Sunday, April 2, 2017

Notes on the Sunday Morning Session

Not a whole lot of consequence was shared at the priesthood session, so I'm just going to cover a couple of brief points from last night here instead of giving it a separate post.  The only things I felt like commenting on were from the same talk:

So if you feel a little overwhelmed, take that as a good sign.  It indicates that you can sense the magnitude of the trust God has placed in you.  It means that you have some small understanding of what the priesthood really is.
—Henry B. Eyring
I don't understand how a church that claims it offers unparalleled happiness in this life can also indicate to its members that a constant feeling of being overwhelmed due to the impossible scope of their responsibilities is "a good sign."  Sure, a little stress here and there is healthy.  A little responsibility is healthy.  But if you ask me, being told that it's okay and even good to be fundamentally overwhelmed by what is expected is not going to make people happy.  Perhaps it can reassure them that they aren't the only ones who struggle, but it certainly isn't delivering the kind of joy the church advertises.

Additionally, being told after already doing so much for the church that I still only possess "some small understanding" of what I've been divinely entrusted with would only make me more anxious and less happy.

[Christ] seemed to take particular notice of people who are overlooked and even shunned by society so we should try to do that too.
—Henry B. Eyring
That doesn't explain why the church has been so far behind on social issues.  I mean, at least the church is trying not to be racist these days, but it's still actively contributing to part of society's attempts to shun those of different sexual orientations.  It's taken drastic steps to remove those in homosexual relationships from official membership and to divide the families affected by these relationships.

The other thing I don't like about this quote is the insouciant wording.  General Conference addresses tend to be polished and carefully constructed, tending toward the flowery and the bombastic depending on the specific speaker.  But the best turn of phrase Eyring can offer when it comes to emulating Christ's outreach to the outcasts and the downtrodden is a flippant, "we should try to do that too."  There's no noble phrasing here, nothing about making that behavior a part of our daily discipleship or anything along the lines of searching for opportunities to follow the pattern set by our savior.  Just...we should try to do that too.

To me, it sounds like it's good if we can manage to do it, but if it never happens it's not that big of a deal either way.   It's hardly a powerful apostolic call to action.

Moving on to this morning's session...

Because the Book of Mormon is true, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's Church on the earth....
—Thomas S. Monson
I've got to be the fifty thousandth person to make this point, but no, Thomas, that's not true.  IF (and that's a big if) the Book of Mormon is true, it does NOT logically follow that the LDS church is God's church.  There are literally dozens of offshoots of Mormonism in existence claiming that the Book of Mormon is their foundational book of scripture.  The Monsonite church is far and away the largest in membership, the most publicly visible, and the most successful, but that doesn't necessarily indicate that it is the only one among many that follows God's complete gospel.

The problem is that the Book of Mormon doesn't lay out the proper organization of the modern church.  About the closest thing it has is Jesus's selection of twelve apostles.  And the Book of Mormon certainly doesn't set forth any kind of procedures for succession of power once a prophet dies.  Even Joseph Smith didn't reveal specific guidelines about who should take the reins after him.  So if the Book of Mormon is true, it doesn't do much to clarify which of the numerous denominations claiming to follow its precepts is God's legitimate church.  It could be Monson's, but it may not.

Regardless, the issue is not so simple and straightforward as Monson is pretending.

Today, the war continues with increasing intensity.  The battle touches us all—and our children, unfortunately, are on the front lines facing the opposing forces.
—Joy D. Jones
And now we've arrived at my least favorite talk from this session.

I am so sick of war metaphors.  I am so sick of the way this church tries to pit its members against everyone around them and against these purported evils overrunning the world in the most spiritually violent way possible.  Are there dangers and negative influences in the world?  Of course there are.  But oversimplifying the complexity of life into a militaristic, us-versus-them struggle for our very survival does everyone a huge disservice.

Especially when we're putting the children on the front lines in this metaphor.  If listeners weren't already concerned for their own spiritual safety, now we're depicting their own kids crouching in the muddy trenches of their souls, ducking at the sound from the mortar shells of immorality.  Way to use fear and overwrought analogy to whip people into a dogmatic frenzy.

