Saturday, April 01, 2006

Some thoughts on General Conference, Day 1

I watched both of today's general sessions of the Conference at home on the BYU Channel, and was starting to prepare to attend the priesthood session when my wife told me there was a rather puzzling phone message for me. She had me listen to it, and to me it was not puzzling at all, so I immediately returned the call and was on the phone for perhaps 20 minutes. It was a friend of mine who needed to vent about the way she had been treated by an LDS couple with whom we are both acquainted, and after hearing her story, I had to agree with her that she had been treated pretty horribly by the people in question. She felt safe about venting to me, and assured me that she had high regard for Latter-day Saints in general, so the conversation ended on a positive note. I then swam some laps in our pool, got into my Sunday clothes, and headed for the stake center, where the priesthood session was to be shown on closed-circuit television.

Last year I was in Utah during both General Conferences, and I wish I could have been there for this one as well. I missed being with the Madsens, who practically are family to me. At about 5:30, as I arrived at the stake center and started reading my scriptures for the day as I waited for the session to begin, I knew Barney, his dad, and the other priesthood holders in his extended clan would just be ending their traditional pre-session meal and starting the walk down the hill from Truman Madsen's home to the Marriott Center at BYU, where they would watch the same telecast I was about to see. Later they would meet again at Dr. Madsen's for the banana splits that are also part of their Conference tradition. (They eat the banana splits while discussing their thoughts about the session.) I was present in spirit, as I always am at this time of the year; and I knew that although I could not be present with them physically, we were still sharing a wonderful spiritual experience, which of course was the really important thing anyway. Besides, in one sense it may actually be better for me that I was not there for this Conference, because at the beginning of this year I decided I needed to lose about 15 pounds, but unfortunately have instead gained 7 more since then. The banana splits would not have helped, since I have a definite weakness for ice cream and cookies. (I'm not giving up, though; now that the days are getting longer and our backyard pool is finally warm enough to start using every day, I will be swimming and riding my bike again regularly.)

It's late at night as I compose these lines, and I will have more to say later about Conference. But my outstanding impression of the priesthood session was that President Hinckley, who spoke in it for the first time in this General Conference, appeared in fine form, although he looked older and had visibly lost some weight since his cancer surgery a couple of months ago. (I wish I could send him a few of my extra pounds!) In his talk, he denounced members of the Church who ridicule or otherwise mistreat people who are not LDS. He told the story of a teenager who grew up hating Mormons for ridiculing him and his beliefs, and vowed that he would never have anything to do with us, or with our church. Needless to say, President Hinckley did not commend the people who had treated this young man so shabbily; but fortunately, the story does have a happy ending. This same young man was later befriended by another Latter-day Saint who set a much better example for him, as a result of which he was baptized, and at last report had recently been married in the temple. Most of us mean well, but there are some real turkeys among us, too.

I thought about that story in the context of my phone call earlier in the day, as well as another story of my own, which is worth recounting here. I know a young woman named Nicole Siqueiros, who works as bailiff in the Superior Court, to whom I recited a long passage of Dante when I helped interview her for a job several weeks ago. (She spoke excellent Italian and loved Renaissance literature, and she positively glowed as I recited the passage to her from memory. It was the first 15 lines of Canto XXIV of Inferno -- in the original 14th-century Italian, of course.) Not long ago, I had occasion to see Nicole again, and during our conversation, she asked me if I was a Mormon. When I replied that I was, she said she had had some bad experiences with Mormons after moving into an LDS neighborhood in Mesa during her childhood. The LDS children had not been allowed to play with her -- because she was Catholic. It offended me that my friend had been treated this way by people who clearly should have known better, although I also recognized that by the very fact that she was telling me this story, she was paying me a high compliment. It suggested that she trusted me enough to feel comfortable about discussing this with me, and that in addition, she was confident that her experience with this Mormon would be much better than her previous one. (I told her that if it wasn't, she had permission to give me a good, hard, swift kick in the backside, which in that case I would richly deserve.)

I complain about those who accuse us of not being Christian, and in fact posted something about that here only a few days ago. While I believe it is unfair to assert that Latter-day Saints are not Christian because we do not believe the Trinity is metaphysically one, or because we believe in extra-Biblical scripture, eternal progression, or some other doctrine, I have to agree that a non-LDS person who saw the kind of conduct President Hinckley denounced so vigorously tonight would have good reason to wonder about us. I hope his remarks struck their intended targets very hard -- especially the people my two friends denounced to me.

Meanwhile, the unretarded earth continues to roll upon its wings, and I need to get to bed. Conference will beckon again tomorrow, an hour earlier because at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, Utah will join most of the rest of the country in going on Daylight Savings Time. (Arizona, however, will not, which means Conference will start here at 9:00 a.m.)


Blogger Julie D. said...

I have to agree that a non-LDS person who saw the kind of conduct President Hinckley denounced so vigorously tonight would have good reason to wonder about us

Sadly, that puts those people in company with plenty of Protestants and Catholics. None of us are perfect and all fall from grace in some way or other. Which is just the more reason to keep getting back up and trying again ... and remembering why forgiveness is so important (we ALL have to ask for it at some point or other). :-)

11:44 AM  
Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

We certainly do, don't we? I've been thinking a lot lately about grace as I reflect on my imperfect life, because I know I am going to need a lot of it when time comes for me to make my accounting before God. In addition, I've found as I grow older that I am far more tolerant than I used to be of the flaws, imperfections, and foibles of others, because I still have so many of my own to deal with.

Meanwhile, I do try to live in such a way that if anyone wants to question whether I'm a Christian because of my particular church affiliation, they at least won't have to wonder about it on the basis of my personal conduct.

You're a good woman, Julie. Thanks for the comment, and for your friendship.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Julie D. said...

Garry, you are too kind.

I try to remember that St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out that we are to follow our consciences above all things. Many people forget that this is to be obeyed to the point that he said if one is honestly seeking truth, examining all information available, and feels that the Catholic church is wrong then God will judge that person harshly for not doing what they think is the right thing ... which would be to leave the church.

That is from one of the greatest Doctors of the Church. So, whether someone is called Christian or not, it is much more important to me that they are a truth seeker, honest and fully trying to do God's will. Because that is all I can do myself.

If we are doing that, then God will meet us where we are.

I know you are doing it Garry. I have never "met" a more honest truth seeker who strives to love God and serve Him. I really have no higher compliment.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

Why, thank you. You're a jewel, and that's one of the nicest things anyone has said about me in a long time. (In fact, it ranks right up there with something my young Iranian friend said to me only yesterday: "Be all your life filled with sweetness.")

I don't count myself to have been particularly successful in life, and as you know as well as anyone, my life has had challenges galore. But I try to do the right thing, where the really important matters are concerned.

If you ever come to Phoenix, or if I am ever in Dallas sometime, I'd love to attend mass with you. (I've never been to one.)

9:32 PM  
Blogger Julie D. said...

You're on, Garry. Regardless of whether we attend a Mass together or not, I do hope our paths cross someday so we can meet in person.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

Julie -

Your comments about following our consciences are greatly appreciated! Thank you for sharing that! :)

I am grateful for that perspective, in more ways than I can say. :)

6:24 AM  

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