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My Mormon Easter

Easter is coming and I’m almost as excited as when I’m waiting for Christmas.

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I have family coming (Annie and Josh and their friends) for Easter weekend, which is, in itself, something to celebrate because our families are spread across the country these days.

AND, it’s General Conference weekend.

For those of you who don’t know about Conference Weekend, it’s going to sound dreadful, but trust me, for Mormons, it’s one of the best weekends of the year.

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Conference weekend is when our Church broadcasts HOURS of meetings featuring talks from our Church leaders.

And, believe me, it’s an event. It happens at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, which is a 1.4 million square foot building that will seat 21,000 guests.

The five conference sessions this weekend will be broadcast live around the world. (You can watch it here and here.)

I’m already wondering what we’re going to learn.

Mostly, I’m excited about the warm, beautiful spirit of Jesus Christ that will fill my house during Easter weekend.

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That spirit begins to seep in as soon as I hear the organ music coming from the colossal 7,667-pipe organ at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

This is no ordinary organ. It’s a pipe organ with 160 stops spread over five manuals and pedals.

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And since I don’t have a clue what any of that means, I had to look it up.

I learned a “manual” is basically a keyboard and the pedals are keyboards for your feet. The stops control the pipes 7,000-plus pipes.

All this together makes for some amazing sounds.

Add 360 singers to that from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and it’s quite a musical experience.

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And then there are the speakers – about 30 of them spread out over five two-hour sessions.

(In case you’re worried that all those speakers might be a bit much, we’re heavily into beautiful music too so there are a lot of lovely songs between all those speakers. AND, you get to see some gorgeous displays of spring flowers, a few videos, and even hear some pretty good jokes sometimes.)

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I know, I know. It sounds long and boring — sitting for hours and listening to one Church speaker after another.

But I love listening to words on hope, faith, light and truth, parenting, building strong families and improving marriages, making wise choices, receiving personal revelation, sharing the light of Christ, and becoming a better person.

“Conference,” as we call it, is a uniquely Mormon experience, and being the odd bunch that we are, we relish every moment of it.

When it’s over, we feel some mixed emotions — buoyed up because we’ve been given a heavy dose of counsel and encouragement and spiritual rejuvenation, but sad because we have to turn off our TVs and move out of the warmth of our conference bubble and get back to real life.

While most Christians will be attending Easter services on Sunday, Mormons will be home watching television.

Something about that doesn’t seem right, but for us, it’s a form of united devotion. It happens the first weekends of October and April every year.

This year, it happens to fall on Easter Sunday.

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While it might seem wrong that our chapels will be closed on Easter Sunday this year, we will be tucked into our cozy nests listening to every word from our leaders—all of which will testify of our love and devotion of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

In a way, we will get to enjoy the most intimate kind of Easter worship of all – surrounded by our families in the warmth of our homes.

We might not be in our Easter dresses, bonnets and white gloves this Sunday, but you can be sure we will be honoring our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and loving every minute of it.

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Happy Easter.

From the News, Religion

Does Truth Exist?

Last week we went to the beach in North Carolina.  Annie invited a group of her high school friends to join us.

Every night after dinner we asked each other probing questions and talked about the big concepts of life.

Is there a God?

If so, what is He like?

Does God have a plan for us or are we in complete charge of our lives?

What beliefs and values shape your life?

Where do you want to be in 10 years?

What is faith?

Why do some people have faith and others don’t?

How can someone really live by faith?

Why is it so central to some people and irrelevant to others?

How do you know whether something is true and is there such a thing as truth?

This group of 19-year old college students astound me with their passion for answers to these questions.

They are achievement-oriented and live their lives “on purpose.”

They believe that being their best matters.

They believe in being good people and they know right from wrong.  Even though there are many questions on their minds, they are clear about their own ethics and morals. They are true to what they believe even though they are still sorting out what it is they really believe.

They all come from different religion backgrounds and some grew up without any religious influence in their lives at all.

Yet, they yearn to define themselves.  They want to stand for something.

thank you Griffin Harrington for the photo!

Part of me wanted to tell them all the answers to these life questions because after living so many years, I’ve figured a lot of things out.

But part of me relished the conversation, the struggle, the growth that comes from figuring out life on your own.

I enjoyed listening to what they wonder about, what scares and worries them.

Annie Turner photo

I learned their fears and questions aren’t much different from my own, and that while I have a strong set of beliefs and values, I have much to learn from them.

I wanted to tell them what it’s like to grow up and finally have all the answers.

I discovered two problems with that.

First, we only learn by experience and by figuring things out ourselves.

Second, and most important, I still don’t have all the answers.

Even after all these years of forming my own beliefs and relying on a certain set of religious guideposts, I still have a lot to learn.

And I love learning it from optimistic, bright, questioning 19-year olds whose minds are on fire with curiosity.

There is power in their intellectual form of gymnastics as they ask hard questions, and seek inspired answers.

Our conversations reminded me of Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s words:  “The time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of who we are and what we stand for…This is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, breadth and importance of our own mission…It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences…It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain…It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all our relationships…It is a time to nurture yourself spiritually, intellectually and to have no fears, no doubts about your future.”

