Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Don't Leave the Church

I'm in the Stake Young Women's Presidency and one of the things we do is visit every ward during Ward Conference. I'm not so close to being translated that I welcome 3 extra hours of church. I don't. I spurn it. But my Stake President, Richard Williams, is an inspiring speaker. I found that I actually enjoyed hearing his talk 7 times. This is the opposite of what I would have expected to have happen.

Every time I heard it, I was very moved by it. He changed it up each time but the main message was clear. He explained that you have to put yourself in the position to have revelatory experiences in order to have a spiritual confirmation of faith. I think this is true.

When people become offended or burned out or just start to feel tired and apathetic about the church they naturally stop going or doing the little things. They're just little things. And they are almost cliches (read scriptures, pray, go to all your meetings) but doing those things positions you to receive confirmation not only of those things but also to open you up to larger, affirming experiences. It's the same with a lot of stuff. When I get tired and stressed out I don't read as much and then I forget that I LOVE reading and that it actually sustains me and refreshes me and makes me happy and helps me deal with feeling tired and stressed out. Apparently it's the same with exercise.

I can see that a naysayer or non-religious person would say that my stake president and all people who teach this type of thing—essentially, that you have to do it to believe it—are using a form of brainwashing just to get people to do what they want. Like, my stake president might have a vested interest in our stake members paying tithing so he's going to preach that the only way to get a testimony of tithing is to pay it so he can get a bunch of money. I can see this criticism of the testimony-gaining process, but I reject it. My stake president is a good, smart, hard-working man who doesn't get his thrills from planning youth conferences and is not getting rich off of tithing. He is not self-serving. Asking people to live the gospel is not self-serving. (It only creates more work for him.) He is asking people to live the gospel because it makes them happier and because he believes it's true. He believes the best defense against the evil of the world is knowing the joy of the gospel. I believe this too. 

It is an unfortunate irony (like me not reading when I feel overwhelmed and too stressed to read) when people stop going to church when they are having trouble because, as my stake president put it, they are turning their back on the very thing that can heal them. Aside from the healing power of the atonement, which I believe in, being outwardly focused and engaged in the cause of helping others does help you gain perspective and forget your own worries.  And if you are disillusioned with the church because of some outrageous person or weird Sunday School lesson, why not hang in there and be the more liberal voice or more reasonable voice or less certain voice that you are criticizing the church for not having? President Uchtdorf has literally said, Come, join with us. He says that diversity within the church is one of its greatest strengths. I totally agree with this.

President Williams made the comment that people sometimes leave a "cartoon-version of the church." Speaking from the pulpit about lapsed faith has become more and more common among church leaders. I don't recall it ever being mentioned openly as much. I feel like there's a new wave of understanding, compassionate leaders (my bishop, my stake president, Dieter Uchtdorf, Jeffrey Holland, Henry B. Eyring) in the church who want to address concerns and bring people into the fold. Again, I can see how naysayers might think this is weird. Why can't they just mind their own business? Why are you always trying to "bring people into the fold"? I get that sentiment. I can't really explain it other than to say that believing it is living it and living it, inherently, makes you care about other people and want to help them to be comforted and happy. I know that members of other faiths and atheists care about people, too. The new pope is one of the most caring people I've ever heard of. But for me and for my family, the LDS church is the way to become better, happier people and for friends who have lost their faith and are struggling I think the LDS church has something to offer. Would I try to convert the pope? I wouldn't. Would I try to convert a happy, good atheist? Probably not. That's why I'm calling this post "Don't Leave the Church" and not "Become a Mormon, Pope." I am not that bold of a missionary. But there are people who are and I think they have good intentions.

In theory you could feel resentful about a Stake President who nags you to come to church. But that's a cartoon version of the church. Because you can't actually go to 7 ward conferences and listen to that stake president trying to help and encourage the members of his congregation and explain his hopes for them—that they might have a higher vision of this world and their place in it—and not feel moved. I fully expected to be bored and sick of ward conferences by the end. But I wasn't. And I get bored and sick of a lot of things. I'm not mature. I don't have a lot of scriptures memorized. My stake president said you need to go to church and put yourself where the word of God can sink into your heart. I go to church every week. I don't feel the need to go to 7 extra sacrament meetings. But I'll be darned if what he said was not only true but actually happening to me while he said it, over and over. I always believed he was a good man and a capable stake president but now I believe in the gospel more profoundly and it makes me want to be better and do more good things.

Don't leave the church. It's good for you and you're good for it. There are lots of issues, guys. I know. None are insurmountable. You can handle it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

It's Time for Taylor Swift to Grow Up

I am a fan of Taylor Swift. She's talented. I like her style. But it's time for her to grow up. She's played the mincing cutie pie who keeps getting hurt by mean boys long enough. If this schtick goes on much longer it's going to become trite. One could argue that it already is.

I think Red is a fantastic album. "Stay, Stay, Stay" is adorable. I get it. She's adorable. She keeps falling in love and she wants to talk about it. But she is 24. By now it's clear that girlfriend gets around. She needs to write songs that reflect more maturity and explore different themes or I will start to hate her. I know she can. This song featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol shows us that she can be a bit more grown up and interesting, even if she can't help but play to the crowd with her glitter eyes. I know you can do it Taylor. Get some depth and move forward. It's time.

I love this song and this performance—Especially the chaste non-lower-body-touching hug from 37-year-old Gary Lightbody.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Some Thoughts

I hope you'll indulge me in sharing some thoughts today. As is my blogging prerogative, I haven't bothered to find a consistent theme or revise.

Did you ever know or babysit kids when you were young who referred to using the bathroom as "having a b.m."? I did. They were always a bit odd, but I have a feeling they grew to be successful adults. Maybe I can confirm on Facebook?

