Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday afternoon session

By the time you read this, general conference April 2017 is over, and this may well be the first of my posts about it you see, since it’s hanging there at the top of them. Therefore, i’ll start out with my usual quick explanation of the way they’re structured:

Blogs have the utterly bizarre feature of requiring a read from the bottom upward from post to post to get a chronological picture, which means that the post below this one is the previous session, and below that one is the one before that, and so on. To better match this, the first speaker in this session is at the bottom of each session’s post, the next speaker is above that one, and so on. This means that if you read top-down you’ll get everything backward, but if you scroll down to the bottom of the Saturday morning session post and read bottom-up from there through the entire conference, you’ll get the entire weekend in chronological order.

However, under each speaker my comments are ordered top-down. This adds a potential bit of confusion, but trying to make everything perfectly backward just gets too messy.

But before getting to content, can i just take a moment to say how much i enjoy watching the few minutes before conference sessions when the camera is panning across the general authorities and officers, and we get to see them smiling and chatting and even *gasp* laughing? It’s a good thing to keep in mind when, as inevitably happens every few months, someone in a leadership meeting starts saying that everyone needs to be utterly silent as they arrive during the half hour preceding sacrament meeting so that everyone can “get in tune with the Spirit” or somesuch reason. Well, i suppose you’re saying Elders Bednar and Quentin L. Cook aren’t in tune with the Spirit, then? Hmmm…

Anyway, with that thought just hanging out there, let’s scroll down to the bottom of this post (or to the bottom of four posts prior, if you want to start at the beginning of the entire conference weekend!) and start at the bottom with the beginning:

Closing thoughts from me:
  • This seemed like the tale of two conferences: Saturday (including the priesthood session) was all about being kind and welcoming to others no matter their circumstances or status, while Sunday was all about being aware of inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Related topics, certainly, and there was of course crossover (particularly in Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s Sunday morning address), but the difference in overall theme between the days was still rather remarkable.
  • What’s with not showing the words on-screen for the congregational songs? I really hope it was just an experiment, and they bring them back next conference.
  • New favorite general authority name: Weatherford T. Clayton. (If he had an upper-class British accent, though, it would’ve pushed it too far.)
  • I absolutely adore the way that Dieter F. Uchtdorf is relentlessly optimistic—I feel we need that as a church, if only because it’s a necessary pushback against the often-pervasive (and, i would argue, patently untrue) idea that this existence is getting inexorably worse and worse. (And Joaquin E. Costa merits mention as being similarly sunny in a quite healthy way.)
  • The multiple direct mentions of the “The Living Christ” document were interesting, particularly given the relative absence of references to “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”—and the only direct reference to the latter that i can recall was that it can only be understood properly in the light of the former!
  • The temple announcements had a couple unstated big-deal bits within them: Manila will have two temples, and having that happen outside of North America is pretty huge; and Kenya is a big—perhaps the biggest—cultural and commercial center in East Africa.
  • And finally, i always pick a personal favorite address at the close of each conference. The usual suspects (that is, Jeffrey R. Holland and Dieter F. Unchtdorf—in his case, both his priesthood and Sunday morning session addresses) are, of course, in the running for me, but also this time Dale G. Renlund’s address and, in a rather quieter (so to speak) way, Henry B. Eyring’s from the priesthood session. That makes this an unusual conference, where I didn’t find at least one of the non-twelve/​first presidency addresses highly stirring, but so it goes. I think, ultimately, it’s a difficult call between Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s priesthood session address and Dale G. Renlund’s, but i’ll have to ultimately go with the latter on the tiebreaker of it having a wider audience.

Quentin L. Cook, of the quorum of apostles
  • He included, near the beginning of the address, a video of a baby taking hesitant steps across a room—cue the collective Awwwww from every single viewer across the world.
  • Physical growth and growth in talents and spiritual growth are similar: We begin with baby steps and progress onward through practice.
  • We tend to to emphasize moments that are spiritually sublime, and they are worth rejoicing over, but for enduring faith there is no substitute for ongoing religious experience.
  • Weekly participation in sacrament meetings has spiritual implications that we do not at present understand.
  • The woman with the issue of blood (the one who touched the hem of Jesus’s garment in an attempt to be healed) was healed because of her own faith—Jesus had not focused on her, and in fact had not even been aware of her until she exercised her own faith.
  • Adversity should not be viewed as either disfavor from the Lord, or a withdrawal of blessings.

Benjamín De Hoyos, of the quorums of seventy
  • The gospel, the Book of Mormon and this general conference are “standard[s] to the nations”.
  • By hearkening to leaders’ counsel we will gain what we need to give light to others.
  • There are many ways that we can increase our ability to give light to others, but three in particular to mention at the moment: Observing the Sabbath day, hastening the work on both sides of the veil, and teaching in the Savior’s way.

