General Reflections: A Rabbi’s Meditation on General Conference
June 2024

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General Reflections: A Rabbi’s Meditation on General Conference

The author lives in Colorado, USA.

Attending general conference was the balm my aching soul needed.

Rabbi Joe standing and smiling in the Conference Center

Rabbi Joe Charnes attends the October 2023 general conference.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey D. Allred, Church News.

The semiannual meetings of general conference are two glorious highlights on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continuum of sacred time, serving as beacons of light and buoys of hope to a world lost and longing in despair. Faithful souls from around the world flock to the Conference Center at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, drawn by the seemingly irresistible call of its glory. They come with a rare honesty of heart, and humility of heart, seeking redemption of heart, to heal the broken of heart. With hopeful and hope-filled spirits, they enter the Conference Center, knowing that within these hallowed halls lies a new and renewing world—a renewal of soul and a renewal of being. It is a deep and beautiful renewal, beautifying from the depths within.

And although general conference itself is but a moment in time, its impact and its imprint are momentous and timeless. Its gifts are many, and they are ongoingly abundant, offering general healing and wholeness to all.

Simply put, general conference is a regenerating conference. It is a regenerating conference that truly engenders genuine generosity of heart and soul. That is its beauty, and that is its glory. Or in the glowing words of my 16-year-old daughter, Yael: “The experience of general conference left me feeling as though I had a glimpse of heaven. My heart is now content.”

That, dear brothers and sisters, is an elegant testimony, an elegant testimony inspired by the elegance of your faith. That is your gift, and that is your glory. General conference is general glory. It is a conference of truly extraordinary glory.

My goal and my prayer for the reflections that follow is to share what I hope are meaningful meditations on the whys and the wherefores behind this special glory, and to do so in a way that reflects the extraordinary. My heart is grateful for this honor and privilege.

A Presence of Kindness

The glory of general conference always begins with the kindness of the people who are present. It is a kindness, or a presence of kindness, that graces and embraces, and is all-embracing. It is a welcoming and unconditional, dare I say saintly, kindness that is both intentional and broad, and broadly intentional. It is an inspired kindness blossoming from deep within the heart, seeking to bless life and heart through every human encounter.

And while this angelic atmosphere graces every general conference, I feel the October 2019 general conference experience may best express how my own heart and soul were such desperate and blessed recipients of Latter-day Saint blessed kindness—of that soul-restoring light and love of Latter-day Saint kindness that truly establishes your community “as a light unto the nations.”

Rabbi Joe attending general conference with his friend, his daughter, and a member of the Seventy

From left to right: Michael Law, Yael Charnes, Rabbi Joe Charnes, and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy attend general conference in October 2019.

Photo courtesy of Michael Law.

Part 1: Mike Law

The story itself actually begins a week and a half before the October 2019 general conference session, when I, along with family and friends, had to bury the loveliness of my mother, Eudie (YOU-dee) Charnes. My heart was broken, grieving, and empty beyond empty. The beauty of Eudie, the beauty that was Eudie, was, simply and sadly, no more. She was no longer before me to hold, to hug, or to nourish—to bless, to sing to, to cry over, or to pray with. The life and the light that had given me life had died, her blessedness now gone and beyond. And so too a part of me died with her also, a part deep within, leaving me forever without. With grace she died, embraced by faith, interlaced in the loving arms of her beloved family: of my wife, Sarah; of our daughter, Yael; and of mine, her newly orphaned son.

We were all together yet completely alone—each alone in our individual loss but bound together in our shared loss. And that fragile togetherness that we shared with each other was helped, and at times was even held together, by the kindness and presence of two living Latter-day Saint community treasures: Brother Mike Law and his eternal celestial companion, Sister Debbie Law, of Colorado, USA. Their humble hearts overflow with a love that can only be described as being inspired from above, and we are forever grateful for the light of their accompanying presence during our walk through the darkness and the despair of death.

It was during this time, a mere two days after burying my mother, that my desperate cry for the blessed was answered—answered in the form of a simple phone call and offer from my treasured friend, Brother Mike Law. He was again reaching out and reaching in, as always, to see how I was faring and wayfaring along, in loss along this long and lonely journey of woe.

While we were speaking, I noticed a subtle tenor of uncertainty entering into Mike’s voice, as he asked me the following question: “Joe, I know the answer is probably going to be no, but would you like to go to general conference, if I can get tickets?” My response was simple, immediate, direct, and urgent: “Mike, there’s actually nowhere else that I’d rather be.”

