Tuesday, October 2, 2012

As We Close This Conference

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

As We Close This Conference, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Some believe that politics and religion don't mix. Apparently I'm not one that does. If I haven't scared you away, here are my concluding thoughts on this conference:

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

I hear this question thrown around in the current political contest and have a hard time answering. I think the reason is because I feel like a different person than I was four years ago. Let me explain:

Four years ago:
  • I had two children—half as many children as I do now (okay, exactly four years ago my third was two months old, but you know what I mean)
  • I was near the beginning of what seemed an insurmountable graduate school experience
  • I was a dirt-poor student (see previous)
  • I was madly in love with my wife

Four years later (now):
  • I have four [active] children
  • I've graduated and am at the beginning of what seems like an insurmountable mortgage
  • I live like I'm dirt-poor (is debt-poor a valid substitute)
  • I'm madly in love with my wife

Okay, some of the things are similar or the same—it's not fair that I'm fatter and balder than I was then, but my wife looks as radiant, if not more so, than she did then!—but I had another question come to mind as I reviewed President Monson's final talk days before the next general conference:

Am I better off than I was six months ago? (spiritually)

I write these general conference application series posts—and have a good time doing so—but am I improved at all?

I hope so.

These words of a living prophet reassure me that I am better:

I think you will agree with me that we have felt the Spirit of the Lord as our hearts have been touched and our testimonies strengthened. . .

How blessed we are, my brothers and sisters, to have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives and in our hearts. It provides answers to life’s greatest questions. It provides meaning and purpose and hope to our lives. . .

May your homes be filled with love and courtesy and with the Spirit of the Lord. Love your families.

These words, delivered in love, remind me of the things I've learned and been reminded of in my review of these general conference addresses. After doing so, I want to be even better and love my family even more!

Even though I recognize that I still have many areas where I need to improve, my study and review of these talks has given me hope and encouragement for the future. It turns out, President Monson predicted this would happen:

May you ponder the truths you have heard, and may they help you to become even better than you were when conference began two days ago.

As I like to do, here is a word cloud of the conference proceedings, which is a repeat of when I reviewed President Monson's opening address (link). The word that stands out to me now is power:

What Thinks Christ of Me?

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

What Thinks Christ of Me?, by Neil L. Andersen
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Do you remember the craze for WWJD bracelets in the late 90's? I do. I was serving as a full-time missionary at the time, and I loved that so many were showing a physical reminder to be Christlike with the simply question, "What would Jesus Do?" At the time, I would twist the question slightly to: What would Jesus have me do? (I mentioned this in an earlier post, link, but please keep reading this one.)

Those bracelets may have helped people remember Jesus while being a signal to others of a claim to Christianity—much like the fish symbol on the back of some cars. When I think of visible signals of faith, I wonder if I have any tells or signs of what I believe. This reminds me of a question I had long ago while riding my bike to work: "If I were put on trial for being Christian (or LDS), would there be enough evidence to convict me?" (read more of this experience here)

Interestingly, I often think of these visible signals of faith when I see someone driving dangerously or rudely who has one of those fish symbols on the back of their car. As I judge them and silently scream at them to try harder to be Christlike, I wonder what others think of me!

In his talk, Elder Andersen seemed to flip these questions on their heads:

Jesus asked the Pharisees, "What think ye of Christ?" In the final assessment, our personal discipleship will not be judged by friends or foes. Rather, as Paul said, "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." At that day the important question for each of us will be, "What thinks Christ of me?"

What thinks Christ of me?

I admit that I probably spend too much time wondering if others think I'm good enough, or if they can tell what I believe by my actions. I like this twist that Elder Andersen introduced because if I live so that I'm comfortable with who I am and what I do—all while imagining the Savior standing beside me (link)—then what other think either won't matter, or I'll be so comfortable with myself and my actions that others will see the light of Christ in me.

An additional thing I like about this change to the question is that it isn't affected by changing circumstances. I watched with a mix of concern and humor as Mitt Romney (a member of the Church) seemed lambasted by the far-right in their implied religious test during the primaries. They argued that he wasn't Christian and didn't qualify for their vote. However, after he was ultimately nominated (maybe by default against the ineptitude of his rivals?), the erstwhile critics' tune changed to, "Well, he's Christian enough."

I may or may not be a fan of Romney's politics, but I like to think that he tries to make decisions the same way I do: after reasoned weighing of options and expected outcomes, all while measuring against divine standards.

Let's get away from politics now.

After telling that President Monson often reminds General Authorities to remember the question, "What would Jesus do?", Elder Andersen taught:

Discipleship is believing Him in seasons of peace and believing Him in seasons of difficulty, when our pain and fear are calmed only by the conviction that He loves us and keeps His promises.

I'm still trying to work out what I think the answer to "What thinks Christ of me?" is. But as I try to remember Jesus, consider what He would have me do, and be a disciple in times of peace and difficulty, I'm confident that over time, I'll come to feel that Christ does trust me and can count on me to be who I really want to be.

And I won't even need to wear a bracelet!

