"Oh, it's so good to sit down and rest!"
"Tell me about it. My joints ache so much all the time that look at me, I can't even stand up straight. But you, you're gallivanting all over the place -"
"Just to the city, you old exaggerator. Just for the holy days."
"The city! I haven't been able to go in years. Not that anything ever changes."
"This time there were changes! I can't believe you haven't heard already-"
"Heard? Who from, will you tell me that? Does anybody ever come to visit? Not the children, you can count on that! Right here in town, too, every one of them, but do they remember me, wasting away here?"
"It's hard being old, I know that. But it's a lot better than not being old, if you get my meaning!"
"I'm not sure about that anymore. I think of old Eph and what he's probably doing right now. Forgot all about me, you can bet, after leaving me all alone here -"
"Well, I can bet you'd rather be Eph's widow than old Joe's!"
"Oh, don't even make me think about that Miriam and her perfect son."
"But that's what the news is, from the city. He's dead!"
"No! No, oh, I bite my tongue that I spoke of him like that-"
"Oh, you didn't know, of course you didn't, no harm done, you silly old dear. You never think ill of anybody, I know that, not really."
"Well it's true, I have only the best wishes in my heart for every living soul. How did he die?"
"Don't make me go into that, please. He was executed. Trumped-up charges, that was obvious."
"But I'm not surprised. He was always so controversial. The government would never let him keep on the way he was going. I said as much to Miriam, and she just smiled that superior little smile of hers and said, ‘A son has to continue his father's business,' as if old Joe ever went around stirring up trouble!"
"Joe was always a quiet one, that's true. But when you think about it, so was the boy."
"Well, he didn't have to say much, did he? Not with his mother acting like he was God's gift to the world! Honestly, did you ever have a conversation with her that didn't turn to her wonderful boy and all the marvelous things he was doing?"
"A mother always wants to talk about her children."
"Well, I know a few things she never mentions."
"Now that he's dead, I don't see that it does much harm to talk about it. Can't damage his reputation! Not that the shame should go on the boy himself, mind you. But you were too young when it happened."
"What? I can't believe there are any secrets in that family, after all these years with their son so famous!"
"Let's just say that Joe and Miriam got married in the nick of time."
"Oh, is that all. They were engaged, weren't they? Happens all the time, you silly old dear."
"It didn't then. And besides, you didn't know Joe. The most strait-laced, proper fellow you ever saw. I can promise you he didn't spend so much as five minutes alone with her, even after they were engaged. And then all of a sudden, oops! She's letting out her dresses! Her family tried to put a gloss on it. She's going to visit her cousin Lizzy, that's all. My husband and I escorted her, you know. A young woman can't travel alone, and we were glad to be of help - what are neighbors for? But right there on the road, outside her cousin's house, the girl gives this little ‘woop' sound and when I ask her what's wrong, she just smiles at me like it was the most wonderful thing in the world and says, ‘The baby moved!' Well, she was only two months married, so excuse me for thinking that if she had any sense of decency she would have kept that little piece of news to herself."
"I've never yet met a woman who didn't feel like the baby she was carrying was the center of the universe."
"There's such a thing as decency, though, don't you think? At least she had the respect not to have the baby here. Or maybe it was Joe, since Miriam never had a sense of propriety - anyway, they found an excuse to go to his hometown to have the baby. Claimed he had to clear up a tax problem but we all knew the truth, they just didn't want anybody here to know the exact birthday, as if it wasn't already common knowledge that the baby was early and it wasn't his."
"It's so hard to believe that none of this ever came out during all the controversy that boy caused. You'd think his enemies would have heard about it and -"
"Well, for heaven's sake, the only people who knew about it were right here in this town. And we don't go around telling tales to strangers!"
"There is such a thing as loyalty."
"And Joe did the right thing. They went off to somewhere else, Cairo I think, until the boy was five or six and ready to start school. He wasn't an in-your-face sort of man, that Joe."
"I wish I'd known him well."
"He was a saint. You never heard him brag about his son. But he was proud of him, as proud as if he really were his, if you know what I mean."
"These things are always so confusing, but good people bear with it."
"We all bore with it. You can't say that a single one of us ever threw it in Miriam's face, even when she was bragging away. And the boy - well, we never treated him differently from any other boy. But I swear, there are limits. When he came back and made some of his most outrageous claims, right here where we knew him! Well, had he no shame?"
"I think events have proven that he did not!"
"Exactly. There were some people angry enough to kill him that day, but we calmed them down. I said to my son Ephie - I mean, my son was so angry he could have thrown him off a cliff, the things Miriam's boy said! - but I told Ephie, You can't blame him, he's grown up with his mother saying that he's God's gift to the world, so you can't be surprised when he starts claiming to be the fulfillment of prophecy. And when Ephie realized that the poor lad was just acting out the destiny his mother charted for him, well, he calmed right down."
"I remember that day. I remember thinking it was a miracle he got away alive."
"I'll tell you what it was. It was neighbors. In the city, nobody knows anybody else. All strangers. But here, we all know each other. We care about each other. Even the crazy people. We understand. We accept."
"He was lucky to grow up in a place like this."
"If he'd just stayed here, even with his strange ideas, why, nothing bad would have happened to him. We would have tolerated him. Protected him, even. But Miriam was always push push push, and so the boy had no chance. She killed him, when you think about it. I know that's an awful thing to say, but it's nothing but the truth. All her fantasies about him, no wonder he ended up like he did. It's fine to have dreams for your children, but you have to keep them in the real world. Their feet planted on the ground."
"Well, Miriam paid for it. She was there watching. She saw him die. The poor thing."
"The poor thing. I wouldn't trade places with her. Oh, I complain that my boys never come to see me, my daughters neither, but at least they're decent people, leading decent lives. Eph and me, we raised them right."
"We should go call on her."
"Miriam? Yes, we must. If I can walk that far."
"She'll be home from the city soon. They buried him there. A rich man's crypt. Can you imagine? Being buried far from home, in a borrowed grave? But it was too far to bring him home."
