Voices and Friends "IRL"

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. Today covers the Priesthood Session from Oct 1972 Conference.
I thought to myself as I read Harold B. Lee's talk, one of his first as President of the Church, "If only I knew what he sounded like!" I felt strangely handicapped by not knowing his voice. When I'm reading a talk by one of the apostles I've known in my lifetime, I usually "hear" the voice of the apostle giving the talk as I read, and it seems to make everything scan better. For example, Elder Packer's talks don't even sound stern to me anymore when I hear them in his familiar, dry, gravelly voice. When I was younger, I used to find him a bit scary/forbidding, but somehow over the years I began to love him, and now I can hear a little hint of love and humor behind his voice even when he's being…forthright. I can hear the hope behind the warnings. I hear Elder Packer's voice ringing in my ears every time I read Alma 42 ("but there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given") and now, it makes me smile fondly as I think of him.

Anyway, with Harold B. Lee and many of these others, I don't know their voices and it makes me unsure how to take them. Some parts seem vaguely humorous, but I don't know if they're supposed to be. Other parts come off confusing to my ears, like when President Lee said, about assuming who will be the next president of the church: "The Lord only knows, and for us to speculate or to presume is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord." ?? It seems too harsh of a statement for the offense. I thought the whole reason for the orderliness of the line of authority was so we COULD presume? So we wouldn't have to be unsure what comes next, but we can just know it will always be the President of the Quorum of the Twelve? Anyway, it's a small matter, but when several of these, "wait, what?" moments occur as I read a session, it makes me wish I knew all these men (more) personally. I'm actually hoping that reading more of their words during this General Conference Odyssey will help me with that. It's not that misunderstandings never happen when you hear one of the living apostles, of course, but I just feel more confident in getting their true meaning when I know their voices!

And that brings me to Vaughn J. Featherstone's talk. He talks about how the way to get to know the Savior is to get to know the scriptures, and the people in them, so well that we feel like WE WERE THERE. The advice rang so true to me. We really can grow to know and love people just by reading their writing and knowing about their lives—I know because it's happened to me. I've made great friends that way! Sometimes I even forget whether or not we've actually met "in real life," because I'm so familiar with them. It's like when you've heard a family story a million times and you feel certain you can even remember the smells, the sounds of the place—and then someone reminds you that you weren't actually born yet. :) There are certain people in the scriptures that feel like that to me. Alma the Younger is one. I've thought so much about him, imagined and pondered so many of his experiences, that I feel almost a claim to him, like he's MY personal friend. I know his voice so well that I think I could recognize something else non-scriptural that he'd written, if there were such a thing. I think I understand what he was feeling, sometimes. And I love him. I've sometimes felt a bit sheepish about it when I reflect on the fact that when I really meet him, HE won't know ME from Adam (ha ha)! 

So occasionally I do wonder if I am being too presumptuous, deluding myself into claiming an intimacy with, or an understanding of, these people that I don't actually have. But Elder Featherstone doesn't think so:
I want you to know that when I read those sacred words [about Enoch's heart swelling 'as wide as eternity'], I felt and had the feelings, I believe, that Enoch might have had in some small degree. And each of you can have those same feelings.
Elder Featherstone goes on to share a tender experience he had while reading about the Savior in 3rd Nephi 17, where he felt that he truly entered the Savior's presence vicariously through reading the story:
…I want you to know I was there. I wouldn’t know any more surely if I had been there than I would know having read this book. And I promise you that vicariously every single [person] in the Church can read the scriptures and have that same experience with all of the prophets.
I, like Elder Featherstone, feel a particular kinship with these passages. I have felt in some sense that I was there with the Nephites, worshipping and marveling. When Alma asks if we "have experienced a change of heart, and if [we] have felt to sing the song of redeeming love," I want to shout, "I have!" And when John pleads at the end of Revelation, "Even so, COME, Lord Jesus!", I almost break down crying because I, too, want that so much. But at the same time I've felt an urge to downplay this kinship, knowing I wasn't REALLY there, and not wanting to seem too self-important. I'm not ACTUALLY friends in real life with John the Revelator, after all.

But as I've been pondering it, it's occurring to me that "real life" could have many definitions, and "vicarious" is a many-sided concept. We do vicarious work for the dead. We believe these saving ordinances have "real-life" consequences, both for us and for our ancestors, who must surely still feel that whatever they are living is "real life" (if not mortal life). Why couldn't that be reciprocal, and we gain just as "real-life" of a knowledge of them and care for them by learning their stories, as they do of us by observing us from the spirit world? 