Those were my words, friends; those were my words, words sung forth in solemn song and solemn sorrow. I just knew that general conference would be that consecrating moment of graceful uplift for my heart. I knew the generous arms of every Latter-day Saint–inspired heart would be unconditionally extended and extending in love—that the arms of their loving hearts simply would not fail.

Rabbi Joe embracing Elder Carpenter at general conference

In graceful embrace: Elder Matthew L. Carpenter of the Seventy (right) and Rabbi Joe Charnes (left) at the October 2019 general conference.

Photo courtesy of Michael Law.

At general conference, people simply smile from the heart. They say hello from the heart, and they glow from the heart. There is an unspoken language of presence of heart. Their presence says hello. Just being there says hello. Just being there is being embraced.

That was the balm my aching soul needed—that heart-embracing balm of general-conference kindness. That is why general conference would truly be that healing balm of Gilead for my soul in need.

And this is a general truism of your grand faith. Wise, loving, nurturing kindness is the service anthem of the Latter-day Saint community; it is the emblematic hallmark and legacy of your faith. If the old adage is true that “the highest form of wisdom is kindness,” then general conference is truly a gathering place for some of the wisest human beings on the planet.

You are “a light unto the nations,” and a light unto my heart. Bless you, Mike, for following the promptings of your heart. Your devotion to helping me restore peace within has the heavenly choir above singing, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

Part 2: The Wisdom of the Hymns

The glory of general conference continues with its hymnal wisdom. And I emphasize hymnal wisdom, not just hymnal beauty. All sacred hymns are works of poetic and melodic majesty that inspire our souls to soar, in and through song.

But hymns are also deeply profound meditations, always to be pondered and prayed from the heart. They are truly guides for life and for inspired, soulful living, calling us all into the heart of sacred union and communion. Their lyrics are meant to shepherd our lives, to model for us wisdom, holy and Divine.

And the wise guides who oversee and direct these musical sessions are genuine exemplars of song and soul. They are graceful mystics artfully attuned to the glories and the subtleties of hymnal insight and wisdom. Their musical selections are clearly chosen with careful and prayerful forethought and purpose.

Through their introspective reflection into the melodic sacred, they seek to draw us through song into a life of higher calling; they seek to summon us into the very soul of general conference itself. Even the melodies are part of the message of general conference, drawing and calling all into its grand vision.

This complex interweaving of both melody and message was on magnificent display during the October 2019 sessions. Through verse lovely and luminous, general conference began with “The Morning Breaks” as her opening, angelic offering. This inaugural hymn of sacred instruction gently welcomed our hearts into the heart of general conference wisdom.

The morning breaks, the shadows flee;

Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!

The dawning of a brighter day,

The dawning of a brighter day

Majestic rises on the world.

“The morning breaks, the shadows flee,” that, in essence, is general conference for me. These wondrous lyrics of, and for, life speak in soulful metaphor of light and hope renewing. They sing of symbolic dawn always rising, and arising before us symbolically always. Though the clouds of life and darkness are ever so real, “morning” always “breaks,” and “the dawning of a brighter day” always yet awaits.

That, in song, is general conference wisdom, blossoming into the wisdom of general conference song. Such is the bright hope that general conference offers.

General conference lives and breathes “The Morning Breaks,”

It is “the dawning of a brighter day.”

It is the “majestic” that “rises on the world” we live,

A graceful majesty that here must stay.

Part 3: General Wisdom

From the glory of hymnal wisdom, we move into the glory of wisdom itself, as Saints and sages now come before all, to enlighten our life with true soulful call. In what can only be described as a series of grand wisdom offerings, men and women of sage and saintly heart gift humanity with a scenic tour of the sacred, offering and uncovering a universe of true light.

I offer here only a few holy highlights, to whet our appetite for the glory of the numinous. It is a sampler plate for the soul seeking wisdom, a celestial appetizer inspired from on high, followed by brief comments and reflections as to why.

1. Elder L. Todd Budge of the Seventy, quoting Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet:

“Sorrow prepares you for joy.”

Wow. Simply wow. I am bowing. Thank you, Elder Budge. We have in this gem of wisdom, friends, a gift of beautiful hope, echoing deeply throughout the world, within every deeply broken heart. These melodic words were the song my soul needed, after the recent passing of my beloved mother. It was the song that helped me to begin again, the long and lonely journey back to life, light, and joy.