"He should have stayed here, where we knew him, where we understood him. He should have stayed among friends and neighbors. That's just my opinion, but I'm not afraid to say it."
"That's what everyone says about you, dear. You tell the truth. You see the truth, and you tell it."
"Well isn't that the sweetest thing. You've brightened my whole day."
-- Orson Scott Card
How Are We Perceived?
How do our non-LDS neighbors and relatives perceive us? Here's an amusing tale that happened to me nearly twelve years ago.
My cousin and her husband lived in Southern California with their three sons. I paid them a visit in August 1983. My cousin picked me up at the airport. As we drove to her home, I commented on the lovely homes lining the street. Then she said this in a confused tone:
"Friends of mine are Mormon. One lives on this side of the street, and the other lives on that side. They go to church in the same place, but one goes in the morning and the other in the afternoon."
She didn't know about ward boundaries. This street was obviously the dividing line. I explained it to her. Then she said, "Oh."
Later, I was able to explain more about the Church to both my cousin and her husband, and they donated some items to the local Deseret Industries.
Meanwhile, my cousin was kind enough to call one of her LDS friends, and ask her to take me to church that Sunday. She came, with all her children, a large family crammed in their van. Then something unexpected happened, startling enough to embarrass me in front of my cousin who was standing beside me when the van drove up. One of the LDS family's daughters, a twelve-year-old Beehive, cried out to her mother, "Oh, no! Not Whit! Mother! Let's go!"
Whit was my cousin's eldest son, also twelve. He was outside with us, kicking a soccer ball around the yard. He scowled at this LDS girl, just as displeased to see her as she was to see him. Neither mother corrected her children, leaving me wondering what was with these kids anyway. Nor was it proper for this LDS girl to act this way in front of my non-member cousins.
Later, between meetings at church, I approached this little Beehive and asked her why she didn't like my cousin Whit.
She couldn't provide a sensible answer. She just didn't like him. I gently lectured this girl, asking her to remember that Whit and his family weren't members, and she should be a good example. I'm afraid my lecture fell on deaf ears, for she walked off without saying more, shrugging her shoulders as if to say, "You don't understand," prompting me to wonder what Whit might have done to her.
After church, I asked Whit what was going on between them. All he said was that he didn't like this Mormon girl. He didn't say why, so I stuck my mouth in it and told him that she didn't like him either, and they ought to patch things up - whatever the problem was. I don't know if they ever did.
Whit grew up and attended the University of Tennessee after his family moved there, and matured into a fine young man, although he and his family have never joined the Church. I keep praying that they will, with all my other relatives.
Another incident happened to my brother and me in late 1973 when he visited me in New Orleans where I was attending college that year. My brother was 17. I had just turned 19, and was a seven-month convert. We met some youth in the New Orleans ward who were discussing seminary. One young teacher didn't want to take it. His family wasn't active, which was why. As these kids talked, my brother became confused and demanded to know why Mormon kids were being forced to take seminary against their wills and become ministers.
Uh, oh, I thought, wondering how to explain it to him when he was obviously agitated. He didn't like my being LDS. He was using this incident to stir up trouble.
Fortunately, a good friend was with us, the ward's scoutmaster. He helped me explain to my brother what seminary is for our youth and that our young men already hold the Aaronic Priesthood. Their taking seminary helps them serve in their callings better, but it's not a requirement for ordination. Girls take seminary also, although they don't hold the priesthood. In other churches, seminary is a school where men go to become ministers in their denominations. Usually they're college graduates, not high school students.
My brother's pride was scorched a bit. He was embarrassed by having phrased his question in such a hostile way. Still, he grumbled, "Well, you shouldn't call it 'seminary!' You confuse people!" He had a point!
That evening, much of my brother's hostility about my church membership melted when we attended a Thanksgiving dance in the ward for the youth. Everyone was nice to him, both youth and adults. He finally realized that I had joined a good bunch of people, and no longer objected to my choice for that reason. To this day, he still doesn't comprehend our doctrine and doesn't want to, but he knows Mormons are good people. That one weekend around my New Orleans LDS friends helped him change some of his attitude. A little fellowshipping can go a long way.
My brother didn't enter another LDS chapel for 21 years. He finally entered one last November in North Carolina where he's now living and teaching psychology at a private college. The only reason why he entered the chapel was because a colleague of his wants to learn how to research his family genealogy. I was visiting for Thanksgiving and convinced my brother to take me to the family history library in the local stake center so we could find out the schedule for his friend who isn't LDS.
Of course, we met missionaries hanging about. They had just finished a meeting preparing for stake conference. One elder was from Utah County where I was living at the time, and I spoke with him. Later, when we were going home, my brother said, "The Mormons are certainly an organized bunch," which indicated how he's watched us over the years since my baptism. We also discussed news reports of how our people help out with natural disasters, which we've had an abundance of in recent years. My brother approves of our organization when disaster strikes. Maybe someday this level of approval will lead to his testimony.
The point to these stories is that our non-LDS relatives and neighbors are watching us. Much of what we do confuses them, raising more barriers to their acceptance of the gospel. It would be a good idea for us to explain the less doctrinal aspects of our lives to them, even when they refuse to hear our testimonies. Many don't understand what ward boundary lines are, or that a "stake house" is not a restaurant. The "seminary" confusion is another prime example!
May we Latter-day Saints remember to watch how we conduct ourselves around our non-member relatives and neighbors. We need to place ourselves in their shoes, and try to think as they do about our "peculiar" lifestyle. We should also teach our children to develop good manners so they can be gospel living examples to their peers.
-- Sherry Lassiter
A Teaching Strategy
Orson Scott Card's comments about teaching young adults, printed in the last issue of Vigor, struck a number of responsive chords. As a sometime teacher in Sunday school and priesthood meetings, I recall having faced similar challenges to those he defined, especially the sense among young listeners (and often older ones as well) that they have heard all of this before. It isn't that the lessons are unimportant, it is just that they are already so familiar after years of repetition that the class has no particular reason to pay attention. In most cases, everyone in the class can answer on auto-pilot, no thinking required.
When I returned from my mission twenty-odd years ago, I was asked to teach the seventeen-year-olds, always a challenge. The course of study was the Old Testament, and the first lesson was to be the Book of Genesis.
The whole book.
After reading the lesson, I realized that essentially all I would be doing was repeating questions just as the class would be repeating answers that they had already heard dozens of times in Primary, Sunday School, seminary, priesthood meetings, and (in those distant days) even Mutual. Rather than simply doing that, I decided on something different.
At the beginning of class, I wrote three words on the blackboard: In the Beginning.
We spent nearly the next quarter hour discussing the possibilities implicit in that phrase: What beginning? Whose beginning? Is this the only beginning (that is, what where the implications of the as opposed to a)? Then we moved on to the next word: God. That one proved even more fruitful. And, while we never got embroiled in the minutiae of the Mysteries, it became clear that most of the class had never struggled with these ideas beyond the most elemental levels. They knew the answer to give in classes, but they had never considered the assumptions and assertions that the words implied.
Several weeks later, the assigned lesson was the war in heaven. By this time it was clear that the class wanted/demanded/expected more than just a repetition of familiar ideas. So again we tried something new. We divided into two groups and for about half the class period debated the two sides. I cheated only insofar as I carefully chose the leaders for each side: a bright, inventive young man was the voice for Satan's side, and an equally bright, inventive young woman represented Christ's.
Then I simply let them have a few minutes to outline their arguments.
To their surprise (but not mine), Satan's side seemed to win. They had strong arguments, carefully defined and effectively presented. Christ's side had more or less relied on the fact that they knew they would win; after all, in every previous discussion of the event, it had been clear that Christ and two-thirds of the angels seemed to know automatically what they should choose. The corollary appeared to be why should we worry about coming up with any good reasons for choosing Christ's side since we know he will win.
But Satan's side had really grappled with some practical issues, and had presented the arguments in the most positive light they could. The cold logic of their arguments was persuasive. They had looked closely at the words of the scriptural references and translated them into contemporary idiom. And for the first time, both halves of the class were confronted with the prospect, however faintly, of just what a true choice looked like. For the next several weeks, we returned to the exercise, identifying and exposing the fallacies in Satan's side; but this time, there was an immediacy that had been missing before.
From that point on, I have found that such a close focus on words that literary critics used to call explication de texte (as opposed to the current fad, Deconstructionism, which assumed that no words have any specific meanings at all) often opens a class up, whether the students are young or old, whether the class is in Sunday School or priesthood. One Sunday School class (also composed of seventeen-year-olds) took this word-by-word approach to the Word of Wisdom. We made it only through the first three or four verses in the 45-minute class period, but their understanding of the remainder of the scripture was intensified by that experience.
Another time, I was asked to give a Thanksgiving talk in sacrament meeting and spent most of the time showing how "thank" is related to "think" and how that small fact should alter the way we approach "Thanksgiving." The next year, the bishop asked me to repeat the talk.
Most recently, I was asked to guest-teach the high priest quorum lesson on the sacrament. We started with the first prayer and assessed each word, each phrase, looking for echoes and ramifications and possibilities and we managed to get halfway through one prayer during the hour, and as far as I could see, not one of the class had fallen asleep or lost interest.
At the end, in fact, several hands shot up and asked if the lesson could be carried over to the next Sunday, in order to finish discussing the prayer. The quorum leaders agreed, and the next Sunday the room was crowded, not because I was such a cracker-jack teacher that no one could bear to miss the experience, but because word had gone around that something unusual was happening there. The class was excited by a lesson; and these were high priests, who by this time in their life had probably said and heard the sacramental prayers more times than they would care to admit. But by looking closely at the words, they were in effect seeing some points for the first time.
Certainly this approach is not a panacea for all teaching ills. Just as certainly it can become as repetitious and tedious as any other approach to teaching. But every so often, just often enough to throw everyone's rhythm of expectations off, it can force the class to examine presuppositions and assumptions that otherwise remain unchallenged.
And the best part is that it can work not only with the youth but with everyone ultimately interested in knowing more about the gospel.
-- A Reader in California
Primary: A Little Work and a Lot of Love
Primary: Does just the mention of the word make you shudder? I have met people throughout the Church who refuse to teach Primary for a variety of reasons. I think I've heard them all. "I've done my time with children, let someone younger teach them" or my personal favorite, "I have to be with my own children all week - I need Sunday without them and I certainly don't want anything to do with other people's children too" and "Primary is for women" from a male. To hear some people talk, you'd think a calling in Primary is comparable to a prison sentence. Their opinion is that teaching children is inferior to teaching adults. Primary is where they stick you when you're not worthy to teach an adult class. Do I believe that? No!
I have taught Primary off and on for 16 years and I am convinced there is nothing more important than giving a child a firm foundation in the gospel. "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he his old he shall not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). The proverb does not say "wait until adulthood to teach the truth" but "do it while a child is young." I believe a child's first and best teachers should be the parents, with the Primary teacher reinforcing the gospel principles taught in the home. Unfortunately, not all homes have the same degree of adherence to those principles as others and as a consequence, children do not always get taught gospel truths. In that case, a Primary teacher may be the child's only source of religious training. It's an awesome responsibility, one that I do not take lightly.
I think of my own childhood. Like Nephi, I too was raised "of goodly parents" but unlike Nephi, mine were not members of any church. Although they brought me up with good moral and ethical values, I always felt that something was lacking - the reasons behind "why" I should do this and "why" I shouldn't do that. Their answer was simply, "because" with no further explanation. That answer sufficed when I was young, but as I grew older I needed to know more. When I found the answers to my questions through my conversion to the Church, it was as if I'd found the pieces to a puzzle. With this new-found knowledge came a desire to share its truths with others. Apparently the bishopric thought so too because the day after my baptism I was called to be the Junior Sunday School secretary and also was told that I would be teaching a class myself soon. I was ecstatic!
My ecstasy quickly turned to shock my first day of teaching. The Course Three teacher asked if I would substitute for her one Sunday because she was going out of town for the weekend. She assured me that the assistant teacher would be there to help me and, open to the challenge, I accepted. I diligently studied the lesson all week. I thought myself adequately prepared but I was wrong. Nothing could prepare me for the shock I received when I walked through the door of my classroom that morning. Awaiting me were 22 three-year-old children, none of whom seemed to know their full names, or if they did, they certainly weren't about to tell me. I couldn't even get first names out of some of the children, most of whom either stared at me blankly or raced about the room wildly. To make matters worse, the assistant teacher never showed up. My carefully prepared lesson lasted a total of 10 minutes, leaving me with an agonizing 30 minutes to fill until class was over. Fortunately I managed to flag someone down in the hall and they brought me crayons and paper from the library. (To this day I never enter a classroom without crayons and paper - just in case.) I went home at the end of church, exhausted and disappointed. It's a wonder I ever accepted another teaching assignment after the discouraging beginning.
Courageous person that I am, I didn't give up. I accepted other callings in Junior Sunday School; and after the Church went to the three-hour block, I accepted callings in Primary. I've been an assistant nursery leader several times, taught CTR Bs, Merrie Misses, Valiant Bs. I've even been second counselor in the Primary presidency. In fact, it was in the presidency where I gained a testimony of Primary. Soon after moving into a new ward, I became the Course 12-13 Sunday School teacher. I looked forward to working with teenagers for a change (I have three small children of my own). Two weeks into the assignment, the bishop released me and called me to be a second counselor in the Primary. I didn't want to give up Sunday School! I knew nothing of being in the presidency - I didn't even know who the Primary President was in the ward (we'd been there maybe a month). Never one to turn down a calling, I reluctantly accepted. It was the hardest position I'd ever had, but it also became the one I loved the most and learned the most from. I gained an appreciation of how special and needed the teachers were. Prior to the time I was in the presidency, I never thought about what happens when a teacher is absent. I assumed a member of the presidency would cover for them and the class would continue smoothly. Wrong! When a teacher doesn't show up and doesn't arrange for a substitute, the counselor in charge of that particular class has to scramble to find a last-minute replacement. She can't teach the class herself - she's usually too busy with sharing time and other duties. A frantic search ensues for someone, anyone, to volunteer to take the class. Finding volunteers isn't always easy. I was surprised at how many flat-out no's I heard. One particular Sunday in desperation I interrupted the Gospel Doctrine class to beg for a volunteer to take the Blazer class. Dead silence. Blank stares. Then the excuses. Finally, a young West Point cadet, just visiting for the weekend, not even a member of the ward, gallantly volunteered to teach the class. I felt relieved, but I also felt embarrassed that my own ward members weren't supportive of Primary. From then on, when the situation repeated itself, I would threaten to bring the students without a teacher into Gospel Doctrine class to sit with their parents. Faced with this prospect, someone would usually volunteer, but it saddened me to resort to this tactic. How could they feel that Primary was so unimportant? Almost everyone had children - were their children so unimportant to them? I shouldn't have been surprised; over the years more than one parent would come to pick up a child after class and thank me for "watching" their child. Watching? What did they think Primary was - a free babysitting service so adults could enjoy church in peace? I wanted to scream, "I am not a babysitter! I am a teacher!"
After my release from the presidency, I vowed that I would never say no when asked to substitute at the last minute unless I had an extremely good reason (tired of my own children was not good enough). I did a lot of substituting when I wasn't a part of Primary because it always seemed that one teacher or another failed to show at the last minute. The leaders needed me, but more importantly, the children needed me.
I still feel that way. I love teaching Primary with all my heart. If I have to miss a Sunday for some reason, such as going out of town or illness, I feel a loss at not being there for my students. A substitute can teach the lesson, but it disrupts the continuity of the class and I don't believe the children learn as well. Being there every week for them shows that I care about them, and if a child doesn't feel the teacher cares, then they are usually less receptive to the message being taught.
Which brings me to the lesson material itself. The manuals we use are good, but I don't think a teacher should teach from them verbatim, using only the material printed on the pages. Frankly, that can get downright dull. Young children have a very limited attention span and the last thing they want to hear is some adult droning on and on, with nothing to break up the monotony. And sometimes, the suggested activities just aren't appropriate for that particular mix of students. What may work one year may not work the next. For example, last year I had mostly girls in my Star B class - this year I have mostly boys. And boys and girls are definitely not alike. I am reminded of a poem (author unknown) I found while cleaning out my desk recently:
Boys are people not yet grown
I sometimes reword the stories if I feel they won't relate to my class, using examples that are more familiar to them. The setting of the story may change, but the moral remains the same. I can't stress enough the need to know your students. It's important to know as much as possible about family situations also in order to not hurt a child's tender feelings. Often in the manuals the examples of a family are the ideal, two-parent, everyone is happy kind. Unfortunately, not all children have an idyllic home situation. Divorce is so common you sometimes need a scorecard to keep track of which parent the child is living with, or if they have stepparents or are living with other relatives. A child can feel left out of you're talking about fathers and they don't have one. I make every effort to be sensitive to that and include each child in the lesson in a positive light.
Many aids exist to help teach more effectively. When I was teaching my first class years ago, I was blessed to be in a ward with a wonderful inservice leader. She had us make index boxes out of old shoe boxes and at each meeting she had a new set of index cards containing tips for successful teaching on them. Examples of things on the cards: games, visual aids, craft projects, object lessons and other methods to enhance lessons. All of these were attention getters designed to keep the children interested in the lesson material. I still have that box and I have even taught other teachers how to use the cards when I was in charge of inservice. Other resources I've found useful are the clip art books found in LDS bookstores. If the lesson doesn't provide a picture for the children to color, then I usually produce my own using clip art. I also have a large collection of computer clip art, both LDS and general, suitable for use with most word processing programs and I create handouts using them. I think the picture helps reinforce the lesson and also, the child has something to show his parents which explains what they did in class that day. You don't have to be an artist to make effective handouts. In most cases, someone else has gone to the trouble for you, if not in the manual, then in the supplemental books that can be found in the bookstore. Often, the ward library has resources that can make lessons more effective - all you have to do is ask. The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" describes Primary teaching accurately. Some may argue that we aren't there to entertain the children, only to teach them, but I feel the lessons should be entertaining to an extent - it makes the material more memorable and aids in retention. My goal is to have each child come away from class each Sunday with a little more knowledge of the gospel, a piece or two more of the puzzle, to spare them having to wait until adulthood as I did to gain that knowledge. I want them to know without a doubt that there is a God in heaven who loves them and wants them to return to his presence one day by "choosing the right." And I want them to know that their Primary teacher loves them and cares about them, and to share in my love of Primary and my testimony of the gospel. It takes dedication and a lot of love to be a successful Primary teacher, but the children are worth it.
