I always feel spiritually rejuvenated after General Conference, and this conference was no exception. Here are some of the dominant themes and highlights I noticed, along with some of my own thoughts:
1. Fresh ways of looking at the “fundamentals”
I sometimes grow tired of the way the “fundamentals” in the Church are sometimes talked about by church members: “the Sunday School answers; you gotta read, pray, and go to church; you gotta make good habits; etc.” It’s not that I disagree with the importance of the “fundamentals,” it’s that I think they are too often talked about in shallow ways.
This conference, however, had several excellent talks that can aid members in the way they think and talk about the “fundamentals” of consistent scripture study, prayer, family home evening, and worship.
Sister Vicki Matsumori talked about making homes and chapels a place where it is easiest to feel the Spirit. Consistency in gospel fundamentals is much more than habits that we need to obey; it is a way of life and a way to “build” one’s home to the Lord.
Elder Bednar talked about how consistency of intent and work in these worshipful activities is perhaps the most important thing for our families. Like brush strokes on a canvas, a grand picture emerges in the pattern, not in the singular, and sometimes seemingly futile, actions. (Also, props to Elder Bednar, once again, for exposing common hypocrisies in the church: expressing love and bearing testimony to your loved ones publicly in church but not privately at home.)
Finally, Elder Dale G. Renlund gave a simply amazing talk in which he likened a heart transplant to a (spiritual) “mighty change of heart.” Just as transplant recipients need to consistently take medications and adhere to certain protocols in order to prevent their body’s natural rejection of the new heart, so do we need to consistently and diligently, not casually, adhere to seemingly small actions.
2. Openness to receiving direction from God
Several authorities spoke of the importance of being sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and open to God’s direction.
Elder Scott spoke wisely about how there is no easy formula for receiving revelation. God wants us to use our own agency to sometimes struggle for direction. He also spoke about the importance of responding to, and applying, the first promptings that come to you–and in doing so, greater direction may be in store.
A string of Saturday afternoon talks address similar themes. Elder Hales warned against being dominated by cynicism and criticism when seeking direction from God. Elder Andersen warned against “pulling the shades down” and resisting direction from God–still praying, but listening less. And President Packer spoke of the lesson he learned from his young son’s prayer for their terminally ill cow: we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of God’s healing grace, even when the chances may seem slim.
On a similar note, Elder Michael T. Ringwood said that an easiness and willingness to believe comes from a softness of heart–a heart that can feel the Spirit and the power of the Atonement of Christ. We should look back at times when it was easier for us to believe and ask why. Similar to the talks about the fundamentals, Ringwood said that the daily living of the gospel yields a softened heart.
3. Love of God and neighbor
The two great commandments, happily, were dominant themes of the conference. I particularly appreciated President Uchtdorf’s talk. Without being rooted in the two great commandments, we run the risk of getting lost in the realm of “good ideas”–of complicating revealed truth with “man-made addenda.” I’ve found this to be true in my life. Once when I was grappling with certain questions pertaining to the church, I concluded–with great conviction–that what was most important for me was to love God and my neighbor. These commands superseded all other concerns and they deserved my grappling attention.
Other talks pertaining to love (and service): Elder Oaks on the relationship between law and love, Elder Eyring on teaching the two great commandments through example in our families, Elder Cook on stewardship for the poor and needy, and President Monson on service.
I was quite touched by President Monson’s talk, especially the stories of service. It shouldn’t take the emotion of the prophet’s birthday wish to prompt us “to go and do something today.” But I’m happy to see all the good that came of it, and hopefully the occasion can help more of us to more naturally serve as a regular part of our lives (I’m thinking of myself especially). I resonated with President Monson’s observation that we often live side by side, but not “communicating heart to heart”–we are too caught up in the business of our lives, too much “in the thick of thin things.” How can we do better to “communicate heart to heart”–to tear down the buffered walls of liberal individualism that keep us from relating to and serving one another? (my question)
4. Case studies in the church’s worldwide growth
In the priesthood session, Elder Yoon Hwan Choi spoke of his ward’s missionary efforts in South Korea. It was touching to see the amazing fruits of their efforts in reaching out to some hoodlum adolescents.
It was nice to see the first black African general authority of the Church speak in General Conference. I appreciated hearing Elder Joseph W. Sitati, from Kenya, speak about the growth of the church in Africa (which, from what I understand, the church intentionally curtails because they don’t want the branches to outgrow the roots). It was especially interesting to hear about how the church gives African saints a new way to hold onto their family traditions, minus arguably harmful and oppressive traditions (e.g., dowries). (Plus there was an interesting undercurrent of a “global church” but the problems of secular globalization.)
5. Elder Holland’s powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon
Without question, Elder Holland’s talk was the highlight of the conference (judging from my Facebook status updates, anyway). I won’t attempt to summarize what he said, but it was very powerful to me. I truly did believe what he saying as he was saying it. I also liked how he debunked all of the “frankly pathetic” alternative accounts of the Book of Mormon’s origins. From my reading of church history, Elder Holland is right on here. There is not a single compelling story about the book’s origins that is not a grasping for straws–that is not pure conjecture that is completely at odds with the facts–other than the account Joseph Smith gave. (Richard Bushman makes this argument in Rough Stone Rolling.)
It’s fascinating that with all the attempts to drag the church down, the Book of Mormon continues to stand virtually untarnished. When I read the Book of Mormon, I feel the hand of God in my life. I can’t read a chapter like Alma 26, for example, without thinking that the Book of Mormon is, without a doubt, what it purports to be. I hope and pray that Elder Holland’s talk strengthens many testimonies, including my own, in the Book of Mormon–and that it stirs others to finally crack open the book and read the actual words.
Filed under: Mormon Doctrine, Scripture Tagged: | Africa, Atonement of Jesus Christ, Book of Mormon, Boyd K. Packer, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, conversion, Dale G. Renlund, Dallin H. Oaks, David A. Bednar, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Gospel of Jesus Christ, heart transplant, Henry B. Eyring, Holy Ghost, Jeffrey R. Holland, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, Joseph W. Sitati, LDS, LDS Church, Michael T. Ringwood, mighty change of heart, Mormon Church, Mormons, Neil L. Andersen, Richard G. Scott, Richard L. Bushman, Robert D. Hales, Rough Stone Rollling, South Korea, testimony, Thomas S. Monson, Two Great Commandments, Vicki Matsumori, Yoon Hwan Choi