Highlights from General Conference, April 2008

I thought I would take a moment and express what I consider to be some of the highlights of General Conference. I encourage others to leave a comment and do the same.

Of course, the major highlight is President Thomas S. Monson.

I have to confess that, in the past, President Monson has not been my favorite speaker or writer. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always really respected him, but there was just something that wasn’t my style I guess. Plus I just really loved President Hinckley and it was just weird to think of President Monson as the prophet. (Although, when I was a little boy I loved President Monson; he was the only one I could understand. Much better than that other man in the First Presidency –the stern weird-looking old man with the funny face, white hair and glasses. :) )

But this General Conference I began to see a new President Monson. I had been praying that I would see him as the prophet of God, and while I didn’t have any earth-shattering experience in this regard, I can honestly say that I sensed, as others have mentioned, the prophetic mantle fall upon him. I especially felt this way during his priesthood session talk, as well as his closing remarks Sunday afternoon. I’m glad that he got a little more personal — he’s always been very personal in the sense that he tells stories, but his demeanor and speaking style was more personal this conference, I felt.

Particular President Monson highlights that were important to me (quotes may not be verbatim):

  • “We should never permit ourselves to do anything that we would not want our children to do” (priesthood).
  • Leaders with the most influence are those who set hearts on fire and transform ordinary routines into something extraordinary — or something like that (priesthood).
  • When President Monson wiggled his ears! (priesthood)
  • “The sweetest experience of all this life is to feel God’s promptings” (Sun morning).
  • The personal touch to President Monson’s closing remarks, where he talked about his wife and family.
  • His asking Church members to pray for him, as he prays for us.

Highlight number 2: Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

I was very impressed with both of President Uchtdorf’s talks, but especially the Sunday morning address, where he talked about the diversity of faith among our fathers. This talk was, in my opinion, the masterpiece of the conference. As Uchtdorf gave this address, I felt that he is truly a special servant of the Lord who will make an enormous difference in helping to convince the nations of the world of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Elder D. Todd Christofferson.

I was very impressed with Elder Christofferson’s talk about being born again. He’s a very thoughtful and considerate speaker — he reminds me of Bruce C. Hafen. (As a side note, I’m pretty sure that his son is in one of the classes I teach at BYU.)

4. Excellent talks by Elders Wirthlin, Oaks, Scott, Eyring, Holland, and Bednar.

Not to say that other talks were not excellent, but just that these ones were particularly meaningful to me.

Elder Wirthlin has long been one of my favorite speakers, and his talk on needing more compassion for those who are different from us is a much needed message. Same goes for his message on how the Church is for imperfect people.

Elder Oaks always gives thoughtful discourses. No reason to be surprised this time. Speaking of testimony, Oaks said that it is our duty to speak out and clarify our doctrines, always in meekness and love. I thought that Oaks’ take on two different channels from God is interesting. The first channel is through leaders and the second is through personal testimony. The first channel is primarily one of obedience, while the second channel is where knowledge occurs, in terms of God’s existence and our relationship to Him and to Jesus Christ, as well as our knowledge of the truth of the restored gospel.

Elder Scott had a nice take for the age-old question of “why bad things happen to good people.” Scott focused on sexual abuse, and spoke to both perpetrators and victims. Very thoughtfully done. This talk will remain on the shelf for some time.

More than any other speaker, I find myself searching my soul the most during President Eyring’s talks. I typically find myself reading his talks over and over again because they are always so applicable to my daily actions in regard to my relationship with God. His priesthood talk from this session will be at the top of my reading (and re-reading) list. I especially liked how he read a lengthy passage from Parley P. Pratt (my great-great-great grandfather) about eternal marriage. This passage is very dear to me.

I’ve appreciated Elder Holland’s last two talks, in which he has spoken pretty directly to our Christian friends who do not consider Latter-day Saints to be Christian. Last time, he spoke about the LDS notion of the Godhood; this time, the LDS doctrine of continual revelation. His talk this time was pretty standard to me, but I just love hearing Elder Holland speak. He’s not afraid to be loud and bold, and yet he comes across in a way that is not dogmatic or overbearing. In this address, Holland said that all authority is given to Christ, not books of scripture (like the Bible). Thus, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge and authority. Rather, the Living Christ is. Amen to that.

