Monday, April 6, 2009

Reflections on Sunday Afternoon Session, and Conference Overall

Some purely personal reflections on what stood out for me in the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference, followed by some thoughts on April 2009 General Conference overall.

We Must Not Walk as Others Do

Elder Oaks, in describing how it is necessary for Latter-day Saints to follow the Savior rather than the fashions of the world, quoted from an April 1940 General Conference address by Elder John A. Widtsoe, an address I somehow have missed in the past. Elder Widtsoe said, in part:

We cannot walk as other men, or talk as other men, or do as other men for we have a different destiny, obligation, and responsibility placed upon us, and we must fit ourselves for that great destiny and obligation.
Over the years, I have met a number of Latter-day Saints who have not understood this basic distinction. They have tried to fit into the world. That is just the opposite from what should happen: we are here to transform the world.

We Must Do More to Get the Word Out About the Gospel

Elder Perry pointed out that half the population of North America knows nothing of our beliefs. (This, after close to two centuries of missionary work, and tons of public messages of one type or another.) He challenged us to do more as members to get the word out about the Gospel.

Very well, Elder Perry. Readers, expect to hear more about a new blog for non-members--I'm thinking about calling it "LDS 101"--which I plan to start soon. It's one thing I can do.

Some Overall Reflections on April 2009 General Conference

Focus on the Temple

The Big Love episode, 'Outer Darkness,' which depicted the producer's version of the last minutes of the temple endowment, was not explicitly mentioned by any of the conference speakers. However, the Big Love issue was clearly on the minds of several speakers, several of whom mentioned that public controversy about the temple is nothing new, and that such controversy is, in part, a reaction to the Church's standing up for unpopular moral standards.

Perhaps one outcome of all this will be an increased focus on the meaning of the temple ceremonies. Elder Bednar's discourse on Sunday afternoon was particularly powerful in this respect.

I first experienced the endowment in August, 1978 at the Washington, DC temple (above). Over the years, I have found that there is wide variation among the Latter-day Saints in the degree to which they 'get' the inner spiritual meaning of the endowment, and the other ceremonies of the temple. The LDS temple ceremonies have a greater power to transform the individual's inner life, in several ways, then the power available (based on available information) in the initiatic ceremonies of the mystery religions and other organizations of the world; I include in that list the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries of the ancient world, the various rites of the ancient gnostic communities, and much more besides. However, this transformation is not automatic: one must seek to have that transformation occur; one must internalize the temple ceremonies, as well as their associated doctrines--all of them public, scriptural doctrines, I might add--for this transformation to take effect.

As far as I am concerned, the more we focus on this transformative, 'inner' perspective regarding the temple, the better--and the higher temple attendance shall be, to boot, I strongly suspect.

(Thank you for the temple picture, Photobucket contributor.)

Focus on Grimmer Circumstances Than the Current Day

This General Conference stood out for the grim nature of so many of the stories and examples that were related to the audience:

  • President Monson's talk in the Sunday morning session described at length the extraordinary trial faced by a WWII-era sister in Prussia, who, newly widowed, was forced to walk a thousand miles to German territory and lost her 3 children to starvation and freezing along the way.
  • I have mentioned President Uchtdorf's description in the priesthood session of a terrible airplane disaster.
  • In that same priesthood session, as I've mentioned, President Eyring described the ultimate sacrifices of the soldiers who sought to save injured comrades in the 'Black Hawk down' incident.
  • In the Sunday morning session, even Elder Snow's description of the trials of his pioneer ancester, Robert Gardner, Jr., was noteworthy for how so much went wrong for this man (the stream to his mill runs dry; he loses all his crops), and for the sacrifices he made to fulfill mission calls--twice.

If there is a common thread here, it is that, even in the midst of this Mother of All Recessions (dare I say it? this New Depression), we can be be inspired, by those who have suffered much more than us, to keep to the path, to not give up, to hold to the faith, and even in the worst of our circumstances to lengthen our stride.

Video of the General Conference talks are already available on the Church website. Transcripts of these discourses are scheduled be available in the same place as of Thursday, April 9. Enjoy.

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