Activities That Work
Planning a Stake Youth Conference within the new budget guidelines was a challenge for the youth of our stake. Their older brothers and sisters had grown up going to large regional youth conferences at college campuses around the state. Our stake had already broken away from the large, more costly, regional youth conferences, but the youth had still paid for youth conference. This year, with fund-raising forbidden, everything was going to have to be different. The conference would be paid for by the stake; the budget was very slim.
The youth representatives came to the planning committee with grandiose ideas about college dorms, and one young man even refused to serve on the committee because we wouldn't take his "neat idea" of staying at a college campus seriously. It took a while for them to realize that we weren't trying to be mean. There simply was not money for that kind of extravagance.
The adult leaders suggested the idea of staying in members' home within the stake, but the youth representatives vetoed that idea immediately. So, we assigned them to come up with a place to stay -- within our budget.
It was wonderful to watch them struggle for several weeks, sure they could find a place. The best they finally came up with was a campground with very few facilities -- and they weren't very excited about that. Then one day a young man raised his hand and said he thought staying in members' homes was a fine idea. Everyone enthusiastically agreed with him. They had made some great steps toward understanding what was important -- and what was possible.
The theme of the conference was service. The committee came up with lots of ways to serve within our community. The first evening of conference was spent in a training session for some of the projects we would be doing. Many involved serving the handicapped, so the youth were taught something about the skills and attitudes they needed to take with them.
They spent the next two days working very hard. They helped handicapped kids at a local day camp, they visited and performed music for elderly residents of a nursing home, they put on a great party for the young adult handicapped residents of a group home, they cleaned up a local park, they painted the home of a widow in the stake, they took another group of handicapped kids swimming.
To their surprise, staying in the homes of members was wonderful. Fourteen "house parents" opened their homes to groups of 6 to 8 youth. They drove them to and from the meetinghouse, fed them breakfast every morning, "tucked" them in bed each night. And we still had two evenings of fun -- one dance and one outing to a local water park. But the sunburns all came from the hours they spent serving others.
The testimony meeting at the end was especially touching. I'd been to lots of testimony meetings at the end of the traditional "college campus, three seminars, and two dances" type of youth conference. The testimonies there were always heartfelt but most of them consisted of "I love my friends and I miss my Mom."
This was different. The youth spoke of the joy they felt serving others. They talked about people they met who affected their lives and taught them what it means when Christ said "If ye have done it unto one of the least of these ... ye have done it unto me."
Two testimonies stuck out in my mind. One was a young lady who suffers from dwarfism. She spoke of her own trials with her limitations, and of the joy she felt being able to help those who had even more trials in life than she had. The other was a young man who spoke of the joy of staying in the home of a member of our stake presidency. He was a new convert to the Church and came from a rather unhappy home. Staying in a home where the father and mother discussed the scriptures with them each evening and prayed with them and showed them tender loving care was the best part of youth conference to him.
I loved watching the bonds of friendship that were made with so many of the youth and the "house parents" they lived with for those three days. It strengthened the unity of our stake, and will continue to have a lasting effect. I knew that aspect of the conference was truly successful when, six months afterward, I was speaking to a member of the bishopric in one ward and a young woman from another ward came bounding up and said, "Hi Dad."
This youth conference was not about leaving home behind to have a great time together. It was about strengthening the bonds of unity within the stake and learning that the true joy of the gospel comes from serving others.
Pink Flamingoes of Fellowship
The scene: A suburban ward in Pennsylvania. The family wakes up on Saturday morning to find that someone has put the most garish-looking pink plastic flamingo right in the middle of their front lawn.
The thought runs through their minds: This is a worse form of vandalism than toilet-papering, because the neighbors might just think we put it there ourselves!
A closer examination shows that there is an aluminum pie plate of brownies enclosed in ant proof plastic wrap at the flamingo's feet. There is also a note hung on a string around the bird's neck.
It's a poem.
Under the poem are these words: "If your family is unable to participate this week, enjoy your goodies anyway. Then please leave your flamingo at the bishop's or the ward clerks' office, and somebody will cheerfully send the flamingo on its merry way."
Silly? Of course. But the flamingo did its job, causing a lot of "good gossip" in the ward ("Did you hear about this hilarious flamingo that showed up on the Kalinskys' lawn?" "Did you start that flamingo going around?" "Who has the flamingo this week?")
