Saturday, April 30, 2011

Never ask a lady her age

So the church just announced a batch of new mission presidents. Nothing unusual in the bunch, but when i was scanning through them, i noticed a bit of an oddity: In every case, the names of both the new (male, by virtue of church policy) mission president and his wife are given, but while every man has an age attached to his name, none of the women’s ages are given.

I have to wonder why. My favored (though, sadly, probably wrong) explanation is that it’s to keep anyone from figuring out whether they’ve broken the “half-plus-seven” rule.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


So the church has announced that they’re going to be restoring a rather important site in the history of the church: the area in Pennsylvania where the priesthoods were restored.* This led to an observation from my oldest child:

You mean they’re going to be restoring the restoration?

Yeah, i know, not even intended as a joke, but i found it amusing. But then again, i’m a word nerd.

* At some level, i’m a bit sad about this. I’ve been there a couple times, and the fact that it’s completely undeveloped (aside from an easy-to-miss historical marker) and remote always seemed to make it a nicely contemplative place. The price of progress, i suppose…

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How our children is learning

I would like to express my gratitude for the spiritual lessons my children learn at church. Why, just about two weeks ago, one of my daughters learned a lesson in primary about service—and, as proof, brought this home:
It’s good to know that they’re learning such valuable lessons that will help them their entire lives.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Okay, so i’d originally written a post for today that started

In honor of Easter, no snark…

But having just come back from church, i’ve changed my mind.

I just want to say, based on my knowledge of attendance numbers for a handful of wards over the past few years, that any Mormons who decide to praise the piety of adherents of our religion by making fun of “Christmas and Easter [insert name of other denomination here]s” are hereby entitled to be summarily slapped—we’ve got a whole lot of those amongst us, too, after all.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Still more proof that David B is evil

So i once heard the following story in a stake conference address, repeated here from memory:

On a beautiful college campus in Philadelphia* a dog had treed a squirrel. A bunch of people watched to see what would happen, but nobody intervened. Eventually the dog killed the squirrel by lulling it [the squirrel] into a false sense of security and then pouncing, and all the people felt guilty for not helping.

The speaker’s intended moral: We need to be aware of those around us, and help those who are in danger (especially spiritual danger, given the rest of the spearker’s address).

My take on the story: Yeah, it’s an interesting story with interesting applications, but i can’t help but be impressed by the intelligence of a dog that could lull another animal into a false sense of security. I mean, a dog that smart? That’s where my cheering interest lies.

Overarching lesson: Even Aesop’s fables sometimes have alternative morals to them.

* Of course, having gone to grad school in Philadelphia, i have to ask if there really is such a thing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From the archives

So i was cleaning out old emails, and i found the exchange i’ve reproduced below. First there was a note from someone to another member of the family, HHH, who lives across the Atlantic Ocean but was planning a visit to the US:

The lesson in our nursery class calls for a mother and baby to come in and the mother tell the children how she takes care of the baby. HHH, would you be interested in doing that?

And i, who was cc:ed on all the travel planning, couldn’t resist replying with:

I vote, HHH, that you come in and say something like “When she cries too much, i hang her outside the window by a leather strap.” Or maybe “Diapers? What are those?”

Okay, maybe not. But just imagine the looks on all the grownups’ faces!

Flight to the US: $3,000
Lunch on the run in the airport: $25
Renting a car for a week: $500
Horrifying folks at church: Priceless

For some things, there’s MasterCard. For everything else, there’s the evil depths of David B’s imagination.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A prolixity of presidents

Why do we need presidents for adult Sunday school classes? Seriously—like the teacher can’t say hi to everyone and ask someone to say the prayers?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Why would we have a canon otherwise?

Really, really interesting quote, from Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation 3:203:

It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.

So, to those who propagate the meme that the words of the sitting prophet supersede the canon (as you occasionally hear in church classes, particularly around general conference time), i would like to point out that it was a prophet who said otherwise.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Doing wrong things (or, perhaps, doing things wrong)

As i read the Bible (and to a lesser extent the Book of Mormon), i sometimes think the entire reason the historical bits were included was to remind us that even God’s chosen can have flaws. I mean, Noah self-medicated with alcohol, Abraham lied when he was scared, David cheated on his wives, Peter doubted…

Interestingly, although you get hints of this even in the book of Doctrine and Covenants,* we don’t talk much about how God’s chosen have flaws these days. I mean, discussion of the personal flaws of, say, Brigham Young or Joseph Fielding Smith is pretty much out of bounds in Sunday school classes in ways that the personal flaws of David and Peter aren’t. I still can’t figure out why.

