Sunday, October 6, 2019

Notes on the Sunday Sessions

When I acted and made my best decisions, it was then the strongest spiritual confirmations came.
Gerrit W. Gong
Oh, right, that's exactly what it says in Moroni 10:6—"But verily, I say unto you, the Holy Ghost will only manifest the truth of all things unto thee most strongly if thou wilt first make thine own decision and act upon it."  That must be why spiritual confirmation didn't work for me. 

That's also what it says in Doctrine and Covenants 9:10—"But after you have studied it out in your mind and asked me if it be right, I will only cause that thy bosom shall burn within thee most strongly if thou hast already made thine own decision and acted upon it."  I'd never noticed that verse before.

I'm so sick of the church trying to water down the simple instructions the scriptures offer for receiving confirmation and revelation.  They're always adding qualifiers that will explain why it still works even when it appears not to have worked.  At least this one is a little more creative than "your confirmation will come according to God's timeline, not your own."

 To help others is the path of discipleship.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I liked most of Uchtdorf's talk.  It was a cute little parallel drawn between the Plan of Salvation and The Hobbit.  In a similar vein of Sister Aburto's talk from last night, a lot of what he had to say represented what I wish more religions actually sounded like.  Including: 

If people decide the church is not for them, that is their decision.  It does not mean that you have failed.   
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
I sure hope my parents didn't nod off and miss that comment.  There is one thing he said I want to criticize, though: 

God has appeared to men in our day.  We have a living prophet.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The fact that these statements are right next to each other sure makes it seem like he's trying to strongly imply that Russell M. Nelson has seen God face-to-face without having to say so explicitly.  I, for one, would like to hear some more information about this.  I'd like Nelson to relate his visionary experience seeing the face of God.  Scriptural prophets did it.  Joseph Smith did it.  If the fact that it still happens today is supposed to be evidence of the legitimacy of Mormonism, I think we deserve to hear some details straight from the horse's mouth.

The Lord, who knows the end from the beginning, knows the unique difficulties of our day.  Therefore, he has provided a way for us to resist challenges and temptations, many which come as a direct result of the deceitful influences of the adversary and his attacks.  The way is simple:  through his servants, God speaks to us, his children, and gives us commandments.
Gary E. Stevenson
Here's how Stevenson suggests that we learn to resist temptation:  by keeping the commandments.  Thanks, but that's not really helpful.  Generally the way temptation works is by getting us to do something we already know is wrong.  So he's really saying that you should avoid doing the wrong thing by always doing the right thing.  Let me tell you, if it were that simple, temptation wouldn't work very often.

He's saying you should avoid the thrill of driving really fast by reading the speed limit signs.  Okay, sure, but when a really catchy banger is blasting on the radio and you really really really want to put the pedal to the metal and accelerate up to 90 miles an hour, it's not like you're unaware the speed limit is 50.  You already know what you want to do is against the law.  How do we resist the temptation to drive at unsafe speeds?

Stevenson's answer:  by keeping the speed limits that are on the posted signs!

Thanks, I'm cured.

In addition, he [Satan] camouflages other dark, harmful content found online such as pornography, blatant attacks on others through cyber-bullying, and sowing misinformation to cause doubt and fear in our hearts and minds.  Cunningly, he whispers, "Just follow me and you will surely be happy."
Gary E. Stevenson
Just follow me and you will surely be happy?  Didn't he just tell us, more or less, that the secret to freedom from misery is to follow the prophet?  He's not so cunning about it, but he's doing the same thing he accuses the devil of doing.

Sure, cyber-bullying and sowing misinformation are bad things.  But let's not pretend like the Adversary-with-a-capital-A is the only guy camouflaging things as something they're not.

