Sometimes General Conference discourages me, honestly. Sometimes I'm feeling like life is great and happy and there's nothing to worry about, and then I watch General Conference and they talk about how wicked and full of lies the world is and how it's just going to get worse and harder to live in, and then I start to worry. Fortunately, that's balanced out by the more uplifting and feel-good stuff.
I didn't watch the Women's Session so I won't comment on it. Seeing as it was the same weekend as Comic-Con, however, I rather expected to hear that the audience had been full of Xenas and Wonder Women and Pennies (from "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog").
Despite the lack of new temple announcements, the Saturday morning session was notable for President Uchtdorf calling out anti-vaxxers. His talk wasn't about them or directed only at them, of course, but he's an intelligent man who knows what's going on in the U.S. and if he didn't recognize those applications of what he was saying then I'm Jeff Foxworthy. Of course, none of them will listen, but at least he said it. (The Church's own stance on vaccines is exemplified by the fact that it works to provide them for literally millions of people around the world. Anti-vaxxer Mormons chalk this up to prophetic fallibility, which coincidentally just so happens to apply whenever a church member disagrees with him.)
"Aren’t we all a little bit like this? After a recent medical procedure, my very capable doctors explained what I needed to do to heal properly. But first I had to relearn something about myself I should have known for a long time: as a patient, I’m not very patient. Consequently I decided to expedite the healing process by undertaking my own Internet search. I suppose I expected to discover truth of which my doctors were unaware or had tried to keep from me. It took me a little while before I realized the irony of what I was doing. Of course, researching things for ourselves is not a bad idea. But I was disregarding truth I could rely on and instead found myself being drawn to the often-outlandish claims of Internet lore."
"I suppose I expected to discover truth of which my doctors were unaware or had tried to keep from me." That says it all, really. It's hard to imagine such an intelligent man doing something so foolish, but he had the humility to admit it, and that makes him all the more likable.
Saturday afternoon, of course, was the calling of the new Apostles: Ronald A. Rasband, Gary E. Stevenson, and Dale G. Renlund. There was a lot of anger and backlash from certain quadrants, not all of them outside the Church, over the fact that all three of them are white guys from the Wasatch Front. This means that still all of the current Apostles are white, most are from Utah or Idaho and only one is from outside the United States.
Diversity in the Church is a very slow trickle-up phenomenon. I, like many people, was hoping that the the time had come for more diversity to appear in the Quorum of the Twelve. I don't believe in affirmative action or ethnic quotas, and it doesn't matter where they're from or what color their skin is, but I was hoping this would represent a coming of age, so to speak. I mostly kept this to myself, though, and was a bit distressed that so many people didn't. To see so many people going "I want a Hispanic Apostle and an Asian Apostle and an African Apostle" or even naming the Hispanic and Asian and African General Authorities that they thought would be good choices was rather obnoxious. I felt that so much public speculation and hoping was inappropriate and that if anything, it would make the Lord less likely to choose more diverse Apostles, since He wants it to be clear that He isn't dictated by political correctness or popular opinion. (The priesthood ban wasn't lifted until most of the public pressure against it had disappeared.)
Yes, I felt a twinge of disappointment when no one more exotic was called. I'm not ashamed of that. Anyone who says they've never been disappointed with any of God's decisions is an atheist or a liar. But I got over it. And I think that's why so many speakers the next day emphasized that these calls were from the Lord. That was confirmed to me most powerfully during Elder Jörg Klebingat's opening prayer. Now there's a spiritual giant if ever there was one. I think he should be - ah, never mind, I'll keep that to myself.
My friend Pascal had this to say:
"1) Unlike some have suggested, the Church does not change its stance on basic principles based on the political climate of the day (in North America).
2) The Church functions on revelation, not affirmative action.
3) Just because these three men are American, does not mean that they have never left the U.S. or lack an understanding of global issues - I am quite certain that they each have spent more time living and traveling abroad than you.
4) Most importantly, a concern raised by actually a lot of faithful Mormons is that the current Quorum of the Twelve is 'not representative' of global Church membership. While that is true, it has nothing to do with anything, really. The Apostles' duty isn't to represent Church membership in any way in front of anyone. Their duty is to warn, direct, preach and maintain Priesthood keys on the Earth. Color or origin are of no consideration in that effort.
