On Welcoming.

Welcoming

A few years ago, my friend called me up and told me about the beautiful testimony meeting she had just experienced, that left her feeling the spirit more strongly than ever before. The one detail I remember now is that a lesbian sister spoke from her pain and her faith. I was surprised to discover later that the same meeting that meant so much to my friend, caused other members to walk out of the chapel, audibly voicing their distaste. I thought of these things again after a somewhat unfortunate series of events re-demonstrated that words that may be a balm for some may be a source of discomfort, fear, or anger for others. It has made me wonder if this will always be the case, and how a real unity–allowing for real differences–may be developed. It also made me remember something that I wrote here before, about belonging.

In that previous post, I wrote about a friend who was confident of God’s love, but didn’t quite feel like she belonged in her ward, because she was over a certain age, with a PhD, but without a husband or child. I wrote too, about another dear person to me, who had a husband and many children, but similarly felt the not-belonging feelings because she was older than many in her ward. And then I wrote about me, and how I have felt the feeling before, too, including during the period when I biked to church alone, and didn’t know who I would sit by, because my husband was in another state, with a relative who was not well. In my own instance, a dear women literally made room for me by scooting over, and inviting me to sit with her family. I felt the welcome.

So when I was recently asked to speak to the women in my ward about fellowshipping, I wanted to speak to all of these things. There are a myriad of reasons why someone might not feel like they belong. One of them is that they may feel like their truest thoughts and feelings don’t belong. It is why I was so grateful for President Uchtdorf’s remarks in his talk, “Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth” at this last General Conference.

The printed version includes the subject heading “There Is No Litmus Test.”

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November 2014 Visiting Teaching: Teacher’s Choice from Conference

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“I love how they all do that when they are done with the speech, you know? That thing they say at the end every time?” This was to me byjesus loves you my non-Mormon friend after she had just attended a Mormon funeral. I was a bit perplexed about what she was talking about.

Then it came to me. “You mean… ‘in the name of Jesus Christ, amen’?”

“Yes!” she said emphatically, passionately and with a devoutness not common to her manner of speaking. “It really sounds sweet…but it means something more, ya know? I can tell. I means something. I like that. A lot. The rest of the talking was just….whatever… but that ending part…. I really like that.”

“Yes…” I said, somewhat vaguely. I had never thought about the way we, as Latter-day Saints, close speaking assignments and prayers up until that moment. I’ve heard people discuss how to begin prayers, from the traditional “Heavenly Father,” to the more progressive “Heavenly Parents,” or “Heavenly Mother,” and even to “God, the father of Abraham,” all pending social, traditional, personal and political influences. I’ve often heard people stumped over how to start a speaking assignment. But no matter the start, the end-speak cadence is always the same: “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

I pondered this in consideration of the Visiting Teaching message from General Conference.

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Relief Society Lesson 25: The Birth of Jesus Christ: “Good Tidings of Great Joy”

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Mary nativity

Mary nativity

 

To quote the Teachings of Joseph F. Smith manual:

“There is no story quite as beautiful, or which can stir the soul of the humble quite to the depths, as this glorious story can of the birth of our Redeemer. No words that man may utter can embellish or improve or add to the eloquence of its humble simplicity. It never grows old no matter how often told, and the telling of it is by far too infrequent in the homes of men.”

If I were teaching this lesson, I would do exactly – talk of the birth of Christ.  And not of the shepherds, or Joseph, or the wise men, but the person who was the intimately and physically involved in the birth of Christ: Mary.  In my experience at Christmas-time at church, we often want to gloss over the experiences of Mary as the mother and life-giver in favor of celebrating Christ and the meaning of his life and teachings.  I don’t think this is necessarily inappropriate, but since we (hopefully) devote the other 51 weeks of our Sunday worship to the teachings of Christ, I’d like to talk a little about the brave woman who gave Christ life.

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Relief Society Lesson 24: The Work of Latter-day Saint Women

Emma Smith
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I would start this lesson by putting Joseph Fielding Smith’s quote up on the board: “There is no limit to the good that our sisters can do.”

How does this quote feel to you?  What limits do we often put on ourselves?  My greatest limitation is fear.  I am afraid that I’m not good enough, that I’ll fail, that I’ll do something wrong.  Sometimes I even fear that I’ll succeed.  Fear of discovering our power as women can limit the good that we can do.

On March 17, 1842, Emma Smith gathered with other women and men to officially organize a society for the women.  There was great debate over what the society should be called.  Some wanted it to be called the Benevolent Society.  Others wanted to call it the Relief Society.  In the midst of this debate, Emma said:

“We are going to do something extraordinary! When a boat is stuck in the rapids with a multitude of Mormons on board, we shall consider that a loud call for relief. We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.”1
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Relief Society Lesson 23: Individual Responsibility

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The lesson opens with the following quote:

“We expect our members everywhere to learn correct principles and govern themselves.” (Joseph Smith)govern2

This quote alone could serve as a discussion base for an entire lesson.  It begs big and interesting questions.  Here are a few.

  • For some it seems that we are not allowed to govern ourselves, but rather that the church and its leaders govern for us.  Do you think this is true? In your life, do you feel that you govern yourself?  Whether, yes or no, how does this make you feel?  (Empowered?  Happy? Controlled?  Frustrated?)
  • What are correct principles?   And how do we learn them?  (from the church manuals and teaching?  The scriptures?  General Conference?  Our Bishops?  Our own prayer and revelation?  Temple attendance?)  Contradictory themes abound among these tools; how do we decide which tools to use and how are sure that we are learning correct principles?  What do we do when others learn in different ways?

Teachers Note 1

CrucibleI would recommend several chapters in the Givins’ latest book, “The Crucible of Doubt”, as background reading (and as great source of quotes).

  • Chapter 4: The Use and Abuse of Scriptures, which discuss the various contradictions we see in scripture and in church teaching – and what to do about it.
  • Chapter 6: The Ring of Pharaoh, discussing the fallibility of church leaders and God’s anointed – and how to navigate this truth while stay believing.
  • Chapter 8, Find Your Water Place, exploring how individuals can find their own place of spiritual fulfillment and insight.
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October 2014 Visiting Teaching Message: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Bread of Life

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Rosh Hashan'naSometimes in the church, we become so familiar with symbols that we forget what the symbol really is. Bread is one of those symbols that we hear about every week as the sacrament is being blessed and passed. And as I was contemplating this message, my mind swirled with thoughts of bread— literal bread. I thought of those who are gluten-intolerant, and Celiac, and cultures where bread is uncommon… and I wondered… what is the real substance behind bread?

I confess that the message this month did not feel clear to me about the use of the symbol of bread. Clearly Christ is the bread—as recorded by John (John 6:35), “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

And yet… there are days like today, where I still feel alone, weepy, and just, well—spiritually unfilled. My spirit is hungry and thirsty. I know Christ is “the bread of life,” yet through my prayers and study today, I still feel…. Empty. I sense and fear that I am not alone in this feeling. That although we might know what is supposed to fill us, sometimes we still feel unfed. We seek for more.

 

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