Mormon Monday: On Christmas Music – Why I love German hymns

I am often criticized by my friends and family (in a loving way, though) for being a bit of a Scrooge at Christmastime.  Mostly because I do not seem to enjoy Christmas music as well as others.   I have written before about my thoughts on Christmas music, and I am of the same opinion still — That I do not enjoy Christmas music as much as I enjoy Christmas hymns and carols.   I love the songs that remind of of Christ and his birth and his atoning mission on this earth, though not the songs about Santa or reindeer.

 

And I have found that I much prefer the Christmas hymns that we sing at church in German to their counterparts in the English hymnbook.   I still carry around my little pocket German hymnbook in my suitcoat pocket and sing the hymns in German when I can, and I love the messages that the hymns in German portray more than the lyrics to the English versions.

I was reading through some of the hymns in German the other day and I think I discovered why I am more drawn to the German text more than the English text, and it is this same idea that Christmas music should direct our thoughts to the Savior and his atonement.   I am not saying that the English versions of our Christmas hymns do a poor job of reminding us of Christ, they certainly do speak of him and of his birth and the circumstances surrounding his birth.   But, as I read the text of these hymns in German, there is more emphasis on atonement and of redemption and of Christ’s birth as the moment that earth and mankind had been waiting for from the beginning.

 

Here are the German words to some of my favorite Christmas hymns and I have also included a rough English translation.   Some of these hymns do have corresponding verses in English that do touch on an atonement theme, and I have included some of those words from the English versions you are familiar with as well.

 

O du fröhliche –This is a traditional German hymn, with a wonderful message.

“Welt ging verloren, Christ ward geboren” — The World was lost, Christ was born

“Christ ist erschienen, uns zu versühnen” — Christ has appeared, to atone for us

Engel auf den Feldern singen (Angels we have heard on high)– This is the hymn where I first noticed the emphasis that the German hymns have on Christ’s birth being to redeem us all.   It uses the same rhyme that is used in O du Fröhliche.

“Ja, ein Kind ist uns geboren, kommen ist der Heiland dein.  Er erettet, was verloren” — Unto us a child is born, the Redeemer is come.  He saves/redeems what was lost

 

Herbei, o ihr Gläubigen (O, Come all ye faithful) —

“Sehet das kindlein, uns zum Heil geboren” — See the child, born for our healing

 

Stille Nacht (Silent Night) — This is one of my favorite Christmas hymns, and of course needs to be sung in its original German.

“Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht Lieb aus deinem göttlichen Mund, da uns schlägt die rettende Stund” —Son of God, o how shines Love from thy godly mouth, Now it chimes to us the redeeming hour

The English version gets pretty close, while still keeping the beautiful poetry of the verse,  and does mention redeeming grace, which is more most hymns in English do.

Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace

Hört, die Engelschöre singen (Hark, the herald angels sing)– This hymn has more references to the atoning sacrifice and the true purpose of Christ’s birth than any other I have found.   I love the pure message of love and redemption that is found in this hymn, and the English version also has a great message.

 

“Gnad und Friede allen Menschen, die erlöst sind von der Sünd” — Grace and peace to all men, who are redeemed from sin.

 

“Endlich ist der Tag erschienen, der uns lang verkündet ward, wo du kamst, für uns zu sühnen, Wirst ein Kindlein klein und hilflos, trägst der Menschheit Mühn und Last”– Finally the day has arrived that was long prophesied, where you came to atone for us.  You became a child, small and helpless, but carried the burden of all mankind.

 

“Uns zur Freud ist er geboren, denn sonst wären wir verloren” — For our joy was he born, otherwise we would all be lost

 

The English version has a similar message of redemption from sin-

“Peace on earth and mercy mild,God and sinners reconciled!”;

“Light and life to all he brings, Ris’n with healing in his wings.  Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth. “

I greatly appreciate these Christmas hymns whose message is not only reminding us of the birth of Jesus  but of his life and his mission.  I don’t want to say that the English hymns are bad, they do remind us of Jesus and have a wonderful spirit that they bring into our lives, but I find that I love the German hymns more with their focus on the reason behind this miraculous birth.  In German we sing more of the Redeemer, more of the Atonement, more of being saved from the effects of sin.  It is not just about Stars in the sky, Wise men from the East, or Shepherds in their fields.  It is not just about Angels in the Heavens, or a Baby in a Manger, it is about our God who came to earth as a child, who grew “from Grace to Grace” as we all must, and who performed an infinite and eternal Atonement for the sins of all mankind.  That is the ultimate Gift at Christmas time, that is the purpose behind the celebration at Christmas, and I am glad that the traditional German hymns have kept that intact.