Monday, October 1, 2012

To Hold Sacred

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

To Hold Sacred, by Paul B. Pieper
Of the Seventy

I've mentioned that my new assignment at church is to be the music leader in primary. I'm still learning how to help children spanning the ages of 18-months to 12-years-old, but this learning process is more comfortable than I thought it would be. A few things happened yesterday that I was reminded of as I reviewed Elder Pieper's talk:

In junior primary (children aged 3-8), I led the opening song. After learning that the lesson for the day was on honoring parents, I chose to sing I Am a Child of God. Standing in front of a room full of children, I realized that their singing wasn't perfect: many were wiggling around and a few were off-key (and quite loudly so, at that); however, as I looked around the room, I noticed that most were looking right at me. I made my way around the room with my eyes, focusing on as many of their faces as I could, and the wiggles and off-key-ness seemed to fade away as I felt the sincerity of the song and how genuinely these children believed—or rather, knew—that what they were singing was true! I felt something in my heart that said, "remember this moment; this is important!"

Singing with children, I had an encounter with the divine!

Later, I visited the children in nursery (children aged 18-months to 3-years). I entered the room and heard the nursery leaders happily announcing my arrival, and then was surrounded by happy children wanting to either give me big hugs, tell me something, or show me something that they were holding. (Note: my own 21-month-old just quietly sat on a chair and smiled at me, as if he were sharing his daddy with his friends.)

After this great welcome we sang a few songs, but the whole time I kept thinking of what I felt as I was surrounded by these ten-or-so smiling toddlers: I felt that I have a great opportunity to supplement their learning of Jesus through songs (even if we do sometimes sing about a tiny turtle who eats soap and has bubbles in his throat).

Surrounded by loving children, I had an encounter with the divine!

We took a casual walk in the afternoon after church. While some of the family rested, the rest of us made tasty coconut macaroons (recipe) with the coconut we prepared over the weekend (read more here) and later took the walk to deliver a plate of cookies to the friends who gave us the un-husked coconuts. With our family spread out over the span of about a block (due to different walking speeds), I felt surrounded by happiness. There I was, in the middle of paradise, at the tail end of my family chain, hand-in-hand with my toddling boy, watching my happy family on an errand of love. At that moment, I heard a whisper in my heart that said, "love your family!"

It wasn't raining yesterday, but this is a cute picture

On a lovely walk, I had an encounter with the divine!

NOTE: You may have expected #3 to be about senior primary (children aged 9-12). Sorry, no distinct encounters with the divine for me there; we just had fun together!

In his talk, Elder Pieper recounted experiences that prophets had that can be classified as encounters with the divine. We are blessed and benefitted because these are recorded for us to learn from and apply in our lives. What I loved about his remarks, though, was that he made a connection to me personally when he said:

Our experiences with the divine may not be as direct or dramatic nor our challenges as daunting. However, as with the prophets, our strength to endure faithfully depends upon recognizing, remembering, and holding sacred that which we receive from above.

In this time of multiple calls a day from political surveyors or candidates' headquarters, I'm contemplating whom to vote for. While the practical part of my mind frequently reminds me that my single vote really is of little-to-no-value, I still feel a duty to study the issues and cast my conscience. Doing this helps me face internal wrestlings on difficult issues.

In addition to feeling the need to recognize more the encounters with the divine that I have almost daily, Elder Pieper's words also made a connection to my recent political activities. I saw a friend recently post the following on his facebook feed:

What I love about democrats is their focus on helping the downtrodden, emphasizing the idea that everyone is an equal, . That notion touches my heart and should for every human being. If you were to unwrap a democrat's DNA, I believe you'd find a sincere desire to help everyone achieve happiness. I'm totally on board for that!

What I love about republicans is their belief that this happiness is achieved through applying principles of work, thrift, diligence, acting instead of being acted upon. This idea is totally true and I totally believe it. And if you could unwrap a republican's DNA, you'd see that same democratic desire to help everyone achieve happiness. I totally resonate to that idea.

Of course, the big "debate" for our country is determining the right path to achieve this happiness. And that is the beauty of our democracy, being able to choose our path.

I'll finish this post by sharing that there is a big part of me that just wishes that we all could realize that we're on the same team, fighting for the same happiness, and that working and reasoning together will do more than working and reasoning separately. 

There are real differences between candidates' positions, but instead of focusing on negatives, I crave for discussion on things each feels are meaningful. In my mind, I would call these things sacred. After giving a definition of the word sacred, Elder Pieper said something that connected, for me, to the topic of voting:

That which is sacred to God becomes sacred to us only through the exercise of agency; each must choose to accept and hold sacred that which God has defined as sacred. He sends light and knowledge from heaven. He invites us to receive and treat it as sacred.

Every voting season, we hear of making our voice heard, voting our conscience, or marking our choice. Elder Pieper taught that the way to align with God and things He designates as sacred is likewise through choice.

Many people get worked up during voting season (rightfully so?) to help others make "the right" choice: to vote, and to vote for the person they support. Important as this is, I'm reminded that there are countless other choices I make more frequently than every two-to-four-years that signify what I know is really important.

Holding sacred things sacred through my decisions (and not just votes) helps me have encounters with the divine.

And these encounters can have longer tenure than terms of office.


Here's a bonus video from the Church about voting and political neutrality (link):