It would be impossible to calculate the amount of service that Latter-day Saints render around the globe every day of every year, but it is possible to calculate the church as an organization does to bless men and women, boys and girls, who are in need of a helping hand.  The church's humanitarian outreach was launched in 1984.  ...  This effort proved to be the beginning of what would later be known as Latter-day Saint Charities.  Since that time, Latter-day Saint Charities has provided more than 2 billion dollars in aid to assist those in need throughout the world.
 —Russell M. Nelson
Sure, that figure sounds impressive, but let's not forget that a lot of us weren't even born in 1984.  How impressive is the figure of two billion dollars over that time span? By my math, it's a little over 57 million dollars per year.  If we use the membership total from 1984, when the church hadn't yet hit the 6 million mark, that works out to a little over ten bucks per member.  2 billion is a lot of money, but when it's spread out over 35 years and the organization providing it requires a minimum of ten percent of the annual income of its members, it's really not that impressive.  It also means that the total amount of humanitarian donations over that 35-year period is just about on par with what the church spent to build a single shopping complex in Salt Lake City.  What does that say about the church's priorities?

To be fair, I have no doubt that the church has done plenty of good around the world.  But the fact that the funding put toward those projects pales in comparison with the funding put toward commercial ventures should indicate that these things are done to give the appearance of charity.  They're done so the church can pat its members on the back in speeches like this while taking more money to put toward less admirable endeavors.  Meanwhile, the individual members who actually donate the clothing and work in the bishop's storehouses and clean up disaster-stricken areas exhibit so much more compassion and Christlike love than the organization they represent.

To be fair a second time, Nelson does repeatedly give credit to the members for their generosity, their sacrifices, and their service.  I don't really trust this gratitude he expresses because I think he's only doing it to convince them to keep giving him money, but at least he did give credit where credit is due several times.  And I think that's important, because I think that the overwhelming majority of the good accomplished by Mormonism is due to the members, not the organization.

This assistance is offered to recipients regardless of their church affiliation, nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender, or political persuasion.
Russell M. Nelson
So, do you want a cookie, or what?

Congratulations for having some basic human decency when you're giving assistance to those in need, I guess.  Does Nelson expect that most charities will say things like, "I'm sorry you're starving, but since you're a Methodist, or Bangladeshi, or white, or bisexual, or a woman, or a member of the Labour Party, I'm not going to give you food"?

I'm sure that kind of thing can happen, but it's not like avoiding it yourself is something that deserves celebration.  It's like saying in casual conversation that you don't believe cannibalism is morally right and then expecting a standing ovation.  Who was suggesting otherwise?

The people of Laputa spent three years digging a one-meter-deep trench through rock and jungle.  By working together, the joyful day finally arrived when fresh, clean water was available to all in that village.
Russell M. Nelson 
Dude.  You gave them training materials so that they could build themselves access to fresh water and you let them work on it for three years?  What the hell is wrong with you??

You spent two billion on a mall, you have thirty-some-odd billion dollars in the stock market, you're throwing up multi-million-dollar temples around the world all the time—if you really wanted to help these people, I'm sure you could have managed an 18-mile aqueduct or committed your charitable efforts toward helping with the actual digging.  I get that there's value in a community coming together and for the people putting the work in themselves, but this is for access to clean water.  That's a basic human necessity.  Based on the gloomy picture you painted of this town before explaining the solution, there's no reason you should have expected them to wait three years for this. 

Maybe I just don't know enough about how things work in the Congo, but it sure seems like an organization with the resources of the church should have been able to give something a lot better than this.

Side note:  in my efforts to learn more, I found a page on the church's website that should contain a video about this.  It doesn't load.  I know I'm putting my tinfoil hat on again here, but that's a little strange, no?  I can access other pages on the website just fine, but this one keeps timing out.

This kind of service provided by so many of you is the very essence of ministering.
—Russell M. Nelson 
Really?  Including those bright yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests you pointed out?  The essence of ministering isn't selfless service, it's service while advertising an organization that gives its devotees speeches about giving more money to the organization but doesn't guarantee them how that money will be used and doesn't show any details of its spending.  The essence of ministering is probably shit Nelson doesn't even know about because the Mormons who do it don't wear bright yellow shirts, may not even mention religion, and probably don't advertise what they did.  If you're worried about who's getting credit for the help you're providing, you're not helping the best way that you can.

