Let the people bring out their talents, and have the variety within them brought forth and made manifest so that we can behold it, like the variety in the works of nature. See the variety God has created - no two trees alike, no two leaves, no two spears of grass alike. The same variety that we see in all the works of God, that we see in the features, visages and forms, exists in the spirits of men.
-- Brigham Young
Feet, Don't Fail Me Now
I have always disliked my feet. They do tend to get the basic foot locomotion job done; it is just that my pinkie toe has this bizarre, warped, peanut shape and my big toe is club-like. My feet are callused, lumpy, and just a little weird. But then, so am I. For example, in college at my very first homemaking meeting, after having trouble with the walls of my traditional Christmas gingerbread house, I made a gingerbread freeway complete with a squirming snowman under the tire of a tractor-trailer -- all while other women created virtual Taj Majals in gingerbread. Clearly, in this situation and others, I have felt weird -- even out-of-place -- amongst the sisters.
Unknowingly, I thought that I was the only person ever feeling uncomfortable amid such categorically saintly women. In fact, as I became an adult, I wondered if there was a comfortable place for me in the Church. At home and at seminary, I was taught the Lord's Church has a place for everyone -- and I knew that in my brain, but I didn't necessarily know that in my heart.
The feelings of distance and alienation became stronger as I traveled through my college days, and not always through the actions of others. Because I felt I didn't fit in, I didn't want to try. Proud enough to think that different meant better, I began to cultivate my weirdness. Plaid pants, spray-painted gold shoes, and big chips on my shoulder were a regular part of my wardrobe. A new vocabulary seemed to accompany the unique apparel. My speech began to contain words and ideas that tore down those around me. I mocked those who did "fit in." Indeed, I moved right into the penthouse in the Great and Spacious Building. Satan laid that trap for me and I walked right into it. No, I didn't just walk there, I ran.
Soon after college graduation, I married a handsome and talented young man who didn't mind my feet. But I didn't marry in the temple. Isaiah was speaking of me when he wrote, "thou has said in thine heart, I am, and none else besides me" [Isaiah 47:10]. I decided that I was special, thus not all the commandments applied to me. I couldn't have been more mistaken.
Now, I am certain that I am not the only sister -- at certain moments -- to feel separated from the membership of the church. In hindsight, it is reasonable that the adversary would tempt me to notice my differences -- to lead me to believe I didn't belong. As a righteous member of the Church, striving to follow the Savior, it was difficult for Satan to tempt me to break into my neighbor's garage, steal his car, and flee to Argentina. It wasn't as hard for him to whisper, "You don't belong here. The others don't like you. You are better than they are." I began to believe those lies. I said to myself, "If the membership doesn't want me, then I don't want them." Why wait for them to push me away? I decided that I would separate myself from the body of the church and save my self-esteem. At this point, my self-esteem went from low to almost non-existent.
Soon after our wedding, I stopped going to church regularly. I had ignored the counsel regarding temple marriage, and I paid the price by becoming more of a stranger. Depressed, I stayed at home and found plenty of "excuses" on every Sunday. After a few years and a few moves, most of my visiting teachers, home teachers, and friends had stopped checking up on me. My family was worried, but they prayed and hoped that I would return to "the body of the church." I unhappily but steadily walked away.
Before the birth of my second child, I pulled myself up and, full of false bravado, I returned to the Church. Without the gospel, I didn't feel like myself and I wanted the comfort that the Savior and his Spirit bring. So I walked into a Homemaking meeting with my head up, ready to admit that I had been "less active" (which needs to be whispered). The possibility that some good-intentioned member would begin visiting, her arms loaded with brownies and her mind set on making me the ward service project was frightening. The prospect of scarlet letters "L" and "A" emblazoned on my chest was not encouraging either, but I was committed to living the gospel. I returned, determined to stay, serve, and grow on a permanent basis.
I began to understand that I have specific gifts; I wasn't expected to have them all. I am required to magnify my gifts and work on developing the rest. In softball there are many positions. I like to be noticed for my abilities, and in the more elite positions like shortstop or pitcher it's possible to standout as a player. But in church softball there exists the position of "Rover." Instead of sticking to one spot, the Rover is counted upon to run around wherever you see the team needs help. If there is a batter who really rips the ball up the middle, as the Rover I get to station myself right on second base. If my first baseman just broke up with her boyfriend, I am able to run there to back her up. The Rover is the greatest position! It is there that I get to help wherever I am needed.
For example, in the Young Women program in my ward, I'm not in the "decorate for New Beginnings" position. No one ever consults with me on possible color themes, musical selections or asks me to teach a class on make-up and hair, and I don't blame them. But if there is a roadshow that needs to be written, or a computer that needs to be fixed, I rove that direction. If there is a less-active girl who loves science fiction novels or someone needs help with an Emily Dickinson paper, I can help.
This ability to rove where needed is a strength that I possess both on and off the softball field. It is one I finally began to recognize as a gift from a loving Heavenly Father to a very needy daughter. Regular, old, weird, proud, talented, daughter-of-God me -- possessed a skill that was needed. The body of Zion needs feet!
It is beginning to sound like my husband arrived on his white horse, with his temple recommend in hand ready to sweep me off of my feet and ride into the "happily ever after." Surprisingly, this is not exactly how it has happened. At times I still feel I don't belong as I wrestle my children in the back row of sacrament meeting alone. Sometimes I fail at a homemaking project and often no one understands my jokes, but I still attend. I pace down the "straight and narrow" serving at the temple alone, having Family Home Evening without my husband, and praying that in time we will all be sealed as family. My faith comes from believing that the Lord will "take up [my] stumblingblock out of the way" [Isaiah 57:14]. He will take my stumbling-block of pride, fear, and inadequacy. Once again, Isaiah was speaking to me when he wrote, "Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard that . . . the lord, . . . fainteth not, neither is weary? . . . He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. . . . [But] they that wait upon the lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" [Isaiah 40:28-31]. These words bring me comfort and I plead continually, "Feet, don't fail me now!"
-- A Reader in Arizona
The following online correspondence is printed with permission.
Dear Mr. Card,
I've thought of writing you for a long time, several years now, but until recently did not know how to contact you directly.
You are the first Science Fiction writer of any distinction, in a very long time, perhaps since Cordwainer Smith, to treat religion, and the religious impulse in humankind with anything that resembles respect, let alone approval. I appreciate that. But I realized I could not thank you without making some feeble attempt at apologizing for myself and for my kind.
For several years I was one of those Southern evangelicals who took great delight in "visiting" Mormon churches to ask "hard" and hopefully disruptive questions in their adult inquirer's Sunday School classes. When I didn't do it myself, I approved of those who did. I defended the practice of not permitting LDS missionaries to enter one's house (lest they bring a curse). And while I never considered Mormons as Satan incarnate, I did think of them as his foolish dupes, and treated them that way. It was easy to shut my door, turn my back, to leave the little cult mongers stuck on a country road in a driving rain when I could have stopped and at least offered a dry ride to shelter.
Then a few years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts. I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy with all its icons, incense, liturgy, pomp, drama, vestments, splendor, priests, bishops, monks, bowing, crossing, prostrations, tones, temples, prayers to the saints and for the dead, and a host of other practices that were pure anathema to my Southern Baptist upbringing. Suddenly I was on the receiving end of all the "witnessing techniques" I had grown up with and practiced myself over the years. I once made the mistake of quoting one of the ancient Church Fathers who said, "God became man that man might become god," in a Christian irc chatroom . . . and oh the anguished gushings, cries for repentance, and accusations of heresy that brought forth. They lumped me with the Roman Catholics as a kind of off brand, and that was it, everything else I had to say was suspect and gainsaid. Slowly it dawned on me what it must be like for the genuinely devout of other faiths to have to endure such a barrage for a lifetime. Naturally, being the perverse sort that I am, I commended them online to the prayers of the Panagia and Ever Blessed Theotokos and of all God's Saints. That was okay, because from the E.O. perspective, they were just as much heretics as Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses, or David Koresh's Waco group for that matter, or as much heretics as I had been when I was one of them. That was when I realized I need to make some things right, for the triumphalism that sounded so hollow as a Charismatic Evangelical, now sounded positively evil from me as E.O. I discovered that the weight of the beam in my own eye is directly proportional to the stiffness of my neck, and mine was shown to be very stiff indeed.
They had reduced me to a label and dismissed me, and I had done the same in return. But, what could I say for myself, since I had been doing this all my life to other's I didn't approve of and didn't want to hear. It's easy to sneer at a cultist, a heretic, a Mormon, a Baptist, a Nazi.... If they are a label and not a person I don't have to love them, or worse serve them, and certainly I don't have to sacrifice for them. Their success is Satan's connivance, and their distress is God's righteous judgment. If I see them in a ditch broken and destitute, I'm free to walk by because they are not like me, not servants of the Truth. They worship on another mountain and I am to have nothing to do with them lest I partake in their curse.
What a fearful thing to spurn mercy for "truth," or rather for the pride of "being right."
I sinned deeply and publicly against the people of your faith, and since you are the most public of the Mormons I know about (and have access to), I offer this apology to you (and through you to those many admirably ascetic young LDS missionaries) both for myself and for those so many more like me who have disrespected, taunted, shut the door on, sped by in the rain, dehumanized by labels, cursed in heart, and triumphed over in distress. I have done very wickedly by you, and beg your forgiveness for this self-righteous hard heart who sports redwoods and calls them bifocals.
This is not much as far as apologies go, next to nothing really, and you certainly did not ask for this effluvia, but there it is for whatever pittance it might be worth. And with that, this greatest of sinners will bid you adieu and thank you again for treating faith with respect in your writings.
The unworthy Seraphim,
Robert W. Hegwood
* * *
Your letter means more to me than you could have guessed. Anti-Mormon literature and harassment over the years have been more than a thorn in my side, but I learned to be rather philosophical about it -- especially when I began to realize that anti-Mormon diatribes, as often as not, tended to get people interested in Mormonism! (As one LDS convert said to me, "The preacher was so filled with hate and rage that my wife and I both felt that there must be something good about a religion that makes such a nasty man so upset about it.")
My son, though, as he entered his teenage years, had no such perspective -- or, rather, was young enough to have something of a crusading spirit. Even though I told him that the best answer to anti-Mormon attacks on AOL, for instance, was a gentle, soft-spoken statement of our beliefs, letting the contrast between the bashers and his much more gentle reply speak for itself, he could not bear to leave false or misleading statements unanswered, point by point. In retrospect, I realize that he made the right choice for him. It became a crusade for him for several years, to learn how to respond to the challenges posed by anti-Mormons. He did maintain a calm and reasoned attitude in his online postings, and usually resisted the temptation to be scornful or sarcastic; and after a time he began to recognize that most of the anti-Mormons were people who really knew almost nothing about Mormonism except what they had been told by other anti-Mormons.
We both realized, in fact, that most of the anti-Mormons Geoff ran into were young people like him, caught up in their own crusading spirit. Having found (as they thought) a suitable target for their righteous indignation, it became a noble cause in their minds. And because they had not done their own research, but relied on things written by others, these young crusaders were not lying -- even though almost everything they said was a gross lie and distortion. They were only repeating lies taught to them by others, whom they trusted. So they could hardly be held responsible for that. And, in fact, in a way we had to admire them, even as Geoff labored to expose the faulty reasoning or false assertions in the statements that they made.
So your letter is, in a way, not a surprise, in the sense that I recognized at once that in your youthful "defense of Christianity against Mormonism" you were really showing a zeal for the truth as you understood it. And if, in the enthusiasm of youth, you crossed the line between serving Christ with fervor and hurting others through excess of zeal, any offense you committed is certainly swept away by your generous offer of apology, now that you have matured in faith (and, in fact, have found a more mature and copious religion to adhere to).
Though we still disagree on profound theological principles, we certainly agree on the redemptive power of Christ's atonement, and on the necessity for us to repent in order to obtain his forgiveness. So despite our religious differences, I am grateful to see that the Spirit of God has touched your heart and you have responded so humbly and generously.
At this point, I believe you have already reached out sufficiently; but it may be that in writing to me, you were making an attempt at a somewhat larger gesture. It happens that I publish a newsletter called "Vigor," which is distributed in samizdat fashion throughout the church (i.e., people copy it and pass it on). If you felt a desire or need or simply a willingness to let your letter of apology reach a large number of Latter-day Saints, I would be honored to be able to publish your letter in Vigor, either alone or accompanied by a copy of this letter. Most items in Vigor are published anonymously, and in some ways your letter might be more effective if published that way; but if you felt it better to publish it with your name on it, I would gladly do that as well. Again, let me assure you that I don't feel such further publication is necessary for you -- that is your decision entirely. But I do know that many Latter-day Saints would be moved and grateful to read your letter of reconciliation. It might even help to soften some of the hostility and resentment that many Saints may feel toward followers of your former religion, letting them see that today's "persecutor" may be tomorrow's fellow Christian.
Then again, we already have the story of Paul <grin>. So don't feel obliged in any way.
Once more, I thank you for writing to me as the representative of Mormonism you are most familiar with. That is merely an accident of my career choice and your reading habits, but even though I've done nothing to deserve it, I'm very happy to have been the recipient of your generous gesture.
This joke has been circulating for the past few months on the Internet:
A primary president, a high councilor and a bishop sat on the front row of an airplane flight that, unfortunately, was hijacked. When the hijackers' demands were refused, they threatened to shoot some passengers, starting with the first row. The primary president promptly asked for one last wish. She wanted to sing her favorite primary song. The hijacker said that would be fine, then asked the high councilor and the bishop if they also had a last wish. The high councilor requested that after the song he be allowed to stand and give the talk he had prepared to give in sacrament meeting that next Sunday. The hijacker agreed, then turned to the bishop. The bishop motioned for the hijacker to come closer and whispered in his ear, "Please shoot me after the song!"
Mission to Nigeria
(Excerpt from a report to family about a sacrament meeting)
Recently a couple has returned from serving as missionaries in Nigeria, where he was the office manager in mission headquarters. He had been asked to say something in sacrament meeting about what happens to the funds from the general missionary fund, and his response was really interesting and, to me, important.
First, he noted that the missionaries in Nigeria come from many places in West Africa. Most of them have no money at all -- their families live in small villages, with no modern conveniences (no indoor plumbing, often no water piped in, and seldom any electricity), and they are most likely unemployed. There is a 70 percent unemployment rate in Nigeria, he said. Besides that, many of them have to contend with civil war and other problems, all of which create real problems in their getting out on missions.