This Christmas let us remember not only the birth of a baby but the life of our Lord, the resurrection of our Redeemer and the glory of our God.

Mormon Monday: What I have learned of God being a father

There is a wonderful little video produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and published on YouTube and other places, titled Earthly Father, Heavenly Father.   It details a day in the life of a father and makes the parallel to our Heavenly Father.  It ends with a quote that I have long cherished,

“Of all the titles of respect and honor and admiration that are given to Deity, He has asked us to address him as Father”

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I have long thought about that quote and what it means.  The fact that we could use so many titles or terms of endearment for our God — He is Almighty, Omnipotent, Omniscient, the Great Creator, the Supreme Being in the entire known Cosmos — and yet he asks us to call him Father.   That certainly teaches us a great deal about the nature of God and how he wants us to view him in our lives.   But it also teaches us a great deal about Fatherhood and how important fathers are in our lives and how important we are as we become fathers ourselves.

I have written before about the things I have learned about the nature of God since becoming a father, but I wanted to revisit this idea and discuss a few aspects of Fatherhood that have impressed me as I have been raising my son, and the things he has taught me about being both a Father and a Son.

My son lately has been having a hard time sleeping at night, he wakes up scared in the middle of the night.  We believe he is having bad dreams and last night was particularly rough as he woke up three different times throughout the night.   As a father it is hard because you want it all to go away, you want your son to be happy all of the time, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop the bad dreams.   All I can do is sit with him and hold him and help him get back to sleep.

I was stuck with the thought last night, as I was laying with my son, that he has such an utter trust in me as his father.   Despite everything that I do and everything I am, despite all of the times a yell at him and enforce the rules and become the disciplinarian, he still turns to me when he is scared and upset and crying.  I believe that is what Christ was referring to when he commanded us to become like a child. And prophets have counseled us to become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

I would like to start a series of posts on different aspects of the Gospel and life that I am learning about as I interact with my son.   Things he is teaching me about the nature of being a Son to my Father in Heaven, and things I am learning about how Father views His children and interacts with us in our lives.   I do not believe it is by accident or coincidence that He chooses to be called Father.   I firmly believe He is trying to teach us a very valuable lesson in the eternal nature of families.

 

  1. My son says “I’m sorry” and then will do the same thing again, only to come back with an “I’m sorry” again.

How often do I tell the Lord that I’m sorry, only to go and do the thing again.  I try to teach my son that being sorry means not doing the thing again,  but life is about learning and growing,  we do make mistakes repeatedly and need to repent and be forgiven repeatedly.  My son is no different. And I am no different.   How often have I repented of the same sins and shortcomings in my life.   How many times have I prayed and plead with my Father in Heaven to help me overcome some weakness and vowed to never make the same mistake again, only to repeat the same prayer the very next night?

As we go through life we will not become perfect without our Father in Heaven, and it will not happen in this earthly portion of our existence.   We will make mistakes, and will make the same mistakes repeatedly.   About the best we can hope for is to recognize our mistakes early and quickly repent of them and work to prolong the time between making the same mistake again.  My son is still very young, he will be four next month, and he is still learning about the world around him and his place in it.   He makes the same mistakes again and again and needs to be reminded by us as his parents of what proper behavior is.   We need to tell him repeatedly how he needs to act and not act when playing with his toys or with others.   We try to help him understand the reasons behind some of our rules — We don’t throw toys because they can hurt others or break things and then we wouldn’t have them anymore and that would be sad — but it doesn’t always make a difference.   Even if we believe we have explained the reason and that the reason makes sense, he does not always get it.

