On Obedience and Happiness

screenshot for exii postOn a Monday in March I went to lds.org to access my ward directory and noticed the Mormon Message in the top left panel.  It featured this video.

You’ll just have to trust me because I didn’t take a screenshot, but the video was titled “Happiness is the Sum of Obedience” with the subtitle “Do you understand God’s equation for happiness?”  When I returned to the site two days later the title had changed to “Obedience to the Ten Commandments.”

This brings up two questions for me.  First, why was the title changed?  And second, why the original titles were chosen in the first place?

1.
I have no objection to the Mormon Message video, but I very much object to the original title and subtitle.  I think they’re damaging and false, and I left a comment saying so (without using those words).  I don’t have my original comment, but it was close to the following:

Elder Perry’s talk is valuable and the video is beautifully produced.  But I find the title and subtitle problematic for a couple of reasons. First, Elder Perry doesn’t phase things that way, and second they lend themselves to the idea that obedience to God is a transactional process.  As if God dispenses particular blessings in response to obedience like a vending machine would.  The danger with this kind of thinking is that when people are doing their best to follow the commandments and still not receiving desired blessings, it can lead to an unnecessary crisis of faith. 

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#VisibleWomen Series: Please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidency Members to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the High Council

Here is the letter I’m sending to general and auxiliary authorities, and (slightly revised) to my local leaders:

 

Dear Leader,

I’ve been a Relief Society member for almost 20 years.  During that time I got married, became a mother, graduated from two universities, began working in my profession, and held several callings in Relief Society, always including that of Visiting Teacher.  I’ve taught and been taught by my fellow sisters and received support in life transitions, and have appreciated the company of my peers and the wisdom of women farther along in life than I am.

I have learned something from each of my Relief Society Presidents and have regarded them as inspired women with stewardship for me.  I can name most of them and picture a talk or an event where they said something meaningful.  But as I think back on my years in Relief Society I realize I don’t remember any of my Stake Relief Society Presidencies.  I never even knew most their names.  I rarely if ever heard them speak.  Though I believe they had a spiritual stewardship over the women in our stake, I can’t think of anything I learned from them because I did not know them.  This has also been true of the Stake Young Women and Stake Primary Presidencies of my youth.  By contrast I’ve always known who the Stake President and his counselors were.

It occurs to me that this is a loss, for me personally, and I think for the majority of women in the stakes I have lived in.  There must be a way to benefit more often and more directly from the wisdom and spiritual strength of the women called to leadership positions in the stakes of the Church.

Would you please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidencies to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the Stake High Council speak to the wards of the Stake?  Similar to how women in the General Presidencies of the Church speak in General Conference?  There are no doubt other ways to get to know our stake leaders, but this would have the benefit of allowing all women (and children and men) to hear their words, whether or not they attend Relief Society on Sundays, and whether or not they’re part of a particular auxiliary.

My stake is geographically large and diverse, and while I always appreciate the contact with the stake membership and the Stake Presidency that High Council speakers bring, I really feel the lack of contact with the women leaders of my stake, particularly the Stake Relief Society Presidency.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Relief Society Lesson 6: Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer

Jesus-Picture-Christ-Teaching-Samarian-Woman-At-The-Well

Traduction en français/Click for French Translation
Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

I think this lesson is more challenging than it looks at first glance. The life, death, and resurrection of the Savior is the foundation of the gospel and is very dear to us in individually. Because it’s both foundational and personal I think it could be challenging to teach a lesson that is meaningful for each member of the class. As teachers we risk repeating obvious platitudes or leading the discussion into topics that only a subset of the class can relate to. This is also the risk of a manual that uses quotations from only one person. Even though that person is a prophet, his voice will resonate with some people more than with others.

What is your goal as you prepare this lesson? What do you want the women in your Relief Society class to experience in your precious 40 minutes with them? Here are a few possible goals I can think of, no doubt there are many others.