One of his assignments was to take care of the funds. When the missionaries arrived, he said, the first thing they had to do was buy clothes for them. He told of one missionary whose father gave him the only suit and only pair of shoes he (the father) had, but that missionary had more than most others who showed up at the mission home. After they clothe them, they then have to house them. He was able to find housing, but since he would not house the missionaries in any place that did not have indoor plumbing, it was sometimes hard. The mission paid for the housing, including utilities, and also provided a monthly stipend to the missionaries to buy whatever other things they needed. The stipend amounted to about $8 per month! He also noted that in many places there was no community water supply, so the missionaries had to buy water from the water wagon that came around regularly.
But how this couple loved the missionaries, and he told of how truly dedicated and faithful they were. One revealing sidelight (well, maybe not a sidelight, for it happened regularly) related to the fact that missionaries often did not show up for their missions when they were supposed to. Sometimes they were months late, not because of any fault of theirs but because it was so difficult to get from where they lived to the mission home in Nigeria. He told of one young man from Sierra Leone, for example, who showed up a year after he was supposed to! Because of the civil war going on in Sierra Leone, and the activities of the rebels, he did not even get the letter containing his mission call until four months after it was sent! Then he had to somehow get ready, carefully (and secretly?) make his way through or around the rebel lines, and through two civil wars (there are five countries between Sierra Leone and Nigeria), finally get on a boat and eventually make his way to the mission home. Wow!
His wife told me after the meeting that they also conducted a missionary training program for three days after the missionaries showed up. So here we have a situation of young men in extreme poverty, living in war-torn countries, dedicated enough to the Church that they are willing to go on missions, making their way through dangerous country just to get to their fields of labor, not having been through the temple like other missionaries (no temple yet available to them), and then performing great missions! Well, if supporting people like that is what happens to our missionary funds, I am all for it. (And, of course, that was the purpose of the meeting.)
She also told me that they have kept a history of the mission, in the form of all the letters they wrote home, but that some of the stories are so fantastic that some people who read them when they were posted on the Church bulletin board just did not believe them! But from what I have heard, I think I will believe them.
-- James B. Allen
Often the Father's Day sacrament meeting will be more about Heavenly Father than earthly fatherhood, out of modesty by our priesthood brethren. But the role of fathers on this earth is too important and valuable to skip over so easily.
My husband, the father of my children, is an excellent provider with a somewhat irregular schedule. Often our daughters ask where he is and when they will see him. I tell them he is at work, and when he will be back. I say we miss him. I remind them that he works hard to provide our house that we live in, the clothes we wear, and the food we eat. Work is good and necessary, and Daddy's work means that Mommy can work at home taking care of them, instead of working away from them to provide these necessary things. And we really do appreciate the work that makes possible our comfortable and stable life.
At risk of sounding ungrateful, however, fatherhood is not money. I rejoice in the changes in my husband's career in the last year that mean he can see his daughters more nights of the week. Our youngest looks for her daddy in every car pulling into the driveway and in every ringing of the doorbell. She looks for him because he loves her, because he plays silly games Mommy wouldn't think up, because he prays with her and reads to her, because he is always reaching out to her. "Daddy! Daddy!" she says seeing him get out of the car, and then runs behind Mommy's legs for an hour. He has met her first requirement. He is here for her.
I see how important he is to our four-year-old. She needs his love, and she needs him to rejoice in her skills: bicycle riding, letter reading, using long words. He is her ally in computer games. She needs all their rituals and funny words they made up like "burfle." He is the model of whom she will marry, now that I have convinced her she can't marry him herself.
As time goes on, he will only be more important to them. They will know God better as he shares his faith. His reactions will color how they deal with success and failure. His example will be the measure of manhood for boyfriends or husband, rather than some caricature of manhood. Should we be blessed with sons, that example of wholeness and balance will be just as important to them. His values shared with them will teach that it's not just that Mom has oddball ideas.
Motherhood is so compelling, I just fall in. My husband calls me to keep a foot in the door of personhood. He's an attractive reason to be a woman. I really believe I'm a better mother for not letting motherhood swallow me. But without him as a beacon, as an equally compelling relationship though it gets less time of each day, I'm not sure how I'd even do it. I think that's an important aspect of fatherhood.
I can also get myself into side eddies of parenting, me and my one oar. Fortunately, his oar is different than mine. We do better as a team. It's the ideal way.
Being a good father is an irreplaceable contribution to children. There is no way around that.
Mothers have been bearing up for years under Mother's Day programs that extol a standard of motherhood more often attempted than achieved. The value in that is to appreciate mothering, to let each mother conclude where she might do better, and to recognize the worth of the endeavor of motherhood. This Father's Day, let's appreciate fathering, let each father conclude where he might do better, and all recognize the worth of the endeavor of fatherhood.
-- A Reader in Indiana
My Dad . . .
My Dad the Janitor
I was never very proud of my dad when I was in the second grade. He didn't wear a business suit to work; he didn't come home at five like all the other fathers; he didn't smell of leather office chairs and new carpet or medicine or cologne. He didn't drive a nice car -- not even a clean old junky car. But he was my dad, and I only later realized how proud of and grateful I really am for him.
One day I was sitting in Mrs. Tippits' class; it was reading time. I wasn't stunned at the knock at the door like the rest of my class. I looked up from my book to see his face through the long, narrow rectangular window built in the door. My dad had come to school! He was scanning all the second grade faces for mine. I put my head down as fast as I could. Why was he here? I thought. I hoped that he would move onto the next classroom, but I heard the knock again, the doorknob, and his voice.
"Sorry to interrupt. Is Sara Anderson in this class by any chance? She forgot her lunch," he explained.
I heard my teacher greet my dad and then call out my name. I didn't move. I just breathed harder on the top of my desk leaving a layer of conden-sation there. Why couldn't my dad leave my lunch at the secretary's desk like all the other kids' dads would do? I thought. I was so angry that by the time my dad tapped his rough, dirty hand on my shoulder, I looked up only to his chest, grabbed the outstretched lunch, and put my head down again. I could hear my dad almost laugh, confused at my behavior. I never acted like this at home. I heard my teacher tell him I was tired, and he said goodbye to the class and told them to study hard. Yuck. I felt so sick inside. I knew when I opened my eyes and lifted my head that all the class would be looking at me.
My best friend Ericca was the first one I made eye contact with. She looked at me and then immediately turned around and started writing quickly on some paper. It was passed back to me. I unfolded the paper with my name on it and read, "Is that your dad or your grandpa?" I hated him more at that moment than any other. He was almost 60 years old; he was also the janitor for the church next door to the elementary school. I remember him some days during recess when I saw him out mowing the grass or weeding the garden and he would wave to me enthusiasti-cally. I ignored him, and fortunately no one ever saw it . . . but now they all knew. He was my dad and there was no hiding it. Every time I heard jokes told about the old man cleaning the church, I had joined in. "Yeah, and I bet his clothes are a hundred years old . . . just like him," I remember saying one day, joining into my friends' conver-sation. His clothes were practically one hundred years old, and no one knew it better than I.