As with so many good things in the Church, the flamingo was not an official program in the ward. Instead, a couple of members got a mail order catalogue and noticed that among the many strange offerings in it was a pair of pink lawn flamingos. So they ordered them, with only the vaguest idea of how they would use them.
Then, because they knew one of the problems in their ward was the number of people who came in new and had a hard time feeling welcome sometimes, they drafted the poem and made the goodies and then placed them on the lawns of two new members. (They cleared it with the bishop first, though, before telling people to turn their flamingo in at his office!)
Having two flamingos going at once meant that, even if the ward knew who had received the birds the Monday before, nobody could be sure which family had given them the treats they found on their lawn the following Monday.
No doubt other devices would work. However, it's hard to imagine anything else as noticeable, funny, and likely to be passed on as quickly as possible!
If I Could Whisper to My Bishop ...
The Release Interview
I was spoiled, because with my first real calling the release was handled so very well. I thought it would always be that way. I think it should.
That first real calling as an adult was as Young Adult Relief Society president when I was in my late teens. It was hard work and I took it very seriously, putting in long hours that were often frustrating. But I loved doing the work and the results were often good. I learned some important lessons then about how the Church works. I learned that the organizational chart and the manuals tell you many valuable things, but that it's just as important to learn the secret network within the ward and stake: the people who will actually do what they say they will do. These are the people who make the Church's work go forward, and I was glad to have the chance to try to earn my place among them.
Even with a calling that you value, into which you put your heart and soul, there comes a time of closure. No calling is forever. We all know that going in. But coming out still hurts. If we're doing our job properly we're full of plans for the future, things we expect to be doing next week, next month, next year. We identify with the calling, with the organization we're working in. It's part of who we are. It's painful at the best of times to stop, suddenly.
The counselor who released me must have understood this, because of the way he handled the release. He called me in for an interview. He scheduled an hour for me.
That's right. An hour.
Debriefing. During that hour he used much -- perhaps most -- of the time to "debrief" me. He asked me to assess all that had been accomplished and what still remained to be accomplished. He gave me a clear sense that he respected the work I had done and that he thought it was important for him to know my ideas about that work. This gave me a sense that instead of being repudiated, my labors of the past two years were going to be used as the foundation for future work.
Goodsaying. The rest of the hour he spent in "benediction," which means "goodsaying." He told me specifically the ways he thought I had grown. He assessed my accomplishments, praising me for things that had gone well and reassuring me about things that I had already expressed doubt or disappointment about.
I realize now that much of what he said in the goodsaying part of the interview grew out of things I had said when he was "debriefing" me. That means that he really listened, and he took care to make sure that I left the calling feeling that it was time well spent. He made sure that I knew that my labors had been appreciated and that I felt honored for having done well.
He also put my release in perspective. He explained that all callings come to an end, and we need to use that as an opportunity to take stock. A release from a calling is a portal, he said, a doorway in your life. Think of it as a chance to make an accounting of your stewardship in your own mind and before the Lord. Write about it in your journal. That's what I do, he said. He made it sound like a positive experience, and when I followed his advice, it was.
We don't get paid in the Church. Nor do we get publicly glorified. But we can be privately honored. We can be helped to see our labors in a good light. We can be made to feel that even in a release, we are still a part of the Lord's kingdom.
That's what he did for me with his goodsaying.
No Criticism. He did not give me a list, explicit or hinted, of things I needed to do better next time. If he had, that would have been the only thing I remembered about the interview, and I would have felt that I had been fired because of my inadequacies. Instead I felt that I was merely being released. My time was up. I was a steward, and when my master returned to relieve me of my duties, he said to me, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
Needless to say, I have always treasured that first calling -- not least because of what that counselor did for me.
Excuses. Unfortunately, such a gentle release seems to be the exception, not the rule. I have heard awful stories. I have seen some pretty bad releases myself. For instance, the time that I was abruptly released the first time I served as a ward Young Women's president. The bishop told me he was releasing me because I was pregnant with my first child and he knew that an infant needed so much more attention from its mother. That was fine, I suppose, a very compassionate reason -- except that the woman he called to replace me was just as pregnant as I was. It wasn't her first pregnancy, so she would be even more burdened. I can't help thinking that I was fired.