  • Feeling the love Jesus Christ has for them
  • Increased faith in the reality of Jesus Christ (Sections 2 and 3 in the lesson)
  • Feeling hope in the resurrection and being reunited with loved ones who have died (Section 1 in the lesson)
  • Feeling hope in the possibility of personal change through the atonement (Section 1 in the lesson)
  • Increased gratitude for the gift of the atonement
  • A new insight into what it looks like to rely on the Savior (Section 4 in the lesson)
  • Increased knowledge/awareness of how Ezra Taft Benson testified of the Savior (lesson introduction)
  • Increased desire to share our testimony of Jesus with friends and loved ones (Section 3 in the lesson)
  • Refreshed our thoughts on what it means to “be like Jesus.” (Section 5 in the lesson)

Depending on the what you decide to focus on, I suggest using a few quotes from the manual that are relevant to your topic, then supplementing that with additional voices and stories on that topic. Here are some suggestions:

  • Read a favorite story from the life of Jesus and explain why it’s meaningful to you
  • Carefully choose hymns that teach about the aspect of the lesson you’d most like to emphasize
  • Ahead of time, ask women from the class to prepare thoughts on a personal experience with the atonement that they will share with the class; give other class members the same opportunity
  • Recall stories from family history, church history, scripture, or literature that illustrate the points you would like to make.
  • Share New Testament stories in which Jesus interacted with women

It’s impossible to tell what will speak to each woman in the class, and impossible to say something meaningful to each one individually. But every woman is coming to Relief Society with something weighing on her heart, and each one needs the Savior’s love. Stories have the power to teach and lift in ways that feel miraculously personal because each person brings her own experiences to the story. I think this is why Jesus taught in parables, and I think a lesson on Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, begs that we re-tell the “stories of Jesus, things that he would tell… if he were here.

Leçon de la Société de Secours n°6 : Jésus-Christ, notre Sauveur et Rédempteur

Jesus-Picture-Christ-Teaching-Samarian-Woman-At-The-WellJe pense que cette leçon est plus difficile qu’elle n’a l’air. La vie, la mort et la résurrection du Sauveur sont la fondation de l’Evangile et nous sont très chers individuellement. Comme elles sont à la fois personnelles et fondamentales, je pense que c’est difficile d’enseigner une leçon qui soit significative pour chaque membre de la classe. En tant qu’instructrices, nous courons le risque de répéter des platitudes évidentes ou d’amener la discussion dans des directions qui parlent à seulement une partie de la classe. Ceci est un risque également d’un manuel qui cite seulement une personne. Même si cette personne est un prophète, sa voix résonnera plus avec certaines personnes qu’avec d’autres.

Quel est votre objectif en préparant cette leçon? Que voulez-vous que les femmes de votre classe expérimentent pendant les 40 minutes que vous passez ensemble? Voici quelques objectifs possibles auxquels je pense, il y en a surement d’autres :

  • Ressentir l’amour que Jésus-Christ à pour nous
  • Agrandir la foi dans la réalité de Jésus-Christ (les sections 2 et 3 de la leçon)
  • Ressentir de l’espoir dans la résurrection et la réunion avec ceux qui sont morts (la section 1 de la leçon)
  • Ressentir de l’espoir dans la possibilité de changer par l’intermédiaire de l’Expiation (la section 1 de la leçon)
  • Agrandir la reconnaissance pour le don de l’Expiation
  • Créer une nouvelle vision de ce que c’est dépendre du Sauveur (la section 4 de la leçon)
  • Apprendre comment Ezra Taft Benson témoignait du Sauveur (l’introduction de la leçon)
  • Nourrir le désir de partager notre témoignage de Jésus avec nos amis et nos proches (la section 3 de la leçon)
  • Nous rappeler de ce que cela veut dire « être comme Jésus » (la section 5 de la leçon)

Selon l’axe que vous choisissez, je suggère de prendre quelques citations du manuel qui sont pertinentes et d’utiliser d’autres histoires et sources sur le même sujet. Voici quelques suggestions :

  • Lire une histoire préférée de la vie de Jésus et expliquer pourquoi elle est significative pour vous.
  • Choisir un cantique qui parle de la partie de la leçon qui vous voudriez souligner.
  • Demander à quelques sœurs à l’avance de préparer quelques pensées sur l’Expiation; donner l’occasion aux autres de partager une expérience.
  • Raconter des histoires de l’histoire familiale, l’histoire de l’Eglise, les Ecritures ou de la littérature qui illustrent les points que vous voudriez souligner.
  • Partager des histoires du Nouveau Testament où Jésus interagit avec des femmes.