Along the same lines, we believe, of course, that Christ's vicarious sacrifice for us is as "real-life" as it gets. We believe that the ancient prophets "truly saw our day," and addressed their words to us. So why not believe that we, too, looking back, can gain a real-life relationship with Christ, and with His servants, by learning of them from their words and from the scriptures? I do believe that, and I guess I have always believed it, but I never thought of it as quite this kind of a two-way-street before.

"[The shepherd] calleth his own sheep by name," the Savior said, "and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice." 

I want to know Jesus Christ's voice! I want to know His servants' voices! I want to know them so well that I can hear their love and discern their true meaning across miles, across centuries, across worldviews, across cultures. I want to grow to love them too, to the point that I start to feel like we're friends "in real life." And then, maybe at some point, I hope—we will be!

Other posts in this series:

London: On my own

Sam's time was, of course, required elsewhere at times while we were in London, and while I would have much preferred to have him with me, I did reactivate my long-dormant ability to enjoy going places and doing things by myself. I may even enjoy it MORE than I did in college, due to its current novelty and the fact that it's not accompanied by dramatic thoughts of "oh, will I NEVER have someone to love me?" :)
Sam was busy meeting people and "networking" and keeping the students at the workshop enthralled. I did get to be with him for some of that, which I always enjoy. But I wasn't going to spend ALL my precious time in London sitting around watching him sign autographs! :)
One thing I loved was when I got to walk through Hyde Park Sunday morning on my way to church. After the earlier days of cold and rain, it seemed like the most beautiful and glorious morning in the history of the world. I'd left early enough that I could spend all the time I wanted dawdling and wandering and daydreaming and taking pictures, and it all felt so strange and wonderful. I kept looking around for children that I'd forgotten, and not finding any.

London: Tourists

My very favorite part of London may be riding the Tube to Westminster Station and then coming out up onto the street to see Big Ben RIGHT THERE looming up at you. I remember feeling like, "NOW I'm really in London!" at that moment last time, and the amazement has not worn off even a little. It's not really called Big Ben, of course, as I've had drummed into me by various sources. Big Ben is just the bell inside, and the tower is actually Elizabeth Clock Tower. But I feel like a pedant whenever I point this out to anyone, so let's stick with "Big Ben" like the rest of the world. :) Although my niece Katy calls it "Big Elizabeth" which is quite catchy.
Speaking of cute, we had this Tiny Big Ben at home and Daisy begged me to bring it to London with me so I could hold it next to "its Mommy," Big Big Ben. I actually remembered to put the tiny one in my suitcase, and then in my pocket, and then take a picture of it! What an impressive feat of memory. (And I even brought it home, too.) Aren't they cute, together at last? 
It was so cold! But so great to be walking around in the city among all the hordes of people. I don't know why I like that so much. But I do.


London: Sun and Rain

It was mostly chilly in London, and rainy, which seemed right, but we had a bit of sun too. One morning Sam and I rented some of the public bikes you see around everywhere, and rode through Hyde Park. Such a great way to cover more ground, even though it was terrifying every time we had to ride along a street or cross a thoroughfare. I never have been able to figure out what pedestrians are supposed to do in England. You would think, since cars drive on the left, that people would walk on the left too, and pass on the right. But whenever I'm running (and, as I discovered, on a bike) there seems to be no coherence to how anyone behaves. Whatever I did, it always seemed to be wrong. Maybe all the native Londoners pass on the right and all the foreigners don't, and that's what makes it confusing?

Power in the ideal

During my reading this week, the first thing I noticed was the statement "there is tremendous power in focusing upon an ideal." It kept going through my head and demanding that I consider it. So I'm going to take the unconventional step of talking for a while about how I DIDN'T quite like this statement at first. Ha! But then I'll get to how I do believe it, so don't stop reading halfway through. :)

Actually, when I read that line in Franklin D. Richards' talk ("Thy Will be Done, O Lord") my first thought was to remember that Elder Oaks or someone once talked about how the "official church" always has to teach ideals and not exceptions, even though there may BE exceptions.1And that concept makes sense to me. An organization has to set standards or it becomes meaningless. But in this talk, Elder Richards didn't say power came from "SETTING FORTH an ideal," —but from "FOCUSING ON" an ideal, which sounds a lot more internal and personal. And that seemed a little surprising to me. I think I've gotten used to the widely-accepted idea that we should set goals that are attainable and not beat ourselves up about our faults and so forth. Along with that is the unspoken assumption that you shouldn't aim for an ideal you have no hope of reaching; that you should be "realistic." Focusing on an ideal—something like, "I need to have an ideal marriage!"—seems like it would make us not only more discouraged when we fall short, but also make us less content with and appreciative of what we have.

