An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Relief Society lessons’

“Our Motto Is Monotony”

Before teaching her next Relief Society presidency message, our RS counselor e-mailed the lesson topic to give sisters in the ward time to reflect upon it before class. A wonderful idea, I thought, until I read the chosen topic—“Home.” My enthusiasm dropped faster than the May 6 stock market plunge. I’ve already listened to at least 942 lessons on Home during my years of RS attendance. And I really wouldn’t mind a lesson on home that provided new insights—like the Buddhist notion of connection to the universe which means that home is every place. But I know that won’t happen.

Just as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel criticized Jewish services, Mormon services also: “. . . are conducted with pomp and precision. . . . Everything is present: decorum, voice, ceremony. But one thing is missing: life. One knows in advance what will ensue. There will be no surprise, no adventure of the soul; there will be no sudden burst of devotion. Nothing is going to happen to the soul. Nothing unpredictable must happen to the person who prays. He will attain no insight into the words he reads; he will attain no new perspective for the life he lives. Our motto is monotony.”

The official reason for keeping tight control of church curriculum is “to keep the doctrine pure.” But I wonder if the tradeoff—monotonous, uninspiring meetings—is really worth it. And I still hear plenty of weird beliefs from devout Mormons, so how pure is this approach keeping the doctrine?

What would I suggest for Sunday School and Relief Society curriculum?    

   Gospel Doctrine was exciting when the lessons were really on the scriptures—when we spent two years each on the Old and New Testaments, read the entire text, and learned about the culture for which these scriptures were written. Ignoring the cultural context and selecting only passages which support contemporary Mormon thought is not scripture study.

I enjoyed RS when the lessons were written by women for women. I don’t really need any more lessons on abstract topics: The Sacrament, The Sabbath Day, Fasting, Sacrifice. Lives of good people interest and motivate me—biographies that show imperfect human beings handling real challenges. Why can’t the RS manual be a biography of an exemplary woman? How about Carol Cornwall Madsen’s biography of Emmeline B. Wells? And why can’t we study the wisdom of non-LDS women? Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea contains wonderful spiritual insights that complement LDS philosophy. How about a memoir by a woman who has overcome great obstacles? Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings deals with some unpleasant situations. She suffered sexual abuse as a child and was so insecure about her feminine sexuality at age 17 that she paid a boy to have sex with her—resulting in a teen pregnancy. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings—but some LDS women are dealing with similar situations for themselves or their children. An honest discussion of contemporary problems which can help women deal with bad situations affecting themselves or others has more spiritual benefit than a fluff lesson about the joys of a perfect home.

Reducing church lessons to “milk before meat” that will not offend the “weakest of the weak” has resulted in lessons for the dumbest of the dumb. If the church wants to retain members, putting some meat on the menu would help.

Parenting for Dummies

My parents were relatively permissive. I never had a spanking although my mother used guilt masterfully. My brother received corporal punishment once. Doogie smart-mouthed a neighbor and sassed and swore at our mother for chastising him. Dad, who normally left discipline to Mom, got involved at that point. 

Our parents believed it was easier to do a chore themselves than to get us to help, which was true, of course. Aunt Prudence criticized our upbringing. Auntie raised our cousins with strict obedience to the Mormon values of work, thrift and church attendance. On Saturday mornings, Doogie hung around throwing rocks in the vacant lot waiting for our cousin, Beaver, to finish mopping the kitchen floor or some other chore before he could play. I read hundreds of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries while cousin Buffy practiced the piano.

My brothers and I were lazy, useless kids. I did no homework until 9th grade when teachers began posting our grades and my pride kicked in. Oddly enough, my brothers and I, like our more disciplined cousins, grew up to be hard-working, responsible adults—although I do wish I’d learned to play the piano. We and our cousins turned out like our parents. Apparently their examples were more important than their parenting styles

I wish I’d realized this 30 years earlier. I’d have had a lot less angst raising my children. All those guilt-inducing Relief Society lessons—some of which I taught—about the wickedness of the world and Satan lurking to pounce on untaught, undisciplined children. Instead of just doing what comes naturally, I tried for perfection. Maybe it was self-criticism that kept me from emulating my parents. Anyway, I tried to be a strict, in-control parent, but that’s not my nature.  I could do it some of the time, but not always, so I wasn’t consistent. Besides inconsistency, my discipline methods lacked dignity. Chasing kids around the house while brandishing a wooden spoon is not quite the “Divine Calling of Motherhood “ image presented in RS lessons.

For some reason, I never thought of more civilized methods of discipline, like Time Out. When I could no longer catch the kids for a smack on the bottom, I switched to psychological warfare. I stopped quarrels with a pretend phone call to Dr. Smart, the child psychologist I kept on retainer in a kitchen cupboard. I staged loud conversations telling the good doctor that my children were driving me crazy. The kids watched, a mixture of fear and awe on their little faces, as I listened to the doctor’s advice. “Yes. What a good idea! I’ll try that.” By the time I hung up the imaginary phone, quarrels were forgotten as the kids bonded together in concern for their mother’s sanity.

Our kids would have had easier lives if they’d been blessed with smarter parents, but they’d have missed some interesting developmental adventures along the way. Children with normal parents do not attempt careers as stand-up comics or try to obtain an LDS temple recommend by adhering to every item on the checklist except belief in Joseph’s Smith’s divine calling and the literal translation of the Gold Plates.

Each of our kids acquired some of our best traits—as well as some of our negatives. Maybe instead of working so hard on our kids, we should have been working on ourselves.

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