My father had a master's degree in education and administration. He and my mother moved out to Star Valley, Wyoming, a year before I was born. The move was motivated to help our family grow closer together. We were having some problems with my older siblings, and my parents were willing to move anywhere -- try anything -- to pull our family back together again. My dad had been a principal in Utah; but in Star Valley, there was nothing available. At that point in time, my father did anything and everything he could get his hands on. He had 11 children and one more on the way, so things were already tight. From being a Fuller Brush salesman to a farmer to a janitor, my father always did what it took to provide for us all. We had to ride in the ugliest cars, our TV only received one station that was really clear, our house was run down and old, and our clothes had been passed on from child to child. I even remember wearing a baseball t-shirt that said "Daddy's Favorite Boy." This was fine until I could read, and by that time I was grown out of it anyway.
I remember my dad's clothes: old, sweaty, practically transparent, dirty, etc. They were clothes given to him by friends or family who didn't want them anymore. My mother was the same way. I remember her wearing the same outfits over and over again all my growing up years. It never changed. Once in a while, we would gather around a bag of clothes from Aunt Sandy or Aunt Gladys and see what would fit who best and who could use what. Once in a while my parents would find something in that bag for them, but they were still hand-me-downs.
My father's hands were rough, dirty, scarred from years of work and pain. His parents died at an early age, and my father provided for his siblings by working full time at a cannery while going to school full time. When he married my mom, they started their large family right away, and my father was still working on his master's degree. Right after my father had achieved his goal of so many years and was finally able to pro-vide well for his family by doing what he loved, my parents felt the need and urgency to move to Wyoming. So here is where my life with my family began. We've always been poor. My dad, as long as I've known him, has had rough hands, dirty clothes, and smelled of window cleaner and barns. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. He is dedicated to his family. He's always provided, no matter what. He's always relied on God to help him through and he's taught us to do the same. I am so pound that I am a daughter of "the janitor," a hard worker and such a caring man.
My Dad the Chef
I remember sitting, waiting for dinner with about five or six of my brothers and sisters. We were waiting outside on the lawn.
"What is that smell?" my older brother asked. The rest of us inhaled and marveled at the smell that was filling the air. "Can that be dinner?"
"We're having cracked wheat cereal for dinner . . . and it's never smelled that good before," my sister Catherine answered as she got up from the ground. "It's coming from the barn."
We all followed Catherine to the end of our old barn where we could now see billowing steam coming out of a window. The smell was getting stronger and my stomach growled louder. As I, being the last one through the door, looked inside, I saw my dad stirring something in the huge pot over the fire. It was not unlike the witches that I had seen in my story books leaning over a caldron and stirring a special, secret potion. But this potion smelled so thick and good, I could nearly taste it and looked forward to the time that I would be able to.
Before I knew it, we were being ushered out of the barn by my father who was telling us to go wash up for dinner at the house. I had apparently missed the conversation between Catherine and my father.
"The pigs?" Catherine exclaimed as we all walked up the path to the house. We stopped at the back porch. "Dad is making that for the pigs? His pigs are eating better than his children. I can't believe it." No one else said anything, we just sat and watched my father as he came out of the barn. The steaming pot was full of the special blend of cheeses that my father's friend had told him would make our pigs the fattest in the valley. Of all the animals on our farm, the pigs were my dad's favorite. He would stand up on the wooden fence and yell, "Sooiiiiiieeeee" and they would come running to their master. My dad would do anything for his pigs. Even make "Cheese souffle" as we referred to it.
That day, he did the same call . . . and they came running obediently. He dumped the cheesy feast into their wooden troughs. One of my brothers finally had to get up and leave; he couldn't watch anymore. But I stayed and watched the pigs enjoy their meal as much as I envisioned that I would have enjoyed it. Just then my mother called us in for our bowl of cracked wheat cereal and beet greens. That was a standard for our family and we were used to giving the leftovers to the pigs, but not today.
Before it became dark, I saw my father run out the kitchen door, down the back steps and out to his field of pigs. They were all running around in circles, wildly, as if they were possessed. Mom called the vet right away. I sat there, my face pressed up against the kitchen window watching my Dad try to help his pigs. He held them in his arms and cradled them. After they ran around in circles for a few minutes, they began to die. One by one, they slowly dropped to the ground. My father was crying; although I didn't see the tears I knew he was because his chest was heaving and he was gasping for breath.
The vet did not arrive until shortly after the last pig had died. He informed my father that the salt in the cheese mixture caused their brains to overreact in a fatal seizure. This was a huge trial for my family since the pigs were our livelihood. They were not only a love of my father's, but an investment for the family.
That night as my brother and I went to bed, he leaned down from his top bunk and said, "Wow, that's the last time I'll ever complain about cracked wheat cereal." I agreed and we went to sleep.
-- Sara Anderson
Letters to the Editor
I loved your piece on basketball! I echo your sentiments entirely. My only contribution is the unbelievable thing they've done in our ward building. We just had a re-modeling of the church building. When we started meeting in our building again we discovered that they had carpeted the stage! That makes it impossible to dance, set up scenery, or anything else theatrical on it. We complained about it and discovered that it is now "not a stage -- it is a platform." It seems that platforms have fewer legal require-ments than a stage, so they changed the name to get around the law! (Isn't that one of the things Clinton is accused of? Hmmm.) They told us if we wanted to have a performance we could rent some risers. I am raising a stink and am trying to get the carpet removed before the roadshows later this month. (Yes, our stake does have roadshows, but nothing you would want to see or be involved with. The kids come in on Friday and get the theme. They write their shows on Friday, produce and rehearse them on Saturday during the day, and perform them for any sucker stupid enough to come see them on Saturday night. Eliminates that need for quality -- and doesn't interfere with the basketball program more than a couple of days.) We have since discovered that they bricked up the proscenium of a stage in another ward building recently. Hey -- it made two classrooms, and no one was using it anyway!
-- A Reader in New York
Quote from J. Reuben Clark. Jr.
"Now, Brother Wilkinson, I do not want to leave them [the BYU students] all mad; I hope some of them will be with me. But I am going to say something about recreation.
"I have not read anywhere, anything that would lead me to believe that anybody -- any boy or man, or any girl or woman -- will get past Peter by being able to dribble a ball up to the gate. . . . I have not read anywhere that you are going to get there by being able to kick a goal from the farthest point, nor that you can throw a curved ball so as to miss Peter. . . .
"Recreation has its place, I suppose. I never had much. Perhaps that is the reason I talk as I do. But I just remind you that there is not much in what you do in recreation that is going to get you past Peter far as I have read. . . . [after a pause] Well, no eggs have come yet [laughter]." (BYU Speeches of the Year, 25 May 1960, p. 6.)
-- Submitted by Jay Parry
Regarding Basketball Doctrines, I must say,
And this from someone who loves scouting, been a scoutmaster, a varsity coach, deacons and teachers advisor . . .
I learned this most strongly from my two oldest sons, both of whom have been nationally ranked (not highly nationally ranked, mind you) in alpine skiing, sons who enthusiastically mountain bike every summer, who enjoy volleyball. They find basketball at church boring and irrelevant.
As I thought about why, I realized that in organizational psychology there are at least four driving motivations in people:
Individualists: people who are concerned about their own outcomes, Personal Best.
Cooperators: Concerned about their own plus others' outcomes (joint outcomes)
Competitors: Concerned about beating other people
Equalizers: Concerned about equality of outcome
I recognized my own boys are individualists, wanting to control themselves and exceed their pervious performances. They are uninterested in beating another team. No wonder they didn't like ward basketball.
This understanding of the variety of motivations helps us construct activities that meet a wider range of needs. Individualists would benefit from activities in which they can test themselves (like your long bike trips), many scouting activities, art, individual service projects; cooperators and equalizers would enjoy drama and music, service projects, dance, and anything involving group activity; the competitors enjoy the dreaded basketball.
Now I know within those four foci there are a variety of interests (art versus outdoors, for example). But might I encourage those who would like to apply your insights about basketball to think about what might motivate particular individuals. Cooperators need to fit in and if they are excluded, the pain they suffer is wrenching. But individualists don't care if they fit in or not. It just doesn't seem important.
We can do better at offering a wide range of activities, and we can do better at valuing those folks who don't like our favorite activity, like scouting or basketball. The gospel message is that all are valued and welcome, and the competitor most not say to the equalizer, "I have no need of thee."
-- A Reader in Utah
After reading Brother Card's article on the "basketball doctrines" in the church, I couldn't help but reflect on my own Young Men's program experience. Neither intellectual nor jock, I'd have to place myself somewhere in the middle between the athletic extroverts and the intellectual introverts. The "Road Show Era" ended (in my neck of the woods) when I turned sixteen, so I guess my "those were the days" romanticized memories are a bit biased.
Though I participated, and usually enjoyed, the church sponsored basketball program, I am inclined to agree with Brother Card's point of view. Many members of the Church would incorrectly interpret Brother Card's comments as "critical of church leadership" and hence, con-tinue to blindly sustain the holy basketball stigma -- even though they agree with the content of the essay. I appreciated the recommendations given in the article on how to steer towards a more balanced, character-building program. To that end, I wish to share the following:
Having served a mission in the Netherlands about ten years ago, I had the opportunity to observe how some fairly resourceful people dealt with an analogous problem. The largest wards in the whole of the Netherlands (at that time) resembled a small "state-side" branch. In fact, there was only one stake in the country. Needless to say, most active members had more than one calling, and home/visiting teachers rarely had routes with fewer than ten families. Quality youth programs were difficult to achieve, not because of laziness, but because of exhaustion (the "lazy" euro members feel less of a need to keep up appearances, so they just go inactive). A few artistically inclined members decided to start a choir -- and I'm not talking about the kind of choir that practices for fifteen minutes on Sundays just prior to church. They tapped into the talent and interest of members throughout the Netherlands and Flemish Belgium.
The first time they performed, I remember seeing about five members. The last time I saw them was just prior to the end of my mission, and they had about forty members. They not only sang, but they highlighted their performances with instrumental talent as well. What impressed me the most about this group was that it was the most successful spiritual tool for retention and growth that I've ever seen. The leader of the group was not acting in the function of a calling, per say, but the bishops went ahead and encouraged some of their "flock" to participate with the hope of an occasional performance to spice up sacrament meeting. The group practiced every week for a few hours; so this meant that the participants usually skipped out on mutual, homemaking, or some other extra curricular church program in order to participate in this "unsponsored" group. The group was non-discriminating, so the "talent" wasn't always so "talented" but the hard work and sacrifice that it's members put in began to show. Many of the first participants were the one's who didn't seem to "fit in" with the rest of the members . . . you know, the so-called weird one's. But the group took themselves seriously and even wore formal outfits when they performed. They almost never attended their own wards because they were always participating in sacrament meetings around the country (the Netherlands is only about one-fifth the size of Utah). After a while, they gained a prestigious reputation and the group became the kind of entity that everyone wanted to be associated with -- either as a member of the group, or as a member of the audience.
The observation that impressed me the most was that the group achieved the kind of unity that only exists "in theory" in most church programs. For example, one of the young men involved was a bit of a cross-dresser. He always wore men's clothes to church, but he didn't feel comfortable without make-up. Obviously, this guy wouldn't last two minutes in an American ward, but the Dutch seem to be a little more tolerant. Don't misunderstand, his behavior was never encouraged; but at least in the group, he was never discouraged. The last time I saw him, he had decided to give up the make-up and go on a mission, and I'm positive that his growth had everything to do with the love and acceptance he received in the "choir."
One member of the group was a prominent member in his ward and due to a bad decision(s) was excommunicated. Often this kind of experience can drag an entire family down (especially the children), but because of the special bond of fellowship that the choir had developed (probably for survival), this brother was able to make the long journey back with the love and support of his peers, as opposed to the gossip and judgement that often destroys any hopes of return.
My analogy here is between the small number of Dutch members available for a choir and the small number of American members dedicated to developing more than a bunch of hoop playing missionaries with eagle scout tie tacks. I use this example to suggest that one possible solution to the basketball stigma is to cross ward boundaries and don't sit around waiting for a "calling" as an excuse to be anxiously engaged in a drama/arts program for our youth. Remember that most of the members who are caught in the basketball slump are good followers and will undoubtedly jump on the arts bandwagon once it gets moving. I support the church leaders and I appreciate their sacrifices. Boy scouts and other programs in the church are theoretically great! It's the "put-to-practice" that needs an overhaul. I'm committing to start with myself . . . and I'd challenge all who share the frustration with the church's basketball sub-culture to be a solution and not a problem.
-- A Reader in Arizona
I must say I similarly do not believe God just gave Joseph the English words via the Urim and Thummim (hereafter UT) or the Seer stone (hereafter SS). It occurred to me recently as I thought about what you wrote that the statements by the translation witnesses might actually be in agreement with what you wrote. Do you suppose it might be possible that what occurred was something like this (steps 1-3 are, I think, a reasonable approximation of what you wrote in your review):
1. Joseph saw the text in its original language through the UT or SS.
2. Joseph studies out in his mind the words he sees and labors to arrive at an English phrase that captures "most correctly" the ideas and concepts contained in the foreign text.
3. Joseph receives a confirming witness of the spirit when he has developed a correct translation of the original.
(Here's my speculative extension to what you wrote.)
4. The words Joseph has gathered in his mind (i.e., the final approved by the spirit version) replace the foreign language text on the UT or SS and remain there until Joseph is ready for the next foreign phrase.
-- John Hansen
A Difficult Occupation
Some years ago, one of my daughters and her best friend decided they would write a book about writing, tongue-in-cheek, of course, since they were both still in high school. They decided to title their planned literary creation "Writing A Book Is A Very Difficult Occupation." Many suggestions from their brainstorming session resulted in giggles, stifled chortles, and whole-hearted laughter. I could hear them in the other room, and found myself chuckling at some of their clever, witty exchanges. Then they went on to other things, the book idea receding into their teenage background, and I have never heard either of them mention the idea since.
During the years that followed my over-hearing that interesting and entertaining brain-storming session, I have mentally adapted their unusual title to various situations in my own life. I thought I just might have enough material to write a book or two myself, like "Being A Young Mother Is A Very Difficult Occupation," "Being The Mother Of Teenagers Is A Very Difficult Occupation," or "Being A Working-out-of-the-home Mother Is A Very Difficult Occupation."
If I were to write a book about the stage of life I've only recently begun experiencing, its title would be: "Growing Old Is A Very Difficult Occupation!" Aging is one item on life's agenda to which I've given precious little thought during my years of growing toward this milestone! And old age is the one experience whose future ends in ways over which we have very little control -- no options to change the process or alter the timing. When the curtain comes down, the mortal performance is over. You may not think much about that when you're young -- but you surely do when you are old. "Enduring to the end" means something quite seriously different when you are of an age to know "the end" is getting close! It's scary!