Elder Bednar has consistently spoken out against empty forms of worship. How grateful I am that someone is tackling these problems head on! This time, he spoke about the need to ask in faith in meaningful prayer — that prayer is about pleading and performing. Bednar counseled us to not pray about things we are not willing to do all we can for. We should stop praying for the missionaries to find people to teach, for example, and start praying for ourselves to do so, with an intention to act. “If we prayed to act, not just to express, the gospel would go forward in remarkable ways!” I certainly feel a need to do better in this regard. Bednar also spoke out specifically against “checklist prayers.” Let us all resolve to stop “saying prayers” and to start truly approaching God in prayer. I am very imperfect in this regard, but I find myself praying most meaningfully when I approach God with an intention to truly commune with Him and to learn of Him, rather than to spout of a list of thank-thees and bless-mes. I often find my prayers to be most meaningful when I ask something like, “What will you have me know right now? … What should I do today? … How can I help out my wife today?” When I do this sincerely, and then I wait for answers to come, the Lord always answers me. Unfortunately, I often do not pray this way. It’s not something we can simply muster up our self-discipline to do. We have to truly want to commune with God — there’s no other way around it.

One more thing on this subject: I hate the term “say your prayers” (or any variety of this phrase that includes “say or “saying”). This term implies that we have set prayers that we say, rather than that prayer is a conversation. Would anyone say, “I’m going to say my phone call to my Mother?” OK, enough of a soapbox.

5. A string of Seventy talks in the Sunday afternoon session.

I was impressed with the talks given by Elders Zwick, Steuer, Neuenschwander, and Wickman. All were touching and masterful discourses that I intend to review closely.

6. Naps.

I have mild narcolepsy, so I occasionally conk out, even at times when I don’t want to. I’ve heard good things about Sister Lant’s talk, but unfortunately I conked out during it. I dozed off right before Elder Lund’s talk in the priesthood session and woke up right before the end. It sounded really good; too bad I missed it. Also dozed off during Dean Burgess’ (YM 1st counselor) talk in priesthood.

7. The Bizarre.

One talk struck me as very bizarre and I’m VERY tempted to say more about this, but I’ve decided not to. I’ll leave you guessing. (I am considering, however, writing this individual a letter; this is a much better course, in my opinion, than griping about a Church leader in a public forum.)

One other thing I can’t help but comment on. I occasionally check out the Times and Seasons blog, and I was surprised to notice that a number of people essentially sit around and comment on General Conference as it happens — essentially a play-by-play, often of a trivial nature. (I noticed this between sessions.)

I find this to be extremely bizarre, especially considering that most of these individuals appear to consider themselves to be “good Church members.” Now, I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do, I’m simply expressing my opinion (and that’s all it is) that some of these folks need to get away from the Internet now and then. (Internet addiction is a growing problem that many in the “bloggernacle” might want to do a self-evaluation about.) But Internet addiction or not, is it possible that the ongoing commentary on General Conference serves as a “boundless chatter” (to use Heidegger’s term) that covers up one’s taking it seriously and paying close attention? Does it turn General Conference into a political event, rather than an opportunity for communion with God? Would it not be more insightful and meaningful to have people share their thoughts AFTER conference sessions? Just a thought.

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5 Responses

  1. I forgot to mention Elder Ballard’s talk. The best talk of the conference regarding spousal and children relations.

    Also, it appears that Times and Seasons is not alone on the whole General Conference play-by-play thing. Apparently, By Common Consent does the same thing. All the more reason for me to not consider myself part of the mind-numbing “Bloggernacle.”

  2. I wanted to add a couple things of my own. First, I was particularly touched when President Monson pledged his life to the gospel. It should surprise none of us that he has made such a pledge, given his many years of service in the church and the countless stories of his service, but to hear him make it during conference really impressed me.

    I also noticed a theme that seemed to pervade both the prayers and many of the talks: “lift up the hands which hang down.” I’m glad that we talk about this more and more.

    Finally, I thought the solemn assembly was really inspiring. To see the brethren stand and sustain each other is something we might see on occasion, but not in the manner it was done on Saturday. I hope they continue that tradition with future solemn assemblies.

  3. Sister Lant’s talk was very good. I saw it as a plea for us all to look at our traditions and the traditions of our fathers with a critical eye. Some of these traditions that seem harmless could distract from the Spirit. This could apply to everything from watching sports on Sunday to a naive belief in scientific ‘truth’.

  4. Dennis, Elder Christofferson’s son probably is in your class. He’s a friend of mine and a psych major here.

    I also appreciated Elder Wirthlin’s talk–a much-needed message about accepting difference.

    And I’m very curious as to which talk you found bizarre. I’ll have to look back over them…

  5. Interested in that you mentioned narcolepsy. I have it as well and I have been looking to find some other people with the condition to talk to. I also joined the church this past November and have been having problems aclimating due to most people locally not understanding what I am going through as I was diagnosed about 2 weeks later.

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