* I say “even” in that book because it doesn’t really contain much in the way of stories, and so one would naturally expect less of it there.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Parenting philosophies

A lot of Mormons i know* are frantic about their children attending one of the Brigham Young Universities,** believing that that sort of environment and the religious training their children would receive there is necessary for them (the children) becoming strong enough in Mormonism to stay in the faith throughout their adult lives.

Apparently, it’s sinful of me*** to think that it would be at least as useful for my children to go to Baylor or Catholic and take religion courses from other traditions—or, in fact, to go to Bryn Mawr or Penn or Maryland and have the option of taking religion courses that don’t even have a Faith background—and figure out how to apply those ideas to a Mormon context themselves, rather than receiving religious training where they wouldn’t have to work as hard to get through the struggle of making that application.

* And yes, i’m aware that this is a very middle- and upper-class group of Mormons i’m talking about.

** I figure that has to be the right plural—it’s better than any of the other obvious options, like Brigham Youngs University or somesuch—but it still doesn’t look right, for some reason.

*** Or so i’ve been told. No, seriously. I mean, only a couple of times, but i still find it a bit mindboggling.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Teach your children well

As some of you know, i used to be faculty at Brigham Young University. While i was there, i learned (somewhat to my surprise) that the full-time religion faculty at Brigham Young University do—or at least try to, it’s really up to the students to let them—teach the really important principles underlying our religion. The demand for religion courses there, though, what with them being required for graduation and all, means that a lot of the religion courses are taught by people who don’t have the same training in or dedication to the subject. In my opinion, this shortchanges the students there.

I don’t know how one would fix it, though—i mean, hiring more faculty is expensive. If we’re really serious about our church-owned schools as being places where people are trained deeply in the principles of the gospel, though, it might be worth the investment.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A semantics lesson

So here’s my thinking:

If i talk about my green sweater, then that implies that i also have at least one non-green sweater.

Therefore, if we start a prayer by addressing our kind and gracious Heavenly Father, doesn’t than mean we have at least one non-kind and/or non-gracious…

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon session

And now we get to the mellow session of general conference—the casual listeners have tuned out by now, and so the speakers get to relax a little, i think.

Also, like with the last session, i’ll also be participating in Faith-Promoting Rumor’s open thread for this session of conference.

And so, one more time, your guide to the way this post is set up: The entries for the session are arranged 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 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)
  • Gratitude to the general membership of the church.
  • A reminder of Easter, and of what it celebrates.
Robert D. Hales didn’t have a speaking slot? I’d heard he was ill, but it generally takes a lot for someone at that level of church leadership to miss speaking in a general conference.

Jeffrey R. Holland (of the quorum of apostles)
  • Elder Holland is speaking a lot slower than Elder Grow did.
  • A discussion of what general conference is—very meta.
  • Ah! He’s playing with the historical meaning of “angel”—very nice.
  • Nice reminder that the beatitudes were a lead-in to harder teachings.
  • Interesting discussion of the tightrope general conference speakers walk in condemning sin and praising good.
  • More or less, he just gave us permission to ignore general conference addresses that don’t apply to us. Well, then. That makes things a little easier.
  • A reminder that Thomas S. Monson also functions as the senior apostle.
C. Scott Grow (of the seventy)
  • [Insert obligatory joke about his name here.]
  • Nothing groundbreaking or even particularly noteworthy in this address, but simply a solid and very basic discussion of the atonement and repentance.
  • Agency is involved in both sin and repentance.
Benjamín de Hoyos (of the seventy)
  • I do like it when the appellation “saints” gets applied to members of the church. I generally use “Mormons” myself, but “saints” is a more descriptive one (and both are more evocative than “LDS”).
  • Having fellowship with the saints is a blessing.
Lynn G. Robbins (of the seventy)
  • “To do” is an event, “to be” isn’t a one-time thing.
  • More trials and chastening!
  • Praise children’s characteristics, rather than accomplishments.
  • This was a very practically-oriented address.

