Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The God Who Weeps: A Review

Recently there has been a lot of buzz surrounding a new book, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, created by the dynamic (and prolific) duo Terryl and Fiona Givens.  In response to a what many in the Mormon intellectual community consider to be a growing need for philosophically rigorous and theologically rich discourse, Deseret Book agreed to publish this most recent magnum opus.

The God Who Weeps also comes as an invitation to focus more attention on the essential doctrines of Mormonism instead of the peripheral culture.  Such an invitation it is hoped, will, in Terryl Givens' own words, "radically resonate with with Christians and spiritually minded people everywhere."  Thus far, the invitation has been mostly well received both inside (see, for example, these reviews at Times and Seasons, By Common Consent, Wheat and Tares, Feminist Mormon Housewives, and Mormon Stories) and outside (see, for example, excerpts from this praise) of the Mormon intellectual community. (For "What is an intellectual?" see here, and for the question, "What is a Mormon Intellectual?", see here).

Like the teachings of the prophet that he described in his speech to students at a BYU forum in 2005 (Lightning out of Heaven), Givens' lightning words have struck the dry kindling of the fire pit of the Mormon intellectual community, warming those who are afflicted with doubts.  In an attempt to rescue the merciful God from the wrathful and reproving God of Calvinism, Givens brings to the foreground of the LDS scriptural canon the apocalyptic vision of Enoch, an ancient prophet of the original Zion.

In The God Who Weeps, Givens proposes five core components of Mormon theology, namely, that "1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain, 2. We lived as spiritual beings in the presence of God before we were born in this mortal life, 3. Mortality is an ascent, not a fall, and we carry infinite potential into a world of sin and sorrow, 4. God has the desire and the power to unite and elevate the entire human family in a kingdom of heaven, and, except for the most stubbornly unwilling, that will be our destiny, and 5. Heaven will consist of those relationships that matter most to us now."

In this theological tour de force, Givens gets to the heart of matters by addressing themes of love, desire and agency.  He demonstrates great breadth of knowledge while simultaneously plumbing the depths of the nature of God and man.  He is quick to point out, and rightly so, that heaven is not an exclusive club reserved for only the most gifted or able, but that God, our Heavenly Father desires that all of His children obtain the same joy and blessings, the same eternal life that He enjoys.

In addition to plentiful passages and parables from poets and sages, Givens takes the account of Enoch as recorded in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price as the guiding narrative of The God Who Weeps.  The God that Givens portrays is not just a God with body and parts, but more precisely a God with passions, one who has compassion, even to the extent of being vulnerable.  Certainly Givens is right to remind the reader that one of the central lessons of the vision of Enoch is that charity is the great virtue that is under attack, and that God's love is all encompassing.  The Love of God, as manifested through the Atonement of Jesus Christ is at the center of Enoch's vision, of Heavenly Father's plan of salvation, and I believe, of Givens' book.

As much as I enjoyed this new book, The God Who Weeps, and as little as I want to throw cold water on the fire that it has kindled, it seems to me that perhaps Givens takes the weeping metaphor a little too far.  Of course, God, our Heavenly Father, has greater mercy, love, compassion, kindness, wisdom, knowledge, virtue and patience than we can adequately imagine or describe, but he is also perfectly just.  He lovingly and constantly calls upon us all to repent and exercise faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis explained:

"What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented?'  We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven - a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all'."

Fortunately, The God Who Weeps includes an extensive treatment of the doctrines of faith in Christ and repentance as well.  As we learn from the account in Moses, Enoch's heart "swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook." (Moses 7:41)  Enoch, like God, wept to behold the wickedness of God's children, which caused him to ask longingly: "When shall the day of the Lord come?" (Moses 7:45)  Enoch wept again, refusing to be comforted, until God covenanted with him (see Moses 7:59-64).  Enoch was in the bosom of God and Zion, but he wept when he saw that the people in Noah's day and in the last days would not heed the call to repentance.  That it may be otherwise, that the call of repentance may be heeded, has been the hope of Enoch and all the prophets.  When this warning is heeded, then the God who weeps may smile and rejoice.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Way

This is the way to happiness and fulfillment.

"Life is hard, but life is simple. Get on the path and never, ever give up. You never give up. You just keep on going. You don’t quit, and you will make it." - ELDER LAWRENCE E. CORBRIDGE

The Why

Today I attended a John Adam's Center lecture given by professor Peter Lawler entitled "The Christian Idea of the Person and the Nature of the Family", which was followed by a group discussion during lunch.  It was an edifying part of the conference that reconfirmed the notion that Mormons and Catholics have much in common, particularly as it pertains to questions of God and the family.  Of course, the same could be said of the common ground that is shared between other Christians, Muslims, Jews, people of faith, and all people, but today's discussion focused primarily on Catholic teaching, from Aquinas and Augustine to G.K. Chesterton and the Pope.

Professor Lawler framed his lecture with the idea that modernity represents a type of Christian heresy that was brought about in part by the thought of John Locke.  For Plato and Aristotle, God was neither personal nor relational.  In contrast, Christianity emanates from a God that is both personal and relational.  According to Lawler, Locke's heresy was to sever the relational God from the personal God, thus presenting a diety who created mankind only to ignore him.  Lawler explained that God and man are rational, willful, and loving beings, but that modernity has found ways to emphasize the rational and willful at the expense of the loving.

Professor Lawler imparted a few gems during his lecture that are worth recording:

"The modern world is a rebellion against Christianity."

"What does a woman need?  A good marriage.  What does a man need?  Any marriage at all."

"Chastity is a virtue for both men and women equally, but it's news for men."

"Women civilize men through love."

