Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Year of Grace

As a child I read the Little House of the Prairie books constantly--so much so that my two older sisters and I read one set of the books into oblivion. The writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder greatly influenced my childhood--I liked to wear my long brown hair in two braids, my older sisters and I played "Little House" all the time (despite being the youngest of the three, I was alwaysLaura), and, at eight, I even won Honorable Mention in a state-wide illustration contest by drawing a picture of the family in their covered wagon.

A more subtle influence from these books shaped my understanding of certain words. Copperplate writing or scarlet fever, storm cellar or headcheese--I encountered these "vocabulary" words for the first time in the pages of these books. Most of the words were easily understood from context clues or a quick answer from Mom. Occasionally, though, context clues can lead a reader (especially a seven-year-old reader) astray, and sometimes stick with that reader into adulthood.

"A Year of Grace" is the title of the very last chapter of the very last book (The First Four Years) in the Little House series. This is the shortest of all the books (it was published after Laura's death, and was never really finished or polished by her). It is an account of the first four years of her marriage to Almonzo Wilder. Although Laura never really wanted to be a farmer's wife, that was Almonzo's profession, and so when they married they agreed to try farming for three years. At the end of the third year, they decided to try just one more year. That extra year (the year of grace) turned out to be a year of trials. They lost their crops to wind storms. They were in debt to doctor's bills and the bank. Their house burned to the ground. And their newborn son died just three weeks after his birth.

The title of this chapter was my first introduction to the word "grace". The contents of the chapter led me to believe that "grace" was equal to very hard troubles. Then, sometime later, I learned about grace in church. Ah, I thought, that's what it means--they had such a hard year that they had to rely on grace--the divine help from heaven. It made such perfect sense to me that way--one would need divine help to get through a year like that.*

This past year has been a year of grace for me and my family. Various serious health problems have reminded us all of our mortality. But I'm grateful for my initial misunderstanding of "grace". It stays with me to this day--very hard troubles = grace. I know it isn't theologically correct, and yet it helps me through my difficulties by redirecting my focus to heaven. It forces me to be aware of my blessings and the very real presence of the Lord in my life.

*(It wasn't until much, much later--high school at least--that I realized that the title was likely referring to adding a "grace period" of an additional year to their farming experiment.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Duplicate Talks From a General Authority

Someone in the Bloggernacle complained (though I don't remember where or when) that a prominent General Authority had come and spoken to their congregation on two separate occasions and had given the same talk both times. This was seen as a great let down by the commenter. The comment was called to memory because of our own stake conference today.

While I don't know the specifics of that commenter's situation, it spurred a thought for me that may or may not apply to that particular case.

The desire to hear something new is, ironically, very old.
For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing. (Acts 17:21)
"Some new thing." I don't think Luke meant his description of the Athenians to be a compliment. Perhaps the appropriate response to the scenario described above isn't a condemnation of the GA for giving the same talk twice. Perhaps it is a condemnation of the congregation for needing the same talk twice. I stand rebuked.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Indonesia Update: It Was True!

Back in October, I posted my recollection of a story I'd heard about how the president of Indonesia ended up becoming friends with Gordon Hinckley and getting a blessing at his hands. I had heard the story from a reliable source, but I wasn't entirely confident in my memory. Justin B. followed up with an awesome comment full of newspaper quotes substantiating parts of the story.

Chad Emmett, a BYU professor, has just posted a comment on that post. I'll top post his comment here since I think it is so important for people to see who read the previous post.
In general the facts of this account are correct. I am a BYU professor and am currently writing a book on the history of the LDS Church in Indonesia. A few summers ago I interviewed Hal Jensen (a California based businessman who has worked with Glen Overton on several projects) and he related to me the same general story.

He did refuse tea at his first meeting with Gus Dur (mid 1990s). (My experience with Muslims is that they are much more accepting of a rejection of hospitality (tea and coffee) if you cite religious prohibition--perhaps Brother Jensen found the same to be true) That refusal led to a continuing friendship.

When Gus Dur came to SLC (summer 1999) for the eye operation, Brother Jensen arranged for him to meet President Packer who then arranged for Gus Dur to meet President Hinckley. Gus Dur was given a blessing by President Hinckley. A few months later he was elected President of Indonesia.

A few months later he was back in SLC for a follow up operation. He met Pres. Hinckley again. This time he invited Pres. Hinckley to visit Indonesia as his official guest. In January 2000 Pres Hinckley traveled to Jakarta to met Gus Dur and to meet with 1,800 Latter-day Saints. A year later the Indonesian government approved the issuance of visas for foreign missionaries to once again enter the country.

From 1970-1981 foreign missionaries were permitted to serve in Indonesia (I was one of the fortuante few). Then from 1981-2001 no foreign missionaries were allowed in the country. That all changed when Gus Dur met Pres Hinckley. Since the summer of 2001 there have been a limited number of foreign elders and sisters serving in Indonesia.
Thank you so much, Chad, for providing this valuable update on the situation. I have often wondered what good came out of the relationship with the Indonesian leader. The relationship was very helpful in our efforts to provide humanitarian assistance after the tsunami. Apparently, it also helped open the door for our missionaries. We'll look forward to your book on the subject when it comes out.

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