Friday, September 25, 2015

"The Preparatory Priesthood" by President Henry B. Eyring

Find this talk here.

  • He says he's "gathered with the priesthood of God". Given that the Hebrews had the higher priesthood taken from them and didn't know it, I wonder if we'd know if we really had the priesthood.
  • I'm halfway through the talk and still not sure what he's trying to talk about. He's telling stories about quorums working together, which is pleasant, but seems little more than that.
  • "All of us in the priesthood have an obligation to help the Lord prepare others." Um, prove it, please. We have an obligation to take care of the poor, to teach the gospel to those in our care, and to seek out Christ in our own lives. I can't think of any scripture right off that says we're obligated to help prepare others for the priesthood. I can think of one that says that if we let are charitable and let virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly, "the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven," suggesting that we don't understand the doctrine of the priesthood until we have been charitable and virtuous.
  • He says our words aren't as important as our behavior, but Romans 10:17 says "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." So those we're teaching won't get faith until they hear the word.
  • It looked like we were going to have another "Praise President Monson" session, but it ended after two sentences, without any detail. The bits of talks that try to hold President Monson up as an example are bothersome. "Why not speak of the atonement of Christ?"
  • He's definitely right that a bit of respect toward a young person from an elder they respect can work wonders.
    • He's also certainly right that it's important to show love in advance of the chastisement

“Lord, Is It I?” by Pres. Uctdorf

Find this talk here.

  • Though the first third of this talk is stories trying to teach the same subject, it's an important subject, and I'm glad to see it addressed. Scriptural study in the church often demonstrates the spiritual blind spot problem Pres. Uctdorf discusses: we read scriptures to prove what we already think, rather than to determine what we're supposed to think. Thus, members of the church are often at least as Pharisaical as Christ's mortal persecutors, strictly adhering to the letter of an oral tradition built up as protection for God's simple and straightforward law. We have an entire book of scripture devoted to telling us how badly the Gentiles will reject the gospel in the latter days, but often fail to realize that *we* are those very Gentiles. We somehow figure King Benjamin's very clear instructions with regard to beggars and the needy somehow don't apply to us. We read scriptures condemning priestcraft, and faithfully pay tithing to support our professional priests, their fleet of high-end Toyota Avalons, and their high seats in our famous synagogue.
  • "The ward had every outward indication of faithfulness". It's wonderful that he would put it that way. Clearly the outward signs we consider to be hallmarks of the righteous aren't everything we sometimes think they are. Perhaps, to carry the thought a little, those outward signs we interpret as abject wickedness may not merit our trust, either.
  • Yes, in this world it's easy to procrastinate scripture study. It's even easier when your bishop warns you against studying on your own.
  • "Where is my treasure" -- an excellent question. Do we treasure our church membership more than anything, or are we interested most in our relationship with Christ? Pres. Grant says he specifically prayed not to meet Jesus Christ because he knew of too many people who claimed to have met Christ, and then fallen from the Church. So which is more important: the earthly organization, or the Savior?
  • "Does the Spirit of God dwell in your hearts?" How do you know? I know I don't regularly receive what I'd call "revelation", and Joseph Smith says that since the Holy Ghost is a revelator, you can't have received him and not be receiving revelation, then I guess I have somewhat to work on.
  • Pres. Uchtdorf is exactly right: it's awfully hard to look at ourselves with sufficient candor to spot our weakness and humbly seek to change.
  • It's nice to think of ourselves deciding to become better sons, husbands, etc. when we acknowledge our failures, but the scriptures say the right thing to do is to humble ourselves and ask Christ for grace, so that those weaknesses may become strengths. In other words, don't get so caught up in behavior; get caught up in Christ.

"The Law of the Fast: A Personal Responsibility to Care for the Poor and Needy" by Bishop Dean M. Davies

Find this talk here.