The discussion following the lecture was especially stimulating.  Some remarks were made about how the ancient Greeks answered the "what" questions (For example, What is justice?), whereas Christianity answered the "who" questions (Who is God?).  While the "what" and the "who" are important questions, with significant answers, the entire discussion seemed to point toward the "why".  We could ask, "What is man?" or "What is love?" and provide splendid answers from the annals of history, philosophy and literature, but the "why" seemed suspended above us, waiting to be seized.

This key teleological component is, in my mind, one of the greatest contributions of Mormonism that was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.  Like Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, he approached God with wonder and meekness, enough to ask not just "what" or "how" but "why"... or for what purpose did God create all things?  Why did God create the earth?  Why did God create man, woman, and all things?

The Pearl of Great Price contains a record of one of Moses' visions of the Lord.  Moses beheld every particle of the earth and discerned every soul by the Spirit of God and with spiritual eyes, after which he was moved to inquire: "Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?" (Moses 1:30)  Then, pressing further, Moses inquired again: "Be merciful unto thy servant, O God, and tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content." (Moses 1:36)  Moses had discovered the what and the who... but he wanted to know the "why".

The Lord's loving response contains more than the wisdom of the ages: "For behold, this is my work and my glory- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Royal Jelly Academy

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: "The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God found himself in the midst of spirits and glory, and because he was greater, he saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have the privilege of advancing like himself--that they might have one glory upon another and all the knowledge, power, and glory necessary to save the world of spirits. I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life that are given to me, you taste them, and I know you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life; I know it is good. And when I tell you of these things that were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and I rejoice more and more." (Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse)

The Prophet Joseph Smith also declared: "When things that are of the greatest importance are passed over by weak-minded men without even a thought, I want to see truth in all its bearings and hug it to my bosom." (Joseph Smith's Sermon on Plurality of Gods, History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 473-9)



Since truth is sweeter than honey, and should not be passed over without even a thought, perhaps it may be compared to royal jelly.  Bees produce honey, but worker bees also produce royal jelly, a substance that is fed to the queen bee throughout her development.  This royal jelly is a sweet and tart substance that may be harvested from the queen honeycomb cells, and it contains nutritive properties that are reported to stimulate brain cell development.

On another occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith stated: "We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up..." (TPJS, p. 316)  These declarations, together with the example of honey bees (see also Be Anxiously Engaged), have inspired the creation of Royal Jelly Academy.  In connection with my blog, The Good Report, the Royal Jelly Academy is an informal organization with the express purpose to glorify God and seek out sweet truths (from books, plays, articles, film, music, art, or any other source), things that are virtuous, lovely of good report or praiseworthy, and distill them into the honeycombs of our hearts and hives of our souls so that we may in turn share them with others.  Like worker bees in fields of nectar-laden flowers, let us gather the sweet honey of goodness and the royal jelly of truth into the Royal Jelly Academy repository.



But this is just the beginning.  Joseph Smith taught that, "[Learning the] truth, combined with proper regard for it, and its faithful observance, constitutes true education.  The mere stuffing of the mind with a knowledge of facts is not education.  The mind must not only possess a knowledge of truth, but the soul must revere it, cherish it, love it as a priceless gem; and this human life must be guided and shaped by it in order to fulfill its destiny" (Joseph Smith, "Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith", 269)

Why should we be anxiously engaged in the pursuit of truth?  One of the greatest blessings that comes as a result of seeking and applying truth is that we become free. (John 8:32)  We ourselves are freed, and truth also frees us from the false ideologies of the world, as President Spencer W. Kimball explained: "We continue to resist false fashions in education, staying with those basic principles that have proved right and have guided good men and women and good universities over the centuries." (The Second Century of Brigham Young University)


Royal Jelly Academy invites anyone and everyone who is interested to participate by 1. seeking out and sharing morsels of truth from a chosen area or activity 2. summarizing, sharing sources or links, and commenting on the chosen area or activity (submissions will also be organized into categories), and 3. contributing to discussions on selected topics and ideas, whether in an online forum or during Royal Jelly Academy meetings.  This is "honey, without money and without price". (2 Ne. 26:25)   


For example, if a Royal Jelly Academy participant attends a Shakespearean Festival, said participant might write a paragraph or two on one of the plays, share a link to the webpage for the Shakespearean Festival, and then initiate a discussion online or during a club meeting.  Another participant might discover a beautiful Chinese musical composition and report on it, providing the source information.  Someone else might have just finished reading an inspiring book, after which he or she would simply submit a review of the book with possible topics for discussion.  Be creative.  Original work is also welcome.  There is no limit to truth, no end to virtue. And it tastes so sweet!

The primary purpose of Royal Jelly Academy is to unite people in friendship around a common goal to discover truth, to love it, and to learn to live by it.  Ancillary goals might include providing an edifying and inspiring forum for friends and family to discuss ideas, as well as a resource for parents, students and teachers to contribute ideas and expertise in an area of research.  One need not be a scholar to participate.  The only requirements are a love of learning, a desire to grow in integrity, spirituality and intelligence, and willingness to share with others the truths that you discover.  Then, with so much honey and royal jelly all the bees, even the queen bees, will be jealous. 





Tuesday, October 23, 2012

One of the Greatest Inventions of All Time: Ping-pong

In my never ending quest to find and embrace all that is virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy, I would be remiss if I did not at least pay a brief tribute to a well-known, but oft neglected virtuous activity.  I have written of Verseball, tennis, and other sports, but perhaps one of the greatest games that was ever invented is none other than that which is played with a small white ball on a smooth, painted surface.  Yes.  That is correct.  The game of which I write is ping-pong, a.k.a table tennis.

When my brothers and I were in high school, my dad was inspired to purchase a ping-pong table to put in the basement.  Of the many brilliant things that my father has accomplished, this was among the most brilliant.  Even though my brothers and I sometimes finished ping-pong matches with welts where we had hit each other with the ping pong ball, we spent precious hours together rallying.  You see, I love  my brothers (and my sisters too, who came later), and this time together was golden.  Since then, we have had other occasions to play, but I remember this time fondly.