-- A Reader in Washington
Moral Kids in the Dark Ages
As a communications researcher at a major university, I am interested in what effects the media have on our culture. One of the things I research is how the media influence young people's decisions about morality. For researchers, the question of how much good or damage Hollywood has done is still up in the air - I certainly don't have any definitive answers to give here - but what really opened my eyes was the background research I conducted while trying to establish factors that influence teens' sexual behavior. As I read the research and discussed what I found with my wife, it became clear to both of us that what we were learning was not only a justification for the moral principles and practices of our faith, but a valuable parenting tool for those of us facing the raising of teenagers in these moral dark ages.
My purpose here is to pass on to you what I learned. I will explain what the research shows are significant factors that contribute to teen sexual behavior - in particular what variables influence a child's decision to engage in sexual activity. I hope to show that the Church is on the right track by coming up with principles such as those outlined in the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet.
I will first list some facts about sexual behavior that shape the way we understand teen sexuality. I will then list the most significant factors that influence sexual behavior (as shown in the research). Some of them are things we can control, others are not so clear-cut. Along the way, I will discuss the things that the Church has taught will help our youth stay clear of moral sins.
Teen Sex is on the Rise
The first fact that needs to be established is that there is an upward trend. The research is incomplete before the 70s because people didn't like facing the issue much before that time. The best estimate of sexual activity shows that before 1950, only 7% of white females had experienced intercourse by 16. This changed drastically in the 70s. For example, in 1971, 27.6% of girls younger than 19 had had sex. By 1979, the number increased to 46%. There was also a 50% increase over that same decade of 15-year-old girls who had had sex (reaching 22.5% of all 15-year-olds in 1979). In the 80s, the rates have continued to climb; however they have slowed down somewhat. These numbers give one the impression that only girls' virginity was a concern; there was also some research done to show that boys' sexual activity rates were climbing at the same pace, although the percentages are consistently higher (from 5 to 10 percentage points) than that of girls.
Also, under the age of 16, a large portion of first sexual encounters are not truly voluntary (especially true for girls). While the encounters may fall short of the definition of rape, these experiences are typically emotionally coerced events where the young people are unsure about what they want at the outset. This is partially explained by the fact that a youth's first sexual experience is usually with someone much older than they are - about 3 years older for girls, and just under 2 years older for boys.
Factors That Influence Teens
The first factor is the easiest to understand yet the hardest one to do anything about because it's the one mother nature controls: pubertal onset. That simply means that the younger a boy or girl goes through puberty, the more likely he or she is to engage in sexual activity at a young age. It's the largest biological contributor because it drives the others: hormonal and genital maturation. Note, however, that is has been shown these biological contributors can be mediated significantly by social factors which are listed later on.
The second category of factors is summarized as socioeconomic status. This refers not only to income, but to education and social position. It appears that children from families higher up the socioeconomic ladder tend to postpone sexual activity because they worry that irresponsible actions will restrict their opportunities for future happiness. Also, research has indicated that students who are motivated to succeed in school behave more responsibly and are more likely to abstain. In a very general sense, the Church has anticipated this by encouraging all members of the Church to be industrious, have a vocation, and engage in pursuits that keep us motivated to improve ourselves. In particular, the youth are encouraged to do well in school, but also have scouting and young women achievement programs.
The second broad category is peer influence. Peers play a large role in determining what our children think is permissible or desirable. Of course, the Church knows this and has encouraged youth to become involved in their ward youth organizations, thus forming positive peer groups (hopefully) that can counteract the other peer influences the teens face.
One of the tricks in understanding peer influence is that studies show kids are more likely to act on what they believe their friends are doing rather than what their friends really are doing. This means that kids will form beliefs about what their friends approve of regardless of what their friends really have done. This is true for boys and girls - where boys are known to try and pretend they are more experienced than they really are, girls also measure the appropriateness of their own behavior by comparing themselves to what they think their friends are doing. This irony results in a lot of kids who do things because they want to be like their friends - friends who haven't really done it either.
Social norms play a huge role. Social norms are communicated by a combination of messages over time from parents, peers, siblings, other adults (e.g., teachers, coaches, and religious leaders) and the media. This is important because when some of those groups are silent, the message from the others is particularly loud. For example, when parents don't talk with their kids about sexual norms, the influence of the other groups increases. In particular, my personal research is concerned with what voice the media have in influencing teen beliefs about what is acceptable and what isn't. I was recently shocked to hear a group of young men in the Church tell me they thought it was okay to have sex with someone you really love, even if you're not married. They wouldn't believe me when I told them that the Lord didn't permit it. In my estimation, they have suffered from a set of cultural norms developed to a disproportionate degree by the entertainment and news media - media which I would argue present an overly sexual world where sex is without consequences and physical gratification is a supreme value.
The Church tries to overcome this problem by asking all of us avoid rated "R" movies and other entertainment that is sexually explicit. Not as common, however, is the suggestion that just avoiding bad moves isn't enough - parents need to reassert their place as providers of sexual norms for their children.