The funny thing is that this was unnecessary. Bishops don't have to explain the reason for their releases. All they need to say is, "I feel that it's right at this time to make a change." No further excuse is needed. In fact, the less explanation the better! Practically anything you say will be worse than that. You're the bishop. You don't have to make excuses.
Stealth Releases. But that's nothing compared to some of the other stories I've heard. The countless people who have learned they were being released in sacrament meeting when the names were read out. That one is unconscionable. Nearly as bad is the quick conversation right before sacrament meeting, or the phone call. These are "stealth" releases -- they sneak up on you with no radar alert.
What is so bad about these abrupt, last-minute "stealth" releases? I wonder if bishops don't use them because of cowardice sometimes. They know that releases are painful and emotional, and, especially with women, the releasee will weep (though my husband also wept when he was given a "stealth" release once, so I know men are also hurt by such things). So they tell themselves that they will "spare" us a painful, drawnout release process.
Think a minute, though: Just because the release comes as a quick phone call or right at sacrament meeting doesn't mean that the person being released isn't still going to want to cry. The difference is that in the case of the phone call they have to deal with the first emotions all alone, with no support and the added harshness of having it come over the phone; and in the case of a quicky release right at sacrament meeting, they have to deal with those emotions in front of everybody.
Bishops who do stealth releases aren't sparing the other person. They're sparing themselves an emotional scene. The emotions will still all happen -- only now without support from the bishop.
It's just as likely, though, that bishops do stealth releases because they have no idea of anything else to do. Sometimes, too (or so my husband tells me), they do it so the changeover will be more secret, to avoid gossip and speculation. This just kills me. They've told the new people that they have been called. So somebody outside the bishopric knows what's happening. Is the person being released less trustworthy? Less able to keep the secret?
Also, the stealth release is a clear message to the outgoing person: Nothing that you had planned matters now. Nothing that you know about the people you were serving is important for us to learn about from you. None of your ongoing projects matters. Your labors were worthless.
Does that seem harsh and melodramatic? Oh, yes, I'm sure it does. But every person who has been the victim of a stealth release knows that this is exactly what goes through your mind as you are being released.
It's Worth the Time. Bishops are so busy. They don't have time to give every person they're releasing a lengthy interview.
Or do they? Think of this: Every person who is given a stealth release is someone who has been damaged. Someone who will think back on her last Church service as being somehow tainted, because the bishop didn't value it. Someone who will be just a bit more reluctant to accept the next calling, or to put her full heart into it. Someone who is carrying around a secret burden of pain, often for years afterward, sometimes forever. That's the price of "saving time," and it's a steep one.
But when the bishop spends an hour in a release interview, debriefing and then goodsaying, that person is someone who will look back on her last calling as a worthy, valued effort. She will be proud of her work, and she will know that her accomplishments were noticed by those who called and released her. She will also feel that the things she cared about -- projects she was working on and people she was helping -- will be in good hands because someone took the time to find out about them. She will have a sense of continuity, of being part of something larger than herself, larger than the organization she served in.
That's a large return on a mere one hour's investment. Because now this is a person whom you can call on again for dedicated service, and she will gladly give it.
She might still cry, of course. Releases are hard no matter how well they are handled. But she will be grateful to the bishop or counselor for letting her do that crying in front of him, alone in his office, with an hour's good conversation to get over it. Bishops and their counselors are tough. They can take a few tears. Especially when they're also healing that pain by listening carefully to her debriefing and by heartfelt goodsaying at the end.
Here's an added bonus: Debriefings will probably tell the bishopric more about the ward than they learn in any number of other meetings. The person being debriefed won't always know "the truth" about everything she's saying, but she'll provide the bishopric with information that they need in order to reach intelligent, informed conclusions about what their ward is, how it works, and what it needs.
I have never forgotten the priesthood leader who did it so compassionately. I still feel his love and kindness after nearly twenty years. All it took was an hour, and a bit of gentleness, of kindness, of love unfeigned. An hour, and I still treasure the memory, not just of the interview, but also of the calling from which he was releasing me -- of all that it meant in my life at the time, and all that it has meant since then.
That's what I would say, if I could whisper something to my bishop.
A Changed Man
Mountain Saints and Minority Mormons
There is a difference between Mormon wards in the mountain states and Mormon wards everywhere else in America. A whole range of differences. And while there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of wards, I'm only half joking when I say that I love living in North Carolina, where the Church is true.
