Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon session

Sunday afternoon, the chance to relax a little bit—the conference is mostly done, and for those of us on the left coast and beyond there’s still a nice chunk of afternoon for hanging out.

I realized that if someone comes on this blog, this is the first post about this conference they’ll see, so I should give a full description of the way these are set up rather than the abbreviated intro i’m generally giving at this point in the process. So: My general conference posts are done in a manner that imitates liveblogging, more or less—the speakers are in given in a reverse chronological order, as if each one headed a separate blog post. Under each speaker, though, the comments i make are in chronological order, top-down (because the idea is that each speaker, not each comment, is a separate post). Therefore, if you want to read through this in chronological order, you scroll to the end and read upward from there—and if you want to read chronologically through the entire conference, you can go to the end of the Saturday morning session’s entry and read the whole ten hours of it, bottom up.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • General conference was good.
  • Remember to reach out to those in need.
  • Thanks offered for prayers from the membership.
  • So he ends by invoking the blessings of the Lord on all of us…and it’s a wrap!

David A. Bednar (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Answering the question: “Why are Latter-day Saints so eager to tell me about what they believe?”
  • “We are not trying to sell you a product.”
  • We are not trying to diminish others’ religious truths, but are inviting all to come and see what we have to offer.
  • Oh. My. His story about his sons is hilarious. Seriously. Go look it up. (And what’s the over-under on how long it takes for it to be turned into a Mormon Message video?)
  • When we are helped by something, it becomes our desire to use that to help others.
  • Absolute truth exists, despite the world disdaining absolute truths.

Larry S. Kacher (of the quorums of seventy)

  • (I have to admit: When they flashed his name up on screen, i had not expected that spelling.)
  • He tells the story of his conversion to the church, and some of the challenges he faced.
  • “I asked myself, why would i turn away from that which had brought me such great comfort?”
  • Those who deny the gospel may receive mortal honors for a time, but they lose so much more.

Hugo E. Martinez (of the quorums of seventy), delivered in Spanish

  • When we see a need (or when the Spirit directs) we should go and serve right away.
  • He tells a story of having no power or water for two weeks after a hurricane, and the blessings they received from other people’s actions during that time. Having experienced similar aftereffects from a hurricane—yeah, it’s an amazing thing to recognize the work of God in the charitable actions of others.
  • Those who help others in need are doing the work of God.
  • “The Good Shepherd will gather all of his sheep, one by one, as they make good moral choices.”
  • Doing temple work for the dead is another way to serve God’s children.
  • A reminder that in the parable of the sheep and goats, those who are received of the Lord are those who had done good to other people.

Allan F. Packer (of the quorums of seventy)

  • “Frequent small corrections are less painful and disruptive than large course corrections.”
  • The church helps us qualify for exaltation, but cannot do it for us.
  • Quoting his father (Boyd K. Packer)! (He looks like him, too.)
  • Family history work should be a family activity more than a church activity.
  • Sharing stories about family with your children is doing family history work.

Carlos A. Godoy (of the quorums of seventy), delivered in Portuguese

  • Expressing gratitude for the ability to speak in general conference in his native language.
  • A good question to ask yourselves: If we continue to live as we are living, will the promised blessings be fulfilled?
  • We do not need to see an angel to obtain understanding, because we have such things as the scriptures, temples, inspired leaders—and above all, personal revelation.
  • Moses and Lehi did not have easy journeys even though they made correct decisions.
  • Each of us is a child of God, and God wants us to reach our potential.

Richard G. Scott (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Sometimes we may feel more aware of the negatives in mortality than the positives—but despite all of the challenges we have, we must exercise our faith to invite the positive power of the atonement.
  • “Choose to converse with your Father in Heaven often.”
  • God is interested in even the most mundane parts of your life.
  • If you want your children to recognize the influence of the Spirit, you must study the scriptures with them.
  • (Lots of stuff about how we need to rearrange our priorities such that we spend more time with our families.)
  • If you don’t have a temple recommend, get one. If you have a temple recommend, use it often.