C’est impossible de savoir ce qui va parler à chaque femme de la classe et de dire quelque chose de significative à chacune d’entre elles. Mais chaque femme vient à la Société de Secours avec quelque chose qui pèse sur le cœur, et chacune a besoin de l’amour du Sauveur. Les histoires ont le pouvoir d’enseigner et de relever d’une façon qui semble miraculeusement personnelle car chaque personne apporte ces propres expériences à l’histoire. Je pense que c’est la raison pour laquelle Jésus a enseigné par des paraboles. Je pense qu’une leçon sur Jésus-Christ, notre Sauveur et Rédempteur requiert que nous racontons les histoires qu’il raconterait lui-même s’il était là.

 

Sociedad de Socorro
Traducción por Cesar Carreón Tapia
Lección 6: “Jesucristo, nuestro Salvador y Redentor”

Esta lección puede ser más difícil de lo que parece a primera vista. La vida, la muerte y la Resurrección del Salvador son el fundamento del Evangelio y es un tema muy apreciado individualmente. Ya que es algo tan fundamental y personal a la vez, puede ser un reto enseñar una lección que sea significativa para todas las hermanas en la clase. Como maestras nos arriesgamos a repetir clichés obvios o llevar la discusión a temas con los que sólo una parte de la clase puede relacionarse. Este es también el riesgo de un manual que utiliza citas de una sola persona. A pesar de que esa persona es un profeta, su voz resonará con algunas personas más que con otras.

¿Cuál es su objetivo al preparar esta lección? ¿Qué quiere que las mujeres en su clase de Sociedad de Socorro experimenten en esos preciosos cuarenta minutos? Aquí hay algunas metas posibles, aunque sin duda hay muchas otras:

  • Sentir el amor que Jesucristo tiene por nosotras.
  • Aumentar nuestra fe en la realidad de Jesucristo (Secciones 2 y 3 de la lección).
  • Sentir esperanza en la Resurrección y en reunirnos con nuestros seres queridos que han muerto (Sección 1 de la lección).
  • Esperanza en la posibilidad de un cambio personal a través de la Expiación (Sección 1 de la lección).
  • Sentir mayor gratitud por el don de la Expiación.
  • Una nueva visión de lo que es confiar en el Salvador (Sección 4 de la lección).
  • Mayor conocimiento y conciencia de cómo Ezra Taft Benson testificó del Salvador (introducción de la lección).
  • Aumentar el deseo de compartir nuestro testimonio de Jesús con nuestra familia y seres queridos (Sección 3 de la lección).
  • Refrescar nuestras ideas sobre lo que significa “ser como Jesús” (Sección 5 de la lección).

En función del enfoque que desee dar a la lección, se sugiere utilizar algunas citas del manual que sean relevantes para su tema y a continuación complementar con voces adicionales e historias sobre el mismo. He aquí algunas sugerencias:

  • Leer su historia favorita de la vida de Jesús y explicar por qué es significativa para usted.
  • Elegir cuidadosamente himnos que enseñen sobre el aspecto de la lección que más le gustaría enfatizar.
  • Pedir con anticipación a las mujeres de la clase que preparen pensamientos sobre una experiencia personal con la Expiación para que puedan compartir en la clase; dar a otros miembros de la clase la misma oportunidad.
  • Recordar anécdotas de la historia familiar, historia de la Iglesia, pasajes de las Escrituras o de la literatura que ilustren los puntos que enseñe.
  • Compartir historias del Nuevo Testamento en las que Jesús interactuó con las mujeres.

Es imposible saber lo que va a decir cada mujer en la clase, y es imposible decir algo significativo para cada una de ellas individualmente. Pero toda mujer llega a la Sociedad de Socorro con algo que pesa sobre su corazón, y cada una necesita el amor del Salvador. Las historias tienen el poder de enseñarnos y elevarnos en una manera que se siente milagrosamente personal, ya que cada persona aporta su propia experiencia a la historia. Creo que esto es por lo que Jesús enseñó en parábolas, y creo que una lección sobre Jesucristo, nuestro Salvador y Redentor, requiere que volvamos a contar las “historias de Cristo, las cosas que Él diría… si Él estuviera aquí”.

 

 

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Sacred Music Sunday: How Far is it to Bethlehem

DSC_001117Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?  I have too many to name just one.  You probably do, too.  For me, Christmas music is the best thing about this season.  This month the music that’s most on my mind is the English carol “How Far is it to Bethlehem.”  I memorized it because I’ll be directing a dozen kids in singing it for sacrament meeting next week.

