What President Monson Is Reading

512ktnfwjelIn President Monson’s brief remarks at this month’s General Conference, perhaps the thing that struck me most was in the priesthood session when he said, “Recently I read the true account of a dramatic manifestation concerning these promises.” Most of the talk, in fact, is a summary of a story from the book. That right there is already pretty high praise for a book, to have a prophet mention it and cite from it as the core of an address to the world.

It’s great to know what the prophet has been reading. He’s still working full time as CEO of a global organization, he’s several years a widower now, and his strength is starting to decline, but he still reads, and this is what he reads: a book about the inspiring experiences of Latter-day Saints during World War II. As far as I know, there isn’t a team of research interns doing any behind-the-scenes lifting in preparing anybody’s conference talks; when the prophet says he’s been reading this book lately, it’s really something he chose to pick up and spend time with.

Maybe we would do well to follow the prophet in his priorities, his habits, and even in his specific choices in reading. The book he mentions, Saints at War: Experiences of Latter-Day Saints in World War II, isn’t on Google Books, but it’s on sale at Amazon for as low as 14 cents a copy.

14 cents, to do what the prophet does.

You know what would be great? A “Prophets Book Club,” where people read books mentioned by prophets and apostles in General Conference.

At the end of the citation for this book in the published version of President Monson’s talk, a note says, “used by permission.” That’s wonderful: the prophet (or maybe his secretary) reached out to the author to ask if it was OK to refer to the book in General Conference. What a sweet conversation I bet that was.

 

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Annotations to Saturday PM session, April 2016 General Conference

#LDSConf

Ronald A. Rasband (12)

Is this going to be an indirect address to the “opposed” crowd? Interesting.

Good job pre-empting the seduction of young people into trendy doubt and denial. Yeah, this is totally an indirect response to the “opposed.”

“His servants: you and me.”

Is Edwin Markham the first poet quoted in this conference? I could teach a whole semester of American Lit based on the citations in any given general conference.

Elder Rasband phrases his counsel in terms of questions and answers, just as President Uchtdorf did in his response to the “opposed.”

I’ve been reading a great collection called Early Christian Fathers, an anthology of writings from the second generation of church leaders after the original Apostles died. Just like the New Testament itself, the biggest theme is using basic doctrines to combat apostasy. Just yesterday I read the epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians, where 7:2 says this:

But I swear by Him for whose cause I am a prisoner, that from no human channels did I learn this. It was the Spirit that kept on preaching in these words: “Do nothing apart from the bishop; keep your bodies as if they were God’s temple; value unity; flee schism; imitate Jesus Christ as he imitated his Father.” [emphasis added]

This message is always important, and isn’t going away anytime soon.

 

Neil L. Andersen (12)

The gospel preserves truth about family and stands against the world’s degradation of it. Awesome.

A message to the children of such families is a great idea, but how will they get it? They’re not watching General Conference. Should we all make a concerted effort to deliver this talk to them?

This talk is full of great role models, and not just for the young.

Elder Scott once gave a powerful talk to us all about striving to come as close to an ideal family as possible for each of us; that talk dovetails nicely with this one: “Do the best you can while on earth to have an ideal family. To help you do that, ponder and apply the principles in the proclamation on the family.”

Actually, this talk seems more like it’s for us than for the youth themselves. We have to make these kids a priority.

I was one of these youth 25 years ago, and my ward and seminary class heroically tried to fellowship me–I rarely responded well then, but I’m very grateful now. They planted a seed.

Another personal story about ministering and meetings in Africa! Nothing in conference is a coincidence, guys.

“The children not only came, but came running.”

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Annotations to Saturday AM session, April 2016 General Conference

These aren’t just traditional notes, in the sense of summaries and highlights. Rather, these are mostly connections, commentary, footnotes, and such. #LDSConf

 

President Henry B. Eyring

Elder Oaks also based a talk on the parable of the sower in last April’s General Conference.

“Choose to have our hearts softened and seeds nourished” by this weekend’s conference.

This is handy how-to of getting the most out of conference.

He choked up a bit as he started, and then periodically throughout. When President Eyring speaks, he means it. You just have to love this guy!

 

 

Mary R. Durham (Primary 2nd)

“Kick off the weight of this world that we carry, so we can keep our children afloat.”

Quotes Elder Bednar on Holy Ghost. I wonder how leaders in the meeting feel when other speakers suddenly quote them.

“Increase the spiritual capacity of our little ones.”

learning the spirit by a life of immersion, like learning a language the same way–clever analogy, rings true.

Quotes Elder Scott, and I’m reminded again of how we recently lost him.

