Monday, October 6, 2014

The 184th Semi-Annual General Conference

Once again, I was able to enjoy every session of General Conference during conference weekend. (Some years I have had to miss sessions and then watch them later in the week.) There is something particularly powerful for me about gathering for conference when the Saints are gathering. 

The Saturday morning session and the Sunday morning session I gathered with other members of my ward at our ward meeting house in south Minneapolis, and participated in the potluck luncheons our ward traditionally holds in between the morning and afternoon sessions. After the potlucks, the introvert in me drove me home where I watched the remaining sessions on my computer. But I was incredibly grateful for interactions with other members of my ward that were sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted, always genuine and loving. My former Bishop R. Chris Barden (who now lives in a different ward) surprised me with a handshake and a hug. His wife had been an angel of mercy to me on several occasions, including during a very meaningful visit at the hospital after my brain surgery. Tears came to his eyes as I asked him to send my love to his wife, and as he shared with me what it had meant to her to get to know me better.

For good or for ill, more than ever before I also experienced this conference in and through social media. Affirmation leaders committed to monitor social media during conference, so that if there were painful issues Affirmation members were dealing with, we could be there to help process. In general it seems that Affirmation members had a largely positive conference experience. We will be sponsoring a post-conference discussion on line this Wednesday (my birthday!), something that is becoming an Affirmation tradition.

I actually tweeted some of my conference highlights, including:
BKP: the true success of the Gospel will be measured by the spiritual strength of individual members 
Uchtdorf: nourish and encourage all light no matter how bright  
Christofferson: God neither compels nor abandons us 
Neil Andersen: opposition sends seekers of truth to their knees for answers 
Jörg Klebingat: make repentance your lifestyle of choice... and become really good at forgiving! 
Eduardo Gavarret: "I always knew it would be easier to follow the Savior with [my spouse] at my side" 
Holland: Jesus loved the impoverished in an extraordinary way. He was born to two of them. As an adult Jesus was homeless. 
Holland: Don't withhold because you think the poor brought their plight upon themselves 
Holland: The Kingdom of God is coming to deliver the poor. May we be the fulfillment of that prophecy. 
Craig Christensen: a testimony is more like a tree than a light switch  
Dean Davies: caring for the poor and needy is an essential gospel doctrine  
The Law of the Fast: if we want our cries for help to be answered, we must answer the cries of others  
Monson: "Wherever we go, our priesthood goes with us." 
Ballard: Latter-day Saints are always free to ask difficult questions. After all, that's what Joseph Smith did. 
Kacher: "Importance of acting for myself, and not forsaking my agency to others" 
Kacher: "No room for honest inquiry? Ask the young boy (Joseph Smith)." 
A fair amount of commentary on LGBT social media naturally focused on Dallin H. Oaks' talk in the Saturday afternoon session about the First Commandment, and its implication for social engagement on contentious social issues, specifically the issue of same-sex marriage. Many gratefully noted his statement that "we should be persons of goodwill toward all, rejecting persecution… based on…differences in sexual orientation," though some also expressed concern that his continuing denunciation of same-sex marriage might have the opposite effect intended by this statement on many members of the Church. What I found most noteworthy about Elder Oaks' talk were the four words he used to qualify the injunction to "hold out for right and wrong": "as they understand it." A call for humility to accompany any stand based on religious or moral conviction?

Dieter F. Uchtdorf's talk, significantly delivered during the Priesthoood Session, on the human tendency to project faults and flaws on others while failing to look inward was one of the most profound. Our ability to look inward, he taught, is the "key to personal wisdom and lasting change." No one is exempt from the need to daily engage in scripture study, prayer, service and sacrifice. He noted examples in the Church of "outward righteousness" accompanied by distressing signs of inward corruption. "Those who do not want to grow and change," he warned, "may find the Church increasingly irrelevant to their lives." "If our weaknesses remain obscured in the shadows, Christ cannot heal them." He urged members of the Church to use the scriptures and General Conference talks not to condemn others, but as a "mirror" to examine the state of our own soul.

Henry B. Eyring's talk in the third general session was my favorite, because of his nuanced discussion of one of the core doctrines of the Restoration: personal revelation. "Revelation begins, ends and continues," he said, "as we receive personal revelation." Never before have I seen in a conference talk such a strong statement about the right and responsibility of every Church member to seek and receive a personal, "confirming witness" of any and every Church  injunction and teaching. He described seeking personal confirmation as something "we all must [do]." A personal search for and concrete efforts to achieve holiness must also accompany any such search. Charity toward others, letting virtue garnish our thoughts, a personal commitment to studying the word of God and praying daily, were all prerequisites to any successful search for personal revelation. And patience. His talk ended with the blessing, "I pray that you will receive the confirming revelation you need."

Something Pres. Eyring said in his talk came back to me with force at the end of conference. As Pres. Monson said, "I invoke the blessings of Heaven on each of you," the Spirit descended on me with a force that overcame me. I was grateful to be at home, observing conference in private, I was so overcome. I fell to my knees in prayer, sobbing.

"Don't take lightly  the love you feel for the prophet," Pres. Eyring had said. "It is more than just hero worship." I had in that moment an undeniable testimony of God's concrete presence in the world today, represented in this mortal man, subject to all of the frailties and infirmities every human being is subject to.

That testimony, more than any specific words spoken in conference, was and is and will be what matters most to me here and in Eternity.

No comments: