A wonderful, inspirational story appeared in issue #7 of Vigor, entitled "A Ministry of His Own." It's the story of an elderly, disabled convert who didn't feel he could enter the font until he attended the baptism of a disabled boy. The child was lowered into the font by his father and uncle. This elderly brother was likewise baptized by his home teachers a few weeks later.
In my opinion, this was the most moving article in Vigor's seventh issue. I enjoyed the scholarship pieces, and those that presented suggestions for ward and stake administration; however, nothing is quite so testimony building as a good, spiritual story. I would like to see more included in Vigor. Here are two baptism stories that I've observed.
The first carries several amusing notes. It happened in my Florida ward. The missionaries had taught a good sister. She was ready for baptism. Her home was somewhere "up north;" so was her husband, but due to poor health, she couldn't live there during the winter. For half the year, she lived in Florida, separated from him, while working as a registered nurse in a retirement facility. He remained in the north and worked there. He was also LDS.
From his influence, she had taken the discussions twice already, but hadn't made the commitment for baptism yet. In Florida, she contacted the missionaries and tried again. This time, she made the commitment. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible economically for her husband to come, and she didn't want to postpone her baptism until she could go to him in the summer, so she decided not to tell him ahead of time. She planned to surprise him with the news after her ordinances were completed.
I didn't know this sister, but I went to the chapel for her baptism. I liked to attend every convert baptism I could, to give support to the new members.
When I arrived at the chapel, the missionaries were trying to fill the font. They encountered a serious obstacle. The sewer system backed up its contents into the font, not an uncommon occurrence in that part of Florida, and terribly inconvenient for baptisms.
The missionaries were in a quandary about what to do. Sister Swenson (not her real name) would arrive at any minute, and they had no water to baptize her in. Finally, someone remembered the bishop's swimming pool and made the suggestion to the elders. They jumped at it and told Sister Swenson when she arrived at the chapel.
She agreed to the change of water accommodations, although she learned that the bishop's pool was outdoors, and the evening temperature was 40 degrees That was unusually cold for our Florida area in March, and her health didn't handle cold temperatures well. Still, she was willing to make the sacrifice. At least the pool was heated. Now we had to reach it, and call the bishop's home first. He was out of town, but his wife was there. We needed her permission to move Sister Swenson's baptism to her pool.
The chapel's telephones weren't accessible. They were locked in the offices, and no one had a key. The pay phone was available in the corridor, but the elders didn't have a quarter for the phone call. I donated one to the cause. Shortly, they were talking to the bishop's wife, Sister Hall (not her real name, either). She gave permission for our small assembly to invade her home.
We started out in a convoy of cars, driving over fifteen miles through thick, Saturday evening traffic. When we arrived an hour later, Sister Hall had prepared refreshments for us and big beach towels for the baptism to come.
We held a regular service, with the opening prayer and singing. The Hall's home organ was located in small room that wasn't large enough for us, so we had to gather in the den and sing there, while our organist played from the organ's room. He and our chorister couldn't synchronize their rhythm because they couldn't see each other. Nevertheless, we sang the hymns, a beat ahead of the organ.
At last, the moment for baptism came. Sister Swenson and the elder chosen to baptize her went out to the pool. The elder was supposed to be in Brazil, not Florida, but his visa hadn't come through yet, and he had been waiting for three months. He was the third member of the elder trio who taught Sister Swenson. His "Florida" companions wanted this "greenie" elder to perform the baptism so he would have the experience of baptizing someone, even if he never made it to Brazil. Sister Swenson was happy to let him.
The heated pool made the ordinance comfortable for both of them, but naturally they were freezing when it was concluded. Both were wrapped in Sister Hall's big towels and conducted to bedrooms where they could change clothes. The holy spirit was present, warming everyone despite the chill.
Twenty minutes later, Sister Swenson was confirmed a member of the Church, under memorable conditions she will never forget. I never found out how her husband reacted when she called him later with her wonderful news, but I'm sure he shared her joy.
Meanwhile, another baptism was scheduled for the font tomorrow evening for the other ward that used our chapel. What would happen if the font sewer wasn't removed by them?
The next day, I found out. The font was sparkling clean. Some plumber and ward members must have stayed up all night to repair the problem. The other ward's baptism went off without a hitch. It was an eight-year-old child's.
When there's a desire for baptism, a way will be found even under trying conditions. More recently, an elderly brother in my ward was baptized, and he passed away the next day. He was a cancer patient in a nursing home. His wife is a member. During most of his life he wasn't member, but he welcomed their home and visiting teachers. He also had a wonderful friendship with a ten-year-old boy in my ward who weeded their garden regularly for free.
It was this elderly brother's desire for baptism that sustained his will to live, until his physicians finally gave permission for the ordinance. He was too ill to travel across town to his home ward, so he was baptized in a ward near his nursing home. Missionaries from both taught him the discussions.
His passing has been a terrible shock to his wife and children, but his baptism has brought them great solace. Next year, they can perform his temple ordinances and be sealed as a family.
-- Sherry Lassiter
Ideas That Work
As a first year seminary teacher, I was really worried about helping my students make it through reading the Isaiah portions of First and Second Nephi. So, to help them have some skills in reading Isaiah, we talked about it as poetry. They were able to see how Isaiah uses couplets of rhyming ideas. Throughout Isaiah, each idea is stated twice in different language. Just getting that concept inside the students' heads helped them read it with greater understanding. I handed out a couple of passages broken into stanzas as follows:
1 Nephi 20:1
O house of Jacob,
and are come forth out of the waters of Judah,
who swear by the name of the Lord,
yet they swear not in truth
1 Nephi 20:10-11
For, behold, I have refined thee,
For mine own sake,
for I will not suffer my name to be polluted
Writing Isaiah Poetry
Then I asked the students to write their own "Isaiah Poetry." I thought Vigor readers might enjoy a couple of their poems. I found that having them sit down and try their hand at it really increased their understanding.
I was playing basketball.
Then a strange person came on the court.
He was tall with great muscles,
I took him one on one,
I beat him barely,
So I shook his hand.
In the early morning,
I arose from slumber
And heard my mother saying,
"Awake and arise out of bed
Do not mumble and groan,
Just get your rear down the stairs,
And thus did I come to the class,
The faces of the other youth were tired,
For an hour we studied our scriptures,
And thus, we ate Krispy Kreme donuts!
"Whatever duty you are called to perform, take your minds with you, and apply them to what is to be done."
--Brigham Young (p. 323)
All Brigham Young quotes in this issue are from Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints (Deseret Book / FARMS, hc 541pp $23.95)
--Brigham Young (p. 323)
All Brigham Young quotes in this issue are from Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints (Deseret Book / FARMS, hc 541pp $23.95)
A Genuine Saintly Saint
Here's saintly service the way it ought to be -- a Saint who is more than a standard home teacher or bishopric member -- one who really cares. His name is Brother K (he would be embarrassed to be identified by name, or for anyone to know that anyone else was writing about him), and he lives across the street from my mother.
My mother is 97 years old, and spends all her days in a wheelchair. She cannot do much for herself, but still wants to live in her own home. Before my father died, Brother K was one of their home teachers -- but he was more than a home teacher, for he was regularly at the house, just being a friend and neighbor. After Father died, he took an even greater interest in seeing that Mother was taken care of. He started mowing her lawn, taking her to the doctor when she needed to go, and putting her wheelchair in his car on Sunday morning and taking her to church.
Then he was placed in the bishopric, and mother got another home teacher. But Brother K did not let up. His visits and concern kept on, and he kept mowing the lawn. He is unable to take her to church now, but he makes sure she has the sacrament taken to her every Sunday, and he personally delivers to her an audiotape of sacrament meeting, so she can listen to it.
One day early this year, Brother K came to Mother and asked her to speak in sacrament meeting. He felt that, with her long years of experience and inspiration, she would have something to say. He also asked another of the very senior women of the ward to talk. Mother was very reluctant, for she did not really want to give a talk, but Brother K kept pressing her to do it. I think he really thought it would do her a lot of good, as well as being worthwhile for the ward. Finally, she consented, and Brother K was absolutely delighted.
Mother wanted me to help her write her talk, but all I really did was ask her what she wanted to say, then typed it up on the computer in practically the same words that she used. I also put it on cards that she could read.
Since she couldn't stand at the podium, Brother K wheeled her up onto the stand and over to a low table where a microphone was set up so she could give her talk right from her wheelchair. When she gave the talk we were all delighted, for it was a wonderfully sincere, tender, and inspirational talk. And Brother K saw to it that a tape was made and that enough copies were made for each of Mother's four sons. So I, at least, will always have a tender spot in my heart for this man who was a home teacher and more -- a genuine saintly Saint.
-- A Reader in Utah
"A child can tell you the truth, in child-like language, while falsehood ... requires a scholastic education to make falsehood pass for truth."
-- Brigham Young (p. 360)
-- Brigham Young (p. 360)
A Saga of Miracles
This is my story, the story of my conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the "Mormon Church." I share this story for three reasons: 1) to bear witness that the Book of Mormon is true; 2) to bear witness that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is truly the Lord's ancient church restored to earth again; and 3) to express my belief that the Lord performs miracles in our lives, that He has a hand in our affairs. His hand took part in a collection of miracles that spanned more than an entire century of time, all leading up to my introduction to the restored gospel.
My conversion story begins 103 years ago. Since I am only 37 years old, such a statement itself is a miracle. The story begins on February 4, 1891, when a young woman named Louella Smith, daughter of Joseph J. Smith (an interesting name) and Chastina Blankenship, married William T. St. John. Louella and William settled down in the countryside of Charlotte County, Virginia, where they had four children.
The first child was Virginia Florence, who grew up to be a serious-minded, noble-looking, dark-haired woman. She worked in a shoe factory all her life and never married. She died at the age of fifty an old maid. The second daughter was Bessie Lee. I call her "Beautiful Bessie," for she was the prettiest of the three girls. She had long blonde hair and sparking eyes. She married a man named Walter and had two children. She died in childbirth during her third pregnancy. The infant child also died, and Bessie was buried with that child in her arms. There was a son, Willie, who served in the army. He served his country well in China, and later he was stationed in the Florida Keys where the army was working on building a railroad. In 1935, a violent hurricane hit the coast and hundreds of victims disappeared. Willie's body was never recovered. The fourth child was a daughter, Lillian Ruth, my grandmother, born August 6, 1902. They called her Lily.
Serious difficulties fell upon Louella soon after the birth of her daughter Lily. I'm not clear about the actual sequence of events involved. One version of the story claims that William St. John was just a "mean old man" (he was a widower, 37 years old, when he married the 21- year-old Louella). My distant cousin Iris says there is a mean streak running through those St. Johns. Some say that the old devil ran away with another woman soon after Lily's birth. Another version states that Louella was just fed up with William and simply left him. Whatever happened, the fact remains that Louella was left alone. Bravely, she decided to leave the countryside and to move up to the city of Lynchburg as a single parent with her four small children. She set up housekeeping and began providing for her small family by taking in laundry and sewing. She also earned money by cooking hot lunches for workers in the local textile factories.
During this time, as she struggled to support herself and her little family, one of the children became seriously ill. Little Lily had been born prematurely, and now this beloved baby girl's life was threatened. I am sure Louella must have prayed desperately for help.
One day there was a knock at the door. When Louella opened the door, there were two Mormon missionaries standing there.
This was the first miracle. And in order to truly understand how much of a miracle it was, one must understand the history of the Mormon Church in the eastern United States. At that time, there wasn't a ward in Lynchburg. That wouldn't happen until decades later. At that time, there wasn't a stake or mission headquarters in Roanoke, Virginia, as there is today. In fact, much of the eastern states comprised what was then called "the Eastern States Mission."
I did not know the names of those two missionaries. Perhaps they were sent from out west, from largely Mormon areas like Utah or Idaho. If so, their presence at my great-grandmother's doorstep at that precise moment truly was a miracle. While attending college at the University of Virginia, I learned from several people in my ward that there had been some Church members living up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County, outside of Charlottesville, Virginia during the 1890s. I was told by their descendants that several of the men traveled around the region on "missions," preaching the gospel. Most likely, they were the ones standing on Louella's porch. However, I must admit that in times past, I have liked to pretend that they were two of the three ancient American Nephite apostles left to roam the earth until Christ comes again.
Whoever they were, they appeared that day on her doorstep. Louella invited them in. They learned there was a sick infant in this household. These two elders took little Lily in their arms, anointed her head with consecrated oil, and gave her a priesthood blessing. And she was healed. Then, they turned to Louella and placed in her hands a copy of the Book of Mormon.
I do not know if Louella ever read that book. I do not know if these elders told her of Joseph Smith. I do not know if she was converted. But I do know this: She firmly instructed my grandmother Lily to never let that book leave our family. She insisted that Lily must always keep that book.
Well, Louella died in 1920, and Virginia was put in charge of the family. Lily left school about the sixth grade to work in the sewing factories. There were child labor laws at this time, but they didn't stop the textile mills from hiring young girls to sew in the factories. When the federal inspectors would come to visit the factory, grandmother told me how they put her into a cardboard box and hid her under the sewing machines. Perhaps this situation helped shape her views towards women's rights later in life.
I'm happy to report that Lily flowered into a 1920s feminist. She cared a lot about women and their working conditions. She took a college course and became an active leader in the local union for seamstresses. The owner of the overall factory, Mr. Barrow, decided to open up a factory out west, and experienced employees were needed to go help set up the business and train the workers. Lily was chosen among those who would go. She boarded a train with her friends, into a special car owned by Mr. Barrow. They traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, to live and work for nine months. This was the second miracle.
My grandmother had a long, black picture book filled with photographs of her youth. She used to sit on her bed and share these pictures with me. I remember photographs of Temple Square and the city of Ogden and the surrounding rocky mountains with some university's initials placed upon the hillside. She often showed me pictures of her special trip to California. She and her friend went to a zoo and met an ostrich named Mr. Jinks. My all-time, absolute favorite picture of my grandmother is one where she sits dressed in her 1920s flapper dress riding right on top of Mr. Jinks.
I don't think she ever attended a Mormon church during those nine months in Salt Lake City. I understand she met a young man out there, a mechanic, and they used to go motorcycle riding. Was he a Latter-day Saint? Did they date? Did he teach her about the gospel? I don't know, but she returned to Virginia with a favorable, kind impression of the Mormon people. And favorable kind impressions towards Mormons in the Old South in those days was a rare attitude to have.
She lived and worked again in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she met and married Austin Levi Dameron. He was a barber and a gardener. In their backyard, Levi grew apple trees and climbing roses and red camellia bushes. They had two daughters, Virginia Wanda and my mother, Margaret Louella. Then I came bouncing by as the first and only granddaughter in 1957.
There is a tragic part of the story that I must relate here. Sometime between 1964 and 1971, after Lily retired from the factory and was home during the day, there was another knock on the door of Levi's and Lily's house in Lynchburg. Again, there were two Mormon missionaries standing on the front porch. Now, my grandmother was a very charitable woman and a great cook. She invited them in and happily fed them a delicious hot lunch. While they ate, she told them of her experiences with the Mormon Church.
Then this terrible missionary asked, "Do you still have that old Book of Mormon?"
My grandmother said, "Yes."
Then this horrible missionary asked, "May I see it?"
My grandmother said, "Yes."
She brought out a rare second edition copy of the Book of Mormon.
Then this awful, terrible, horrible missionary asked, "May I trade with you?"
My grandmother said, "Yes."
I would like to publicly state here that when I die, I shall ask the Lord for the name and address of this man. If he is dead and in the spirit world, I shall visit him and give him a piece of my mind. If he is still living, I shall return from the dead and haunt him down all the days of his life.
But the awful, terrible, horrible missionary did leave a new copy of the Book of Mormon with my grandmother. So, Louella's instruction to her still stood. There was still a copy in the family.
By the time I was fourteen, I was a freshman in high school, and like other red-blooded American girls, I was totally head-over-heels in love with Donny Osmond. Now, my family used to eat dinner every Thursday night with my grandparents. Lily and Levi lived in Aunt Virginia's home, a large white house with a big porch in the front. I was sitting in a big rocking chair on the porch, reading my latest copy of some teeny-bopper magazine, waiting for my mom and my grandmother to fix dinner. There was a question-answer article written about the Osmonds.
Question: What religion are the Osmonds?
Answer: They are Mormons.
Mormons! I understand what Joseph Smith meant when he related how the verse in James impressed him so deeply. The word "Mormon" seemed to leap off the page and enter into every fiber of my being. I left the rocking chair and the porch and the magazine and Donny and went back to the kitchen.
I asked my mother, "What is a Mormon?"
She didn't know. She told me to ask my grandmother. Grandmother knew something about them.
I asked my grandmother, "What is a Mormon?"
I remember she stood there, her long gray hair pulled up in a French twist, her apron covered with spots of gravy, and her hand holding a long-handled spoon. She put down the spoon, wiped her hands on the apron, and told me her stories. Then she took me by the hand and led me upstairs to the guest room. She opened the closet door, and the smell of cedar and moth balls filled the room. She took down a cardboard box from the shelf, which was filled with old books. She dug deep into the box and pulled out a dusty black book. She placed it into my hands and said, "Here, you can have this." It was the Book of Mormon.
I went home that night and opened the book for the first time. Every night, for eight months following, I would read a chapter from the Book of Mormon. I didn't understand a thing I read. But the Holy Ghost impressed upon my mind three things.
This book is true.
This church is true.
You must join the Mormon Church.
In the spring of 1972, I approached my parents with my desire to join the Mormon Church. Perplexed, my parents did what any good Christian parent of a fourteen-year-old would do. They invited our Methodist minister over to tell us about the Mormon Church.
Now it was time for the third miracle.
It seems we had just gotten a new minister in our church, a Mr. Mahon. He came over one evening to our home. I told my desire to join the Church, and my parents asked him what they should do. Mr. Mahon turned to my parents and said the following: "When I was in seminary studying to be a minister, we were assigned to study another religion in depth. And I chose the Mormon Church." At this point, he looked squarely at my concerned parents and shook his finger. "If you let your daughter join that church, she will turn out just fine."
He then proceeded to tell my parents about family home evening and the youth groups of the Church and the Word of Wisdom and other programs of the church that I knew nothing about. I had my Methodist minister's blessing to join the Church! On June 10, 1972, I was baptized.
Time has passed, and still I marvel at the miracles that happened so long ago to prepare the way for me to embrace the gospel. The circle came complete when my grandmother died on February 26, 1987. She suffered terribly with Alzheimer's disease. At the time of her death, she could not speak or eat or recognize anyone. But one year later, on July 16, 1989, I traveled to Washington D.C. with my good friends Melissa and Jay Livingston. There, in the holy temple, I received the ordinances of the Lord's house in my grandmother's behalf. Then, in the sacred sealing room, Lillian Ruth St. John Dameron was sealed to her parents, to dearest Louella, for all time and eternity.
Ninety-two years ago the Book of Mormon was pressed into Louella's anxious hands. Then, for sixty-eight years, Lily kept the book safely in her nimble hands until that day she placed it into my own questioning hands. It is a book that I cherish above all others.
-- Denise Tucker
"We are not capacitated to receive in one day, nor in one year, the knowledge and experience calculated to make us perfect Saints, but we learn from time to time, from day to day,
consequently we are to have compassion one upon another, to look upon each other as we would wish others to look upon us, and to remember that we are frail mortal beings, and
that we can be changed for the better only by the Gospel of salvation."
-- Brigham Young (p. 152)
-- Brigham Young (p. 152)
Non-LDS Books Worth Reading
Beatrice Gottlieb The Family in the Western World: From the Black Death to the Industrial Age (Oxford 1993 hc 309pp $30)
There are a lot of myths about family life, ranging from the politically correct claim that almost any assemblage of persons under one roof is a family to the conservatives' harking back to the nuclear family with the out-to-work father and stay-at-home mother, or the even older vision of multiple generations living under one roof in a large extended family.
Gottlieb's book is the result of a serious study of the literature of family life to try to find out which of these visions is closer to what "family" has meant in the last six hundred years or so in Europe. The reviews I read when the book first came out all touted how this book "exploded" the myths of the religious right; but that merely reflected the reviewers' own agenda.
What Gottlieb really discovered is a fascinating tapestry of changing and growing concepts of the family. The word itself once meant something akin to "household" -- but it was a far cry from the politically correct use of the term today. At the heart was heterosexual marriage, but it extended outward to include not only the children but also any other resident kin, servants, retainers, and friends who were dependent upon the householder.
This is much like the vision of the family we see in the accounts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, where the boundary between blood kin, married kin, and non-kin was blurred. And the shifting landscape of family life in Europe reminded me of how recently even within the Mormon Church we changed our concept of who should be called "family" for the purposes of the temple. In the 1800s, people often had themselves sealed to great prophets, to be added to their noble lineage; it was only after the turn of the century that the old records were closed and the Saints were taught to seal themselves only to their own lineage of blood. We forget sometimes that our own concept of family has grown and matured.
I read the whole book with fascination, if only because the author is so rigorous and scrupulous with the data she has to work with. I honestly felt by the end that at no point did she let her own beliefs influence her findings, which, if true, makes her a rare paragon of scholarly virtue.
Many Latter-day Saints may find, as I did, that the true model for the LDS household should not be the destructive Victorian middle-class model, in which the father works outside the home, the mother stays in the home ostentatiously not working (in such families, servants tended the house), and the children were sent away to boarding school so as not to be underfoot.
Rather we have more to learn from the preindustrial tradesman's house, in which no one went away to a job, but all worked together in a common enterprise, in which kinfolk, apprentices, and servants all partook of the bounty of the family as they contributed to its wellbeing. All, in a well-run family, were truly members.
And, while we no longer have apprentices and servants, we do have babysitters, neighborhood kids who help out in the yard, good friends (of children and of parents alike) who are frequent visitors. I finished this book with a vision of the healthy, loving family that reaches out to include a larger community, so that families, instead of being strictly separated from each other, overlap with each other in a network that eventually includes all good people.
Warren Farrell, Ph.D. The Myth of Male Power (Simon & Schuster 1993 hc 446pp $23)
Farrell's credentials as a feminist are impeccable -- he's the only man ever elected three times to the board of the National Organization for Women. But in his many lectures on the plight of women, he began to realize that the reason so many men were rejecting or avoiding his message was because part of it wasn't true for them. While the suffering and oppression of women as a group over the centuries was undeniable, it did not necessarily follow that all men were the oppressors; on the contrary, most men are also out of power, or feel themselves to be so.
Farrell set out to examine the role of men in our society, and his conclusions are important, not to discredit feminism, but to point out that the last thing women want to do is duplicate the social role that most men occupy. There is a reason why men, supposedly pampered, die so much younger than women. The message is pounded into men all their lives, and by all the media, that men's lives are expendable. Think about your own reaction to the news of a man being murdered, compared to how you react to the news of a woman being killed, or a child; look at action movies and television, and see how the deaths of men are disregarded, while the death of a woman almost never occurs, and when it does, it is the most important event of the film. The message men get is that almost any number of men can die to save one woman without disturbing the moral balance.
I don't share all of Farrell's conclusions; I think our prophets have given us better advice. However, this book contains information that men and women should be aware of, if only to understand the people around us -- including, especially, the people inside our own homes.
-- Orson Scott Card
"We are never going to destroy the enemies of God by the evil passions that are in us -- never, no never. When those who profess to be Saints contend against the enemies of God
through passion or selfwill, it is then man against man, evil against evil, the powers of darkness against the powers of darkness."
-- Brigham Young (p. 202)
-- Brigham Young (p. 202)
More Branch Boundaries
It's been about six months now since the branches in our community changed from geographic boundaries to demographic boundaries. As I explained in the last issue of Vigor, regardless of where you live in town, if you are a single adult between 18 and 35 you are in the First Branch; if you have children at home between the ages of 12 and 18 you are in the Second Branch; and if you don't fit into either of these two groups you are in the Third Branch.
This makes for some unusual looking branches. The Third Branch, for example, has no Aaronic Priesthood. Children in that branch think that you have to be a Dad to pass the sacrament. The Third Branch has a large primary, but mostly the younger classes. The Blazer B and Merrie Miss B classes are guaranteed to be small. (There are only firstborn kids in these classes. If they have older brothers and sisters they will have moved into the Second Branch.)
These observations led to the first boundary change. Concern about the transition from Primary and Aaronic Priesthood/Young Women led the branch presidents to suggest lowering the age of transfer to the Second Branch to 11. This avoids having one branch president interview for Primary graduation/Aaronic Priesthood, then telling the 12-year-old to go to the new branch the next week to start the youth programs.
The Second Branch has all the youth and a fair sized Primary, but hasn't had any new babies born and there are none on the horizon. Both the Second and Third Branch lack missionary farewells and homecomings. Missionaries (except couples) are called from and return to the First Branch.
We are also still trying to decide what to do with the families who have more than a seven-year gap between kids. Technically, when one child turns 18, if your next child is not yet 12, you would move from the Second Branch to the Third Branch. You would move back when that child turned 12.
Most of the members here are still excited about the changes. We are able to focus the programs of the Church on the specific needs of the branches. The single adults in the First Branch are serving in calls that otherwise would not have come their way. The Second Branch parents are all supportive of the youth programs (since they all have teenagers). The Third Branch assigns one sacrament meeting speaker to direct a talk specifically at the children each week.
The source of this advantage -- similar ages -- also represents our greatest disadvantage. The Third Branch lacks 12 to 18-year-old role models for their children. None of their Primary children have older brothers or sisters on a mission.
The Second Branch has to fill all the positions in the youth programs with someone's mom or dad. We don't have the kindly, retired Scoutmaster with years of experience. We don't have a newlywed young bride to work with the Young Women. I think our youth miss something not having the 18 to 21-year-olds around as they prepare for missions. We all miss having these missionaries return and serving in branch calls.
The best analogy I can come up with is that wards and branches are like communities of plants. Units with typical geographic boundaries are like a meadow with many different kinds of wild flowers, grasses, bushes and trees. They each have their own niche in the ecosystem. Our demographic branches are more like row crops with only one variety under cultivation. We can have productive fields and yields greater than possible in nature, but only if we are careful to provide necessary nutrients and protection from outside influences that could threaten the crop.
-- A Reader in Alaska
"Each one of them says, 'If you are not as I am, you are not right.' This is just as natural as it is to breathe vital air. I wish this trait in the Saints to be done away. I want the Elders
of Israel to learn to take people as they are."
-- Brigham Young (p. 149)
-- Brigham Young (p. 149)
Songs of the Righteous
Brett Raymond Primarily for Grown-ups (Deseret Book, cd or cassette)
If you always wanted to hear Gordon Sumner (Sting) singing "Book of Mormon Stories," this is your lucky day.
I saw this album filling the display window at DBook at the ZCMI center in Salt Lake City, and had to buy it. The concept was fun -- Primary songs in pop/rock arrangements. Of course it could have been awful, in which case it would have been a hoot to listen to it. But it wasn't awful. In fact, it was wonderful.
Even "In the Leafy Treetops," which my sibs and I used to sing maniacally while running circles around my youngest brother in his playpen -- even that was fun to listen to. And some, like "Book of Mormon Stories," "Give, Said the Little Stream," "When Joseph Went to Bethlehem," "Oh, What Do You Do in the Summertime," and "My Heavenly Father Loves Me," are sweet and haunting.
I'm not sure if it's a flaw or a bonus that Brett Raymond is so ... what, imitative? Chameleonlike? The second my kids heard him start singing "Book of Mormon Stories" they called out, "It's Sting!" There are also echoes of James Taylor, one song that sounds as if it was arranged by Quincy Jones on a really happy day in 1979, and a full-fledged sailors' chanty that could take its place among the best of the folkies ("The Handcart Song").
But I love the music of Gordon Sumner and James Taylor, I'm an unregenerate folkie myself, and as for Quincy Jones -- well, the song's fun, anyway! Eventually Brett Raymond will settle on a voice of his own. Or maybe on Sting's voice -- I don't care. I enjoyed every song, and I want more from him.
If you're a stick-in-the-mud purist, don't get this album. But then, if you're really a purist you probably can't stand to hear off-pitch children singing these songs either!
-- Orson Scott Card
"Ladies and gentlemen, I exhort you to think for yourselves, and read your Bibles for yourselves, get the Holy Spirit for yourselves, and pray for yourselves."
-- Brigham Young (p.323)
-- Brigham Young (p.323)
Questions from Readers:
In Vigor #7, we published several answers to a reader's question: "I just moved from Washington State to Utah and would like to know if your writers have any suggestions on how to avoid becoming a 'Utah Mormon.'" Here is one more letter we received.
From Arizona: In a word, don't. You will meet some of the best Mormons in the Church in Utah. The so-called "Mormon corridor" is filled with faithful, God-fearing, Christ loving, humble Saints who have strong testimonies of the gospel and who have and are dedicating their lives to building the kingdom.
Having been born and raised in the "corridor" might make me suspect in trying to address this question, but experience has taught that we all have to be "converts" no matter how long our family has been in the church if we are to be true members of Christ's church.
I suppose it's merely a matter of semantics, and by "Utah Mormon" you mean what I would call social or cultural Mormons. I'm sure there are several of those around. But if you aren't one already, you will hardly become one by moving to Utah. To do that you would have to lose your testimony and then keep coming to church because it's the thing to do.
Social Mormons on the other hand seem to have never gained a firm testimony in the first place and have always come to church because it is the thing to do. Even as I write that, I doubt the validity of the statement, because of the use of the words "never" and "always." With human beings those words are rarely appropriate because we are each unique and individual. I suppose that with social Mormons that is also the case. Each has probably developed his own rationale for questioning the Brethren, or being picky about calls from the bishop, or for doing the home/ visiting teaching the last week of the month.
"Utah" Mormons are often accused of taking the Church for granted. In a sense, many have been granted a great blessing by having a generational heritage in the Church, but by the same token many are also extremely aware of and grateful for those great blessings and the heritage that is theirs. Where there is a great light there is also gross darkness lurking at the edges and perhaps some in Utah fall victim to the dark by skirting the edges of the light.
The way to avoid becoming a lackadaisical Mormon is the tried and tested method continually espoused by our prophets. Read the scriptures daily, personally and with your family, say your prayers, individually and with your family, hold family home evening without fail every Monday evening, accept Church calls gratefully and willingly, and above all strive to live the commandments so as to be worthy of the direction and companionship of the Spirit on a daily basis.
I think it will not matter where you live when the great "tests" or adversity come to you. Being grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ is what will count ultimately. We have all seen even new converts, excited and enthused about the gospel, fall away after a time because of various reasons. I like the idea that we are a chosen people not just because God has chosen us, but because we have chosen him. We have chosen to be his servants, to seek for ourselves the blessings of the fathers, to do his will and keep his commandments, thus choosing him to be our God and Redeemer. Choosing to follow God is not dependent on where you live. It may be dependent on strength of mind and character and on doing the day-by-day little things that build strength and character.
In moving to Utah you may perhaps experience the power of the adversary as never before, but realize that by grasping the "iron rod" firmly you will also gain much strength and direction, especially by the example of many "Utah Mormons" around you.
"This is what I call resisting the devil, and he flees from me. I strive to not speak evil, to not feel evil, and if I do, to keep it to myself until it is gone from me, and not let it pass my
lips.... "Had I not better let it out than to keep it rankling within me?" No. I will keep bad feelings under and actually smother them to death, then they are gone."
-- Brigham Young (p. 203)
-- Brigham Young (p. 203)
This issue of Vigor is mailed in the Christmas season, but I can't bring myself to write a homey essay on how to help make Christmas memorable, not when the results of the recent election still prey on my mind.
In the election of 1994, one of the most important votes was on a popular referendum in California, listed on the ballot as Proposition 187. As I understand it, the passage of this amendment made it a law in California that state-funded services, including schooling and medical care (except emergency care), cannot be provided to people who are not legal residents of the state.
Proposition 187 is in the courts now, but discussion of it is not moot, especially for Latter-day Saints. If the courts don't strike it down, other states will surely pass similar measures, and this is an issue of conscience to which I think Mormons in particular need to give serious attention.
I know of good Latter-day Saints in California who voted for 187, just as I know of others who voted against it. In no way are the following remarks intended as a rebuke to those who already voted. I'm quite aware that I don't live in California (though I grew up there and visit with some frequency), and while my outsider perspective may provide some illumination, I do not have the sense of urgency that some Californians feel as they watch the decay of the society around them.
Also, my understanding of the scriptures is certainly imperfect, and I am as prone to misapplying them as anyone else. Yet I feel the stakes are so high that, if my understanding is correct, it would be wrong of me not to bring the matter up for other Saints to think about.
And what is at stake? I believe it is nothing less than the continued preservation of America, which I believe has long been sustained by God's hand. For many reasons America has been throwing away its right to God's support with both hands -- but to my mind, at least, the success of Proposition 187 would represent the death blow to any claim we have to stewardship over a land reserved for righteous people.
How Does a People Lose a God-Given Land?
When I was commissioned to write the script for the new Hill Cumorah pageant, I was told to ignore all previous scripts and go back to the Book of Mormon. I took this seriously, and reread the book with the idea of finding the main themes -- in particular, what Mormon, the great writer, collector, and abridger of his people's history, thought was most important to tell us, his intended audience.
First, of course, was the message that through faith, repentance, and continued obedience we could be forgiven our sins through the atonement of Christ.
But second -- and not a distant second, either -- was the relentless message that a people who oppress and mistreat the poor will be destroyed.
This actually came as quite a surprise to me. In all my many previous readings of the Book of Mormon, I had come away with the same impression that I have heard so many times in Church meetings: that the moral cycle of the Nephite people was
1. prosperity because of the blessings of God,
2. pride and sin,
3. destruction because God withdrew his protection, and
4. repentance leading to new prosperity.
What I had missed before was the nature of the pride and sin that led to destruction. Now, over and over again I was struck by the fact that pride was always accompanied by mistreatment of the poor. In fact, one can fairly say that the pride that weakened the Nephite nation over and over again was pride in their wealth, and in their superiority over the poor. Try it yourself, skimming the book to see this cycle. You'll find it, again and again.
Unfortunately, this idea did not lend itself to depiction on the hill, so it didn't show up in my script for the pageant -- the message of repentance and atonement was and remains the most important message the Church can carry to the world.
But the other message is still there, and still (to my mind, anyway), quite clear. So now my listing of the moral cycle of the Nephites takes this form:
1. prosperity because of the blessings of God,
2. pride in worldly possessions,
3. persecution of the poor,
4. destruction because God withdrew his protection, and
5. repentance leading to new prosperity.
It is not just the Book of Mormon that affirms this message. As I took part in a recent gospel doctrine class, a couple of verses in chapter 7 of Zechariah leapt out at me. First, in verse 5, the Lord challenges the people and priests of Israel, "When ye fasted and mourned ... even those seventy years [of captivity in Babylon], did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?"
Then the Lord goes on to remind them, in effect, that obedience is better than sacrifice. Specifically, during their fasting they should have remembered to "hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity" (v. 7).
And what was that message which the people did not heed during their days of prosperity, nor later in captivity?
9. ... Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:
10. And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.
But the people of Jerusalem brought down destruction on themselves:
11. But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
12. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts.
That sounds like a clear warning to the Lord's chosen people in all times. I hardly need to cite scripture to the effect that not just the Mormon people, but also all of the United States (and the Americas as a whole) are, to a great extent, chosen and blessed with great freedom and prosperity. It is this that we put at risk when we fail to show mercy and compassion, when we oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor.
