Highlights from General Conference, April 2009

We had another great General Conference! Some of the dominant themes were faith and endurance amidst trials, temple worship, and unselfish service. Here are some highlights, with some of my own thoughts (and at least one soap box.)

Saturday Morning:

  • Elder Hales gave excellent advice about budgeting. We need to say more often, either “We can’t afford it, even though we want it,” or “We can afford it, but we really don’t need it.” I liked the example he gave about wanting to give his wife a nice coat for their anniversary but she didn’t like the idea. “Where would I wear it?” she asked, concerned for what it would mean to some poorer sisters in the ward. I think that there might be some good that comes from the recent economic crisis, in that it may shake us out of our sense of entitlement and our feeling like we need everything under the sun.
  • Elder Eyring spoke about handling adversity. “We must be transformed through making righteous choices where that is hard to do.”

Saturday Afternoon:

  • Elder Ballard talked about learning from the past mistakes of others, particularly the pride that comes from forgetting God. “Some of life’s most meaningful teachings come from those who have gone before you,” he said. I like this approach because I think that one of the major reasons for the recent economic crisis is because we as a people are disconnected from the wisdom of those who have gone before. We don’t want to listen to our parents and grandparents who would tell us that money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • Elder Cook gave a very interesting talk. I don’t remember now everything he talked about, but I appreciated his remarks on the Latter-day Saint view of salvation and how it compares with the other Christian notions of the day in which the majority of the world would be consigned to eternal hell-fire. I wonder how much we as a church do not emphasize enough the near-universal salvation in our theology. I think we too often see anything but the Celestial Kingdom as hell, which is not scriptural and I think is rooted perhaps in an unrighteous desire to continue to have a heaven/hell dichotomy. Although we should definitely strive at eternal life in the Celestial Kingdom, let us not let this keep us from rejoicing at the power and mercy of Jesus Christ, who redeems all the work of His hands! This is good news!
  • Elder Scott gave a nice talk on temple worship. He counseled us to understand the doctrine related to temple ordinances, especially the Atonement of Jesus Christ, our relationship to Christ, and Christ’s relationship to the Father. I like what he said about removing your watch in the temple. I’ve been thinking lately about how the temple is a sacred space that operates by “higher time,” so to speak. When we worship in the temple, we transcend this world and enter into a higher realm. In doing so, we leave behind trivial cares of the world.

Priesthood Session

  • I was struck by Bishop Edgley’s talk. He talked about the need for quorums, especially in the months and years ahead, to do more in terms of helping unemployed members. He said that probably every quorum in the Church, regardless of professional experience, likely has the experience, skills, and insights that are necessary in this regard. (I was reminded that I should tell my bishop about my resume writing skills.)
  • President Uchtdorf joked about how he was looking for a story to tell, and he thought of farming stories, stories about animals, nuclear physics stories (in honor of Elder Scott), and pigeon stories (in honor of President Hinckley), but the story he ended up with is — you guessed it — aviation. He talked about an airplane that crashed at night in the Florida Everglades as a result of the pilots’ preoccupation with a warning light that didn’t turn on — when the only problem, it turned out, was that the bulb was burned out. He used this story to warn us against distractions, counseling us to be more like Nehemiah: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down [to engage in petty matters].” What could be accomplished if we were all like Nehemiah? President Uchtdorf asked. I’ve thought about this lately in terms of the Internet. Lately I have spent much less time on the Internet and I am very grateful. I am worried about many of my friends. Internet addiction is a real problem, people! Perhaps some people even reading this post should be doing more important things. If this is you, then stop reading now. Get on with your life. Do you really need to check your email as many times as you do? Do you really need to update your Facebook status 12 times a day? Surely there are better things to do! Is it possible that Internet distractions keep the still, small voice from penetrating into our hearts? (I really don’t mean to offend here — but this is something that I personally have struggled with, and am recuperating from, and I hate to see others get sucked into mindless Internet addiction. Soap box over.)

Sunday Morning:

  • I just really like President Uchtdorf’s talks. I especially like when he moves from a quiet to a really loud voice, especially considering his accent. In this talk he spoke of the problem with “spectator discipleship.” It’s one thing to know the gospel in theory, it’s quite another to practice it. An important reminder for people like me.
  • I don’t remember much from the talk of newly-called apostle Elder Neil Andersen. I will say though that I like Elder Andersen a lot. I appreciated it when he visited my mission several years ago, and I also really liked the devotional he gave at BYU a few years back. He spoke of the problems with liberal individualism (a problem that many Church members buy into).
  • Elder Holland gave a wonderful talk on the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. I won’t do it justice with any commentary.
  • President Monson counseled not to focus on the problems of the world, but on the blessings of the gospel. He reminded us of past Saints who have faced tremendous challenges and who have prevailed in Christ. As usual, nice stories. The closing hymn of this session was fitting: “When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us and threaten our peace to destroy, there is hope smiling brightly before us and we know that deliverance is nigh.”

