I thought I’d take a minute and discuss what I consider to be the highlights of this weekend’s semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
1. President Monson’s announcement of 5 new temples was exciting, especially considering the locations of three of them: Rome, Philadelphia, and the greater Kansas City area. Each of these temple sites connects in a meaningful way with the Restored Gospel. In Rome, the symbol of the Restored Gospel will be built amid the architecture of the Roman Empire; this great city has seen the onset of the Great Apostasy and the creation of the Roman Catholic Church. A temple in Philadelphia (exciting for me because I served my mission there) richly symbolizes the relationship between the birth of the United States and the birth of the Restoration. And a temple in the greater Kansas City area marks an important return to the Independence Missouri area, where persecution and sin kept the early Saints from building on their three dedicated temple sites (Independence, Far West, and Adam-Ondi-Ahman). Not to mention the important events that are to occur in this area prior to the Second Coming.
2. I appreciated Elder Perry’s talk about living a simplified lifestyle, in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau’s retreat from the world to live a simplified life in the woods. Perry’s talk caused me to reflect on how we live such busy and complicated lives that we fail to live in the here and now, connected with all that is around us. We fail to see that there are “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” (Shakespeare, As You Like It). After hearing this talk, I reflected on Wendell Berry’s words: “If you want to see where you are, you will have to get out of your spaceship, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground. On foot you will find that the earth is satisfyingly large and full of beguiling nooks and crannies” (“Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse”). (See my post on why more of us should walk to Church.)
3. Elder Oaks’ talk was a conscience-pricker. He counseled members to be at sacrament meeting well before the meeting begins and to avoid conversing with others or transmitting messages. The Brethren have said this time and time again, however, and it seems to fall on deaf ears. Imagine how much better of a people we would be if our hearts were such that we actually followed Elder Oaks’ counsel!
4. Elder Uchtdorf gave a masterful and heart-warming talk about “the infinite power of hope.” I especially liked the way he connected hope with faith and charity. The things we hope for — beyond the horizon of mortality — requires faith. And the things we hope in — which sustain us in our daily walk — requires charity.
I thought this entire session was wonderful. I’ll focus on just a few talks, but I was moved by all of them.
1. I was intrigued by Elder Gerald Klause’s talk, and not just because of the French accent. We need more talks like this. I don’t think we truly contemplate enough, in regards to our intellectual endeavors, the significance of the things which are kept from the wise and prudent and are revealed unto babes. I also appreciated Klause’s remarks about teaching. Good teaching is not communicating a bunch of facts; the mark of a good lesson is “the conversion of hearts,” and the motivation of students to put into practice what they have learned.
2. Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge’s talk was another message that we need to hear more of. “Life is hard, the gospel is easy.” Isn’t it interesting that so many of us have itching ears towards false scriptures (“I never said it would be easy. I only said it would be worth it”) and away from the peaceable words of life (“My yoke is easy and my burden is light”)?
3. Wow! Elder Christofferson’s talk on building Zion was simply wonderful. Another talk that we need to hear more often. Zion will only come about as we become one in heart and mind, as we live righteously, and as there are no poor among us. I especially liked how Christofferson stressed this in regards to the poor. We won’t suddenly have a time when there is no poor among us; this will require our concerted action. In this regard, Christofferson asked, “Are we doing what we should, or all that we should?” His story of the man who cut his table in half to give to another was particularly touching.
4. Elder Bednar’s talk about meaningful prayer, like his talk in the last conference, is one to review often. Our prayers become more meaningful when our morning and evening prayers are linked together (rather than unrelated, discrete events), when we express heartfelt gratitude (sometimes doing nothing but this), and when we sincerely pray for others (friends and enemies). I had a distinct impression about how wonderful a world we would live in if everyone prayed in this way. As for myself, my most meaningful prayers are often related to the three things Bednar discussed.
OK, so I was pretty much out cold for about half the priesthood session. I don’t know why they have to turn all the lights out! I don’t stand a chance! Fortunately, I was able to hear (but not take notes about) a few good talks.
1. Elder Uchtdorf’s talk about “lifting where you stand” was a great message for me. Rather than striving for “important” callings or shirking from our duties, the Lord wants us to do nothing more or less than “lift where we stand.”
2. Elder Eyring gave a really good talk about our priesthood callings and how they stretch us, but I can’t remember the details right now.
1. Elder Eyring’s and Elder Hales’ talks on unity and meekness were both important messages for me. I’ll just say a few words about Hales’ talk. Hales said that when we respond to our accusers like Christ did His, “we become more like Him and invite others to feel His love.” This takes strength and courage (not weakness). True disciples see opportunities in the midst of opposition; “seasons of negative publicity about the Church can be an opportunity for members to present the truth.”
2. I appreciated Elaine S. Dalton’s talk about “a return to virtue.” I thought it was interesting that both she and Elder Hales discussed the story of Lehonti and how he was “poisoned by degrees.” Dalton made an implicit reference to Alexander Pope’s “We first endure, then pity, then embrace” (An Essay on Man). (I do worry sometimes, though, that some members erroneously interpret these kinds of statements as an invitation for uncharitable intolerance and for failing to associate with people who struggle in sin.)
3. President Monson gave another one of his Monson-esque talks on living in the here and now. I rarely grow tired of these talks. I loved how Monson said that “what is most important almost always concerns those around us.” He stressed, as did Elder Scott in Priesthood session, to express and show love to others today. Monson counseled further, “Never let a problem to be solved be more important than a person to be loved.” I ended this session with a particularly noble feeling of gratitude and humility. As the choir sang Parley P. Pratt’s words, “The dawning of a brighter day majestic rises on the world,” I had a prayer in my heart for a brighter day in regards to my own life and the lives of those around me.
I was getting weary during this session. A few things that stuck out to me:
1. Sunday School second counselor William D. Oswald gave a wonderful talk on gospel teaching. He pointed to the way that Moroni taught Joseph Smith, and counseled us to follow this pattern in our teaching. First, we should show love to those we teach and call them by name. I’ve tried to make this a practice in my own teaching (gospel and academic), and I think it makes a world of a difference. I think that many (otherwise) good teachers don’t realize how important this is. Second, we should teach from the scriptures. Amen again! How much better our Sunday School lessons would be if teachers prepared students for immersion in the scriptures — not to simply read from them (we can do that on our own at home), but to find connections and discuss the scriptures together. Third, we should encourage the pondering and application of gospel truths. This requires, I assume, doing more than saying “read your scriptures, say your prayers, and go to church,” or providing students with history logs or trivial information. (OK, I’ve now filled my quota of one soapbox per blog post.)
2. Like many others, Elder Cook spoke of enduring through trials. Without question, this was the dominant theme of the conference. I like how Elder Cook said that when we suffer, it is important to realize that others suffer too. Doing this, I think, makes our suffering much more meaningful and connected to the human family and our common plight of living in the lone and dreary world. This, I think, is one important reason for attending the temple often, as Cook counseled. When we attend the temple, we worship with others, many of whom are struggling with something, and we pray over the names of even more who are in particular need.
3. President Monson ended the conference by reminding us that “eternal life in the presence of God is our most precious goal.” He concluded with Christ’s imploring statement, “I stand at the door and knock.” We need to listen for His voice, Monson said, and “live so that He may knock on the door,” and then “let us open the door.”
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