When i was growing up, my ward sang “Come, Ye Children of the Lord” all the time. It was rather a shock to move elsewhere and find out that lots of people had never sung it in their meetings.

Carl B. Pratt (of the seventy)
  • Getting the wrong moral for the story: It’s good to be on the right end of an exchange rate disparity.
  • It’s not whether you’re paying tithing out of abundance or scarcity, it’s whether you’re obeying that commandment.
  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for explicitly stating that blessings from tithing are not necessarily financial!
  • Interesting idea: Paying tithing leads to a selfless attitude, which helps prevent divorce.
D. Todd Christofferson (of the quorum of apostles)
  • He’s offering a pretty pointed critique of modern Xianity. I’m not sure if it’s entirely fair, really.
  • This address makes for an interesting compare and contrast with Paul V. Johnson’s address in the previous session.
  • Hey, wow! I mention Paul V. Johnson, and then D. Todd Christofferson makes explicit reference to that address. That must count for something at my end, right? Right?
  • I’ve never understood why Hugh B. Brown was supposed to be thankful for being denied a promotion. I mean, it’s not like he’d’ve been ineligible to be an apostle if he’d achieved a higher military rank.
  • The 11-year-old notes that he has a preference for talking into the side of the microphone.
  • Well, here’s one apostle who refers to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as Mormons…
  • He’s now explicitly tied his remarks in to two other addresses at this conference.
  • Interesting application of “my spirit shall not always strive with man”.
Richard G. Scott (of the quorum of apostles)
  • It’s always a bit poignant when speakers i know are widow(er)s talk about sealings.
  • Seriously, what is it with the repeated “guys, get married now!” meme at this conference?
  • A mention of the important of not just physical, but also mental fidelity to one’s spouse.
  • Expressing gratitude to one’s spouse will make life, among other things, more meaningful. Interesting point.
  • Lots of reminiscences today.
  • Marrying early prevents people from developing negative character traits?! I can’t have heard that one right.
  • There were some beautiful tributes to deceased family members in this address.

Lots of primary songs at this running of general conference.

That may have been the longest prayer of this conference. Even if it wasn’t, the prayers have been nicely short as a rule.

The organ part (well, the entire arrangement really) of “I Saw a Mighty Angel Fly“ was most excellent—very Shaker-sounding, too.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)
  • Nice smile!
Opening thought: I look at everybody up on the stand (quietly) exchanging hellos and thoughts, sometimes laughing, and i wonder about the desire for absolute silence before and after meetings so many of the leaders of units i’ve lived in have had.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning session

Sunday morning session—time for the big leagues!

Before going further, i’d like to express gratitude for Sunday morning sessions of general conference. Not, not for any of the usual reasons, but rather because it preempts all the extra meetings that might occur before regular church meetings (bishopric meetings, priesthood executive committee meetings, missionary coordination meetings, ward councils, high council meetings, and so on—not that any one unit has all of them before church starts, but there’s always a few of them.) No one person has to go to all of them, of course, but for those of us who have to go to some of them, even with the timing of general conference here in Alaska (first session of the day at 8:00 am, being able to roll out of bed at the “late” hour of 7:00 am, shower, and still make our first meeting is enough reason to love this day.

Also, yesterday after i got back from priesthood session i discovered that Faith-Promoting Rumor has an open thread for comments on conference sessions, and i’ll be (minimally participating and) hanging out there, as well. (Multitasking!)

Anwyay: The entries for the session are arranged 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 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)
  • When i was growing up, one of my goals was to visit all of the church’s temples. Since the church starting its temple building boom in the 80s, well, i don’t have that goal any more.
  • A cool contrast between the journey to and from the temple—both were difficult and bumpy and all, but the return was coupled with the joy of having received those ordinances.
  • He’s not asking it directly, but underlying this whole address is the question: How much is the temple worth to you?
  • Oh—never mind, now he’s asked it directly.
  • Does this mean going to the temple to do early-morning baptisms is a valid excuse for missing early-morning seminary?

