Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Report: The Search to Belong (Or, Not Another Potluck)

The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups by Joseph Myers really spoke to me. He is not a Mormon, but I like the way he thinks about being the member of a church. This book explores what it's like for different people to participate in a community. Not everyone participates in the same way. I think this is really important. There are people in my ward who are considered less active but who would consider themselves totally Mormon. There's nothing wrong with having a hope for them to participate in full fellowship in the church, but treating them as outsiders isn't good. This book makes an interesting—and strong, in my introverted opinion—case for not expecting everyone in your congregation to be good friends or participate in the community in the same way.

There is an expectation that friendship must move through stages, ending in being best friends who hang out all the time and that is the goal. But I certainly don't want that with everyone in my ward. I want that with maybe only 2 people in my ward. I only want that with about 6 people in the world, so it's nothing personal against my ward. It's OK to stay as just acquaintances. Knowing that when you have a baby I will visit you and if someone dies I will show up with funeral potatoes is enough (and quite a lot).  I will teach your children the gospel and you will teach mine. You will take work off to sleep in a snow cave with my son and I will spend a week at Girl's Camp with your daughter. We will sit side by side as we renew our covenants with Heavenly Father. Isn't that enough? Do we have to have a potluck too? The pot luck is the least meaningful way we will spend time together during the week. 

A lot of people really like potlucks. I fully acknowledge that I like doing things less than most people. But I still do a lot of church-related things. For the most part it's good for me and I don't mind. And, obviously, a social component can bring us to the spiritual component, especially with the youth. But sometimes I just pick up on this crazed vibe in meetings (always with the meetings) that we have to have more activities, more dinners, more groups, more being together all the time! It seems separate from spirituality to me. 

Meyers suggests that we shouldn't necessarily have new people or visitors introduce themselves when they show up in church. It's ostensibly welcoming, but it's actually calling attention to the fact that they don't belong, that we've never seen them before. It can be problematic for certain types. Of course, other types love it. But so many activities and ward policies are planned and executed on the premise that we all have to be great buds who hang out all the time. More activities does not mean more spiritual closeness. And spiritual closeness does not really have to happen in a ward for everyone to have a meaningful relationship with God. Granted, spending time together does increase the responsibility and compassion we feel for each other. So I understand the push to get together. But I'm just like, enough already, guys. This book articulates how I feel without just seeming like and anti-social stick in the mud. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mumford and Sons Forgot Their Fiddles

Mumford and Sons has a new album coming out on May 4th (Star Wars day, yay!). In the meantime their new single, "Believe", is out and proud. Conspicuously missing from the song, fiddles. Mumford and Sons sounds different. I support them in their attempt to try something new. Here's the new song. Could use more banjo.
Their new album will demonstrate their electric-instrument-playing-prowess. Marcus Mumford told Rolling Stone, "We felt that doing the same thing, or the same instrumentation again, just wasn’t for us. We’ve got a broader taste in music than just that." I like Mumford and Sons a lot. I like banjos and fiddles a lot. I'm pretty interested to see how this turns out. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Observer Effect Applied to Church Doctrine and Conference Talks

Writing about something helps me figure out what I think about it. More specifically, figuring out what I want to write about something is usually a good way to think more carefully about it. You know how it is in an English class when you get assigned to write a paper on the role of the hero in contemporary children’s literature and you find out—when you dig into writing this paper—that you think Professor Snape is the true hero of the Harry Potter series.  Or something like that.

For sure, writing is a useful tool in exploring ideas.

But there’s a different kind of writing that is less careful and, I would argue, a less productive way to process ideas. It’s the kind of writing that sometimes happens when I’m looking for blog fodder. I skim and scan and just look for headlines I can react to. I don’t always write like this, but I have written like this. So I know how it feels. Because I write a lot about parenting I can tell when I’m doing something with my kids just so I can write about it. Maybe you’ve done something similar: Ever worked a bit harder on your dinner presentation because you’re planning to Instagram it? We all do it. It’s part of living with social media. But sometimes it feels gross and I know it’s not the right way to approach, for example, parenting my children.

