Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Church, US Senators, Science Museum

I taught a lesson in Spanish at church again on Sunday. It went pretty well, but my Spanish definitely isn't as good as it used to be. There were a few times when I struggled to communicate what I was thinking.

On Sunday night there was a fireside (meeting where church members go listen to a speaker) where Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) spoke. They're both US senators and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's kind of funny that I'm here in another country all the way across the ocean, and yet I had the chance to listen to a couple of US senators. They were on their way back from a two-day tour of Iraq.

The two spoke on "Why I Believe". It was interesting to hear a couple of politicians speak in a church setting. They were still politicians, but it was clear that they also believed in the teachings of the Church.

Senator Smith (from my state) was a little more plump than the last time I saw him. He seemed pretty humble, and I enjoyed listening to him. He was very diplomatic and spent quite a bit of time building rapport with his British audience. At one point he said that some of his ancestors wore red coats during the American Revolutionary War–something that I doubt he says very often in the States. :) However, his remarks focused on his testimony and barely mentioned politics.

Senators Hatch was quite a different story. He talked for two or three times as long, and I was pretty anxious to get out of there by the end of it. Several times he looked at the clock and said that he would end his remarks; right after that he would launch into another story. His remarks were a series of stories from his legislative and ecclesiastical experiences. He was much more political than Senator Smith. He told about how he forced an opposing senate leader to "save the taxpayers $20 million" by pulling his "trump card" on them: a threat to send the Mormon missionaries to his door. He put in his (very) thinly veiled plug for Mitt Romney for President 2008. He told us about a series of miraculous priesthood blessings that he has given, which seemed far too personal to be sharing with an audience of hundreds. He told about an experience with someone who doubted that God spoke to men today that was almost an exact quote (not even a paraphrase) of Hugh B Brown's Profile of a Prophet. I was pretty unimpressed with him.

My favorite speaker was actually neither of the senators: it was a man who joined the Church a couple of weeks ago. This man had been searching–really searching–for the truth for many years. He had attended numerous churches and eventually become dissatisfied with each of them. A few weeks ago he met the missionaries and after three weeks of study, he decided to join the Church. He said that he has never felt such peace and such happiness, and that this will be his last church, for he has found the truth. This humble man spoke with more power than two members of what Senator Smith said some called "the most exclusive debating club in the world".

An area authority spoke at the very end of the fireside and told about an experience he recently had with Gordon Smith, Dieter F Uchtdorf (a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve), and some representatives of the Italian government. They were trying to get full official recognition for the Church in Italy, which has been an ongoing struggle. After making their case, a professor in the Italian group told about how he had gone to Salt Lake City recently and visited Temple Square. Two Italian sister missionaries had given him a tour of the site, and he was deeply touched. He told the church representatives, "I have one question for you: when are you going to build one of your temples in Rome?". Elder Uchtdorf responded, only half-jokingly, "when you sign the document". He did sign the document, and the recognition is in the final states of ratification in the Italian government.

Yesterday I went to the Science Museum, which is just across the street from the Hyde Park Chapel where the fireside was the night before. I have fond memories of going to OMSI when I was in elementary school, so I was excited to go. However, I was pretty disappointed. There were some cool things there, like parts of Babbage's original Analytical Engine, but the museum seemed pretty boring for the most part. I think that reason I was disappointed has more to do with me than with the museum: I'm not the curious little boy that I used to be. I'm still curious, but as with Christmas, the boyish wonder has faded a little from my eyes.

Today I went to the Tate Britain, another of London's free art galleries, to look at some paintings for my humanities class. It's a lot quieter than the bustling National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, so much so that I thought we were in the wrong place when we were walking toward it. However, I think I like the Tate better than the National Gallery.

Tomorrow morning we're heading out for a four-day trip to Northern England and Scotland. We'll be in a hotel the first night, and a youth hostel for the other two nights. We'll visit York and Edinburgh, among other places. I'll give a report when we get back.

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