I’ve been preparing a lesson for my Primary class, and the text pulled together a lot of the tumultuous feelings I’ve had over the last few weeks and set them to rest.
The lesson is the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In the end, the Lord says at his coming, the nations will be divided Sheep to the Right hand, Goats to the left hand.
What got to me was the sorting criteria. There was only one.
On the right hand – those who were kind to others, those who fed the hungry, those who visited the sick. In other words, those who upheld the baptismal covenant to “stand with those who stand in need of comfort, to mourn with those that mourn.”
On the left – those who did not.
There was no talk of any other commandment. No other set of rules, no other set of things to do or do not.
Just to love, to stand with, to uphold the least of those among us. That’s what sets the sheep on the right from the goats on the left.
This has long been the bedrock of my personal faith. In the end, I don’t know a lot of things, but I know that what it takes from me is an added measure of kindness, an extra dose of empathy. That’s what I hang my gospel hopes on, and I’m hoping that my fellow Latter-day Saints do the same this day and always.
This is the text of a talk I gave in my ward (Ann Arbor 2nd) on February 15, 2015.
I would like to explore one of the concepts from President Eyring’s October talk on the subject of continuing revelation , and share with you some of my experiences as I have sought revelation.
President Eyring said “We need revelation from God. And we will need not just one revelation in a time of stress, but we need a constantly renewed stream. We need not just one flash of light and comfort, but we need the continuing blessing of communication with God.” 
(This is the text of the TED-style talk I shared at “This is the Place” Affirmation International Conference 2014. I don’t yet know if there is video of the event, and I haven’t rerecorded it yet.)
Like many of you, I enjoy cooking and baking. As you learn to cook, you go through several stages of growth. At first, you follow simple recipes, you lock onto the basics. Over time you progress, learning new and different techniques. At some point, you realize that the skills you have learned are all parts of a toolbox that you can pull out and use as the situation requires. You no longer have to slavishly follow a recipe, and you can begin to improvise and experiment with techniques, flavors and ingredients that fit your taste. The day that I realized I knew enough to not be bound by a recipe, that I had a cooking toolbox available, was one of the most liberating of my life.
About a month ago, I took a quick roadtrip from my home in Southeast Michigan to Nauvoo, Illinois for a weekend retreat hosted by Affirmation. I plugged the address “Main Street, Nauvoo, Illinois” into Google Maps on my phone, and off I went.
I suspected when I entered Iowa that I wasn’t quite on track, but I figured that Google Maps knew where I wanted to go, so I followed the course it laid out for me. I soon found myself on the western banks of the Mississippi River, headed south. I figured that there must be a bridge or something that would get me to Nauvoo faster than having stayed on the east banks.
Boy was I wrong.
It turns out that, for reasons unknown, Google Maps thinks that “Main Street, Nauvoo, Illinois” is co-located with “Main Street, Montrose, Iowa.”
As I was pulling into Montrose, I could see Nauvoo across the river. I quickly recalibrated my phone with my actual desired destination, and as I headed out I realized that if this wasn’t a great metaphor, then Dieter F. Uchtdorf has never flown an airplane.
I have found that sometimes life takes me in directions that I don’t anticipate. From a vantage point I did not anticipate, I end up looking at my desired destination across a gulf or a river or a gap I didn’t mean to put between me and my goal.
I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Actually, having my retreat weekend begin on the wrong side of the river gave me some excellent perspective. I got to see the Nauvoo temple the way that the Saints would have seen it as they completed that first step of their no-turning-back journey. Being afforded that view, when we later discussed the reasons we serve and the things that sustain us, I felt a stronger kinship with the families who lined up on Parley Street and left their beautiful Nauvoo behind. I could imagine those lingering glances over their shoulders as they began their migration westward.
After I got myself oriented and found the nearest bridge, I also enjoyed a beautiful riverside drive that I would have missed if I had not taken a wrong turn. (It was also very fun to drive that winding road!) I was reminded that even when my life detours in unexpected ways, I can always find some joy in there somewhere.
The remainder of the weekend was a refreshing journey. I was shy, but I did make some connections with others on similar paths as mine. Together, we looked across the metaphoric river that stands between where we find ourselves and the destinations where our lives may have originally taken us.