5) If you seriously think that there had been any per se *better* alternatives, you may actually want to read some of the talks of the new Apostles. At face value, they all seem like logical choices to me, but I guess tastes differ."
Here's the real disappointment: no more talks given in non-English languages, at least for now. To quote Syndrome: "Lame, lame, lame, lame, lame!" Of course, the logistics of all that extra translation work must have been really difficult and I was surprised they could even do it in the first place. Maybe they didn't have the time or resources this time around because of the three Apostles dying. I hope that's it, because I hope they'll be back at it next time. It was so cool. And to be honest, I don't understand why so many people got confused or distracted by the English translators talking over the top of the actual words. Even with my hypersensitivity to noise it never bothered me in the slightest. People do that in documentaries and stuff all the time.
My institute teacher referred to Elder Robert D. Hales' talk as the "spinach" of the gospel feast that Mormons don't enjoy eating. Here are some excerpts to demonstrate why.
Elder Hales: Many young adults in the world are going into debt to get an education, only to find the cost of school is greater than they can repay.
Me: La la la, I really don't want to hear this...
Elder Hales: The track that leads to marriage passes through the terrain called dating!
Me: Can we please go back to talking about student loan debt?
Elder Hales: Dating is the opportunity for lengthy conversations.
Me: No, seriously, I'm suddenly very interested in student loan debt.
Elder Hales: Speaking plainly, please don’t date all through your 20s just to have a good time...
Me: Oh, believe me, Elder Hales, I don't.
I missed the first half hour of the priesthood session because I severely underestimated how long it would take to cook pasta for dinner. I admired the gorgeous autumn weather as I walked to the chapel, but I was saddened to miss seeing a long line of cars and fellow pedestrians coming out of the woodwork left and right to head in the same direction. That sight has always put me in mind of the opening song in "Quest for Camelot".
Quest for Camelot - United We Stand
Of course, as even this brief snippet makes clear, he is using "skepticism" in a very specific context with regard to spiritual matters. Skepticism in its broadest sense of not believing everything you hear is a virtue, and one he actually endorsed in his own talk earlier that day when he spoke of "the often-outlandish claims of internet lore". Sometimes these "often-outlandish claims" and spiritual matters overlap. Most faith-promoting urban legends, for example, are simply not true, and I detest them even more than normal untrue urban legends because faith should not be rooted in falsehoods. I am very skeptical of those and make no apologies for being so. But that's different from being skeptical about the existence or validity of spiritual matters altogether.
On Sunday morning President Monson spoke. Toward the end he was clearly struggling. Two great viral stories came out of this: one of President Uchtdorf standing behind him for support, out of view of the camera and most audience members; and a couple eyewitness drawings from children who apparently saw angels standing on either side of him. And since I'm not the kind of cynic that President Uchtdorf describes (a cynic, to be sure, but not that kind, though they're probably nothing noble or impressive about my kind either, but I never said I was perfect), I have no problem believing that. I know there are unseen people around us because I've been touched by one, not emotionally but literally. And of course children would be the ones with enough faith to actually see them. (Children besides me, anyway - I was an apatheist at that age.)
Elder Durrant's talk about "ponderizing" was unfortunately soon overshadowed on the Internet by the revelation that his daughter and son-in-law had made a website to sell "Ponderize" merchandise and unveiled it immediately afterward. The backlash was immediate; some from members of the Church and some from ex-Mormons, migrating over from their message boards in droves to attack something that was none of their concern, just because they could. The site lowered its prices, then raised them back up and promised to donate all profits to the Missionary Fund. But very soon it was taken down altogether. Elder Durrant also apologized because he had known about the site and not made them take it down. I felt sorry for them because, while they were really, really foolish with their timing and presentation, that's no reason to assume malicious intent and demonize them. Stuff like that is sold at Deseret Book all the time and no one bats an eyelash.
At our home evening activity the next day, someone referred to Elder Koichi Aoyagi as "that cute little Asian man from General Conference". I tried to teach everyone his name by using it in our little charades-type game, but they evidently thought "Couchy Couchy" was close enough to count. Sigh. With a name like that, they should at least be able to tell he's Japanese, not just "Asian". Sigh.
Next week maybe I'll share a couple more of my poems, or maybe not. We'll see.