Its healing message of sorrow and joy bound together in graceful tension allows our vision to imagine a future where the broken may yet become whole again, and where the empty may still grow full. It gently reminds us that sorrow, in the end, will surrender itself unto joy. Or in the crowning wisdom from Alma 36:20: “Yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!”

2. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

“In matters of faith and conviction, it helps to direct your inquiry toward those who actually have some!”

Elder Holland here expresses the brilliance of the obvious, because the obvious is obviously so often brilliantly missed. And this is classic Elder Holland, at his absolute classic best. He has a rare, instinctive talent for the genius of common sense, coupled with profound depth of insight into the nature of life and soul. Though his guidance here concerns “matters of faith and conviction,” the truth of his wisdom blossoms well beyond these parameters. In all matters of life, we must heed this holy directive, making sure to seek the wisdom we need from one who is wise in the wisdom we seek.

3. Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

“Faith deepens as we act in ways that anchor us more firmly to Him. …

“The only way faith grows is for an individual to act in faith.”

With these blessed words Elder Renlund reminds us and guides us into the heart of true, living faith. A faith that is alive is a faith life of action, a faith practice anchored in deep, loving service. Action is faith blossoming into the blessed, and the blossoming of the blessed is the beauty of true faith. Is our faith in blossom?

4. Sister Michelle D. Craig, then the First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency:

“Just imagine what would happen if we were as intent on staying connected with heaven as we are on staying connected to Wi-Fi!”

If more people were to focus on their connection with heaven, they would come to know the experience of attending general conference sessions! General conference for us is Wi-Fi to heaven! But you are right, Sister Craig: the tragedy in society is we have exchanged heaven for Wi-Fi. And then we wonder why our connection has been lost.

5. Sister Reyna I. Aburto, then the Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency:

“Your struggles do not define you, but they can refine you.”

Bless you, Sister Aburto, for the wisdom and compassion of your heart. You have truly offered a soulful way to help people move beyond being defined by their pain. Struggles in life are creatively reenvisioned as agents there to “refine,” which is a beautifully redeeming approach for the heart. When our pain and struggle alone “define” us, we are often left feeling embittered by fate. But when life and its struggles are embraced more as refiners, then our struggles can be embraced as potential purifiers, allowing us to receive them from a place of almost grace.

6. Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, then the Young Women General President, quoting the Young Women theme:

“I cherish the gift of repentance.”

“I cherish the gift of repentance” is simply a remarkable statement of faith. Envisioning repentance as a “gift” to “cherish” is a “gift” in itself, that I hope we will “cherish.” A question we must first ask is: “Does our heart even ‘cherish’ this holy ‘gift’?”

Repentance is a gift from God to this world, that our world often fails to cherish. It is an awareness that we must awaken to in life, that will awaken within us truly new life. It is a gift from our heart to the heart of another, that will reconcile our world together, from within. That would be a “gift” our world would “cherish,” if only our world would cherish this “gift.”

Thank you, Sister Cordon, for this gift.

7. President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency:

“Qualifying for the gift of holiness requires humility, meekness, and patience.”

Here we are offered another blessed “gift,” and also a reminder of how we qualify to receive the glory of holiness. Humility is foundational for holiness to root, a necessary soil for her soul. Only when nourished by the waters of humility, meekness, and patience does holiness sprout and grow whole. I am humbled, President Eyring. Truly.

8. Elder Hans T. Boom of the Seventy:

“To me, ministering is exercising divine love.”

That, Elder Boom, is heavenly—simply heavenly to my heart and soul. And it tells me about the heart of your soul, and the place you minister from. Ministry “exercising divine love” would be ministry truly divine. Were we to begin our ministry with that end in mind, then our ministries may actually become divine, in kind.

9. President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency:

“President Nelson has also reminded us that we don’t ‘have to [always] agree with each other to love each other.’”

With grand words of wisdom from an even grander soul, President Nelson offers words of light to make our world whole. He calls us to remain in loving engagement, even when disagreements seek to disengage us. Living in loving disagreement is the goal. What a beautiful call from a beautiful soul. These holy words echo into eternity; I pray we hear their message now. I am grateful for the reminder, President Oaks.

10. President Russell M. Nelson:

“When we love God with all our hearts, He turns our hearts to the well-being of others in a beautiful, virtuous cycle.”