And why are we doing this?  Oh, right, to encourage people to brainwash their kids!  Here's a simple guideline:

Perhaps we underestimate the abilities of children to grasp the concept of daily discipleship.  President Henry B. Eyring counseled us to "start early and be steady."  So the third key to helping children become sin-resistant is to begin at very early ages, to lovingly infuse basic gospel doctrines and principles from the scriptures, the Articles of Faith, the For the Strength of Youth booklet, primary songs, hymns, and our own personal testimonies that will lead children to the savior.
—Joy D. Jones
What Jones is doing here is overestimating the abilities of children to grasp the concept of daily discipleship by confusing it with the abilities of children to grasp the mechanics of daily discipleship.  Children can do as they're told, but it doesn't mean they understand the reasons behind why they're doing so.  Which,  perhaps, is why it's so important to get them started as early as possible, before they've learned to ask questions and before they've learned any semblance of objective skepticism.  That way, these church-approved behaviors will be deeply ingrained in them long before the risk of independent thought comes along.

Perhaps being sin-resistant comes as a blessing from repeatedly resisting sin.
—Joy D. Jones
The whole point of this talk was to instruct parents how to make themselves and their children naturally able to better resist temptation.  And this explanation basically boils down to "you can resist sin by resisting sin."  What kind of inane advice is that?  If it were that simple, we all would have thought of it!  The best she can do is to remind us that we can get better at it by doing it more?  I thought we were locked in heroic combat for the eternal fates of our loved ones and she's up there at the pulpit making it sound like it's a piano lesson.

In today's world, where integrity has all but disappeared, our children deserve to understand what true integrity really is and why it is so important—especially as we prepare them to make and keep sacred covenants at baptism and in the temple.
—Joy D. Jones
Can we stop being so dramatic about the moral state of modern society?  Can we demonstrate some kind of evidence for this claim that integrity is nearly dead?  I mean, it's generally less socially acceptable these days to give voice to racism or to disrespect women than it has been in the past.  Sure, we still have plenty of dishonest businessmen and corrupt politicians and cheating spouses, but can you point to a time in history in which those things were absent?  Integrity may be in short supply, but I'm not seeing how that's unique to our era.

And I'm not crazy about how far forward this brainwashing looks, either.  Start at an early age and prepare them to make temple covenants?  Baptismal covenants, okay, I can understand that, that's only at age 8, but temple covenants will come at least a decade later.  Are we just pushing our kids through the doctrinal cattle chute here?   Can't we indoctrinate one step at a time?

Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate.
—Joy D. Jones
Sweet Mother of Cornbread, she's practically admitting to the brainwashing here!  She's already insisted that children have the ability to understand the concept of daily discipleship, yet she's conceding that children are masters of mimicry.  If they're merely aping their parents' behavior, they don't understand the concept.

I mean, yes, absolutely, her statement here is true.  Children are indeed excellent imitators, and the future generation deserves to have good role models to emulate.  But to encourage and even glorify twisting children's tendency to imitate into a stifling of their independent thought and a furthering of the church's purposes is simply disgusting.

Sometimes we rationalize.  We wonder if we are feeling a spiritual impression or if it is just our own thoughts. When we begin to second-guess, even third-guess our feelings (and we all have), we are dismissing the spirit.  We are questioning divine counsel.  The prophet Joseph Smith said, and I quote, "If you will listen to the first promptings, you will get it right nine times out of ten."
—Ronald A. Rasband
Nine times out of ten isn't good enough for me.  If anything, it points to the ineffectiveness of God's system for communicating with us.  You're telling me that when the spirit of God tries to influence me to take a particular action, I could be totally misinterpreting the source of that prompting around ten percent of the time?

Considering some of the things people have claimed promptings to do, it seems safer to wait for the second or third prompting before taking action, since numerous stories have indicated that the Spirit will indeed try again.  But if you're a missionary at a fork in the road and the Spirit may be prompting you to enter a dangerous neighborhood, I don't think we should fault you for trying to be more certain that it's the Spirit talking and not just some off-the-wall idea from your own head.

If the prompting is that important, God should be making himself clear the first time around instead of leaving so much room for interpretation and rationalization.  And God's representatives should not preach so harshly against reasoning if God isn't willing to provide a strong impetus to disregard that reasoning.

Over time, that bishop and I have observed that those who are deliberate about doing the small and simple things, obeying in seemingly little ways, are blessed with faith and strength that go far beyond the actual acts of obedience themselves, and in fact may seem totally unrelated to them.  It may seem hard to draw a connection between the basic, daily acts of obedience and solutions to the big, complicated problems we face, but they are related.  In my experience, getting the little daily habits of faith right is the single best way to fortify ourselves against the troubles of life, whatever they may be.  Small acts of faith, even when they seem insignificant or entirely disconnected from the specific problems that vex us, bless us in all we do.
—L. Whitney Clayton
Oh, hey, I finally get to use this GIF that's been languishing on my hard drive for a few years:
...actually four things, by my count
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Lord's mouthpiece.  This bumbling bit of clumsy repetition is the most soaring oratory God's servant could muster.  It's like he was dancing around a central point that he felt he wasn't really getting across and he kept trying until either he found what he was looking for or he gave up—I'm honestly not sure which.  This speech was badly in need of a good Sam Seaborn polish.