Speaking of having a feeling, I have a feeling my foster dog is pregnant. She sleeps all day and has big nips. I have no idea if this is an indication of pregnancy—I'm not a veterinarian! And I didn't grow up learning at the knee of one either, for some reason—but I just feel like she might be. She gets spayed next Monday so we'll see what happens and if the 14th amendment comes into play.

Yesterday Sam used the sewing machine to fix a hole in his sweater and today Ben fried his own egg. I think it's wonderful!  Are my expectations too low? Or are my sons advanced for 16 and 11? It's hard to gauge.

Also, everyone is talking about how cool Jared Leto is and how he should win an Oscar. I haven't seen Dallas Buyers Club. I imagine that it's quite good, but in this discussion of how cool and talented and how great Jared Leto looks at 42 no one—NO ONE—has mentioned how pedestrian his music is. He's the front man for 30 Seconds to Mars, which has always taken itself too seriously.

And finally, here are links to my Babble posts. Read them! It will prove to Babble that I am good and worthwhile and also you will like them. You will probably like them.

Here's the Mike Rowe story about his Walmart commercial. Maybe you already read it when Mike Rowe HIMSELF linked to it on Facebook. Please quit stalking me, Mike Rowe.

I covered the movie Noah, which hopes to appeal to Christians and non-believers alike. All I know is that my Sunday School class is very excited for it to come out.

Here are some good pictures of Princes William and Harry cradling fake burlap babies I mean sandbagging a flooding town in Berkshire.

And this is a pretty cool "Sweet Child o' Mine" cover done New Orleans Jazz style. I like it. Do you?

Are you having a good day?Are you having a good b.m.? Do you know when dogs are pregnant? Is Mike Rowe stalking you? I hope the answer to all of those questions is a resounding "Yes!"

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Niggling Problem of Sunday School

First off, I don't want to start a riot. When it comes to my Mormonism, I am devout—"all in," you could say. And when it comes to Sunday School teachers, I personally know many very good ones—my friend Mera, my sister in law, and Jim Faulconer have all been thoughtful, smart, good-at-teaching Sunday School teachers.

That said, what is the deal with Sunday School? I guess it has been about 10 years since I have regularly attended because of my callings. This year I started going in earnest and I've been visiting a lot of Sunday Schools in my stake since my calling has me attending all of our Ward Conferences. I don't want to just bash or go off (that's what Sunday School is for–zing), but I regularly feel extremely uncomfortable sitting in Sunday School and I often leave thinking, "Well, that was quite terrible."

Why is Sunday School like this? I'm really asking. I have been thinking about it. I guess it's because there's a wide variety of people in the audience with varying interests. So lots of times we aren't talking about what I'm interested in. Maybe that's the gist of it.

Right now the new church curriculum really emphasizes class involvement, especially in the youth classes. The reasoning goes that if people participate they are more likely to internalize the lesson. But I'm not sure privileging class discussion in Sunday School is good. I'd rather have a prepared teacher lecture to me for an hour than have to go off on some of the strange tangents that class members bring up. It's not that I don't like my class members in general or care about what they think. But it seems like comments are often made just to validate a worldview. This can be uninteresting at best, self-congratulatory and bigoted at its worst.

I don't think the discourse in Sunday School always jibes with our Christian values. What we spend time talking about doesn't reflect how most of us act every day. In a class discussion someone might, for example, extrapolate extreme right wing political theory from gospel principles or suggest that poor people are less righteous than rich people but they probably wouldn't ever question whether something in the bible could be figurative instead of literal.

I'm not saying any of these things are right or wrong. But of mixing church and state, thinking unkindly about the poor, and speculating about literal scriptural meaning, I would say thinking unkindly of the poor is probably the worst of these in terms of Christian values. And yet, we aren't startled at all when this kind of uncharitable talk comes up. We would be startled if someone said they didn't believe Noah's flood covered the whole earth. But which is worse to believe? 

Another example: I've heard a lot of very strong words against gay marriage in Sunday School (and I'm not really interested in debating that here. I think we know there are a lot of thoughtful people on both sides of the issue) but I know that individually there are people in my stake who are gay or have gay kids who would be really nice and charitable to gay people in person. (It's a minority of people that wouldn't act this way in person, I believe.)I hear a lot of racist comments in Sunday School too. But again, I think mostly, on an individual level, the people who are saying these things are charitable in real life.

In other words, I know a lot of very nice people who try to live their religion and be kind. But something about Sunday School gives people license to go off and either say what they privately think or spout platitudes that have somehow come to be accepted as OK-to-say-in-Sunday School. I don't really know what's happening there.

Also, there's always that crazy person in Sunday School who says weird stuff. This is great source material for funny stories but it occurred to me one Sunday, what if Sunday School exists to give a voice to the mentally ill? They get a chance to say their piece—no harm done. Maybe we aren't really there to learn or get a better understanding of the scriptures. Maybe we are there to let people talk and feel validated. If that's the case, I'm OK with it.

If Sunday school exists to instruct and inspire, I think if falls short more often than our other meetings. It doesn't always fall short and I'm not saying it's a waste of time.  I will say that for one glorious year when our building was being remodeled we skipped Sunday School and went to a 2- hour block and we prospered and felt happy and had no more disposition to do evil but to do good continually.

Sunday School is different from Sacrament Meeting because it is responsive—a 2-way conversation. And it's different from primary or YW/YM because in those classes the teacher is older and more of an "expert" than the people they are teaching, which is more like school. But in Sunday School people are peers and everyone feels deputized to contribute. It can be good—I've been inspired by a lot of my peers' comments—but it can also be quite terrible. I take it hard because I feel uncomfortable so easily. I need to get over that. Like I said, I'm new at Sunday School.

What do you think makes good Sunday School?

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