Amen, selah. A truly virtuous teaching on the true virtue of faith, manifesting the virtue of faith in love by virtue of the One above. This is simply, solely, and soulfully profound. Again, amen, selah.

11. President Russell M. Nelson:

“Now in closing, I leave with you my love and my blessing …

“I so bless you, reaffirming my love for you!”

President Nelson, your love is “reaffirming.” When you say, “I love you,” I honestly believe you. I believe you love me, and I believe you love all. You live love, you model love, and you inspire love in others. You love love, you love to love, and you love beautifully. You have a heart of radiant love, and I pray I am but a ray of your loving radiance. Thank you for being a light of love, and for enlightening us through love. I am humbled. I am grateful. I am listening. And hopefully, I am more loving.

In Hebrew, the word rabbi means “my teacher.” President Nelson, with all honor and respect, I am proud to call you rabbi. God bless you.

Rabbi Joe and his daughter taking a picture together at general conference

Rabbi Joe Charnes with his daughter, Yael Charnes, at the October 2022 general conference.

Photo courtesy of Michael Law.

Part 4: Taylor—a New Friend on the Train

Following the final session of general conference, we left the Conference Center, still basking in the after glory. While on the train home, a Latter-day Saint family approached us, whose soulful beauty uniquely touched our lives.

The mother, with her children, asked if they could learn more about the Jewish head covering that I was wearing. Her 14-year-old son, named Taylor, had his interest piqued by his wonderful seminary teacher. His teacher’s name, we were told, was Brother Russell, and he appears to have taught quite well on Jewish practices.

Taylor, a truly extraordinary young man, clearly had a talent for humility and soul, and the time we spent together in discussion was remarkable. The deep light of his heart was clearly nourished by his family and by his Latter-day Saint faith in Jesus Christ. That a youth of today had such humble grace and a genuine interest in the sacred of another truly leaves me with bright hope for our future.

My daughter, Yael, was also greatly taken by the beauty of Taylor’s soul. That “the eyes are the window to the soul’’ is a favorite quote of hers, and she loved Taylor for the potential she saw he could become.

For me, the encounter with Taylor and his family was a most beautiful conclusion to the glory of general conference. Two families of God were having honoring sacred dialogue, and each of us left with more reverence and belief. This is what general conference inspires. This was, for me, a general conference after-glory moment I am grateful and humbled and blessed to have received.

In the end, to our friend and dear brother Taylor, to the friend whom we met only and sadly once, please always know that our lives were deeply enhanced by our chance encounter on the train that evening. Yael and I wish you only shalom, a Hebrew word meaning “peace and wholeness.” We wish you shalom in the broadest sense of the word, as you continue on your mission to bless our world with light.

And to you, Brother Russell, my long-lost friend and seminary teacher extraordinaire, though we have never yet met, it was wonderful getting to know you through the beauty of Taylor and his holy family. And I have an extra head covering, should you ever be in need! Thank you for teaching about my faith tradition in such an honoring and lovely way. You must have done so to inspire our young friend Taylor to inquire and seek to know more about my faith. Bless you, and shalom to you always.


I leave you now, friends, in the aftermath of the after glory, with one final offering of glory for you. It involves a saintly sister and Brigham Young University (BYU) student who blessed me with words of gratitude from a place deep within. I repeat—and reflect on—her words often. Here is the story, in brief.

On the glorious Monday following general conference, I had the privilege of visiting Professor David Seely’s class on ancient Israel at BYU–Provo. After an opening prayer to help open our hearts to the heavenly, both above and within, we began class by sharing our thoughts on general conference and the nourishing gift it had been. After sharing some of my personal reflections on experiencing moments divine, our saintly Latter-day Saint sister responded with, “Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of my faith.” To this day, her words still echo within.

To you, dear sister, whose name is unknown to me, and to the entire Latter-day Saint community, let me also say “thank you” to you. Thank you for the beauty of your faith. Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of faith. Thank you for reminding and inspiring me to live and express my own faith more beautifully. Thank you for reminding me of the beautiful potential that faith can produce and blossom into. Your faith is truly a “light unto the nations” and a bright shining star in my heart.

Your way is a way of melody and a way of melodious grace. It is a melody that inspires its faithful followers to live lives of service, with love of service, in loving service to all. That is your gift, that is your blessing, and that is your Latter-day Saint glory.

General conference is General Glory. I bless you in all that you do, as you “Go Forth with Faith.” “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.”