Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Birth Control at School?

Wow. I am writing a lot this week.

This will be a short one...just a link to a news story that has me still trying to pick my jaw up off the floor.

Busy Youth: Clarifying my T&S comment

I made a comment in a T&S conversation last night, but comments are closed and I never got a chance to explain what I was thinking, and some of the comments left me feeling like people might misunderstand me.

The conversation was about Seminary and the busy-ness of youth with the many programs they have. I said, more in a musing mode:
I can’t help but wonder if the repetition in the youth programs is on purpose. If they weren’t busy with good church stuff, isn’t it likely that they’d be busy with other stuff that might not be as wholesome? I think getting youth together to strengthen each other often takes more than once a week. I dunno…I’m not at that stage yet, but I can’t help but think that it’s not redundancy without some intent.

Julie says:
It sounds like you don’t have much confidence in LDS families. I imagine some youth (like those in Adam’s ward) are better off at another YM/YW activity than at home, but others . . . I was thinking of Pres. Packer’s (and others) comments before Mark IV even posted them. Church leaders warn repeatedly that the church isn’t supposed to take the place of the primary unit: the family.

It's not that I don't have confidence in LDS families, it's just that youth are easily pulled into a variety of activities. If they are going to be socializing and busy, why not be doing it with youth in the Church who share their values? I'm NOT advocating useless activities, or overcramming to the point of trying to take over the family's role. This is something Elder Oaks also just talked about, and I think it's obvious that we still don't fully "get it" since our leaders keep repeating this counsel. But at the same time, our leaders haven't removed Seminary, or weekly activities, or BYC, or Scouts, or.... And so I trust that the problem isn't in the structure, its in the implementation.

I also was going off of something my sister has said. She has six children, and holds a busy leadership calling. She expressed to me how she was feeling that things were a bit crazy with all the different activities of all her children, many of them Church-related. In the penultimate Conference, she felt some perspective and felt that it was a good thing that our youth are kept busy with Church activities. There is so much that youth can get busy with that isn't as useful (again NOT to suggest that activities are more important than family; I'm saying something different).

Like I said in my comment, though, I am not at that stage yet, so all of what I said was sort of thinking out loud. I just wanted to be sure that people understood that I am not trying to say the Church should take over the family. That said, our leaders have acknowledged that:

We need both Church activities and family activities. If all families were complete and perfect, the Church could sponsor fewer activities. But in a world where many of our youth grow up in homes where one parent is missing, not a member, or otherwise inactive in gospel leadership, there is a special need for Church activities to fill in the gaps (Dallin H. Oaks, “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church,” Liahona, Nov 2005, 24–27).

Again, though, his most recent Conference talk really came down hard on church activities that are not focused and purposeful. How we spend our time in our families and in the Church needs to be tightened.

I think Elder Oaks talks about both keeping Church activities tight but also the risk that is there if the Church were to reduce activity time.

Stake presidencies and bishoprics need to exercise their authority to weed out the excessive and ineffective busyness that is sometimes required of the members of their stakes or wards. Church programs should focus on what is best (most effective) in achieving their assigned purposes without unduly infringing on the time families need for their "divinely appointed duties."

But here is a caution for families. Suppose Church leaders reduce the time required by Church meetings and activities in order to increase the time available for families to be together. This will not achieve its intended purpose unless individual family members—especially parents—vigorously act to increase family togetherness and one-on-one time. Team sports and technology toys like video games and the Internet are already winning away the time of our children and youth. Surfing the Internet is not better than serving the Lord or strengthening the family. Some young men and women are skipping Church youth activities or cutting family time in order to participate in soccer leagues or to pursue various entertainments. Some young people are amusing themselves to death—spiritual death.

It cuts both ways. We need to be sure that Church activities count, but also that whatever time we don't spend involved with Church stuff is not spent on good-but-not-essential stuff. A hard balance all around, no?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Latter-day Saint Women Should be the Very Best..."

There has been much ado about Sister Beck's recent talks. One element of her talks that has gotten a lot of attention is reflected in the title of this post. She asserts that Latter-day Saint women should be the "very best in the world at upholding, nurturing, and protecting families."