David A. Bednar (of the quorum of apostles)
  • The spirit of revelation is available to everyone in the church, not just the presiding authorities.
  • Revelation can occur either suddenly or gradually. I like that he’s allowing for both possibilities in the same address—we don’t get that very often.
  • We can know the truth as God knows it, and act according to the truth as Jesus does it.
  • Doubts are normal!
  • All this talk about sunrises and such is really resonant if you've experienced subarctic midwinters and midsummers, by the way.
  • We can receive revelation suddenly, gradually, or even so gently that we don’t realize that we’re receiving it (even as we act according to it).

Silvia H. Allred (of the relief society general presidency)
  • From someone on Faith-Promoting Rumor: “Another talk on welfare. Now if only we could get this without a welfare anniversary.”
  • Love as a motivating force for church welfare actions. What a radical concept!
  • How does one live up to the story of the widow and her two mites when one actually has abundance? She didn’t directly raise the question, but this address has sent my mind in those directions.
  • God sending acts of service as a form of reassurance. Interesting.
  • I wish she’d had one of the longer slots they give to certain other positions—it would have been nice to hear that one a little less rushed.

We’re already at the halfway point? That went fast!

H. David Burton (presiding bishop)
  • I’ve long believed that temporal salvation must precede spiritual salvation. Nice to see that idea given a shout-out in general conference. (Makes sense it’d be the presiding bishop to do so.)
  • Why do we insist on trying to say that we’re not helping people, we’re helping people help themselves? There’s political code words in there, and that bothers me a little.
  • We are under condemnation if we don’t help the poor.
  • Flying to the relief of the stranger! It’s not just our fellow Mormons we need to care about (though he didn’t say that directly).
  • I have to admit it—the story of the Willie & Martin handcart companies has been told so often and in so many ways that the hugeness of it has been bleached for me. I find this unfortunate.
  • “Be kind to the poor” as final deathbed counsel. That kindness (not just helping them, or even helping them help themselves) isn’t something we focus on very much these days, i’m afraid.

Paul V. Johnson (of the seventy)
  • What does it actually mean for something to be “consecrated for our gain”?
  • I don’t know why, but analogies relating to hiking through the mountains never really work for me.
  • Joseph Smith (and Moses, though he didn’t mention him) was nearly overcome by evil, but called on God and was saved. Was the important thing the calling on God, or the exertion to do so?
  • Growing up, i felt like a lot of people in my ward were in competition to have the biggest trials. Maybe they were thinking that brought them closer to Jesus’s ultimate trials?
  • You know, this is all making me think that the stories (are they just urban legends?—one can hope) of early Xians trying to get martyred is a rational, though in my opinion wrong, reaction to the idea that trials are Good Things.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)
  • I was busy multitasking enough that i missed Henry B. Eyring’s announcement of the first speaker. Fortunately, the first speaker’s voice is recognizable enough that i didn’t even have to look to see the identification banner.
  • This is a very classically-structured address. This is making me happy.
  • If you’re playing a general conference drinking game, we just had the use of “beloved prophet”, pronounced as one word—that’s two shots of Diet Dr. Pepper.
  • Interesting pivot, switching from the need for people to move forward in their individual spiritual lives to the need for people to move forward in their service to others.
  • He referred to his wife by first name. This makes me happy.
  • Self-deprecating aviation meta-joke FTW!
  • I like St. Francis of Assisi, and he just gave one of my favorite St. Francis lines. I like having a member of the first presidency who uses pre-Restoration religious references at the rate he does.

As the song started, i got to thinking that only the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could make “Hark, All Ye Nations” sound like a dirge. It got better as it went along, but really only because the organ carried it at times.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency), opening remarks
  • Another mention of the anniversary of the church welfare program. It’s almost like the first presidency is trying to make sure nobody forgets it today, even if it got ignored by everybody else yesterday.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

So here are my notes from the third general session of this round of general conference. (Yep, priesthood session counts as a general session, even though it’s not open to the general membership of the church. Go figure. However, i will say that this was perhaps the one priesthood session i’ve ever seen that actually merited that label—every address actually dealt with the priesthood in very specific ways.)

So: The entries for the session are arranged 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 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)
  • He started out by saying he was going to address a number of issues that have been worrying him lately, and then went through essentially a laundry list of wide-ranging topics (profane language, the word of wisdom, pornography, and so on).
  • What’s the marriage rate in the church? Thomas S. Monson isn’t the first one at this conference who’s said that men (and, in other sessions, women) shouldn’t avoid marriage.
  • You know, they guy has really good pacing when he tells his stories.
  • So how stressed are marriages among church members? Is the divorce rate rising, or was his bit against divorce a reaction to other trends?