M. Russell Ballard (of the quorum of apostles)

  • We need to experience a continuing conversation throughout our lives.
  • Nice add of “and sisters” to the Book of Mormon text!
  • Those who go astray are usually those who forget that the combined voice of the quorums of the apostles and the first presidency is the voice of the Lord for our time. (Interesting bit, that last prepositional phrase.)
  • Church leaders are not out of touch, and do not live in a bubble.
  • Sometimes we are tempted to be distracted by the appendages to our faith rather than the core.
  • Experiencing doubts is not inconsistent with discipleship, and members are always free to ask questions to gain greater understanding.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning session

Sunday morning—if for no other reason than tradition (it’s Sunday! And in the morning!), this is the one that people think of as the important one. To be honest, though, when was the last time something big was announced in this session rather than one of the Saturday sessions? he asked, wondering if karma would ensure he’d be proven wrong this time.

Anyway, as with the other entries in this series, the speakers are in reverse chronological order, with my notes on each speaker’s address in forward chronological order under each speaker. So now to the end of the entry and…

Closing moments

  • As Thomas S. Monson left the stand, he offered a thumbs-up to a fellow fringe-bald guy. Serious LOL moment there.
  • Also, how do the wives of the apostles get over to their husbands so quickly at the end of the sessions? Whoever’s moving people around is doing some impressive logistics there.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir, closing song

  • Singing “How Firm a Foundation”—and i’m not a fan of MoTab, but they definitely do this one well. Would it have killed them to sing the whole thing, though? They certainly had time.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • The purpose of this life is to gain a body, and see if we will obey the commandments.
  • Knowing where Jesus walked is less important than emulating how he walked.
  • Jesus was tempted and suffered, just as we must be tempted and suffer—but we, with Jesus, can walk the path of obedience and find great happiness.
  • “As we strive to put Christ at the center of our lives…he has promised to share with us eternal life, that he died to gain.”

James J. Hamula (of the quorums of seventy)

  • Jesus instituted a new ordinance with the last supper, replacing animal sacrifice with emblems of the body and blood of Christ.
  • Just as the Passover feast memorialized that death passed over the Israelites in Egypt, death will pass over those who follow Jesus.
  • The sacrament needs to be holy to us.
  • The fundamental question facing each of us is not whether we will live after this life, but with whom we will live.
  • The fact that we take the bread first and then the water in the sacrament is not inconsequential.
  • We witness that we will remember, and then we witness that we do remember—and we make a solemn promise that we will repent, and take upon us the name of the Son.
  • (So can we stop simply calling the covenants of the sacramental ordinance a renewal of baptismal covenants? He's outlining a case for it being a completely separate thing.)

Robert D. Hales (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Has spent time reviewing the final testimonies of the prophets.
  • Received a witness by the Spirit of their truth, which is one of the gifts of the Spirit—to believe on the testimonies of others.
  • (This is a hard address to summarize in notes. Lots of stuff on the members of the Godhead and their roles and the importance of knowing about them—very cool and deep stuff, but very non-soundbite-oriented.)

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency), conducting

  • He said “After their remarks, the choir will sing ‘Softly and Tenderly’”, at which my wife, with a smile, said “But what will the title of the song be?” [Insert rimshot here.]

Carol F. McConkie (of the young women general presidency)

  • The president of the church is the one empowered to receive revelation for the entire church.
  • We need to choose to heed prophetic counsel, and we will be protected if we do so.
  • (Possibly heretical thought: Russell M. Nelson was basically talking about the distribution of revelation, while Carol F. McConkie is talking about the concentration of revelation. They're contradicting each other in some non-obvious but significant ways.)

