Stake Conference --
We attended stake conference today, and it was a typical NOM moment. The focus was a satellite broadcast directed to 41 stakes in our area. We had opening and closing prayers and hymns at the stake center, and the rest of the content was the broadcast from Salt Lake City.
I could write a two-page summary of the talks, but I'll spare you by just summarizing their major themes.
The first speaker was Sis Kathleen Hughes, of the general RS presidency. She shared some personal insights about going on a mission. She and her husband plan to serve missions once her current calling is completed, and she shared her fears of inadequacy, that she will not be up to being able to share the gospel with people. She reminded us that we are not sent to do the Lord's work without the Lord's help, and that we rely on Him in everything we do rather than in our own strength. All in all a really good and inspiring talk. I found myself wondering, though, about an organization in which one of the senior leadership was caused to doubt her own worthiness and ability. If she is not up to the job, the rest of us are probably hopeless.
The second speaker was Bishop Richard C Edgely of the Presiding Bishopric, and he gave a riproaring talk on the healing power of Jesus Christ. He talked about counseling a couple whose young child had just drowned and were angry with God. He talked about holding stake conference in a prison and having a non-member thank God that he was sent to prison and found the gospel, and his feelings about being freer than he had ever been in his whole life. Just a wonderful, wonderful talk on the power of Jesus Christ to make things right.
At this point I was having that familiar feeling. Why am I so disaffected with this church again?
Then came Elder M Russell Ballard, who reminded us in a good way about the importance of being obedient to the doctrine of the church and about the ordinances. All have divine worth, and we need to go out and bring them into the church so they can benefit from the church programs and ordinances. In short, a talk about the church and the structure, rather than about Jesus Christ.
We sang "Praise to the Man" and worshipped Joseph Smith for four verses.
The concluding address was President Monson, who presented a familiar laundry list from the Kirtland temple dedication about how it should be a house of order, a house of prayer, a house of fasting, etc., and presented many stories I had heard before to illustrate his points, including a story he used during the last regional conference when he was here. His talk really seemed to be kind of a prefab talk constructed of recycled pieces, not really linked together very well. For example he spoke powerfully about Jesus last words on Golgotha, words of forgiveness. "Forgive them, for they know not what they do". Then launched *immediately* into talking about the humorous letters children send to the First Presidency. One revealing thing was being asked by Elder Harold B Lee about his favorite hymn when he was first called as an apostle. "The old priesthood hymns", he said, with "Praise to the Man" being his favorite. So, one of the chief apostles on the earth, called as a special witness of Jesus Christ, and his favorite hymn is a tribute to Joseph Smith . . .
In closing he blessed with a bunch of things related to temporal blessings and nothing of a spiritual nature.
In summary the dichotomy present in the way general authorities see the church was ever present. To two of the speakers the gospel is apparently about Jesus Christ as healer and our primary source of support. To the other two the gospel is about priesthood, programs, and ordinances, about callings and modern revelation, about the physical mechanics we see as the church does its business.
It struck me that President Monson said absolutely nothing new, nothing different, nothing that really seemed to be from the heart. Just a familiar multi-point talk illustrated using the usual stories we've all heard countless times.
This was a regional conference. Did the Lord having anything special to say to our 41 stakes outside the strength of the Church? About preparing for hurricane season? About healing racial issues? About getting along with the flood of Spanish-speaking immigrants we're getting? About President Hinckley's well-known declining health? About immigration reform? About anything? Apparently not.
So I will take to heart the lessons of the first two talks and pretty much file the last two in the "been there, done that" category. All in all the conference was a positive experience, and I got more out of it than not going, but I find the mixed message between "the church is founded on Christ" and "the church is founded on priesthood authority" to be quite illuminating.