That raises another issue in the research: there is evidence to suggest that by the time the child is a teenager, parents have little influence on the decision to be sexually active. The problem with this type of research is actually determining what it means to really "talk" about sex with your children. Do parents that engage in two-way conversation do more good than those that only preach? Do parents who joke about sex leave confusing messages in the minds of their children? Studies have been unable thus far to overcome this confusion. May I suggest that at this time in a child's life, an example is one of the best things a parent can be, regardless of the nature of the parent-child dialogue. Parents that appear to flirt with other people or appear to dress in inappropriate clothing in public are modeling behaviors for children to follow, even if the parent is faithful to his or her spouse in the technical sense of the word. One of the Lord's best teaching agents for children could be your own obedience to the nuances of the law of chastity. Also associated with parental influence is one small factor. For girls, it's true that girls from fatherless homes are more likely to engage in early sexual activity than girls from two-parent homes. There is some confusion over why this is the case, but the general rule does hold.
Dating habits are a major factor in teens' behavior. As a general rule, the data are consistent in showing that early dating is associated with early sexual experience. I know most youth don't want to hear this, but it's true. It is also true that the more often youth date, the more likely they are to have sex, even when they are dating different people. Having said that, however, youth who date the same person over an extended period of time are significantly more likely to engage in intercourse. The pattern that your parents always warned you about is quite true: couples date, then go steady, then initiate sex. This has always been true. The interesting trend here is that today's teens are steady dating sooner and are moving from dating to going steady to having sex at a much faster rate than their parents' generation did.
Here the Lord's servants have always been very outspoken. We all know the rules: no dating until 16, group dating for many years, and avoidance of steady dating. In many families this has been formalized into rules about how often one can date or how many dates a child can have with the same person in a row or in a specific time period.
One good bit of news for us is that religion does play a role as well. It is found that adherents to a religion (measured in church attendance) are much less likely to engage in early sexual activity. This is true regardless of the religion. This is very likely because religious groups provide social reinforcement for teens who decide to abstain.
The slippery slope is a real thing. For example, masturbation precedes intercourse by about 3.5 years, regardless of gender, and somewhat independently of the other factors that I've listed. This means that this powerful stimulation of the sexual imagination and body does increase the likelihood that teens will have sex. Correspondingly, those teens who do not masturbate, or engage in it later, will usually wait longer to become sexually active. Here the Lord has spoken clearly. We consider masturbation a sin. For those youth who think that it won't hurt them, there is evidence to the contrary.
This brings up a further question: although there is little research into lesser forms of intimacy like petting and necking, it is logical to assume that these things are also driven by the same factors and in turn influence the decision to become sexually active and are considered sins in and of themselves. It is a safe assumption that the factors driving teens towards sexual activity first make pit stops at necking and petting along the way.
What Do We Do?
The picture these data paint is not pretty. This can be very discouraging to a parent who is earnestly trying to raise a child in a promiscuous environment. I should say a few things about these numbers. These studies do not represent eternal truths. They are simple observations made by people interested in finding out why teens do what they do. They are not magical: kids who grow up with all the environmental benefits can still become sexually active at an early age; conversely, kids who grow up with all the environmental burdens can remain chaste. Indeed, these statistics show that although 80% of all men have had at least one sexual encounter by the age of 20, 20% have not. While that is a small sounding number, that is actually 1 out of 5. That means a young man who is discouraged feeling that he is the only virgin in his class can take heart in knowing that chances are, he's not alone.
Why are these numbers valuable then? I should state first and foremost that the reason we obey the law of chastity is because the Lord asked us to. Having said that, however, I have to admit that in our culture we are inclined to only believe things we can see. Also, the Lord has constantly called prophets to tell us the natural outcomes of our sins. These studies show us that what the prophets have been saying is actually coming to pass, they are true prophets of God.
The value of these numbers in my life has been as a wake-up call. My children do need me to provide firm and patient guidance in moral issues. My wife and I, as representatives of the Lord for our children, are able to influence and contribute to the formation of values in our children. As the studies showed, families contribute to a great amount of a child's ability to keep the law of chastity, by practicing a religion, by providing the proper media influence (while simultaneously screening out the improper ones), by modeling proper behavior and attitudes, and by teaching them early on to think for themselves, not as part of a peer group. These are all things we can influence. Funny enough, these are all things that the Lord has already asked us to do.
It makes you think the Lord has known this stuff all along.
-- J. McQuivey
I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting on the question, "How do I gain spiritual knowledge?" In preparing for my talk, I discovered it was necessary for me to ask and answer two other important questions before addressing my assigned topic.
Question 1: What is Spiritual Knowledge?
Answer: My definition of spiritual knowledge is truth. For me, there are two kinds of truth. There are eternal truths which apply generally to everyone and personal truths which apply specifically to me. The scriptures give some very precise definitions of truth:
D&C 93:24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.
D&C 93:36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.
If you turn this last scripture around, light and truth are equated with intelligence. Truth is intelligence.
Question 2: How much spiritual knowledge or truth do I need to acquire?
Answer: A lot. In fact, everything. Let me quote what three men have said on the responsibility of Latter-day Saints to essentially learn it all: Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Hugh Nibley.
Joseph Smith: "Thy mind, O Man!, if thou wilt lead a soul to salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity . . ."
". . . Your minds will expand wider and wider, until you can circumscribe the earth and the heavens . . . and contemplate the mighty acts of Jehovah in all their variety and glory."
Joseph Smith was a good example of a man, who once enlightened with the gospel, struggled afterwards to gain further knowledge all the days of his life. When the gospel was restored in 1820, Joseph was a young boy with few years of formal education. Following the restoration, he progressed in his knowledge of the english language, then he pursued a study of ancient languages in order to study the scriptures in the earlier texts. In the School of the Prophets, he instituted a study of Hebrew and insisted his brethren study the ancient language with him. Legend has it that the worse student in his class was Heber C. Kimball. On one occasion, much frustrated with Heber, the Prophet said, "Heber, you learn that Hebrew vowel or I'll whip you." Heber replied, "Then go ahead, and whip."
Hopefully, we are not as hesitant as Heber when it comes to learning new things.
Brigham Young: ". . . the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their elder brother, being at their head) [is] to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, to mechanism[s] of every kind, to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever [they] may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue and people, and bring it to Zion."