Russell M. Nelson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • How do we really sustain a prophet?
  • No prophets have ever chosen themselves, or been elected to that office.
  • Our sustaining is an oath-life affirmation that we recognize a prophet’s calling as a prophet.
  • The calling of fifteen men to the apostleship provides safety, because their decisions must be unanimous.
  • “These fifteen [apostles]…have very different opinions on many things. Trust me.”
  • If the president of the church is incapacitated, remember that the counselors in the first presidency are part of the quorum of the first presidency, and can carry on the work.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)

  • We need a constant stream of revelation.
  • Notice that Nephi didn’t say “I will go and do as my father commands”, but “I will go and do as the Lord commands”.
  • Revelation received by leaders requires confirming revelation on the part of those being led.
  • A description of the work done in the aftermath of the Teton Dam collapse, and the place of revelation in it. (Seriously, you want to get stuff done in a crisis situation, well, Mormons are good at that. There's a lot about Mormon culture that annoys me, but that part, yeah, i'm glad to be a part of it.)
  • Love for the prophet is much more than hero worship—it is a gift from God, and will give us the confirming revelation we will need.
  • I didn't get the wording precisely right, i think, but the way sealing powers are conferred is interesting: “Under delegation of power and authority of [name of prophet], who holds the keys to the sealing authority, i confer upon [name of recipient]…”

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

Priesthood session. I wonder if they’ll eventually call it the “men’s session” and invite the 8–11-year-old boys, like they did with the former relief society and young women sessions. Anyway, here’s my notes, as taken on my tablet, but with typos (hopefully!) corrected.

So: The speakers are in reverse chronological order, as if they were each a separate blog post, but the comments are in forward chronological order (since each “post” is by speaker). So now to the end, and…

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • The “unsinkable” battleship Bismarck met its doom because a torpedo damaged its rudder—just a very small part of the ship.
  • “A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder—unlikely to reach home port.
  • We have the responsibility to be worthy of all the blessings God has for us, no matter the confusion in the world around us.
  • Remember that the greatest power in the world today is the power of God
  • If we do not turn to God, we lose out ability to chart a wise and proper course through life.

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency)

  • The Aaronic priesthood is also called the lesser priesthood, and the preparatory priesthood. Tonight’s topic: That preparation.
  • The time of mortality is a time to prepare to meet God; similarly, time spent holding the Aaronic priesthood is a time to prepare.
  • Those with experience in the priesthood have a responsibility to mentor those with less experience.
  • “In priesthood preparation, ‘show me’ counts more than ‘tell me’.”
  • Show trust in less experienced priesthood holders—it will help them later.
  • Remember that correcting someone requires an increase of love afterward—this implies that there was already love there before.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)

  • When Jesus said that one of the apostles would betray him, they looked inward as asked “Is it i?” Would we do the same, or would we assume he was talking about someone else?
  • A reminder of the analogy of the beam and the mote.
  • We aren’t good at recognizing our own incompetencies—even successful people tend to overestimate their own contributions and underestimate the contributions of others.
  • Doing that, particularly in our homes and at church, robs ourselves of blessings and opportunities.
  • He gave a description of a ward with every outward statistical measure showing success, but then a sudden spate of marriages disintegrating, at least in part due to individuals there believing that they were special cases who didn’t have to devote effort to doing what they were supposed to do.
  • Are we focused on the treasures of this world, or on Jesus Christ?
  • If you desire to develop Christlike attributes, God will use you to save many souls.
  • “None of us likes to admit when we are drifting off the right course…but being able to see ourselves clearly is essential to our spiritual growth and well-being.”
  • Those who do not wish to improve probably will not; those who seek to improve themselves “will experience the miracles of the Savior’s atonement”.
  • We need to put aside our pride and ask “Is it i?” And then if the Lord says it is, there are things we can do to improve.