We discussed the revelations received by Joseph the prophet while in Nauvoo. In D&C section 127, he commented that “deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel… to glory in tribulation.” This became a secondary theme for us that weekend. Life as LGBT Mormons and their allies isn’t easy swimming, but like Joseph, we gloried in our tribulations.
We also pondered how the early saints built Zion among them and how we might do the same. I took a few minutes during our free time to meditate at the site of the original temple stone quarry. I find peace in old sites where there had once been furious activity but now sit silent and off the beaten path.
In the evening, we gathered in the Red Brick Store’s upper room. Among the speakers there, Carol Lynn Pearson shared a story about one of Emma Hale Smith’s final interactions with her husband, the Prophet Joseph Smith. On the day that Joseph was to go to Carthage Jail, Emma felt the need for a blessing. With all of the goings on, Joseph didn’t feel he had the time so he told her to write out the best blessing that she could think of, and that he would sign in on his return. Emma did just that. She wrote it out, but because of Joseph’s death, it was never signed. It is beautiful though. Emma desired wisdom, strength, and the ability to understand the will of God, things I think we all desire. (Read the whole thing here: http://www.the-exponent.com/emmas-blessing/)
Our weekend ended with a story sharing testimony style meeting in the Seventies Hall. It was a comforting to hear and be with so many Saints who desire the best things in life, to live a full, authentic life, who may have found themselves on the other side of a river they didn’t anticipate. I left feeling uplifted, braver than before, and believing that I could find my way forward, just as the Saints did as they left Illinois for a place of peace.
This is the text of the talk I gave yesterday as part of our congregation’s Christmas program. I thought I’d share.
The Spirit of Christmas is a marvelous thing. In the days of Christ’s birth Angels sang, Shepherds watched with care by night, Wise men adored. It was a time of wonders and miracles. A new star appeared in the sky. Half a world away, “at the going down of the sun, there was no darkness” (3 Nephi 1:15). A prophet was commanded to lift up his head and be of good cheer and a people of faith was spared.
One passage of scripture has often caught my attention as I have studied the glorious times that accompanied the Savior’s birth. In the Gospel of Luke we learn that His mother, Mary “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”. (Luke 2:19)
She had the Son of God with her every day and yet she kept and pondered the miracles of His birth in her heart. We would do well to follow Mary’s example.
What might we keep and ponder in our hearts throughout the year?
I propose that we remember first and foremost the miracle of Christ’s life and death. That we remember that He lived for us and that He died for us and that through His infinite atonement, we can be made clean.
Second, I propose that we strive daily to model our actions after His; that we love one another; that we keep His commandments; that throughout the coming year, we keep in our hearts the generosity, the love, the joy, the gratitude, the kindness and the happiness that we feel during the Christmas season; that we love our God and we love our Neighbor and we love Ourselves.
Finally, I propose that we Be Believing, now and all year. Christmas is a time of faith. Christ has made many promises to us. If we Believe Christ, we will find that when we are challenged, there will be no darkness. We will not be alone. We will be able to lift up our heads and be of good cheer.
These are just a few of the many Christmas miracles we could keep in our hearts and ponder over the coming year. You and I have been blessed beyond measure through the birth of Jesus Christ.
President Howard W. Hunter made the following invitation many years ago, and I echo its sentiment now: “If you desire to find the true spirit of Christmas and partake of the sweetness of it, let me make this suggestion to you. During the hurry of the festive occasion of this Christmas season, find time to turn your heart to God. Perhaps in the quiet hours, and in a quiet place, and on your knees—alone or with loved ones—give thanks for the good things that have come to you, and ask that His Spirit might dwell in you as you earnestly strive to serve Him and keep His commandments. He will take you by the hand and His promises will be kept.”(Hunter 1972)
In conclusion, I would like to share a lesson that I learned from the classic Christmas story, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Present teaches old Scrooge that Christmas “is a season of the heart, a special time of caring, The ways of love made clear. It is the season of the spirit. The message, if we hear it, is make it last all year.” Scrooge also learns that “When you do your best for love, it feels like Christmas.”
I have learned that the Spirit of Christmas is a spirit of love and gratitude. For me, keeping and pondering the spirit of Christmas in my heart all year means working to show love, compassion and kindness as best I can.
I know that Jesus Christ lives, and that He loves us. I know it now and I hope I remember it throughout the year. I know that if we do keep the Spirit of Christmas with us all year, it will be a time of wonders and miracles for us as well.
