Category Archives: Spiritual Nourishment

General Conference wrapup

So, the big deal this weekend was the 180th semiannual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The reason I say “big deal” is because, for Mormons at least, we believe that this is an opportunity for us to hear counsel from people whom we believe are influenced by, and often speaking on behalf of, God.

This may seem a bit radical to members of other churches. One of the unique defining beliefs of the Mormon church is that we believe that revelation after the ancient pattern is still with us. In fact, that belief is one of the 13 articles of faith that form the equivalent of the Catholic catechism. The Ninth Article of Faith states:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

With that in mind, are a few impressions that I got during this weekend’s conference. There are a number of places on the Internet that have full summaries of the conference talks. My intent is not to repeat the summaries; instead, I want to highlight a few of the things that I found the most valuable or the most personally applicable. (One of the cool things about believing in Revelation is that it entitles you to believe that sometimes God will reveal things that directly to you that are pertinent to your individual life, job, family, or stewardship. The personal aspect is very exciting to me.)

Probably the standout talk for me was the one given in the Saturday morning session by Pres. Dieter Uchtdorf. Because of his long career as a pilot, his talks often have something to do with aviation, and that has led to a bit of a running joke. In this talk, he spoke about turbulence, pointing out that every airframe is optimum speed for penetrating turbulence. Novice pilots may speed up to try to pass through the turbulence quickly, but it is almost always better for the passengers if the pilot moderates the speed to get optimum. His point is that when we are in distress or turbulence ourselves, the natural response is sometimes to occupy ourselves with as much busyness as possible. Better, he said, to slow down instead, making sure that we take time for the fundamental observances of what’s really important. This was definitely what I needed to hear, especially because things have been unusually busy at work lately.

Running a close second was the talk given in the Saturday night priesthood session by Elder Patrick Kearon, a member of the first quorum of the 70 of whom I had never heard. In brief summary, he ascribes all occasions when we know what is right and choose not to do it to one of two things: laziness or rebelliousness. Rather strong medicine, but definitely true in my case. (And no, I’m not going to tell you what the relative mix of those two causes is for me!) He cited an example from his own life where, as a boy, he went walking in the desert in flip-flops despite many warnings from his parents that he should always wear shoes. Predictably, he was stung by a scorpion. Although not life-threatening, the experience was painful enough to remind him of exactly why his parents made that rule.

Then there was the talk given by Pres. Monson in priesthood session: he covered what he called “the 3R’s of choice”: the right of choice, the responsibility of choice, and the results of choice. It was a superb talk, but I’m not sure that I have absorbed it fully yet. That’s okay, because…

I did something unusual during this general conference: I took notes in my journal. I have always been a poor journal keeper. That might be because I blog, or it might be because I never developed a habit as a young man, or it might be because I’m either lazy or rebellious. Whatever the reason, I have definitely fallen off my journaling pace over the last six months or so–since the last conference, in fact. I’m glad to have accumulated some notes about the thoughts and impressions I had about the talks as they were being given. I expect to refer to them in the future.

Oh, and speaking of in the future: the talk of that elder Allen H Oaks gave today, on the difference between priesthood lines of authority and personal lines of authority, is one which I suspect we will see cited in many future conference talks. One of my favorite things about Elder Oaks is that his talks generally combined a very pragmatic, direct approach to the topic with a solid logical and scriptural underpinning. Perhaps it’s his background as a lawyer and judge, but his talks often appeal to me because they make, and then buttress, an argument rather than being completely based on appeal to the spirit.

The boys and I tried something new this conference. We played a game with snacks. Each snack had a label, like “prophet” or “Savior” or “Temple”. Whenever the speaker said a matching word, everyone got to eat one piece of the matching snack. We did this for about 45 min., until the boys were actually sick of the snacks. After that, because they were full, they were much more attentive than they had been in the morning session. I think we’ll probably try that again next time.


Overall, I definitely feel as though the time I invested watching the conference broadcasts was time well spent. Perhaps it was the influence of the turbulence talk, but taking the opportunity to “listen to a prophet’s voice,” and reflect on what I heard, was just what I needed this weekend.

If you’d like to know more, the church has a comprehensive page that includes both audio and video downloads of individual talks, as well as separate downloads of only the musical performances are the various choirs. If you’re not Mormon, and you’re curious, I encourage you to drop by, download a talk or two, and give them a listen. I think it will be worth your time!