This stellar group of friends are living up to these words, giving me no doubts about my future because I feel assured that as I age and they take my place as the responsible adults in life, I am in capable hands.

Community, Religion

A visit with the Lutherans

In my assignment as a public affairs director for my church, I was asked to attend a Holy Cross Lutheran meeting Sunday morning. One of our local congregations was holding a three-week Bible study course on Mormons and what we believe.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church http://www.holycrosslutheranchurch.net/

Prompted by the presidential election and the possibility of having a Mormon as the Republican nominee, many members of the congregation were asking the pastor questions — could they support a Mormon? Are Mormons Christian?  What would it mean to have a Mormon as president of the United States?

To help educate his members, the pastor planned a series of three classes.  For the first two classes, he showed videos about the Mormon church.  I don’t know what the first week’s video included but I know it prompted a woman to ask her Mormon colleague several questions about what we believe.  He happily answered her questions and clarified many of our beliefs.

Then she asked her pastor if she could invite her colleague to their second meeting.  The pastor agreed and the woman took her colleague to church with her last week.  The pastor showed another video that was produced by a group of ex-Mormons.

You can guess how that video was slanted…

The pastor invited the woman’s colleague to come back to their last meeting, and I and one of my assistants were asked to join him.  We welcomed the opportunity to explain who we are and what we believe. When we arrived, the pastor warmly greeted us and then introduced us to his congregation.  Then he went on to teach about some of the differences between Mormons and Lutherans.  Among them: they believe we are saved by grace alone, and we believe that while Christ’s atonement ultimately saves us all, we are still required to spend our lives doing good works.

He pulled up a page from http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/ about what we believe then he said it was hard to find objective, fair information about the Mormons because on the internet he could only find anti-Mormon or the actual Mormon Church’s official websites.

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I believe that the official Church websites are legitimate, credible sources of information, but the pastor’s point was that the Church’s sites are more conversion-oriented than informational so he wasn’t sure he wanted to share that with his members.

I respect that viewpoint although the Church has really worked hard to make more information available for the curious as well as those interested in becoming members.

Just a couple of days before attending this meeting, I read a comment from Krister Stendahl, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69DkoG-m8Agemeritus Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm and professor emeritus of Harvard Divinity School, who said he believed in three rules for religious understanding:

Krister Stendahl photo from elijah-interfaith.org

1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies;

2. Don’t compare your best to their worst;

3. Leave room for “holy envy” by finding elements in other faiths to emulate.

He said these principles foster relationships between religions that build trust and lay the groundwork for charitable efforts.

I believe in these three rules.

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I’ve never understood why people seek out ex-Mormons to learn about the Mormons.   That’s like asking Mitt Romney to tell us all about President Obama.  His view will obviously be a little skewed.

I love the third rule: leave room for “holy envy.” If we could follow that one simple rule, imagine how interfaith relationships could be improved — softened and strengthened at the same time, and how that would benefit a community. If we could learn to take the best from each other and build up from there, we could really accomplish something powerful and positive for everyone involved.

 

As the pastor described different points of doctrine, he graciously allowed us to make corrections as he went along.  For example, one member believed that Mormons worship Joseph Smith instead of Christ. We quickly said that we follow Jesus Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet and leader of our church whom we hold in high esteem but we worship Christ. A woman behind me said, “Well, then is what we learned wrong?” In unison, all three Mormons in the room, said, “Yes!”

I appreciated the pastor’s willingness to let us speak up, correct and clarify.

After the meeting concluded, many people thanked us for joining them and some wanted more information.

Many of them were shocked to find out that my assistant public affairs director works for President Obama.  They thought all Mormons had to support Mitt Romney. We had an opportunity to dispel that notion.

We have a long way to go in this effort of telling the world who we are and what we believe, but today was another small step forward.

And while all religions may have some doctrinal differences, most of us are seeking to live good lives, help our fellowmen, and strengthen our own relationships with God.

As for “holy envy,” I think that’s a beautiful concept and one that we should more readily embrace. We are all truth seekers who want to understand the world, our purpose and our destiny. When we share the bits of truth and goodness we all have  in our religions we build each other up.

I never imagined myself spending a Sunday morning in a Bible study class with the Lutherans talking about my religion, but I think when we respectfully share our faiths, we increase our knowledge and understanding of each other. We promote tolerance and religious freedom.

As Gordon B. Hinckley once said, there really is no room for bigotry, self-righteousness and arrogance.  We need friendly dialogue that leads to tolerance, brotherhood, friendship, appreciation of others, respect, kindness and love.  We should have quiet, friendly dialogue not vociferous argument and debate.

He said, the world knows “we carry on a vast missionary program in the Church. But it is not argumentative. We do not debate. We, in effect, simply say to others, ‘Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.'”

That is a form of “holy envy.”

We all share the good that we have and we all benefit.

In a world fraught with more and more intolerance and disrespect, we could all be better with a little “holy envy.”