Sunday, January 27, 2008

President Hinckley

President Hinckley died tonight, January 27, 2008, at 7 pm, of causes incident to age.

He was president of the church for all of my adult life thus far, becoming the prophet around the same time I graduated from high school. What a wonderful man! I'm so grateful he was able to lead our church for as long as he did. I'm grateful he was so active and healthy during his tenure. And as much as I am going to miss him (it's hard to even imagine General Conference without him!), I'm grateful he is with his precious wife again. I know he missed her so much.

Of all the many memories I have of President Hinckley--waving his cane at audiences, telling the story of the walnut tree and the new podium, talking about the new Conference Center, announcing the rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple--the one I want to share happened not at Conference, not at a regional meeting, not even at a devotional. It was during the groundbreaking ceremony of the new wing of the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU on September 30, 1996. As the ceremony ended, and all the dignitaries dug the shovels into the earth, I happened to be in just the right position to be very close to where the prophet stood. As I stood there, twenty feet away, I felt the Spirit bear the most powerful witness that this man was the Lord's annointed. It was just an amazing, unexpected moment, standing there in the sun, straining to hear what was being said as they laughed while turning over the dirt. My soul just knew that President Hinckley has was chosen of God for that time to lead the Church.

And now it is time for another worthy, righteous man to lead the church. I am praying for President Monson, and his family, and I am thrilled to see where the Lord leads our church in the next months and years. But for tonight and tomorrow, I am just going to miss President Hinckley.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Spiritual Crowds

In the adult session of Stake Conference last night, one of the speakers spoke about a time when, in a large group of unrelated, mostly unacquainted men, the Spirit was present so strongly that the entire room was utterly silent. The event was the April 2007 Priesthood Session of General Conference . The BYU Men's Chorus provided the music, and sang for the closing song "I Love the Lord", set to the tune "Finlandia" (better known to most as "Be Still My Soul"). (You can listen to it here.) It was a breathtaking arrangement of Nephi's Psalm (2 Nephi 4:16-35). My husband attended the priesthood session in a different stake center, and he came home amazed at the effect it had on the men in the room. Usually there is a fair amount of rustling and movement during the music at the priesthood session, he reported, but everyone was unusually silent, and there was strong spirit of quietness in the room. This lasted through the song, the closing prayer, and even a little afterward.

I have had one such experience in my life. On April 6, 2000, the Palmyra New York Temple was dedicated. Because of the importance of this temple dedication, the First Presidency chose to (closed-circuit) broadcast it to 3000 locations, so that as many who wanted could attend. I was a BYU graduate student at the time, and our location was the Marriott Center on campus--the huge multi-purpose arena that can seat 22700, where both basketball games and devotionals are held. In my journal entry of that day, I wrote:
"I was struck by how many were up, so early [6:30am], to go; there were probably 10,000 people in the Marriott Center. I was also struck by the reverence of everyone--we are so accustomed to laughing and talking before CES firesides, devotionals, etc; afterwards hurrying out, greeting friends. There was a very low murmur of conversation before the dedication began, none during, and most impressive to me, NONE during the quiet emptying of the Center. Everyone was happy-somber, and the Spirit was not chased away as soon as the closing prayer was said. It was amazing."
Large crowds--even large crowds of exclusively adults--aren't usually conducive to amazing spiritual experiences. We love to talk too much, we aren't always in the same place mentally or spiritually, we are busy and distracted and worried about life. But I think that my experience at the Palmyra Temple Dedication was enhanced by the presence of so many others. I well remember the strong outpouring of the Spirit that I felt on that day. I was overwhelmed during the Hosannah Shout and Anthem, with the thousands of white handkerchiefs waving in the air, all at once. To sing "The Spirit of God", my all-time favorite hymn of the Restoration, with so many other voices was unforgettable.

If you were there in the Marriott Center that day, thank you. Thank you for allowing the Spirit to flow so abundantly. Thank you for being part of an experience that has stayed with me so vividly, even after eight years.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Moral Challenge of Pacifism

I'm bothered to see Christians who appear to take a "pacifism at all costs" approach to foreign affairs. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told us about a man who crossed boundaries of tribe and soil to help another man who had been abused. The purpose of the parable is to broaden our perspective and help us to realize that ALL people are our neighbors. Implicit in the story is a condemnation of those "righteous" ones who passed by the man in need for their own reasons.

Now a hypothetical: You hear screams from the sidewalk in front of your home. A woman is being assaulted. Do you intervene in some way? Is there a moral imperative to help?

I argue that there is a moral imperative to assist the woman. There may be other circumstances to consider, such as your ability to improve the outcome of her situation. If, for example, you believe that directly intervening would cause more harm than good (perhaps causing the woman to be killed) then you have another moral path open to you. You might also consider the possibility of harm coming to you or to your family as a result of your intervention. Some people fail to report crimes because they fear retaliation from gangs or organized crime.