Many people have interpreted this as a statement of either self-righteousness or competition -- as if we are somehow to compare ourselves to the world and come out on top. I would like to consider her words in a different light, because I think such interpretations may be misrepresenting her message.

First of all, in all but one of her comments that I could see, Sister Beck didn't say that we are the best. She said that we should be the best. I hear this as an invitation to consider who we are and what we are here to do.

I hear her call to us as being similar to what the Savior said to His followers:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16; see also 3 Nephi 12:14-16; 15:12)

We are a covenant people. As such, we are supposed to be different. The Lord expects something from us. We are asked by the Lord to be a light to the world. I think Sister Beck is calling to us in a similar way. At the end of her Relief Society broadcast talk, she said the following:

Our prophet, whom I sustain with all my heart, has said that there is a better way than the way of the world.

I think Sister Beck is trying to remind us of the need for us to rise above the philosophies and practices of the world. We should understand the importance of faith, family and relief better than anyone because we have the knowledge the restored gospel and continuing revelation give us. There are those outside our faith who are doing MUCH good in these regards, but they don't have the fullness of the gospel to frame what they do and believe. They don't know of temple covenants that bind families together. They may not fully understand the "doctrine of the family" to which Sister Beck refers. But we do (or we should), and it is on our shoulders to put that light on a candlestick and "be the very best" so that, among other things, others can know that there is a better way. There is more light and knowledge about the family than the world knows. How will they know if we don't live what we know?

Does this mean other people can't be or aren't excellent parents, loving Christians, deeply good and God-fearing people? Of course not. Does this mean that we reject the good that others do? Absolutely not. We rejoice in the good others outside the Church do. We stand together with good people all over the world to serve, to defend marriage and to strengthen the family, and to try to make the world a better place. We are deeply grateful for those who respond to the light of Christ in their lives and recognize the importance of God and family above all else.

But we are the only people in the world bound by priesthood covenants to do these things. We are the only group of people led by prophets called as mouthpieces for the Lord Himself. That gives us not a reason to boast, but rather a sobering responsibility.

For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation (D&C 82:3).

I hear Sister Beck expressing hope that we will rise to the duty that is ours to respond to the light that is ours by nature of the blessings of the Restoration. And seek to share that light in word and action. We should be living lives consistent with gospel principles better than anyone, not in a spirit of competition, but simply because we are the ones who know and have them. We can always do better, and I hear our leaders (all of them!) inviting us to do just that.

An Example of Why "Two-deep Leadership" is a Good Idea

This story reiterates to me the importance of always having two adults when a man is working with children: to have an adult witness in case accusations are made. If this man is truly innocent, this is a horrible tragedy in his life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thoughts on Sister Becks' Talk

I finally have a moment to write (and not long). So I'll try to follow through on a promise I made to BiV to share my thoughts on Sister Beck's talk.

I listened to it again and took copious notes, so I could not simply be going on first impressions, but focusing more on the specific things she said.

After listening to the talk again, and paying particular attention to what got so much attention, I was struck by how much it seemed people missed in their first impressions. Her talk was about so much more than just housekeeping, or about ironed clothes on Sunday. It was about having a spiritual and eternal perspective in our most important roles and responsibilities.

Everything she addressed in my mind came back to one main thing -- that we need more than ever to be vigilant in focusing on creating an environment in the home where children can best grow spiritually and temporally. We need to prepare them for the future. What comes to mind is what then-Elder Eyring said:

The prophets of God have foreseen the times in which we live. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” Anyone with eyes to see the signs of the times and ears to hear the words of prophets knows that the peril is great. The peril comes from the forces of wickedness. Those forces are increasing. And so it will become harder, not easier, to keep the covenants we must make to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sister Beck also talked about our perilous times, and how much vigilance we need as parents to make sure our children can face the challenges and responsibilities that lie ahead. If it will be harder as we go along to keep our covenants, that would suggest that we need to raise the bar in what we are doing in our spiritual lives and in our homes. That is what I see Sister Beck doing -- giving guidance on what mothers can do to make sure that they are doing 'all we can do' as leaders in our homes. I hear her reminding us that NOTHING else matters more. This is not new...we constantly hear that family responsibilities come first.