And I look at my own behavior and my own communication with my Father in Heaven.   How often does he remind me of the commandments and covenants that I have made? How often does he try to explain the reasons behind the commandments?  It seems to me, as I’m sure I have written before, that there is really one commandment — “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  All other commandments are given to us to help us keep that commandment.  They help us develop the habits and attitudes to become perfect like our Father in Heaven in order to enjoy a place in His Celestial Kingdom.  (D&C 78:7).

But this also teaches me something amazing about my Father in Heaven — that He is infinitely loving and patient.   Where I will sometimes become frustrated with my son, asking him why he continues to do something that I have already told him not to do, our Father in Heaven is a perfect Father and stands with open arms always willing to let us repent and try again, no matter how many times we have repented before.   It does not matter to him how often we have made the same mistakes, as long as each time we are honestly seeking his forgiveness and truly repenting.

2. Watching my son do something and I know it will hurt him and I warn him,  but he does it anyway and does get hurt.

Our Father sees and knows more than we do,  He has experienced things.  He warns us and tries to protect us from harm.  We do not always see what He sees, but want to do our own thing in our own way.  We do not see the imminent danger we have been warned about and so we continue anyway, ignoring the warning from our Father in Heaven or his servants, the prophets or our local leaders, and then we will inevitably get hurt.

Again, this shows how infinitely good our Father in Heaven is.   How easy it is for me to tell my son “I told you so”, when he does what I warned him against and get hurt just as I warned him.   But our Father never does.  He is always ready with an open hand to comfort us in our troubles, to welcome us back, to pick us up and brush us off and help us get back on our feet.   Even when our falling and getting hurt was our own fault, He is there to help us recover.   And He patiently explains that he had foreseen the danger and that if we will trust Him in the future we can avoid other painful situations.

I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I love my Father in Heaven.   I am eternally grateful to Him for all that He has done and continues to do for me.   We do not have a God who sits in the heavens and merely watches mankind flounder their way through mortality, but we have a God who is the Father of our souls and takes a passionate and personal interest in our lives.   If we find that God is far from us, it is never that he has separated Himself from us, but always that we have separated ourselves from Him.   But, he is constantly waiting, as the Father of the Prodigal Son, to welcome us home with open arms, with new robes and rings and a feast of the fatted calf.   He will bless us and help us as much and as often as he can, while keeping the end goal in sight – that he wants us to grow and learn and become like Him.   Which means he will not always take every bad thing immediately away from us.   But that is a subject I would like to cover next time.

I love my Father and I love my son and I love that I am allowed to learn more about the great eternal nature of Fatherhood and Priesthood through this firsthand experience of being a father to my son and that I can help him learn and grow and become the man that I know he can be and that his Father in Heaven expects him to be.

Writing Wednesday: NaNoWriMo 2014 Prep – A Final Installment

In this last Writing Wednesday before NaNoWriMo begins I think I have finally settled on which story idea that was banging around my head I will attempt to tackle in the upcoming month.

I have long been fascinated by steampunk novels, though to be honest I do not understand steam technology as well as I wish I did, so I find myself more drawn to what is sometimes referred to as clockpunk — or novels that use clockwork and gears instead of steam technology.   For whatever reason it just makes more sense to me.   I can understand how gears and cogs and springs working together can make motion and build into wonderful technical machines in a way that I just do not understand with steam power.   I get the basics of steam power, I’ve seen Thomas the Tank Engine.   I know that water gets heated into steam, which pushes on pistons and turns wheels and causes a steam engine to roll forward.   I just don’t see how that translates into some of the machinery and technology that is often found in steampunk novels.

But, as I said, I enjoy clockwork and mechanics and have designed a few clockwork tools that I would love to use in a novel.   I have also pondered the idea of what would happen to a society that had extensive access to clockwork machinery.   What would happen to the economy, how would the technology affect people in their daily lives.   We have seen in just the last few years how prevalent a technology like the internet or smartphones has become.   It is becoming increasingly rare to find someone who does not own a smartphone anymore, and even more impossible to find someone who does not own a cell phone of any type.   In just a few years this technology has almost completely changed the way our society functions and interacts with each other.