Of course the Church is true everywhere, in the sense that it is the only organization ordained by the Savior to do his work on the earth.
But in the sense of the Church being true to its mission, which includes the perfecting of the Saints, there are places where the Church is doing a better job than others.
Back in 1981, Kristine and I chose to live east of the Mississippi, for a while at least, specifically because we wanted to give our kids the best possible upbringing as Latter-day Saints. We knew this was the opposite of what our parents did in order to accomplish the same purpose. But we both had clear memories of moving to Utah as kids -- Kristine in grade school, me in high school -- and having severe misgivings about how helpful it was to grow up in a place where practically everybody is at least nominally LDS.
We've seen more and more over the years to make us feel that the decision we made was the right one, for us at least. We've watched many of our finest teenagers go off to college at BYU, only to be disillusioned when their Mormon roommates mocked them for dressing modestly and going to every fireside. At the same time, we've seen our own kids, and the children of our friends, confronting every day at school the differences between them and people who don't believe in and live the principles of Mormonism. They know what it means to be LDS. My nieces and nephews in Utah are not getting as much help -- even though they have a much larger Church organization to help them.
Why do these differences arise? It isn't that there's less inspiration or faith in one place and more in another. Rather the differences grow naturally from the radically different situations in which the Church must function.
Majority, Minority. The plainest difference is this: Mountain Saints are in the majority or are the dominant minority, while the rest of us are keenly aware every day that we are but a tiny sliver of the communities where we live.
This shouldn't make a difference, of course. We are all Saints, aren't we? We have the same gospel. We meet in cooky-cutter meetinghouses following the same schedules and working within the same organizations. We teach from the same manuals. We keep the same commandments (or try to keep them!). And yet there are differences.
The Mountain Advantage. When there are a lot of wards and stakes in close proximity, it's easy to keep things "regular." If a Primary president in one ward doesn't understand some aspect of the program laid out in the handbook, there are plenty of other people around who have the same calling and are working out of the same manual. This may seem like a minor thing, but it's not. Where wards work in virtual isolation, some deep weirdnesses can creep in.
There are longer traditions in the mountain wards, too, going back a lot of years. This means that most members have been in the Church long enough, or are familiar enough with a correctly-functioning ward, that they already have a vast fund of knowledge about how the Church is supposed to work and how their calling is supposed to be done.
That includes the tradition of accepting callings and showing up to fulfil them. Since your ward is your neighborhood, if you let people down you're going to have to face them every day. It's a lot harder to hide from failure, which means shame can help encourage would-be slackers to perform.
Because mountain wards are geographically small, people change wards more often -- it can be pretty hard in a ward that consists of three square blocks to find a place to build your new house in your old ward! This means plenty of cross-pollination. Again, fewer chances for weirdness to thrive.
Raw numbers make a difference, too. When you have enough people in your ward to have every position filled, then each person is able to concentrate on one job at a time. (Also, it keeps everybody just a bit more compartmentalized. People with only one calling aren't as aware of what the other organizations are doing, and so they get fewer temptations to meddle in someone else's calling.)
Another advantage is a bit more subtle: Because there are so many Mormons, people aren't quite so dependent on their ward organization. They have plenty of other places to find LDS friends, and therefore if there is someone at Church who annoys them, they are a bit less likely to start a blood feud.
Each of these advantages of the mountain wards suggests, obviously, a disadvantage of the minority wards: Minority Saints have to learn their callings in isolation. Since most members are new converts who have never known any other ward, the traditions that most of them remember are probably Protestant. Because wards cover more territory, you can move a lot of times and end up in the same ward -- therefore less cross-pollination. Members are often overburdened, holding two, three, or four callings. Those who haven't caught the vision of Church service feel much more free simply to not show up for their calling, or to turn callings down. Also, since people often work in more than one organization at the same time, meddling is endemic in many minority wards. And since every Mormon in town is also likely to be in your ward, it's often hard to escape from quarrels and feuds.
