Elder Kopishke’s important message on mental health

There are many important messages from General Conference so far, but the one that struck me the hardest and seemed so urgent was Elder Kopishke’s message on mental health.

Elder Kopishke shared a very personal message regarding his son who had to cut his mission short because of anxiety. I have three sons who will be hopefully leaving on missions in the coming years, and I imagined how difficult it would be for me and my wife to see our son return early because of such issues. Obviously, as Elder Kopishke pointed out, such a result would also be devastating for our son.

The truth is that many people, including myself, can sometimes be impatient with people suffering through mental health issues. I was raised in the 1960s and 1970s when the primary message from those in authority was: “get over it and suck it up.” People in general had very little patience for what they called “excuses” in those days. Remember that many of these people in authority in those days lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War. There was not much time for mental health breaks during those days. Survival was at stake. (Check out Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie “Gran Torino” to get a hint at the personalities of many people from that generation).

Our times are easier in many ways — but more difficult in other ways. I have been struck by how many people around me these days are suffering through mental health crises of one kind or another. I think the pandemic and the response to the pandemic are partly to blame, but I also think there are a variety of other reasons for health problems around us.

It seems like we are living in a time when the entire world appears to be in commotion in unexpected ways: “And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people.” (D&C 88:91).

So, Elder Kopishke’s message is an important reminder that we need an extra dose of charity these days towards those suffering mental health crises. The Church has some great resources for those suffering mental health issues and those whose family members are suffering mental health issues. Please check out this page here.

Softening Our Hearts: To Each Other, to the Prophet, to God

Even while hoping this note finds many of you anticipating a restorative and rejuvenating weekend, I know the reality. So many of us – including in our own faith community – are angry. And weary. And fearful. And suspicious.

I felt a prompting this last weekend to interview several neighbors who, like me, have harbored some serious questions about prevailing pandemic policies, and sincere wonderings at why the Church has been so willing to adopt and encourage them. Each of them went through an experience lately of feeling softened by their own communion with God over the matter. I was so touched by the conversations that I decided to write it up in a piece that ran Thursday in Public Square and Meridian Magazines: COVID-19 Vaccination as an Abrahamic Test.

As one woman, Jocelyn, said about her experience: “I felt layers upon layers of hardness on my heart peel off. I could just feel it come off my heart. I didn’t even know that hardness had been there.”

I’ve felt the same just in witnessing their experiences. I can’t deny that peace these brothers and sisters have felt from God in doing something that felt terrifying. They speak of arriving at the vaccination clinic, for instance, fully conscious of the possibility that their life could be harmed – but wanting more than any other consideration to trust the peace they had felt from God.

Who cannot be touched by such faith?

At the end of the essay, I brought attention to the experience of others who have exercised their own faith and felt different guidance in their own individual situation. Then I asked: “Do you have faith to take the vaccine, even if your bias is against it, if the Spirit gives you peace to proceed? And do you have faith to not take the vaccine if you feel so guided by the same Spirit, even if you are going to get some push-back from those around you?”

These have been good questions for me to ask. And I’m grateful for the greater peace that has come as I’ve allowed my heart to soften and trust a little more.

Perhaps this whole struggle can even soften us on other issues that we’re clenching our hearts against each other about. For instance, Mandi, a staunch conservative said, “This whole experience has given me a lot of compassion for people who have struggled with LGBT+ stuff.”

As I said at the end of the essay, I repeat here:

As a final note, if you find yourself fixated on this issue and grappling in your heart with frustration towards brothers and sisters, or even the prophets themselves, please take a moment to remember the full range of things Latter-day prophets have been sharing with the world  (here’s one summary we put together, Prophets on Pandemic). It’s a beautiful message—and I’m confident, the most hopeful message anywhere in the world. Don’t let that gloominess or hardness ruin this upcoming conference weekend! Heaven (literally) knows we all need some uplift and rejuvenation!  So, please don’t let yourself go into the weekend looking for more reasons to be frustrated. God wants more for you, and all of us. 

Happy conference, everyone. If God has something to place on your heart and mind this weekend – including peace, comfort, love or knowledge – my prayer is that NOTHING will stand in the way of that happening.

Hurrah for Israel!

October 2021 General Conference

General Conference starts tomorrow at 10am MDT. You can find out how to watch HERE. The Church will have a new Youtube channel for live streaming this time around. This channel will also have clips and past Conference videos to watch as well. The Tabernacle Choir will also be live this time.

Happy Conference and let’s hope that in April we can have an in person Conference.

Taking the Stone Out of the Hat, Part II: Motives and Trust

Challenging the stone in the hat translation story can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the documents. For every quote supporting the Urim and Thummim as the only instrument used to translate the golden plates, some other quote will be used to justify the stone as at least a companion tool. Anyone with access to the documents will, with time, realize how confusing the whole becomes. These aren’t complimentary recitations that can be reconciled. They are at odds with each other; sometimes within the same sources or interviews. Important evidence needs to be examined for who wrote it and why, comparing it to others.

Most of those who add the stone in a hat to the narrative selectively quote. They will grab something David Whitmer said out of context to the rest of the interview, and include it with little comment. The same goes with Martin Harris and Emma Smith who have interesting anecdotes that make for good story telling. Collectively they can be a powerful witness, but that is only when snippets of one or the other are joined. When the quotes are put into context of the documents, and then compared to each other, a different picture forms. It might be a little too much to say they are in collusion. Nonetheless, their reasoning for talking about the translation the way they do has similarities.

Considering all the early information (especially from the Prophet Joseph Smith himself) that puts the Urim and Thummim as the principle translation device, it might be surprising how prominent for modern Latter-day Saints the stone in a hat has become. Previously it was considered a peculiarity that might have some authentication, but not enough for anything more than passing comment. Articles specifically talking about the translation might include a section with supporting quotes. They are rare exceptions. A majority skip it altogether; General Conference perhaps most of all.

Artwork, the most powerful tool for popularization, was singled out as historically wrong. LDS Church wide depictions stuck with the Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery version of translation. It must be admitted they were far from perfect representations. Often Joseph Smith was shown, usually behind a curtain, reading directly off the gold plates with no translation device. Instead of correcting by including Joseph Smith using the Urim and Thummim, the images of him reading the plates at all are discarded. One version of the Urim and Thummim is routinely published, while a whole bundle of stone in a hat has taken over visuals. To wipe out those inaccurate versions of the translation and replace them with even more questionable versions is revisionist history; not sound doctrine. The same goes with the translation history.

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