I'm not speaking of blind obedience, but of thoughtful confidence in the perfect love and the perfect timing of the Lord.  The trial of our faith will always involve staying true to simple, daily practices of our faith.  Then and only then does he promise we will receive the divine response for which we long.  Only once we have proven our willingness to do what he asks without demanding to know the whens, the whys, and the hows, do we reap the rewards of our faith and our diligence and our patience and long-suffering.
—L. Whitney Clayton
Not speaking of blind obedience?  The church doth protest too much, methinks.  But that's not my biggest beef with this passage.

Clayton is saying that in order to receive answers to our prayers, God requires that we remain steadfast in the daily observances of our faith to indicate that we will do his will without asking any details from him.  If that's the case, that would have been really nice to know.  Because when I was in the midst of the most important prayers of my life, I was predicating my expectation for an answer on, you know, ancient scripture:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Ask God in the name of Christ?  Check.  Sincere heart?  Check.  Real intent?  Check.  Faith in Christ?  Check.

Oh, if only I'd known that there were additional requirements in the fine print!  If only I'd realized that there were even more rigorous hoops to jump through before receiving one simple bit of communication from my Father in Heaven who's supposed to love me!  If only I'd understood that I also needed to show that I was willing to do whatever God asked of me and to demonstrate that I wasn't interested in interrogating the father of my spirit concerning the exact game plan for his commandments to me!  Maybe if I'd known all that, I'd have acted accordingly, received my confirmation that the Book of Mormon was true, and never left the church.

But, yeah, God chose to include huge sections of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon instead of adding a couple of sentences into Moroni chapter 10 that may have clarified the absurdly complicated prerequisites for basic communication between a loving Father and a desperate son.

Makes perfect sense.

Real obedience accepts God's word unconditionally and in advance.
—L. Whitney Clayton
This is just scary.  Obedience means doing what you're told.  The church already glorifies obedience enough—why does Clayton feel the need to delineate between the actual definition of the word and his own kind of "real" obedience?  And why does he not seem to see the irony in insisting that he isn't asking for blind obedience while also insisting that obedience be given unconditionally and in advance?

In contrast to the institutions of the world which teach us to know something, the Plan of Salvation and the gospel of Jesus Christ challenge us to become something.
—Dallin H. Oaks
Okay, but that's not inherently a contrast.  Knowing and becoming are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, I'd argue that they're directly proportional.  The more you know, the more you can become.  The more you become, the more you can know.  So I'm not sure what claim of supremacy you're trying to assert here.

Fear rarely has the power to change our hearts, and it will never transform us into people who want to do what is right and want to obey Heavenly Father.
—Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Uchtdorf spent his time advising against fear and fearmongering.  Most of what he said was good, except that so much of it did not jive with the words and actions of his colleagues.  He said all this in the same session as Joy D. Jones's fear-fest.  And it's not hard to find other recent examples of fearmongering from the church leadership.  Favorites include:
Apparently, all these church leaders aren't going to change our hearts this way, but I guess that hasn't stopped them from trying.

Often people may condemn bullying in others, yet they cannot see it in themselves.  They demand compliance with their own arbitrary rules, but when others don't follow these random rules, they chasten them verbally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically.
—Dieter F. Uchtdorf 
The irony is so thick you could cut it with an airplane propeller.

I'm not aware of much in the way of physical chastening in the church, but there is plentiful verbal and emotional chastening arising from the church's demanded compliance with its arbitrary rules.  And yet...Uchtdorf is somehow unable to see that kind of bullying within his own organization.

To be fair, it's probably because he doesn't think the rules are arbitrary.

There is no fear in Christ's love.
—Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Really?  Because if you've been paying attention to Bednar in the last two years or so:
Godly fear is loving and trusting in Him. As we fear God more completely, we love him more perfectly. And perfect love casteth out all fear.
Bednar seems to think that we should have some kind of quantum superposition of these two emotions (I swear I've made that joke before, but I can't seem to find it).  Uchtdorf says that we should have no fear because Christ loves us.  Bednar says that fear is how we express our love, which is how we get rid of our fear.  Bednar makes no sense all by himself, but when you throw Uchtdorf into the mix and try to reconcile both apostles' statements, it all falls apart even more.

One of these two guys needs to get back on message.

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