Dean M. Davies (of the presiding bishopric)

  • Caring for the poor and needy is an essential part of the gospel
  • Caring for the poor and needy includes both acts by the church as an organization and acts by individual members.
  • Fast offerings are a central mechanism for doing this.
  • Paraphrasing: I can think of no commandment that is easier to keep and brings greater blessings than the law of the fast and the associated giving of fast offerings.
  • The giving of fast offerings completes our adherence to the law of the fast.
  • There are some areas where it is inadvisable for holders of the Aaronic priesthood to go door to door to collect fast offerings, but bishops in those locations should still work to determine how to involve them in the process.

Craig C. Christensen (of the presidency of the seventy)

  • We may need to start out by relying on the testimonies of others, and that is a good place to begin, but we need to get to the point where we know for ourselves.
  • Great revelations have come from simply a sincere desire to know.
  • A testimony is less like a light switch (simply off and on) and more like a tree (passing through several stages of growth and development).

Quentin L. Cook (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Rise up above the rationalizations that stand in the way of following Jesus Christ.
  • We need unequivocal adherence to commandments.
  • Expressing belief in a principle but not acting in accordance with it is not a positive course of action.
  • He’s calling out people who pretend to be happier than they are on social media, and then spend their time comparing themselves to others (who may also be pretending to be happier than they are), which creates a rather destructive cycle.
  • Even worthwhile pursuits require continuous evaluation to make sure they’re not distracting from more worthwhile things.
  • Our daily conduct should be consistent with our goals.
  • There is a need to have fun and enjoy unstructured time with friends and family, but when doing such things diminishes faith in Jesus Christ, it is a tragic course.

Missionary Training Center men’s choir

  • A medley of missionary songs from the Children’s Songbook—not a bad idea, particularly given the members of the choir.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon session

Next session! I used to think the Sunday morning session was the most watched, but nowadays i’m thinking it might be this one. No idea really, though.

As always with these, the speakers are in chronological order, but backwards, as if they were each a separate blog post. Under each speaker, though, the comments i make are in chronological order, top-down. So to start reading about this session, scroll to the end and read upward from there.

L. Tom Perry, of the quorum of apostles

  • The New Testament writers didn’t worry about Jesus’s social standing or clothing—their focus was on his status as the son of God.
  • We are blessed to have the gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives, and available to us as a guide.
  • Mothers and fathers are both to strengthen their families and homes.
  • The gospel of Jesus Christ provides a foundation for lasting peace for our eternal family units.

Jeffrey R. Holland, of the quorum of apostles

  • Jesus’s first messianic duty was to bless the poor (including the poor in spirit).
  • Remember that the son of God was homeless.
  • The church hadn’t even been organized for a year when we were commanded that the poor must be helped, and not suffer.
  • (So much for a “prosperity gospel” approach to blessings, eh?)
  • We need to help others, because we can help individuals even when we can’t help everyone.
  • We are required to help those who stand in need, and impart of our substance if we have it—and if we don’t, our prayers are in vain.
  • We are expected to help ourselves before we seek help for others—but we have an obligation to help those who can’t help themselves, and God will help us know how to fulfill that commandment.
  • A shout-out for fasting and fast offerings (and other humanitarian offerings).
  • More than three-quarters of a million members of the church were helped last year from fast offering donations. (Out of 15 million, that's a lot.)
  • Paraphrasing: I have never been poor, and don’t even know how the poor feel, but I do know that there but for the grace of God go I—and I also know that I may not be my brother’s keeper, but I am my brother’s brother, and I must share.
  • Revelation says that the poor will one day see the kingdom of God coming to deliver them in power and glory—and we can be a part of that.
  • (Hurrah! for a bit of CatholicMormon social justice!)

Eduardo Gavarret (of the quorums of seventy), delivered in Spanish

  • We need to take care to know the Savior’s voice, and follow him.
  • Speaking directly to those investigating the church, but not in the “here’s the first discussion” manner you usually hear—very cool.
  • Enoch had doubts about his ability to preach the gospel, but God calmed his doubts with a “Walk with me.”
  • Feed our desire to be a better follower of Christ—pray for it.
  • Simply knowing the truth will not change your world unless you turn desire into action.

