An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘General Conference’

Upon Reflection

In the writing class George and I attend, our instructor assigned us to write a dialogue between a talking horse and bear that meet on a deserted road at midnight and encounter a storm. Next, we were to write a moral for our story—essentially creating a fable. Then Ms Instructor pushed us a step further and asked us to write two or three different morals that could apply to our story. Most of us found our first morals tended to be clichés. As we pushed ourselves to create new morals—basically, to find the point to our stories—we came up with fresh insights.

One member of the group suggested we should have started with the moral—then written a story to support it. Hasn’t she heard enough Church lessons and talks to know that starting with the moral and concocting or choosing illustrative anecdotes is the surest way to lifeless, didactic rhetoric?

General Conference saddens me because bright men (and two women) with varied life experiences, in most cases deliver trite, repetitive discourse on one of 20 or more rotated topics: faith, repentance, the restoration, the Book of Mormon, priesthood, the atonement, etc. I long to hear something fresh and meaningful—a new insight the speaker has gained from life experience.

 How would it be to hear an anecdote such as an encounter with an arrogant TSA agent in an airport and hear the speaker reflect upon the involvement of his ego in his actions and reactions with other people? Or hear the victim of a stress-related illness such as colitis or ulcers consider the pros and cons of continual striving.

Same thing with lesson manuals—open up the field of topics to include issues relevant to contemporary Mormons—divorce, blended families, making wise choices in a world filled with worthwhile ways to use our time, energy, and money. Issues that have more than one solution.

The argument for keeping tight control over what is preached and taught within the Mormon fold in order to “keep the doctrine pure” is flawed. Far out and outdated notions abound in Mormon discourse under the present system. Opening discussion to relevant topics would not eliminate speculation and disinformation, but at least the rambling would be on more interesting topics—and might promote personal reflection and application to members’ lives.

General Conference and Family Folly

We invited Lolly and family for General Conference last weekend. By choice they have no TV and spend conference weekends at their stake center if they don’t visit us. While George and I are not big conference fans, any excuse to bring the grandkids here works.

They arrived in time for the Saturday afternoon session, all the kids—ages 4-11—in church clothes. George insists he listens better to the radio in his easy chair than in front of the TV, but I try to be supportive by sitting through at least part of each session. The afternoon session began peacefully enough with the boys on the floor in front of the TV constructing castles from a construction set. The girls sat close to me with picture books on their laps. Peaceful Mormon family watching General Conference.

Unfortunately, I had chosen a chair too uncomfortable for a nap in order to sit by my granddaughters and when the first speaker started in on the Joseph Smith story, I couldn’t force myself to sit through a 10,000th repetition of the account and sneaked upstairs. The girls followed and their parents, mesmerized either by conference or quiet children, didn’t call them back. We had a good time in the kitchen. I occasionally caught part of the conference addresses from the radio. At least I tried to listen until Elder Anderson’s remarks on the role of women caused me to wonder in what century the poor man thinks he lives.

Next morning I vowed to spend a full hour in front of the TV before excusing myself to prepare Sunday dinner. The session started with typical spirituality for our household. Six-year-old Tiger started a fight with 8-year-old Priss and responded to parental chastisement by sulking in the closet while Priss nursed her hurts by my side. Then Pres. Eyring took the podium and began relating a silly story about the problem he faced when assigned (as a replacement for then Pres. Hinckley) to give a commencement address at a non-Mormon university.

When told by the administration that religious references would be inappropriate in that setting, Eyring faced a grave moral dilemma. Should he cancel? How could he possibly address a university commencement audience without testifying of Christ?

His tearful account of the experience moved me, but not spiritually. When the phone rang, I escaped to answer—not bothering to return after finding a wrong number. The girls followed and we began dinner prep early.

As we cleared up the dinner dishes, Lolly asked how I managed to get the family to watch conference when she was growing up. “Well, I left you in your pajamas and served snacks,” I recalled. Jaycee, who had showed up for her dad’s grilled pork loin but not conference, added: “And we gave back rubs, shoulder rubs and head and neck massages while watching.”

“Maybe I should try that,” Lolly said.

“It may not encourage you, but you might want to consider the effects of conference watching on our family,” I said, “Four of five non-affiliated with the Church.”

Will Lolly give up trying to interest her kids in General Conference? If she’s anything like me at her age, she’ll keep doing what doesn’t work longer and harder.


I’ll Be Watching Conference Sunday Morning

Our daughter called to see if our three youngest grandchildren could stay with us Sunday afternoon. She, her husband, and their 9-year-old have tickets to the afternoon session of General Conference. I agreed, knowing I could change my tickets for the matinee of The Caretaker. I never turn down a chance to spend time with our grandkids, ages 2, 4 and 6. Then Lolly said they would all need to spend Sunday morning with us in order to be close enough to Salt Lake to make the afternoon session by 12:30—the recommended time for seating. That means I’ll have to watch conference Sunday morning—I do worry about losing grandparenting rights if my devout daughter learns how casual my church commitment is.

For years I devoted two weekends a year to General Conference. I have photos of myself and George dozing on the sofa to prove it. We did rest our eyes occasionally, but basically the messages uplifted me. I read the synopses in the Church News, then reread the addresses in the  Ensign. I highlighted thought-provoking phrases and copied them in my quote book.

Gradually, I found fewer phrases to highlight—fewer original passages that provoked deeper thinking about this world and the next. A sense of déjà vu descended upon me when I clicked on the TV at conference time. I noticed the same topics recycling year after year even when new general authorities took their turn at the pulpit: Follow the Prophet, Keep the Commandments, Be Morally Clean, Families Are Important, Prepare for Catastrophe, Share the Gospel, Magnify Your Callings, Try Harder. Has it always been like this and it just took thirty years of adult membership for me to memorize the messages? I’m not sure. Listening to conference gives the impression that nothing much has changed in the world in the last 20 years except for Satan becoming hyperactive.  Now that may be evidence of the timelessness of the gospel. And it’s sort of a positive. Once you have the messages memorized, you’re free to pursue other interests on conference weekends.

A recent Mormon Matters posting asked readers what they expected to hear in October conference. Nostalgia is probably burnishing my memory, but I expect nothing as good as the messages I enjoyed decades ago. The eager anticipation when Boyd K. Packer’s name was announced as the next speaker. Homey stories about his children touched me as he taught gospel truths—before age and duty gifted him with perpetual gloom and grumpiness. Sterling W. Sill’s literary allusions and Marion G. Hank’s genial humor carried their messages to my heart. I know Paul Dunn embellished his stories—I suspect he’s not the only one—but he was optimistic as well as entertaining. The last time I was truly entertained by a conference address was a few years ago while in Cedar City. Equipment at the local radio station malfunctioned during an address on morality and the tape or whatever they use stuck— repeating the word “sex” over and over and over. No, I expect to be neither entertained nor enlightened by conference speakers this year, but I will enjoy the grandkids.

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