They Don't Belong Here
To which the answer easily comes: The targets of 187 are not the poor in general, but those who have no legal right to be in the United States in the first place.
Leaving aside the issue of whether Zechariah's mention of "the stranger" applies to illegal aliens (I think it obviously does), let's look at a much, much clearer passage of scripture -- and from the book of scripture which was abridged in order to teach us, in our time, the lessons learned by the Nephite nation. In his great address to the people of Zarahemla, King Benjamin said,
Mosiah 4:16. And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just --
18. But I say unto you, O man, whosoever does this has great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
I can't think of a clearer commandment, nor of any reasonable way to exempt illegal aliens from it. Proposition 187 is justified solely on the basis that poor illegal aliens have brought their misery upon themselves, and therefore the people of California have voted to stay their hand, and not give unto them of their food or any of their substance. Let them suffer, the majority of the voters of California have said, for their punishments are just.
And any state or community or nation that follows the precedent of 187 is committing the same sin, and will suffer the same penalty. Can there be any doubt of it?
California Can't Afford to Pay
There is an exemption in King Benjamin's address, when he says to the poor, who have barely enough for their families with nothing left over, and who therefore deny the beggar because they have not: "I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give. And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned..." (Mosiah 4:24-25).
But does this apply to the people of California? Yes, I've heard how woefully overtaxed they are, and how oppressed the state is; I've even heard that 187 represented an attempt to get the federal government to step in and fund care of the illegal aliens.
I lived in California during the halcyon days of the fifties and early sixties, when the public schools were the brilliant best in the nation (moving to Arizona and then to Utah in my teens felt like being held back a grade each time). The very attractiveness of California, alas, caused people to move there in such numbers that in choice areas the property values soared beyond all reason; and with the rise in property values came a rise in property taxes.
This came as an especially hard blow to people who bought a house for, say, $20,000 in 1958 and found themselves being taxed for a house worth $200,000 in 1978. Especially if they were on a fixed income, the tax burden became unbearable.
But instead of granting relief to people on fixed incomes and those of lower income to whom the property tax was a terrible burden, the people of California voted to roll back the assessed value and the tax on everybody's property, even -- no, especially -- the property of the very rich to whom the high taxes were no burden at all.
The result was a devastating blow to California's ability to fund government and all its services. The people of California were proud of having struck a blow for democracy, but they had done nothing of the kind. Instead, they had done what our forefathers warned democracies will always do: They had voted themselves a dole.
Oh, I know, it's not a dole when it's your money in the first place and you merely stop the government from taking it away from you. But the assumption of property tax is that those who own land represent the stable and better-off part of the citizenry, who can better afford to pay the taxes to support schools, police, fire protection, aid for the poor, and other traditional government services. When the propertied class votes to stop paying their traditional share, either someone else must pay, or services must be cut back.
Are the rich suffering? Their children are in private schools and they have private security patrols. But many of the poor now live in underpoliced ganglands, and the poor and middle class alike send their children to public schools with huge classes, inadequate buildings, and seriously overburdened teachers.
California should have granted exemptions or rollbacks on property taxes owed by those on fixed incomes who were in continuous occupation of the same house -- a narrowly targeted law that would help those who needed help and leave the tax burden on those who could afford to pay it.
Instead, California has put the burden of suffering on the poor. And then, when the middle class began to feel the loss of services, what did they do? Blame themselves for their shortsighted dole to people of property, led by the prophet of selfishness, Howard Jarvis? No ...
They blamed those people who couldn't speak English well, who had brown skin.
Never mind that most of them were working hard and earning the pittances they lived on (while sending other pittances home to Mexico to feed their families there). Never mind that the very fact that they had no protection of law allowed for the exploitation of illegal aliens by the rich and middle class who benefited from their cheap labor.
Never mind that a simple restoration of a small fraction of the revenue lost to the Jarvis amendment more than a decade before would have paid for all government services to illegal aliens.
No, it was much, much easier to blame those highly visible illegal aliens and the federal government that wasn't keeping them out (though not, really, the people who hired them, since that was practically everybody, when you looked closely enough).
Can the people of California plead poverty and claim that they can't afford to help the poor stranger among them? How many of us would like to face the Savior and plead that case? I know I wouldn't.
This Land Is Their Land
Scapegoating has a greater danger, too. I am absolutely sure -- and have plenty of evidence to prove it -- that everyone I know personally who voted for 187 is generous and untainted by racism. But it is almost certain that 187 will be profoundly racist in its effect.
There can be no doubt that white English-speakers will never be challenged under the new rules. And there can be just as little doubt that Hispanic citizens and legal residents will be open to constant harassment whenever they try to access government services. And it will affect citizens, as poor mothers, whose unborn children will be natural-born citizens of the U.S., endanger -- even harm -- those future citizens by staying away from government-funded prenatal care for the poor.
Compassionate doctors and nurses will provide volunteer care for as many as they can. But why should they have to do in private what a righteous people should offer as a public right for all within their gates, whether they came with permission or not?
Now we come, though, to a peculiarly Mormon viewpoint that should be a vital part of our understanding of Hispanic immigrants to the U.S., whether legal or not. In the west, most illegal aliens come from Mexico. Most of them have some admixture of Indian blood. And our belief is that over the centuries of interbreeding there can be precious few Indians who have no trace of the blood of Lehi.
I find no mention or implication of the Rio Grande as a boundary line in the Book of Mormon. The whole land of the Americas seems to be referred to in the prophecies and promises given to us (the Gentiles) and to the people of Lehi. If some smaller unit was intended, I cannot see where its boundaries begin and end, and I think we are safest to treat these promises and prophecies as applying uniformly throughout the dual continent of North and South America.
We know that the Lord brought the Gentiles -- the Europeans -- to conquer the Americas. This does not mean that the Lord excuses or sanctions all that our forebears did in this or any other American land. The virtual destruction of the Caribbean Indians, the confinement of a pitiful remnant of the North American Indians to miserable reservations with no independence -- one cannot imagine that the Lord rejoiced when he saw what was done, or praised those who did these things, even if he had warned and prophesied that these things would happen.