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)
  • All priesthood holders need to learn the duties of their offices.
  • I wonder how much of his commentary about how tough the neighborhood that he lived in as a kid in New Jersey was will make it into the written report.
  • Love is both a cause and an effect of priesthood learning.
  • Great priesthood quorums have peacemakers, allowing unity to occur even when there are differences.
  • The priesthood is a source of knowledge.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)
  • The priesthood shouldn’t just be used to bless our church and family, but also out community.
  • For many, a testimony comes quietly and gradually, and this is an important thing for people to know, or else they might not realize it. Sometimes, though, i wonder if we say that so often that it might lead those whose testimonies come loudly and/or suddenly to doubt their own just as real experiences.
  • We need to be joyous as priesthood holders (and, given other stuff he said, as members of the church).
  • Avoid being the three Ws: weary, worried, whining.

“Redeemer of Israel” as the congregational hymn. Why don’t we ever get to sing verse 5 or (especially!) verse 6, when those are the coolest parts of the song?

Larry M. Gibson (of the young men’s general presidency)
  • Only one point that really struck me, but it’s both interesting and important: Priesthood quorums aren’t classes, but rather councils.

Steven E. Snow (of the presidency of the seventy)
  • Two straight addresses (even briefly) mentioning the world cup? That may be a new general conference record!
  • You know, you don’t generally get as much focus on hope as you do on faith and charity.
  • Interesting point that hope can lead to action. You hear that about faith fairly frequently, but not hope so much.
  • More reasons to care about hope: He quoted Moroni to the effect that hope is necessary for salvation.
  • He directly said that today’s trials require the same level of faith and hope as the early Mormons required for their trials—thus providing a nice counterpoint to those who talk about how amazing they must have been and how people now are soft and wouldn’t be able to handle that sort of persecution and such.

Neil L. Andersen (of the quorum of apostles)
  • So he’s addressing his remarks mainly to the 12- to 25-year-olds. Does this mean i get to nap for a while? (Yeah, yeah, i know—you have to pay attention so that you know what your sons need. But since i don’t have any sons…)
  • Was he reading his address from paper? If not, the teleprompter was adjusted way wrong.
  • So every young man should prepare to serve a full-time mission. This leads me to wonder whether the requirements for being a full-time missionary have changed since M. Russell Ballard talked about “raising the bar” for missionary service back in 2002.
  • He explicitly addressed people who can’t serve as full-time missionaries due to health concerns and such, and told them not to feel bad about it. Good to hear that group get addressed, especially with what turned out to be the intense focus on full-time missionary service this session.
  • Why do general conference addresses get to use visual aids, but sacrament meeting speeches don’t?

The guy that said the opening prayer had a really strong foreign accent. So when do people finally get to give prayers in their native languages in general conferences?

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon session

Saturday afternoon is generally my favorite session. There’s the sustaining of church officers and authorities in the April running each year (and i always like to actually listen to that, not just let it gloss past like i suspect many Mormons do), and the speakers generally seem to be more relaxed in this session (along with the Sunday afternoon one).

Anyway, to remind: The entries for the session are arranged 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.

M. Russell Ballard (of the quorum of apostles)
  • Interesting claim, that we’re only able to love our neighbor (the second great commandment) if we first love God (the first great commandment). Is this actually true? (Also, is that actually what was intended by what he said?)
  • I had to look up “silage” online. (Can you tell i didn’t grow up as a farmer?) Yeah, cleaning up a silage pit isn’t a job i would have found pleasant, either.
  • Nice brief reminder to avoid gossip.
  • Nice brief reminder to do missionary work with our friends.
  • Nice brief reminder to generally be nice.
  • Part of me feels like his main point in this address is all the various brief reminders, and the general topical matrix they’re embedded in is almost incidental.

Dallin H. Oaks (of the quorum of apostles)
  • He’s presenting human behavior as very, very rational.
  • And yep, that’s really the main thing i’m getting from this whole address: People develop a hierarchy of desires and then operate according to them, so we need to develop righteous (hierarchies of) desires.
  • Specific ideas on how to apply the principles being taught! (That’s unfortunately pretty rare in general conference addresses.)