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A Review of Walking With the Women of the New Testament

51Hil65oDaL._SL500_AA300_Walking With the Women of the New Testament by Heather Farrell contains 60 meditations on women of the New Testament.  All the named women in the New Testament are featured, as well as many who are not, such as Jesus’ sisters and the mother of the man born blind.

At 291 pages the book has heft to it, and this tangible fact relays one of its main messages: that women in the New Testament were numerous and real, with “real lives, real feelings, and real problems.”  Each entry begins with the scriptural passage telling the woman’s story and artwork depicting her story, and is followed by a 2-3 page meditation by Farrell in which she frames the story in terms of its historical context and/or the possible feelings and motivations of the woman in the story, and then a reflection on a spiritual lesson to be gained from the story.

For example on the Widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15), Farrell writes,

“We don’t know if this young man’s death was the result of a long drawn out illness or an unexpected accident, but no matter how she died, it is likely that his mother’s grief was fresh.  She may have only had hours to process the news of his death and all the implications that came with it.  As a widow, with no male to take care of her, this woman’s plight might have been hard indeed.  The newness of her grief makes Christ’s tender words, “Weep not” (verse 13) all the more powerful.  He was telling her that even though her grief seemed unbearable, she wouldn’t have to mourn much longer.”

Farrell then explains the etymology of compassion (“He had compassion on her.” (verse 13)), and notes that “in the accounts we have of Jesus raising someone from the dead, all of them are done in the presence of, and usually on behalf of, women.”  This is an interesting insight I’d never thought of.  Farrell continues,

“Raising a person from the dead is an incredible miracle for anyone to witness.  Yet I can’t help but feel that it has special meaning for women, whose bodies create mortal life and who spend so much of their time nurturing and shaping lives.  It seems to me that Christ wanted to demonstrate to women that He had power over the grave.”

I think the meditation on the Widow of Nain is reasonably representative of the other entries in the book.  It’s a heartfelt and faithful reading that reflects Farrell’s original impetus in studying the scriptures with a focus on the women’s stories.  She writes, “I wanted to gain a better testimony of God’s love for women and better understand women’s roles.”  So she kept a journal as she read, which gave rise to this book.  She encourages readers to do the same: read while reflecting on suggested questions, read between the lines, and rely on the Holy Ghost.  She acknowledges that the details about these women are scarce, and that “while there is much truth in the Bible, some of it is missing, and if we want those gaps filled in, we don’t have to turn to outside sources.  The Holy Ghost can enlighten our understanding and teach us.”  While I agree that the Holy Ghost is the unparalleled teacher of truth and wisdom, I would also have liked if the book delved deeper into other historical and scholarly work that has been done on the subject.  I generally prefer exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text, or reading “out of” a text), and this book includes quite a bit of eisegesis (an interpretation that expresses the interpreters ideas, or reading “into” a text).

I feel I must point out that while Farrell’s book is a thoughtful and comprehensive meditation on the women of the New Testament, it is not what I would consider a feminist reading of them.  It does not challenge current gender roles in the Church or attempt to stretch the understanding of roles that women in the New Testament may have held.  For example one of the questions she suggests readers reflect on in their scripture reading is, “What type of influence would she [the woman in the story] have had on those around her?”  She writes of current times:

“I think the problem is that in our society we often don’t see women.  Too often we take their influence in our lives and in society for granted.  Similarly in the scriptures, we simply don’t see the women.  The pages of the scriptures are filled with their stories and their influence, but too often we skip right past them, not even realizing they are there.”

Seeing women in the scriptures and in the world is something feminists have long fought for, but when the focus is on their “influence” I think we lose the perspective of their being agents unto themselves, not just an influence on the other actors or agents in a story.  Too often in the Church praising the “influence” of women is done as a way of deflecting attention from the fact that they hold so little actual power.

That said, this book acknowledges the women of the New Testament as being more present, both in numbers and in significance, than some would suppose.  I think it would make a good addition to Church member’s libraries (it is definitely written from an LDS perspective) and would be a great resource in preparing for talks and lessons as a way of finding examples of gospel principles in the lives of women in scripture.

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