And when we in the U.S. smugly attack the Spanish for their mistreatment of Indians, let's look again at the people of Latin America and compare the number of brown-skinned descendants of Indians with the number in the United States. I think we will find that our ancestors were the more efficient racists and oppressors. At least the Spanish intermarried with their converts. At least their churchmen often raised their voices in protection of the Indians. The fact that most Mexicans are brown-skinned may speak well of the Spanish conquerors; the fact that so few North Americans are may speak rather badly of us.
More specifically, though, let us look at California. This region of Mexico became suddenly desirable because of a gold strike, which drew an influx of illegal aliens -- all of them white and English-speaking -- until, under the leadership of an American military officer, John C. Fremont, they staged a coup, declared California an independent republic, and demanded admission to the United States. There was no election. The Spanish-speaking people of California were never asked.
Until that coup and the militarily forced "sale" of the rest of the Mexican north to become the American southwest -- a move we called immoral and indecent when Saddam Hussein did it with Kuwait, to which Iraq had a much more legitimate claim -- there was no meaningful separation between California and Mexico. Any citizen of Mexico who had the means could presumably move to California.
How long does it take for possession of stolen land to become legitimate? I'm not proposing that we give California back to Mexico; I am proposing that Mormons in particular should remember exactly how immoral that border is and give special regard to the rights of Mexicans to a land that once was theirs and was taken from them by subversion and by military force.
If we do not regard this land as belonging to those who partake of the blood of Lehi, how can we claim to believe in the Book of Mormon? And even though we can hardly bring this argument into the public debate on the issue, it is precisely this moral awareness that should make Mormons among the most vocal and passionate opponents of 187, and the most eager participants in a movement to ameliorate the lot of the illegal aliens. I personally can't see how any law that bars honest Mexican citizens in particular and Latin-Americans in general from access to any part of the United States can have the support of any Mormon.
What Can We Do?
I realize that this represents the most radical position possible on immigration, and I realize also that we have scant chance of persuading the people of the United States simply to open the border. But we can certainly act with a belief in the Lamanite right to this land as our moral underpinning. We should be collecting money and food and arranging medical care on a grand scale for the Lamanite people who live in poverty in California -- and most especially for those who will now suffer all the more because of 187. And when 187-like movements come to our own states, we should be at least as outspoken and active in opposing them as Mormons have been in opposition to, say, abortion on demand and the equal rights amendment.
Even if you disagree with every single point I've tried to make, surely in this Christmas season we can agree on this: Jesus Christ would never refuse his love to someone whose only sin was to cross a border in order to better provide for his family. And when it comes to the love of Jesus Christ, we know how it must be expressed: To clothe the naked, house the homeless, tend the sick, feed the hungry.
Proposition 187 was not an action by a government, it was an action by the people, and the people are collectively responsible for its effects. If we Saints wish not to see our nation suffer the penalties that have come to other nations that oppressed the poor and the stranger, then simple self-interest requires that we do all we can to undo the indecent choices of our fellowcitizens. We must be the leaven in the loaf, providing out of our great, great wealth as a people to help our Lehite brothers and sisters, to whom this land anciently belongs, arise out of poverty and share in the plenty of the Lord.
And those who feel particularly aggrieved at the idea that a people who owned a land 150 years ago should now claim a right to possess some small part of it, let's remember that the Lord has done precisely that with the Jews who have returned to Israel after nearly two thousand years out of power in that land. The Lord can and will bring his chosen people to their chosen land when he wishes to. Let us learn from the Palestinians, too, and, instead of trying to beat back those who may well be called here by the spirit of gathering, embrace them and become one people with them, so that when the Lord restores them to their ancient heritage we will not thereby be disinherited.
If we do not help them, I fear we will be disinherited.
And even if America in general rejects the claims of the Latin-American people, perhaps by embracing them we Latter-day Saints may exempt ourselves from the destruction that America may well be bringing upon itself. There is a lesson for us in the story of Rahab, that famous woman of Jericho.
Let me repeat what I said at the beginning of this essay: Many who voted for 187 in California did so in good conscience, doing their best to act responsibly in a climate of fear and conflicting claims. While I believe this public decision was wrong, I don't believe that every person who voted for 187 is condemned. On the contrary, I'm not even interested in the question of blame for the past. Regardless of what you may have decided in the election of 1994, what will you do in the future? I hope you will at least consider the viewpoint I have advanced here. It may be you will decide that I am wrong; it may be that I am wrong; but I believe with all my heart that I am not wrong, and if I am not, our future depends on what we do about it.
I don't think I exaggerate what is at stake here. It terrifies me that even as Americans fool themselves that they are somehow "restoring" our old values, what they are really doing is sweeping into office those who will increase the oppression of the poor and the stranger in our country. I see no political party that does not lead us to destruction as a nation. Only the particular route is different. Our best hope is to try, as a people and as individuals, to turn the tide of selfishness and self-gratification, allying ourselves with neither licentiousness nor selfishness in our politics, so that if the Lord sends an Abraham in search of righteous souls to redeem America, he will be able to add us to the count.
When you are waited upon in a convenience store by someone with a Spanish accent, instead of feeling that you have lost something (what, you wanted that job yourself?), think instead how glad you are that one of Lehi's children has found a way to provide for his or her family. When Hispanics apply to you for jobs that they can perform, or can soon learn to perform, open your heart to them: Hire them and pay them fairly. When others organize to help provide for the poor among them, open your purse and share your time. When others utter diatribes or even make jokes about Hispanics taking over America, speak up and don't remain silent -- make it clear that some of us, at least, feel that these people are within their rights, more worthy of our protection than our resentment. We must not be among their persecutors. We must be among their neighbors. Then we may be on the right hand of Christ at the last day.
We may even preserve this nation, with its dangling, dangling constitution.
-- Orson Scott Card
"We have an abundance of food for ourselves and for the stranger. It is our duty to feed these poor ignorant Indians; we are living on their possessions and at their homes.... This is the land that they
and their fathers have walked over and called their own; and they have just as good a right to call it theirs today as any people have to call any land their own."
-- Brigham Young (p. 173)
-- Brigham Young (p. 173)
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