Cecil O. Samuelson (of the quorums of the seventy)
  • I’m liking this address, but am not finding individual items to pull out for highlighting.
  • Here’s kind of a weird parallel that occurred to me: He said that with a testimony, if you give some away, so to speak (i.e., you share it), you end up with more. In the previous session, Henry B. Eyring said that your will increase in temporal terms if you give away of your substance to help others.
  • It’s always nice to hear the occasional general conference address that’s brimming with optimism for the future, rather than talking the position that everything around us is dangerous and trying to destroy us.

Richard J. Maynes (of the quorums of the seventy)
    When i was a full-time missionary, i found that the idea of an eternal family unit wasn’t actually all that appealing to a lot of the people i met. Why is it so frequently presented as out missionary ace in the hole?
  • Lots and lots of stuff about families and their importance—but not much that stands out as different from most general conference addresses on families.
  • So i get that countering the false traditions of “the world” with teaching in the home is important. How do we know, though, which traditions of the world are false, and which are correct? I mean, it’s not like everything that’s widely popular in the world is evil, or even not entirely good.
  • So families are strong because everyone has different strengths? I’m cool with that—and i think i’ve got my superpowertalent of sarcasm going pretty good, so everyone else in my family can feel free to provide the other talents we need.

Russell M. Nelson (of the quorum of apostles)
  • That was a blunter mention of death than you usually get in public addresses (not just general conference addresses).
  • I so have the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song “Teach Your Children” looping in my head now.
  • There’s an interesting question this whole discussion of obedience leads to: If we gain blessings from obedience to individual commandments, what blessings are those who choose to obey only certain commandments entitled to?
  • He didn’t mention this in his discussion of tithing, but excommunicants are not allowed to pay tithing. That’s an interesting counterpoint to the claims of some who argue that the church preaches tithing only as a way for the church to amass wealth.
  • Linguistics nerd note: He pronounced the word “Melchizedek” as [mɛlkɛzədæk]. I’ve been observing (maybe better: noticing) that [æ] in the final syllable more and more often.

Boyd K. Packer (president of the quorum of apostles)
  • I think it’s actually cool that we have an actual president of the quorum of the twelve apostles who’s functioning in that role—i remember that for years and years the president of the quorum was in the first presidency, so the quorum was headed by an acting president (for many years, actually, Boyd K. Packer).
  • Interesting that “Latter-Day Saints” is given as a preferred short form for items referring to the Mormon church, rather than something closer to “Church of Jesus Christ“—you’d think that if we’re worried about people perceiving us as non-Xian, we’d go more in that direction.
  • And yes, i just referred to the church as the “Mormon church”, thus providing further evidence that i’m evil.
  • Interesting bit of logic: Others don’t have to accept that revelation exists, but anyone who wishes to understand Mormons and Mormonism has to accept that we accept it.
  • This is an amazingly wide-ranging address, going from topic to topic rather suddenly. I mean, the topics progress in a logical pattern, but there’s no single overarching theme that i can figure out.
  • The counsel to forget slights and offenses and move on is good advice, i think, but the specifics of how exactly to do that are needed, too—and knowing how to do that, that’s where people run into difficulty, i think.

Brook P. Hales (secretary to the first presidency), church statistical report
  • We’ve passed 14 million? How’d i miss that?
  • It’s interesting how long we’ve been holding at just a bit over 50,000 full-time missionaries.

Robert W. Cantwell (of the auditing department), church audit report
  • Why do we even take the time in general conference to present these any more? Back when the church gave accounting for funds (sometimes down to the penny!) it made sense, but nowadays? What’s the point?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency), presentation of church authorities and officers
  • Interesting that effective dates that weren’t today (1&mnsp;May 2011) were given for the releases. I wonder whether the calls were immediate, or effective as of a date?
  • One of the new members of the first(?) quorum of the seventy has the first name LeGrand. Gee, i wonder whether he was named after a very specific former general authority…?

The guy who gave the prayer said that we’re participating in general conference because we have complete faith (trust?—memory is a faulty thing). That’s assuming a lot of his listeners…

With Quentin L. Cook’s address this morning in medium-term memory, i ask: Has a woman ever given a prayer in general conference?

