Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

May you enjoy the peace of this season as you contemplate the gift that is the birth and life of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

BTW, you can see my Christmas post at Real Intent, "My Children and the Traditions of Their Father," here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Do You Feel What I Feel?

One of my favorite Christmas songs from my childhood was “Do You Hear What I Hear?” which I’d listen to on the living room stereo as often as I could, hearing the news of the Savior’s birth spread from wind to lamb to shepherd boy to king and finally to people everywhere. I love the swell of the music and the message as it grows throughout the song.

Now it makes me tired.

In fact, a lot of Christmas makes me tired.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. It really is my favorite time of the year. I’d start playing Christmas music in October if my lovely wife would let me. (My mother used to tell of her father who would whistle "Silent Night" all year long.) I like to start baking Christmas cookies at the beginning of November (though my lovely you-know-who tries to make we wait until Thanksgiving).

We have cherished family traditions that I don’t like to let go of – cookie plates to deliver to friends and neighbors, a shopping day with my lovely wife to go in search of certain special goodies, lots of Christmas music, singing with the ward choir in the Christmas program, our own Christmas Eve Swedish smorgasbord (one of the most wonderful traditions coming from my wife’s family) followed by a quiet family devotional which includes some reading of the New Testament accounts of the Savior’s birth. And on Christmas morning, our children wake us with Christmas carols at the foot of our bed.

Of course we also have the normal stress of gifts and parties and school events, package preparation and mailing to faraway children and siblings, wrapping and hiding of gifts at home, not to mention the steady flow of everyday life on top of it all.

I have improved in many areas. A number of years ago I realized I was hating Christmas Eve because I ended up locked away on my own wrapping presents – something I really don’t like under the best of circumstances. I learned to spread my wrapping duties over time, to invite children to help with some of it so it’s a together experience, and to play Christmas music while I wrap, so at least I can feel a little holiday spirit in the process.

And we’ve streamlined the cookie plates to friends and neighbors just a bit, and we no longer try to do them on Christmas Eve at the same time we’re setting up the smorgasbord.

But the fact is, no matter how much we streamline, we’ll always be busy at Christmas. And I will be tired. The older I get the truer this seems to be: I tire more easily.

Of course I try to focus on the most important things like remembering the Savior, working on relationships rather than things and so on. I made the leap a few years ago from trying to have everything perfect for everyone. Now we do what we can and hope for the best. Fortunately our kids are very kind-hearted.

I still toss and turn on Christmas Eve in fear that I will fail to bring a smile to one of my kids on Christmas morning. It’s never happened that I can remember, but I still worry. (It’s never happened in part because my kids have learned well from their lovely mom’s example of gracious appreciation for my feeble efforts, and because their lovely mom has a lot to say about gift selection.)

I remember years past when we stayed up late to assemble gifts with far too many pieces or to wait for the living room to clear so that we could do what needed to be done before we went to bed. And I’m glad we are not there anymore. Our gifts these days, thanks to the ages of our kids, don’t require assembly by me.

So, I do feel tired this Christmas. And maybe some of the details will slip away this year compared with last. But that’s ok. We’ll still wake to Christmas carols on Christmas morning, and we’ll still have many of our children with us and be close at least electronically with the others. And then I’ll still feel tired. But I’ll feel happy, too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mourning with those who wear pants

I had no plans to write about pants. In fact, were it not for the internet, I would know nothing about the pants thing from this past weekend.

But after church as we drove to my BIL’s home for a second thanksgiving dinner, my 16-year old son brought it up. He had seen it on Facebook and read gazillions of comments.

My 12-year old daughter was totally flummoxed. Why would women want to wear pants to church anyway? So we talked about some of the issues they were trying to address and what we all thought about this issues and how they were being raised.

What irked my son is what irked me, and that is how supposedly otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints were talking to one another about the issue on line. The vitriol, while no longer shocking to anyone who spends more than 10 minutes reading comments on anything online, was disappointing among those who covenant to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.

He was the first to acknowledge that any online discussion seems to attract the highly opinionated and the trolls, and that most people who argue in those forums have no interest in listening to another point of view. They seem instead to seek support for whatever viewpoint they bring with them to the fight.

My lovely wife had some interesting observations from her own experience. She’s served in a number of Relief Society presidencies, and is now in our stake Relief Society presidency. She’s been a part of ward councils in wards on three continents, and has consistently felt her voice has been heard by the bishops and stake presidents with whom she’s served. Furthermore, she knows that the Relief Society presidents in our stake are key to the successful running of their wards; their bishops seek their counsel and listen to it.

She also acknowledges that not everyone has the same experience she does.

As for pants in our ward? I have no idea. We often have one or two or three sisters in pants anyway for one reason or another. But I don’t really pay much attention. As I mentioned in another conversation on the subject, I tend to pay attention to what my lovely wife and my daughter are wearing, and I don’t pay attention to others.

When I think about those who feel like they are standing on the outside looking in, I hope we treat them with love and kindness. I’m reminded of an experience I had as a young married man:

We lived in a Provo family ward just after we were married. I was soon called to be the Sunday School president (at the time that Sunday School opening exercises was done away with), and I felt my calling to be increasingly less important. Still my counselors and I made a good effort to attend classes, provide feedback, hold in-service meetings, and so on. I never could, however, figure out the value of the stake Sunday School organization. The one stake training meeting I attended seemed totally useless to me, and I felt we were doing just fine on our own.

I’m fairly certain I was not shy about my contempt for the stake organization (since I wasn’t shy about much in those days). And yet, every time the stake Sunday School president visited out ward, he’d put his arm around me, give me a warm handshake and tell me how much he loved me and appreciated the work we were doing in our ward.

I don’t remember anything I taught in our in-service meetings, but to this day I remember the warmth and kindness I felt from this man who was doing his best to magnify his calling, despite my hubris.

I hope that if I met any of the pants-sympathizers (or any of the pants-haters, for that matter), that I would respond to either with love and kindness, just as my stake Sunday School president did with me.

(Photo credit: SL Tribune)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Controlling Behavior: Rules & Boundaries

This is the third in an occasional series on control. Click the links for parts one and two.

Part of our charge as parents is to train up a child in the way he should go. We want to rear our children in righteousness. We hold Family Home Evening, family prayer, family scripture study and family counsel in the hopes that our children will feel the love that surrounds them and grow up sharing our gospel-centered values and our love of the Lord.

The stakes are high for us, and often we are tempted to try to control our children so much that their outward behavior complies with our image of what it should be. In our hearts we know we shouldn’t do that; we know that it is more like the Adversary’s plan to force us all back home. We know our children need to learn to choose the right, but sometimes we just want them to sit quietly in church!

As a parent, I’m better off focusing on what I can control. I can establish rules and I can establish boundaries, and I can enforce consequences in the event that rules are broken or boundaries are crossed. Rules and boundaries are not the same thing to me, though they may look similar.

A rule is there to control behavior: a speed limit is a rule; “no hitting” is a rule; “do your homework before watching TV” is a rule. These all are there to control behavior, and the consequences will either punish violations or reward compliance. All ordered societies, including families, have rules. And every member of the society gets to choose whether to obey the rules or not. When someone disobeys a rule, he suffers a consequence; when he obeys, he gains a reward.

Consequences for violating or adhering to rules are best when they are proximate, consistent and clearly related to the rule. I had friends when I was growing up who had to help with the dishes in their home after dinner. A favorite trick was to let Sister wash while Brother (my friend) played outside, and then Brother would come in and put the dishes away after they had air-dried. Sister and, more importantly, Mom found this creative solution at odds with the idea that Brother and Sister were to work together. So if Mom saw the dishes air drying in the rack, she’d call Brother to the kitchen and then pour a pan of water over the air-dried dishes so he could have the full experience of drying and putting them away. The consequence was clearly related to the rule; it was linked in time to the offense, and it could be implemented with minimal drama on the part of Mom.