I think that would be an interesting concept to pursue, how this type of technology would change a society.   And related to that is how magic would affect a society, if it were to exist.   If someone can wave their hand and mutter a few words and create an object that takes a skilled craftsman several days to build by hand, what does that do to the value of said skilled craft?  What I imagine happening is that society would become very separated by class, with those who can do magic becoming very wealthy using their magic to perform tasks for others, and those who can afford magicians to work for them also becoming very wealthy on that labor.   Then, those who do not have magic would become the poorer classes and have to resort to other means to achieve a similar lifestyle.   I see them turning to clockwork or other technology to replicate what the magicians provide for the upper classes.

Thinking about this divide has led me to world build the setting for the novel I would like to write this year.   And throwing in a little of my favorite subject, German History, I have been contemplating what a world would be like separated by a wall and then how people and society would react when that wall suddenly came down.   So, I am building a world that is separated by a magical wall, one half of the world is populated by people who have and can use magic, the other half by people who do not have magic, but have developed clockwork and mechanical tools and toys, using technology to improve their lives.   The wall has stood for so long that it has been forgotten about by all but the few leaders of society on each side who see to its maintenance, until one day it is discovered by a young girl from the technology side.

The summary I wrote for my profile over at NaNoWriMo.org is this:

A world separated by a wall — One part enjoys the use of magic to help them accomplish the tasks of their daily lives.  Magic is innate and ingrained in every child that is born, they use it instinctively to live their lives.  The other part has no magic, but has instead developed technology through clockwork-powered and steam-powered engines and machines.  The smallest child can repair a watch or put together a machine to do their basic chores.

What happens when a young girl, the daughter of the clocksmith, discovers the wall that separates these two halves of the world and finds a way to pass through to the other side?  And what happens when she discovers a young magician who has also discovered the wall and they decide to work together to bring it down?

I think this will be a fun way to explore ideas of how magic and technology affect societies and economies and worlds as well as giving an opportunity to explore what would happen if these two worlds were to suddenly collide and be forced to work together and live side by side.   What would happen to technologically advanced world that suddenly had access to magic?  How would a magically invested world react to the complex gears and cogs of modern machinery?  Didn’t Arthur C.  Clarke famously say, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.“?

So, this is where I’m starting from.   I have two worlds mostly created, I have the basic idea for several characters and I have the framework of a plot.   The rest of it will hopefully come as I think and prepare over the next week and then as I start to write during November.   I am going to do my best to get a good first draft written, but some on the same issues I was dealing with last year during November which caused me to cut my NaNoWriMo short are starting to resurface.   It is looking like my personal life is forcing me to deal with things which may significantly cut into my free writing time.   Family comes first, even before NaNoWriMo, but I will try to write when I can and write what I can and we’ll see what happens this year as I attempt this one more time.

Here’s to a successful NaNoWriMo.   I would be very interested in hearing what your plans are.   what are you planning on writing about?  How do you think it will go?  Go ahead and add me as a writing buddy at nanowrimo.org, I go by dteeps over there, it would be great to connect and see how we’re all doing with our respective novels.

Writing Wednesday: NaNoWriMo 2014 – What am I going to write?

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching and I posted a few weeks ago about an idea I have been playing with about doing a modern version of Martin Luther, using Edward Snowden as an example.   Instead of Luther posting 95 theses against practices of the Catholic Church and eventually sparking a Protestant Reformation and subsequent peasant revolts, it would be a tech specialist working for the government who exposes practices of the US Government in a series of posts online, sparking public debate and eventual reformation of the government.

It is an interesting idea and would be fun to write, though it would probably take quite a bit of research into Edward Snowden and NSA and other topics of Government and reformation.   But, I guess I am still stuck on what the point would be.   I like to approach writing with a purpose.   What story am I trying to tell?  What is the point?  What do I want readers to get from this as they read?  Maybe that’s the wrong approach and I should just start writing and let the novel evolve from this starting point, but for me, having a goal informs where the plot should go and what I want to happen to these characters.

I know I want to review Dan Wells7 Point Plot structure (Also discussed on Writing Excuses).  I read about this a while ago and was impressed with how well it organizes a story.