Along those same lines, I've been thinking lately how comparing life to some (imaginary) ideal is completely counterproductive. Especially while I've been teaching an Economics and Money Unit to the children, it's been on my mind that most choices in life involve trade-offs. I forget that so easily! When I'm discontented about something, I tend to compare it with an imaginary ideal—"If only I didn't have any kids, I'd have so much free time to think and write and accomplish things!", for example. But of course, what I don't think about is how if I didn't have kids, I wouldn't just be sitting around enjoying life and doing amazing feats. I'd have all the same limitations on my time and energy, just caused by different things. Maybe I'd be unmarried and having to go to work to support myself. Maybe I'd be dealing with loneliness and trying to force myself to date even though it seemed like a waste of time. Maybe I would be married but so consumed with wishing I DID have kids that I wouldn't feel like writing or even thinking about it most of the time. Maybe I'd be limited by a health problem. Not that any of those wouldn't be a worthwhile life, and I would undoubtedly have different sources of enjoyment and challenge, but there's nothing to be gained by me thinking dreamily about a life of no responsibilities and unlimited time. No one lives that ideal.

The same could be said about so many political and economic ideals. If you talk to me very often you know I'm always going on about this (much of which I learned reading Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell). There's such danger in sweeping, seemingly uncontroversial statements like "if it saves even one life, it's worth whatever it costs." Or "the safety of our children is our number one priority." But talking about ideals and priorities often lets one ignore the fact that in real life, incremental tradeoffs are inevitable and necessary! Of course no one wants their children to be "unsafe," but if this was truly our number one priority, we would never let them drive anywhere in a car or even leave the house. And a life of such isolation and inactivity would have its own risks, mental and physical! Much better to acknowledge tradeoffs and realities when making decisions; asking questions like "Compared to what?" and "At what cost?" 

So all those thoughts were going through my head as I read "there is tremendous power on focusing on an ideal." I thought—"IS there? Really?"

But as I've thought more about it, I think there are a few differences between the kind of "focusing on an ideal" I was talking about in the last few paragraphs, and what Elder Richards means here. For one thing, the church helps us learn to focus on TRUE ideals. So my imaginary ideal of "life without inconvenience and trouble," the life I sometimes compare my own to and feel unhappy—a life where I never have to worry about money, and I don't have to deal with children arguing, and I have the time to do all the things I want to do—is not truly an "ideal." It's more like a fantasy. I know that in a truly "ideal" world, I WOULD still have some of those trials, because they teach me patience or gratitude or thriftiness or whatever. God DOES want me to have opposition in my life and it IS part of his ideal for me, at least for now.

Okay, but what about something that IS a true ideal, even in God's eyes? Something more like, "An ideal mother would never be angry with her children." Isn't focusing on that too discouraging? Isn't that just going to make me feel like a failure all the time, since I know I'll never attain perfection in this life? If I'm always thinking of an "an ideal family" isn't it going to make me ungrateful for the one I have? And isn't any small progress I do make toward that ideal going to seem meaningless, since it inevitably falls short?

Well, I don't know. I know that God never wants us to feel overwhelmed with our weakness. But he does want us to see it. And he does want us to be humble and know we need him. And maybe I am being too limiting when I assume "I will never reach the ideal of 'never being angry'." (For some great thoughts on that, read this post.)

But I think the best way for me to understand this statement comes when I read on a little farther. Here's the rest of Elder Richards' paragraph:
"There is tremendous power in focusing upon an ideal. People are inclined to become like those whom they admire. As we increase our knowledge and love of the Savior and indicate our willingness to do his will, we necessarily become more perfect and like him."
It strikes me that focusing on CHRIST is the very definition of focusing on "an ideal." Maybe even "THE ideal." And as Elder Richards implies here, ANY effort to focus to Christ will ALWAYS lead us to more improvement and more happiness. Maybe it's because as we get to know Him, we will feel more gratitude for what He's done for us, and that will lead us AWAY from the "if only my life were better" thinking that can be so depressing. Even a hardship will be put into perspective as the gift that it is, and we'll just be grateful for what we have. And focusing on Christ will also lead us away from discouragement. It seems paradoxical because He's SO good and SO perfect, how could we ever be happy when we're comparing ourselves with Him? I don't know why. Maybe it's because it gives us hope to see that someone actually did live the ideal—the true Godly ideal. Or maybe it's because part of His perfection is His compassion and gentleness and optimism. His spirit always makes us feel hope instead of despair. Or maybe it's because if we learn about Christ we have to learn about the atonement, and the atonement is the thing that allows us to change our very natures and gives us hope of actually, truly being able to reach the ideal ourselves someday!