Any of those things and many more are, in my view, appropriate variables in a calculation to intervene. The one argument that I find unconvincing in the light of the Parable previously cited would be an argument for pacifism. To argue, as some do, that war is always wrong strikes me as naive. Of course we should seek to settle our differences with other nations amicably. But when wicked men are unwilling to negotiate, violent conflict may be inevitable.

A purely pacifist stance, it seems, would argue that we must allow the woman on the sidewalk to be attacked without consideration of any other variables. A purely pacifist observer couldn't even call the police, because to do so would also be to risk inciting another violent confrontation in addition to the first one already in progress.

Is it really expected that we let the Lord fight all our battles? This is the only possible moral outlet I can see for the pacifist position. And frankly, I am not convinced this is a valid position.

This post is related to a comment I made over at Mormon Stories if you're interested.

Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love

Early one morning, a conversation between Ezra (aged 4) and Mercy (aged 2.5):

Mercy: (waking up, obviously on the wrong side of the bed) No, no, want Ezra, want Ezra!

Ezra: (groggily, just waking up to her cries) It's okay, Mercy, it's okay. I have room for you. (He rolls over in his little nest of blankets, and pats the pillow next to his head.) Come here.

(Mercy crawls out of her bed, stumbles over to her brother, lays beside him.)

Ezra: Here you go, Mercy. (Covers her up with blankets, snuggles next to her.)

Mercy: (softly, falling back asleep) I love you, Ezra.

Ezra: (equally softly) I love you too, Mercy.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Primary Chorister

For the last year, I have the best calling in the world--I am the Primary Chorister. The benefits are many:
I get to know all the Primary kids, without having to deal with any one class for the entire year.
I get to play with the Nursery children.
I get to sing.
I get to devise, create, color, cut out, and improvise props to teach our songs.
I'm pretty autonomous--sure, the presidency has oversight, but they pretty much let me do my own things.
I get to buy handbells for our Primary this year.
I get to stand up, move around, fall on the ground, and generally act silly, especially during Junior Primary and Nursery.
All the Primary kids seem to like me, so I get hugs and waves throughout sacrament meetings and ward activities.
I don't have to worry about staffing teachers or finding last-minute substitutes (I used to be in Primary presidency).

Now, I know that being the chorister isn't for everyone. You have to feel comfortable with music and kids, and "performing" weekly. And there are downsides--my four-year-old son, for example, struggles with sitting with his own class, and not always being picked, during music time. I sometimes only get seven minutes for music time (the presidency is doing a lot better at letting me get my full 20 minutes). And my Senior Primary is almost all boys--I'm still struggling to find the best way to engage them while staying reverent.

I have learned a few things in my first year in this calling. Don't underestimate the children--they are capable of doing more than the (relatively) simple arrangements in the Children's Songbook. It takes more time and work, but they can pull of a few more complicated songs during the year. Do explain the dynamics and structure of the song, if you have time and want to. (My Junior Primary was fascinated that the "Tall, tall, tall" notes of "Once There Was a Snowman" go up, and the "Small, small, small" notes go down.) Do learn the songs yourself, and be enthusiastic about them. Don't just stick with showing pictures to help them learn the words--use props, drawings on the board (that you then erase), individual children to represent different lines, etc. Get the children up and moving, especially during wiggle songs (have them march around you, if you can). I'm excited to see what the next year will teach me--and if anyone reading this has ideas, feel free to add them!

The rewards of this calling are intangible but real, such as during the ward choir's Christmas sacrament program, when the children sang Sally DeFord's He is Born, The Child Divine. We'd only been practicing for barely a month, and yet they knew every word of both verses and sang so sweetly and clearly that everyone was in tears--especially me. To hear those marvelous children sing such beautiful words "Come good people, to the stable...", with the piano accompaniment and organ chime embellishments...It was beautiful and holy.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"Jesus the Christ" Audiobook Podcast Available

I'm making a new podcast available. I'm reading James E. Talmage's Jesus the Christ and putting the audio files into a podcast. The Church has actually made audio recordings of the book available which you can download for free from lds.org, but I decided it would be fun to put the book into my own voice.

There are three main differences between the audio files available from the Church and the files you'll find in my new podcast. First, my podcast excludes the chapter endnotes. That trims quite a bit of text. Since the endnotes can really stand alone, I may put them in a few separate episodes when I'm done with the main text of the book.

Second, my podcast doesn't include the scriptural references when scriptures are cited. It broke up the flow of the text too much to be constantly reading citations as they do in the Church's version of the audio book. Instead, I link back to the text of the book at Project Gutenberg so that you can peruse Elder Talmage's footnotes at your leisure.

Third, my podcast is done in my house, so there are bound to be random bits of background household noise (and altogether too much lip smacking) inherent in my low budget setup. Nevertheless, I think the audio quality should be good enough for most listeners. For all the rest, you still have the Church version.

Hopefully you enjoy the book. I thought it was appropriate given all the discussion of Mormon beliefs in Jesus Christ incident to the Mitt Romney campaign. Even after the campaign is a memory, the audio book will continue to be permanently archived at archive.org. I know that some of the scholarship in the book is a bit dated, but it stands as a lasting testimony from Elder Talmage and we're truly blessed to have it.

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