Which brings me to my point.  Ping-pong is great.  Soon after arriving in Italy as a new missionary, my companion and I created a make-shift ping-pong table using a scarf and forks for the net.  Later, in Israel, my friends and I played ping-pong and backgammon during our breaks between classes.  Not long ago I met some college students from Nepal who demonstrated ping-pong expertise that I have seldom seen in any other players.  More recently, a co-worker invested in a ping-pong table, some paddles and ping-pong balls,  a contribution that has provided highly beneficial wholesome recreation.

In case you are not convinced that ping-pong is one of the greatest inventions of all time, consider this point, or this point, or this point, or these spectacular points.  Amazing!  This is beautiful point as well.  And don't forget about the ping-pong power of Bruce Lee, or the table tennis talent of Forrest Gump.  I might also add that there are great female table tennis artists, including Poland's one-armed (and left-handed) Natalia Partyka.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Jerusalem Jr.

Today members of the Orem 31st ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embarked on a field trip to the thriving metropolis of Elberta near Goshen, Utah.  Two bus-loads of single adults descended upon the ersatz Holy Land to follow in the footsteps, if not of the Savior of mankind, then at least in the footsteps of a red-headed, blue-eyed, New York actor who, with the help of some make-up artists, played the role of Jesus in the new Bible videos for the Church.  In this respect, we were walking on holy Hollywood ground.

As we shuffled through the dusty grounds of the replica of the Holy City, the smell of the nearby cattle farms fresh in our nostrils, meandering like replicas of the people who might have wandered the narrow roads of Jerusalem during the first century, I could not help but  imagine the real Jerusalem, the real people of the time, and the reality of what took place there. Although the set was impressive in the size, scale, and scope of construction, it took a lot of imagination to reconstruct the events of Christ's life during the tour.  Still, I could imagine the Lord there, leading his disciples, teaching his Gospel, healing a paralytic, a blind man, a leper, and an afflicted woman.  I could imagine him forgiving a woman taken in adultery, rebuking the scribes and the pharisees, and gazing over at Peter after the crowing of the cock.

We marched along a path that led down to the engineered olive trees in an area representing the Garden of Gethsemane, where we paused to reflect.  Then up the hill we trod to visit the crosses on the Golgotha of Goshen, where we also paused to consider what this representation was meant to represent.  Gazing at the crosses and then at my fellow travelers, I imagined that each would have been numbered among those who were faithful disciples, even in the midst of great opposition and adversity.

Returning through the set, and overhearing conversations about business in the court of the temple, I imagined the Lord clearing out the money changers with a whip and with righteous indignation.  Passing by the upper chamber, I imagined friends participating in the Last Supper.  Through another gate, the throng of thirty-somethings sat down to eat lunch, and I could imagine a miraculous distribution of loaves and fishes.  

If anything, the excursion was an enjoyable experience and an encouragement to watch the Bible videos that the Church has recently produced.  We may not have walked where Jesus walked, but at least it was good practice should we have the opportunity to do so in the future.

A Mini Mormon Moment

"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise." (Alma 37:6)

"We can do no great things, only small things with great love." - Mother Teresa 

Tonight I attended the screening of a documentary film called The Religious Test, a film that explores various opinions concerning Mitt Romney's path toward the presidency and the nature of what has recently come to be known as the "Mormon Moment".  Trevor Hill, the creator of the film, embarked on a personal quest to understand why, according to one poll, 1 in 5 people in the United States would refuse to vote for a Mormon President.  Trevor, who describes himself as an expert in neither religion nor politics, has constructed a thought provoking film that incorporates a wide variety of religious and political perspectives.  The film is commendable for the manner in which it seeks to open up a broader discussion of Mormonism to the general public, as well as for the questions it raises for Mormons themselves.

After the screening, Professors Ralph Hancock, Terryl Givens (author of the new book, The God who Weeps) and his wife Fiona Givens commented on the film and asked questions to generate a discussion.  I would like to touch briefly on the content of the film and the discussion, and use this as a springboard to articulate some of my own ideas and questions about Mormonism and the so-called "Mormon Moment".  I must confess from the outset that I am a biased observer of the film, not only because I am a Mormon, but because the filmmaker's sister is married to one of my brothers, and one of my sisters helped edit the film.  Thus, I am promoting the film itself as well as the kind of civil dialogue that the film engenders.

The Religious Test directs questions about Mormonism to a variety of audiences and observers, to Mormons of varying opinions, to non-religious observers, and to members of other faiths.  The documentary raises questions about Mormon beliefs and practices, Mitt Romney's campaign, polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, homosexuality, and other topics.  The stated purpose of the film is to "inform viewers about perceptions and misconceptions regarding Mormon faith and culture" while avoiding "dogmatic discussions" or seeking to "promote any belief system".

The discussion following the film focused in on the role of Mormonism in a pluralistic society, Mormon peculiarity, and why some people may experience trepidation with regards to religion in general and Mormonism in particular.  After some reflection on the content of the documentary and the ensuing discussion, I have come to the conclusion that this "Mormon Moment" may simply be a peculiar facet of a "Christian Moment" embedded in the larger diamond of Christian history, or History, which is itself only a small jewel in treasure trove of eternity.

Mormons are fond of speaking of life on earth as a brief moment, where the entire history of mankind amounts to what is less than the blink of an eye in the eternal scheme of things.  With this perspective in mind, in the past few decades mini Mormon Moments have quickly come and gone.  It could be said that the Mormon Moment actually began in the Spring of 1820, when Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ and not long thereafter was called to establish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  A decade later, the Book of Mormon was published, and since that time the Mormon Moment, broadly defined, has spread over nearly two centuries.  But two centuries is a very brief amount of time when compared to the history of the earth and of Christianity, and as noted above, even this later history is itself but a blip on eternity's screen.

