Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Teaching the Ideal

This is a post that I originally posted in August on another blog that I occasionally write on. I have heard several talks since then that have addressed the same issues. Just this past weekend at my parents' stake conference, Elder Marlin K. Jensen reminded those of us listening about the Savior's example as he taught the ideal. Christ said "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Our Savior realizes that the only way we can fulfill this commandment is through our constant acceptance of and reliance on the Atonement in our lives. We are not perfect, but the Savior knew of and set an example regarding the importance of teaching the ideal. Since my original post on this subject, these ideas have continued to be on my mind. I was hoping for a little more discussion and insight on the topic (I learn so much more when other people share their thoughts with me), so I decided that I would post it here as well. So, here goes...

My sister recently pointed me in the direction of a question and answer session at the BYU law school with Sister Julie Beck on March 7, 2008. As a fair warning, the video is pretty long (maybe 40min to an hour), and apparently you can't pause it, so I would make sure you actually have time to sit and watch it. Also, the sound is pretty bad, but if you keep with it until Sister Beck starts talking, you can get used to it; besides, her comments really are worth hearing.

In this session, Julie Beck addresses women in the law school at BYU. So, it should come as no surprise that many of the questions they posed to her had to do with working outside the home, careers, the conflict in some Relief Societies between mothers who have chosen to stay at home and mothers who are working or furthering their education, and the conflict some women feel as they strive to follow personal revelation and come up against judgment and criticism in and out of the home and workplace, whether they choose to stay at home or not.

There was also, perhaps not surprisingly, mention of the talk Sister Beck gave at General Conference in October of 2007, "Mothers Who Know", to which a number of Latter-Day Saint women (and men) reacted defensively. Despite any grumblings some might have initially experienced from that talk, I know in my heart that those words came from the Lord and that any problem I might have with some of those principles is in trying to reconcile the imperfect state of my life with an ideal model. Of course, the problem with this is that no one is perfect, everyone has different circumstances in their lives, and everyone can receive their own personal revelation about these matters from the Lord. Julie Beck knows this - she is not presenting a "cookie cutter model" as my sister points out, along with several other valid points, in her blog post on the subject. Sister Beck addressed this with the law students as well. In the church, we teach the ideal as something to strive for, to remind us of the things in our lives that are most important and then we let the exceptions follow, because there are many exceptions. Life happens. I have a dear friend who strives continually to be at home with her young son, but the current situations of her life prevent her from doing so. In fact, this is the case pretty much anywhere else in the world. Outside of the US, women work. That is part of life. That doesn't mean that those women no longer have the same responsibility to nurture and raise children in Christ. One of the points about this that Sister Beck brings up and is absolutely true is that no one can fulfill the role to have, raise and nurture our own children except for us. We cannot delegate it to someone else.

Sister Beck has mentioned this before in an address to young single adults:

"Some of you women are deciding now whether you should marry and have a family or choose a career. You are bright and qualified, and you have opportunities your grandmothers never dreamed of. The possibilities for earning credentials and making a mark for yourselves on the world stage have never been greater. But I hope you are making your decisions with the blessings of Abraham in mind. Latter-day Saint women should understand that no matter how many other people they enlist to help them with their home and children, they cannot delegate their role as the primary nurturer and teacher of their families. Righteous motherhood will always stretch every reserve they have to meet the needs of their families. As a daughter of God who has made covenants with Him, each of you carries the vital and indispensable female half of the responsibility for fulfilling the Lord’s plan. Each of you has the agency to prayerfully and humbly choose how to approach your career opportunities. Every choice has a consequence. You cannot have everything and do everything. You must choose with eternal priorities in mind. I would hope that you will understand that there are no glamorous careers. Every form of employment has its own innate challenges. Many choices available in the world today compete with eternal goals and responsibilities. Many choices could persuade you to delay or limit the number of children you invite into your family. Many choices could rob you of critical time and energy necessary to adequately care for your spouse, your children, and your responsibilities in the Lord’s kingdom. These decisions are between you and the Lord. He knows the desires of your heart and your unique situation."

So, we teach the ideal. This is very apparent if you think about the other principles we are taught in the church. Take for example, reading your scriptures daily. Now, in a perfect world we would all study intently every day from our scriptures without interruptions in a nice, quiet area of the house where we could pray and ponder on the deep doctrines therein. We would have family scripture study where all the little children sit and listen and participate in heartfelt, spiritual discussion (no matter their age) and everyone feels the spirit and testifies to each other about how wonderful the scriptures are. Well, this is just not reality most of the time! Most children will not thank their parents for continuing to persevere with scripture study until they are much older - when they are young, they just don't generally express those kinds of feelings. "Ah, mom, do we have to? Can't we skip it just for today?" might be closer to a typical response. I have a 17 month old son and the only way I get my scripture study in every day is to do it in the morning (because if I wait I get busy and then I get tired and then I fall asleep in the middle of the second verse I read). Well, my husband leaves for work early and so my scripture study usually consists of reading over breakfast while my little one throws his food on the floor, whines for my attention, or crawls all over me. I would have to say, that I absolutely love when he tries to imitate me by marking my scriptures for me. What a doll! If you have any fantasies about family scripture study, I would invite you to watch this video (this entire collection of documentaries from Fit for the Kingdom is wonderful because it brings the reality of everyday life as a member of the church to the fore while building testimony - none of us are alone in our struggles, even if we feel like we are). So does the reality of scripture study mean we shouldn't strive for the ideal, or the better part? Of course not! We consistently strive for the Spirit to be there in our scripture study because we are taught the ideal and we know of its importance, but that does not negate or belittle the actual experiences we have while studying the scriptures on a regular basis while we have kids running and screaming through the house, or are constantly interrupted.