An unhealthy alternative to Mom’s dousing of the dishes might include Mom’s calling Brother to the back porch and loudly enumerating all the times that day or week he had skipped out of his chores with a promise to administer a “real” punishment when Dad got home later in the evening or grounding him for days at a time. Brother would quickly learn to let the yelling go over his head before he returned to play. And he could count on Mom’s forgetting that he was grounded within a day, or that the promised more serious punishment from Dad would never come.

Mom’s plan of action to douse the dishes, however, gives her something positive to do instead of losing her cool. And the consequences so administered are more meaningful. He gets to choose what he does, but he also chooses the consequences.

Boundaries are different: they are there to protect the person who sets them. And they are all about what the boundary setter will do in the event the boundary is crossed. A boundary is particularly important for a person who is a victim of abuse or a person who has an addict in the family. The boundary is not an expression of what the other person must do. It is instead a positive statement of what the boundary setter needs, and what the boundary setter will do if the need is not met.

For instance, a parent of a teenager may say, “I need to go to bed early tonight so I can be ready for a meeting tomorrow. For that reason, I need you home by 10 pm. At 10 pm I am locking the door, and if you are not home, you’ll need to spend the night somewhere else.” Or: “If you don’t have the car home by 10, then you may not use it this weekend.” A spouse who is tired of verbal abuse can say, “I need to have people speak to me with respect. If you cannot meet that need, then I will exit the conversation. I will go to another room until we can talk more calmly. If I need to, I will lock the door.”

Boundaries are much more difficult to administer in my view, because when someone crosses the boundary, the stakes are often much higher than when a child breaks a family rule about washing dishes or cleaning a room. And our actions that we have power to take are really limited. But understanding what we really do control is also liberating. I will never be able to control my teenager’s mood. I cannot force him to agree with me, nor can I ensure that he is happy with what I want him to do. If I release myself from that expectation, then I am free. It will, ironically, be easier for me to remain calm and inviting without the expectation that he react in a certain way, and so I am more likely to get the reaction I want (but wisely no longer expect).

I can make rules and I can set boundaries. I can be consistent in my behavior. I can meet out consequences in an even-handed and fair way. I can say what I mean, mean what I say, and not say it meanly. The twin concepts of rules and boundaries can provide me a hedge against assuming a false sense of control that will only frustrate me.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I won! I won!!

Ok, I can’t contain myself. I actually won something.

Ardis over at Keepapitchinin had a little contest around a Utah alphabet primer . She invited her clever readers to imagine what the alphabetized list might be. And with eight correct answers, I won.

Ok, so ignore the fact that I got 8/26. And focus on the fact that I got more than anyone else! No, wait, that’s not right.

Focus instead on the cool contest that Ardis sponsored and get on over and check out her blog if you’re not already a frequent reader.

I should point out that in pondering this self-congratulatory post, it occurred to me that this is not my first win in an LDS blog contest. I also won a haiku contest at Jeff Lindsey’s Mormanity a while back. (We wrote haiku about tattoos. Cool, huh?)

I might think that I had a streak going here, except that I lost the contest at Middle-Aged Mormon Man’s blog last week. I tell you that lest you all think I had something going on. Of course, MMM’s contest involved no skill; it was a luck of the draw. As opposed to Ardis’ contest that required significant higher-level thinking to remember the order of the alphabet.

Anyway, now you know some of my favorite blogs (and they’re not just my favorites because they give stuff away). Check them out.

And while you’re at it, my latest post at Real Intent is up: “Jared, His Brother and Spiritual Gifts.” Read it here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Expectations of Control

This is number two in a series of I don't know how many installments, and I don't know how long it will take for me to tire myself out on this subject. I promise I won't only cover this topic over the next while, but it so happens this one follows the introductory post, here.

In 12-step programs, one of the hallmarks is identifying through a personal inventory the sources of resentment in a person's life and working through them. Often, the resentments lead a person to the behaviors that bring him to the 12-step program – substance abuse, eating disorders, co-dependence and so on. It stands to reason, then, that helping to sort through the underlying resentments helps a person to have the strength to deal with the addictive behavior in his life.

(Most 12-step programs will not try to cure a person of his addictions; indeed Step One makes clear that the addicted person cannot resolve the addiction on his own, and most people acknowledge that addiction is a life-long condition that requires management, like diabetes, rather than a cure.)

In my case – and this is true for many people who work through the steps (and I believe that most Latter-day Saints would benefit from working the steps, even though most of us are not addicts) – I discovered that nearly all of my resentments came from unmet expectations.

More specifically for me, I had an expectation about the outcome of events, I tried to control those outcomes, and I failed; resentment (and often more powerful emotions) followed.

One of the hallmarks of the “Anon” programs designed for family members of addicted loved ones (for instance, Al-Anon) is the giving up of expectations. It’s not unusual for a frustrated parent to say, “I expect to be treated with respect,” or “I expect my son to clean his room.” That construction raises a red flag because unmet expectations lead to resentment, and our lack of control over other people leads to unmet expectations. By establishing un-meetable expectations, we set ourselves up for recurring resentments.

A popular saying I’ve heard in 12-step recovery is this: You have a right to be treated with respect, but cannot expect it to happen. What that really means is that one has the right to choose how to react when he or she is not treated with respect, for instance.

Parents sometimes couch their family hopes and dreams in terms of expectations: We expect our children to study hard, to go to church, to serve missions, and so on. Experienced parents learn over time that they do not own their children’s future or their dreams. Just because I think my daughter should be a doctor does not mean she thinks she should be a doctor. And in the end, she will be the one choosing.

When I am successful at curbing my expectations, I am calmer about outcomes that are different from what I may have hoped for. I am more accepting and tolerant of other points of view. And I am happier.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I'm outta control!

So, I was out of the country last week, as I mentioned in last Monday’s post. And I missed posting on Thursday. Let’s say, I’m getting behind in a lot of things. I’m being clearly reminded how much in my life is out of my control.

The trip to Europe, for instance, came out of a business phone call the Wednesday before Thanksgiving – a call I should not have had, by the way. But I did have the call, and I did get sent to Europe. And, yes, I could have refused to go, but my agreement with my employer is that I will work and he will pay me, so I went.

Thanksgiving weekend revealed other things that were out of my control. For instance, on Friday evening, I ran up on the curb outside my sister-in-law’s home in New York. And the side wall of my tire blew out. And my new car has no spare. (As a cost- and weight-savings, automakers often put in a can of compressed air with goop to plug a puncture in the tire rather than fitting the vehicle with a spare tire. If you blow out the side wall, the goop does no good.) So I called roadside assistance (came with the new car, thank goodness) and had the car towed to a dealership where I bought a new tire the next morning. But that delayed our departure, and got us home that much closer to my departure for Europe.

I am not a big fan of being out of control. In fact I hate it. It’s more than an annoyance for me, and I know it. And I’ve taken and am taking steps to deal with it. I’ve been to counseling, which was very helpful. And I participate in a 12-step program.

My need for control is Natural Man writ large. And the remedy is simple, yet very hard for me. In order to deal with my need for control, I need to give up control.

King Benjamin said,

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
That idea of submitting is all about giving up control, or rather recognizing one’s lack of control.

Here’s a partial list of things I don’t control:

1. The weather
2. My wife
3. My children
4. My boss
5. My staff
6. Any other human
7. My dog

And here’s a complete list of what I can control:

1. My reaction to events around me.
There are even parts of me I cannot control, but what I can learn to do is to control my reaction to what happens around me.

