Saturday, April 4, 2009

Reflections on Saturday Morning Conference

We break from our series on the doctrine of deification for a couple of days, to focus on General Conference this weekend. (I electronically "attended" the first general session by watching the live feed from the Church website, .) Different messages will resonate with different people Thus, I offer a few highlights that are purely personal in nature. I suspend the usual 800-word limit for posts reflecting on General Conference.

The Lord Is the Way Out of Behavioral Addictions

Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke, in part, on behavioral addictions (shopping, pornography, expressions of anger), pointing out that the only way out of them is through devotion to the Father, and through receiving His power. He noted that addictions come out of the natural man, and that the hungers of the natural man are insatiable.

How often I've known people to want to give up all their sins--except that one, or that little piece of that one (whatever that be for the individual involved). However, nothing but total devotion is acceptable; the Lord has not the least tolerance for our sins. One of the deep truths of our religion is that the Gospel really does call for a total transformation away from the natural man; the world, which is devoted to trying to fill the gaping maw of the hungers of the natural man, the world which celebrates the failings of the natural man, does not understand this. I found it good to be reminded of the Gospel call for total transformation.

Minor point: Has anyone ever pointed out the connection between the LDS take on the insatiable hungers of the natural man, and the Buddhist take on essentially the same thing?

Respect for Other Faiths, Lifestyles, and Political Positions

I report with shame that, given that my youngest offspring turns 21 this month, these days I don't usually pay especially close attention to speakers from the presidencies of the youth organizations at General Conference. However, I was stopped in my tracks by some things mentioned by Sr. Margaret S. Lifferth, first counselor in the General Primary Presidency, who spoke on increasing reverence and appropriate respect among the youth. Quite rightly, she noted that one way to increase these qualities among youth was to increase it among their parents and adult leaders. She said, as I recall:
Ask yourself: "Do I show respect for others who differ from me in terms of religion, lifestyle, or politics?"
Tolerance of different points of view is important to me. (Growing up a bi-ethnic kid in Greenwich Village had something to do with that, I'm sure--as well as being an LDS convert in the Northeast, where the LDS are often ridiculed.) However, among the Saints, I have encountered now and again a real lack of toleration for other points of view. It is by no means the norm, but 35 years in eleven different wards in five of the United States have given me some exposure to the occasional show of intolerance.

I have heard ridicule directed at those who hold other religious beliefs, at those who have made different lifestyle choices, and at those who hold political positions other than those of the (often far-) right wing. Being myself a convert from another church, from a neighborhood renowned for its social experimentation, and being someone whose political positions generally fall within the left wing, I myself have sometimes been on the receiving end of those comments, without those making the comments being aware of this--they have assumed that the white shirt, conservative tie and jacket that I wear to church mean that I think just as they do. So, when they ridicule some religious belief I once held, when they make disparaging remarks about "hippies," "liberals," and "tree huggers," I've found this quite offensive.

Over the years, I've known investigators and new members to be turned off to the Church because of some stupid remark like this. It is not what the Savior would do. I hope that Sr. Lifferth's remarks are taken to heart throughout the Church.

Covenants and Divine Power

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Twelve spoke, in part, about how covenants lead to a bestowal of divine power, including the gifts of the Holy Ghost. These days, when the Saints have endured some hits from the media regarding the temple ceremonies in the wake of the "Big Love" hoo-hah, it was good to be reminded that the temple's purpose is such a bestowal of power.


This was the talk that made me cry.

President Henry B. Eyring, 1st counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about the role of adversity in our lives. He taught very clearly that the purpose of mortality was to prepare us for eternal life--not mere immortality, but the kind of life that God has, along with the power to have offspring forever. Part of that preparation involves us becoming the kind of people who can be trusted with that kind of power. The only way to do that is to expose us to adversity, hard challenges, the kinds of tests that shake one to one's foundations.

Pres. Eyring described several types of adversity. When he came to the last, age and sickness, my composure fell apart. Having just lived through my mother's final illness and death, I could not help but think of the the difference between how she faced her challenges and the way she could have faced them, had she had the perspective of the Gospel that she had so frequently and vigorously rejected.

These days there is plenty of adversity to go around, plenty of storms (hence my illustration), and your correspondent is not exempt. It was very helpful to me to have Pres. Eyring remind me of the useful perspective that the Gospel supplies regarding our troubles, and how to transcend them. Note that I did not say 'avoid' them, or even 'solve' them. Not every challenge yields a direct solution. Some things are, and will continue to be, outside my control. However, I can control my response. Choosing the Gospel will get us through.

(Minor point, perhaps, evoked by what Pres. Eyring had to say on the purposes of mortality and adversity: that series on the doctrine of exaltation is looking more timely every day.)

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