(Important to note is that she talked about being equal partners with our husbands in leading a 'great and eternal organization.')

BiV asked me specifically what my thoughts were on a few specific points, so I'll focus on those specifics first.

Education: Sister Beck said that education is not really worthwhile if we don't use our knowledge to create a climate for spiritual growth. In other words, I hear her saying that education is not an end, it is a means. Too often, I think we approach our goals as ends rather than means to help us help God fulfill His purposes. And too often, we put good things above what is essential. I think that is what she is driving at.

My impression with her words, especially when taken in context with other counsel we have received, is that if we pursue education for the sake of education and primarily for position, prestige and influence outside the home, we are missing the mark. All that we do should come back to God's work and glory, and that is focused on saving souls, particularly those in our families.

The prophets have also encouraged education in large measure as part of welfare principles of preparedness, not simply for personal fulfillment. (Sister Beck addressed the false doctrine of personal fulfillment in her RS talk as well.)

I believe an educated mother can benefit her children and her home in significant ways. The more educated we are, the more education will matter to our children, and the more prepared they will be for their future. Women will also be better able to provide (or help provide) for basic needs if necessary. And they will be better positioned to serve elsewhere (in the community, etc.) as guided by the Spirit. But Sister Beck's ordering of priorities is consistent with prophetic counsel. And it's clear she is inviting us to do more in our homes, which requires doing less elsewhere.

Nurturing, homemaking, etc.: Sister Beck defined nurturing more broadly than what has been focused on by many. She first defined nurturing as cultivating, caring for and making grow. She admonished us to 'create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth.' I think that is the backdrop for her comment that another word for nurturing is homemaking. But note that homemaking doesn't just mean housecleaning. It's making a home -- what I think she defined as a place for spiritual and temporal growth.

PART of helping children grow is being good examples of people who work, people who care about their surroundings. It also includes caring for the physical needs of our families, which means that we cook and clean. She in no way limited nurturing to only housekeeping chores, however. She also never said that men could never help with these things. (Did anyone notice that the picture shown when she mentioned the cooking, cleaning and such showed a DAD helping the children do dishes? I can't believe that was an accident. Again, equal partners work together to make sure these things happen. They work together to make a home. But the Proclamation teaches the rule that mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture and care of the children, because they are the ones who are counseled to be home during the day.)

She also made clear that keeping an orderly home isn't just about physical needs, or temporal training of our children (teaching them how to work), even though those things are important. An orderly home can help with spiritual growth as well.

I should say that perhaps my weakest point in mothering is housekeeping. That is made worse by chronic illness issues. Keeping a spotless house is nearly impossible for me, given my limited energy and my lack of ability in that area. So, sometimes when I hear counsel given to keep a clean house, I feel inadequate and overwhelmed, even depressed. I started down that path with her talk, but as I talked with my husband, I realized, as I am trying to remind myself constantly, that motherhood is a process. And I am trying to make improvements in our home so that we can have more order. I'm trying to rally the troops to do more to help with that. We are working together more in our family toward more cleanliness. Is not the process part of the counsel? Is there not much to be gained in trying to improve, even if the end result isn't perfect? Of course there is. Gospel living is always a process. And there is an Atonement to make up the difference when we have done the "very best we can" (quoting Pres. Hinckley).

I also will add something that brought a great deal of peace and perspective to me. Sister Beck talked about how the value we place on motherhood and attaining attributes of motherhood (even if we don't have children of our own!) will rise with us in the resurrection. Motherhood is about becoming. It is what MATTERS to us that matters to God. None of us will be perfect in what we do, in any facet of our lives. But if we are striving to be better, caring about what matters most, focusing on the 'best' (channeling Elder Oaks) things, the needful things, we will be blessed for our desires. God knows that I care about these things, and I'm trying to make changes toward making my mothering matter more. Isn't that what it's all about? We aren't being given END goals, we are being given guidance on the MEANS to eternally-important ends -- a spiritual home and an eternal family.

As to the Sunday best issue, there is another example of where I fall short, so my natural woman wanted to hide (or be frustrated) when she shared an example of children with pressed dresses and perfect hair.