I am not one of those writers who has to know every detail up front, I do not have reams of notes with all of the little things written about every minor character or setting.   I do enjoy the spontaneity that NaNoWriMo allows — the fact that you just sit down and start writing and see what happens.   I had some great experience with that a few years back where I was completely stuck and then just starting writing whatever came to mind, with no pre-planning of the scene or its setting or where it fit into the plot, and it helped me write the character in a better way.   It’s not that the character took on a life of her own and I was discovering new things about her — I don’t buy into that camp of writing.   I am the author, I write everything about these characters, they don’t write themselves.   But, putting her into a situation I had not previously planned and plotted out was a way for me to explore her better, to see what I would have her do in certain circumstances.

With this 7 Point Plot structure, though, you plan out the big events in the novel, the sign posts along the way.   It becomes more like a road trip.   You do not plan out every single stop, what is going to happen every single mile — but you plan where your overnight stops are going to be and let yourself be surprised by the little things you happen to find along the way.   According to Dan Wells, the 7 points of each plot are: Hook, Plot Turn I, Pinch I, Midpoint, Pinch II, Plot Turn II, Resolution.   These are the major events in the novel that get the plot moving, but they do not detail the events of every individual scene. That’s the way I like to plan a novel.   With a few solid sgn posts, a couple of plot points that I want to make sure I hit, but then leave the rest of the novel up for discovery.

But, I am not sure that I am completely committed to this Modern Luther story.   I don’t know if I have enough planning material to jump in and start writing.   I don’t have the plot points mapped out, and don’t know if I can get that done in time.   So, I have been playing around with a few other ideas as well, looking for the one that will grab me this year and force me to write it.

I am still working on the Mormon Steampunk idea for several years now, and just haven’t ever gotten it to a place where I felt it was right.   I might use NaNoWriMo as a time to hammer out some more words for it and see what sticks.   I have been wanting to combine the original Mormon Steampunk novel idea — of dragon-like creatures, “flying, fiery serpents” to use the biblical phrase, destroying towns and settlements in the West, and a former airship captain/adventurer who is now an Apostle who rides out to confront them — with another Alternative Mormon History idea I had a few years ago about an explorer in the Uinta mountains in Utah finding a series of caves and discovering a whole civilization living underground in the mountains.   It was originally a Nephite city that was buried during the great upheavals described in 3 Nephi, and there were some survivors when a city was swallowed up in the earth and they have continued to live underground.   I am thinking that the Apostle, on his journey to find these “flying, fiery serpents” stumbles upon this underground society and maybe they have legends or stories about these creatures and can help him find them?

In any case, I am excited to NaNoWriMo.   And if all else fails, I may just use NaNoWriMo as an excuse to get some major writing done.   Who cares if I don’t finish one novel or another, as long as I track my word count and reach the 50,000 mark by the end of the 30 days, who’s to say I cannot work on two or three different novels at once?  I’ll take it day by day and work on the piece that interests me at the time, all the while working on that 50000 word goal.

Mormon Monday: Themes from General Conference October 2014

As I was going back over all of the tweets and retweets I sent during this past General Conference last weekend, I opened up a spreadsheet and started organizing some of them into what I found to be distinctive themes that emerged during the Conference.   If you pay attention, you will always find that there are some repeated themes during any General Conference, several topics or ideas that are mentioned again and again by different speakers.   I do not think it is merely coincidence, nor do I think the Brethren plan it by assigning certain topics, but it is the Spirit of the Lord working on those who will speak to address topics of concern for the Church as a whole, making sure that the message gets shared in several different ways so that it may touch the hearts of those listening.   One person speaking about a particular subject in one particular way may not necessarily hold much meaning for one person listening, but when someone else gets up and speaks to that same subject, but in a different way, with different scriptures or context or life stories, it may have greater meaning.   That is the joy of General Conference and why it is not boring to hear them speak about the same things every year.

The Gospel really isn’t all that complicated, but it does require repetition to remember and keep us in remembrance of our duty toward God and our fellow men.  We often forget or find ourselves caught up in our daily lives that we do not contemplate or ponder or think about the Gospel principles that we should as often as we should.