Jörg Klebingat (of the quorums of seventy)

  • So it looks like the German general authorities are showing off their English today…
  • Take responsibility for your own spiritual well-being.
  • Take responsibility for your own physical well-being.
  • Embrace voluntary, whole-hearted obedience as part of your life.
  • Choosing something bad over something worse is still wrong.
  • “Casualness in spiritual matters never was happiness.”
  • Become really, really good at repenting thoroughly and quickly.
  • Become really, really good at forgiving.
  • Accept trials and setbacks as part of your mortal experience.
  • The Savior is anxious for your confidence to wax strong in the presence of God.
  • (Dang, he spoke really, really fast.)

Tad R. Callister (Sunday School general president)

  • He starts out with Benjamin Carson’s early life (and in so doing holds up a nonmember as an example of someone fulfilling their God-given role as a good parent).
  • Parents are to teach their children the truths of the gospel.
  • We need to teach our children to get into the habit of personal prayer.
  • We may need to tell our children to get away from their electronic devices occasionally, and that’s okay, because it’s part of our jobs as parents.

Neil L. Anderson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Spiritual issues require spiritual evidences.
  • Joseph Smith was honorable, despite the claims of his detractors; in fact, trying to rely on the claims of Joseph Smith’s detractors to try to get a clear idea of his character is an inherently flawed approach.
  • Remember that truth may be true but presented in a context that gives the entirely wrong impression.
  • Documentary evidence is useful, but ultimately “spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God”.
  • You aren’t fully able to help others if your own faith isn’t secure.

Dallin H. Oaks (of the quorum of apostles)

  • Why is it so difficult to love everyone around us? Because not everyone shares our beliefs and obligations
  • We cannot be the leaven of the world if we associate only with those who share our beliefs and practices.
  • Contention is forbidden not just to followers of Jesus Christ, but avoiding contention is a commandment to all.
  • A straight-up statement against same-sex marriage, rather than dancing around the issue! [My thought: Whether you agree with him or not, it's refreshing to hear direct engagement with a hot-button issue in general conference rather than code words.]
  • “Followers of Christ should be examples of civility…Though we disagree, we should not be disagreeable.”
  • If the end result on an issue ends up as something we don’t agree with, we should accept the result with civility.
  • And now a straight-up statement that forbidding your kids to play with non-Mormon kids is a Bad Thing.
  • “Kindness is powerful, especially in a family setting.”
  • This is all totally calling both Mormons and non-Mormons to repentance, but especially the Mormons.
  • “We must live with differences, but as followers of Christ, we should live peaceably with those who don't follow our beliefs.”

Henry B. Eyring (of the first presidency), presentation of general officers and area seventies

  • How long has this quorum of apostles been unchanged? [David B goes and checks.] 5½ years. That’s a long time (though not the longest, of course).
  • Not a lot of changes this time.

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

  • He totally said Chor before correcting himself to choir! Maybe he should have spoken in German, after all…

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning session

So this blog has become a home for these general conference summaries and nothing else. Oddly, i see that people still come by specifically for them, which i wouldn’t necessarily have expected. It’s a good excuse to take notes on what stands out to me in the meetings, though, so here i am again.

As always, these posts are done in semi-liveblogging style—the speakers are in chronological order, but backwards, as if they were each a separate blog post. Under each speaker, though, the comments i make are in chronological order, top-down (again, as if each speaker, not each comment, is a separate post). This means that to start reading, you’ll now scroll to the end and read upward from there (and by the time all of conference is over, you can read the whole ten hours of it, bottom up).

