Become Your Own Judges

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week we’re covering the Sunday afternoon session of the April 1989 General Conference

I found most of the talks really interesting and relevant this session, beginning with Elder Nelson’s talk, The Canker of Contention. Much of it was familiar territory, especially in the importance of standing for truth without being contentious, but a couple of points surprised me. It’s important to pay attention to the details of the talks, because sometimes you think you know what they’re going to say, but they say something slightly different. The difference between hearing you expect–or even: hearing what you want to hear–and hearing what is actually being said is found in careful reading.

So, for example, Elder Nelson said that “the family has been under attack ever since Satan first taunted Adam and Eve,” and as someone steeped in the culture wars of the 21st century when I hear “family under attack” I think of the progressive cultural elements that devalue traditional families. While that certainly applies, Elder Nelson’s next sentence shows that it’s not what he was talking about. He went on: “So today, each must guard against the hazard of contention in the family.” (emphasis added)

He wasn’t talking about outside attacks on the family, but the danger of contention between spouses and between siblings and between parents and children within the family. I nearly missed that.

I also found the quote from Thomas B. Marsh that “If there are any among this people who should ever apostatize and do as I have done, prepare your backs for a good whipping, if you are such as the Lord loves.” Although it’s really just a restatement of familiar verses like Hebrews 12:6 (“whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth”) and Revelations 3:19 (“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten”), hearing it phrased this way definitely got me to see the sentiment anew. And I’ve got to say, I’ve gone through this experience a few times in the past couple of months–albeit on a smaller scale than Brother Marsh–and I echo his sentiments. The Lord has shown me things that I’ve been doing wrong for a long, long time and made me realize how much I need to repent. I felt chastened. I felt ashamed. I felt sorry. But I also felt noticed and respected and loved

This brings me to the talk that really grabbed my attention the most, which was Elder Bushe’s University for Eternal Life. I’m still mulling over the talk, but here’s the part of the talk that grabbed my attention the most:

It seems that we can only effectively go through the process of continuous repentance if we literally learn to become our own judges. We ourselves and the Lord are the only ones who really know us. We do not even know ourselves unless we have learned to walk the lonely and most challenging road toward self-honesty, as constantly prompted by the Spirit.

This is the sacrifice we have to learn to offer. Nobody will ever be able to understand or even to accept principles of truth unless he or she, to some degree, has developed a painful awareness of the dimensions of self-honesty. Without the capability to recognize truth, we will not be really free: we will be slaves to habits or prejudices heavily covered with excuses. But learning to become aware of the depth of the dimensions of truth will make us free. We cannot remove a stumbling block unless we see it first. We cannot grow unless we know what is holding us back.

There’s an awful lot to unpack here, and I’m not going to try to that job at the moment. I’m just sharing a passage that I know I’ll be thinking and pondering as I try to work my way through it.

I found another great quote in talk by Sister Joy Evans: “Lord, When Saw We Thee An Hungered“:

Certainly, in our own little sphere it is not the most active people to whom we owe the most. Among the common people whom we know, it is not necessarily those who are busiest, not those who, meteor-like, are ever on the rush after some visible charge and work. It is the lives, like the stars, which simply pour down on us the calm light of their bright and faithful being, up to which we look and out of which we gather the deepest calm and courage. It seems to me that there is reassurance here for many of us who seem to have no chance for active usefulness. We can do nothing for our fellow-men. But still it is good to know that we can be something for them; to know (and this we may know surely) that no man or woman of the humblest sort can really be strong, gentle, pure, and good, without the world being better for it, without somebody being helped and comforted by the very existence of that goodness.

I loved this quote so much I looked up the original author (not mentioned by name in Sister Evans’ talk). It’s from Phillips Brooks who (via Wikipedia) was “an American Episcopal clergyman and author, long the Rector of Boston’s Trinity Church and briefly Bishop of Massachusetts, and particularly remembered as lyricist of the Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.” 

So that brings us to the end of the April 1989 General Conference. I definitely learned a lot from the talks in this Conference, and I’m looking forward to starting in on the October 1989 General Conference for next week.

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