Brothers and Sisters, May we keep and ponder these things in our hearts. May we remember the miracle of Christ’s Birth, follow His commandments, and Be Believing. May we do our best for love and make the Christmas spirit last all year.
So that was a great general conference, I thought. The lds.org website already has videos up for most of the talks, which is quick turnaround I thought. Here are some of my thoughts about the conference. I was able to hook my laptop up to my big TV and my internet handled the stream pretty well. I really thought that was a huge process improvement.
Thought #1: The most exciting part for me happened right at the beginning, when President Monson announced the new temples. It actually took me a minute to process, but then I actually fist-pumped the air after I realized that he had announced a new temple in Concepcion Chile.Concepcion is just north of where I served my mission in Chile. The Saints in Osorno, Temuco, Valdivia, and all points south will now have much easier access to the temple. Previously it would take between 12 and 36 hours (from Punta Arenas, at the very south of the country) to get to the temple. Now it will be much much closer.
When I was a young Zone Leader in Valdivia, my companion and I motivated our zone by teaching them that work that we were doing was building a temple in the south of Chile. We made a chart that was shaped like the temple, and gave each companionship bricks to paste to it when they achieved certain goals. The point was that everything we were doing was laying a foundation for the building of the temple. That chart is probably still in a storage closet in a missionary apartment somewhere in Valdivia, but it’s really nice to know that the work we did, actually in fact did lay the groundwork for a temple that would serve the saints in the South of Chile.
Thought #2: I got incredibly lost on my way to the Priesthood session on Saturday night. It’s not like I don’t know where the church is or anything. While I was driving over, I started worrying at something in my mind, and shifted into autopilot, and ended up driving past the exit I needed, and heading towards work. Not where I wanted to be on a Saturday night. After attempting to correct my error, I made a few more wrong turns, and ended up getting myself completely lost in a part of Ypsilanti that I didn’t really know. Needless to say, I was fairly frazzled when I actually did make it to the chapel, although I only missed the singing at the beginning.
Elder Uchtdorf’s talk really comforted me. He spoke of filling one’s time with work and knowledge and somehow was exactly what I needed to hear. I also took some of the weirdest notes that I’ve ever taken during his talk. I must have been free associating and doodling, and my thoughts just spilled out on to the page. I’m absolutely certain that I was driving the guy next to me crazy, with my pencil in constant motion as I turned my notebook around and around for 20 minutes.
Now imagine 3 pages worth of this.
The talks over at lds.org aren’t embeddable yet. I’m not sure if they will be or not, but you can watch his talk at this address. You have to click “Priesthood” and then scroll over to “President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.” If they make it available to embed, I’ll do that.
Thought #3: I just loved Elder Holland’s talk about the Book of Mormon in the Sunday afternoon session. It felt like everyone that I was watching conference at was at the edges of their seats. I’m really still processing it, so I don’t really know what else to say. He can really turn a phrase though.
If I’m diligent, once the text of his talk goes up on the web, I’ll link to it. For now, you can view it at the same link as above, except click “Sunday PM” and scroll over to “Elder Jeffery R. Holland.”
Thought #4: Does General Conference make anyone else super domestic? I was cooking during at least 3 of the sessions. I made banana bread, Amy’s Oatmeal Wheat bread, and some Basil Potatoes. What’s up with that? So, anyone else have thoughts about General Conference? Which talks were the best for you?
It is a fairly well kept secret that I really enjoy dancing. Mostly because the only dances that I usually have any association with are the frenetic, frantic, mostly arrhythmic, awkward “Mormon Singles Dances,” which I kind of hate. Unfortunately, I think my cover is blown as of last night.
I have been pointedly avoiding these types of dances for the last four years, ever since I moved from Laramie to Salt Lake. At some point, they became very unpleasant for me. I was speculating last night that it had something to do with when I became fat and lazy in Salt Lake and my endurance took a nosedive. My interpretation of this kind of dancing requires a whole lot of energy and staying power, which I didn’t really have in Salt Lake. Add to that the whole “Make a fool of yourself in front of people that you barely know and maintain at least some hope of asking out on dates,” and it was a recipe for disaster.