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Mormon Upanishads: General Conference

A few years ago I read a collection of great Hindu scripture called upanishads, a word which means “an instruction, the sitting at the feet of a master.” I love the idea of canonizing and revering such wisdom–that’s a whole way of life in itself. The cartoons here illustrate a cliché, but we do actually get to live this cliché in real life; we get to hear our own upanishads today: General Conference is this weekend.

'Yes, I can tell you the meaning of life, but then I would have to kill you.'

'You know, it's a lot easier to just follow me on twitter.'

Oct. 2015 General Conference PM Sunday Notes

Elder Christofferson: This talk advocates an idea unpopular in the world today: organized religion isn’t bad; in fact, it’s necessary. A similar talk by Eugene England called “Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel” makes a similar point, and is well worth your time.

Elder Christofferon often focuses on the need for the Church–and individual saints–to help the poor and needy. Always a good element to focus on, and I’m glad to see he doesn’t do it in isolation of other factors like missionary work and saving ordinances. The Church is a great big, busy place, as our lives are supposed to be. Thus comes Zion.

I remember how to spell his last name because “Christ” was “offer”ed as God’s “son.”

Devin G. Durrant (SS 1st couns.): “ponderize” is a perfectly cromulent word. The late Elder Scott encouraged us to do something similar here: ponder and memorize. I’d love to be part of a social media group to do this!

So, will the part about finances get completely forgotten? Remember.

Elder Keetch (70): It’s good to be reminded that barriers exist for a good reason. I wrote about the same topic here.

Better, more spiritual references include what I call the parable of the kite, one of my all-time favorite General Conference parables, here.

And, of course, spiritual crocodiles.

Carole M. Stephens (RS 1st couns.):  Her talk has the same theme as Elder Keetch’s before her. I don’t see such things as a coincidence. These two talks make a great pair.

Trusting God was also a theme of Elder Andersen’s excellent talk at priesthood last night.

I like the focus on trusting each member of the Godhead–creative way to organize her thoughts, and practical.

Elder Haynie (70): Another lovely reminder about gospel basics. Can’t say it enough: I love a good seventy talk.

I think this makes a great pair with Elder Oaks’s talk about the Atonement yesterday.

Elder Clark (70): This hits hone. Even active members need greater faith and obedience. Reminds me of one time in the celestial room at the temple, I was thinking about nothing particular, but then a distinct impression came: “Time to kick it up a notch.” Seriously, those were the words. Might be time to kick it up another notch.

The Holy Ghost has been mentioned a lot this weekend. Another signal for upcoming study and development?

Koichi Aoyagi: Very humane story of dealing with adversity with perspective. Lest we every think leaders have easy lives, his story is a wake-up call. Lends ethos to his call to endure well. Another area where we can all do well to grow.

Elder Bednar: Yes! What a great talk to go out on! Kind of sad that we need such counsel, but we do. Elder Neal A. Maxwell used to say that arguments for the gospel don’t create faith, but the lack of them could hurt it. Ditto here, I think: defending having elderly leaders may not build faith, but without a talk like this, cynicism and criticism would fester. Glad to have an apostle set us straight.

I love how personal his words are here. Truly, an insider’s testimony! “The totality of their teachings is priceless.” How long would it take to fully understand and be grateful for what we’re blessed with in our leaders? This makes me want to spend more time studying the lives of our latter-day prophets.

These remarks will be needed as a defense of President Monson soon for some out there, I fear.

Oct. 2015 General Conference, Sunday AM Notes

President Monson: I like how his talk was based on combining two different works of scripture. That’s a skill that we all need to develop better, and it only comes from a quantity of repeated study. Seeing similar themes and seeing how various passages and even very different books can overlap produces the kind of personal insights the prophet shares here.

Comparing this to his talk in the priesthood session last night, I see President Monson here as a prophet of the basics. I’ve been teaching Primary for the last couple of years now, and I’m learning how important it is to be constantly reminded of simple, foundational things. President Monson is like that, and I’ve no doubt that’s what we need today–a Primary prophet.

Three new apostles: Interesting what they chose to share with us as their first introductions as apostles. Humility is obviously a big trend here, but I was especially touched by Elder Renlund’s story of losing a patient.

President Nelson: Wow! What to make of this talk? I approach it like this: to whom was he speaking and why? This was clearly not just another “cheer up girls, you’re awesome!” talk.

First, though couched in such inspirational language, the substance here is a call to greater spiritual leadership by women, in the sense that the men get from such talks as President Uchtdorf’s a few years ago. It also, then, seems like a successor to President Julie B. Beck’s “Mothers Who Know.”

Second, it’s also clearly a clarion call to priesthood leaders to be more inclusive in regards to welcoming female leaders’ contributions; this is not the first time in recent years we’ve heard this message. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention.

In short, this talk says that we all, of both genders, have things to work on. This is will be an important one to study and work on.

Also, two apostles in this session now are heart doctors who have told stories of losing patients.