Over a series of posts (maybe the next few, maybe over the next few weeks) I’ll talk about ways I’m learning to control my reactions to things around me. Maybe that discussion will help you as it does me. Hope you’ll come along for the ride, but, of course, I have no control over that. ;-)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Catholic Mass and a Brass Quartet

Ironically in my last post I wrote about how fortunate I’ve been that my work has not kept me from worshipping in my LDS ward each Sunday. Well, that’s usually true, except this past weekend.

As it happened, I had to make a quick trip to Germany for a work assignment this week, and so I spent most of Sunday travelling to Cologne. I arrived at my hotel about 6 pm, and was thrilled to enter my room and see the Kölner Dom directly across the river. I quickly arranged myself in my room, and took off across the bridge to see if I could peek inside the cathedral. There was a schedule mass beginning at 7 pm, and I arrived a few minutes before that. I listened to the early comments of the priest and heard the singing of the Kyrie eleison from my spot standing near the door at the back. After the singing of the Kyrie I left, feeling warmed by having heard it.

I had just recently attended a concert of Bach’s B-minor Mass with my lovely wife (she was writing a paper on Bach and mass for a music history class she’s taking); without that training, I would not have recognized the Kyrie, the opening of the mass, proclaiming, “Lord, have mercy.”

As I left the cathedral, I went around the corner and heard the strains of brass instruments playing Bach. At first I thought it was still coming from inside the cathedral, but that didn’t make sense. As I rounded another corner, I found a brass quartet from St. Petersburg playing a movement of one of the Brandenburg concertos. They were in a bit of a tunnel formed by different buildings of a museum and the acoustics were pretty cool.

How fortunate I was to have those two musical experiences to end my Sabbath day of travel.

How fortunate I am also to know that although I would prefer to be in my own sacrament meeting (or some sacrament meeting) renewing my own covenants each Sunday, that I can also draw near to the Lord in other settings as well. I can reflect on my relationship to Him wherever I am. I can draw strength from Alma’s teaching to the poor Zomamites, that I need not only call unto God in my synagogue, but I can call upon Him wherever I am.

That said, I look forward to being home next weekend and to going back to my home ward.

BTW, you can check out my latest post at Real Intent, "Bearing the Vessels of the Lord," here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday, Thanksgiving and The Sabbath

It's Black Friday. Yippee. Not.

I considered a career in retailing at one point in my life. I took classes in the then-new Skaggs Institute of Retailing Management at BYU, and I did a retailing internship. I actually enjoyed the work, and it was my first introduction to business courses (I was an English major in search of some employability).

And I did work in retailing for a few years. I had my wife's grandmother trying to coax us into pursuing a career in retailing in Mesa; she told us that area would grow exponentially over the years and there would surely be lots of opportunity. And I would have loved to go to Mesa, but my lovely wife was not enamoured of such hot summers and non-existant winters. She's a four-season person.

In the end, I did not stay in retailing. There were lots of reasons, but one of them was Black Friday. And not so much Black Friday but the whole holiday shopping thing. It meant that every holiday season I would be working and not spending time with my family. And that would be true for the Thanksgiving to Christmas period and the post-Christmas returns period.

In another phase of my career development, I was working on a PhD in Theatre History (I never said this was a linear progression). I had finished my MA in Theatre History at BYU and was encouraged by my committee to pursue the PhD elsewhere, which made sense to me. When I arrived at the school of my choice (my selection criteria was particularly poor: I wanted a school that would accept me) I found that I was at odds with my program in a number of ways. My academic interest was different from my adviser's. My program's choice of plays in that year's season were not to my liking (and some were downright offensive to me, despite my rather less-than-prudish taste). And then there was the Sunday work. Sunday rehearsals and performance were the rule. The work on the annual summer Shakespeare festival was the bright spot for me, but by the time that rolled around, I had made the decision to leave the program.

It occured to me that if I taught pretty much anywhere but BYU, I'd be working Sundays at least part of the year as part of my academic duties. It caused me to reflect on what I really wanted from my life. My long-term goals were really pretty traditional. My lovely wife and I wanted a nice family, reared in the gospel with church activity complementing our lives. And I struggled to see how Sunday work would fit in that plan.

So I walked away from my PhD program. The Sunday work was not the only reason as I mentioned, but it was one of several.

I am the first to acknowledge that others may make a different choice from mine in the same situation, and that may be ok for them and for their family. I have a number of good friends who are in positions that require Sunday work; they are faithful, participating Latter-day Saints in all levels of church activity and leadership. But I decided I was not comfortable being one of them.

I'm happy to say that in my present 25-year career, I can count the times I've missed church because of work on one hand. That's not a badge of honor for comparison with others, but it's rather a blessing to me. I'm grateful that I was able to find a place in which I could honor the Sabbath in the way that is important to me.

And I'm really glad I didn't have to work at a retail outlet today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful Turkeys

In our lesson in yesterday’s HP group, this quotation from George Albert Smith struck me:

I don’t know of any man in all the world who has more reason to be grateful than I.

What a great way to start Thanksgiving Week!

It’s been a very stressful few weeks for me, and frankly gratitude has not been at the top of my list. Even so, I know what season it is, and I know in my head I need to count my blessings. There was a great post on blessing counting at Real Intent (see it here) in which Montserrat reminds us of the value of counting, and the value of blessings. She refers to President Eyring’s gratitude journal and the value of that daily record of blessings not only to him, but to his family, as well.

She says, simply,

When we count our blessings our focus changes from what we don’t have to what we do.

How cool is that?

When we moved to Taiwan a number of years ago, the change was tough on our kids who still lived with us at home. New country. New school. New church environment. And on and on. It was easy for the kids to complain. My lovely wife had the great idea that they should list five good things from the day before they went to sleep each night. Over time, that exercise had a terrific effect, helping our kids change their attitude and to look for the good in our new adventure.

In our home, we have a Thankful Turkey – not the eating kind, but definitely the stuffing kind. It’s a cardboard box with a paper turkey head and paper turkey feathers. There’s a slit in the top and a stack of papers nearby. Family members throughout the month of November are to list things they’re thankful for and stuff the turkey with them. At Thanksgiving dinner, we open the box and read them. We also keep the slips from prior years and read a few of those, too.

So, it’s pretty simple to count to five. And it’s pretty simple to list five good things from a day. And doing so does shift our focus from what we don’t have to what we do. What is stopping me from doing it? Perhaps the easiness of the way, like those Israelites who wouldn’t look at the serpent on Moses’ staff. Well, today I’m looking:

1. Continuing employment, even when it is stressful
2. A loving and supportive wife and family
3. My children’s success in their very many endeavors, from education to employment
4. The peace that comes from studying the scriptures, and the witness of their truth
5. My ability and opportunity to face each new day
How about you?

The Thankful Turkey Box photo and directions for making one can be found here at Family Fun Crafts.
BTW, check out my latest post at Real Intent, "The Power of Memory," here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An apostolic stake conference

We had Dallin H. Oaks (see his bio here) at our stake conference this past weekend. He was joined by Elder Nolan D. Archibald of the Seventy. In the Priesthood Leadership session, Elder Oaks indicated that ours was likely the last stake conference he would ever attend, owing to the size of the church and other ways of apostles’ addressing conferences (presumably through video links).

We had heard that before, of course. When Elder Packer visited Michigan over ten years ago he addressed priesthood leaders from all over the state and said that apostles would no longer travel to US stake conferences, and he indicated the coming of video stake conferences (which has happened)would replace such visits. Since then, we have had two apostles visit our stake (including Elder Oaks this week). The other was Elder Eyring a number of years ago when one of his children lived in our area.

Elder Oaks was delightful. I heard him speak in our adult session on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning. In both meetings he was highly complimentary of his companion, Elder Archibald (who also gave awesome talks, one about grace and the atonement and one about our terrific youth), our stake presidency (who are awesome) and about those who participated by speaking or providing music in the meetings.

