Monday, October 10, 2011

Living Water

In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
John 7:38
After yesterday's downer, I promised a more upbeat post on the fantastic Saturday session of the mid-singles conference. So, here it is.

I arrived and mingled for a while. I met a guy who is in his last semester of law school, so we talked about law school for a bit. (There's something about the legal profession that creates an instant kinship when two people meet. I don't know why, but there it is.) I gave him a pep talk about the bar exam because he's a bit worried about it. Then we exchanged business cards. Then I ran into one of my friends who I hadn't seen in a while, and we took a seat in preparation for the keynote address.

Patrick Kearon (1st Quorum of the Seventy) gave the keynote. His talk was fantastic. He shared several personal stories, but the one that stood out to me was a story he shared about when he was a child growing up in Saudi Arabia. He talked about how he and his parents went on a road trip deep into the desert for a vacation. After they had been traveling for a few days, they saw an oasis off in the distance. As they got closer, they saw that there was a vertical pipe in the ground, and out of the pipe flowed pure, clear water in great abundance. He explained that it was an artesian well. Artesian wells are wells that are drilled down deep into the earth until an underground aquifer is found. Then the water springs forth under its own pressure through the well.

He used the artesian well as a metaphor for our lives. It takes a lot of work to drill the well, and it takes trial and error to find it unless we know where it is. But, once we find it, it sustains life. I totally needed this message, because I've been feeling like I'm stuck in a desert lately, exhausted and devoid of water. This reminded me that somewhere deep within myself I have that life-giving force, and I need to find it and be refreshed. I don't know where my personal artesian well is, but God does, and He can tell me where to drill to access it.

Then we had breakout sessions with speakers drawn from the local membership of the church. I attended a few and they were interesting. One of the speakers talked about theoretical physics and its relationship to the gospel. It was a fascinating talk, even if the argument was a bit circular in places. Another speaker talked about market forecasting and the changing information economy. He said that the world needs more philosophy majors. (I minored in philosophy, and I was only 2 classes short of a double major, so I totally appreciated the shout-out to philosophers.)

Then there was a closing keynote by Clayton Christensen (Harvard business professor and former area authority Seventy). His talk was about sacrifice. He said that the church requires much less sacrifice from its members than in the past. He then quoted Doctrine and Covenants 58:7, and reminded us that we need to be anxiously engaged in a good cause. Because the church demands less of our time, we are free to use that time to determine our personal ministry.

Then he shifted gears and addressed the demographic elephant in the room. He said that something had been weighing on his mind, and that it concerned him greatly. He said that statistically speaking, half the women in the room, who were righteous and doing everything right, wouldn't be able to have a temple marriage because there weren't enough men. Then he gave some counsel to those of us gathered, and in my opinion, he knocked it out of the park. First, he talked to the men and said that they need to go out and reactivate their inactive brothers. Then he talked to the women and said that there are 200,000 single men in the area, and we should be member missionaries.

I love that he didn't provide platitudes about things being better in the afterlife. I love that he treated women as agents instead of just objects to be acted upon. I love that he provided suggestions for solutions. Even if reactivation and missionary efforts don't magically end the demographic imbalance, people's lives will be blessed by the gospel as a result. This is the first time I've heard this problem acknowledged and dealt with over the pulpit in a constructive manner. Way to go Elder Christensen!

I spoke with him after the meeting to thank him for his talk. He asked me my name, asked me what my career was, and when I told him I was waiting for bar exam results and wanted to be a law professor, he wished me the best. I only spoke to him for about 45 seconds, but I could tell that he cared. He radiated charity.

All singles conferences should be this good. The speakers talked to us as fellow saints, preaching Christ-centered messages. We weren't talked to as "singles", we were talked to as people walking the path through life. It was refreshing.


Jessica said...

I'm another big ol' fan of Elder Christensen. He was my ward mission leader when I served in the Belmont Ward, Boston Stake way back in '92. He was amazingly christlike then, and it sounds like the intervening years have only increased that attribute.

Anonymous said...

I admit I stumbled upon this via your account of Sister Beck's talk (via an article on Zelophehad's Daughters), and I was curious to see both your bad and good experiences stack up. Thank you for taking the time to document both. The bad helps so many of us know what to avoid, and the good helps us know what we can do and emphasize. I'm blown away by Elder Christensen's suggestions. I LOVE that concept of women being agents, as you said.

At a deeper level, I'm just grateful to see both negative and positive experiences being documented. I'm working on a Master's degree in Happy Valley, and since coming home from my mission I feel that I've really gotten a bit lost in the haze of grumbling about church culture and questioning everything when something goes wrong. Thanks for your example of how to stack up the good with the bad and choose the better part.