We've seen every one of these problems in minority wards, and sometimes they can be quite serious. And in trying to help heal these problems, we suffer from the disadvantage of being perceived as Utah transplants. When a western Mormon family first shows up in an eastern or southern ward, it is assumed, usually correctly, that they are only there because of a job assignment or to get a degree; they will leave again as soon as they can. That means they aren't permanent, and therefore they aren't really taken seriously. Worse yet, most western Mormons come with a very clear idea of how the Church is supposed to work. This can be valuable, if the westerner is sensitive to local feelings. Unfortunately, too many westerners have blundered by beginning half their sentences, "Well, in Utah we ..." This does not play well with the locals.
However, we have found that with time and patience, most of the disadvantages of a minority ward can be overcome or at least lived with. It helps to cultivate a nonconfrontational style. It helps to wait when something is done incorrectly, and either teach a better way by example or quietly and privately offer suggestions for improvement. (This is all simple section-121 stuff, of course.) It also helps to be aware that maybe the local way of doing things is often necessary and sometimes just plain better.
Still, it takes years to be considered an insider -- "one of us" -- in many minority wards, and sometimes even then you're really not accepted. But this can happen in mountain wards, too, of course -- it's just not as likely, since people change wards so much more readily in the mountains.
The advantages of living in mountain wards are real, and to those who have lived with the tensions and uncertainties and heavy workloads of most minority wards, life in a mountain ward can seem like a week at the beach.
The Minority Advantage. The biggest single advantage for Minority Saints, I think, is the very fact that they're in the minority in their community. It's easier to see what it means to be a Mormon. You can draw a line and say, Mormons are on this side of the line, and non-Mormons are on the other. In the mountains, this is nearly impossible. The kids taunting a good Mormon boy for refusing to listen to dirty jokes are going to be passing the sacrament beside him on Sunday. In fact, almost every hoodlum in high school is probably blessing the sacrament in somebody's ward. The businessman who cheats his customers or yells at his employees might well be in the elders quorum presidency. The politician caught with his hand in the till or making racist remarks is probably a Mormon, too.
It's not an accident that things are this way, either. Where the Saints are in the majority, it's good business to be an active member; in minority wards, there's no financial incentive to be "active" when you aren't actually trying to live a Christlike life. So in minority areas, the businessman inclined to cheat or bully probably doesn't come to church, either; in mountain wards, he does.
In mountain wards, young people who want to be rebellious and different often feel they have to rebel against the Church, while in minority wards they can often get that same sense of being radical or unique by rebelling against the standards and values of their teachers and fellow students at school.
Meeting the World Face to Face. How often does a mountain ward kid have a chance in school to correct a teacher or student making false statements about the Church as if they were matters of fact? My two older children have both had this chance several times since their earliest years in school. Even my youngest, who attends a special school for children with severe cerebral palsy, is often visited by Church members who, when coming to Gateway School for other reasons, always make it a point to stop and see Charlie. The result is that Charlie, too, has a chance to show what it means to be a Latter-day Saint.
Also, in minority wards LDS kids have so few fellow Saints in their school classes that they are almost forced to make friends with many non-Mormons. This helps them get a much fairer, truer idea of what non-Mormons are like. It amazes my kids -- it amazes me sometimes! -- when they hear mountain Mormons talking as if they thought that Mormons were the only people who believe in basic commandments like chastity or honesty.
In fact, Mormon kids raised in minority wards get a much healthier view of the world around them. While mountain Mormons almost never get to even see an African-American, for instance, my children have had many chances to make friends with people from many widely divergent cultures. They've learned through experience that stereotypes are always wrong: some black kids in their classes are obnoxious and horrible, just as some white kids are obnoxious and horrible; others, however, are good and true friends, just as some white kids are good and true friends.
Don't think for one second that kids growing up in most mountain wards are getting anything like that experience. Because they live in a monoculture, they drink stereotypes with their mother's milk, and it makes them ... well, it makes them grow up like a former governor of Arizona. I remember reading quotations of his remarks in the newspaper and then remembering what it was like when I lived in Mesa, Arizona, back in the 60s. Poor Ev, I thought. He's talking just like all those good conservative Mormon men talked, and since he's apparently never had any friends who weren't just like him, he had no idea how those remarks would sound to others. That's what living in a monoculture leads to: tunnel vision.
I've heard Mormon parents talk about how nice it would be to raise their kids in Zion, away from the evil world. But Mormon parents in mountain wards know all too well that drugs and sex and crime are endemic in those urban and suburban wards in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, too. The difference is that the kid selling drugs out of his car trunk in Orem or Sandy or Bountiful is quite likely to be the bishop's son. Even when a Mormon kid in a minority ward "goes bad," it's still going to be true that most of the drug dealers at school are going to be non-Mormon.