It is wonderful to have visiting general authorities and to see them differently than we do in General Conference. In his formal addresses, Elder Oaks appears to me as he did when he was leading BYU and I was an underclassman: stern and scholarly. In person he was clearly knowledgeable, but he was not stern. In fact, he entertained the adult session quite wonderfully, sharing his experiences from the last 28 years as an apostle. In the Sunday session, he had engaging stories for the children and the youth. His humor was self-deprecating, including a letter he shared from a ten-year old girl in England who wrote she could tell he was an apostle because he was clean and his head was shiny.

My wife helped to prepare and serve him dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday; he was gracious and grateful. He complimented their efforts and thanked them for their willingness to meet some specific dietary requirements. He spoke highly of the stake president’s family who hosted him. And he shook many, many hands.

In each meeting before it began, he went through the chapel shaking as many hands as he could get to. He shook the hands of each of the choir members on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. He greeted each person with a warm, “Welcome to conference” or “Welcome to church!” And after the meeting he waited in the chapel to shake more hands.

Of course he also taught us. Building on Elder Archibald’s talk on grace and the atonement, Elder Oaks taught about the importance of the Third Article of Faith and its succinct clarity regarding the blessings of the atonement: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind can be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.”

He explained that his first assignment as an apostle was to prepare a discussion of justice, mercy and the atonement to be presented to all the general authorities. He spend several months preparing, and read all the standard works (in their entirety) looking for references to those three topics. He then presented a 45 minute talk on the subject. He suggested that the third Article of Faith makes clear the universal blessing of the atonement, and the proper relationship between our obedience and the Lord’s sacrifice; both are required for our salvation.

In the Sunday morning session, he taught a number of things but the one that sticks most with me was his challenge to the teenagers to learn and remember Doctrine & Covenants 38:42: “And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Even so. Amen.”

He made several key points about this verse: First, we should take steps to separate ourselves from the wickedness around us; we should shun evil and resist temptation. Second, the saving of ourselves in this verse is not salvation – only Jesus Christ can do that for us. We save ourselves by separating ourselves from evil, and we cannot depend on someone else to do it for us; we must choose to do it. Finally, the third sentence refers to moral cleanliness, but is not limited to priesthood holders who bear the emblems of the sacrament, though it includes them. He also said that it includes young women who – in the Lord’s own time and according to His timetable – may also bear the vessel that will hold a spirit child of our Father in Heaven. (In making this point, he did not state the motherhood = priesthood argument. He did clearly say we do not know why priesthood is reserved for men.)

It was wonderful to have Elder Oaks among us. I understand the size of the church makes it difficult for apostles to be everywhere we might wish them to be, but I am grateful for the chance I had to be where I was last weekend to hear and see him.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Moving forward now that it's over

I mentioned last week that this is not a political blog. And I still maintain that it isn’t. It is a blog about my personal experience as a Latter-day Saint.

And yet, today I’m writing something more political. Now that the election is over and the nation is still on the map, I have some things I’d like to get off my chest.

First, I’d like my fellow church members to understand that if we do not agree politically, it does not mean that you or I are more or less faithful or enlightened. It just means we see the world differently. And because it’s possible that we see the world differently, we ought to make fewer assumptions about what views each of us espouses.

Second (and related to the first), please do not try to substantiate your political point of view by associating it with doctrinal truths. One side will argue that mandatory health care violates the doctrine of agency; another will argue that legislating morality does. Our political institutions, however inspired they may or may not be, are institutions of men. I believe it belittles divine institutions to assume that our political system is one of them.

Third, that is not to say that our religious views should not inform our political opinions. There is always a place for the gospel in every aspect of our lives, and we would be foolish to check our religion at the door in matters of governance. But there is also value in communicating our point of view in a way that allows all who hear us to understand; let us search for discourse that is inclusive not exclusive. In addition to holding a view because we believe God says we should, we would also do well to communicate that position in a way that it shows benefit even to a non-believer. Further, we may apply gospel teachings differently to our political views. One may take seriously the Savior’s injunction to care for the poor, and may believe that is a reasonable expectation of his government. Another may use the experience of the Nephites in the war chapters in the Book of Mormon to justify a military build-up.

Fourth, the scriptures do teach that our continent is blessed (or at least it was for the Nephites), and that our Constitution is inspired. That does not mean that every founding father was a religious Christian or was perfect. They were men with varied sensibilities about religion and government. Certain of our general authorities have made very political statements even during their service in the senior quorums of the church, but it is telling to me that even the most strident did not make those statements as president of the church. The official stand of the church today is not to prescribe political allegiance to a particular party or ideology. The great work of the constitutional convention was the crafting of a document that transcended strident political views, not one that established them. The resulting document was the product of compromise; it was not universally loved or even accepted (some members of the convention did not recommend ratifying it), but it has withstood the test of time.

Fifth, the international church is greater than American politics. There are faithful Latter-day Saints who practice their religion every day in countries with vastly different political systems from ours in the United States of America. They are no less worthy of God’s blessings than those who are fortunate enough to live here. Their forms of government are not inherently evil, so long as they allow the free exercise of the worship of God.

Finally, our two-party system tends to foster tension, a tension that can be healthy in restraining government from acting too quickly, and, conversely, that can divide the electorate. In our history, we have had varying degrees of success in compromise and collaboration. It appears that in today’s political environment such compromise is far less likely. Personally, I find that a sad development. But whatever tension exists politically, it need not lead to contention in our lives. In an environment where political discussion devolves to position-taking and -defending, it unfortunately leaves little room for a free exchange of ideas with an eye toward discovery of a common path for the common good. On the other hand, discussions that seek learning and understanding (rather than proving and proclaiming) can be mutually beneficial.

I am not so naïve as to believe that political discourse will somehow rise above the bitter battles we have seen in the recent election. Most elections in our nation’s history have featured strong political talk – about issues and about personalities of those involved. But as Latter-day Saints who discuss political ideas with one another, we can also open our hearts and minds and respond to one another with civility and charity. At least I hope we can. And as we move forward after this election, we can still unite under our duly elected government and work together for common goals.


BTW, in a completely unrelated matter, you can read my latest post at Real Intent, "Distilling Knowledge," here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Primarily Speaking

It’s that season again.

I don’t mean leaf raking (though it is). And I don’t mean pre-Christmas (though it is). And I don’t mean Thanksgiving (though it is).

I mean, of course, Primary program season.

We had ours ten days ago, and it was awesome. Our primary presidency takes a great approach. At some point in the year, they being asking the children questions related to the Primary program, and then they develop a program based on the children’s own comments. Each child, in the end, presents his or her own words in the program.

Our primary presidency also mixes the kids by topic, rather than by class. As a result, you have Sunbeams and CTRs and Valiants all mixed up. The older children help the younger ones. The children do a great job of teaching the rest of us the gospel. It is far more than a cavalcade of cute kids tugging at our heartstrings (though it’s that, too).

I’m sure there is a little of the Music Man effect for some parents. But this is the first year I had no child in the program, and the spirit of the meeting was still soft and sweet and lovely as we listened to childlike testimony and teaching. There was of course a blend of silly four year old boys playing with the microphone and second verses of songs that were a little harder to hear than more familiar first verses. But far more powerful were the lessons we were taught by what we heard and saw and felt.

Kudos to our Primary presidency who teach the gospel to our children, and who do such a great job of helping our children teach the gospel to us.


BTW, I've used Honest Jon's cartoon above. Please visit his website and buy his books. I'm putting When High Priests Take Over The Nursery on my Christmas list!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tomorrow's the day

This is not a political blog. And that doesn’t change today. But I will remind my U.S. readers that tomorrow is Election Day. Unless you’ve already voted absentee or early in your state, I hope you’ll head to the polls tomorrow to exercise your right to have your voice heard.