I’m also not sure it’s the right way to approach the gospel. Don’t get me wrong. I live-tweet General Conference. I blog and post and Instagram my church activities and make jokes and am sometimes even irreverent. I think social media is as good a place as any to do missionary work, to discuss the gospel, to reach out to like-minded people, to be validated, to pick fights, or to do whatever we need it to do. I also think the Spirit can be present (or absent) in an online setting. I’ve certainly read or watched things online that ring with a spirit of truth and inspire me. I’m not advocating a separation of church and Slate.

But I do feel that our understanding of spiritual things—talks, for example, suffer when we read them looking for something to blog about. And I think that happens often, with more and more frequency.

The observer effect is a scientific term that refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed. Something akin to the observer effect happens when you approach material with the intent to blog about it. I know from experience that if I go to my kids’ kindergarten graduation thinking I’m going to write an outrageous post about it I will experience the event differently. Nothing, necessarily, wrong with that but you can get into a place where you are exploiting something to further your agenda. Sometimes it’s harmless.Sometimes it results in super clickable blog posts.

Church talks and doctrine can hold its own online. I’m not saying this in defense of, for example, Bonnie Oscarson’s talk. I heard it and it meant something to me. I latched on to different parts of the talk than other people have latched on to, as is our inalienable right to do, AMIRIGHT?

Sister Oscarson’s admonition to men and children as well as women to be homemakers struck me as quite groundbreaking and wonderful. It speaks to personal things that I think and wonder about. I don’t love how it feels to hear that someone else hated her talk and thinks she’s unhelpful and bad, even though I understand it is their prerogative to do so. Part of why I don’t like how it feels is because I know Sister Oscarson personally (not to brag or name drop, but I do happen to know her) and I consider her not just a really cool lady but one of our (and by “our” I mean forward thinking, fair-minded women) best allies among the general authorities. When I hear her speak I listen with charity because I know and like her. As a result, I heard something inspiring in her talk.

There’s a little lesson here for me because among church speakers I certainly have my favorites. And I listen with much less charity to my not-so favorites. Extending this charitable reading and listening beyond those I know and like personally might make a difference in my study of the gospel (and in my life in general) and could help explain the phrase that Henry B. Eyring says he still doesn’t comprehend the full meaning of, depicted on a pin his mother wore, “Charity never faileth.”

But beyond giving speakers the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to be more thoughtful in my approach to spiritual things. I’m going to be careful about listening to conference in that mindset of trying to find some blog fodder. It’s contrary to everything I’ve ever learned about religious study. The whole search, ponder, and pray technique leaves NO ROOM for funny Facebook statuses, AMIRIGHT? But probably it’s a better way to get serious questions answered.

So you’ll see me on Twitter with one-liners and tie jokes. Of course you will! But I’m going to approach what I hear with the discipline to listen, rather than skim, and to be open to the spirit, rather than on the lookout for hot-button issues. At my core, I’m Mulder. I want to believe. Approaching spiritual matter with time and careful thought might leave me with nothing outrageous to blog about, but it is to my own benefit and enrichment.

“Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

I’m going to do everything I can to help thou help mine unbelief. Bring it, Boyd K. Packer.

*I realize I just said all of this in a blog. That’s Schrodinger’s cat for you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sesame Street is Getting a Makeover

I think this is HUGE news so I want to share it. For the most part, I hate it when things I grew up with change. I can still barely accept Elmo as a regular on the Sesame Street.

Sesame Street is going through a set redesign for Fall of 2015. They are in their 46th season. The show is only 4 years older than me.  I wouldn't mind if they never changed the set because I'm nostalgic like that but it does make sense that Big Bird's nest should be in a tree. They said they want Sesame Street to represent a street in real life. I'm OK with that. Look at these big changes.

Cookie monster will be living above Hoopers store. I love this. The smells will come wafting up and drive him crazy all day. Hilarity ensues!

Hooper's new store front. I still miss Mr. Hooper. Who is this new guy, "Chris"? Is he a Hooper descendant?

Oscar's can has been updated and moved to a more central location so he can add grouchy commentary to any situation. He’ll also be popping up in trash cans, recycling bins and composting receptacles.  I wonder how he feels about recycling? Generally he's against anything that's a "good" thing and he would hate the reduction of waste, but if he can live in a recycling bin too then maybe he'll be OK with it. I'm dying to find out. 

Here's a quick glimpse of Big Bird's vintage nest and one of my favorite, most mesmerizing videos from Sesame Street. I loved it so much. Do you remember it?

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