Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Conference observations

Interior of the 21,000-seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City.
I found this picture online a long time ago, so if you know its source,
please let me know!
These are just some general thoughts I had while watching General Conference this past weekend.  They're as random as they can be and it won't surprise me if I add more later.  For those of you not familiar with General Conference, it's a series of meetings held every 6 months in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where the various church leaders address the church membership as a whole.  It is structured into 5 sessions of 2 hours each (3 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday) with the 3rd session on Saturday for the Priesthood (men ages 12 and up).  Conference always happens the first weekends of April and October.  Since 2000, it has originated from the 21,000-seat Conference Center in Salt Lake City and before that (from 1867-1999) it was held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  For those of us out here, the best part of Conference is that on Sunday, we don't start until noon (10 AM Mountain Time) instead of our normal 9 AM start (well, for our congregation at least).  Instead of normal church services, we watch the broadcast.  In Utah and areas where there are lots of members, Conference is available over regular TV and radio (except the Priesthood session, which is shown only at church buildings).  Out here, anyone who gets the BYU channel (channel 867 on AT&T Uverse!) can watch all but the Priesthood session at home, which is what I do.  Many also will watch Conference at the church building in Rootstown even though they can easily watch at home either on TV or on the Internet.  For many it's a matter of necessity, but for others who can watch at home (like my sister and grandparents), it's a matter of tradition and getting together with everyone.  I'd imagine too some feel there are too many distractions at home.  Me, I love being able to watch without having to get into Sunday clothes and being able to have some good food while I watch! :)    Anyway, on to my random observations.

  • As I remarked on Facebook, President Eyring gave the wrong year of the Teton Dam Flood.  He said 1966 and it was 1976.  I want to give him a pass here, but he was President of Ricks College at the time (Ricks College is now BYU-Idaho) so was living in or near Rexburg, one of the hardest hit towns in the flood.  Oh well...maybe he just misread it or remembered wrong?
  • Not to pick on President Eyring, but I've noticed A) he cries at least once (usually more) in every talk he gives and B) when he starts to get emotional, he always raises his hand about halfway and then moves it to emphasize whatever he is saying, usually an up-and-down motion maybe 2 or 3 times.  Not saying it's good or bad, it's just something I noticed consistently (he usually speaks twice over the duration of the conference).
  • I reeeeeealy enjoy President Uchtdorf's talks.  He's become my favorite speaker.  Not only are they interesting, but because he grew up in Germany, he has tons of stories that I can better relate to in relation to being in an area where church members are few and far-in between.  
  • Going along with that point, while I definitely enjoy many of the stories from our various speakers, many times it's hard to relate to stories that involve neighborhood-sized wards (the norm in Utah) where everyone around you is also LDS and the temple is a few blocks away. 
  • I've found I'm warming up to Elder Bednar as an Apostle and speaker.  I was not excited at all when he got called as I never really cared for him while he was president of BYU-Idaho.  He seemed far more concerned with rules and tradition over logic and fairness.  When he was called as an apostle, I knew that everything he ever said at BYU-Idaho would somehow get canonized (which it did) simply because he was, as someone said once "an apostle in training" (excuse me while I HURL).  Anyway, I have enjoyed his last few talks and yes, he still has PERFECT hair!  It's amazing, not a strand out of place!
  • I was disappointed that no mention was made of the 175th anniversary of the Kirtland Temple dedication (March 27, 1836).  Several mentions were made of the 75th anniversary of the Church Welfare program (which is an awesome program, by the way since it not only helps people, but teaches people to help themselves!), but the only mentions of the Kirtland Temple were not in reference to that event.  My pessimistic side thinks it's because Church Welfare is headquartered in Utah (so it's right in front of most of the speakers) and the Kirtland Temple is 2,000 miles away in Ohio (and of course not owned by the Church) so no one really thinks about it.  That's sad to me seeing that it was a highly significant milestone of development in LDS theology.  As a side note to support my pessimism, there was quite a bit of commemoration all over the Church in 1993 for the 100th anniversary of the Salt Lake Temple's dedication.  
  • Easter was mentioned once (well, I only heard it mentioned once).  I wonder how much mention Christmas would get if Conference were around Christmas?  In terms of Christian doctrine, Easter is THE most significant holiday, yet too often it seems to garner very little mention (certainly not what Christmas gets) in the Church and in Christianity in general.  As much as I love Christmas, Easter is a far more important occasion to remember and celebrate in my opinion!  For goodness sakes, we're celebrating the triumph over death!
  • I noticed a LOT of people say "beloved" before mentioning President Monson ("our beloved prophet, President Monson").  That was true with President Hinckley too.  While I certainly don't disagree, I'm a firm believer that saying or doing something too much causes it to lose its meaning (like giving everything a standing ovation makes it a lot less special!).  I love President Monson too, but I certainly don't know him well enough to say "beloved" like I would for a family member or close friend (though in all honesty, I really don't say beloved much at all...seems kind of archaic).  Ya know?  Oh well, I just think it's a tad overused, like one person says it and it becomes the "thing to say".  
  • I'm SO glad I can watch Conference at home.  Not having to get dressed up and drive 20 minutes to the church is nice.  I'm also not too big anymore on actually going to Conference in Salt Lake City.  I have been to 3 live sessions in my life.  I'm very glad I was able to go, but in the end it was a huge hassle to get downtown and I had some less-than-wonderful experiences when I have gone, at least the last 2 I was at.  It's kind of a "been there, done that" thing now, but I do recommend doing it at least once if you ever can.  Just seeing the Conference Center is worth it! 
  • I really enjoyed Sister Silvia Allred's talk about service.  Too often it seems the sisters give talks that are directed at only the women or children, but hers was all-encompassing and had a great message.  AND, because she has a heavy Spanish accent, I really had to pay close attention so I didn't miss anything.  It was also nice to hear more faith-promoting stories from outside Utah!
  • I definitely felt like Elder Holland's talk was directed at me.  Every Conference seems to have talks that seem to speak directly at you.  I totally got what he was saying, but I still stand by my feelings after President Monson's Priesthood talk.  I'll explain a little more on that later in this.  
  • Oh, I saw one of my old directors from BYU-Idaho on TV during the 2nd Saturday session.  He was directing the combined choir from BYU-Idaho.  Let's just say seeing him didn't exactly bring back a flood of good memories; memories related directly to him and memories of my time at BYU-Idaho period.  I think if I had seen my other 2 directors that I had there, more pleasant memories would've been more forthcoming.  The choir did sound really good though and was very colorful!
  • I won't really go into my feelings about President Monson's remarks about single, marriage-aged men here.  That is an entire blog in and of itself.  He wasn't the only person to bring it up, but his comments bothered me the most.  I'll leave it at the fact that I'm not concerned about the doctrine behind his remarks, I'm more concerned about the prejudice in many parts of the Church (particularly in Utah and southern Idaho) about single guys who are in my age group.    
  • One thing I did notice in my discussion on Facebook after Conference was that because I wasn't happy with certain things that were said, some of my friends interpreted that to mean I felt like false doctrine had been spread or that I misunderstood the message.  Nope.  I simply disagreed with how it was presented and I felt a stereotype was being perpetuated.  I also find it interesting that if you ask pretty much any church member if they think the Prophet is infallible, they'll say no.  At the same time, if you question something the Prophet or Apostles (heck ANYONE at Conference) said in Conference  you get arguments from a lot of members, like you're somehow less faithful.  If everything said by the Prophet is straight from God himself, wouldn't that make him infallible?  (yes, actually it would) In the end, yes, I believe he's called of God, but being called of God does not remove someone's humanity or ability to think for themselves.      
  • I enjoyed hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing "The Spirit of God", the very same arrangement we sang in our choir last week for the 175th anniversary of the Kirtland Temple dedication.  While the MoTab certainly can make any choral piece sound amazing, I definitely thought our choir wasn't too far off of them in terms of quality AND singing it in the Kirtland Temple was WAAAAAY cooler than at Conference.  WAY cooler.  Just saying.  :)

