Usually I watch General Conference alone at the institute. On those rare occasions when I watch it at someone's house with a group, I have found the groups to be irreverent and obnoxious. But not this time. This time I accompanied Debbie's little ward clique that I have recently found to be a bunch of attractive, intelligent, funny, kind and now, as it turns out, spiritual people. Here is me on Saturday morning, blissfully unaware that someone is photographing me without my consent. The people on the floor all chose to sit there before I even arrived, so nobody judge me for not being a proper gentleman. I would have sat on the floor too if there had been room.
Marriage and Family
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke about marriages and families. In lamenting the current state of society, he said, "Somehow, as the days multiply and the color of romantic love changes, there are some who slowly stop thinking of each other’s happiness and start noticing the little faults. In such an environment, some are enticed by the tragic conclusion that their spouse isn’t smart enough, fun enough, or young enough. And somehow they get the idea that this gives them justification to start looking elsewhere." I felt pricked with just a bit of guilt as I thought of my own life. When I first arrived in my current ward, I loved it, and was happy and enthusiastic. But as the years wore on, the magic somehow faded. Perhaps I should have tried harder to keep it alive. Perhaps I should have taken more initiative to reach out to the newcomers in the ward, plan events, participate in Sunday school, and so forth. Instead, I started hanging out with Debbie's ward and it rekindled those feelings and I fell madly and hopelessly in love with it.
President Uchtdorf continued, "Now, just one word to those of our single brethren who follow the deception that they first have to find the 'perfect woman' before they can enter into serious courting or marriage. My beloved brethren, may I remind you, if there were a perfect woman, do you really think she would be that interested in you? In God's plan of happiness, we are not so much looking for someone perfect but for a person with whom, throughout a lifetime, we can join efforts to create a loving, lasting, and more perfect relationship. That is the goal." This is obviously a paraphrase of Elder Richard G. Scott in the April 1999 General Conference: "I suggest that you not ignore many possible candidates who are still developing these attributes, seeking the one who is perfected in them. You will likely not find that perfect person, and if you did, there would certainly be no interest in you. These attributes are best polished together as husband and wife."
Those single brethren who seek for perfect women have probably just been slightly confused by the teachings of Mormon culture. Yes, you are supposed to "marry up" so that you can tell everyone your wife is your "better half". But better does not mean perfect. And she doesn't even need to be a lot better than you. Just a little will suffice. Okay? Okay.
"Every family has moments of awkwardness. Like when your parents ask you to take a 'selfie' of them..."
It's funny because a "selfie" is supposed to be a picture of yourself.
"...or when your great-aunt insists that you are still single because you are just too picky..."
But... isn't that what you just said?
"...or when your opinionated brother-in-law thinks his political view is the gospel view..."
You know who you are. Stop it.
"...or when your dad arranges a family portrait with everyone dressed like characters in his favorite movie. And you get the Chewbacca costume."
Personally, I often flip-flop between being respectful and contemptuous, and these people provide a case study of why. I read up on them before their opposition last year and I empathize with the sincerity of their concerns, as I do with anyone who has faith challenges. Many of us have been there. However, I sometimes lose patience with inappropriate behavior such as, in this case, seeking out tickets to General Conference for the sole purpose of expressing opposition. They were disappointed at being directed to speak with their stake presidents. They wanted to speak to an Apostle, which is what used to happen on these heretofore rare occasions, but that would be totally unfair to members in the DRC or Thailand who may have the same concerns but be unable to travel to Salt Lake City.
I dreamed just recently about the prospect of being a father. Specifically, I was married and telling my wife, "Wouldn't it be awesome if we had quintuplets? I mean, obviously it would be really really difficult, but also awesome. How many people have quintuplets? And we could set up the diaper changing table to be like an assembly line where we just change diapers all day, and put it on a postcard and show all our friends and say 'Look, aren't we funny?'" I woke up feeling very strange. The prospect of having children is daunting because it seems like waving my arms and yelling, "Here I am, karma! Come and get me!" And with my luck, they'll be totally normal so I won't understand them or know how to deal with them at all.
I also liked this line: "While these considerations are certainly true and important, we know that fatherhood is much more than a social construct or the product of evolution." I'm too lazy to check, but I think this is the first time the e-word in its biological sense has been uttered in General Conference in over thirty years, and almost certainly the first time it's been used in such a level-headed and neutral context, evidently placed (as it should be) on the same level of non-controversy as social constructs.
"Then she literally dissolved -"
"- in tears."
President Uchtdorf Redux
"As I pondered the history of Dresden and marveled at the ingenuity and resolve of those who restored what had been so completely destroyed, I felt the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit. Surely, I thought, if man can take the ruins, rubble, and remains of a broken city and rebuild an awe-inspiring structure that rises toward the heavens, how much more capable is our Almighty Father to restore His children who have fallen, struggled, or become lost? It matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem. It matters not how scarlet our sins, how deep our bitterness, how lonely, abandoned, or broken our hearts may be. Even those who are without hope, who live in despair, who have betrayed trust, surrendered their integrity, or turned away from God can be rebuilt. Save those rare sons of perdition, there is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored." That's kind of like what I said last week about Bionicle. I should be an Apostle someday. Just kidding.
The Refugee Crisis
I think I've pointed out before that when liberal members disagree with the Church (and whatever their own faults, they're obviously not the ones saying this), they at least own up to it and say the Church is wrong. When conservative members disagree, they often play stupid and try to pretend they're still following its positions to the letter so they can continue looking down their noses at the liberals. Maybe it would benefit them to someday be forced from their homes and lose everything and see how they like it. "Sorry," Europe would say, "we're sure most of you Americans are perfectly nice people, but a teeny tiny handful of you have committed mass shootings, so any of you could do it and we can't foolishly put ourselves and our families in danger. Remember the saying - 'You knew I was a snake when you put me in your pocket.'"
The leaders of the Church are merely asking us to have compassion and to put it into action, which is meant to be the essence of our religion and more important than any other outward observances of it. If we snub our brothers and sisters in their most desperate hours, then no amount of tithe paying or temple attendance will make us true Christians. Individually, most of us are powerless to do much about it; but cumulatively we can bless millions.
Applying What We Learned
Somebody asked if we were there to sing, because that's what their visitors usually do. I thought that was a brilliant idea because either they would like it or they would realize there are worse things than being lonely, so it would be a win-win. We took a request and sang "Come Come Ye Saints", and then we visited a young eighty year old in a wheelchair and she gave us a song written by her great-grandfather. Charlie accidentally caused a mild uproar as he looked over it and said, "I can play-ish it." We asked for five minutes to practice, she generously gave us six, and then we sang again and this time it was truly mediocre but she said we were better than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Only near the end of our visit did I notice she was missing a leg. She said, "I'm getting a prosthetic tomorrow." Someone said, "Cool." She said, "Well, it's not 'cool', but it beats not being able to walk."
The greatest miracle, apparently, was that we had a Russian RM on hand and they had a lady who only spoke Russian and couldn't talk to anyone except her daughter. He said he would probably go back every week, and I was very touched to hear that.