It is within this eternal history and the broader history of the earth and Christian history (History), that I try to view this mini Mormon Moment.  In other words, there have been many "Christian Moments", from the time of Adam, who opened the way of the earth, to the time of Enoch, who created a Zion society.  There was a Christian moment from the time of Noah, who preserved a portion of mankind from the flood, to the time of Abraham, who was willing to offer his own son in sacrifice and in similitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  There was a Christian moment from the time of Moses, who lead the children of Israel out of bondage, to the time of Jesus Christ, who, in the greatest Christian moment, atoned for the sins of mankind by suffering in Gethsemane, dying on the cross, and rising from the tomb. (see Dispensations) There have certainly been other Christian moments in the past, and other Christian moments to come.  The question is, will this mini Mormon Moment within the broader Mormon Moment, embedded in the history of Christianity, a speck of eternity, reflect the truth and the love of the greatest Christian moment?

With this question in mind, Hill's documentary The Religious Test facilitates a discussion not only about Mormonism and the Mormon Moment, but about Christianity and Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ's mortal life was brief, but it was the greatest Christian moment because of the way that he lived.  Every moment of his life was a Christian moment, given willingly and lovingly in the service of God and of mankind: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16)

To an infinitesimally smaller degree and because of Jesus Christ, each human life is graced with Christian moments, moments that reflect the love, the kindness, the meekness and submission of the Savior.  God created man and woman, his sons and daughters, not only in his image but also in his likeness, which is to say that each human being carries within himself or herself a portion of divinity that finds expression in little Christian moments... a kind word, a listening ear, an anonymous act of service, a trespass forgiven, a warm embrace, a loving smile, or an expression of gratitude.  The cumulative effect of these little Christian moments, whether evidenced in the lives of Christians or of those of other faiths, is what constitutes a true Christian moment, and what should constitute this mini Mormon Moment as well as the broader Mormon Moment of the last couple of centuries.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Most Important Event there Ever Was


The French poet and essayist Charles Péguy once noted that "Homer is new and fresh this morning, and nothing, perhaps, is so old and tired as today's newspaper".  An inspiring news report is difficult to find; one that is instructive may be difficult to read.  Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once confessed that "I've often thought that if I'd been a journalist in the Holy Land at the time of our Lord's ministry, I should have spent my time looking into what was happening in Herod's court.  I'd be wanting to sign Salome for her exclusive memoirs, and finding out what Pilate was up to, and- I would have missed completely the most important event there ever was". (First ThingsWhy the News Makes us Dumb)  Similarly, in her analysis of Mark Bauerlein's book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future (or Don't Trust Anyone under 30), poet and homeschooling mother Sally Thomas observed that instead of producing a generation of geniuses, digital technology is having the opposite effect. (see I-phones Have Consequences)


From the crack of dawn journalists yoddle from media mountain tops about the wrestling match between Romney/Ryan and Obama/Biden, the European Union's Nobel Peace Prize, or the Major League Baseball pennant race, while social media and technology gurus echo their reports through the cultural valleys and lowlands.  If in the evening the clouds of cacophony were to part and the North Star blaze silently through the sky, the magazines, newspapers, and blogs of the following morning might still read: "Lay ee odl lay ee odl-oo" and every Facebook and Twitter post resonate with "O ho lay dee odl lee o, o ho lay dee odl ay".  Meanwhile, if a celestial observer were alert enough to witness such a sidereal phenomenon, his report would hardly be received any better than Amahl's report to his mother in Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Modern-day Herods, Salomes and Pilates will continue their charades, and the electronic echo of the  ubiquitous yodeling will only grow louder.  But Homer is still new, Amahl still beckons, and the messages of those who see things as they really are will ripple through every corner of cyberspace, sending waves of good news about the most important event there ever was.  

 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Music: The Food of Love

I love good music.  Perhaps more than any other medium, music has the power to edify, uplift, instruct, and transform.  This does not mean that visual arts, literature, theater, dance or other modes of artistic expression are any less valuable.  Hardly so.  But good music may be nearest of all to the essence of that which  infuses life into all creation.  I imagine, for example, that when God created the heavens and the earth, the work was enveloped in music.  When God spoke the words: "Let there be light", celestial notes may have reverberated throughout time, space and eternity.  Some mysterious harmony may have been heard at the creation of man.  Then shortly thereafter, while Adam slept, was there not a crescendo, from a pianissimo removal of a rib to the fortissimo formation of woman, the pinnacle of creation?  

It was not a coincidence that the Lord's commandment to Joseph Smith's wife Emma to "lay aside the things of this world, and seek after the things of a better" was immediately followed by a commandment to "make a selection of sacred hymns". (D&C 25:10-11)  Nor was it negligable that the Lord then declared that "my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads". (D&C 25:12)

Joseph Smith's successor once stated that "There is no music in hell, for all good music belongs to heaven".  If that is the case (and I agree that it is), then perhaps there are also varying degrees of musical glory that pertain to heavenly kingdoms.  The apostle Paul described three kingdoms of glory to the Corinthians, the one differing from the other as the glory of the sun differs from the glory of the moon and from the glory of the stars.  (1 Cor. 15:41)  If there are varying degrees of musical glory that are comparable to the glory of the sun, I would suppose that the highest and most refined of such music is as ineffable as that which Paul evoked earlier in his epistle: "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him". (1 Cor. 2:9)  What sort of symphony might be in store?

Until we are prepared for such songs (see also Psalms 33:3, 149:1, 144:9, Revelation 14:3, Alma 5:26, and D&C 84:98-102), we can appreciate the music that most closely approximates it, whether sacred or secular.  If mortal ears are not yet opened to the music of the sun, the moon, or the stars, there are at least terrestrial tones to relish, not the least of which could include the kind of music in our homes that is enjoined in the introduction to the LDS Hymnbook:

"Music has boundless powers for moving families toward greater spirituality and devotion to the gospel.  Latter-day Saints should fill their homes with the sound of worthy music.  Ours is a hymnbook for the home as well as for the meetinghouse.  We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes.  The hymns can bring families a spirit of beauty and peace and can inspire love and unity among family members... Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action.  They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace..."  