Dieter F. Uchtdorf (of the first presidency)

  • Delivered in English (but with a joke about how it might sound like German anyway).
  • And airplanes immediately after the opening joke. That may be a speed record for him.
  • We used to not believe that there was anything beyond the Milky Way galaxy. Then we discovered there was much, much more out there—not that the truth changed, but that our ability to see changed.
  • It is “a trait of humanity to assume we are right, even when we are wrong.”
  • “God wants you to find your way back to him—and the Savior is the way”
  • Search the scriptures, ponder and be grateful, and pray—and do God’s will. Then you will know of the truth.
  • If you want to recognize spiritual truth, you cannot use non-spiritual methods to do so.
  • If we remove ourselves from the light of the gospel, our light begins to dim—not immediately, but over time—until we cannot even recognize why we knew what we once knew.
  • Everyone in the church is at a different point in our testimony—and that’s okay.
  • We are not to condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have.
  • If you seek God’s truth, that which now may appear dim will gradually be revealed by the light of God—and “it will come, and it will be glorious”.

D. Todd Christofferson (of the quorum of apostles)

  • God will not live our lives for us—he is not a puppetmaster.
  • God will not save us as we are, and will not compel us to become what we should be—but God will also not abandon us in the quest.
  • We can choose what sort of person we will become—and with the help of God, the result will be to become like God.
  • God is not arbitrary in saving some and not others.
  • Repentance allows mercy to take effect without “trampling” justice.
  • Repentance is allowed because of the atonement, but repentance is a self-willed change.
  • “A God who makes no demands is the functional equivalent of a God who does not exist.”
  • The opportunity to make our own choices is a God-given gift.

Chi Hong (Sam) Wong (of the quorums of seventy), delivered in Cantonese

  • So we get our first-ever non-English-language general conference sermon. All’s i can say is, it’s about time!
  • A discourse on the man with palsy whose bed was lowered down in front of Jesus, and how it reflects the necessity of service by members of the church.
  • I like the way he’s overlaying modern roles onto the Biblical story, It’s a high-risk rhetorical move, but it works here.
  • “To assist the Savior, we have to work together in unity and with harmony.” Every calling is important in doing this.
  • Jesus healed the man taken with the palsy because of their faith—and this could be the man, those who lowered him down, those who had prayed for him, those who were there, a spouse, parent, son, daughter…The list goes on.

Cheryl Esplin (of the primary general presidency)

  • How can the sacrament become a spiritual experience each week?
  • ”Obedience to the commandments brings the power of the gospel into our lives”.
  • The sacrament is an opportunity to bend our heart and will to that of God.
  • Jesus has his arms open to receive us, if we will.
  • If we prepare, we will receive a “renewal of our soul” from participating in the sacrament.

Lynn G. Robbins (presidency of the seventy)

  • The seventy don’t represent the people to the prophet, they represent the prophet to the people.
  • We need to have courage to do what is right, and not fear the social pressures around us.
  • Those who mock the prophets do so because they feel their own guilt.
  • Changing the standards of the church to match the standards of society is apostasy.
  • While he was on the earth, Jesus made it very clear that he was representing the Father.

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

  • Is it just me, or does he look a bit healthier than last conference?
  • The scriptures—with particular emphasis on those unique to our faith—testify of Christ.
  • Big important part of the atonement: It allows sin and guilt to be erased, leading to everlasting peace.
  • The atonement offers healing even to “the wounded innocent”.
  • He rhetorically equated the term testimony with the word hope. That’s ponder-worthy.
  • We need every member of the church, “for the body is one”.
  • So i haven’t always been terribly into Boyd K. Packer’s general conference addresses (no, not because of there frequent conservatism, just because i’m not totally into his rhetorical style), but this one was pretty amazing.

Thomas S. Monson (president of the high priesthood)

  • 90 years since general conference was first broadcast on radio! (Interesting—I’d thought it was 1921. Either way, pretty cool.)
  • Mention of the celebration of culture held at the rededication of the Ogden, Utah temple. Cue the jokes in 3…2…
  • No new temples to announce, due to a focus on completing the temples already announced.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir (opening song, “High on the Mountain Top”)

  • Hurrah! for gratuitous amens added by large choirs!