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.  Or have we completely forgotten whose church this supposedly is?

I have also marveled as world leaders have visited the first presidency, expressing their hope for the church to be established in their lands.  Why?  Because they know that Latter-day Saints will help to build strong families and communities, making life better for others wherever they live.
Russell M. Nelson
You were worried I'd forget to use it this time, weren't you?
I have a hard time believing that this happens.

See, my original thought was that perhaps Nelson doesn't realize that world politicians have to be, well, politic.  When he said all the world leaders he's met with have remarked about how wonderful their Mormon citizens are and have thanked Nelson for the relief efforts of the church, I just thought he was naive.  Of course the heads of state will say things like that.  Even if they think Nelson is a cult leader, you don't welcome the head of a foreign religion and then tell him his followers are crackpots and he should go pound sand.  And it's very likely that Nelson's organization has helped numerous countries with disaster relief and humanitarian crises, so of course any world leader should express gratitude.  It's just good manners and good politics, and it doesn't necessarily mean these leaders would personally give a glowing five-star endorsement of the church behind closed doors.  I don't know why Nelson doesn't realize that.

But then we got to the above quote and I started to think Nelson wasn't naive, he was just making things up.  World leaders have visited the First Presidency?  Not the other way around?  So, like, for example, maybe President Xi Jinping of China would visit the United States and say, "Hey, let's make a stop in Salt Lake City on our flight back from DC so that I can visit the First Presidency of the Mormons.  I want to talk to them about establishing their church in our lands because that will help us build strong families and communities."

If this has happened, I'm sure it's not with China, but probably a much smaller country.  I would be really interested in the details of this, because it sure sounds like bullshit.  Nelson did refer to "world leaders" as a plural noun, so that means that there were heads of state of at least two countries in which the church is not established that have visited the first presidency.  

Please, Russ, tell us more.

But perhaps the greatest blessing for Job was to have increased in holiness through adversity and repentance.  He was qualified to have greater happiness in the days he had yet to live.  Greater holiness will not come simply by asking for it.  It will come by doing what is needed for God to change us.   
Henry B. Eyring
If you're miserable and suffering, this is a good thing!  Just like Joseph Smith in jail and Job when he hit rock bottom, this is all going to help you be even better than before!

Thanks, I'm cured.

We all know how we can do better.  There is no need to repeatedly remind each other.
—Hans T. Boom
Sure, right, okay, yeah, but what's the purpose of General Conference then?  If we all know how to be better, why do we need to have the prophets and apostles reiterate similar concepts every six months?

The same principles apply to those of you who are experiencing same-gender attraction and feel discouraged and helpless.  And maybe for this reason some of you are feeling that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not for you anymore.  If that's the case, I want to assure you that there is always hope in God the Father and in his Plan of Happiness, in Jesus Christ and in his atoning sacrifice, and in living their loving commandments.
Ulisses Soares
Did he drop his middle initial?

Anyway,  we need to stop saying things like "experiencing same-gender attraction."  These and similar phrases indicate that sexual feelings that diverge from what the church teaches is acceptable are temporary crises rather than deeply personal aspects of physical and emotional identity.
But assuring someone who is considering leaving the church because of discouragement stemming from their homosexuality that there's hope in the gospel of Christ is useless.  The church, through its backward positions, its exclusionary policies, and its bigoted sermons, is responsible for making its own gay members feel discouraged and helpless—but here Soares is crying out, "Wait!  Don't feel discouraged and helpless! There's still hope!"  He doesn't offer any solutions to the despair beyond that, but he sure hits that hope note as hard as he can.

Say it with me:  Thanks, I'm cured.

