Sunday, April 16, 2006

Salt Lake Conferencial

(You can skip the first two paragraphs if you're LDS, since this is all stuff you should already know.) Every six months, my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (yes, I'm a Mormon, believe it or not), has what we call "General Conference." During General Conference, which is held in Salt Lake City, a bunch of Church leaders give sermons (which, for unknown reasons, we LDS always call "talks" instead of "sermons"). In between the talks, choirs sing (but we don't call the songs "sings," or even "songs"; we always call them "hymns"). Naturally, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings at every General Conference, even though it's now held in the Conference Center instead of the Tabernacle nowadays. But there are also always choirs from obscure cities in Utah with names like Orem and Hyrum and Bam-Bam. OK, as far as I know there isn't really a place named Bam-Bam, Utah, but there might as well be. Nobody outside of Utah knows where any of those other places are anyway. But they all have choirs.

General Conference is always held on the first weekend in April and the first weekend in October. It's broadcast via satellite to LDS churches all over the United States. There are three "sessions" on Saturday and two on Sunday; each session is two hours long. Yeah, it is a bit of an ordeal sometimes. But we go to church for three hours every Sunday anyway, so what's another seven hours twice a year? So we're kind of expected to watch them, well, religiously.

(LDS, start reading now.) Anyhow, on General Conference Saturday, I skipped the first two sessions because I was busy doing nothing in particular. Thus, I was feeling ever so slightly guilty, and I decided I'd go to the last session that day, which started at 5:00. But a friend of my wife called around 3:00 and asked her if she could come over and help her with some yard work. This sounded like a good excuse for missing a Conference session a good opportunity for Christian service, so I said I'd come along too and help. And if it just so happened that I needed to stay there until after 5:00, well, helping other people is more important than edifying myself by watching General Conference. However, it turned out to be a simple job, and we finished by 4:00, so I had no excuse not to go watch fortunately I was still able to go watch.

I get there just as the session starts, and -- you guessed it -- there was a men's choir from Bam-Bam, Utah, or someplace like that. I've often thought that the most interesting thing about choirs is watching the funny faces people make when they sing. Some people are completely laidback and affectless when they sing, but others make up for them by concentrating with staring, sweating intensity. Some use their mouths exactly the way they would if they were speaking the words, but others need to shape the words and open their mouths so wide you could probably stuff a Book of Mormon down their throats without getting saliva on it. Some singers stand stock still, while others rock or sway to the music. Watching a choir this way is especially useful with Mormon choirs, which have a typical style that puts all their music somewhere between a lullaby and a funeral dirge. That makes them perfect for small children's funerals, I suppose, but the rest of the time they're a little lacking in energy. However, I have to recommend against offering any observations about funny facial expressions and so on during actual choir performances, as uncontrollable giggling may result, especially if one makes the observations to people under the age of 12.

After the opening hymn and prayer, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke. He's German, a handsome man for his age, a former pilot, and he has this cool German accent. I want his accent to be even heavier, and for him to speak with much less affect so he'll sound like Schwarzenegger. Then I could call him "the Apostle-nator." It's no go, though; he just speaks too well. Elder Uchtdorf talks about how we don't always see "the end from the beginning" the way God does. He speaks mainly to the youth, telling them that there are reasons for all the rules we have in our church, that they help build for the future as well as the present. It's a good talk.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy is next. He looks like a football coach. He talks about adults making a greater effort to reach young people in the church. It's a good message, but it doesn't particularly resonate with me.

Elder Richard G. Hinckley of the Seventy follows him. Elder Hinckley, of course, is the son of Gordon B. Hinckley. There's obviously a strong family resemblance, but for some reason he reminds me a great deal of the late Spencer W. Kimball as well. I miss President Kimball. Elder Hinckley suggests keeping a notebook in which to write ideas on "What my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints means to me." It's a good idea, but mainly what I'll remember about his talk a month from now is the joke he starts it with:
One year ago when I was sustained, President Hinckley made it clear to the entire Church that he had not initiated the process that resulted in my call. I told him later that I was likely the only General Authority in the history of the Church to be sustained by the members in spite of a disclaimer by the prophet!

It's a good line.

President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, is next. Unfortunately, his talk doesn't make much of an impression on me.

President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, follows. Rather than his words, it's his personality that holds my attention. President Monson has a tendency to be a bit maudlin at times, to tell kind of corny tear-jerking stories, but tonight he's on a roll. He's really funny. And he's funny at his own expense -- he worries long ago about the impression his son will make -- and on behalf of others -- he sees them in possibly embarrassing situations and hopes they'll come through OK. Of course, they do, and all of us in the audience are relieved for them. Tonight, at least, President Monson has struck just the right notes of good humor, optimism, and sentiment, without being heavy-handed or corny. It's a masterful performance. I'm reassured that if President Hinckley does pass away soon, the church will do just fine with President Monson at the head of it.

President Gordon B. Hinckley closes the session. I like his talks, and of course, after his cancer surgery and all, I'm curious to see how he looks. Is he healthy? Is he frail? Does he look like he'll die soon? I don't know it at the time, but he hadn't spoken during the day's previous two sessions, which only increased the speculation for the more devout members of the audience. He gets up to speak and he looks… OK. Just OK. He used to be astonishingly vigorous for his age. Now he seems old, a bit weak, thinner than he has been. But mentally he's fine, as sharp as ever. He speaks of racism and how it has no place in the church. President Hinckley talks about being kinder to other people. I think about how I treat jerks and fools on internet forums. He makes me want to do better.

(Part 2 is here.)


  1. Kuri,

    Excellent recap through the eyes of the "average joe"

    I always look forward to what you post next. Your recap of jury duty was very funny and entertaining.

  2. Thanks, Ray. I appreciate the kind words.


What do you think?