A few years ago, I realized I had "arrived at the threshold" when one of my adorable three-year-old grandchildren looked closely into my face and said, "Grandma! You've got wrinkles!" After she and her family went home, I trekked up to my mirror and looked. Really looked! And, guess what! She was right! I knew then that the inevitable and embarrassingly visible aging process, for which I had not been consciously preparing myself mentally or emotionally all my life, had begun! And I did not want to face it. Growing old is so public! The physical limitations that occur in our aging bodies, over much of which we have so little control, can be quite shocking to our eternally young spirits. And our oldness in appearance is not the kind of beauty that catches the appreciative eye of a casual passer-by. In short, growing old is not only a difficult occupation, it can be downright hard on self-esteem which, more often than we may like to think, perceives us as eternally young and, at the very least, still somewhat attractive.
My first thought was of disguise. I knew I couldn't afford a face lift, so for a few wild minutes I thought about the affordable: dyeing my hair! (While looking in the mirror I had discovered not only wrinkles but lots more grey in my hair than I had noticed before.) I thought of asking my husband's opinion, but he's so pragmatic about inevitables that I knew he'd say something like "Why would you want to do that? If you dye your hair and pile on the makeup as so many older women seem to be doing these days, you'll only make yourself look like an aging woman trying to look twenty again." And I knew I'd agree with him. As he has said, "You can't really fight aging. It's as much a part of life as being young or middle-aged. It happens to everyone who lives long enough."
So I didn't dye my hair. Instead, I said to myself, "Accept! Adjust!" and my standard became "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be; the last of life for which the first was made" (Robert Browning: "Grow Old Along With Me").
I became interested in people-watching, and perceived many attitudes both in the elderly and toward the elderly -- some admirable and some not so. I also read items in newspapers and magazines about Senior Citizens and their activities. Since I was approaching, but had not yet reached retirement age, I found myself resisting being labeled as a Senior Citizen
When I was young, people were just people. There were no categories to limit our inter-actions. As a teenager, I was as comfortable with my aunts and uncles as I was with my own age group and with younger children. Age differences didn't seem to matter particularly to anyone, the young or the old.
My grandparents had all passed away by the time I was three years old, so I had no opportunity to know and love them personally. It was a real gap in my personal social development because I not only missed out on my grandparents as an additional support system, I missed seeing old age come upon them. I missed being able to go to Grandma's and Grandpa's house, to share in their love, their lives, their memories, and their wisdom.
My mother was aware that I needed some experience with elderly people while I was young, so, occasionally, she used to take me with her on a Sunday afternoon to visit some older folks she knew. As a child, I was fascinated with some of the tales of their youth which they shared with me. As a teenager, I must admit there were things I would have preferred doing with my friends, and yet I knew Mother really wanted me to continue accompanying her, though my participation became more infrequent as I grew older. I grew to respect those older folks, though, and I grew fond of them.
They all seemed to have a quality about them of serenity, of graciousness. I never heard them say anything negative about growing old. Their attitudes and conversation were so pleasant and upbeat that I just assumed being old was quite a lovely state of being. If I thought about growing old at all, I expected it would be an uplifting experience. The white-haired people I knew had wrinkles, but I always thought of them as smiling wrinkles. They had such strong faith in the Lord that I also assumed that as you slowed down with age, you became very comfortable in spirit. I didn't have the impression that it would be fun and games to grow old, but I did see that the elderly were genuinely respected and were treated with TLC. I guess I was in the "helping old ladies to safely cross the street" era. It was quite respectable to be old.
It was acceptable not to fight against aging -- you just let it happen. You were still part of the living, breathing world of active, real people.
What a rude awakening we give the elderly today! We keep the senior citizens as a general group neatly tucked away from sight in retirement homes where they can be with other old people and have an elderly good time -- in the slow lane, of course! Sometimes some youngers seem to have no time or patience to make room for the olders in their lives. They forget that where they are, we olders have been, and where we are they may very well some day be, if they live long enough.
If the age segregation trends continue, people who in their youth weren't able or weren't willing to accept the responsibilities and make the necessary sacrifices to bring children into the world and provide those children with oppor-tunities and family love and support during their growing and maturing years, may find themselves very much alone and forgotten when they grow old, except for people who are paid to care for them.
What a wonderful blessing little children can be, for they love us olders, wrinkles and all. They have time for us, and we have time for them. We are part of each other's worlds. Patience and long-suffering, forgiving, sharing, acceptance and love, these are the gifts the little children offer to those who are olderthan they, and which they should receive from us.
In one ward where we lived many years ago, an older, retired couple moved into the neighborhood and were called to serve as teachers in Sunday School for the teenagers. They loved their calling, and the young people seemed responsive to them. My husband and I were delighted to invite them to share Family Home Evenings with us and our children, and they became good friends to our family. We shared some very precious times together.
In another ward, I was called to serve as a Primary teacher, a task which I approached with some trepidation, because I was in my late fifties -- considerably older than most of the other Primary teachers. I wondered if the children would accept me kindly. I felt that someone younger might be more welcome tothe seven-year-olds. The first Sunday I was to teach, one young boy made it a point to greet me with a smile. He chose to sit beside me. He told me his name and said he was glad I was going to be his teacher. He grinned one of those very charming freckle-faced boy grins and in that moment became my ally, my friend. Each Sunday it was the same. He grinned encouragement to me, and, amazingly, set a helpful example to his classmates by participating in the lessons. His family moved to another ward the next year, but I was invited to attend his baptism, and although for several years we kept in touch, we have lost contact since then. But that young man is still very much part of my happiest Primary teaching memories, and I am grateful for that bishop who said to me, "Maybe what those children need right now is a grandmother-type!"
I have sat in ward Relief Societies where older sisters, who could have contributed a great deal, sat in silence offering nothing from their wealth of experience. When I asked one sister why this seemed to be so, she said that so many of the younger sisters had taken family living and child development classes at school that they wouldn't be interested in anything she or the other older women might say from their practical, personal experience. "We come from different worlds." Another said, "The younger sisters know it all from the books, they don't need us." What worlds? What books? Who doesn't need a wonderful backup of experience like the elderly can give?
At any age in our lives, whether through blood kinship, by adoption, or as an accepted member of a ward family -- young, middle-aged, or older, we all need each other, need to be a contributing part of loving families who accept us as the ageless, eternal spirits we all really are.
I believe that much could be done these days to de-segregate the elderly and let them come back into the mainstream of life. So what if they move slower than the young! So what if it takes them twice as long to get things said that they want to say! So what if they need us to take their hand and give them encouragement as they face "the last of life for which the first was made!"
"Growing Old Is A Very Difficult Occupation." No question about it. But I like the following wise counsel which one of my daughters recently brought to my attention:
"Youth isn't the permanent property of anyone. It is a corridor we pass through, without lingering very long. There is no stopping place for any of us. And all of us, young or old, should respect each other, at all ages -- for our strength is not in a society of segments, but in making the most of the whole length of life." (Richard L. Evans)
-- Peggy J. P. Card
Love Thy Neighbor
Recently I was asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting on "Striving for Perfection Day by Day." I was prepared, had a few things written down, but mostly had everything in my head, as usual. I was standing at our sliding glass doors just looking at our back yard when I noticed our neighbor throwing something over the fence. This fence is about seven feet tall, they had put it up about six weeks previously to keep people from walking across their lawn and to have a place for their kids to play. As I continued to watch, she again came to the fence and tossed something over. I opened the door and hollered, "Debbie, what are you throwing across the fence?"
