feasting on the word
the lesson was on the subject of selfless service (jana shared her interesting approach to it last week). president kimball’s writings were full of doctrinally significant insights into the nature of service. i was excited to discuss this material, as many lessons or talks which focus on service end up being narratives of service received or performed, resulting in a lot of weepy eyes and a good deal of warm fuzzy feelings and very little rigorous discussion of the principle of service. a few of the points i thought i’d make an effort to bring up or comment on during the lesson included:
- the relationship between service and fear—that when we live by faith, we adopt the savior’s perspective and can reach out to and serve others in love, rather than perceiving them as a threat (81). i’d also go a little further and connect this to the necessity of knowing Christ in order to have eternal life.
- the fact that focusing on service helps us turn our attention towards people in very real circumstances and in need of very real help, rather than focusing on institutional structure and power—that we will become more concerned with doing the savior’s work, than with advancing through the ranks so to speak. (this point could have some interesting negative connotations, too—similar to the “opiate of the masses” understanding of religion; i probably wouldn’t have brought this up in relief society, though. for some reason, mention of karl marx doesn’t get me very far in church meetings. . . .) (82)
- i love that president kimball celebrates individual gifts and urges us to use them in service, rather than “becom[ing] rubber stamps.” and that we “should develop our own talents and abilities and capacities to their limit and use them to build up the kingdom” (83). i especially think that mormon women need to hear this, given the time and energy devoted in church to establishing the “rubber stamp” of good womanhood.
- that all the commandments “hang” on the first two commandments—namely to love God, self and neighbor (86). i think it’s so vital to remember that love must be at the root of all good. love—not obedience, or distinguishing ourselves from others, or meting out justice, or fitting some mold of how we think we should be.
and a bit of a negative i wanted to call attention to and perhaps address:
president kimball writes: “some observers might wonder why we concern ourselves with such simple things as service to others in a world surrounded by such dramatic problems. yet, one of the advantages of the gospel of jesus christ is that it gives us perspective about the people on this planet, including ourselves, so that we can see the things that truly matter and avoid getting caught up in the multiplicity of lesser causes that vie for the attention of mankind . . . .” (83). he urges us to choose causes that are good, rather than those that are “fashionable” or “may produce the applause of the world.”
i see a tension in the first quote between “dramatic problems” and “the multiplicity of lesser causes that vie for the attention of mankind.” the latter functions as a sort of appositive for the former, implying that “dramatic” global problems are somehow less important that the simple daily services we often give.
i don’t think president kimball actually thought we shouldn’t care about “dramatic” global problems, but the implication is there. i wanted to reclaim this, pointing out that trying to rectify such “dramatic” global problems necessarily “grow[s] out of keeping the commandments of god” every bit as much as serving our neighbors closer to home. that the busy-ness of doing simple acts of service daily in our own neighborhoods should not make us forget “dramatic” problems like the tragedy unfolding in sudan, the plight of women around the world sold into white slavery, the innocent victims of the AIDS epidemic in sub-saharan africa (and elsewhere), or the consequences of global poverty for those who do not have the means to help themselves (to name a few).
now, i recognize that small daily acts of service and responding to the “dramatic” global problems i mentioned are related. the small acts develop in us an attitude that will lead to our caring and addressing larger problems. but they can also assuage our consciences enough and occupy our time fully enough that we forget to look outside of our immediate neighborhood and care for our neighbors around the world.
you can see the lesson i would have taught yesterday.
it wasn’t what i got. what i got was 45 minutes of story after story after story of service rendered or received. and i got slowly more and more frustrated that we weren’t talking about significant and, in my opinion, often unaddressed characteristics of the principle of service. i appreciate that the women who shared stories felt the spirit, as did many of those who were listening to their stories. i understand the value of sharing stories—of remembering the times when we have served and when we were served. i think there is a place for sharing stories in a lesson, and had i been teaching i would have asked for people to share their experiences as part of my lesson. but my soul was thirsting and hungering for spiritual substance. and while shared experience may be one course of a spiritual meal, it does not constitute a balanced or full meal. i left relief society longing for the kind of sustenance i find in delving into doctrines and principles through discussion. this is not always my experience in relief society, but it often is.
why is it that we substitute sharing experiences for teaching? why do we dwell so very much on the emotional and ignore the intellectual aspect of spiritually feasting on the word?
and, on the issue of service, why do we limit our view of what it means to serve to the local and far too often forget the global? and, more problematic, feel justified in doing so?