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Cleaning the church

Sometimes you find inspiration in odd places.
One thing that distinguishes the LDS church from most others is that we don’t have much in the way of full-time clergy. Sure, there are general authorities, but the vast majority of church leadership at the local levels is made up of volunteers. For example, the members of my ward’s bishopric– the bishop and his two counselors– are volunteers. One’s an accountant, one is retired, and I don’t know what the other one does. None, however, receive any monetary support from the church.
This principle extends beyond leadership to mundane things like who cleans the buildings. At least in North America, church buildings are maintained by the church facilities maintenance group, but “maintained” means that the FMG does stuff like fixing the roof if it leaks or replacing the toilet that little Johnny broke. They don’t clean the buildings, the members do. That means that, a few times a year, our family gets assigned to work as part of a cleaning crew. This sounds boring, but as with so many other things, if you look a bit deeper you may find it to be less so.
The first interesting thing: this is a collateral duty over and above whatever callings you may have. Everyone gets a turn, without fear or favor. Single adults, families with little kids, senior couples.. all must bow to the mighty cleaning schedule. I think that’s great because it gives (or requires, depending on your perspective) an equal opportunity for service to all. Just as God’s blessings are equally available to all of us, so are the responsibilities that come along with them.
The second interesting thing: at least in this ward, each cleaning task is on an index card. The card specifies what needs to be done (e.g. “sweep east and west entrance areas; make sure rugs are clean; make sure that rugs do not prevent doors from opening”). On the back there’s a signature list so that whoever performs the task can sign off on it. This promotes pride of workmanship, of course, but it also provides a useful way to track jobs that might not have gotten done the last time the building was cleaned. Our church makes a big deal out of doing things in wisdom and order, and this is just one small manifestation of that.
Pushing a broom (or a mop) isn’t an especially inspiring task, but I appreciated the opportunity to do it, in part because I felt like I was doing something valuable for our congregation, but in part because I knew I was working as part of a team to meet a larger objective. The spiritual applications of this principle are pretty obvious…

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Memorial Day 2010

Every year, Julie posts this. Every year, I read it and cry. This year, I’ll toss in a link to Lex’s thoughts on Memorial Day.

I am thankful for those who have served our country, and I pray the Lord’s blessings on their loved ones– most of all for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and the freedoms we enjoy therein.

Cory Booker said it thus:

We drink deeply from wells of freedom we did not dig, we eat from a table of abundance prepared for us by courageous hands and hearts, may we ever be mindful of their sacrifice and may we show our gratitude not simply in word or ceremony but in our continued work and dedication to make ours a more perfect union.

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Four classes

I love this quote; it’s attributed to Clausewitz, but I don’t know where it really came from. It doesn’t matter, though, because it’s still true:

I divide officers into four classes — the clever, the lazy, the stupid and the industrious. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities. Those who are clever and industrious are fitted for the high staff appointments. Use can be made of those who are stupid and lazy. The man who is clever and lazy is fit for the very highest commands. He has the temperament and the requisite nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be removed immediately.

Joel Spolsky’s covers this same principle in his discussion of how to hire people: look for those who are smart and get things done. I think it has applications to lots of other things, too, though.

For example, we’ve all worked with people at church or other volunteer organizations who are stupid and industrious– they make more work for themselves, and others, but that additional work doesn’t translate into more achievement or benefit to those they serve. They’re the ones who are quick to cite, and insist on obedience to, every small, Pharisaical rule. They’re the ones who get bogged down in the minutiae of whatever they’re responsible for and lose sight of the bigger picture of what they’re supposed to be trying to achieve.

I’m trying to be less stupid in my own callings and life. Perhaps someday I’ll not only make it, but become more industrious too.

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Seminary Feud

Neat-o e-mail I just got:

Hello from Cody, Wyoming!

I am a seminary teacher trying to create a Seminary Feud game (similar to Family Feud on tv). Remember how the contestants try to guess the most popular responses? Well I need as many responses as possible to make this fun. I won’t use or keep any names; I’ll just tally the responses. Please fill out the attached survey and e-mail it back to me at, and then if you have a few extra minutes, would you PLEASE forward this message to as many of your LDS friends/relatives as possible? I would love to tell the students I have responses from all over the country!