"What are you throwing across the fence?"
"Just some grass."
"Oh." I thought that was strange but wasn't going to make a big deal over some grass.
A voice from upstairs calls, "What did she say, Mom?"
"I don't think so, it was dog poop! I saw her pick it up right after the dog relieved himself under their tree."
I was just about speechless. My first thought was, "Of all the unmitigated gall and unadulter-ated audacity!" What had I done to this neighbor to merit dog droppings across the fence? She has been a customer at our restaurants from the time we moved to Greensboro. I've known her almost as long as anyone in town. I perhaps expected something similar from her husband, but not from her.
I kept saying, I can't get angry, I can't get angry, I have to go give a talk in church on perfecting myself; I am supposed to have a good spirit. So I talked myself out of any immediate reaction. I walked out to the fence to see, because I just couldn't believe Debbie would do what it was obvious she had done. Sure enough, there it was. I wanted to say something to her, but no one was in sight.
At church, I asked for opinions on what to do. Several people mouthed, "Throw it back!" Others offered their big dogs for a day or two. I graciously declined, but I must admit I did throw it back over the fence after church. I fully intended to say something to them later, but it was a week before they appeared again and then it seemed a bit late. I did not want the whole thing to escalate into a war or anything, I just wanted it not to happen again.
In the months since I gave that talk, it has come up several times in lots of different classes (if only my neighbors knew how much fodder they have provided for the local Mormon church). Not too long ago, someone asked how I had forgiven her for her little trick. I had to think a minute to give an answer that expressed how I felt about it. I had truly forgiven her that same morning when the whole thing started. I was grateful it had happened on a day I had to talk in church because that forced me to put it in perspective and not carry around the rancor and disgust that I might otherwise have allowed to weigh me down. I don't think of it every time I see the fence (even though I still do not like it much). I have not seen Debbie once in all these months to speak to her. I think she has avoided me on purpose. If we could speak, I might be able to put her mind at ease, but she seems to be unwilling to face me at all. It is not always easy for me to be so forgiving, but I am grateful that this time it was.
-- Nola Arellano
Sex in Primary
For the last year I have been teaching the children turning eleven in Primary. As we studied the Old Testament in 1998, it seemed almost inevitable that some more "adult" topics would come up. In fact, as I prepared to teach the lesson that included the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, I wondered exactly how to approach it. Sexual topics can be difficult to discuss in church, and I didn't know how much these kids really knew about it. I didn't want to go over their heads, but I didn't want to water it down either. In my experience, watering it down or avoiding certain parts of the story results in more confusion than anything else.
I ended up deciding to let the kids tell the story. So I asked if anyone knew it and could tell it to the class. One girl volunteered, and did a credible job. In her version, Potiphar's wife tried to kiss Joseph and he ran away, leaving behind a "shirt." Good enough! I thought, and let her version stand as we continued the lesson.
But it didn't end there! I had extra time at the end and asked if there were any questions. Sure enough, they wanted to know a bit more about Potiphar's wife. What did she really want? Why was she so angry that Joseph ran away? Why would she do that when she was already married?
My answers were careful, and I think they sensed that I was holding back a bit, so they pressed me. Finally I used that dreaded word: sex. "Eewwww!!" the girls cried! (But I certainly had their full attention!) We talked about sex and lust, how it made Potiphar's wife so angry that Joseph denied her, angry enough to accuse him of rape. And we talked about it in just those words.
From that day on, I have felt that the kids have been much more open with me, willing to talk about the problems and pressures they face at school and with their friends. Many of our most fruitful discussions have been about the drugs they have been offered, the alcohol, the dating, the other kids that are already engaging in sexual behaviors (if not intercourse, yet), and how to deal with those problems.
During one such discussion, the girl who had told the Potiphar's wife story expressed her surprise that we could talk about such things: it didn't seem like a real church lesson to her, but she liked being able to talk about those things. I reminded her that she had been totally shocked when I first used the word "sex." She agreed and said, "I never had a teacher at church say that before. It was weird."
"Well," I said, "I figure you need to have somebody you can talk to about sex!"
Ever since then I have been wondering about how we deal with sex and kids in the church. Officially, it seems like sex doesn't exist until you hit the youth program. And then you hear about it in unfamiliar or ill-defined words like "chastity" and "immorality." I remember watching the church movie about the rafting trip and finding it terribly confusing when I was twelve. What in the world were they talking about, exactly? My parents never managed to get up enough courage to talk to me about sex. My best teacher was the dictionary. I learned a lot from friends, some of it reliable, some of it pure fiction. I was several years into the youth program before I remember a leader talking in any clear terms about the subject.
Yet sex was an issue several years before the age of twelve. I started wearing a bra at 10, menstruating at 11. I remember in sixth grade girls talking about wanting to have sex before their periods started, so there was no chance of getting pregnant. "Make-out" parties were becoming the rage, as kids began to pair off. At a sleepover party when I was eleven, the girls played a game they called "Rape" (it seemed to consist of one girl pretending to be a bad guy and making the others take their clothes off).
It also seemed to me that many leaders assumed that sex was mostly a problem for the boys. The girls just had to worry about warding them off. Why on earth, I wonder, is there a pamphlet about masturbation entitled "For Young Men Only"? Do people assume girls don't do it? (I started at the age of three, long before I had any idea what it was. It wasn't until I was 12 that I learned it might be wrong, and by then it was real hard habit to break.) When my fiancé and I had some problems with "heavy petting," the bishop assumed that he (the man) was the instigator, and treated me as a victim, not a true participant who had a sin she needed to confess.
My experience leads me to think that I'm doing the right thing with the kids I teach, being open and straightforward and willing to talk. I know I could have used a lot more of that! But I also feel a bit wary, since I have little to guide me. None of the parents have complained to me, so either their kids aren't telling them anything about what I say, or they're okay with it. I have spoken with the Primary president, and she seemed more mystified by it than me. All she could find to say was, "As long as it applies to the lesson, I guess it's okay." I pray and trust the Lord to guide me, and so far we've done alright.
My hope in writing this is to get some others' viewpoints on this topic. Does somebody else out there have any experience that could help me feel more secure? I know I can't be alone. Does any-one know any good books or articles that could help? There must be good information out there. How do the parents feel about someone like me talking to their kids about sex in a Primary class? I hope it doesn't offend.
I love these kids completely, and I want to help them, not hurt them.
-- A Reader in Arizona
A Hymn to the Prophet Joseph
I was at the CES symposium at BYU -- a gathering of seminary teachers preparing for the Church history year that's just beginning. In the evening session, Elder Scott was going to talk, and the assembled teachers in the Marriott Center rose to sing "Praise to the Man."
As we sang, I realized how tied this hymn was to the time of its writing -- how angry and grief-stricken and proud it was, how it would have filled with tears the eyes of those Saints who had known and loved Brother Joseph. But today, while we can imagine and even feel some portion of their passion, Joseph Smith fulfils a different role, and "Praise to the Man" does not express it.