 

And, as I was going through my tweets I separated them into different themes that I found emerging.   Those themes that I discovered in this most recent General Conference were:

  1. Reach out and help each other
  2. Man cannot change the laws of God
  3. Pray to know the truth
  4. Teach your children well
  5. Follow the prophet.

 

I’m sure there were others, but those are the ones that stood out to me as I was listening and taking my notes.   And as I go through the Conference talks again, which are now all available online, with text and video, I will be looking for these specific themes and highlighting and tagging passages that speak to these themes.

 

From my tweets, though, here are a few samples of what I found.

1.Reach out and help each other

RT @LDSnet: Seek out those who have strayed and assist them to return to the fold! #LDSConf #PresPacker #Twitterstake

RT @cproffit: Some people cannot come back to Christ by themselves – but we can help them 🙂 #ldsconf

Love one another. There are no exceptions to that commandment. #Oaks #LDSConf

What can I do to emulate the Savior and serve the poor and downtrodden? #ElderHolland #ldsconf

Do you hear that in his voice? “Don’t you get it yet? Be nice, love one another, serve each other, bring them to Christ.” #ElderHolland

“Although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother, and ‘because I have been given much, I too must give.’” #ldsconf

“May we be a little kinder and more thoughtful. May we reach out in helpfulness.” – #PresMonson #LDSconf

 2. Man cannot change the Laws of God

RT @LDSquotable: “Lowering the Lord’s standards to the level of a society’s inappropriate behavior is apostasy.” – #ElderRobbins #ldsconf

The Lord has set a standard. It is hard to achieve, it is perfection, but He makes it possible to achieve. #ldsconf #twitterstake

Truth didn’t change, but our ability to know & observe it did. #ldsconf

“We need unequivocal commitment to the commandments and strict adherence to sacred covenants.” #ElderCook | #ldsconf

#ElderNelson is explaining very plainly that the Lord leads this Church through the Prophet. Any changes must and will come through him.

“When the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve speak with a united voice, it is the voice of the Lord for that time.” #ElderBallard

@nicknewman801 Reminding us who leads the Church and when and from where revelation come. #LDSconf #twitterstake

 3. Pray to know the truth

God has given the promise that we can know truth. #LDSConf #Twitterstake #Uchtdorf

Do you want to know if #LDSConf is true? Follow Joseph Smith – read, ponder, pray and ask for truth from God.

I love Joseph Smith and first vision story. Not just the foundation of the Church, but the pattern for all seeking to know truth. #LDSConf

RT @ldsconference: Elder Andersen: Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers, from God. #lds #ldsconf #sharegoodness #mormon

Revelation from God can be continuous. It must be in our lives, we are expected to seek the Lord in all things. #PresEyring #ldsconf

Our Heavenly Father wants us to sell this knowledge now. We ate not only allowed to pray, we are expected to do so. #ElderHales #ldsconf

How awesome is that? We get to speak to Diety on a regular basis with the promise that he will listen and answer! #LDSConf #ElderScott

Kacher: “By asking sincere questions and by seeking divine answers … we increase in knowledge and wisdom.” #ldsconf

Where do I turn for truth when questions arise? Use the Joseph Smith story- Read, ponder, pray, ask God. #ldsconf #twitterstake

 4. Teach your children well

RT @emhoehne: They did not have the church in their community, but they had the Gospel in their home. #ldsconf #ElderCallister

Callister: “One of the most meaningful things we do as parents is teach our children the power of prayer, not just the routine of prayer.”

RT @LDSquotable: “Remember that the greatest of all the blessings of the Lord come through and are given to righteous families.”…

 5. Follow the Prophet

God continues to speak to his children. Both to the Prophets for the whole church and to each of us individually. #ldsconf

What am I doing to sustain the prophet? Do my daily actions show that I support him in his holy office? #ldsconf #ElderNelson

RT @ljodoit: #twitterstake #ldsconf Following the Prophet may be unpopular… But following the Prophet will always be right.