President Nelson’s emphasis on the value of women in our lives reminds me of Elder Holland’s similar focus yesterday.

Elder Schwitzer: His remarks are largely inspired by a quote from an epistle of Paul, as were President Monson’s. We need to read the Bible.

His bold words about the danger of criticism very much echo Elder Andersen’s talk in the priesthood session last night. (Among many other things, Elder Andersen encouraged people to, quote, “Give Brother Joseph a break.”)

Elder Costa: Will there be any more conference talks given in speakers’ native languages? Or was that just a one-time thing to make a point about the growth and compassion of the Church?

I’ve said this before, but the most simple and basic, yet moving and spiritual, talks tend to be given by seventies. And President Monson.

President Eyring: As a debate coach, I like how many speakers at this conference are explicitly starting off talks by saying, “Here’s my agenda for you today…” (President Monson also did this in priesthood last night.)

In my years as an active church member, I have noticed an increased effort to make our sacrament meetings centered on worship and the Savior (scaling back the pomp of missionary farewells, for example). It makes a difference.

Imagine if everyone approached their assignments to speak in sacrament meeting by trying to copy the examples set in President Eyring’s talks: doctrine with applications; then inspiring, engaging stories of models to follow. Doesn’t he just fill your heart and make you want to be closer to Christ?

Bonus note: This arrangement of “The Spirit of God” has been sung before, but not often. It’s ambitious, epic, and rousing. I’d love to hear it sometime with every verse, but that would run 10 minutes, I’m sure.

Notes on President Monson’s Teachings, April 2014 General Conference

My notes on president Monson’s addresses at the April General Conference, 2014.  Obviously subjective, and subject to ongoing revision and improvement, but this helps me to pragmatically know how to “follow the prophet.”

 

IMPERATIVES

Priesthood Session: “Be Strong and of a Good Courage

  1. “…put ourselves in places and participate in activities where our thoughts are influenced for good and where the Spirit of the Lord will be comfortable.”
  2. (Quoting) “If you ever find yourself where you shouldn’t ought to be, get out!”
  3. “…do… the right thing even though we may be afraid, defend… our beliefs at the risk of being ridiculed, and maintain… those beliefs even when threatened with a loss of friends or of social status.”
  4. (Quoting) “Just be the same person you are in the dark that you are in the light.”

Sunday Morning: “Love—the Essence of the Gospel

  1. “…love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey.”
  2. “…love God, the Father of us all.”
  3. “…keep this truth [We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters] in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.”
  4. “…recognize someone’s need and then…respond.”
  5. (Quoting Pres. Kimball) “…remember that those mortals we meet in parking lots, offices, elevators, and elsewhere are that portion of mankind God has given us to love and to serve.”
  6. “…we must treat each other with kindness and respect.”
  7. “…strive always to be considerate and to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings and circumstances of those around us. Let us not demean or belittle. Rather, let us be compassionate and encouraging. We must be careful that we do not destroy another person’s confidence through careless words or actions.”

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How the Bloggernacle Apparently Watches General Conference

Imagine a general conference that hypothetically includes a discussion between the general authorities delivering the addresses, and “the bloggernacle”  as an entity hearing them.

GA: Church members should be loyal to the church.
B: Absolutely. Church members should definitely focus on minor doubts that are only tangential to the major tenets of faith and discipleship, and use them to publicly undermine the church.

GA: What? No, that’s not at all what we said. Church members should be visibly loyal to the church, striving to be part of the mainstream body of belief and service.
B: Yes! Finally, someone came out and said it. Church members need to be encouraged in striking out on their own and forging their own path to salvation, whatever that means for them.

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Lehi, King Benjamin, and President Monson On Why We Follow the Prophet

It happened again last night, and not for the first time: I re-read a familiar section in the Book of Mormon and noticed something that had never arrested my attention before.

In King Benjamin’s classic speech, a major landmark in the Book of Mormon, he tells the people this about the the coming change of leadership from himself to his son:

…if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land…  (Mosiah 2:31, emphasis added)

Benjamin wasn’t the only Book of Mormon leader to teach about the reason for faithfully following the prophet; Lehi explained it twice:

And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord. (1 Nephi 3:5, emphasis added)

And it must needs be that the power of God must be with him, even unto his commanding you that ye must obey. But behold, it was not he, but it was the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, which opened his mouth to utterance that he could not shut it. (2 Nephi 1:27, emphasis added)

Nephi’s brothers, you may remember, resented being ordered around, against their natural inclinations, by a bunch of old white men in Salt Lake City…oops, I mean, by their younger brother.  (/sarcasm)

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Helaman 13:26-27

It’s almost time for General Conference again, which means it’s almost time for another regular ritual among some Mormons: the Bloggernacle’s analysis of Conference.  This is where we get to hear from some self-appointed folk heroes which talks were good (because they liked them) and which were bad (because they didn’t like them).