C. Scott Grow, of the quorums of seventy
  • And now a general authority directing comments to the youth and young adults (both single and married)—we’re going up the age ladder a step!☺
  • As you study the scriptures, you can not only know more about the Savior, but you can know the Savior.
  • As we strive to become like God, God will help us become more than we could ever do ourselves.
  • It is not sinful to ask for relief—even Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane asked for relief before affirming that he would submit to the will of God the Father.
  • “Knowing God is the quest of a lifetime.”

Gary E. Stevenson, of the quorum of apostles
  • An apostle stating at the outset he’s directing his message to the primary-aged children of the church? This is different, and quite cool.
  • The big question (from a child teaching a family home evening lesson): How does the Holy Ghost help you?
  • Follow promptings from the Spirit, even when it contravenes general practice and tradition.
  • How does the Holy Ghost help you? The Holy Ghost warns, comforts, and testifies.
  • “Stay close to the Spirit, and the Spirit will stay close to you.”

S. Mark Palmer, of the quorums of seventy
  • For those in leadership positions, it isn’t so much “How can these people learn to feel inspiration to do better?” but rather it should be “How can i learn to feel inspiration to do better so that others can feel the love of God through me, and thus do better?”
  • As we learn to see others as the Lord sees them, our love for them—and thus our desire to help them—will grow.
  • Love should never be withdrawn when anyone—friend, family member, anyone—fails to live up to our expectations.

Joaquin E. Costa, of the quorums of seventy
  • A discussion of his own introduction to the church, and how some of it didn’t make sense right away—but the impressions of truth and rightness were there from the beginning.
  • Repentance is not negative—when we humble ourselves and open our heart to the Spirit, we learn that it is the path to eternal happiness.
  • If you “pay the price of revelation”, pray, and repent, the heavens will be opened and you will know that Jesus is the Christ.

D. Todd Christofferson, of the quorum of apostles
  • Those who have been warned (i.e., have learned about the gospel) have the responsibility to warn our neighbor—and just like in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor we are to warn is everyone around us.
  • The motivation for this warning is love. On occasion—when directed so by the Holy Ghost—warning may take the form of reproof, but even then it must be motivated by love.
  • We are (as urged in one of the psalms) not to hide God’s righteousness in our heart, but rather to declare it to all around us.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Sunday morning session

Due to my computer crashing, i lost all of my notes from the Sunday morning session before i could transfer them to this medium.

All of them.

I am a bit sad about this, particularly since this means i lost my notes on Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s excellent and much-needed address.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Priesthood session

Priesthood session. I still wonder why they haven’t turned this into a general men’s session open to boys as young as eight like they did with the general women’s session a few years back, but as it is, it’s still twelve and up.

Anyway, as with all the rest of these, the first speaker is at the bottom of this post and then you can read upwards to the last speaker at the top, with comments under each speaker’s name going chronologically the other way (i.e., downwards).

Henry B. Eyring, of the first presidency
  • It is natural to feel inadequate when we contemplate our responsibilities.
  • If we feel completely capable we should probably learn our duties better, but if we feel like giving up we should learn what God can do to increase our capability.
  • The power of the priesthood includes being able to do all things—literally all things—that God desires to be done.
  • Contemplating the power of the priesthood should instill in us a desire to do more in the service of God.
  • Remember that Enoch was a great prophet, but he saw himself as “but a lad” until he accepted the invitation to walk with the Lord.
  • You need never feel too small or insignificant for God to care about you.
  • Walking with the Savior in priesthood service will change the way you see people—if you walk with the Savior long enough you will see every human being as a child of God with limitless potential, and in fact you will ultimately be able to help them see that in themselves.
  • We come to know Jesus Christ best when we join in the work of salvation for all of God’s children.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the first presidency
  • He started with two stories (one personal, one scriptural) underscoring the need to see the work of the gospel as the work of God, and not as a vehicle for our own success and aggrandizement
  • In God’s kingdom, leadership means seeing others as God sees them—as they really are—regardless of nationality, race, political orientation, or any other such thing, and reaching out and ministering to them.
  • James E. Faust noted that the members of the church are gracious to the general authorities—and the general authorities need to be grateful for that, and be careful not to “inhale it”.
  • J. Reuben Clark, Jr used to tell those called to leadership positions to remember “rule #6”. When asked what that was, he’d say it’s “Don’t take yourself so darn seriously”. Then, when asked what the first five rules were, he’d respond that there weren’t any.
  • We become great by accepting callings to service with grace, humility, and gratitude—and then when we are released, by accepting the change with the same grace, humility, and gratitude.
  • Every time we reach outside ourselves to serve, especially when our service is unseen by others, we come closer to our Lord, who gave his all for us.
  • One kind of service is not greater than another.
  • “What is the most important calling in the church? It is the one you now have”, because it is the one that allows you to serve now.
  • “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” is the paramount principle of church governance.

