General Women’s Session: Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I love that President Uchtdorf addressed us as “dear friends,” and that he said, “I always look forward to this session of Conference.”

I’m glad someone looks forward to it. I usually dread it, and up until this point in the evening I’d roundly disliked the session. My stake had put together a heartfelt and meaningful service project beforehand, which was the only reason I’d left my cozy living room, and I was reconsidering ever taking my daughters to a Women’s Session again. Already I’d had to apologize to my 8-year-old for the dead mother/starving infant story in President Wixom’s talk, and had suppressed giggles when Sister McConkie said, re temptation, “Turn it off!” (Trust me, it’s very funny if you’ve seen the Book of Mormon musical.)

The story President Uchtdorf told was about a young girl, Ava, and her Great-Aunt Rose. But it was really about the joy and hope that Rose felt as she studied the gospel, and about being happy in the work we’re all doing, whether it’s the work we expected to be doing or not. Within the story was a stark contrast to Sister McConkie’s talk,  in which she told young women and girl-children that the most divine thing they can do is prepare for marriage and a family: an example of a single woman who was happy with her life, who had done and continued to do good and great works, and who had learned that faith and hope generate love.

It was a wonderful parable, and a wonderful talk. I’m just disappointed that it hadn’t been given by one of the women. When are we going to stop telling girls that their worth lies in their ability to be wives and mothers? When are we going to start encouraging girls to plan for meaningful careers? When are we going to take it upon ourselves to tell powerful stories about women, rather than wait for male leaders to interject them at the end of our meetings?

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“What’s your plan when you get home?”

Girl with Books

I always ask missionaries about their schooling. Did they attend college or trade school before serving a mission? Are they planning to go back? What are they planning to study and why? I know that’s a lot of pressure for a young person who’s supposed to be 100 percent dedicated to service for 18 to 24 months, but it’s the luck of the draw, kid: I prep students for the SAT, and my husband is a college professor.

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Goodbye, Emma Lou

The summer after my freshman year of college, I somehow landed a job working at A Woman’s Place, Salt Lake City’s only (and long since former) feminist bookstore. I’m not quite sure who recommended me for the job in the first place, though I suspect my neighbor Marilyn, who’d supplied me with a steady diet of girl-power literature since I was ten, may have been my benefactor. The shop was an oasis, a safe place, a wonderful experience for an angsty feminist eighteen-year-old girl who’d had Sonia Johnson’s From Housewife to Heretic and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own roiling in her head for the past four years. Regulars described the bookstore as “the only place where you’ll find Emma Lou Thayne on the shelf next to lesbian fiction.”

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International Series: The Trumpet Shall Sound

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Rahel.

How it eluded me for 35 years of active church membership, I do not know. In a recent conversation in my current ward in Pittsburgh, USA, I discovered that brass instruments are deemed “not appropriate for sacrament meeting” churchwide (Handbook 2, p. 115). Possibly, this personal discovery was avoided for so long through a succession of rogue bishops in my old ward—Basel, Switzerland—who allowed members to enhance the meetings on a variety of instruments with “less worshipful sound” (ibid.). I left the conversation with a tongue in cheek comment: “How else are you supposed to instill in people the fear of God if not by the piercing sound of trumpets?” (It might help with staying awake too.)

I am somewhat perplexed by how much this discovery affected me. Even though I like jazz and other music that involves brass instruments, I would be just fine with never hearing brass instruments during sacrament meeting again. Maybe I would have never even noticed the lack of trumpets and trombones in my new ward if it were not pointed out to me specifically. Why, then, do I feel the need to dwell on this seemingly minor point? I wonder if my discomfort might not stem from the content of the rule itself but rather from its apparent arbitrariness.

There is no universal principle stating that certain instruments are not worshipful. Arguably, certain sounds are more calming and soothing, while others are more stimulating. However, reverence does not equal calmness. It is possible to worship God in many differing states of agitation. I’m reminded of the case of Saul, who was given the following promise by Samuel:

After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, at the place where the Philistine garrison is; there, as you come to the town, you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the shrine with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre playing in front of them; they will be in a prophetic frenzy. Then the spirit of the Lord will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person. (10:5-6, NRSV)

If Saul could be at his most worshipful in a “prophetic frenzy” accompanied by tambourines, there must be a range of moods appropriate to the worship of God. Besides, we already have many songs in the hymnbook that elicit exuberance appropriate for those “other” instruments. Should we get rid of those songs as well? Somebody might get too exited! If calmness truly were a measure of worshipfulness then being asleep might be the most worshipful state of all.

Generally, Mormonism seems to have adopted a certain idea of worship that is not only expressed in its use of specific instruments. It is also conveyed in the style of its music, in the particular way the melodies flow and the tones merge into one indistinguishable sauce. Or you might recall instances of talks given in very aspirated voices, the “spiritual voice,” as my husband calls it. Aren’t you glad that they are not mandated by the Handbook?

I have come to refer to this particular style as the Walt Disney brand of worship, a brand where no dissonances, abrupt sounds, or unhappy endings are allowed. This is not to say that there is no merit to this kind of worship. Personally, I have found myself manipulated to tears by meetings in this vein. But, as someone who leans towards a more Lars Trier-oriented style, I also want a turn.

I find arbitrary rules harmful, and not just out of a belated teenage angst. They cause the power imbalance between those creating the rules and those having no part in making them to be more tangible. Of course, rules will only seem arbitrary to a person who was not part of creating them. In terms of the Church, I believe that the arbitrariness of certain rules is more blatant and therefore also more bothersome to people from cultures other than that of the rule-setters.

If the leaders of the Church ever come to me for advice about the handbook—and I’m sure they will—I will counsel them to allow more flexibility to the rules by being less specific. These rules are not about the Truth, so there is flexibility to be had. And if I was already at it, I would suggest less micromanaging and more self-determination. If the Church is big enough to accommodate the Swiss as well as the American, it is big enough to accommodate the horn as well as the organ.

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