But then I pondered the principle she was trying to teach. Was it really about appearances? NO. She was sharing an example of the way a woman can teach her children respect and honor for sacred ordinances and covenants. How many of us will get our children primped to perfection for a family photo, or impressing an important somebody (even Grandma) who is coming to dinner, or...(you get the drift). On the flip side, are you ever like me, trying to catch that extra 10 minutes of sleep on Sunday morning (because you stayed up too late Saturday night), and thus rush about, getting after (read: sometimes yelling at) your kids to hurry, only to get to church (frazzled) and look over at children with bed-head or mismatched clothes? If not, kudos to you. But I saw in what she was saying an invitation to give my best to the Lord, and to teach my children that NOTHING else matters more than our relationship with Him.

Immediately after talking about honoring sacred covenants and ordinances, Sister Beck talked about pointing our children to the temple. Would we go wrinkly and messy-haired to the temple? Probably not. (If we do, we probably shouldn't.) But is all this shallow stuff about appearances? No, I believe it's about heart. It's about respect. It's about a spirit of sacrifice and humility. Doesn't the Lord deserve our best efforts? Our best clothes? Our best teaching? Our best example?

This isn't about fodder for criticizing others, either. I'm grateful for kind ward members who understand that mornings are hard for me. But even so, can't I do a little better? Of course I can. And I should do it because I care about doing my best for God and teaching my children that the firstfruits of my life should be God's -- not because I care about what others think of me or my kids, but because I care about giving my best to the Lord...not because He needs it but because I do.

So there are some specific thoughts. I also just wanted to note all of the things that she mentioned that can help create a home that can foster spiritual and temporal growth. Since I'm a visual person, I like to SEE all that she said, to see all the meat that was in her talk.

- Know God, know who we are, make and honor covenants
- Welcome children into our home - it's a commandment that is 'still in force'! (Too many cultures have devalued children. MANY of our leaders have talked about this. As Latter-day Saints, we believe in having children, and that family goals come first.)
- We place value on motherhood and strive to develop the traits of divine motherhood. (That was in my words, but think of that.)
- Point children to the temple.
- Prepare children for missions (have a home as a pre-MTC).
- Help them plan for their ETERNAL FUTURE.
- Teach by example.
- Use our skills and knowledge toward our eternal goals.
- Foster an environment of organization (disorganization is a distraction and an energy drain...ask me, I know!), patience, love and work.
- Work beside children, teach and model qualities that we want our children to emulate (I would add that they will NEED to face the future).
- Work as equal partners in this 'great and eternal organization' -- the family!
- Realize that we are never off-duty. We are teachers, not merely babysitters. (The thought I had is that I should be spent at the end of a day like I was on my mission -- because there I gave ALL I had to that role. I sometimes don't do that as a mom. I hear her inviting me to give more of my heart to this role. As I do, I believe I will be giving more of my heart to the Lord.)
- Help our children prepare to be the future fathers and mothers and church leaders for the next generation; teach them to follow the Lord's pattern, not worldly patterns and social pressures. Teach them to be leaders by being leaders ourselves. (This implies the importance of being spiritually and temporally grounded ourselves.)
- Family home evening, family prayer, family scripture study, meal times are all times when we can teach. (We should be constantly teaching! This reminds of another then-Elder Eyring quote:
We have the greatest opportunity with the young. The best time to teach is early, while children are still immune to the temptations of their mortal enemy, and long before the words of truth may be harder for them to hear in the noise of their personal struggles.
A wise parent would never miss a chance to gather children together to learn of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Such moments are so rare in comparison with the efforts of the enemy. For every hour the power of doctrine is introduced into a child’s life, there may be hundreds of hours of messages and images denying or ignoring the saving truths.
The question should not be whether we are too tired to prepare to teach doctrine or whether it wouldn’t be better to draw a child closer by just having fun or whether the child isn’t beginning to think that we preach too much. The question must be, “With so little time and so few opportunities, what words of doctrine from me will fortify them against the attacks on their faith which are sure to come?” The words you speak today may be the ones they remember. And today will soon be gone.