Gérald Caussé, presiding bishop
  • Growing up in a small branch, he had many opportunities to serve and lead as a teenager.
  • The Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods have different missions and stewardships, but they are inseparable and work together toward the same goal—and for a perfect example of this, see the relationship between Jesus Christ and John the Baptist.
  • Aaronic priesthood holders should willingly labor in their sphere to prepare the way for the work of the Melchizedek priesthood; Melchizedek priesthood holders should invite Aaronic priesthood holders to provide meaningful assistance in the work.
  • “Too often we try to entertain our young men and relegate them to a spectator role.”

David A. Bednar, of the quorum of apostles
  • Letters calling new full-time missionaries issue first the calling of full-time missionary, and then an assignment to a particular mission—and the distinction is important.
  • We are called not to serve in a particular mission, but rather to the work.
  • Those who are called to do the work of God, if they serve faithfully, cannot go amiss no matter where they serve—an assignment is necessary, but it is not a central part of the call.
  • Why bring this up in general conference? Because of the occasional negative feelings, including guilt and failure, that full-time missionaries sometimes feel when they are reassigned.
  • No member of this church should carry an unnecessary burden of anguish or guilt over an assignment from the Lord.
  • Priesthood and temple blessings precede the blessing of a mission call.
  • Personal worthiness is the single most important qualification for temple blessings.
  • To the young men [and if this hadn’t been delivered in priesthood session, i would expect the young women would have been included, too]: Each of you is a missionary now!

Thomas S. Monson, president of the high priesthood
  • We don’t honor the priesthood if we’re unkind to others
  • We must be kind, loving, and charitable.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday afternoon session

As with the rest of these entries, the first speaker of this session is at the bottom of this post with each following speaker entered progressively above the previous one; within each speaker’s entry, however, my comments run from the top down.

So now you can scroll to the bottom of the post and…

M. Russell Ballard, of the quorum of apostles
  • Success generally comes from knowing where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there; this is a difference between having a goal (the former) and a plan (the latter).
  • Goal-setting is beginning with the end in mind, and planning is devising a way to get to that end.
  • God’s goal is the eternal life and salvation of humanity, and God’s plan is the plan of salvation.
  • There are two central words to encapsulate the most important goals we can set: return and receive (that is, return to God, and receive the promised blessings).
  • It is occasionally worth asking yourself, “How am I doing?” It’s sort of like having a personal, private interview with yourself.
  • An admonition to take time during the coming weeks to review your own goals and plans to determine whether they are in line with God’s goals and plans.
  • We must keep the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center of our own goals and plans.
  • Yet another recommendation to review “The Living Christ”.
  • We often speak of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, but it must be read in the light of the content of “The Living Christ”.
  • The goals and plans of our Heavenly Parents are completely and utterly focused on helping each of us returning to them and receiving the blessings promised to us.

Neil L. Andersen, of the quorum of apostles
  • We are to overcome the world; overcoming the world is not one defining moment, but is the process of a lifetime that comes from praying, repenting, following the Savior, and receiving grace.
  • Overcoming the world means turning ourselves outward—helping our children love God, placing our spouse’s needs above ourselves, freely sharing of our substance with those in need, and letting ourselves be led to those in need of help.
  • Overcoming the world involves being unconcerned with the glories of the world.
  • Overcoming the world means that we can be secure that we will stand before our Savior at the judgment bar and be found worthy of inheriting the kingdom that has been prepared for us.
  • As we trust more in the Savior, we will have a greater assurance in this life, and in our eternal destinty.

Valeri V. Cordón, of the quorums of seventy
  • There are cases of language loss, where families and peoples lose the language of their ancestors due to migration or such—but there is also a more troubling loss of language that can occur when people or families lose the spiritual “language” of the gospel.
  • Language loss can occur when parents don’t make an effort to preserve the language with their children in the home—similarly, preserving the gospel in our families requires consistent effort and teaching.
  • It is not enough to teach our children about living the gospel, but rather they need to see us doing so ourselves.
  • Our Heavenly Father, as a loving parent, is patient with our mistakes, and [in a wonderful image that i do wish i could have caught the wording of perfectly] hears our mumblings as if they were poetry.

