Dear Sister Sassy: Visiting Teaching Dilemma

adbf0f6196d792210049c0cd48fc3f0eSister Sassy is The Exponent’s resident Agony Aunt. Her previous excellent advice can be found here.

Dear Sister Sassy,
My ward just rearranged the Visiting Teaching Assignments, and my list now includes a woman with whom I am not acquainted. I’ve heard she is hostile to us, but the president has made it clear that everyone should receive at least one visit. What do I do?!
Beleaguered in Biloxi

Dear Beleaguered,
There is actually a very simple solution to this problem. Set up a time to go with your companion, and make sure that you travel in the same vehicle. If you live where people drive on the right, try to be the passenger – you’ll want to be as close to the curb as possible. When you arrive at the home, suggest a prayer in the car. This serves two purposes: First, it invites the Spirit and is a good idea. More importantly, from a cowardly point of view, it ensures that you have a reasonably equal starting pistol. As soon as you say “Amen,” spring from the car and march with great speed to the door. I know, you’re thinking this is crazy talk just because I radiate self-confidence and quiet dignity. Hear me out!

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Valentine’s Day: Women of the Bible Edition

It is that time of year again…that last minute scramble to find the ideal way to tell someone you love how much they mean to you.  You want that perfect card: something visually beautiful that can be displayed with pride on a desk or at home but also with the message that perfectly captures the feelings of your heart.  Last year The Exponent Blog proudly (reluctantly? unwittingly until it was too late?) introduced a line of tasteful and timeless Church history Valentines, featuring your favorite friends from Nauvoo.  If that theme better fits your Valentine’s style, check them out here!

This year we’re thrilled to offer a new collection of Valentines featuring the ladies of the Bible.  Print them off on cheap copier paper, scrawl your name, and show someone how much you care!  Bonus points if you tape candy on — everyone knows the best Valentines have sweets.  Candy not included.

Full disclosure:  Every Monday night I check my feminism at the family room door and watch The Bachelor for two beautiful, glorious hours.  What can I say, I love the journey of true love.  I drew these while watching and ran out of time to finish.  Needless to say, I accept no criticism of the quality of the art…because there is nothing here you could possibly criticize.

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Feminist Church, in Haiku Form

Wearing pants to church.
Getting shifty eyes from the
RS President.

Girls, we need to talk.
Modesty is not only
About your shoulders.

Watching Conference.
Whenever they say “virtue,”
I eat M&Ms.

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Tattoos and Ghost Stories

ghost

A few months ago a dear friend asked me if I had anything I’d want to contribute for a collection of essays on Primary that would be both real and uplifting. I recalled a funny and sweet memory of one daughter as a Sunbeam and submitted it. Another friend of ours, Bret Wunderli, also submitted a piece. Both were gladly accepted by the compiler. However, the publisher, whose distributor is Desert Book, found our submission troubling and chose to omit them stating: “With Deseret Book distributing this book, we can’t include anything that hints at questioning Church doctrines. Even if it’s subtle.” This disturbed me. Not because my story wouldn’t be included, but because of the climate of fear that is trickling down from above. There is just so much fear. And it is escalating.  Nobody’s mad about the editorial decision, just really sad when something you intended to be bright and insightful is seen as insidious. So brace yourselves for our expurgated stories:

“Tattoos”

My husband’s family is very loving, very supportive, and very colorful. Literally. Seven of the ten kids have at least one tattoo.  And not just initials, or some Chinese symbol that is supposed to say “serenity” but actually says “brussels sprout.” They wear tattoos of bulldogs and Spanish skylines, Maori symbolism, and even the Little Mermaid. My kids adore these aunts and uncles and get fairly defensive when Primary lessons lump body art into the list of “no no’s” or signs of apostasy.

When Georgia was a Sunbeam, her sweet teacher taught a lesson on bodies being temples. When she got to the part about tattoos being Bad, Georgia jumped up from her chair and let loose that her family had lots of tattoos and they were good and pretty and in fact God LOVED tattoos and temples had art so why not bodies—so there! Her kind teacher quietly directed these 3 and 4 year olds to draw pictures for the rest of the lesson.

After church, this teacher found my husband and me and told us the story. She handed me the picture Georgia had drawn. It was a very simple sketch of a man in robes, beard, long hair. Clearly it was Jesus…with a large red tattoo on his forehead of a heart. I looked up to see how this teacher was responding. She had a huge smile on her face and told me she loved Georgia because she was so passionate and truly understood that the Lord loves us all.  I hugged her and was so thankful for a teacher who can teach the party line but did not need to shut down the opposition. 

“Why aren’t there any women in the Godhead?”

By Bret Wunderli

Several years ago, my wife and I taught the oldest teenagers in Sunday School. We had prepared a lesson on something else, but when it became clear that the students were unclear about the Godhead, we scrapped our lesson and taught them about the Godhead. (It should be noted that these young men and women were smart; the fault, we’ve always assumed, was in the teaching they’d received. That is, their teachers had always assumed that they understood the Church’s teachings regarding the Godhead. That was our hypothesis, anyway.)

Some years later, I found myself teaching the oldest Primary children. To say these boys and girls were bright doesn’t do them justice. Remembering our experience in Sunday School, I decided to teach them the clearest, best lesson about the Godhead that I could manage when the topic came up in the manual.

At some point in the lesson, Victoria raised her hand. Her question was priceless. She said, “Why aren’t there any women in the Godhead?” Slight pause. Then, with a puzzled face and a tilted head, she added, “I mean, there’s a ghost in there after all.” That class was not only full of smart kids; they were also kind. They respected each other. So when I tell you that everyone (including the teacher) laughed, it’s important to understand that we were laughing at Victoria’s wit and not at her. Victoria was glowing.

Here’s my answer to her that day: “Victoria, there are many people in the Church who will give you many different answers to that question. Here’s the real deal. We just don’t know why there aren’t any women in the Godhead.”

And there you have it.

 

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Dear Sister Sassy: Our Resident Agony Aunt

adbf0f6196d792210049c0cd48fc3f0eHere at the Exponent we’re proud to introduce a column by our resident Agony Aunt, Sister Sassy.  An expert in homemaking, spirituality, doctrine, culture, morality, and pretty much everything else, Sister Sassy has been dispensing bad advice to fictitious readers for seven years and is excited to share her (dubious) recommendations with this audience.

Dear Sister Sassy,

It is my understanding that Family Home Evening is non-negotiable and key to my family’s happiness.  My husband is supposed to preside at our weekly gatherings.  When we were first married, we had FHE all the time, but it seems like now we’ve lost our spark.  My husband seems barely interested, even when I use themed printables! I am worried that he is going elsewhere to get slapdash spiritual lessons and forced activities.  Is he getting so much out of his Bishopric meetings he feels I have nothing left to offer him? Is this grounds for divorce?
Forlorn in Fremont

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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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