And that's the other key to understanding this statement, I think. If we didn't believe we could literally become changed through Christ, there might NOT be tremendous power in focusing on an ideal. But we know from the Book of Mormon that it really is possible to be changed in our very natures. To actually have no desire to do evil. To be "new creatures," made new in Christ. And since we really believe this ideal as TRUTH (not a fantasy world created from wishful thinking), then focusing on that fact can only help us. I think it's probably a spiritual gift as well; that is, if we want to actually gain the "tremendous power" Elder Richards promises from focusing on an ideal, we probably have to have the Holy Ghost aiding us—enhancing our thoughts and faculties, feeding us enabling power, sanctifying us and enlarging us. With the Holy Spirit present, we probably would be always full of resolve instead of discouragement when we fall short. And I have felt this before. Sometimes I feel limp and weak and hopeless when I think about how I want to be "the ideal mother" or "the ideal wife"2 or "the ideal daughter" and I'm just NOT. But those aren't times when I'm full of the spirit. When I'm feeling closest to God, I usually feel peaceful and at the same time, I don't know, sort of determined. Hopeful. Like, "with God's help, I bet I can do this. In fact with Him, what CAN'T I do?" And I'm also so much more likely to feel "it will all work out." I do worry about all the ways I have messed up my children and all the ways relationships can be damaged and go wrong—but I (when I'm at my best) also have to think, "God is watching over us all. He loves us all. He will give us all the experiences we need and allow us every opportunity possible to choose Him." And in that way, the more I focus on the ideal (i.e. Jesus Christ) the MORE hope I'll feel—because I'll know how much he loves his children. Including me.

For the rest of the talk, Elder Richards discusses how the ideal of "thy will be done" leads us to ultimate happiness and peace. He mentions doing our church callings joyfully, whatever they are. Elder Richards says callings can always be "properly construed to be the will of the Lord," and asks "Why should we consider it a sacrifice to enjoy such happiness, growth, and development?" Great reminder to me. We're abundantly compensated for the time and effort our callings take.

Another phrase that stuck out: "As we live in this type of environment [an environment where we are continually studying God's word and praying always], we will know God’s will and have the desire and courage to conform." That's not a phrase one hears often, but it makes sense that much of the pain of comparing ourselves to an ideal comes from not really wanting to work to change ourselves enough to become ideal. But we can gain both the desire and the ability if we immerse ourselves in good things. Again—contemplation of Christ's perfection and the Father's goodness won't lead us to despair, but to empowerment. That's Elder Richards' promise here. I love it.

So, to sum up (since I always feel frustrated when my pondering doesn't result in some action items I can actually work on):
There is tremendous power in focusing on an ideal.
God's ideals are not my ideals.
Therefore, I need to focus not on what I, personally, imagine the ideal to be—but on Jesus Christ. On knowing Him, loving Him, and studying His life, His words, His commandments. That will both teach me what the ideal IS, and, as I apply the atonement, give me the spiritual capacity to work toward it without discouragement.

Other posts for this session:

1 Oh yeah. It was Elder Holland, here. Awesome talk.
2 All this talk of ideals is making me think of one of my favorite plays/movies, An Ideal Husband. It has some great thoughts on living an ideal too, although not exactly…these SAME thoughts. :)


London: "Oh the memories!" edition

Last year when Sam got invited to teach art workshops in London and Berlin, he asked me if I wanted to go with him and I immediately said "Are you kidding? YES!" I spent a semester abroad in the BYU London Centre seventeen years ago, and I've always dreamed of going back. I dreamed of going back before I even left! "Someday I will come here with my husband," I would say to myself, every time I wandered into some part of the city I particularly loved. (Of course I also said to myself, "Someday I will come back and study at Oxford," and we know how that turned out.) Still…London! I couldn't believe we were going to be so lucky.