The choir sang “How Firm a Foundation”. I’m not a fan of choral music like you get in general conferences (as i’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog), but this is a song that really does work well in arrangements for large choirs. Best of all, though, they sang the last verse—and we really ought to sing that verse more often in our congregational singing, in my very vocal opinion.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency), opening remarks
  • No welcome to the folks on the internets—i think that that may mean that we’ve finally arrived, and it’s not weird enough to rise to the level of remarkable any more.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning session

Welcome, welcome, SabbathSaturday morning. As i’ve done for the past few general conferences, i’ll be semi-liveblogging each conference session, by which i mean that i’ll be jotting down thoughts during each session of conference and posting them after the session ends.

An explanation of the way these are ordered: The entries are arranged the same way as the last couple times i did these, which may be confusing at first. This is because blogs arrange things chronologically from bottom to top, despite millennia of Western writing practice, so 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.

I’m going with the same ordering within each post so that readers don’t have to do quite so much scrolling. Therefore, 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, i think). Anyway, this means that this is where you scroll to the bottom of this post, and then start reading upwards.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)
  • Interesting that all three members of the first presidency (including even Dieter F. Unchtdorf in his brief opening remarks) made direct reference to the need to work toward the temporal salvation of others, while everyone else in this session, if they dealt with the topic, did so only indirectly or as part of a larger focus.
  • He quoted a good chunk of the song ”Have I Done Any Good in the World Today“—i started to wonder if he was going to quote the old lyrics (that is, the stark line “only he who does something is worthy to live”). No such luck, though.
  • Interesting arguments for the importance of involving children in temporal service (if not an outright plea for people to do so).
  • The story of the family that returned from holiday after the Teton dam burst was interesting—this is where i start wishing i had primary sources to find out more about the people involved.
  • Nice twist on the term “self-reliance”, with the implication (if not outright direct statement) that what follows true self-reliance is actually giving one’s surplus to others. (Insert spooky music and mutterings about “sharing the wealth” here…)
  • He pointed out that we’re commanded not just to help the poor, but also to seek them out to help them. That’s actually a tough command at times.
  • A churchwide day of service later this year? Interesting.

Quentin L. Cook (or the quorum of apostles)
  • I find lists of qualities that women have to be interesting, given that one finds the same qualities as men. (Of course, the sociological training i have leads me to hold that the minor differences in the way those qualities manifest themselves are at least primarily the result of differences in socialization. I guess that means that i’m irredeemably evil, then. Oh, well.)
  • The story of the purse had really nicely amusing moments. (Of course, part of my mind kept thinking, “Wow, that girl knows how to accessorize for church functions in case someone looks in her purse. Talk about being prepared!”)
  • Another thought from the sociological side of my brain: I wonder to what extent the satisfaction that Mormon women (and men, though he didn’t focus on that) have with their religion is the result of church policies and procedures, and to what extent it’s the result of self-selection among women.
  • Bishops are supposed to delegate more. Does this mean that one day they’ll be able to skip out on leadership meetings, too?
  • What’s that? Men who skip out on serving full-time missions still have all of the saving ordinances available to them? Heresy!
  • Actually, from the statistics i’ve seen, it’s not so much that fewer people are getting married so much as that people are opting to get married at later ages—you know, closer to the average age of first marriages, say, 500 years ago.
  • Wow! A blunt, direct statement telling people not to judge families where the mother works outside the home—that’s something i don’t think i’ve ever heard in a general conference (or even a stake conference) before. Telling people bluntly not to judge couples who don’t have children, yes, that i’ve heard before (and there’s wider social recognition of the impoliteness involved there, too)—but this is a potential first.

Kent F. Richards (of the quorums of the seventy)
  • Kent F. Richards was a surgeon. I wonder if him talking about medical stuff is the equivalent of Dieter F. Uchtdorf talking about airplanes.
  • Interesting that he implicitly assumes that we earn forgiveness.
  • Is direct revelation actually different from personal experience?
  • Interesting approach, so closely equating physical pain and spiritual sin.

The choir sang “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” here. It’s not a bad song to sing, really, but listening to it—wow, it’s really repetitive, isn’t it?