- Do less; focus on what will bear fruit eternally and reduce that which will not (this includes less media, less distraction, less activities that pull children out of the home)
- Live on less and consume less. (This isn't a save-the-environment plea, although that is a side benefit) -- this was direction given to spend more time with our children.
- We should spend more time eating together, working together, talking, laughing, singing, reading.
- Choose carefully what to do -- don't try to do it all. (Can't remember if she said this here or in the RS broadcast, but we should make sure that we are conserving our energy to focus on the things that matter eternally.)
- We should excel as members of the Church in upholding, nourishing and protecting families. She expresses her confidence that we will rise to this challenge!

There is SO much there!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Discussion-Induced Disappointment Disorder

Update: Julie M. Smith provides a useful remedy for my troubles today, by adding some reason and perspective to the reactions to Sister Beck that dominated discussions today. Yeah for Julie.

Yeah for Keryn, too, who really, really captured the blessings that can come from catching the spirit of what Sister Beck said. Thanks, Keryn!!!!


I just jumped on to check into the pulse of things after Conference. I went from a spiritual high to feeling sick to my stomach. I am deeply disappointed in much of the discussion I saw. I was feeling some of that yesterday, as it seemed that people were just too quick to complain or criticize instead of just soak in the wonder that is Conference weekend.

I love the benefits of discussion. It's why I blog. I love interacting with people and sharing ideas back and forth. But sometimes I think people take things too far. The negativity I have seen today is bordering on shocking to me. I don't want to take away the way discussion can help people sort through thoughts, but there has to be a better way that can keep the spirit of what we heard alive. Much of what I read -- criticism, nitpicking, complaining -- took away from that spirit. It saddened me to hear the people I have grown to care about in the bloggernacle tear apart talks from some of the people I respect and sustain as my leaders.

Our leaders have expressed confidence in us. I'm particularly thinking of Sister Beck and the confidence she has expressed in us as women -- that we will be united, one voice, together behind what she taught as true and correct. I was amazed at how people would pick and choose what they liked and didn't like from last week's Relief Society broadcast (they are a united front, a united presidency -- do we really think that they don't support what the other says, that they haven't talked about what they were going to share?) And today, it's been even worse.

Our leaders aren't simply a bunch of individuals just out to push their individual agendas. I believe they speak as a united group. They spend weeks, if not months, seeking the Lord's guidance and seeking to find what HE would have them say.

I can't imagine that presenting their messages is easy; they speak to a worldwide audience whose individual lives vary in many ways. They only have a few minutes to try to cover deep and crucial topics. Are they perfect? They would be the first to admit that they are not.

And yet, our prophet recommended ALL of Conference to us for our review and pondering. He made no qualification of that recommendation. I am astounded at the level of negativity I have seen. I understand wanting to sort through ideas, but again, there has to be a better way than what I have seen today. Can't we do better?

If there is something we struggle with, something that didn't sit quite right, Elder Eyring gave us the key to what we could do (from the press conference). It was the counsel Pres. Faust gave him -- to go to God. Public criticism and fault-finding and negative hyper-analysis seems wholly inappropriate to me, and distracting from the amazing spirit that was present during this wonderful weekend.

I also think that if we struggle with something one person has said, almost surely someone else will have addressed our concern in another talk. The way I see it, their talks are interconnected, and part of a larger picture that no one person could capture in a 15-minute address. No one talk will be able to cover the vastness of the gospel message, nor of the many ways we could improve living it and enjoying its blessings. I think it is completely unfair to expect one person to say everything we want to hear, or to say something that applies to every single person all of the time, or to cover even all the bases that that person surely wants to cover. Try to imagine it!

I would have hoped for more testimony-building discussion. I leave my computer tonight stunned and disappointed. I will say thanks to those who did report and discuss in positive ways. I will try to read more of your words later. But for now, I am hurting that there could be as much discord and criticism as there was, and the (what feels to me) cavalier assumptions and discussions that somehow seem to imply that any of us could know better than our heaven-called leaders about what should have been said.

Addendum: I want to reiterate that I am not anti-discussion. I just think there are ways we can engage each other without being critical of our leaders and negative in our approach.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007