Contemplate, for instance, the transcendent message of of the hymn If You Could Hie to Kolob, or the  majesty of How Great Thou Art, or the power of Praise to the Man.  If you feel lost, like you are wandering in search of God, you might consider the invitation in Brightly Beams our Father's Mercy.  In need of peace, healing, comfort or reassurance?  I recommend Be Still My Soul or I Love the Lord.  If a feeling of rejoicing is in your heart that moves you to praise God, there are words and music that may come close to expressing that feeling in the hymn High on a Mountain Top.

Near the mountain tops of music are also heard the myriad melodies of the great composers, such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, and Vivaldi.  It would be impossible to enumerate all of the varieties of virtuous music, but such a list would be incomplete without mentioning at least a few others, such as Debussy, Tchaikovsky,  Chopin, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Dvorak, Puccini, Bizet, Schubert, Schuman, Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, Corelli, Purcell, Scarlatti, Telemann (one of my favorites), Rameau, Pergolesi, Palestrina, Gluck, Paganini, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Weber, Donizetti, Berlioz, Strauss, Liszt, Offenbach, Grieg, Mahler, Ravel, Britten and Stravinsky.  Then add to that Gershwin, Bernstein, Rogers and Hammerstein and Gilbert and Sullivan.

Finally, entering further into the secular realm and the areas of personal taste, I would include musicians such as Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Cat Stevens, Dire Straits and the great Jazz artists such as Ray Charles.  I could not forget Neil Young, The Police, Sade or U2, let alone Michael Jackson (have you ever heard this one?).

I have a particular affinity for the classical guitar, especially the virtuosity of one of its greatest masters, Andres Segovia. Amazing!  Of course I am leaving out the throngs of musicians from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and other areas of the world, as well as musicians from other time periods.  There are certainly modern musicians and masterpieces yet to be discovered.  There are simply too many to count.

Therefore, as the Bard has written, "If music be the food of love, play on". (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What is Manliness?

Much neglected ink has been spilt on this theme, from the epics of the Greeks and Romans to the wisdom of the Bard.  Even the travails of the Hebrews, the prophets and the Galilean fisherman rest like scriptural relics in the catacombs of time, glowing archetypes on the forgotten pages of history.  As Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, and an unending array of heroes flood hollywood screens and kindle youthful imaginations, the one true man, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, remains mostly hidden between the dusty covers of Bibles in hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, many women wonder "Where Have All the Good Men Gone?" and others bemoan the "Demise of Guys".  The male constituency of the 60's flower children now seem like so many Hercules in comparison to today's cultural counterparts.  In America it seems as if the hippies spawned yuppies who gave way to grungies that were overtaken by emos who tried to console themselves by becoming hipsters who drown their proverbial sorrows in video-game addictions.  No wonder there is such a craving for superheroes!

Whatever the cause of this decline, a revolution of manliness is underway.  Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield published a book on this very topic, appropriately entitled Manliness.  One website that has been gaining traction on the internet boldly announces the title The Art of Manliness. (see also Christian Manliness and Mormon Men and We Have Work to Do).  This revolution calls for recruits of all ages and social circumstances, even erstwhile hippies and hapless modern hipsters (no offense intended).

But this revolution would be hopelessly incomplete and doomed to failure if its telos were only to produce Clint Eastwood clones and NFL quarterbacks.  As much as I admire John Wayne, and as much as I enjoy a good Batman movie (sometimes I feel like I can relate to Christian Bale climbing out of a giant pit), the revolution in manliness only becomes truly purposeful when linked to a higher legacy.  Don't get me wrong, Superman is great, Bruce Lee was a stud, and professional athletes are fun to watch.  Moreover, motorcycles are appropriate means of transportation and Chuck Norris does have an amazing round house kick.  But isn't there more to manliness?

I believe that in many cases ancient virtue anticipates Christian virtue, but when the Lord asked the Nephites "What manner of men ought ye to be?" (3 Ne. 27) he did so after having fulfilled his mission in mortality by suffering for the sins of the world in Gethsemane, forgiving his enemies even from the cross, and rising from the tomb.  He had washed the feet of his disciples and commissioned them to preach the Gospel to all the world.  Similarly, though to a lesser degree, the Lord's revelation to the suffering Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty jail reveals elements of manliness that are lost, as the Lord put it, on "most men" because of their "nature and disposition". (D&C 121)

Part of the miracle of manliness manifested by Jesus Christ was that in one moment he could meekly clear out the money changers from the temple, and in another moment he could heal the ear of Malchus.  Likewise, Joseph Smith could in one moment rebuke the prison guards like a lion, and in other moments demonstrate the gentleness and meekness of a lamb.  In a similar vein, it was written of George Washington that "In all history few men who possessed unassailable power have used that power so gently and self-effacingly for what their best instincts told them was the welfare of their neighbors and all mankind" (James Thomas Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man).  Of captain Moroni it was written "Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, were, and ever would be like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, he devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men" (Alma 48:17)

If that's not manliness, I don't know what is.

     



Sunday, October 7, 2012

Summary of the 182nd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

182nd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Thus far, the sights and sounds of general conference have been inspiring: the choir, the thousands of saints gathered together, the conference center, the music... but certainly the change of heart and the feelings, those things which cannot be seen with the human eye, as well as the increased devotion to the Lord, the actions and the commitments that follow, are more important.  Among other things, I was struck by the numerous direct and indirect references to the testimony of the prophet Isaiah that were expressed during the first session and priesthood session of the 182nd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The prophet, President Monson, the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve are true watchmen, prophets, seers and revelators, just as Isaiah was a true watchman, prophet, seer and revelator in his time.  There were also many noteworthy references to the Apostles Peter and Paul, and the importance of becoming truly converted to the Lord.  There were other themes and parables which merit further study and application, but here follows a summary of the talks of the 182nd General Conference.

