Saturday, October 6, 2012

General Conference

Eugene England wrote decades ago, "'If the gospel's true, nothing else matters.' At least not nearly as much. Going to conference made it possible for me to feel more strongly than ever that the great soul-satisfying truths of the gospel and my experiences of love and growth in the Church are much more important than the things that give me trouble."[1] Conference is a reminder of my paradoxical commitment to Mormonism.[2] In it, I find the precious counsel and truths that I hold sacred. As historian Richard Bushman told his Catholic friend,

Not stopping to think, I told him I remained a Mormon because when I followed my religion I became the kind of man I want to be. No philosophy, no evidence, nothing elaborate. Simply the personal reality that my religion helps me get better. That’s what it comes down to in the crunch. The scripture verse explains what will happen when you listen to the spirit speaking in the wilderness: “My Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.” For me that promise becomes a simple matter of fact: when I hearken to the spirit, truth seems to abound in me as the verse promises. By that I mean not just truth as propositions about the world but truth as in the true and highest way to live.

Yet, Conference is also a reminder of some of the more immature aspects of Mormon culture. In Conference you will find one of the best follow-up talks to President Benson's famous discourse "Beware of Pride" (itself relying heavily on C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity), earning itself the right to be read side-by-side with the inspiring original. Yet, in the very same meeting, one will hear the story of a self-righteous father who bellows during family scripture study, angering his daughter, and has to go pray alone in order to figure out why the Spirit has departed from his home (apparently "Go and say, 'I'm sorry'" had to come by revelation rather than common sense). The approach to this storytelling not only assumes the moral immaturity of its audience (it is more fitting as a Primary lesson), but perhaps reflects it as well.

This mixed bag nonetheless provides a kind of camaraderie among Church members; a biannual, quasi-ritual in which all may participate via physical attendance, satellite television (either in homes or churches), or the Internet. It sets the topics for future sacrament talks, immersing local members in the same counsel and teachings with more personalized applications. I look forward to Conference (though I look even more forward to its wide availability in various formats soon thereafter). Between the spiritual edification and cringe-worthy moments, it reminds me of where I came from, where I'm going, and (perhaps most important) who I am. 

With that, enjoy the inspiring words of Carly Rae Jepsen as expressed through the Lord's anointed:

1. England, "Growing Up Mormon: Going to Conference," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 7:2 (1972): 83.  

2. See Terryl L. Givens, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

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