Gary B. Sabin, of the quorums of seventy
  • To have all forgiven, we must turn from all of our sins and obey all of the commandments—we must be “all in”.
  • As we continually repent, we gain strength as we become as a little child but now with the strength of life experience.
  • If we’re unable to walk forward as we are, maybe we need to make a U-turn, maybe we need to run, maybe we need to recalculate our route—whatever it is, we can make the changes needed to let us progress.
  • We know that things will work out for good in the end—this doesn’t mean it will always be easy, but we can have a certainty of hope no matter what.

Jeffrey R. Holland, of the quorum of apostles
  • [Cue the “Elder Holland’s about to speak!” memes…]
  • As a text, taking a line from “There Is Sunshine in My Soul” completely out of context: “Jesus, listening, can hear the songs [you] cannot sing.”
  • It is by divine design that all the voices in the divine choir are not the same.
  • “When we disparage our uniqueness…[insert a slap at expectations fueled by consumer culture here]…we lose the richness of tone and timbre that God intended.”
  • The loss of even one voice diminishes the whole, perhaps especially when those lost voices are on the margins of society or the margins of the church.
  • We cannot honorably fully sing our joy until the poor have been fully cared for—if we can more fully care for the poor, perhaps more could join in expressing joy with us, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
  • “Guns and slurs and vitriol are not the way to deal with human conflict.”
  • There is another, happier time that we cannot sing: When we experience those moments that are so deep and spiritual as to be beyond our ability to utter.
  • There is room for everyone who loves God and honors the commandments in the eternal choir, no matter our age, family status, sexual orientation, location, or anything.
  • Come as you are, God says, but don’t plan to stay as you are—we know that God intends to make us more than we otherwise could be.

Robert D. Hales, of the quorum of apostles
  • “Disciple” doesn’t simply mean “follower”—it’s an active, not a passive role.
  • “We measure our faith by what it leads us to do.”
  • Virtue is more than just sexual purity—it’s actually general cleanliness and power.
  • Brotherly kindness is a hallmark of all true disciples—like the Good Samaritan, we cross the road to minister to those who are in need even if they are not in their circle, we do good to even those who stand against us.
  • Discipleship is not constrained by age, gender, ethnicity, calling, or anything—everyone can be a disciple.
  • “We are all called to be disciples of our savior.”

Brooke P. Hales, secretary to the first presidency (statistical report)
  • [That was an incredibly short statistical report!]

Kevin R. Jergensen, of the church auditing department (annual report)
  • [Seriously, why do we waste valuable general conference time with this thing each year?]

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the first presidency (presentation of general authorities, general officers, and area seventies)
  • Seriously, y’all, if you want to vote opposed in a Mormon church sustaining session, raise your hand and don’t shout “Opposed!” (It’s “by the same sign”, after all.) Shouting in a Mormon religious service isn’t going to get the positive attention you want, it’s just going to annoy the people around you when you break basic social norms.
  • Reorganization of the relief society general presidency, and new counselors in the primary general presidency, with the new relief society presidency being Jean B. Bingham (president), Sharon Eubank (first counselor), and Reyna I. Aburto (second counselor), and the new primary counselors are Bonnie H. Cordon (formerly second counselor, now first counselor) and Christina B. Franco (second counselor).
  • The outgoing relief society general presidency, by the way, was totally cute when their release was announced.
  • Fun fact: The new relief society and primary second counselors are from Latin America. Also, Reyna I. Aburto studied industrial engineering.

Sorta-liveblogging general conference: Saturday morning session

So it’s general conference weekend, which means it’s time for this blog to receive what has become its twice-yearly flurry of posts. Welcome to anyone strolling by! To explain if you’re unfamiliar with these, i post my notes on general conference here in “liveblog” style. To briefly explain: The first speaker of this session is actually at the bottom of this post, the next speaker is above that, the next is above that, and so on to the last speaker (who appears at the top of the post). This means that once the whole conference weekend is past you would be able to scroll down to the bottom of this session’s post for the start of the conference, and then scroll up to read through the entire conference chronologically. However, under each speaker, the comments are done top-down chronologically (i.e., the opposite direction), because—and just trust me on this—the bottom-up thing really and truly doesn’t work within an individual speaker’s entry.

So, now is when you scroll to the bottom of the post to read each speaker in order, or you start reading normally to read the speakers in reverse order. Doesn’t matter to me, really.