  • These are remarkable times, indeed, in terms of the technology and science the Lord has given us. It's also remarkable that now, when we have people who we claim are prophets, seers, and revelators, they almost never show evidence of the spiritual gifts of healing and revelation their scriptural counterparts manifested.
  • It's also interesting that although General Conference talks regularly point out, as this one did, increased human violence and natural disaster around the world, as the scriptures have predicted, the Church downplays the rest of the scriptural predictions, namely that the world is imploding.
  • Yes, "when and where possible" the Church does an awful lot of humanitarian service, which is no doubt a good thing. One wonders how much more they could do if they quit buying advertising in Times Square, and making big screen movies about caricatured "Mormons". If we're really supposed to take care of the poor, let's quit wasting time and money on relatively worthless endeavors such as those, or on employing thousands of Church employee drones who waste their days trying valiantly to live their idea of the gospel against the constant restraint of an institutional bureaucracy that rivals the government in stagnation and corporate boot-licking. Let's instead use our resources for the poor. The amount of money spent on Church educational materials (most of which the members ignore and all of which are wholly inane), advertising and public relations materials, focus groups and market research (yes, the Church does lots of market research, such as before making changes to temple ordinances to see if they'll go down well), and especially on our army of paid clergy, dwarfs the Church's fast offering and humanitarian budget. That this fact is widely known despite the Church's far-reaching efforts to keep its accounting secret demonstrates even more clearly just how wide the gulf between the two budgets really is.
  • How many of us call, and have the Lord actually answer, as Isaiah promises, even when we obey the Church's regular fasts with strictness? In our stake conference, Elder Ballard told us that he's grateful for "trained scholars" in the church who can answer his questions about Church history and the scriptures. So it sounds like Elder Ballard, at least, isn't in the habit of asking the Lord and receiving answers from Him.
  • Bishop Davies tells us that the commandment to fast and give fast offerings promises extraordinary blessings. But the Isaiah text he refers to doesn't limit our requirement in that way. Instead, Isaiah says we're commanded to loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke. That's far more than just fasting and giving an offering, and it's not everything Isaiah says we're supposed to do. He also tells us to bring the poor into our houses, cover the naked, and assist our needy relatives.
  • Once again we have mention of priesthood keys, this time used to distribute fast offering resources. Does anyone actually have a good idea what priesthood keys exist, in the church's thinking? Is there a list somewhere? (Answer: No)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"I Know These Things of Myself" by Elder Craig C. Christensen

Find this talk here.

  • Here again we're asking deacons why they admire Pres. Monson. Let's quit worshiping a man and worship God instead. "Why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him?" says Jacob 4.
  • I'm glad he's getting into scriptural examples now. I suspect many of us could benefit from fasting and praying "many days" like Alma did, though what we're taught today about fasting discourages it greatly. Certainly we'd do well to pray for soft hearts, as Nephi did when trying to accept Lehi's vision. The modern church unfortunately tends to go after people who report having had visions, or even experiences wherein they "know for themselves" something the correlation committee might not approve of, even when they clearly understand those visions were for them alone.
  • Nephi's example of wanting to see what Lehi saw somewhat contradicts the idea that we should simply "follow the prophet".
  • I'm grateful for Elder Christensen's focus on knowing for ourselves. The gospel is a personal things.
  • We concentrate too much on "feelings" in the church, as Elder Christensen does here when he describes the seeds of a testimony. "The first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence," said Joseph Smith. That's not necessarily feelings. Moreover, the boy in Mark 9 who had an evil spirit approached the Savior, and the boy's first feeling was of being tossed on the ground and torn by the evil spirit. We can't trust feelings, unless perhaps we're sure we're not influenced at the time by evil spirits.
    • I agree, though, that we must not ignore spiritual evidence, and we must pray to continue to have more such evidence.
  • We get the "many sacred experiences with the Holy Ghost" line again. The seventy have an apostolic calling; to be an apostle is to witness that Christ was resurrected, by having seen him. That's what Oliver Cowdery told the first apostles when they were ordained, and it remains true. Instead, Elder Christensen testifies of President Monson.

"Choose Wisely" by Elder Quentin L. Cook

Find this talk here.

  • I think it's interesting that Elder Cook would throw in this quote about how we spend our time on the internet: “You can get caught up in endless loops of triviality that waste your time and degrade your potential.” (from Randall L Ridd, Ensign, May 2014) I was trying to find something worth writing about in this talk, and all I found was triviality. Elder Packer was right when he taught that studying doctrines improves behavior faster than studying behavior; I have had that experience in my own life. So here's a talk all about minutia of behavior. Elder Cook later says, somewhat ironically in my view, "Sometimes it feels like we are drowning in frivolous foolishness, nonsensical noise..." Frivolous foolishness and nonsensical noise, indeed.

"Finding Lasting Peace and Building Eternal Families" by Elder Perry

Find this talk here.