"Every accomplishment, every polished grace, every useful attainment in mathe-matics, music, in all science and art belong to the Saints, and they . . . rapidly collect the intelligence that is bestowed upon the nations, for all this intelligence belongs to Zion. All the knowledge, wisdom, power, and glory that have been bestowed upon the nations of the earth, from the days of Adam until now, must be gathered home to Zion."
"This is the belief and doctrine of the Latter-day Saints. Learn everything that the children of men know."
Brigham states here that not only the Children of Israel shall be gathered home to Zion, but the "gathering" would include all the treasures surviving in the earth from every age and culture.
I must mention here that Brigham loudly discouraged a narrow pursuit of theology only, of studying religion only, of reading the scriptures only.
Brigham Young: "Shall I sit down and read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Covenants all the time? says one. Yes, if you please, and when you are done, you may be nothing but a sectarian after all. It is your duty to study . . . everything upon the face of the earth, in addition to reading those books."
The fear of engaging in hard scholarship of the world's arts and sciences, the fear of learning things outside of our own mormon culture, has been observed at BYU by the leading LDS scholar of this dispensation, Dr. Hugh Nibley.
Hugh Nibley: "It actually happens at the BYU, and that not rarely, that students come to a teacher, usually at the beginning of a term, with the sincere request that he refrain from teaching them anything new. They have no desire, they explain, to hear what they do not know already!"
I own a biographical video about Dr. Nibley, entitled The Faith on An Observer, on which Dr. Nibley relates this situation. An irritated student confronted him once with, "Dr. Nibley, I've never heard that before!" "Of course, you haven't," replied Dr. Nibley. "That's why you're here."
"The penalty we pay for starving our minds is a phenomenon that is only too conspicuous at the BYU: Aristotle pointed out long ago that a shortage of knowledge is an intolerable state and so the mind will do anything to escape it; in particular, it will invent knowledge if it has to."
Dr. Nibley goes on to add his voice to Joseph Smith's and Brigham Young's on the importance of educating saints.
"Learning is our proper calling. . . . First and last, the gospel is learning unlimited."
Knowing that spiritual knowledge is truth or intelligence and that Latter-day Saints are encouraged to gain a vast knowledge of both earthly and heavenly things, I could now turn my attention to the original question, "How do I acquire spiritual knowledge?" Along with diligent study, I have found four things which assist me in learning truth. They are: obedience, revelation, willingness, and awareness.
1. Obedience: Our intellectual capacity is tied closely to our spiritual capacity. Our obedience to the gospel enhances our ability to learn. It is the first step in spiritual learning.
D&C 93:28 "He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things."
2. Revelation to our hearts and Minds: Truman Madson has noted that early on, Joseph Smith needed the physical instrument of the Urim and Thummim to translate and to receive revelation. The Urim and Thummim consisted of two clear seer stones set in a breastplate. In the process of the young prophet's spiritual growth, Brother Madson observes that Joseph's own mind and heart became an internal Urim and Thummim and that he no longer needed the external device to receive spiritual truth. I like this analogy - our heart and mind functioning as an inner Urim and Thummim, two centers where we receive truth.
D&C 8:2-3 "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation . . ."
I learned about these two distinct places for receiving revelation at BYU. As a senior, the approaching and terrifying reality of graduation forced me to consider several options for my immediate future. My profession requires a masters degree for clinical certification, so I was intent on applying for graduate school. However, the choice of going on a full-time mission or going to work full time were also considerations. In the spirit of D&C 9, I studied it out, made a list of pros and cons, made a decision, and retired one afternoon to my room to pray for confirmation.
When my prayer was completed, I immediately felt a strong, warm sensation in my chest which affirmed that my decision to go to graduate school was correct and approved. In the very same moment of time, a thought passed quickly through my mind which said, "You will serve a mission."
Excuse me, Lord, but that was two answers.
I came away from my room and my prayer very upset. Confused and assuming that I must have done something wrong, I went through the process again of thinking, writing, and deciding. I went to my room to pray a second time. Once more, my heart said, "You're going to school," and my mind said, "You're going on a mission."
Now, if truth be told (since this is an essay on truth, one ought to be truthful), I must confess that I was scared spitless about serving a full-time mission. In those days, they were sending everyone to South America, and I had dated my fair share of returned missionaries returning from Lehi's land. I was quite familiar with the horror stories of intestinal parasites and baseball-size cockroaches and stews made of animals we would never dream of eating. It took a great deal of faith when I finally called my bishop for an appointment. He asked to see me that following Sunday during Sunday School.
As I sat in Relief Society, waiting for my appointment, cards were passed around for everyone to fill out. We were to list on these cards all previous church callings held. When I looked at the section on missionary work, I read "full-time mission - yes or no." Not yet, I sighed. Then I read "Stake mission . . ."
I practically skipped into the bishop's office. After a long discussion, my bishop said he would submit my name to the stake presidency to be considered for a stake missionary call. "But Denise," he cautioned, "don't get your hopes up. A stake mission is a calling. You can't just apply."
A counselor from the stake presidency called two weeks later and said, "Sister Tucker, it seems the Lord wants you to serve a stake mission." "I know," I replied. "I've known for weeks."
This experience taught me that the Lord can reveal truth independently to the physical and spiritual heart and mind. I pay close attention to both places when making a big decision. Unless I get two distinct messages, as in the above example, I find that it is important to have both the heart and mind agree in a "yes" or "no" choice. Whenever they disagree, I feel the decision may not be a good one.
A word about "yes" and "no." Brook Medicine Eagle, a native American medicine woman and psychologist, has said if the answer isn't absolutely 'yes,' it's absolutely 'no.' She calls this the "Warrior's Challenge." When asked, if my insides don't respond with an enthusiastic, cheerful, resounding "YES! I'd love to!" the answer is really a no. And when you say "yes" when you really mean" no," you are lying. That's something to think about when considering personal truth.
3. Willingness: I have a non-Mormon friend who has told me, "All you have to be is willing." That was hard for me to take at first. As a Mormon, I used to think I should (I hate that word) do something about everything. Often I approached my problems thinking that I am supposed to do all the work, and I would work myself to death. But I found this attitude can limit the Lord somewhat in taking part in my affairs. Behind my compulsive work and busyness, I found a desire to control the outcome, a strong self will, and a lack of trust in the Lord.