His martyrdom, after all, was the death of his body only, not the focal point of his life. Five or six generations later, it is obvious that those who tried to destroy his works by killing him failed utterly, and that our labor now is no longer even slightly motivated by a desire to prove the worth or avenge the death of Joseph Smith, but rather to continue his work: soul by soul, family by family, ward by ward, nation by nation, to bring the knowledge of Jesus Christ to all the world.
It is not Joseph Smith's blood that we carry with us, but the blood and flesh of the Savior. What we take from Brother Joseph is the powerful, world-changing gospel that he received from God and unfolded to us. It is a message, not that "Earth must atone for the blood of that man," but that Christ has atoned for the sins of all men; that humankind is on this Earth to fulfil the purposes of God; that we are free, and coeternal with our Lord; that what is righteously created here on Earth can be sealed up to last forever. The anthem "Praise to the Man" is stirring, but it is of another time.
Then I thought of the other hymn about Joseph Smith, "Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning," and realized that between the pastoral and the battle song there was a wide gulf -- that between the First Vision and the Martyrdom came the entire life's work of that great Prophet. Wasn't there room for a hymn that commemorated his life in a different way?
So I began to write. My hymn began in familiar territory, with the First Vision, but limited that story to the first stanza. I found myself using an unusual verse form: Five lines of eight syllables, iambic, rhymed ABBBA:
He read the promise of the Lord;
He knelt to ask what church was right;
Then Son and Father in his sight
Filled Joseph's heart with truth and light:
Through him all things would be restored.
I realized that this form would cause problems. There is no existing hymn tune that fits it. The three repetitions of the same rhyme, all in a row, stanza after stanza, could become annoying. The stanza is alsolong, meaning that the hymn itself could drag. (Though with the eight redundant verses of Bruce R. McConkie's "I Believe in Christ" in the hymnbook, it takes some effort to make any other hymn seem too long.)
So -- what form should I use? In all the hymns I've written, I couldn't recall ever using the ballad stanza, even though it is one of the most common in the hymnbook -- alternating lines of eight and six syllables, iambic, rhymed ABAB: "There Is a Green Hill Far Away," "How Great the Wisdom and the Love," "Abide with Me, 'Tis Eventide." I've shunned the ballad stanza because of its brevity, and the predictability of the rhyme. The rhyme could be ameliorated by using ABBA, so that long lines would rhyme with short ones. But could I pour that first stanza into so much smaller a vessel, and still retain the essential content?
He read the promise of the Lord
And asked, "What path is right?"
The Savior came and said that light
Through him would be restored,
The third line was the problem. It's important that both Father and Son came to Joseph Smith; shouldn't I use "Then Son and Father said that light"? However, this wasn't accurate, either, since it was only the Son who carried the message about Joseph's coming mission. For the nonce, at least, I left it the first way, trusting that the Saints would remember that the Father was also present.
But now came the real challenge: To distill the mission of Joseph Smith, rather than his martyrdom, into a verse or two, and then turn the whole into a true hymn: Words sung to God, and to each other, by a congregation of believers. It is not enough that it be verse about Joseph Smith -- it had to be verses sung by us about the founding Prophet. And the rhetoric had to be finely balanced, honoring the first prophet without crossing the line into worshiping him, using language that should only be directed toward divinity. Here is my attempt, using the ballad stanza:
He read the promise of the Lord
And asked, "What path is right?"
The Savior came and said that light
Through him would be restored,
For Joseph burned with holy fire
To learn what God would teach.
With every upward step he'd reach,
The Spirit led him higher.
For generations we have sought
To build the church of Christ,
And willingly have sacrificed
To live as Joseph taught;
Now, Lord, we join our praises with
All saints of latter days,
For we were taught thy righteous ways
By Brother Joseph Smith.
In the second stanza, I tried to capture the feeling of Joseph Smith's life as a prophet, constantly learning more and teaching it to the rest of us. The third stanza is about his monument, the Church, consisting of people like us who are trying to live the gospel. The fourth verse had a double challenge. First, I wanted to close with the prophet's full name, which meant that I had to end the first line with a word that ended in "-ith" (not a long list). Second, I wanted to make explicit the unity of the worldwide church that has grown from the seeds of Joseph's planting.
Nothing is perfect, of course, but this was a reasonable first draft of the kind of hymn about the Prophet that I thought was needed. However, that first attempt -- the five-line stanza -- was still sitting there at the top of the page. Why not see what would come of that longer form? Naturally, I could put more content into each stanza; but could I make it work technically, so it wouldn't drag and so that triple rhyme would not become annoying?
He read the promise of the Lord;
He knelt to ask what church was right;
Then Son and Father in his sight
Filled Joseph's heart with truth and light:
Through him all things would be restored.
For Joseph burned with holy fire
To learn of things beyond our reach;
And when with fervor he'd beseech,
The Holy Spirit came to teach
And raise our humble vision higher.
For generations we have sought
To do as Joseph Smith enticed,
And willingly have sacrificed
To build the Church of Jesus Christ
And live the laws the Prophet taught.
Now, Lord, we join our praises with
All faithful saints of latter days:
For joy that lasts, for truth that stays,
For having learned eternal ways
From thy good servant, Joseph Smith.
Using the principle of putting the most "strained" word first, the third verse builds to a nice resolve of the triplet on the word "Christ." The second verse still feels iffy to me. The rhetorical stance is ambiguous -- "beyond our reach" puts an ambiguous "us" in the midst of Joseph's relationship with the Lord. At the moment, I like it that way, but it could also be left in the singular third person. As for the rhyme, "beseech" is the strained word, and probably should be in the second line. The revised verse would be:
For Joseph burned with holy fire,
And when with fervor he'd beseech
To learn of things beyond his reach,
The Holy Spirit came to teach
And raise his humble vision higher.
Maybe that's better. At the moment, though, I don't know if it's right to sing of his humble vision, for that carries the undertone that his vision was particularly humble compared to others of his day, when the opposite is true. At the same time, this is also a positive implication, linked to the scriptural idea that the Lord reveals his truths to the simple and uneducated, not to the "wise" and learned.
In the final stanza, my overall purpose is fulfilled, I think. There is praise here for Joseph Smith, but it is kept in perspective: The glory belongs to God, and to Joseph only as his servant. In a contemporary Church where there are alarming tendencies toward developing cults of personality around prophets living and dead, I think this not a trivial thing to do in a hymn that is meant to give words to the feelings of a congregation.
President Hinckley, with his genuine humility and humor, has done much to dispel any worshipful cult of personality toward himself; but the sycophancy of upper-level Church bureaucrats continues to push inappropriate general-authority-worship toward a fever pitch, and we need counterbalances to put things back into perspective without in any way diminishing the authority of those with prophetic callings. A delicate maneuver, though one that is increasingly necessary; and whatever small thing a simple hymn text might accomplish is worth the attempt.
In the end, though, a hymn text is always a transaction. Unlike a poem, which is alive as soon as a single reader or hearer responds to it, a hymn has no life until it has been set to music and then has been embraced by congregations who find both words and music to be expressions of the feelings of their heart. The hymnist can calculate the rhetoric and plot the meaning and solve the puzzles of meter, rhyme, and stanza, but his work has no more importance than solving a crossword puzzle until it is transformed, by a congregation, into a song of the heart.
-- Orson Scott Card
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