Saturday Morning Session

President Monson announced plans to construct two new temples, one in Tucson, Arizona and one in Arequipa, Peru, and the missionary age was lowered from 19 to 18 for young men and 21 to 19 for young women.  The call for more missionaries, including senior couples, continues to be an urgent priority.  As was mentioned in the Sunday morning session of conference, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that, "After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel." (TPJS, p.113)

Another salient theme of this conference has been the importance of acquiring a deep and lasting conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and inviting others to experience the same deep conversion.  Elder Cook emphasized that repentance is the only panacea to the world's problems, and that conversion to Christ comes through immersion in the scriptures, service to others, and resistance to the evils of the world, including pornography and immorality.  Elder Cook recalled the example of Eric Liddle, a British Olympian with a desire to glorify God who challenged conventions in Great Britain by refusing to run on the Sabbath (see Chariots of Fire, or one of my previous blog posts on this topic The Race is not to the Swift).

Sister Dibb, inspired by a young lady who was not afraid or ashamed to wear a T-shirt identifying her as a Mormon, decided that the personal declaration of her own faith would consist of four main points: 1. I'm a Mormon, 2. I know it, 3. I live it, 4. and I love it!  President Monson's lovely and enthusiastic daughter emphasized patience, humility and the enabling power of the Atonement in helping us to live and pray with Christ-like submission and the attitude of "Not my will, but Thine be done."

Elder Craig C. Christensen recounted a story of when he knelt in the celestial room of the temple to listen to his son who was touched by the Holy Ghost, which taught him the importance of feeling the Holy Ghost in one's heart and acting on the promptings, and not just enjoying the beautiful surroundings of the temple.  He was reminded of President Monson's oft repeated teaching that to heed the promptings of the Holy Ghost in order to become the answer to someone else's prayers is the sweetest experience in mortality.  Elder Christensen testified of the various roles of the Holy Ghost and the difference between feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Elder Shane M. Bowen recounted the heart-wrenching and tragic loss of his 8 month old son, and the process by which he obtained a new heart through the Atonement and mercy of the Lord.  By turning to the Lord in our trials we can be assured that great blessings await if we prove faithful.

Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke more of missionary service, and how conversion increases one's desire to serve and to share the Gospel.

Elder Uchtdorf shared three principles to help us make better use of our time during this brief mortal sojourn, and to help us live without regrets, namely, 1. To spend more time with those we love, 2. To become the person that the Lord wants us to become, and 3. To find happiness regardless of circumstances and to find joy in the journey.  As Elder Uchtdorf's wife often reminds him, life is not a race, but a journey.  Now is the time to rejoice. Now is the time to prepare to meet God.

Saturday Afternoon Session

After the choir sang the hymn "I am a Child of God" and Elder Marlin K. Jensen gave the invocation, Elder L. Tom Perry spoke of the importance of family in this rapidly changing world.  He shared his gratitude for having been blessed with a long life (he is a spritely 90 yr. old) and his gratitude for goodly parents, especially his mother.  Elder Perry called for greater devotion to a culture of covenants as opposed to the cleverly camouflaged cultures that run contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He outlined several principles to help parents strengthen marriage, family, and gospel living in the home, namely 1. pray in earnest, 2. spend time together in scripture study, prayer, family home evening and meal times, 3. use the Church support networks and communicate with leaders, 4. share testimony often and 5. organize family on clear traditions, responsibilities and rules.  He emphasized portions of the Proclamation to the World, particularly that spouses should strive to consistently demonstrate love for the Lord, for each other, and for their children.

Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a parable of honey bees that is worth reviewing.  The cumulative effect of small acts of kindness and the living of the small and simple truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ produces over time the blessings that can be compared to sweet and nutritious honey. Seemingly small contributions in the beehive can make a great difference.  Elder Ballard noted that integrity simplifies our lives, and he counseled us to follow one simple daily practice: To pray each day to be guided to recognize opportunities to serve someone and to become an answer to someone's prayer.  Responding to this counsel will help the Lord to "pollinate the world with the pure love of Christ" so that we may always answer "Yes" to the question of the hymn "Have I done any good in the world today?".

Elder Larry Echo Hawk shared an inspiring testimony by recounting an experience during the Vietnam War in which an officer rummaged through his bag and found a Book of Mormon, then asked if he were a Mormon and if he believed in book.  Elder Echo Hawk was able to respond affirmatively to both questions then, and now with his unique ancestry and calling, he was able, in Book of Mormon-esque fashion, to invite the modern descendants of the Lamanites to come unto Christ and be saved.

Elder Robert C. Gay spoke about the Oath and the Covenant of the Priesthood. Testimony of Christ and the Gospel is the most prized possession, never to be traded for trivial things.  All that the Father hath is worth ever so much more than money or even a national championship.  He recounted an experience in Africa when the Lord prompted him to help a young boy who was crying.  He learned not to rationalize away any prompting from the Lord, but to trust the Lord and act immediately on the prompting.  He also shared a stirring quote from Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "Satan need not get everyone to be like Cain or Judas, he need only to get able men to see themselves as sophisticated neutrals".

Elder Scott D. Whiting of the quorum of the seventy spoke of temples and temple standards, and the importance of correcting anything that may be amiss in our lives in order to enjoy the blessings of the temple.  The gritty walls that were sanded and the crooked window piece that was fixed are like small changes in our lives that help us to qualify for the blessings of the temple.