Several years ago, I studied the principle of faith with a desire to have a certain outcome. I read several LDS books about faith. They described visualizing a goal, exercising faith, drawing on the powers of heaven, and using your own personal righteousness to have your miracle come true. I tried it. I read, I prayed, I fasted every week for six months, I put names on the temple prayer roll, I visualized, I begged, I pleaded.
And I failed to get what I wanted.
Seven years later, I discovered that what I wanted so badly would have been very bad for me. In all my righteous efforts, I hadn't been the least bit willing to stop and ask the Lord for his opinion, to ask what His will for me would be. I wanted to control the outcome. And in that condition, the Lord couldn't give me any additional spiritual knowledge. I was too busy with my own agenda.
There is a saying I've heard lately that relates to this. "If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plan."
As I mature in spiritual knowledge, I find my prayers are no longer demands for my will to be done. Instead, my prayers are centered on the decision to turn my will and my life over to God's care. Thus I am become willing to listen to "God's plan." "Turning it over" is a phrase I use a lot. I still have work to do, the footwork, but I let go of the outcomes with a willing heart. I find such prayers get answered very fast.
My friend shared this inspirational writing with me:
"What happens when I physically hold on tightly to something? I turn my head away. I squeeze my eyes shut. My knuckles ache as my fists clench. Fingernails bite into my palms. I exhaust myself. I hurt! On the other hand, when I trust God to give me what I need, I let go. I face forward. My hands are free for healthy, loving, and enjoyable activities. I find unexpected reserves of energy. My eyes open to see fresh opportunities, many of which have been there all along.
"Today's reminder: How much can God give me if I am not open to receive? When I hold onto a problem, a fear, or a resentment, I shut myself off to the help that is available to me. I will loosen my grip on something today. I will Let Go and Let God. All I had to do was become the least bit willing to open my clenched fist a tiny, grudging bit and miracles happened. That's God as I understand Him today."
A friend from Provo sent me a beautiful framed poem about "Letting Go and Letting God."
As children bring their broken toys
4. Awareness: This last idea is the most subtle and often the most difficult. For me, most of my current efforts seem to concentrate on becoming aware of God in my life and His still small voice messages to me. I have begun to pay attention to two things: to coincidence and to the obvious.
A. The comfort of Coincidence: A trusted friend has taught me, "There is no such thing as a coincidence. A coincidence is a wink from God." Lately, I find little coincidences give me a great assurance there is God in heaven who is aware of ME. Last weekend, for example, very late at night, I was upset over a phone call I had received from one of my parents. Unexpectedly, a friend called me long distance who was in similar circumstance. She listened to me, she encouraged me, and she shared some ideas she had used in handling her situation. A coincidence? Maybe. But it sure looked like a "wink" to me.
As I have become more aware of the coincidences in my life, I have been delighted to observe that the Lord's well-timed "winks" not only address my needs but attend to my joys as well.
This year has been a financially hard one. After seven years of graduate school, I moved to North Carolina with one little doctorate and many big debts. In March, I received a much needed tax return check. After paying some bills and buying some necessities, I had fifteen dollars left over - a glorious fifteen dollars that I could spend on something for me, something that would make me happy!
I love Celtic folk music, and my favorite musician is a Canadian folk harpist named Loreena McKinnett. It had been two years since I had purchased a recording of hers, so I set off with my fifteen dollars to a nearby record store to by a new album. The lady at the record store said she couldn't find a new recording by this artist. Now what could I spend my money on? I've begun collecting and growing orchids, so I went back to my car and set out for an orchid nursery several miles north of town. I turned on my car radio to listen to a Saturday morning Jazz show. The strains of a woman's beautiful voice filled my car with a lovely Celtic melody. When the song was over, the radio disc jockey came on and said, "That was Loreena McKinnett, with a song off her new CD The Mask and The Mirror, available now in area record stores." Then the radio show began playing jazz music again. I looked up into the sky, said "Thank you, Father," did a U-turn on the highway, drove to the local supermall, walked into a big record store, and found the new recording. I spent the afternoon dancing around my apartment, listening and singing for joy. It made me very happy, and I like to think it made Father in Heaven happy to watch his daughter dance and sing after such a hard year.
B. The Revelation of the Obvious: I took a class at BYU from Steven R. Covey who taught me, "Fish discover water last." Think about that. Sometimes, our greatest answers, our greatest truths, are already hovering around us, and when we are ready, we will see them.
One of the most important insights into myself and my earthly mission, which was needed in making a decision about my future employment, came from a revelation of the obvious. I was sitting at my work desk at University of Virginia (UVA) hospital, eating lunch. I had worked in hospitals for over 10 years. My profession is clinical in nature, and I was working on my doctoral degree, thinking that when I graduated, I would continue to work in a medical setting.
All at once, I was hit with a mental bolt of lightening, the great revelation of the obvious. "Denise," said my inner voice. "You are studying to get a PhD to become a professor. This means you can teach in a university. Denise, you can be a teacher. Denise, you are a teacher." The teaching opportunity that my academic training would offer me was so obvious, yet the idea hadn't occurred to me at all. Remarkably, during the early years of schooling, the Lord led me to a basement apartment in a private home where I was to live for three years, keeping the children of a woman who was an English Professor. I often admired and envied her lifestyle and her work. In my revelation of the obvious, I realized that one purpose the Lord had in placing me in that living situation was to allow me to see firsthand what it would be like to be a woman teaching and working at a university. I was being prepared for my future and didn't know it. I was a fish, surrounded by water, swimming in my own truth, and discovered it last.
I urge all of my Latter-day Saint family to not be afraid to study hard, to seek for revelation and guidance from the Holy Ghost in learning truth, to be willing to let God have some room in your lives to teach you new things and to give you new ideas, and to become aware of the little hints, the little bits of coincidental and obvious treasures left along the way to show us there is a God in Heaven who loves us very much.
-- Denise Tucker
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