Russell M. Nelson, president of the quorum of apostles
  • He recently did a deep study of Jesus Christ in the scriptures, and when his wife asked him how it had affected him, he said it had made him “a changed man”.
  • It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ with shortcut phrase like “the atonement” or “the X of the atonement”—that risks misdirecting faith by focusing on the event independent of God the Father and Jesus Christ.
  • It is the Savior who saves us, not an amorphous event called “the atonement”—the atonement is what the Savior did.
  • A suggestion to study 2000 statement “The Living Christ”.
  • When we truly desperately and intensely reach out for the power of Jesus Christ with full desire, we will receive it.

Mark A. Bragg, of the quorums of seventy
  • We are children of God, and are created to continually receive light from God.
  • The church will always have its critics, but we can’t allow such criticism to deflect us from seeking after more and more light.
  • Cool story about firefighters battling a fire at a stake center in Arizona (i think it was).
  • [This is one of those weird cases where i didn’t have a lot of notes, but felt that the speech was both well-delivered and contentful—and that’s even with his continual references to “a darkening world”, which is the sort of thing that usually bothers me. He handled it incredibly well, though, and struck a most excellent rhetorical balance—certainly worth a listen/read.]
  • [Also, i just learned he actually has an IMDB entry!☺]
Ulisses Soares, of the presidency of seventy
  • [People who don’t use gratuitous initials in their names, represent!]
  • Jesus overcame the world, and in so doing holds out salvation to all—and through him, we will overcome the world.
  • As we contemplate the strength we receive from the Savior, we have reason to rejoice.
  • If we are not rooted by a steadfast faith in God, we can lose hope, and thus lose our desire to progress in the gospel.
  • Remember that God listens to us in our moments of desperation and doubt.
Dale G. Renlund, of the quorum of apostles
  • If God can’t look at sin with the least degree of allowance, then how can he look at us sinners without recoiling in horror? It’s because God sees our imperfections as illnesses to be treated, not as our permanent state.
  • Jesus surely didn’t condone the actions of the woman taken in adultery, but he didn’t condemn her either—and the scriptural record shows how that led to her spiritual healing, saying that “the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name” [which comes from the Inspired Version].
  • Our job is to “replace fear and despair with hope and joy”.
  • Jesus rebuked those who believed that they were less sinful than others. [And then he quotes the parable of the Pharisee and the publican—my favorite parable!]
  • We must not be guilty of persecuting anyone, whether those people are inside or outside the church.
  • Our church’s history has many instances of our members being treated with disrespect and persecution—it would be horrible for us to be similarly disrespectful to others.
  • We, as disciples of Christ, need to treat those around us such that none feel abandoned, alone, or hopeless.
  • [Really, this was an excellent reconciliation between not tolerating sin and being unconditionally loving and merciful. And i’m not saying that Mormons need to hear this kind of message because we’re quite often bad at it, but Mormons need to hear this kind of message because we’re quite often bad at it.]
“Glory to God on High”, congregational hymn
  • What’s with no longer putting the words to the song on the screen? Is the assumption that everyone has their phones or tablets close at hand while watching general conference?
  • Also, i will state right now that this organ arrangement—which i’ve heard before—annoys me. I like extra-fancy organ arrangements, but this one seems like there’s ornamentation for the sake of ornamentation, not to add to the setting.
Weatherford T. Clayton, of the quorums of seventy
  • In order for Christ to rise from the tomb, he first had to die—and so must we.
  • “Even in our moments of deepest grief…we can find comfort in our Savior, because he suffered as well.”
  • There is more to our existence than merely what happens between birth and death.
  • We receive eternal life by choosing it.
M. Joseph Brough, of the young men general presidency
  • God’s commandments help counter the idea that wickedness might be happiness.
  • We are given daily opportunities to “lead, guide, and walk beside” those in need.
  • To “lead, guide, and walk beside” youth we have to be with them, connect them with heaven, and let them lead.
  • Letting youth lead is harder and takes more time than just doing it ourselves, but it is necessary, and we will be with them to help them succeed if they stumble.
Henry B. Eyring, of the first presidency
  • We are all literally children of a Heavenly Father, making brother and sister not just friendly greetings, but literal truths.
  • Even those who know nothing of the plan of God feel that kinship with God, and that leads them to know right from wrong.
  • Only a very small minority of God’s children have the gospel and its ordinances available in this life—and this is why the priesthood power to seal families eternally was restored.
  • The desire to seek out the histories of our families is more than just an effect of interest in shared DNA—it’s part of the plan of God.
  • Just loving our ancestors isn’t enough—we must also perform the necessary ordinances on their behalf so that they can progress.
Kim B. Clark, of the quorums of seventy (opening prayer)
  • That may be the shortest invocation i’ve ever heard at a general conference. I feel like a lot of the general conference prayers the last few years have been on the shorter side, though—maybe a trend? One can dare hope…