Okay, so perhaps that seems a little off topic, but the truth of the matter is that we teach the ideal to strengthen us in remembering the things in this life that are of the most worth, that are truly important in the eternal scheme of things. I know that I am doing what the Lord wants me to do by pursuing my PhD. Do I completely understand why? Not really. Do I sometime feel guilty for enjoying myself at school? Sometimes, perhaps, but that is my own weakness, and I get to have faith that the Lord will make a way for me to go to school and to fulfill my responsibilities as a wife and mother. I often realize that it is okay to enjoy myself in my scholarly endeavors. In fact, it makes me better at them! At the same time, I know without a doubt that the absolutely most important thing in my life is my family and I am constantly on guard against the things in my life that pull me away from my husband, child and home. Is my house always clean and optimally inviting to the Spirit of the Lord? Hmm... no, no it is not. But does that mean that I should worry about justifying why my house is not "perfect", cease to consistently strive to make my home a place where the Spirit can dwell, and cease to do the best I can to create a spiritual haven for my family? Of course not. Why is it that we women consistently put down the work that we do in our homes that brings the Spirit, feeds and clothes our children, and makes our homes a place where we can truly and lovingly teach the gospel of Jesus Christ by example to those who are most dear to us?

So we get to the heart of the matter. Whether or not we work outside of our homes, the most important things we do are within those walls (take, for example, the little angel above). Sister Beck is absolutely right when she says that no matter what your choices, there is never enough woman to go around. And she has been there! She is an educated, professional woman too! She has stayed at home and she has worked outside of it. As have many of the women on the General Relief Society Board. Where did I, or anyone else for that matter (perhaps it is just me), ever get the idea that women in the General Presidencies are the perfect homemakers who never work, keep their homes tidy at all times, serve in every possible capacity, are always immediately there for their children, husbands, parents, neighbors, friends, strangers? Where did I get the idea that they are perfect? Hello! None of us are. There is the ideal in the principles we are taught, and then there is how we live our lives to the best of our ability in the face of the experiences that naturally are a part of this mortal existence. As Sister Beck mentioned at the law school, we should take each opportunity into account as it comes along into our lives, prayerfully consider our choices, and choose day to day with our eternal perspective in mind.

Okay, so there is so much more I could say, but I am going to stop there.

**As a side note, I have recently discovered that humming the theme song to Indiana Jones really does make cleaning the bathroom way more fun - don't believe me? You try it and see how long you can go without feeling incredibly adventurous or laughing hysterically! Never underestimate the power of music. :) "Dun da dun dunnnn, dun da dunnnnnn, dun da dun dunnnnnnnnn, dun da dun dun dun! Dun da dun dunnnnnn, dun da dunnnnnnnn, dun da daaaa da da daaaaa da da daaaa da da daaaaaaa dun da dunnnnn."

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Twilight Series

Well, after hearing so much about the Twilight Series, as well as attending a Twilight party without ever having read the books, I decided that I was going to form my own opinion by breaking down to see what everyone is talking about. Besides, a good friend of mine gave me a Twilight visor that she embroidered and that I love wearing. If I'm going to be wearing an item of Twilight publicity, I figure I really should read it first. I should be clear that I had heard wonderful things about the Twilight books, as well as horrible things, as well as opinions that hung out somewhere in the middle, so I felt that the whole reading experience could go in any direction. In the end, there were things I really liked and didn't like, but on the whole I liked the story. For one, it was nice to take a break from the reading to which I am accustomed (being in graduate school) to read something light, quick, and entertaining. Besides, I am a sucker for a love story and I do enjoy a variety of novels for young readers. Most of all, I think that this book appealed to the somewhat twisted fantasies of my Dracula-loving teenage years when I used to think that it would be so cool to fall in love with a vampire (and even cooler to be a vampire and spend eternity with said vampire). Then there's just the idea that everything that we do, no matter our nature/deepest desires, is a choice. That was one thing I really liked about the books. That no matter how much someone may desire (even overwhelmingly) to do something he or she feels is wrong, even when he or she feels that something is an intrinsic part of his or her essential nature, that someone can always choose something different, something better, and the rewards of the better choice long outlast and are far more rewarding than the temporary satisfaction of giving in.

That being said, at times I didn't feel that the writing itself was very good; there were a lot of pretty cheesy moments and some parts of the story kind of dropped off by the end into no man's land. There were also some quite macabre and disturbing parts to the storyline, and some of the story/characters were just downright irritable. Yet, I couldn't put the books down, so there you have it. I actually got very wrapped up in it, feeling like I was there in Forks sharing Bella's experiences. I really liked the fact that Meyer leaves a lot to your imagination, giving you just enough description to get you going on your own mental picture of the events. Plus, the story is very relatable. There were so many times when I thought, "Gee, I've felt exactly like that before," and I feel that to have that effect when you're writing about vampires, werewolves and things that go bump in the night is a pretty good sign that you're doing something right.

The relationship between human and vampire I pondered over a lot because it is pretty messed up and downright unhealthy if you think about it; he wants to kill her, but loves her, she only sees the good in him and wants to be with him forever, despite the whole thing about him wanting to kill her all the time. Still, I was cheering for them to end up together from the beginning. Meyer made immortality just way too desirable. I wouldn't mind being a vampire myself at this point. I mean, who doesn't want to look like a supermodel while also being able to leap over rivers, bound through the forest and have superhuman strength? Of course, the whole blood drinking thing kind of spoils the perks to some extent. So, there you have it. I truly can see why some of the people who really didn't like it feel the way they do, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was entertaining and Meyer was able to redeem some of the more disappointing aspects of the story by the end.