Monday, April 08, 2013

Of Good Report of Praiseworthy

General Conference was this weekend. It was mostly filled with wonderful moments, though there were also a couple of times that my teeth were set on edge. No doubt you had the same kind of experience . . . or you are a much better person than I am and you didn't have any of those teeth-on-edge moments. 
The bad news first. 

Conservative language creeping into doctrinal talks: I am getting increasingly annoyed that though ALL political extremism is decried, it is really only specifically liberal ideas that get pointed out as “evil.” For example, Elder Ellis talked about the dole being evil. This is nearly a direct quote from a talk given many years ago by President Benson. But my question is, what does he even mean by that? In the United States, the “dole” is a rather outdated term. And while still used in other places (and with plenty of problems) what does he mean by that to a largely American, English-speaking audience? WIC? Unemployment benefits? Medicaid? Elder Ellis’ talk was very good, and I understand and believe in the doctrine he was trying to express—personal responsibility is important and we must do all we can to take care of ourselves and our families and others. But people hear what they want, and to many people a “dole” means different things. I am concerned that when an elder of the Church says something like this over the pulpit, then many people think less about the doctrine behind the statement and instead use it to bolster political opinions that are outside the realm of doctrine. The term “secularism” took a beating again. Elder Oaks used “political correctness” as his example. Again, I understand and agree with the underlying point—that we must be very careful about using language that waters down truth to the place where it ceases to have meaning. But he can’t really mean that he would prefer people to say “faggot” to “homosexuality” when it is necessary to use this kind of descriptive term. I am sorry to be so blunt, but political correctness is sometimes about using more precise, not to mention kinder, language. I don’t see how this is a bad thing.

I was grateful for the ending on a high note with President Monson. He is a very positive, and optimistic person. I didn’t have this impression from all the talks. In fact, I didn’t want to leave my house this morning. There is always so much talk about the evil OUT THERE. When examples of this evil are given they are nearly always related to chastity. I don’t argue about this being a problem, but I think there are other deeply disturbing trends in LDS culture that don’t get enough traction—greed, money and success equating to the same thing, covetousness, forms of idol worship. While sexual sins can be egregiously damaging, particularly to self, these other sins destroy our ability to be kind to others, the hallmark of any person trying to follow the Savior.

This second is less about conference and more about rhetoric observed outside conference. I was really discouraged to hear so much negative language from members of the Church toward other members of the Church regarding women’s issues. I think this rhetoric has gone both ways. The Mormon Feminists need to be careful about deliberately sowing discontent where none currently exists, and those less inclined toward the feminists need to be careful about ostracizing them and speaking in harsh judgement. I have been shocked to read some incredibly uncharitable comments from people within in the Church insisting that such sexist cultural practices don’t happen; these types of comments serve more to reinforce grievances than to address them.

But lots of good news.

Elder Holland’s talk was, again, amazing. The poor man has really put a lot of pressure on himself, but he keeps delivering. His talk is one that I will think back on in months to come. I loved that he validated the asking of questions, but from his talk, I felt so strongly that I need to be asking questions because I’m genuinely seeking answers and not just being contentious. This is something I want to diligently seek to work on in the coming weeks.

President Monson’s talk about the fire he and his buddy set was delightful. It has probably taken him more than 70 years to find the humor in it! And he had to be certain that all the frustrated adults who put the fire out that day are dead! Anyway, my thought was that his talk was a really wonderful way to describe what prophets do. Little Tommy Monson and his buddies didn’t mean to burn down the meadow, and certainly not houses or forests; they didn’t mean to hurt anybody. What they wanted was a shortcut way to achieve what they saw as a desirable outcome—a circle of weeds gone. We are a bit like children, aren’t we? We think we have a lot of knowledge and great ideas, and sometimes, without meaning to hurt anybody or anything, our ideas and knowledge cause great destruction. Prophets essentially warn us about fire. I know, I know that chastity and fire are often mixed up in metaphors together but I’m not necessarily talking about that specifically. My point is (all this made sense last night at midnight when I was trying to sleep) that compared to our Father in Heaven, we are no more wise than children playing in the woods. Prophets attempt to teach us and guide us to help us navigate our way. Many times even they cannot see the outcomes that God can, but they still attempt to warn us.

As mentioned before I also really liked his closing talk. After he spoke it helped to reaffirm to me that this can also be a time of hope and opportunity. Like bad cop, good cop. I’m glad that he spoke last.

I love Elder Christoffel Golden’s voice. But what I love most is that I called his accent; I don’t remember hearing him speak before yesterday. I told Plantboy that he sounded South African, but there was something European (Dutch) going on in there too, like perhaps he hadn’t spoken English first. When he mentioned his nationality near the beginning of his remarks I told Plantboy that I bet he was South African, but not British South African. I thought he might be Afrikaner. We looked him up and I was right! His background is fascinating, and he does speak both Afrikaans and English fluently. Very cool.

All the African references and connections in general were wonderful. It is like after a decade or more of linear growth, the church is set to take that exponential leap that it did in South America a generation ago. It is very exciting. A few years ago one of the general authorities spoke about some of the problems in Africa but then declared that the true gospel could save the continent. His words may very well be prophetic . . . in turn, I think the faith and humility infused into the Church from the African members will have the power to save the Church as well. With numbers of missionaries swelling by the thousands it is a cinch that hundreds and hundreds of them will go to Africa. Lessons learned there will be valuable leavening in a Church whose membership sometimes sees the Lord’s “blessings” too much manifested in personal wealth.