Of course new coverage has been focused on the presidential race, but in my community, the ballot is six pages long, including:

President / Vice President
U.S. Senator
Two U.S. House of Representative slots – one temporary one for the rest of this year (a crazy story I’d tell if this were a more political blog), and one full-term
State Representative
School Board
State School Board
Regents at various State Universities
Judges (State Supreme Court, Appeals Court and Local District Court)
Six state ballot proposals, five of which propose changes to the state constitution
Five county proposals that would significantly alter the county charter
And, Library Board

It’s easy to become cynical. It’s easy to be turned off by all the negative ads, especially at the top. (It’s times like this I’m glad we only get our TV entertainment through Hulu, Netflix and AppleTV.) It’s easy to be annoyed at the robocalls (we have three registered voters at our address, so we get LOTS of these calls).

But it’s also not that hard to rise above the annoyance and to read the voter guides, the candidate websites, and make some informed choices.

I’ll close with two memories:

First, in fourth or fifth grade, we did a little skit that we took around to other classes in the school encouraging people to encourage their parents to vote. One member of the class was dressed as Uncle Sam as we all sang some patriotic song. I wanted so much to be Uncle Sam, but I was beat out by another kid – taller and more boisterous than me. That stinging political defeat did not turn me off to politics, however: it continues to remind me that I need to use my vote, my voice.

Second, my patriarchal blessing encourages me specifically to exercise my franchise and vote. It seemed an odd thing to include in a patriarchal blessing when I heard it, as I pretty much thought the blessing would confine itself to quite spiritual things. As I’ve considered my blessing since, I realize it has a mix of temporal and spiritual counsel, and I’ve tried to be true to that part that urges me to vote.

I hope you’ll vote tomorrow.


Oh, there's another place to vote: head on over to Everyday Mormon Writer and learn how to vote for your favorites in their Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest! Voting closes tomorrow there, too.

You can also check out my latest post at Real Intent, "Questions? You've got Questions?? here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Safe In The Storm

Yesterday afternoon, our daughter’s normal P-Day, we received her email confirming that she’s fine despite the fact that, thanks to Sandy, she was a couple of days without power in her apartment in Chinatown in New York City.

Of course, we knew she was fine because we’d already gotten three e-mails from her awesome mission president. (For one of them, he had to wait until a large tree was removed from his driveway so he could drive to a place with power to send the email! Kudos to him for the effort to keep us, and all his missionaries' parents, informed.) And, because of his notes, we knew that the missionaries were prepared with extra days’ food, water, batteries, and so on. And the missionaries had been instructed about what to do and how to behave.

We are grateful that our daughter is safe. We’re also grateful for a mission president and an organization that plan carefully for such emergencies, and were thoughtful enough to keep us posted.

We have another daughter and two nieces who were also in the path of the storm, all safe and sound.

My brother remarked a number of years ago after a huge snowfall in Chicago that one benefit of these large weather events is that we’re reminded that we are not in control of everything we see. There are things bigger than us, and there’s value in learning to rely on the Lord’s help when we simply cannot help ourselves.

Our family lived in Taiwan for 2-1/2 years and we had three or four typhoons (including the week we moved back home) while we were there. The first one was very frightening for us because we’d never been through it. The subsequent ones were curiosities, but not so completely scary. Still, we learned to be prepared at home, and to stay put until it was safe to leave.

Those were two key principles: being prepared and being in a place of safety in the storm. There are, of course, gospel parallels. As we live providently and keep commandments, we can be prepared not only for temporal storms, but spiritual ones, as well. And knowing the place of safety – whether our home, at the sacrament table or in the temple – will help to protect us in spiritual storms, as well.

Continued prayers for those who are rebuilding and cleaning up after the storm.

And if you'd add action to your prayers, consider a donation to the Red Cross -- click here for more details.


BTW, follow this link to Everyday Mormon Writer to vote for your favorite story from their Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Why I hate Halloween

I know, I know. Call me Scrooge if you like. But don’t expect me to have my head turned by visits from the Ghosts of Halloween past and future. I just don’t like Halloween.

As a kid, I did enjoy the trick or treating. And we lived in a large neighborhood with gazillions of kids, so there was lots of candy to be collected (and eaten – though somehow my older sister always still had Halloween candy at Christmas…).

And as a dad, I’ve taken my kids trick or treating. In fact this may be the first year in about 25 that I don’t actually walk the neighborhood with one my kids. When we lived overseas, we’ve gone to great lengths for the kids to have some kind of trick or treating experience. In Japan, we pre-arranged with other expat families, so expat kids went to expat apartments trick or treating. In Taiwan, we had a great Halloween party at church complete with trunk or treating. And in Venezuela, the school sponsored an awesome Halloween party with trick or treating from classroom to classroom.

Maybe I’m just getting old (and tired), but it’s all so much work for a bag of candy! The choosing of a costume. The making of costumes (which falls to my lovely and creative wife). The schlepping through the subdivision on a night that is somehow colder than all the others before and after.

And if it were only costumes, that wouldn’t be so bad. But the haunted houses creep me out – always have. The fake blood and skeletons and dead bodies. Ick. I don’t know anything about the biology of resurrection, but I’m pretty sure zombies aren’t involved. At least I hope not.

I admit it – I’m a chicken of the highest order. On my mission in Germany, I spent some time in a US Serviceman’s branch, and they had a Halloween party at some farm. They’d set up a bit of a spook alley in a root cellar (descend the skinny creaky stairs into darkness…). It was a mock-up of an auto accident. I kept trying to see things for what they really were – those “eyes” were just peeled grapes. Those “brains” were just cold spaghetti. That corpse on the bench was just the branch president. Until he reached out and grabbed my knee. And I screamed. Like a girl.

That wasn’t my first Halloween trauma associated with a church event. The first was before I was member. My friend in third grade invited me to the Primary Halloween party at church. He also told me the rule: no masks. I was a troll that year for Halloween, in a store-bought costume that pretty much depended on the mask to make any sense. But, in accordance with the rules, I showed up on his back porch sans mask (and looking like a total dork).

He, in the meantime, was being made up by his mom to be an awesome pirate with a bandana, make-up spotted beard, and so on. When he went into the house to get something, I did what any self-respecting third grade dork would do: I ran home. (Fortunately my friend didn’t give up on me; he invited me to subsequent Primary activities, and our family eventually heard missionary lessons and joined the church.)

So I don’t know if my distaste for Halloween stems from my own trauma, or my intolerance for the “ick” factor, or the fact that in my mid-50’s I’m just getting too tired for all of this. But whatever the reason, it’s still true: I hate Halloween. I’ll be glad for November 1, when I can throw the blasted pumpkins in the trash and be done with it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ardis on Sharing Christ -- please read it!

Please head on over to Keepapitchinin and read Ardis' post "Sharing Christ" in which she disusses LDS view of the Savior. An outstanding post.

You'll find it here.

You may now resume your normal blogging activities...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A remarkable conference-based sacrament meeting

Our ward is similar to many: speakers are typically given a general conference talk to frame their topic for their talks. And the results are similar to other wards’, too. We have some speakers who say, “I was asked to talk about President Monson’s talk from….” And other speakers who did what ours did on Sunday.

This sacrament meeting was particularly delightful in several ways. First, all the speakers (including the youth speaker) were women. That happens once in a while in our ward, just as it happens once in a while that all the speakers are men. Our bishopric doesn’t seem to worry too much about making sure each meeting is gender-balanced, and that’s great from my point of view. (I should point out our youth speaker was awesome, but I’m going to write today about our adult speakers.)

Second, the two adult speakers were former Relief Society presidents from our ward. And I was bishop when they both were called. So you can imagine I was pretty excited to hear from them both in sacrament meeting.