1 comment:

Charlie said...

Jon, I'm glad I have knowledge of an infallible gospel so that I don't have to depend on infallible men. There has been only one perfect man, Jesus Christ. The rest of us are fallible to some degree from Enoch to the basest sinner. The prophets are much closer to Enoch's example than most of us.

The cultural attitude of unquestioning obedience which you noted is disturbing, not only socially and culturally, but theologically as well. If true it would nullify the doctrines of continuing personal revelation and agency. I have heard it said that the solution to success in life is to hook onto the "words of the prophet" (often selectively chosen and retroactively redeemed). If this were so then we would all do as we were told, have no meaningful choices thereafter and none would be lost. The resonances with pre-mortal plans in that are disturbing. I don't mean to draw parallels between the prophets and Lucifer, but I do worry about the parallels between the lost third and these members.
We have ample evidence of modern leadership fallibility (Mountain Meadows, settlement of Missouri, dispatch of the Martin and Willy Companies) so that the attitude of infallibility is remarkable in its illogic.

So what? All men are fallible, its the heritage of mortality. It is the reason that the gospel brings so much hope: we can fail but still be redeemed. That is Christ's central purpose to overcome our fallibility by His atonement. I would deny that grace to no man, including a prophet.

We need to be vigilant that we do not fall victim to the Zoramite disease believing we are favored over others because of our wealth, our heritage or our possession of a prophet. It can happen to any of us: Oliver Cowdery though he could be a translator without preparation. When it does, we are condemned by the words of the Savior in D&C 58 at the conclusion of a sermon on obedience, He added "he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward." If the words of any are the primary source of our testimony we risk this condemnation. The scripture gave no exception to words of prophets. If we are compelled by the words of good we still stand condemned as slothful and unwise.

So how do we respect righteous authority yet do things of our own accord, freely and with charity? I think the answer is well known: prepare, listen, study it out, ponder and pray. If it is right, then do it without reservation. The truth need have no fear. No amount of questioning, examination and research of a true principle will make it untrue. Truth is truth whether accepted blindly or sceptically. The truth will stand in the end despite men either fallible or infallible.