  • Most of this post is a long aside about "eternal families". I put it here in case it's helpful later on. Elder Perry doesn't discuss the doctrine of sealing directly in this talk.
    • Alongside the mantra "follow the prophet" because he can't lead us astray, there are few more prominent doctrines in the modern LDS church than that of eternal families. The "follow the prophet" doctrine didn't exist at the time of Joseph Smith, and the idea of eternal families has been heavily modified from what Joseph introduced. Of course, a belief in continuing revelation might make room for such changes, in theory. Joseph Smith taught, however, that one key to identify revelation is that it doesn't contradict previous revelation. He also taught specific doctrines about the nature of ordinances, in particular that they were instituted from the beginning of the world and may never be changed, if they are to retain their salvific power. Modern Mormonism must ignore both those teachings to make room for its modern innovations about eternal families.
    • Yes, I'm aware of the modern teaching that a live prophet is more important than a dead one, which suggests it's no problem to abandon whatever Joseph Smith may have said. This comes from Ezra T. Benson's "Fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet" talk, originally given at BYU in 1980. The principles given in this talk form the foundation of the "follow the prophet" doctrine as taught today. However at the time, the talk so bothered President Kimball that he called Elder Benson before a meeting of all the General Authorities and demanded he explain himself, saying Elder Benson's talk promoted "an unthinking 'follow the leader' mentality". He also required Elder Benson to apologize to the combined twelve apostles in a later meeting. The apostles reporting having been "unsatisfied" with the apology. (D. Michael Quinn, "Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power") Most of the doctrines Elder Benson advocated in the talk are without basis in scripture.
    • Joseph Smith is the only one of the LDS church's leaders who demonstrated the fruits of "prophet, seer, and revelator" as defined in scripture. The rest all did plenty of good things, but good works do not a prophet make, if we're following the definition in scripture. Therefore, I consider Joseph Smith's teachings of more weight than those of later church leaders. I also believe that even his teachings were not necessarily perfect, especially his teachings as we have them today. Many were hastily recorded for the recorder's own private purposes only, many things we attribute to the Prophet were "remembered" years after the fact, and Brigham Young began a concerted effort to doctor our history which continues today. See, for instance, Charles Wandell for information on that score.
    • As a result of the above, my take on "eternal families" differs greatly from what the modern Church preaches. I won't attempt to lay out my own belief here; among other things, frankly, I'm still sorting it out. I expect that will take a very long time. I will only start with the idea that Joseph Smith taught a doctrine of "adoption", involving sealing individuals to "the Fathers", one of a group of heads of gospel dispensations, with whom God had made specific promises. Hence Moroni's version of Malachi, that Elijah would "plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers." Note also that the Nauvoo temple not only remained incomplete when Joseph died, it was never completed according to its original plan. Though the Church today claims the temple was nonetheless completed, when section 124 commanded the temple to be built, the church was promised it would not be moved out of its place if it completed the temple in time. Clearly we were moved out of our place; I consider therefore that the temple was never completed to the Lord's satisfaction. Without a working temple, Joseph was unable to preach temple ordinances as he would have liked.
  • It's true Christ should be our example, of course. So I'm grateful Elder Perry wants actually to talk about Him, rather than telling stories of President Monson's earlier service in the church like so many conference talks do. Jacob 4 says, "why not speak of the atonement of Christ"? 
  • The parable of the wheat and tares doesn't liken tares to ways Satan influences us, as Elder Perry insinuates when he talks about "worldly ways" coming "by wire and through the air" into our electronic devices. Wheat and tares are people.
  • I certainly agree that "family values" generally must be retained in our homes and lives, and that whatever the truth may be of eternal families and sealings, the family is the perfect place to teach gospel principles and proper living, with a father and a mother, and we must not shirk the responsibility to teach there.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Are We Not All Beggars?" by Elder Holland

Find this post here.

  • I'm grateful to see Elder Holland willing to discuss the topic of administering to the poor. We've had lessons in our ward from stake visitors claiming it's sufficient to write our fast offering check and know, thereby, that we've done our allotted portion. King Benjamin and others, in contrast, tell us never to let the begger pass us by. My own experience is that King Benjamin had it right, and our high councilor didn't, but many people report their congregations simply don't buy the idea that King Benjamin's instructions mean what they very clearly say.
  • It's helpful to realize Christ was probably homeless. It's also helpful to realize this was likely by his own decision. Of course he could have set up shop somewhere doing whatever he wanted and doing it better than all the local competition, but instead he simply let God provide for his needs. By contemporary standards, God didn't pay terribly well, but God doesn't necessarily promise us mansions on earth.
    • In our day, as in Christ's, and as in the Book of Mormon, the priestly class who are paid for their labor are unequivocally condemned. Alma and Amulek's city of Ammonihah, wiped out by marauding Lamanites in just one day, were "of the order of Nehor," or in other words supporters of priestcraft; this evil earned them the destruction they received. Here, the LDS church is just as full of priestcrafts as everyone else. We simply can't get around the fact that our leadership are all paid. Not only paid, but paid from tithing funds whose disposition is hidden from Church members, directly contradicting scripture that commands tithing be used by common consent -- meaning everyone votes how it gets used.
  • Loved the Mother Teresa example, and the humbled journalist
  • I appreciate the distinction he points out between "obtaining" a remission of sins, and "retaining" it.
  • We've had good experiences "bring[ing] the poor that our cast out to [our] house"
  • Pres. Monson's example of giving away his shoes is an excellent one. If we quit vaunting him as something better than we our, it might go a long way toward convincing us to do the same things ourselves.
  • This was an excellent talk. I liked it a lot.