Third, both the adult speakers had been given the same talk as a starting point for their remarks, Elder Holland’s “Laborers in the Vineyard” from last April’s conference. I love Elder Holland, and I particularly loved that talk. If you can’t instantly remember it, go back and have a look; you’ll be glad you did.

Fourth, although they were both assigned the same talk, each of their talks was strikingly different from the other. Both messages were remarkably complementary without overlap. (I know sometimes things don’t work that way. Sometimes the talks overlap quite a bit. But this was not one of those times.) Each of their talks referenced Elder Holland’s address and the parable that formed the core of his talk, but each one also included personal experiences and testimony to reinforce the message of the day.

And that’s why it was so delightful. Each of these sisters prepared remarks that spoke to her experience in life and in the gospel. Those personal experiences were as important as the words of the apostle they each quoted, because those experiences served as additional witnesses of the truth. For me, that’s a way that sacrament meeting talks can be relevant and revelatory: as I hear the thoughts and life experience of the speaker, I can also find parallels in my own life with which I can connect myself to the message. As I do that, the Spirit helps me connect even more deeply, and I come away edified.

I’m no longer in a position to plan sacrament meetings, but if I were, I think I would rely less on general conference talks. (I did it because a bishop I served with did it, and at the time it was a valuable practice for me, and for the ward where we served.) Of course there’s nothing wrong with focusing on the conference talks; we do it in lots of settings, and it’s good to be reminded of what we’ve been taught in conference. But I think I’d encourage speakers to search the conference talks along with scriptures and other appropriate sources around a specific theme or topic, rather than assigning a talk. (Of course I don’t know what I’d actually do: hopefully I’d listen to the Spirit and do what I was prompted to do.)

But in this week’s meeting, even with just one talk between them, our adult speakers both hit home runs. I was fortunate to be there and to learn from them.

By the way:

1. Don't forget to check out the last finalists in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest here.

2. And my latest post at Real Intent, "Venus & Mars and the Empty Bucket " is here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Four Centuries of Mormon Stories -- "Oaxaca" is here today!

I happy to be hosting today’s discussion of one of the 12 finalists in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest from Everyday Mormon Writer. You can find the text of today’s story “Oaxaca,” by Anneke Garcia, here. Please click on the link, read the story, and the come back to discuss! (If you’d like to check out the other stories posted so far, click here.)

As I think about "Oaxaca," I’m influenced by my own experience as an expat attending non-English speaking units of the church, certainly as a missionary, but also with my family in Latin American and in Asia. I find myself wondering how the Relief Society president would think of me and my family.

As you read the story, think about what resonates with you and tell us about it in your comments.

How does “Oaxaca” present universal themes despite (or because of) its remote setting?

How would the story change in a different setting (for instance if this were a story of a North American Relief Society president with immigrants in her U.S. ward)?

What issues of an increasingly international church does the story reveal?

How do themes of isolation and unity reveal themselves?

BTW, you can find my latest post at Real Intent, “Venus & Mars and the Empty Bucket,” here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How we tell the story

I live in Metro Detroit, and most of us are pretty excited that our Tigers beat the Yankees in four straight games in the American League Championship Series and are bound to the World Series. Great news for any home team, right?

This morning’s USA Today on my Kindle Fire, however, led with this story from Bob Nightengale on their “top stories” list: Nightengale: Ugly end will lead to changes for Yanks. It’s not about how Detroit won, but how the Yankees lost.

I get that story – the Yankees' sad performance in the ALCS series is noteworthy. And I don’t want you to think I’m so much of a sports fan that I can do more than three paragraphs on a baseball story, so I’m going to get to my point:

There’s always another side of the story. In the case of the ALCS, one side is the Tigers’ winning four straight, and the other is the Yankees’ losing four straight.

When I was in a position to counsel couples, I quickly learned there is always another side of the story when one spouse came to complain about the other.

The same is true for the narrative I have in my head and my heart about the gospel, the restoration and the church today. Sometimes we define things by what they are, and sometimes we define things by what they are not. And how we tell the story may determine how we feel about it.

For instance:

For some, a literal reading of the creation story pits the biblical account against scientific evidence for an “old earth.” For others, a more figurative reading of the creation story allows room for a discussion of scientific theory with less discomfort.

For some, changes in church practice signal that we have an open canon and continuing revelation. For others, it signals that earlier leaders were wrong and gives credence to the notion that today’s leaders could also be wrong about certain things.

You get the idea.

I recognize a tension in myself. I am that natural man that King Benjamin describes as an enemy to God. I am not submissive by nature, and must actively work to learn to submit myself to the will of my Father in Heaven. That is, according to King Benjamin, the way to overcome the natural man. For me, understanding how to submit comes from my own personal study, from what I hear across the pulpit, and from what I feel in my heart in the quiet moments when I can seek out the promptings of the spirit.

In the end, my own goal is to sort out not what my narrative should be, but what God’s narrative is. And my life experience has taught me that I’m likely to find clues in the places someone reading this blog might expect: the scriptures, the temple, modern prophets and personal revelation.

Of course, I’m still learning. If you were to take a cross section of my understanding of the divine narrative today, I hope it’s better formed than it was ten years ago. And I hope that ten years from now, it will even better than today. I can share my view of that divine narrative, and you might disagree with me on one point or another (or ten or twenty points…). That’s probably ok, because you and I are likely in different places in our journey. I have things I could learn from you and from your experience. And maybe you could learn something from me, too.

What’s key is that I am seeking to discover the Lord’s narrative, rather than write my own.

Oh, and by the way -- my latest post at Real Intent, "Living Imperfectly" (published earlier this week), is here.

And don't forget to check out the short story contest finalists at Everyday Mormon Writer, here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Four Centuries Of Mormon Stories coming to A Latter-day Voice!

Well, one story at least.

Over at Everyday Mormon Writer, there’s a contest going on! And A Latter-day Voice and Real Intent are going to be a part of it (woo hoo!!).

Everyday Mormon Writer has invited authors to submit short stories of Mormon life in the 19th, 20th, 21st and 22nd centuries. Beginning today, they’ll post one of the winning stories each day, and invite discussion of those stories at different blogs around the ‘nacle. Tomorrow’s story, “Ruby’s Gift” by Emily Debenham, will be discussed at Real Intent. Here's a link to the schedule of stories and where they'll be discussed. The stories will appear at Everyday Mormon Writer each day with a link to that day's discussion.

And (this is the BIG news) on October 23 (that’s next week!), the story will be Anneke Garcia’s “Oaxaca” and the discussion will be hosted HERE!

Thanks to Nicole and James Goldberg for organizing the event, and for inviting me to host the discussion for “Oaxaca.” (I’ve already read the story, and I can’t wait!)

Check out Everyday Mormon Writer’s blog for the complete schedule of stories and where the discussions will be hosted. And while you’re there, have a look around the site and see what else they’re up to! If you’re like me (and why wouldn't you be?), you love great Mormon fiction. And if you love great Mormon fiction, you’ll be glad you stopped by Everyday Mormon Writer.

The first story is up! Check it out at Everyday Mormon Writer, and follow the link to the discussion...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Count me out!

I'm writing this post on Wedesday, though it won't post until Thursday.

My local paper reports that Terry Jones is back in Dearborn, Michigan today. Jones is the Gainesville, Florida, Quran-burning pastor who last year tried to demonstrate outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn and was forbidden to do so because of public safety concerns. Of course he sued the city, and today he’s back protesting outside a local high school. (Coincidentally, the high school in question happens to share a property line with the LDS chapel in Dearborn.)

To their credit, Dearborn officials are doing all they can to allow Jones to speak and to protect the peace while he does so. They cite his constitutional right to free speech. And they’re right.