When I grew up in California, I was able to talk about the Church with nonmember friends. Who is the Mormon kid in American Fork going to teach the gospel to?
Don't misunderstand. The advantages don't run all one way here. My kids are sometimes terribly lonely at school; though they do have good nonmember friends, there is still a gulf separating them from true intimacy with most of them. And my years in junior high and high school in Mesa, Arizona, were some of the happiest in my life -- in large part because I had so many good Mormon friends and didn't have to look to one ward to supply all my Mormon friendships. At the same time, though, my closest friend in Mesa was Sam Cristler, a Southern Baptist. I learned so many good and important things from his friendship that I can't begin to count them; perhaps the most important thing I learned, though, was that this good, honest, smart, hard-working, funny, talented guy who, oddly enough, liked me, too, did not believe in the gospel, and yet his standards were every bit as high as mine, and in some cases a good deal higher.
The kids who are growing up in areas that are more than 90 percent Mormon -- where will they find someone to be the Sam Cristler in their lives? Some do. Most can't.
Fellowship of Saints. Earlier, I pointed out that because mountain wards are geographically smaller, members move from ward to ward more often; this was an advantage, because of cross-pollination.
However, I wonder if this even begins to outweigh the serious disadvantages of the small area covered by mountain wards. When wards are only a few blocks in extent, most won't have a very broad range of social classes within them. Many a mountain ward consists of families making pretty much the same amount of money, doing pretty much the same kind of job, and passing through pretty much the same stages of life.
This causes serious inconvenience in those wards with huge numbers of elderly widows and very few home teachers to visit them, or in wards with Primaries so populous that there simply aren't enough adults to teach the classes, which are too large to begin with.
Minority wards, on the other hand, are far more likely to have a broad range of ages and needs. Unfortunately, they are also likely to have fewer people in each age group, but at least all the programs are equally small!
More important, though, the wide geographical area covered by minority wards means that these wards are more likely to include people of every economic and social level. It is almost unheard of outside of the mountains to have wards consisting entirely of wealthy Saints. Some mountain wards, however, are notorious. (I think at once of a couple of wards high on the hill in Salt Lake City. When Kristine was young women's president in a ward in the lower avenues, with many renters and mostly households of limited means, she often had to comfort girls who were heartbroken by the almost unanimous cruelty and snobbishness of the value-impaired teenagers growing up in those two wards high in the hills. It wasn't just the teenagers, either. We had plenty of opportunities to see that the teens had not cultivated snobbishness in order to rebel against the values of their parents.)
In minority wards, by contrast, our children have grown up with friends from every economic level. More important, they have seen adults with blue-collar jobs holding leadership callings and being treated at church with as much respect as people who do desk jobs. They have seen families who live in small houses being valued as Saints just as much as people who live in big ones. While there are certainly mountain wards where the same advantage can be found, it is far more rare to find such a healthy mixture.
Does this really matter all that much? If you've read the Book of Mormon, you'll know that it does. I don't recall a single case where the Nephites fell into wickedness because their church programs were not fully staffed. But there are sure a lot of cases -- specifically, all of them -- where they slipped into apostasy because the wealthy were lifted up in the pride of their hearts and began to despise the poor.
It's hard to raise your kids not to be snobs if they never see poorer people being treated as equals in church. This is a grave problem in many mountain wards, even if nobody in those wards realizes it; in fact, partly because nobody realizes it. They look around and say, "Nobody here mistreats the poor! Nobody is teaching children to despise the poor!" Then they do their level best to keep their kids from ever having contact with the lower orders ("not really our kind of people"; "a bad influence -- did you see his shoes?"). And when they're thinking of women who might teach spiritual living, it doesn't even cross their minds to consider the mother in that family of renters.
The Brethren are clearly aware of this problem; the new budget system is already helping to do away with some of the excesses. But when you think of what was going on before the budget change, it makes you wonder what people were thinking of. Youth trips to Disney World, entirely paid for by a wealthy member of the ward? Hadn't anybody read the Doctrine and Covenants about what Saints do with their surplus? The fact is that the people who made these mistakes simply forgot that there were people without food or clothes or medical care or shelter or a chance for a decent education. They were able to forget such people because they never went to church with any of them.