I have been pointedly avoiding the Hill Street Soiree for the last few years. My first year, I really didn’t know people well, and my second year, I may or may not have purposely procrastinated writing a talk to have an excuse to leave before the dancing got underway.
Some background, I think might be in order. The Hill Street Soiree is what some might call a Big Deal. This is the one Hill Street Ward activity each year to end all activities, quite literally. The Soiree, in its 8th incarnation last night, is a semi-formal dinner dance held in December each year. The HSAC goes all out: a catered dinner, a marvelously decorated space, and lots of music to dance the night away. The other singles wards in the area are typically invited to the dance (We’ve selfishly kept the dinner to ourselves in the past.) This year, it was an official multi-stake activity, and much better attended than the other activities this year.
I had planned to go last night, and avoid dancing. You know, to go along with the plan of keeping my enjoyment of dancing secret. During dinner, we discussed leaving to test out my new surround sound system. As the dance started, I moved as far away from the dance floor as possible to talk to others who weren’t dancing. Everything was going according to plan. I decided that I should probably make an appearance on the dance floor. So I headed out on what I thought would be a good crowd dance, but which turned out to be some bizarre hip-hop-like called line dance. Talk about genre defying music. I don’t line dance, I haven’t got the coordination for it, so I sat it out, but I was close to the dance floor. Way too close…
At some point, my resistance cracked. I ended up on the dance floor, and I. Had. A. Blast. I couldn’t stop. My endurance has been finely tuned over the last year, to the point that a 9 mile run seems challenging only in trying to find 9 miles to run it in. I couldn’t use that as an excuse. The headache that I had been planning to use as an excuse went away. I had nothing.
I tried to leave early towards the end of the dance. That didn’t work. I got sucked into a few dances that I couldn’t avoid dancing too (such weak will power, must… keep… dancing…) and suddenly it was the Last Dance. I’m principled enough to not skip the last dance. That’s just bad form. But suddenly, my chances of showing the front that I don’t like dancing was clearly gone. After all, I had stayed to the end, and ended it on the dance floor.
Ah, well, at least we got to dance to the Numa Numa song.
I’ll add some photos once I can steal some from Facebook. Strangely, by 10:30 the day after the Soiree, no pictures have turned up yet.
Some of you may know that my favorite thing about my calling at church is the fact that I am nominally in charge of “The Mingle.” Most months, Leilani is actually in charge, but when she wasn’t on the STW committee, or when she is out of town, the responsibility falls to Elizabeth and me. Elizabeth is usually happy to let me have the limelight, and I’m usually more than willing to take it.
When I first came to the STW committee the Mingle was a spotty little activity called “Break the Fast,” which, you guessed it, happened on Fast Sunday after church. It was lightly attended and always held at the chapel. We decided to move it from the first Sunday to the third to prevent it from interfering with people’s fasts. And to capitalize on the fact that many ward activities fall on the third Friday or Saturday.
Now, as I said, it is my favorite activity each month. Why? I have a hard time figuring it out. I think the following reasons might have something to do with it:
1- I love to cook, and Mingle gives me a reason to try out a new recipe. Usually I have some inspiration while I’m trolling recipe websites, (One of my favorites is 101 Cookbooks) or reading my cookbooks. Something I want to try that I haven’t tried before. I’m not sure the last time I actually took a tried and true recipe to Mingle. Some turn out great… Other times, not so great. (My contribution this week, a simple bean salad, wasn’t anything spectacular.)
2- I love the chance to talk to everyone. Mingle brings people together to, well, mingle. And I love it.
3- It always works out. Every mingle, I start to freak out that we won’t have enough food about 5 minutes before we are to begin. And we always have enough to eat. Some months, we only have just barely enough, but everyone always gets at least one full plate of food. Even if it was from an industrial size can of corn… We’ve had some serious Loaves and Fishes moments at several mingles, but they have always turned out. It’s kind of faith building.
4- The themes. Coming up with a theme has always been fun. We instituted themes quite a while back to get people thinking about the mingle mid-week, rather than Sunday afternoon. My favorite to this day was “Food that begins with the first letter of your name.” We got some extremely creative food that month.
This month, I decided to not stress out about the Mingle, even when it was 5 minutes to showtime and there was an abundance of salads, but no main dishes. It was hard, but I think I was successful. And of course, I loved it. Even after I dumped my entire plate on the table right when I was sitting down.