And he’s wrong. Everything I've read about him (and by him) fans the flames of anger and hostility against Muslims.

According to the linked article, Dearborn, Michigan, has the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States. As a result, there have been multiple incidents like Jones’ flame-fanning.

Christian missionaries tried to convert Muslims at the annual Arab International Festival last June.

The Christian group Bible Believers brought a pig’s head and anti-Islam signs to the same festival.

Local reaction has included rallies against the notorious film “Innocence of Muslims,” where some have called for limits to free speech, suggesting that hate speech should not be protected.

For its part the ACLU has weighed in: Arab-American Muslim Rana Elmir is the spokeswoman for the ACLU’s Michigan branch. She understands the concerns Muslims feel about attacks on their faith, but, she says, “As reprehensible as Rev. Jones and the Christian activists’ speech may be, the government cannot silence them…even if there have been violent reactions in the past or in other places. We cannot uphold the rights of one group and ignore the rights of others.”

Right she is.

But I think about the actions of these so-called Christian activists against the Christlike qualities Elder Hales discussed last weekend in his conference talk:

Christian love -- “kind and compassionate to all…”

Christian faith – “faithful and obedient to commandments…”

Christian sacrifice – “time, energy, and…Himself…”

Christian caring – “rescue, love, nurture…regardless of their culture, creed, or circumstances”

Christian service – “serving others – lifting up the weary and strengthening the weak”

Christian patience – “…waited upon His Father…waits upon us…”

Christian peace – “urged understanding and promoted peace”

Christian forgiveness – “bless those that curse us”

Christian conversion – “Jesus Christ is the ‘the light and the Redeemer of the world’”

Christian endurance to the end – “continued in righteousness, goodness, mercy, and truth”

Against that standard, please count me among the Christians Elder Hales describes, not the ones Pastor Jones and Bible Believers represent.

A note on comments -- normally I don't monitor comments, but I will for this post, just because I don't know who might chime in and how. I hope your comments will lean toward the attributes Elder Hales describes. If they don't (and I get to be judge; it's my blog, after all) I reserve the right not to post them.
Also this: Check out my latest post at Real Intent, "Celebrating Repentance," here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Now what do I do?

What a terrific conference. I know the net is all abuzz about changes in ages for missionary service. Great stuff. And Elder Uchtdorf’s ties. Great stuff there, too.

I did not blog about conference before conference, but I DO love it. It’s a feast for me, plus I get to attend church from my La-Z-Boy in the family room. Awesome.

So, now that it’s over, what will I do? I’ll reflect on what I’ve heard. I’ll re-read my notes (those that I can read – my penmanship is really, really bad). And I’ll talk with my lovely wife about themes that we find important for our family and for ourselves. And I’ll think about which talks to study first when they are available (in a few days online and in next month’s Ensign). I’ve already put asterisks by some of the talks as I took notes.

I will do what Elder Osguthorpe suggested in his talk Sunday afternoon – I will ponder the conference messages and ask the Lord for understanding.

There are certain themes that lept out at me from the conference as I listened. I was impressed by how often the principle of repentance came up – and not in a “repent you sinners!” sort of way, but rather that repentance is part of our regular process as members. (My lovely wife described it as learning that it’s ok to be wrong; we can repent and move on.) I can, thanks to the atonement, leave the past behind.

I learned that if I feel a pavilion between the Lord and me, I probably built it. God knows where I am.

I learned our aging apostles, particularly Elders Packer and Hales, are teaching pretty basic and clear doctrine as they have for several conferences now (and, in the case of Elder Hales, for even longer), and it makes sense for me to ponder why the apostles, who can talk about whatever they want, choose (or are moved) to speak about basic gospel principles.

I learned about the value of temple standards – for the building and for me.

I learned that God can be my source of comfort when I need it the most (assuming I’ve torn down that pavilion).

I learned I can be one of many hands doing my small part to build the kingdom, and that’s ok.

I learned that my faith may lead me to more trials which can lead to greater faith. As I live my faith, I can grow in my conversion and have strength to continue in the gospel. This is an idea I’m anxious to explore more.

I will continue to ponder these and other learnings and consider how to incorporate them into our family gospel study and our family home evenings, and into my own life.

What will you do?

By the way -- check out my latest post at Real Intent, "The Driving Force of Parenting" here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Saving Marriage -- Part IV

This is Part IV. Part 1 is here, Part II here, and Part III here. In Part III, I talked about how we can’t change a spouse, but I promised to talk about how we can share needs in a way that might lead to change. Here’s that discussion:

In a workshop on family communication I learned this: Everyone has a right to express his needs; he does not have a right to have his needs met.

In that workshop, we learned about assertive communication (as opposed to passive/aggressive or just aggressive communication).

How we communicate in a marriage makes a great deal of difference about how we feel about ourselves and our partner, and it may also be driven by how we feel about ourselves and our partner.
Let me start in the middle:

Assertive communication is a way for me to share my thoughts, feelings and needs in a way that is complete and honest, but does not threaten my partner. It allows me to be clear about what I want, but it does not make undue demands. And it does not hide my real intentions.

Passive/aggressive communication, on the other hand, masks controlling behavior in compliant communication. I seek to get what I want without actually saying what I want. Think stereotypical martyr-mother: Oh, that’s fine; don’t worry about me!

Aggressive communication, on the third hand (how many hands do I have??) is just that – it makes demands without regard for the other person’s feelings or point of view. Think drill sergeant or domineering spouse.

How we communicate says a lot about how we feel about our self and our partner. A wife who fears her husband is less likely to choose assertive communication. She may discount her own opinion because she has little confidence in it, or she fears his response to it. So she may passively accept whatever he has to offer.

By the same token, a person who leads but lacks confidence may be overly aggressive in his communication to compensate for his feelings of inadequacy.

Emotional health fosters – and is fostered by – assertive communication in which each partner can speak honestly about his or her feelings without the false expectation that he or she will get everything he or she wants.

Let’s look at an example:

He: (Thinking he’s being polite) I’m glad we’re going out to dinner tonight. Where would you like to go?

She: (Thinking: He always does this! Why does he make me choose? Why can’t he take responsibility for the date?) Oh, I don’t care. Wherever you want to go is fine with me.

He: Ok. I really feel like a burger. How about the Tavern Grill?

She: Really? Oh. Ok, I guess.

That’s classic passive/aggressive communication. It may be true that Dear Husband blew it by not planning the date better, but Lovely Wife ended up disappointed because her needs were not met. And why were they not met? Because Dear Hubby had no idea what they were.

How could it be better? Let’s look:

He: (Thinking he’s being polite) I’m glad we’re going to dinner tonight. Where would you like to go?

She: Honey, thanks for asking my opinion, but it seems every time we go out, you ask me where I want to go.

He: Oh. I just wanted to see if you had anywhere special you wanted to go.

She: That’s sweet of you, but sometimes it feels like maybe you haven’t made any plans.

He: I guess I can see how you might think that. Would you rather I choose a place?

She: I do like it when you make plans for us. It makes me feel like we’re on a real date. But I also like having input. I just don’t like feeling like I have to make the decision every time.

He: Sounds like you feel like I’m inviting you to dinner, then making you make the plans. I guess that’s not much fun for you.

She: Well, yeah, I think you’re right. But I do appreciate your taking me to dinner, really!

He: How about if I suggest a place, and if you’d rather not go there, you can tell me, and then we can choose something else. That way I’ll have given it some thought, and you won’t have to feel like you’re planning it. But you’ll also get a vote in where we go.

Ok, I know it all sounds pretty corny, doesn’t it? Would it surprise you to know my lovely wife and I had almost that exact conversation a few years ago (right after we took that communication class)? The impact of that simple exchange has been remarkable.