Avoiding Insularity. Indeed, you can hardly learn to live the law of consecration if nobody you know personally is ever actually in need. In fact, I think part of the purpose of the Church is to make sure we do live among people of all levels of income and education, so that we can learn what really matters in life.
In minority wards the fact that we rub shoulders with people of all walks of life is one of the things that makes Mormons different. My non-Mormon friends almost never get this privilege. I am acquainted with some writers, for instance, who never have real social contact with people who are not also literary types. You can see the results in their fiction: Their characters all spend a suspicious amount of time discussing Moby-Dick and making jokes that are only funny if you have memorized lines from "Prufrock" or "The Waste Land."
Americans outside the Church usually know only the people who live on the same street, work at the same job, or attend the same club (or hang out at the same bar). Those who go to church tend to choose one that consists mostly of people of their same race or social class. (There are important exceptions: Quakers, Unitarians, Catholics, and some deliberately egalitarian congregations.) This means that in American society as a whole, the only time you meet people of a different social class is when you buy something from them or sell something to them.
With our congregations defined by land boundaries rather than free choice, this sort of insularity should never be the case in the Church; and in minority wards it almost never is. In fact, one of the things that our son Charlie's teachers have commented on is the great variety of Charlie's friends. "He knows every kind of people," they have said. The truth is he just knows the Mormons in the wards we've lived in. But that does include every kind of people.
Would that it were more often that way in the mountains. So isolated are well-to-do mountain wards that many Saints within them actually believe that people with more money are a "better influence" on their families. This is ludicrous, of course; the opposite is more nearly true. But we can hardly blame them for their ignorance. For these mountain Mormons, the Church does not provide the same opportunity to broaden their experience that most minority wards provide. These mountain Mormons might as well be ordinary insular Americans; unfortunately, ordinary insular Americans are not exactly blazing the trail to Zion.
There are advantages and disadvantages to living as mountain Saints or minority Mormons. We made our choice years ago, and believe me, we are keenly aware of the disadvantages of living where Mormons are in the minority. (Our kids are under sixteen, but they're already aware of the woes of a "limited dating pool.") But we are also aware of the advantages, and as long as we have children living at home, we have no desire to take them away from here, where being Mormon means you stand for something, where you can see what the rest of the world actually looks like, and where the bonds of fellowship are not interrupted by barriers of income, race, or education.
-- Orson Scott Card
Sister Higgins's Little Guide to
Part 1: Why We Use "Thou" in Prayer
A few centuries ago, people used "thou" all the time. It was a part of common speech. It was the way earlier English-speakers said "you" when they were talking to just one person. When they were talking to two or more people, they would use "ye."
It worked just the way we use "he" and "they," "him" and "them" today. Referring to one person, we say, "He is hungry, I will give him food"; referring to more than one, "They are hungry, I will give them food." Now here it is with "thou" and "ye." Speaking to one person, we would say, "Thou art hungry, I will give thee food"; to more than one person, "Ye are hungry, I will give you food."
However, if someone was very important (a king, for instance), people addressed him as if he were a whole nation, using the plural form. Gradually that spread so that the only way to speak respectfully was to use the plural form, and "thou" dropped out of use. Later, "ye" was also dropped, so we used "you" as singular and plural, subject and object. Much simpler.
But if "you" was more respectful, why didn't we use it when speaking to God? Because it was so doctrinally important that God is one. To use the plural form for God wouldn't have been respectful -- it would have been heresy!
I like to think, though, of another reason. During the transition, "thou" was the intimate word, used between dear friends, between husbands and wives. How lovely to see the Lord that way.
Now we use "thou" and "thee" out of respect. Unfortunately, we have forgotten how to use the words properly. That is never clearer than when somebody ends a talk or testimony in Church by saying, "In the name of thy son, Jesus Christ."
That's perfectly all right for closing a prayer, because you're speaking to God, and Christ is his son. But when you're speaking to the congregation, it is absurd to say "thy son." He isn't their son. He's their brother, their Savior. We only say that if we have forgotten what "thy" means!
In future issues we'll see how to use "thou" correctly. Please remember, though, that while it's good to show respect in prayer, it's more important to pray in the first place. We should take the time and care to learn to speak respectfully -- but we should not wait to pray until we have learned.
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