RT @MikeJonesSez: Everyone else has urged us to follow the prophet, the prophet is now urging us to follow the Savior. #ldsconf

I look forward to going back through each of these talks from General Conference again and looking for these and other themes.   I think it will be a great way to help focus my study, help me find what the Lord is trying to tell me at this time in my life, what things I need to be paying attention to.   I would love to hear comments from you as well — What themes did you notice?  What topics did you see coming up again and again? How are you going to use that in your study of the General Conference messages?

Mormon Monday: On General Conference, October 2014 Edition

We were once again blessed by a wonderful General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a great weekend full of uplifting messages and the spirit of the Lord. We were taught and reminded of doctrines of the Gospel of Christ that we should all be living, ways in which we can  be happier in our families and draw closer to God. I am always grateful for this opportunity to immerse oneself in the Gospel, spending a whole weekend listening to the General Authorities of the Church teach with power and the Spirit. It is a great way to fortify oneself and one’s family against having to venture out into the world. It provides the needed strength and conviction to maintain a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We watched most of the sessions at home with my laptop plugged into the TV so we could watch, streaming from gc.lds.org. This means I could not use my laptop to type up notes as I was listening, but I still had my phone and was following #ldsconf and #twitterstake on Twitter. I know there are some who see it as distracting or even disrespectful to be on Twitter constantly during General Conference, but for me it is one of the best ways of taking notes. I do not write very quickly, or I should say, when I write quickly it is not very legible. I type somewhat quicker than I write, but I did not have my laptop available to type up notes. Instead, I find it is much easier to read a tweet quickly and click Retweet or Favorite, and then go back in the next couple of days and look at all of the tweets that I have retweeted. There are so many others out there who can type quickly and can almost transcribe the Conference talks, and I just have to favorite or retweet what they’ve already written. And then I copy all of my tweets and retweets into a document and go over them again in the coming days and weeks as my documentation of what impressed me from General Conference.

I have not yet had a chance to do that with the tweets from this weekend, but I did want to share a few thoughts and impressions, things I heard and felt and have resolved to change in my life because of what was said during General Conference.

I tweeted:

OK, I’ve got my list of things I want to change, things I need to do better because of #LDSConf. What’s yours? Pray, read, FHE, be kinder.

And that is where I will start. I heard several messages about prayer and about returning to the scriptures, and I know I need to do better with my personal and family prayers. I need to say them more often and make them more personal and meaningful. It truly is amazing that we have a God who prefers to be called Father, and asks us to talk to him in prayer and promises to listen and answer. I need to make better use of that.

And I need to hold more regular Family Home Evenings. It is hard with a wildly rambunctious 3 year-old. He hardly wants to sit still or listen to anything. But, we have been having some discipline issues lately – he is refusing to listen and trying to push boundaries to see just what he can get away with, being deliberately disobedient just to see what will happen. We are not happy as parents with some of his choices, and need to help him see the consequences of his actions and how he can make better decisions. Holding a regular Family Home Evening will help us teach him those principles. I will start tomorrow. I also tweeted:

OK, I just added a recurring event to my phone’s calendar: FHE every Monday night. With a reminder to go off before hand

That will make sure we hold it on time and I have started a Google Doc with ideas and resources for lessons that I think my son will enjoy and benefit from. We are going to start with a modified first lesson from the Family Home Evening Resource Book, available as part of the Gospel Library app on my phone, about the purpose of FHE. I am going to ask my son what he wants out of FHE, what he thinks he should learn, what he wants to do. And then we will craft future lessons to meet his needs and wants. I hope it works. I will probably write about our efforts in this as time goes on.

And I noticed a distinct emphasis on being kinder to all people, to everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from or what their current situation in life is. This is certainly timely and timeless counsel, and I have been too easily losing my temper with my family lately as I have been handling the stresses of life poorly. I am praying and hoping that doing all of this will help me curb my anger and be nicer to my family as I remember who I am as a son of God and as a Priesthood holder. Regular prayer and scripture study and Family Home Evenings will bring the spirit into our home and into our lives and will help me ‘put off the natural man’ and become ‘submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love’.

There are other goals I would like to set for myself as well, not all spiritual. For example, I am feeling that I am not as healthy as I should be. I should document better the things I eat in order to help me eat better and regulate the colon issues that I suffer from. I should also exercise more. Well, when I say ‘more’ that kind of indicates that I do any type of exercise currently, which is not true. I need to start exercising and taking better care of my body. I want to be in shape, I want to be in a position to be able to work when called upon. I want the strength and stamina and ability to assist others who are in need.