Walter F. González (of the presidency of the seventy)
  • There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the first half to two-thirds of this address, but it’s being hard to pull out single specific items to comment on (either snarkily or seriously).
  • His statement that loving Christ results in receiving the strength to follow Christ is an interesting one, since one could also say that following Christ results in loving Christ. The issue then becomes how one can jump into the cycle, you know?
  • Interesting idea that our covenants are inherently stronger than our challenges. That’s one to mull over.

Jean A. Stevens (of the general primary presidency)
  • She gives the story of “a general authority” who went on assignment to Hong Kong, and what came of his counsel. Why didn’t she name the general authority? The construction reminds me of the awkward way so many stories in the lesson manuals opened when i was a kid. (That sort of construction didn’t bother me when she said stuff like “a ten-year-old boy”. Maybe it’s the difference between referring to minors and adults? Or maybe between celebrities of whatever sort and non-celebrities? I’ll have to think about this.)
  • One interesting thing is that this is an address by a member of the general primary presidency that’s unambiguously directed toward the adults in the audience. Yes, it’s about children, but members of primary presidencies very often aim for dual audiences (adults and children).
  • “Behold” is a semi-archaic word meaning, quite simply, “look at”. Due to its archaic nature it sounds more impressive, but it really only means that. Yeah, it doesn’t mean to just glance at or whatever, but we really shouldn’t try to make individual words mean more than they really do.

L. Tom Perry (of the quorum of apostles)
  • I always like addresses that talk about the importance of the Bible—yes, we have unique scripture with stuff like the Book of Mormon (well, nearly unique—there are other religions that accept that as scripture, after all), but it’s important not to forget the stuff we share widely with others, too.
  • This whole discussion of the sacrament raises a question that i wonder about occasionally: Why is priesthood authority necessary for the blessing and passing of the sacrament? (I suppose that’s a question particularly for the “and passing” part of the question.)
  • He quoted the scriptural passage that says we’re to go to church and take the sacrament, and do “none other thing” (and he gave special emphasis to that phrase). I’ve always found it interesting that that’s immediately followed by an exception: We’re explicitly allowed to prepare food.
  • Ah! The claim that outward appearance necessarily reflects inward attitudes! Maybe sometimes, even often, but as a blanket statement?
  • He said that we should avoid amusements (to use an old-fashioned term) on Sundays, and followed that by quoting the line from the New Testament that the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. I got a bit of mental whiplash trying to follow that argument, to be quite honest.
  • Can y’all of my generation imagine using glass cups for the sacrament? The handwashing requirements would have been annoying, to put it mildly.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)
  • It always surprises me when general authorities said they didn’t think they’d fill the Conference Center. (I remember the original public announcement saying that they didn’t expect to fill it at first.) I’m actually surprised they underestimated the demand so strongly, given that, e.g.,  Brigham Young University’s Marriott Center fills for visiting general authorities, and sometimes large stadiums (stadia?) get filled by church members for visiting authorities.
  • Three new temples: Fort Collins, Colorado; Meridian, Idaho; and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Of those, Winnipeg fills in the most obvious and glaring hole in the map. Actually, given Winnipeg’s traditional role as the transportation hub of the Canadian plains, i was surprised when Regina got one before Winnipeg did.
  • Some people say that the church shouldn'’t announce like this when we’re providing humanitarian service (you know, the whole don’t trumpet your good deeds before the world thing). I disagree, actually—letting members of the church know that good works are being done is a way of getting them to feel like it’s simply a normal thing to do, and therefore to make it more likely that they’ll do such stuff in the future.

Allan F. Packer (of the quorums of the seventy)
  • He prayed that we’ll live so that we can merit blessings (i didn’t get the exact words). The tension over the primacy of grace vs. primacy of works tension really is alive and well within Mormonism, you know?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency), opening remarks
  • This conference is the 75th anniversary of the church’s welfare program. Given his personal history, he may well feel the importance of that more intensely than many others of the general authorities.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Well, it is the beginning of April

Given the day, i figured i’d come up with a story about how this blog was being discontinued, and i’d be working on a regular dead-serious column about the perfection of mainstream Utah Mormon culture for from now on.

But i couldn’t keep a straight face even while i was trying to start typing it up, so i figured it wouldn’t look at all convincing to y’all.

Sorry. Maybe i’ll do better next year.