Elder Neil L. Anderson spoke on the trial of faith.  In order to build our core of faith we need to 1. exercise faith in Christ, 2. pray and study the scriptures, and 3. stay close to the Church and turn to the Lord.  Elder Anderson reminded listeners that God's ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts, and that the witness that follows our trial of faith is more precious than gold.

The concluding speaker of the second session, Elder Oaks, spoke on the importance of little children.  Like all of the talks, this is a talk that is well worth reviewing, so I will not elaborate here except to say that Jesus taught that in order to enter into the kingdom of God we must all repent and become as little children.

Priesthood Session

The priesthood session was inspiring.  Elder D. Todd Christofferson began the session with a talk entitled "We Have Work to Do".  Elder Christofferson's talk answered many questions that I had been pondering, and is one that I will return to and refer to often.  He spoke of those who denigrate men and manliness, and that the world, women and the Church are looking for those who will rise up and be men of God.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson spoke of integrity and resistance to digital peer pressure.  The measure of virtue and integrity is what you choose to think of and do when no one is watching, or it seems that no one is watching.  He called for young men in particular to be valiant and truly devoted followers of Christ.

Elder Anthony D. Perkins related a story of a highway with treacherous falling rocks to the path of life and the oath and covenant of the priesthood.  He warned priesthood holders to beware concerning themselves, with an invitation to obtain deep personal conversion and to strengthen family relationships through love and living the covenants of chastity and tithing.  Obedience to these commandments would act as a guard rail against dangerous falling rocks such as pride, anger, lust and greed.  Elder Perkins taught five principles that will help priesthood holders to always remember the Lord and to beware concerning themselves: 1. Pray always and obtain divine help, 2. Study ancient and modern scriptures, 3. Worthily participate in ordinances and seek earnestly the best gifts, 4. show genuine love, 5. obey the law of tithing, and 6. fully live the law of chastity like Joseph in Egypt.

Elder Uchtdorf revealed another airplane parable, comparing the flight of a restored 1938 Piper Cub to the flight of the Blue Angels.  He expounded upon the vision of the priesthood as not only the power to act in God's name for the blessing of others, but also the eternal power and authority of God to create and govern worlds without end, to redeem and exalt his children, and as the channel of the revelation of God in his glory.

Elder Eyring spoke of the experiences he had while praying to discover the gifts in his children, and how to help others discover and develop gifts in order to fulfill their full potential to serve and build the kingdom of God.  He discovered their gifts and carved symbols on boards to help his children remember and develop those gifts... an eagle, a lion, trumpets, a sun, bread and the words "J'aime et j'espere" ("I love and I hope").

President Monson also spoke of conversion to the Lord and reminded priesthood holders that a woman needs to be told that she is beautiful, valued, and worthwhile.  He encouraged us to see men not just as they are, but as how they may become, because repentance is available to all and men can change to become like the Savior through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  It was a powerful meeting with talks that are well worth reviewing and assimilating into our daily lives.

Sunday Morning Session

This morning Elder Henry B. Eyring taught that sometimes we create our own pavilions that cover God, but that he never hides from us.  He is there, always mindful, and when we remove our personal ambitions and desires for worldly success, we can find him, hear him and submit to all of his will, and to all of his timing as well.  We can ask God what he wants us to do and do it.  We can pray "Thy will be done, and in Thine own time".  We can trust the Lord and recognize his hand because he knows perfectly what is in our best eternal interest and welfare, even when we do not.  A little girl in the temple asked with purity, "Where is Jesus?" Another faithful soul prayed, "Heavenly Father, I will give Thee all of my time... please show me how to fill it", thus submitting to all the will of the Lord.  Jesus' only desire was to serve and to bless others.  We need not fear, and we can forgive and show love to all.

Elder Boyd K. Packer derived his talk from the hymn "Brightly Beams our Father's Mercy".  We can fix our gaze on the Lord and his teachings, turn away from sin, take the Lord's hand, and he will forgive and remember our sins no more.

Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society President of the Church, spoke of the Savior's loving kindness to each soul, ministering to them one by one.

Elder Walter F. Gonzales spoke of learning with our hearts.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a memorable talk about the first and great commandment, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, might, mind and strength.  Elder Holland's talk, and many others, referenced the life of the apostle Peter, whom the Lord asked, "lovest thou me?" The Lord asked three times, and each time Peter replied in the affirmative, "Yea Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee".  This question is one that will be posed at the judgment seat of God, which judgment seat will be a pleasing bar for those who can respond like Peter, and like Elder Holland, with deep sincerity and devotion, "Yea Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee" and who remember that "inasmuch as ye have done it unto one on the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me".  This is a talk to always remember and to apply at all times and in all circumstances.

President Monson asked that we each take an inventory of our lives to look specifically for the blessings, large and small, that the Lord has already bestowed upon us.  The purpose of life is to experience joy, and we can recognize that we can communicate with our Heavenly Father, and that He answers all of our sincere prayers, not always in the way that we expected, but in the best way because He loves us.  The more we act upon and quickly follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the more Heavenly Father can entrust us will revelation.

Sunday Afternoon Session

This afternoon, Elder Robert D. Hales addressed the question, "What does it mean to be a Christian?"  He also asked, "How are we doing in our quest to follow Christ?"  We can reject worldly habits and forsake our sins, deny ourselves, and leave our metaphorical nets to follow Jesus Christ daily.  Conversion is only possible through the Savior Jesus Christ.  Only He can make weak things strong (Ether 12:27).  In our homes, in the Church, and in the world, the Savior will make us equal to His work as we follow His teachings.  He will make us fishers of men.  Elder Hales spoke of Christlike attributes such as kindness and seeking the lost sheep, Christian faith during trials, Christian sacrifice, Christian caring, Christian service, Christian patience, Christian peace, Christian forgiveness, Christian conversion and Christian endurance.