Sunday Afternoon

  • What an awesome talk by Elder Oaks! He spoke of selfless service, especially through temple service and raising children. He spoke of temple work having no other motive than love and service for our fellow men, both living and dead. He also said that the gap between those who are willing to have children and those who are not is widening. I think this is very scary, for reasons beyond the need for spirits to come to earth. When married people are able but not willing to have children, they voluntarily cut themselves off from the “circle of life,” so to speak. By being disconnected in this way, people lose the lessons of the past (hearkening back to Elder Hales’ and Elder Ballard’s talks). Elder Oaks said further that we cannot walk, talk, or do as other men, in terms of “every trendy action.” (Perhaps this is an interesting way to talk about our not drinking coffee.) He castigated the “me generation”–our generation with its sense of entitlement, its consumerism, its “something for nothing” mentality. Finally, he talked about our need to have more selfless attitudes in regard to our church attendance. We should stop thinking about what “I” should get out of Church, and to think rather in terms of how we can serve.
  • I really like Elder Bednar’s talks, and this talk on temple worship was no exception. Bednar says that we take upon ourselves the name of Christ in a more full and complete way when we make covenants in the temple. There is a difference between those members who faithfully and consistently worship in the temple, versus those who do not or those who go haphazardly and hurriedly.
  • Elder Gary E. Stevenson’s talk went along nicely with Elder Bednar’s. He spoke of the “righteous unity between the temple and the home.”
  • President Monson closed the conference with a warning against adversity (especially through the Internet and pornography) and requested that we remember him and all the general authorities in our prayers.
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11 Responses

  1. The stories about suffering or dying children seemed to reach a new peak this year. I felt genuine heartache and anguish for Elder Scott as he recounted his own personal tragedies, but I began to feel a real sense of frustration with President Monson’s approach – the feeling of deliberate, prolonged emotional manipulation was simply too much. He killed off what, five kids in his talk (in a slow and deliberate manner)? I eventually had to mute him for several minutes for the sake of my poor wife, who was seething in anger underneath all her tears.

    Just to be clear, I love President Monson dearly and have many fond remembrances of him. I have issues with his stories sometimes.

    I noticed a real push toward increased temple attendance as one of the major themes of this conference, along with a lot of indirect references to Prop 8 and its aftermath and a certain premium-cable series. I chuckled a bit inside when one of the speakers (I forget who it was – I’ll check the transcripts on Thursday) said what could be construed as a counter-response to Sean Penn’s Oscar speech when he called for shame upon those who voted in favor of Prop 8.

    I also loved the way the Church audit fellow (Brook Hales) rebounded from President Uchtdorf’s gaffe. Those poor auditors don’t get any respect.

  2. Bryan,

    I want to be sensitive to you and your wife’s feelings regarding President Monson’s stories — but don’t you think it’s a little presumptuous to say that he was being deliberately manipulative?

  3. Well, maybe if we understood their purposes it would help.

    Elder Scott didn’t share those things so people would feel heartache and sorrow for him. He shared them as a way to teach. He shared them because we have something to learn from his experience.

    I think that’s why it was so important to him that we prayed that he wouldn’t get overly emotional. He didn’t want to make it about him and his pain. He wanted to make it about Jesus Christ and not distract from that. And by his and our faith he was strengthened to do that.

    President Monson also shares stories for that purpose. He is teaching us. There is something for us to learn in it. He is teaching us in the same manner the Savior did- through stories and parallels we can relate to our own experience.

    It is my sincere belief that he wasn’t trying to create an emotional experience for us. He was simply teaching a gospel principle in a way that would not be forgotten or misunderstood.

    He was purposeful and he was honest. The prophet of God did not have a hidden agenda. That’s not the Lord’s way.

  4. I’m trying to understand why it would be funny that someone taught something that answered an accusation or responded to the current situation many of us find ourselves in.

    He was just teaching truth. He was just teaching us what we need to understand.

  5. Yes.

    I believe he could have told the same story in such a way as to not purposely wring prolonged tears from his audience, but that he chose not to do so.

    I’m comfortable letting this matter rest, as I don’t want to make it into such a big deal. Otherwise, let’s wait until Thursday when the text of his talk is available before parsing his words in detail.

  6. I was simply saying that if he was referring to Penn’s speech, I got the reference. It was a silent, knowing chuckle, the kind you make when you’re one of the few people in a group to “get” an inside joke. It was obviously not a joke he was making at the time.

  7. I understood Elder Scott’s intent completely.

    However, I also like to look at the General Authorities as people, not simply teachers of doctrine. It was while I listened to Elder Scott’s talk that I realized he’s among the most private of any of the Twelve or the First Presidency. The Church knows extremely little about his life, simply because he doesn’t talk about it very much. The sudden disclosure, combined with the undercurrent of raw emotion, was startling to me. It opened my eyes to Elder Scott as a human being, and helped me understand the justification behind much of the previous counsel he’s given in conference talks and CES firesides. His words of wisdom are not only good and inspired ideas, but often stem from direct personal experience.

    I’m not liking the tone with which my initial comments are being addressed. I regret having commented in the first place, as it seems to have led some people to form conclusions about my character, spiritual understanding, and testimony that are quite far from the truth.

  8. Bryan,

    I’m sorry you feel judged. As for me (assuming that “some people” must include me considering only one other person has commented), this certainly wasn’t intended. In fact, I don’t think the question I asked you would have been relevant if I didn’t assume positive things about your character, etc. I assumed you wouldn’t want to be presumptuous in making this kind of comment about the Prophet, and simply asked an honest question.

  9. Bryan,

    I’m sorry. I wasn’t saying anything about you. I don’t even know you. I assume, like the rest of us, you’re just a good guy doing the best you can in life and sharing some of your thoughts with us.

    I was just looking at what you had written and was thinking about it as its own issue.

    I certainly would never want to do anything that would discourage someone from sharing their thoughts. I’m very glad you did. I hope you will keep doing it.

    Please tell me a better way I could have shared my own thoughts in a different tone. I will totally do it better next time.

    Thanks!

    Erin

  10. I am glad to hear that leaders of the LDS church talk more about our savior Jesus Christ and less about the JS. I hope that becomes the emphasis of all teachings.

    I did not listen to conference but appreciate Dennis’ summary. As for me I spent my weekend preparing for palm Sunday.

    God is great.

  11. Why woul anyone be “seething in anger” at children going to the Celestial kingdom? Why would anyone be “seething in anger” about any thing said said by the profit; unless you were angry at God or you didn’t believe the profit is a true profit. That may be a completly different issue you need to address.

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