So I was totally excited, and I couldn't stop thinking about it, but I then spent the next ten months worrying. Who would watch all the kids? What if baby Theodore still needed me? What if something went wrong? But thanks to our hugely awesome mothers, the solutions gradually presented themselves. Sam's parents agreed to take the girls, and my mom said she'd have the boys. By the time Teddy turned one in February, I allowed myself to believe maybe this really was going to work out after all. Living in London before had felt like such an important time for me. It was the first time I really lived on my own, and had roommates. (Girls! They're so weird! I only have brothers and living with forty girls was SO strange.) I made some awesome friends. And I felt so grown-up and independent. I loved going places by myself—concerts, recitals, museums. Walking home past lighted windows at night. Even just riding the tube and letting the city and the people wash over me. "Remember this," I must have told myself a million times. "Don't forget how it feels." 

But I did. Not all of it, of course, but looking back at that time from NOW, I thought I might be a whole different person. And I started feeling nervous that maybe I wouldn't be brave and independent anymore, maybe I wouldn't know my way around. All those fancy, cosmopolitan people would look at me and know immediately I was just a mom from a small town who didn't even quite know who she was without a gaggle of children around her.
Well, that was silly, of course. I knew it was. But I also knew Sam would be busy doing work things for part of the time, and I might be on my own a lot. I was excited and also scared about that. I wrote to my friends and my brothers and tried to get ideas about what I should do with myself and how I should spend my (limited, so limited) time! I made spreadsheets and entered addresses into my phone and scrolled around on Google maps and I felt a little better.
I thought these tall snowy mountains (Iceland, maybe?) out our plane window were so cool. I kept having the song "From Greenland's Icy Mountains" run through my head, which is bad because I don't know that song. Only that first line. I don't even know what it is. A hymn or something.
The flight over was so strange, just as I remember it being strange when I went before: you fly through the night and the sunrise and suddenly the new day is there before you even know where you are. You're so tired and so confused and you can't let yourself sleep—I remembered that, at least—DON'T SLEEP till it's night again! That first day I was there in college, I remember one professor giving us directions about crossing the street: "Usually you look left, look right, look left again. But now you have to look right, look left, look right again"—and I was so tired, my head literally ached trying to follow what he was saying. 

Make our garden grow

Several months ago I read about a group of Latter-day Saint bloggers I admire who were starting a project called the General Conference Odyssey. This post tells about the project and how it began, but in short, they plan to read all the easily available talks from conference (starting in Oct. 1971), one session a week, and independently post their (however various or uncoordinated) thoughts. I immediately felt a tug to join this project. I wanted to know what my parents were hearing from the prophets as they raised me. I wanted to hear again the talks I had heard and perhaps absorbed bits of without even meaning to, all through my growing-up years—talks I'd heard Saturdays while we worked in the yard, radio blaring; talks I'd watched Sundays on the big screen at our strangely empty and cavernous stake center because we didn't have our own TV, my brother and I laughing and rolling balls back and forth to each other along the empty pews. And I wanted to have a reason to truly reflect on those things by writing something about them.

Rather than trying to catch up, I'm just starting here, now, on what is week 24 of the group project. This week's session is the Saturday morning session of the October 1972 conference.
There's a famous line from the end of Voltaire's Candide: "Il faut cultiver notre jardin." Candide is a relentlessly idealistic, naïve young man who has been taught that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and therefore everything that happens is for the best. In the course of the narrative he goes through one terrible ordeal after another, and by the end of the story he has been thoroughly beaten down; all his idealism has been stripped from him. The story ends with his conclusion about the only option that remains in a world of such pain and uncertainty: "We must cultivate our own gardens." You can find the same theme in Leonard Bernstein's musical adaptation of Candide, where the final number is the stunningly beautiful song called "Make our Garden Grow."

When I studied Voltaire, I learned that this ending was a bitingly cynical commentary on hope and idealism, essentially saying, "No point trying do anything heroic. Leave the world alone, forget your lofty ideals, and just focus on your own self. It's little enough but it's the best you can hope for." But yet—it's ambiguous, and people debate the meaning. I was never sure it was as negative as all that. Maybe it's saying, instead, "The world is dark. But beauty is possible, and even one small person can make it."

Well, who knows what Voltaire and Bernstein truly meant, amongst all the political subtext and world-weariness and sarcasm! But whether intended or not, I think there is a deeper truth in the concept of making our gardens grow. And as I read this conference session, I kept thinking of Bernstein's lines again and again. 
"We're neither pure, nor wise, nor good
We'll do the best we know.
We'll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow."

I planned to just write about whichever talk struck me the most, but as I read I felt a theme that seemed to grow more and more prominent with each talk. I felt like I was being hit over the head with it: What is it that will save us? What is it that will help us reach our loftiest goal? And the answer, over and over: Our simple work. Our everyday worship. The day-by-day fight to love our families, our neighbors, our friends. 