It was fun to make several Texas connections during conference. The above referenced Elder Ellis was officially in my ward when we moved to Texas, though he was actually serving as a mission president. A couple the same age as Plantboy and I were living in their house while they were gone and we became quite good friends. She threw me a baby shower for Jedi Knight in the Ellis’ house! We only lived in that ward a few months after the Ellises returned and I became friends with the wife, though Elder Ellis was almost immediately called to be an area authority Seventy and I only met him once or twice. When we moved from our apartment into our house, we were part of the Cypress Stake. The Cypress Stake later split. President Oscarson was our stake president in the newly formed Klein Stake; he was a remarkable man who had served as a mission president in Sweden when he wasn’t very old. His lovely wife happens to be a woman name Bonnie Oscarson. Yes, that’s right: THAT Bonnie Oscarson. She moved to Salt Lake City a couple of years ago. The Young Women of the Church are so lucky to have her. Sister Dalton has been in the presidency for over 10 years and has had enormous influence over the direction of the YW program in that time. I’m grateful for her hard work, and for her lovely, heartfelt talk on Sunday. She is strong and faithful.

Now to read it and really get the meat of it all! I hope it was just as great on your end.

This last is another one of those Mormon cultural moments from conference weekend than anything related to conference. If you aren’t following Sistas in Zion on FB or their blog, you really should repent. Their status updates during Conference were really just so funny.


heidikins said...

I totally agree about Holland, what an amazing talk!

As one of those "Crazy Mormon Feminists" I have been saddened by a lot of the rhetoric from both sides of any given women's issue. I think there are a lot of legitimate concerns from the feminists, and a lot of legitimate concerns from those who are happy and comfortable with the current policies and procedures. But that doesn't mean one should be harsh or shut out someone who thinks differently. I cried when the prayer given by Jean A. Stevens was announced, and I didn't see any lightening bolts or the earth opening up to swallow the conference center before, during, or after her prayer. Ahem.

I also noticed a LOT of talks on the law of chastity...a LOT. I guess in my world and even in my Mormon world that has been much less of a concern since I got married...I don't even think about it nor am I tempted to break it in any way. I guess I didn't realize that to the leadership of the church it is such a huge issue because in my life it is a non-issue.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Thank you for this post!


Science Teacher Mommy said...

Good point Heidi. Within a year I will be parenting my first teenager. Suddenly those law of chastity talks won't seem like such overkill!

Thanks for bringing up the point about the prayers. I knew I'd missed something! I loved that sisters prayed in different sessions in both opening and closing prayers. I am not sure that I felt particularly emotional during the prayers, but I felt a deep and profound sense of relief--whew, one more hurdle that is no longer something to dwell on!

mstanger said...

I thought conference was overall pretty amazing. A few thoughts:

1. The missionary numbers are outstanding, and their impact is being felt everywhere. As an example, I have been following with interest the mission exploits of a co-workers nephew who is serving in the same area I did. He is currently in a city that had a minimum of 12 missionaries when I was there, but they are making do with 4 right now. However, that may soon end, as they are sending 2 missionaries home but betting 38 in return this next transfer.

2. Elder Holland was outstanding. He showed for the second conference in a row that a fantastic talk can be assembled from a close reading of just a short New Testament passage.

3. President Uchtdorf rocked, and in his second language, no less. So much amazing material in his talks.

4. As if one German power-hitter wasn't enough, Elder Kopischke's talk on the power of acceptance was great. I need to be a better friend.

5. I found it interesting that Elder Packer warned against the "tolerance trap" on Saturday, but President Monson ended conference with a plea for tolerance.

6. The international trio yesterday afternoon (Elders Golden, Kopischke and Falabella) were great. It will be great to watch as the more senior quorums and presidencies are occupied more and more by international brothers and sisters. In that regard, a bit shout out to Elders Dube (Zimbabwe), Valenzuela (Mexico), Ochoa (Mexico) and Vinson (Sydney Australia).

7. I find talks that teach me how to address the evils of the world and build a strong family by giving me tools to do so(i.e., Elders Clayton and Falabella) more helpful and inspiring than those that are focused more on convincing me that the world is evil.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

@ #7. Amen. Don't make me feel lousy. Give me tools to combat it. Actually, conference is usually pretty good at this (love E. Clayton); it is Sunday church where this usually gets me down the most. Thanks for your thoughts.

FoxyJ said...

Yeah, I felt a bit of whiplash between the talks about how evil the world was and how we shouldn't be tolerant, and those about how great things are and how we should love everyone and look for the good in all.

I generally felt uplifted overall by the talks and came away with the feeling that we belong to a world-wide church full of people who are doing great, and can do even more.

And yeah, I didn't even think much about the law of chastity while I was married for 10 years, and then I got divorced and, whoa that was suddenly relevant in my life again (not that it's not when you're married, but it's a lot harder when you're single).

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I loved Conference. Elder Holland's talk moved me the most, but Elder Kopischke's talk probably had the most helpful take home message for me.

The comment on political correctness stuck out to me, too. I'm guessing that his point was that Americans (not sure how much it applies elsewhere) are so worried about offending people that we hesitate to criticize bad behavior and speak up for what's right.

Assuming that's the case, it might have been better to spell that out, since (as you noted) political correctness can also mean sensitivity in the way you talk about people, which I would consider Christlike behavior.

I think the seemingly contradictory messages about tolerance may boil down to that, too: don't tolerate bad behavior, but be tolerant and loving of people. In other words, hate the sin but love the sinner.

simple easy and quick said...

Sister Oscarson is my father's cousin's wife. They are from the 'St. Louis' Oscarsons who are much more prominent in the Church than the 'Utah' Oscarsons. Most recently Sis Oscarson was serving as the Matron of the Stockholm Temple while my Uncle Gary Oscarson (Utah) and his wife were serving a mission in Sweden. My parents met her briefly while visiting Uncle Gary. According to them Sis. Oscarson was looking forward to returning from Sweden and 'taking it easy' guess the Lord had other plans....