Here’s the clincher: I need this by FRIDAY, October 30th, so I can be ready for next week. We just finished studying the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi—these kids deserve a party! Please note somewhere on your survey if you’d like me to e-mail you a copy of the survey answers and numbers when I’m done. Thanks for your help!

Sister Noma Walton,


Please answer the following questions very quickly, writing the first answer that comes to mind.

Name a book from the Book of Mormon:
Name a Book of Mormon prophet:
A wicked person in the Book of Mormon:
A group of people in the Book of Mormon:
A time when Nephi’s life was threatened:
One of the 11 witnesses to the Book of Mormon:
A Book of Mormon hero:
One of the 10 commandments:
One of Christ’s original 12 apostles:
A weapon used in the Book of Mormon:
Something in the Tree of Life Dream:
Popular Primary song:
Most popular hymn from Hymn Book:
A book from the Old Testament:
A prophet in the New Testament:
The most well-known Old Testament story:
The hardest commandment for teens to obey:
A good Sabbath day activity:
Habits that break the Word of Wisdom:
A modern-day apostle, still living:

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“It takes work”

While in Monterey, I had the chance to attend the local ward. I’d forgotten that it was the first weekend of the month, so I was a bit surprised to discover myself in the midst of a testimony meeting. One testimony in particular caught my ear. A young woman (whom I’ll call Jackie) got up and said that her husband was gone, “but not for that long– it’s only for four months!” That made my complaining about a two-week business trip seem very minor in comparison. She went on to tell the story of Barbara, a family friend who, though somewhat eccentric, was unfailingly cheerful and outgoing. Barbara was well known in her ward for cheerful and willing service to others. She was going through a rough patch, and the speaker said she thought to visit Barbara and cheer her up. Barbara greeted her at the door with hair askew, no makeup, and swollen cheeks from a recent visit to the dentist. However, Barbara’s greeting was as heartfelt and cheerful as always. Jackie marvelled at this and said “Barbara, how can you always be so cheerful?” Barbara’s reply, delivered by Jackie with a wonderful swooping voice, was simple: “Well, it takes work!

Jackie’s point was simple: we can choose whether to be happy, or not. We can choose to be positive about our circumstances, or not. We can be thankful for what we have, or we can complain and lament what we don’t have. Being positive and cheerful is as much a choice as deciding what clothes to wear in the morning. That’s not to say that it’s always easy to choose that mindset. We’re all often tempted to be bitter, angry, resentful, or just plain unhappy. Sometimes we have good reasons for these feelings; other times, we take small things and blow them out of proportion, then use them as justification for these feelings. These are choices we get to make. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent– for that matter, they can’t make you feel anything else either!

I am a firm believer in this principle. Most people, I think, are as happy as they make up their minds to be. While this is probably a gospel principle, it sure isn’t exclusive to Latter-day Saints. Some of the kindest, most service-oriented, happiest people I’ve ever known are those who despite poor health or other circumstances choose to be that way! I’m reminded of Sister Morgan, an elderly lady in our ward who is probably the most positive person I’ve ever met. She always seems to be in good spirits,and if she ever wasn’t she’d probably be thinking about what good spirits she’d like to be in. I try to emulate her example, and y’know what? It works, but it takes work.

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BYU Radio on the go

The LDS Church’s annual General Conference is this weekend. So is our trip to Louisiana. What to do?

Normally we watch the conference broadcasts in the comfort of our living room. This is easy because Dish Network, DirecTV, and U-Verse all carry BYU TV, and we’ve found that in extremis connecting my laptop to the TV and watching their live Internet stream works fine too. None of these, however, will work well in the van as we drive south.

Enter ooTunes, an iPhone application that can stream live radio stations over the Internet. It supports Windows Media streams, which not coincidentally are the kind that BYU Radio uses. I tested it this morning and it works quite well, even over a cellular connection. So, problem solved: we’ll plug the iPhone in to the van’s input jacks, launch ooTunes, and listen to conference as we roll. (As a backup, I’ve already told the U-Verse box to record it, just in case– there’s too much good stuff in conference talks to miss them!)

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Filed under Spiritual Nourishment, Travel is a well-written and beautifully presented blog that focuses on one thing: temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Bonus: this site has some great temple pictures.) If you’re LDS, you’ll enjoy it; if you’re not, you may learn from it why we consider temples, and the ordinances performed therein, so important.