I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment. What impressed you from General Conference?  What goals have you set for yourself because of what you heard and felt?  What will change in your life because of the Spirit of the Lord?

Mormon Monday: On Mormonism and Homosexuality

Last Sunday, on assignment from the Stake Presidency, our Bishop held a special meeting with all of the adults in the ward during the third-hour of church services. He had been asked to give a presentation on the doctrines behind the Church’s position on same-sex attraction. It was great lesson, a good discussion where he spoke candidly about an extremely sensitive subject and allowed members to ask questions and make comments and invited any who had issues or questions they felt uncomfortable asking in a public setting to meet with him privately. I would like to share some of the points our bishop made and add a few of my own thoughts.

He began by saying that he feels he is a very simple man, he often reflects on Adam’s response to the angel when he was asked why he was offering sacrifice, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me”. And then he outlined two basic principles that are and must be the foundation of any discussion of homosexuality and the gospel:

  1. The two great commandments, as specified by Jesus Christ, himself, are that we love God and that we love our neighbor as our self. Love has to be the basis of everything we do in the gospel. If we call ourselves Christian, if we profess to follow Jesus and to be striving to be more like God, then we will be filled with love for everyone. They are our brothers and sisters and children of God, regardless of sexual orientation or any other factor.
  2. The Law of God is very clear: Any sexual act outside of the bond of marriage between a man and a woman is sin. This does not just condemn homosexual acts, but any sexual act between any persons who are not married.

 

For me, that does sum up the issue completely. There is a law declared from heaven and all mankind is expected to live the law of God or they cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Yet, at the same time we all have to remember that everyone we encounter in our mortal lives here on this earth is a child of God, same as we are, and that we all have the same divine spark within us and the same divine potential. Family is the foundation of this world and we are all family in the eyes of God. We cannot treat any individual any less or any different than we treat any other individual.

I did like what Bishop was saying, though, especially when one member made the comment that it does not seem fair. He said his brother is homosexual and has been with his partner longer than he had been with his wife. He described a loving relationship but then said that if they were to join the Church they would have to give up everything they have. Bishop answered very directly, and I felt that he was using the full weight of his calling as Bishop when he stated that it isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. He said that he had been giving a building tour to a family with the missionaries and one of them told him, “This Church is hard”. He agreed. This Church is hard, it does expect a lot of us, it expects all of us to change who we are and to become perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

As Bishop spoke, I was reminded of a favorite scripture, Mosiah 3:19.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever,unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love,willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father

 

This verse holds a special place in my heart for the eternal truths that it teaches. All of us have natural tendencies and natural desires. Each of us have our own individual challenges that keep us from being perfect like our Father is. Yet, there is one path, one Way through which we can overcome the natural man. We need to “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ”. There is no special set of commandments for homosexuals, with different commandments for heterosexuals. All children of God are asked to keep the same commandments and live the same law. True, we all start in different places, so the distance between where we are and where God wants us to be is different for each individual.  But, we are not racing against each other.   We are racing against ourselves, striving toward the finish line that the Lord has drawn, which is the Kingdom of Heaven. All of us need the atonement of Christ to help us put off our natural man, to put off the natural tendencies and appetites that we all have.

Bishop was very frank and stated that sexual desires are given to us from God. The desire to have sex is a good thing as it leads us to seek out a worthy spouse and to have children, filling the earth with families. Yet, like all other desires, it needs to be controlled and used within the bounds the Lord has set.

But, again, at closing the Bishop brought it back to the point he made at the beginning — he repeated that we need to have love. We need to remember love in all of our dealings with our fellow men. We need to have the love of God in our hearts naturally spilling out to encompass everyone we come into contact with. We love all of our Father in Heaven’s children, and because we love them we desire that they come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and of his Atonement. We teach correct principles and doctrine and hope and pray and love and work with everyone to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. But in the end, every one of us has the ability to make our own choices and we must allow that. But, we can never stop loving.