I was struck by the recurring phrases in several of the talks. One called their present day "our day of complete frustration," which seemed almost stunningly apt to describe how I feel NOW, forty-four years later! Another mentions "these days of uncertainty and unrest," and there's also "confusion and frustration" (twice), and "disturbed and confused." Harold B. Lee's talk, "Teach the Gospel of Salvation," starts out by presenting some of the reasons for that confusion—the many questions and problems in the world; issues with war, politics, birth control, abortion, crime, widely-accepted immorality. Again I was struck by how relevant it all seemed. 

Elder Lee asks "what shall we do about all this?" and then quotes the Doctrine and Covenants, during another time when the saints "sought earnestly from the Lord as to how they were to meet the threats of their enemies."
[The Lord's answer was], “Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children.” After giving his law to parents to teach and train their children to walk uprightly before the Lord, he indicated his displeasure relative to those among us who, in his language, “are idlers … and [our] children are also growing up in wickedness; they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness.”
"In plain language, then," (Elder Lee continues):
"the Saints were told that to avoid war with their enemies they must renounce war and proclaim peace and to see that this was to begin within the home where fathers and children would be at peace with each other… 
[God] didn’t leave us with any question as to the prime place in his church and in the world where…the battle against evil…would break out into armed conflict. …If these words are clearly understood, we have been told where the roots of all evil are to be found. Our children have not been properly taught by parents in the home. [And] our communities have adopted policies which encourage idleness instead of work.…"
I love how Elder Lee brings us down into focus—from the huge panoramic scope of the wars and wickedness of the world, down suddenly into the actual battleground, the actual place where the fight against evil takes place: in our homes. Our families. Our communities. The conflict that occurs every time we want to argue, or shirk a responsibility to love. Every time we want to choose idleness over work. THIS is where we must choose God, choose obedience, choose peace. And THIS is where the world will change.

It's simple, but perfect in its simplicity. Come home, and make your garden grow.

Next, Howard W. Hunter takes up the theme with "Spiritual Famine." He starts with the striking metaphor from Amos:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.”
Then Elder Hunter quotes a minister from another church saying, "We are asked to turn to the church for enlightenment but when we do we find that the voice of the church is not inspired. The voice of the church today is the echo of our own voices. …"

I sat up and took notice of this, as I have been thinking for some time about how the most helpful time to have divine guidance is when the answer is something counterintuitive, something we wouldn't have come up with ourselves. A God that agrees with humans all the time would be no help to us at all! I keep reading criticisms of the church that dwell on the sticking points, when a member's "conscience" or reason or intuition tells him, "Your leaders are wrong on this! You know better." But I can't help feeling that such times are exactly when we MOST need the guidance of a higher being, and should be most willing to obey and trust God. 

Elder Hunter then says, 
"The church of Jesus Christ provides maximum opportunity for involvement of its members. From early youth to the last years of life, satisfying and meaningful activity and responsibility are available to all who are worthy and willing."
I thought about how many times my service in the church has seemed inconvenient, and it's nearly always! Left to myself, I would almost always be sitting home, staying quiet, deciding it's easier not to work on my talents right now, wanting to rest and think of myself. My natural inclination would almost never bring me to a neighbor's door or into a gathering of ladies I don't know very well; it would certainly never cause me to lead a group of youth, or speak in public, or volunteer with Cub Scouts. And yet it is these things, time after time, that bring fullness and satisfaction and meaning to my life. I am so grateful that the church gives me a reason to do them!

Again Elder Hunter reiterates the small, mundane things that bring happiness: learning to lead others righteously, close and cohesive family life, and service of God and man. He gives these as the antidote for the dry barren desert of spiritual famine, and ends with the hopeful observation that even "in what appears to be a spiritual famine, there are many who have found a spiritual abundance" (emphasis added) through following God's word. Of these Saints, he says, "Their lives are made bright and luminous by the gift of the Holy Ghost, and their souls are lifted up by their service to God and man."

Victor L. Brown talked about the welfare program and told several stories about specific things members of the church were doing to serve others. On first reading it seemed like a talk full of anecdotes, like some I've heard given more recently about the church's humanitarian service. I've heard these talks criticized as merely self-congratulatory ("isn't the church great!") but I thought that on the contrary, it carried an important doctrinal message. First of all, I was struck by how many complicated and challenging situations were being dealt with, quite different from the narrative you sometimes hear that the church is just now starting to notice and care for those who don't fit the "Mormon mold." It was clear, reading the stories, that then (as now) the gospel gives us the perfect tools to improve any situation. Elder Brown told of people dealing with poverty, adoption, foster care, drug and alcohol rehab, mental handicaps. And for each of these people in need, there were others supplying exactly the labor or care or knowledge that was required!