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Survey on LDS beliefs and parenting

I just finished taking a survey on LDS beliefs and parenting. The survey is part of Steven Behling‘s graduate research towards his Ph.D. Part 1 asks some basic categorization questions, then asks you to rate how often you do certain things (such as punish a child without explanation, say “because I said so” when a child questions something, or reward a child for positive behavior). Part two focuses on your own opinions about acceptable or unacceptable parenting practices, some of which are kind of disturbing.

Apart from helping someone do academic research, I encourage my readers to take the survey as a thought-provoking means of exploring how you discipline and interact with your children. Having to honestly assess how often I do certain things has made me rethink some of the ways I interact with our boys, and I hope to make some positive changes as a result. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m a bad parent by any means, but I think there’s always room for improvement in any human relationships, parenting being no exception. Jesus’ admonition to “be ye therefore perfect” definitely applies. That’s hard advice to follow, but Elder Nelson has some good advice on the topic.

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Online access to patriarchal blessings

Neato! The LDS Church is putting yet another information resource online. According to this article, members will be able to download scanned copies of their patriarchial blessings. I’ve still got my original paper copy, and I don’t have any ancestors who received blessings of their own, so I don’t need any of the site’s capabilities. Regardless, it’s wonderful to see how well the church is embracing technology to make its stored data and records available to members. This kind of self-service technology is a super-hot topic in the business world already. As with so many other things, smart people trying to do the right thing have adapted it to serving the Lord.

Update: looks like the initial announcement was premature.

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Mutual activity: Gold Rush

[ taking a cue from the LDS Young Men‘s blog, I decided to start keeping a blog of our notable mutual and young men’s activities. No pictures yet, though! ]

Last night, we had a great activity for the young men and young women in our ward. (Note to non-Mormon readers: when we do a combined activity for the YM and YW together, it’s called “mutual night” or a “mutual activity”, or even a “combined activity”.) The weather was forecast to be good, so our YW president invited another local ward to join us for a rousing game of Gold Rush, a game that pits “bandits” armed with squirt guns against “miners” who are trying to collect gold from a field. Get squirted, and you have to drop your gold. Tag a bandit, and he goes to jail and has to sing a song to get out again.

We had six or seven bandits and probably around 40-50 kids. Some of them were a little timid at first, but everyone got into the game after a short while. We saw some groups of kids who would cooperate to evade the bandits, while others relied on their superior running speed to get to the bank before getting squirted. There’s not that much strategy on the bandits’ part (apart from not running out of water in your squirt gun). It was a blast!

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“Amazing Grace”

A wonderful essay at a web site I’d never heard of, by a writer I don’t know, about the grace that the Savior gives each of us every day. It was a real eye-opener for me to read this and recall how often I take His forgiveness for granted.

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Romney, Reid, and religion

John does a great job of articulating something I’ve been wondering about. Harry Reid and Mitt Romney are both “observant” Mormons. Why does Romney come under so much more scrutiny for his religious beliefs than Reid does?

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Get in the Christmas spirit now. That’s an order!

Check out these two great Toys for Tots commercials, then give ’til it hurts.

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Flood cleanup, part 1

Yesterday I headed down to Findlay to help with cleanup. I didn’t realize the extent of the flooding until I got down there, mostly because I haven’t been watching the local news.
Matt and I first went to the LDS chapel in Findlay. The church has been designated the lead for all the church-based service groups participating in the cleanup; we drew cleaning supplies and a map to Ottawa, about 25mi W of Findlay. As we got about 10mi from Ottawa, the flood damage in the fields became readily apparent– miles of dead corn stalks, ruined tomatoes, and high-water marks on trees and greenery. When we got into town, it was even worse: the streets are lined with piles of debris. Many businesses are still closed, and many of the people whose homes were damaged have few local alternatives for housing– as a small town, Ottawa doesn’t have any hotels and little spare rental housing.
At the Ottawa center, we signed in and quickly got a work assignment. Matt and I teamed up with four missionaries (the Ohio Cleveland Mission has assigned 50 missionaries to the cleanup efforts) and headed out. We spent the day tearing out the interior of a two-story house. Wallboard, lath, and insulation all had to go; the homeowner had already taken out the carpet, but the trim and tack strips had to be removed too. It was hot (94° outside), messy work, but we could definitely measure our progress. It was rewarding work.
I’m going back down on Thursday with a few other folks, and I’m trying to coordinate a broader business-based effort for sometime next week. Drop me an e-mail if you’re interested in taking part.

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