Will President Packer’s upcoming address, for example, be met with a favor born of surprise and condescension, as sometimes happens, or with righteously angry criticism, as usual?  It probably depends on whether or not his remarks fit easily into currently popular worldviews.  So we’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the majority of Conference viewers–those outside of the elite, electronic, intellectual enclave–will seek out both comfort and correction as they come, at face value.

Upcoming 200th Anniversaries

In 2005, the LDS Church celebrated the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth.  As major an event as that was, the next big milestone is far, far more important, and as it’s only a little over eight years away, I wonder if plans are already being made to honor it adequately.

The 200th anniversary of the First Vision will be in the Spring of 2020.  General Conference that season will likely be on Saturday, April 4th and Sunday, April 5th.  I imagine celebrations could most conveniently coincide with that.  Certainly it’s what all the talks will be about!  But this will be a celebration that the whole world should know about, and be included in.  It should, conceivably, be the biggest event the Church has ever undertaken to organize and present, with the possible exceptions of the pioneer migration and the construction of the earliest temples.

Some other important 200th anniversaries that we might already start keeping in mind:

  • Thursday, September 21st, 2023:  Angel Moroni appears to Joseph Smith and mentions the Book of Mormon
  • Wednesday, September 22nd, 2027: Joseph Smith receives the Book of Mormon plates
  • Tuesday, May 15th, 2029: Restoration of the Aaronic priesthood
  • Tuesday, March 26th, 2030: Publication of the Book of Mormon

And, of course:

  • Saturday, April 6th, 2030: Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

So at least one major event’s anniversary will actually fall on a weekend!

“There is no middle ground.”

Two of today’s speakers in General Conference–Elder Callister this morning and Elder Oaks this afternoon–used the phrase “there is no middle ground.”  Elder Callister was referring to the origin of the Book of Mormon, Elder Oaks to our duty to be loyal to Jesus Christ.  It was the exact same phrasing–“there is no middle ground.”  Interesting.

Conference Theme?

I’m looking for a big theme to this General Conference, and I’m wondering if it’s our duty to stand as visible, public representatives of Christ and His church.  That seemed to be the thrust of President Monson’s remarks in the priesthood session last night, President Eyring this morning, and Elder Ballard this morning (and, to a degree, President Monson again this morning). 

Full disclosure: I missed most of the first two Saturday sessions. 

It was interesting to see how the two talks by President Monson that I’ve seen this weekend were not only remarkably similar (resist the tide of declining moral standards in Western societies), but each was introduced with a reference to a newspaper article he’d read recently: in the priesthood session, it was from the New York Times; this morning, it was from the Wall Street Journal.  President Monson appears to do some seriously bipartisan news reading.

Apt Irony

President Monson’s address at the end of this morning’s session of General Conference was largely about the declining moral standards in our society.  Immediately after the closing prayer, the channel broadcasting it in Las Vegas showed an ad for Two and Half Men, featuring a woman in some slinky lingerie approaching Charlie Sheen as he lay in bed, and Jon Cryer wearing only a towel, with clothespins on his nipples.  Coincidence?

 

Getting and Staying on the Church Train

From a wonderful October 1992 General Conference talk by Elder Glenn L. Pace, an illustration of the point I’m trying to make in today’s posts above:

It is as if we are passengers on the train of the Church, which has been moving forward gradually and methodically. Sometimes we have looked out the window and thought, “That looks kind of fun out there. This train is so restrictive.” So we have jumped off and gone and played in the woods for a while. Sooner or later we find it isn’t as much fun as Lucifer makes it appear or we get critically injured, so we work our way back to the tracks and see the train ahead. With a determined sprint we catch up to it, breathlessly wipe the perspiration from our forehead, and thank the Lord for repentance.

While on the train we can see the world and some of our own members outside laughing and having a great time. They taunt us and coax us to get off. Some throw logs and rocks on the tracks to try and derail it. Other members run alongside the tracks, and while they may never go play in the woods, they just can’t seem to get on the train. Others try to run ahead and too often take the wrong turn.

I would propose that the luxury of getting on and off the train as we please is fading. The speed of the train is increasing. The woods are getting much too dangerous, and the fog and darkness are moving in.

Although our detractors might as well “stretch forth [their] puny arm[s] to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream” (D&C 121:33) as try to derail this train, they are occasionally successful in coaxing individuals off. With all the prophecies we have seen fulfilled, what great event are we awaiting prior to saying, “Count me in”? What more do we need to see or experience before we get on the train and stay on it until we reach our destination? It is time for a spiritual revival. It is time to dig down deep within ourselves and rekindle our own light.