you’re going to be praying about).

Julie B. Beck (relief society general president)

  • Back when i was in grad school, i took a seminar on Mormonism from the anthropology department. (No, this wasn’t in the jello belt—i went to grad school in Pennsylvania, at the school that prides itself as being the nation’s first college founded without any religious affiliation whatsoever.) One of the things i learned in that class was that, for the first time since records had been kept, the attrition rate from female Mormons going inactive between the ages of 12 and 19 had recently gone higher than the attrition rate among male Mormons at the same ages. Every time i hear an address that starts out talking about the glory of womanhood and such like this one, i am forcibly reminded of that.
  • Women didn’t speak in general conferences in the 50s, but i wonder how an address by the relief society general president would have been different back then—membership in the relief society was voluntary, not automatic from a combination of adulthood, church membership, and biological gender.
  • The last few minutes of this address were the closest thing to “Suffrage NOW!” i think i’ve ever heard in a general conference address. Of course, it was still pretty mild, but it surprised me a little anyway.

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

  • The opening bits about “correlation” are interesting—people without either a deep memory or a good grasp of sorta-recent church history might be completely at sea here.
  • He actually used the full scriptural name of the Melchizedek priesthood. You don’t hear that very often.
  • Every once in a while you can tell that the speaker missed a line from the teleprompter. It makes me wonder whether anyone still gives addresses in general conference from paper notes.
  • I’m certain i have the specific phrasing wrong, but this was interesting: “We have done a good job distributing the priesthood, but we have not done as good of a job distributing the power of the priesthood.”
  • A bunch of discussion of the need for the father (when present, of course) to preside in the administration of priesthood ordinances in the home, no matter what priesthood authorities might be present. This leads me to wonder whether he’d also say that the mother (when present) should preside in childrearing decisions, per the discussion of parental stewardships in the document generally called the Proclamation on the Family.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

(He was the first speaker at the session.)

  • He’s talking about all the places that the church has helped out with humanitarian aid. You know, i sometimes think that church humanitarian aid is a no-win public relations situation. If we don’t publicize it, some uninformed people get after us for not doing anything; if we do say what we do, some aggressive people get annoyed about us blowing our own horn too much.
  • Cue the happy dance for two very different reasons: His wife is doing better healthwise, and he called his wife by her first name, not “Sister Monson”. Cool mini-story about the historical connection between his family and hers, too, with good laugh lines built in.