Elder Brown's larger point was even more profound, though: the thing each of these "needy" people needed MOST…was to turn around and serve OTHERS! The uneducated mother was taught how to serve her family more nutritious meals; the girl with cerebral palsy was allowed to serve at the bishop's storehouse. They were given the chance to contribute to God's work and this chance may have been the most valuable gift they received. Elder Brown quotes Albert E. Bowen: 
"… from the beginning the real long term objective of the Welfare Plan is the building of character in the members of the Church, givers and receivers, rescuing all that is finest deep down in the inside of them, and bringing to flower and fruitage the latent richness of the spirit which after all is the mission and purpose and reason for being of this Church."
There are the flowers and fruits of the "garden" again, this time within each of us, grown with the help of the spirit as we reach out and serve!

And that brings me to my favorite talk, "Altar, Tent, and Well" by A. Theodore Tuttle. I think this one impressed me because it was so simple and poetic, and because I feel like I can be Isaac in this scenario Elder Tuttle begins with:
And [Isaac] builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there: and there Isaac’s servants digged a well.” (Gen. 26:25.) 
Altar, tent, and well. Isaac did not become an Abraham or a Jacob. He did not reach the heights of Abraham, called the “father of the faithful.” Nor was he as impressive as his son Israel, father of the twelve tribes. Yet Isaac is loved and revered. He worshiped God, cared for his home, and pursued his work. He is remembered simply as a man of peace. The eloquent simplicity of his life and his unique ability to lend importance to the commonplace made him great. 
Altar, tent, and well: his worship, his home, his work. These basic things of life signified his relationship to God, his family, and his fellowmen. Every person on earth is touched by these three.
Elder Tuttle talks beautifully about the different roles of men and women, and how they both center in the home. He brings up the Garden of Eden, but in a different way than I've heard before. It's almost like he's saying Eden, rather than being an almost unreal dreamworld, a place they would soon lose forever—was instead a precursor, a foreshadowing of some real, permanent home to come: 
Adam took [Eve]…into the Garden he had dressed and kept for her, into the bridal home he had built, into the Garden that from then till now has been the symbol of heaven on earth, there to begin together their earthly life, that was finally to bring opportunity to the untold myriads of spirits then waiting for the mortal tabernacles these two were to make it possible for them to possess.
It sounds almost…and these are my thoughts here, not Elder Tuttle's, so I could be wrong…like they left the Garden with the determination to, through their work and sweat and unity, find or build a new garden—a better one. A true paradise. Which is exactly, in my understanding, what our goal is through mortality. The Garden of Eden was a place of innocence, but a god is not merely innocent. The mortal world was a place of experience, but a god is not merely experienced. To reach a true paradise and be like God, it seems like we need a blend of these things. Experience without weariness or cynicism. Purity without ignorance or naiveté. Maybe we could call it "exaltation," but clearly, we need a both a mortal life and a perfect, merciful Savior to enable us to get there.

Back to Elder Tuttle. About Isaac's work away from the home (the "well" of the title), he says, 
"Kneeling at his altar, mindful of his family in his tent, Isaac found most of his working hours consumed in watching over wells he had caused to be digged. His flocks were nourished by them. His simple dependence upon the water and the soil and the forage that grew is little different in our day, for man must work."
I see reflected here one of the current differences between my role and Sam's role in our family. He too finds "most of his working hours consumed" in duties away from home, but through those hours he is still "mindful of his family in his tent." Or in other words, a husband's spiritual focus can remain on "Altar" and "Tent," though his physical and mental exertion are often consumed by "Well." As a stay-at-home mother, my role, on the other hand, allows me to more easily combine the three areas. My work IS my home; my worship IS my family. I get to spend my days at the "altar" teaching my children, or in the "tent" keeping our lives organized—I get to spend my days "tending my garden." I love to think of the rituals of keeping home as a form of worship. I love to think of my nurturing and love for my children as the creation of Eden on earth. But it is my Sam who constantly brings the "water from the well" to make that garden's growth possible. I love this beautiful symbol. And ultimately, I think, when our mortal constraints are removed, we will be able to unite altar, tent, and well into one great work and glory, as God does.

