Thoughts on President Hinckley, Part 2 --
This is going to be kind of a multicultural day for me. I started out by doing my Bible Study Fellowship homework, listened to a general conference address from President Hinckley on the way to work, and I'm going to an Ash Wednesday service in an Episcopal church this evening. I should find something Buddhist to do after the Ash Wednesday service just to round things out.
Anyway, as kind of a personal tribute to President Hinckley I decided to listen to as many of the general conference addresses he gave as president of the church as I could find, and read the others from the church website. I have the October 2001 GC on CD, so I started with those.
So far I have listened to his talk from the Priesthood session and the Sunday morning talk he gave. This was the first general conference after the introduction of the Perpetual Education Fund and after the September 11th attacks.
I'm used to listening to podcasts from Protestant ministers, so the differences in content were pretty apparent. In these two talks President Hinckley doesn't really dwell on God or spiritual matters much. His September 11th talk starts on the theme of defending ourselves from evil and the sacrifices involved, and segues into fairly familiar themes of getting out of debt and self-reliance in the face of global economic uncertainty. The PEF talk was designed to boost support for that program and talks a lot about the mechanics of it and gives some vignettes of the participants.
A couple of things that caught my ear were the way he described the two men running it, John K Carmack and another emeritus GA, (Richard ?) Cook. He venerated their worldly accomplishments as an attorney and a former comptroller for the Ford Motor company and described them as men of great ability.
He likewise talked about the beneficiaries of the PEF as returned missionaries of faith and ability who need a little help to get started so they can start careers, raise families, and become future leaders of the church.
You can tell from these talks that he really judges success in terms of character. Thrift. Self-reliance. The ability to work hard. Obedience. He doesn't really describe the PEF administrators as men of compassion. He admires them as good managers and men of ability. Likewise the PEF is not about homeless people or the desperately poor. It's about returned missionaries who need a little help to become successful. Always the scorecard. Those who have, get. Those who qualify, prosper. Those who don't are like the 5 slacker virgins. Unless you make it over the line, the lifeboat with the more worthy pulls away and leaves you behind. Always the church is about venerating the successful.
The talk finished before I got to work, so I listened to a MoTab choir hymn from the same conference, "Nearer My God To Thee". That hymn always reminds me of my mother's funeral. There were six people at the graveside, including Wife of Bath and I, pretty much everybody left in the world who cared about her at all. We couldn't find a minister, we couldn't find an LDS bishop, or anybody else to conduct, so the funeral home asked me to do it. Having been in an Elders Quorum presidency and having spoken in church several times this was not a great stretch. I conducted, assigned prayers, WoB and I picked the songs, I gave the eulogy, and either the opening or closing prayer. I had the skills to do all those things because of the skills the church had developed in me as a priesthood holder.
As I pulled into a parking space I had just a few moments to reflect on the many ways I have been shaped as a person by the church and the many things I have learned. It certainly refined my character and taught me how to speak and preside in religious meetings. I have always been blessed in the experiences I have had exercising my priesthood. I would certainly not be the person I am today without those things.