Elder Richard G. Scott promised that those who engage in the work of redeeming the dead and family history will gain great protection from the adversary.  He admonished us to pray about our ancestors work, and with a sincere desire to help, find someone to guide in the beginning stages of identifying ancestors with the purpose of doing vicarious ordinances.

Elder Russell T. Osguthorpe spoke of true conversion as a life-long quest that includes learning to know and teach in the Lord's way.  Teaching in the Lord's way, as outlined in Teaching, No Greater Call, includes 1. teaching key doctrine 2. an invitation to action, and 3. promised blessings that bring a change of heart and help us to become more like Jesus Christ.  As we learn, teach and live the Gospel, we will become truly converted.  He reminded us of the Savior's teaching to the Nephites when they were commanded to return to their homes and ponder and pray for understanding.

Elder Marcus B. Nash likened life's journey to a hike up a steep mountain side, like a mountain side near Machu Picchu in Peru.  Faith and Reason are like the wings of a plane... and both are needed.  We can resist doubt, fear and sin with the Lord's help and relying on the Lord.  We can pray "Lead Kindly Light" with the hope that, as President Monson has taught, "The future is as bright as your faith".

Elder Daniel L. Johnson spoke of this life as a test, and that sometimes prosperity and peace are a greater test than even suffering or or trials.  The ultimate goal of discipleship is to do and become like Christ, to be one with him.

Elder Don R. Clarke shared five principles to help us develop greater conversion to the Lord and appreciation for the ordinance of the sacrament: 1. gratitude for the Atonement 2. remember the renewal of covenants 3. prepare for the sacrament by repenting and leave feeling the forgiveness from sin 4. pray for inspired solutions to life's problems with a humble desire to serve God, and 5. hunger and thirst after righteousness to be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Elder David A. Bednar gave a powerful talk on the relationship between testimony and conversion.  Peter answered correctly that Jesus is the Christ, but he still needed deeper conversion.  Elder Bednar praised the example of the Lamanites who never did fall away because of the depth and fortitude of their conversion to the Lord.  Samuel the Lamanite taught that conversion is brought about by 1. believing the prophets 2. exercising faith in Jesus Christ 3. repenting 4. experiencing a mighty change of heart, and 5. becoming firm and steadfast.  Testimony is a point of departure that is necessary but not sufficient for salvation and exaltation.  Knowing the Gospel is true is testimony, but being true to the Gospel produces conversion.  Elder Bednar likened testimony and conversion to the parable of the 10 virgins.  The five wise virgins not only carried the lamp of testimony, but had accumulated the oil of conversion, drop by precious drop, with patience and persistence.

Finally, President Monson closed the conference with the invitation that we study the talks in greater depth and seek to apply the principles more fully in our lives, to be truly converted to the Lord.  President Monson counseled us to be of good cheer, to strengthen our testimonies and to become more fully converted to the Lord.

As I mentioned earlier, some things that stood out to me from this general conference were the references to Isaiah and to the apostles Peter and Paul, as well as the increased emphasis on conversion to the Lord, a mighty change of heart and becoming true followers of Jesus Christ.  Today I came up with a personal metaphor to help me remember to seek greater conversion to the Lord when I ignited a spark in the water heater in the morning and later in the afternoon sat by a full-fledged fire in the fireplace to enjoy conference.  The spark of testimony is a necessary starting point, but in order to warm others that spark needs to grow from a spark and a small flame into a burning fire of conversion and consecration.

In conclusion, I resolve to study the talks in more depth, and to record some personal thoughts, impressions and action points from the conference in order to facilitate the process of becoming more truly converted to the Lord Jesus Christ, obtaining more drops of the precious oil of conversion, and increasing the flame of testimony into a burning fire of conversion and consecration.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Preparing for General Conference

Recently I have been studying King Benjamin's speech in the Book of Mormon.  A few thoughts have been impressed upon my mind in preparation for the fast approaching October general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. First of all, President Uchtdorf has reminded church members that at least three key concepts will help people to prepare to receive the messages that will be given at general conference: 1. Those who listen to and study the messages of general conference are entitled to personal revelation 2. Don't discount a message because it sounds familiar and 3. the words spoken at general conference provide a compass for the coming months.

The entire story of King Benjamin's final days can be read as a type of the general conferences of the church. At the end of his reign, King Benjamin was not only conferring the records upon his son, but he was also conferring stewardship over the kingdom.  King Benjamin had labored diligently to unite his people and to teach them correct principles, and he had labored diligently to establish peace.  Mosiah was prepared to follow in his father's footsteps, but first the Lord commanded that a proclamation be made to the people, and that it be written and distributed among the people.

I could not help but think that, in the same pattern of King Benjamin's testimony of Christ to his people, and his testimony of becoming the children of Christ, there are modern equivalents in the Living Christ and The Family: A Proclamation to the World.  King Benjamin's speech at the temple contains testimony and principles that can help us to prepare our hearts and minds for general conference, and help individuals to apply the teaching of the living prophets.

Not coincidentally, one of the most oft repeated scriptures in general conference comes from King Benjamin's Speech, namely Mosiah 3:19.  Repetition is the law of learning, and I suspect that some of the talks in general conference will refer to this scripture, as well as to the testimonies already given in The Living Christ and The Family: A Proclamation to the World.  As President Uchtdorf has reminded, this repetition is not evidence of a lack of creativity on the part of general authorities.

After his speech, the people were so moved upon by the Spirit of God and the joy of receiving a remission of their sins that they had "no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2) They desired to enter into a covenant, and their names were recorded, and they became the children of Christ (Mosiah 5:7).  King Benjamin's people were prepared for such a blessing because they were willing to make and keep the necessary covenants, as also were many of the early pioneers of the church who received this revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith: "And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be asanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me—" (D&C 43:9)

By following President Uchtdorf's counsel and the patterns set forth by King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon, we are sure to enjoy and appreciate general conference more fully.