Sometimes we seek for a blessing and set a time limit for the Lord to fulfill it.  We cannot condition our faithfulness to him by imposing upon him a deadline for the answers to our desires.  When we do this, we resemble the skeptical Nephites from ancient times who mocked their brethren, saying that the time was passed for the fulfillment of the words spoken by Samuel the Lamanite, creating confusion among those who believed.
Ulisses Soares
I' he blaming people who don't get their prayers answered quickly for the confusion of other people?  Stop whining, you're making my friends uncomfortable?

Some of these situations are literally life-and-death.  He's telling people who are in the final stages of degenerative disease that they should be patient when they're waiting to be healed?

Also, I don't like how he spins this to make it sound like people are only faithful if the blessing is fulfilled on their preferred time frame.  At the time the blessing is pronounced upon the head, there is no difference in faith between a person whose blessing will be fulfilled tomorrow and a person whose blessing will be fulfilled ten years from now.  By talking about conditioning our faithfulness, Soares pretends like there are people out there whose home teachers are about to lay hands on their head who are saying, "I have faith to be healed if it happens this week, but if it's going to happen next month I don't have faith in the healing power of the priesthood."  That doesn't even make sense.

Faith generally becomes conditional as the person exercising it fails to see the promised benefits of that faith.  And that is completely rational.  When you've been raised to believe in the healing power of God and God's representative blesses you and time passes and passes without the fulfillment of that blessing, of course it makes sense to adjust the conditions upon which your beliefs are predicated.  But the way Soares is phrasing it kind of makes it sound like when you get impatient waiting for a promised blessing, you never had enough faith in the first place.  

Which is shitty.

At that time, she told her bishop that she was ready to accept the Lord's will, expressing her faith to be healed as well as her faith to endure her illness to the end.
—Ulisses Soares
And here's the counterpoint to the previous quote.  Ah, of course, real faith is being cool with whatever happens.  With respect to the woman who was ill, I wonder if it's easier to have faith when you don't actually expect it to have any affect on the outcome of a situation.  At least it doesn't put people like Soares in the awkward position of having to explain why priesthood blessings still totally work even though she wasn't healed.

His fruit is plentiful and always in season.  It cannot be purchased with money and no one who honestly desires it is denied.
Neil L. Andersen
I mean, full benefits of the fruit have to be purchased with ten percent of your annual income.  And plenty of people who have honestly desired the fruit have been denied.  In the past it was blacks, more recently it's been children of gay parents (maybe in that case it merely wasn't in season), and even within the past few weeks, it happened to a former member who was excommunicated more than 25 years ago.

So is Andersen lying, or is he saying that these people were not honestly desiring the fruit? 

You may wish to begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph's account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price.
Russell M. Nelson
In his closing remarks, after announcing some revisions to the temple recommend interview questions—and then reading every single one of them—Nelson drops a big teaser about next year.  He's decided that 1820 absolutely had to be the year that the First Vision took place and that there's no need for any discussion of the conflicting historical data—and, of course, that's assuming Joseph Smith didn't just make it up.  So next conference will be completely different.  I'm thinking strippers.

Sometimes I wonder how the biggest evidence against the church for believing members isn't the frenetic pace of change that only began after the advent of new leadership. If the church has been led by the same God the whole time, why did it take Monson's death for us to shorten church, to introduce new home-study gospel manuals, to let sister missionaries wear pants, to create 11-year-old deacons, to dissolve high priest groups, to reorganize youth programs, and now to mix up the format of General Conference a little?  It's obviously Nelson doing this stuff.  Nelson the man.  Just a regular guy.

Honestly, the special conference he's hinting at will probably just involve more musical numbers, maybe a bit more supplemental multimedia, perhaps with a Donny Osmond or Gladys Knight type of character, and more thematic cohesion when it comes to the speakers' topics.  I guess we'll see how prophetic I am six months from now. 

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