Here is the next verse of the "Make our Garden Grow" song I mentioned above:
Let dreamers dream what worlds they please
Those Edens can't be found.
The sweetest flowers, the fairest trees
Are grown in solid ground.

Honestly, I think there is great Truth here. Not because Eden is a fantasy; not because God doesn't exist. But because heaven is rooted in the mundane. Eternity is built from moments. God does his work day by day, and we find him, we KNOW Him, by joining in his work. I don't know the theology of it all, but I have always felt that we Mormons believe in a very real God, a very real salvation. We don't spend much time in metaphysics. We believe in the elevation of the ordinary, and the progression from ordinary to divine.

And that's the message I got from this session. In 1972 there were bad things, big things, serious things going on in the world, as there are now. But the message seemed to be: go home and make your garden grow. Tend your little flock, your little well. Make friends with and love those that are around you. Teach your children, your neighbors, and influence them. That's the answer to (ultimately) solving the big problems—AND to individually feeling less helplessness and more hope as those big, scary things swirl around us.

Here are the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week:

- Home is Heaven's Construction Site by Nathaniel Givens

- Family--Isn't it about Time, and Eternity? by G

- Preach in Season and Out of Season by Daniel Ortner

- What Makes Mormonism Unique? by Michelle Linford

- A Love Story by Jan Tolman

Rock Stand

The children, who are quite mercenary little creatures at the best of times, were driven to many new heights of enterprise during our recent Economics and Money Unit. I always try to discourage them from doing Lemonade Stands and so forth, mostly because it makes ME uncomfortable (I'm always afraid they'll annoy people, or that neighbors will stop and buy something just to be nice but then be sort of annoyed at the same time. Ha.), and because I never think they'll be very successful and I want to quash their little dreams early so as to prevent future disappointment. And I think, the thousands of children's books using Lemonade Stands as symbols of "Entrepreneurship" to the contrary, that children's lemonade stands don't actually add that much value to society. It's funny, because when I see OTHER children at lemonade stands I think it's darling and I even make a point of stopping at them when possible, but it's still something I sort of groan at whenever my own children want to do it.

Well, in spite of this wet-blanket-ness on my  part, the children have sold things at "stands" before and probably will again. This latest effort was a rock stand selling various rocks we have found or bought and polished. And I suppose the polished rocks actually are something the children added value to by polishing, so that's good. Though I didn't know if there would be much of a market for them. This Rock Stand was a multi-day effort and the children actually made a little bit of money! So they were thrilled.
The kids were very conscientious about marketing. They made many signs, and walked up and down the street yelling and ringing a bell as they went, like lepers. It probably drove our sainted neighbors crazy. I tried not to let it go on too long or too frequently.
I loved Malachi's sign. Good thing we have so many "raer" rocks for sale.


E, F, G, H, I

I've been wanting and wanting to write about our trip to London and Berlin, but it's been taking me a long time to sort through and edit all the pictures we took! Besides which I feel a sort of moral obligation to get all these drafts of other various unfinished posts out of the way first. Anyway, these alphabet weekends are all combined into one post because none of them were very elaborate! Which, of course, is the key to us doing them at all, when things get busy.
E was for Empanadas. We went to a place that got good reviews on Yelp and did something I've always wanted to do: ordered one of everything on the menu! It's kind of a small place and when all nine of us trooped in there I was worried we'd be overwhelming. But besides having to sit at three different tables, it was fine. The owner was super nice (he has 10 kids himself, he said!) and we loved everything we tried. I can't even remember which kinds we liked best, so if we go again I'm afraid we'll just have to order everything again! :)
F was for Frites. We've liked this place in Salt Lake for years now but other Saturday events brought us to Provo, so we went to the new location on Center Street. We bought a huge cone-full of fries and shared it. And then another one and shared it too (we should have known one wouldn't be enough). And we tried six different sauces, of course.



Sam and I went to the gardens at Thanksgiving Point on our honeymoon (we also went to San Diego, but this was on the way to the airport) so I've always had a soft spot for them—besides the fact that I love flower gardens in general, of course. But, as a certified crowd-avoider, I've never actually been during their "Tulip Festival." We always end up going a couple weeks afterward, saying to ourselves, "surely it will still be pretty." And it IS always pretty, but this year we braved the crowds on what we thought would be a slow Tuesday afternoon. It was PACKED. But the tulips were also quite spectacular—much more plentiful and at their peak than any remnants we've ever seen in previous years. I was so glad we went!

It's June now, but I'm sneaking this post in on a date closer to the time it actually happened, since it took me forever to get the pictures uploaded and I like things in their proper order! :)
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