Here’s why:

1. My lovely wife had some unmet needs. First, she had a need for me actually to plan our date. And second, she had a need to be able to tell me how she felt.

2. Although I thought I was being polite by seeking her point of view, I was not meeting her need to have me plan the date. And I wasn’t making it very easy for her to share her point of view, either. (She was afraid she’d hurt my feelings.)

3. Because we had been practicing assertive communication, in which we each shared our needs with one another, she was more comfortable telling me what she really thought. Because she cared about me, she did it in a way that was kind, but also clear. Because I cared about her, I listened to what she said instead of becoming defensive. Her need to share became more important to me than my need to defend my position.

4. Once she shared her need, I mirrored back what she said to be sure I understood. When she saw I was getting the message (instead of being defensive), she was more willing to keep sharing.

I’ve used a very simple example, but the principle works in all sorts of issues in a marriage. I really believe (as you know from my other “Saving Marriage” posts) that we can’t control another person’s behavior. But we can influence one another. Assertive communication is a key tool for developing an honest and open dialogue with our spouse. And that honest and open communication is key to sharing – and ultimately meeting – one another’s needs.

President Kimball taught the following about marriage:

The formula is simple; the ingredients are few, though there are many amplifications of each.

First, there must be the proper approach toward marriage, which contemplates the selection of a spouse who reaches as nearly as possible the pinnacle of perfection in all the matters which are of importance to the individuals. And then those two parties must come to the altar in the temple realizing that they must work hard toward this successful joint living.

Second, there must be a great unselfishness, forgetting self and directing all of the family life and all pertaining thereunto to the good of the family, subjugating self.

Third, there must be continued courting and expressions of affection, kindness, and consideration to keep love alive and growing.

Fourth, there must be a complete living of the commandments of the Lord as defined in the gospel of Jesus Christ (“Oneness in Marriage,” Ensign, March 1997).
It’s his second point – subjugating self for the good of the family – that gets to the heart of successful assertive communication. We do not subjugate ourselves by ignoring our needs. We do it by mutually working to meet each other’s needs. I am the first to acknowledge that in an emotionally unhealthy relationship, subjugation of self is a dangerous thing. That’s why all four parts of President Kimball’s formula are so important.

But even in less-than-perfect marriages, assertive communication -- communication in which we say what we mean, mean what we say, but don’t say it meanly – can help partners to express their needs, leading to healthy discussion. Assertive communication can reduce aggressive or passive/aggressive communication that would continue to foster the unhealthy relationship.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Blessing of Forgiveness

A counselor in our stake presidency spoke in our sacrament meeting a couple of weeks ago about forgiveness. It’s a talk he had prepared for our last stake conference, but was unable to give because of a family emergency. What a blessing that we got to hear it finally.

He spoke about the Savior’s injunction:

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men (D&C 64:10).

He wondered why we seem to have a harder task than the Savior. We must forgive everyone, and He can choose.

Of course, he allowed that the Savior has greater insight and judgment, and that the Savior made the great and atoning sacrifice, so He is in a position to behave differently than we are.

But, our speaker said, another real reason for the Savior’s direction to us is for us. Our forgiving someone else brings us peace.

Forgiveness is the act of our no longer feeling bitter about wrongs done to us. Forgiveness is not the granting of absolution or the excusing of someone from consequences. It is our letting go of the offense and moving on.

Failure to forgive breeds resentment, and resentment distorts our worldview, tainting so much of what we see. You have heard that old saw, that resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. (That quotation is attributed to the Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Carrie Fisher, AA, and others – someone else can sort out its origin.) Holding on to anger is decidedly unproductive at best, and can be destructive at its worst.

President Monson, when a counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about hidden wedges in a general conference address. (And he credited President Kimball's citation of the same idea as early as 1966.) Those hidden wedges, he said, were resentments or grudges that we carry over time that damage our personal relationships. The way to avoid them is to forgive freely and quickly.

In my own experience, that forgiveness is only possible as I tap into the blessings of the atonement. Alma reminds us (through what he taught the people of Gideon) that the Savior would

go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities (Alma 7:11-12).

The Savior has already carried the pain of resentment that I might feel because he has taken upon himself the pains of his people. He can bring me comfort because he understands how I feel.

It is easier for me to forgive people I do not know, perhaps because I see my loved ones more, or perhaps it is just my weakness that I am most vulnerable when the stakes are highest.

But by forgiving someone close to me – without expectation of restitution for my perceived loss – I find a sweetness that is difficult to describe. In that moment when my heart melts just a bit and I allow love to replace bitterness, I feel that pure love of Christ working on me and through me, and I capture a glimpse of what the gift of charity feels like in practice.

For me that process can be conscious or not. Subconsciously, sometimes time and distance is all I need – a walk, a few minutes on my own, a chance to count to ten (or a hundred and ten).

Other times, I benefit from a specific choice. I may decide consciously to take the other person’s point of view. I may ask myself the question that Terry Warner taught me in The Bonds That Make Us Free: could I be wrong?

It is amazing to me the power of that question when I feel hurt. It is not, as I thought initially it might be, self-condemning, but rather liberating, as it allows me to break out of a cycle of fruitless pain.

That we are to forgive all men (and women) is a great blessing because it can free us from the bitterness and resentment that is the alternative.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

You (or I) may be the sample of one

The following letter appeared in my local paper’s printing of the syndicated Ask Amy column this week:

Dear Amy: My 26-year old daughter waitresses in an upscale eatery in a liberal college town. She has numerous tattoos visible on her arms and legs, which get a lot of attention. I don’t like tattoos, but she is my child, and I love her regardless.

A coworker’s mom, who is Mormon and visiting from out of state, sat in my daughter’s section and proceeded to tell her that she was disgusting. She said she could not believe my daughter was allowed to work there, told her not to spit in her food and said that she is going to hell.

I am seething. My religious beliefs teach love and acceptance to all, and I firmly believe that I should not judge others. My daughter treated the offender with kindness, but she was stunned by this spewing. What a perfect way to turn others against religion!

Was there a tactful response my daughter could have given to make the offender realize her behavior was wrong? – Sad Mom (emphasis added).


My first response was to wonder why this offending woman identified herself as LDS, and worse, why she claimed the young tattooed waitress would be going to hell?

This dear sister obviously missed all those admonitions of the Savior to love one another and not to judge one another.

I’ve spent more time thinking about this than I should, probably, but I’ve come up with some scenarios:

1. Sad Mom was aware of the visiting woman’s religion because the co-worker had mentioned it, not because the visitor had mentioned it. Sad Mom then attributed the awful behavior to the visitor’s Mormon-ness rather than to her being a crabby old lady. (This is the best case scenario.)

2. The visitor actually mentioned her Mormon-ness why chastising the young waitress about her tattoos. (Can you imagine that discussion? What do you know about the Mormons? Do you know we hate tattoos, and people who wear them? Yikes!!)

3. The young waitress embellished the story for her mother. (Can you believe what happened to me today? This woman sits in my station and goes off on my tattoos….)

The lesson that lept to mind is that whether we like it or not, we are missionaries. We are seen by others as representatives of our faith and our church. For some people, we are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Well, of course we know there are stupid people everywhere. And the church is not immune to that condition. How sad that this LDS woman would treat a waitress the way she did and make claims she has no right in the world to make. (I have to chuckle as I think about a professor I had in college who wore long sleeves every day of the year to hide tattoos he’d gotten as young sailor. This tattooed professor was also a sealer in the temple when I knew him.)

I hope that if I’m someone’s sample of the church that I do a better job representing.

(BTW, Amy’s response was spot on: “Dear Sad: This isn’t about religion, but about rudeness….” She goes on to point out that the waitress did the right thing trying to be polite, and suggested that she could have offered to re-seat the upset woman in a different section of the restaurant.)