An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Visiting teaching’

Lower Standards of the Presiding Gender

George hates home teaching. When we moved to a new ward, he flat-out told the High Priest leaders that he would not take an assignment. Undeterred, they asked him to at least take the responsibility of calling a list of high priests at the end of the month to collect their home teaching statistics. Calling other men in the ward to nag them about their home teaching when he refused to do it himself appealed to George’s warped sense of humor, so he accepted the responsibility. Three years later, the HP leadership changed and George asked to be released from this duty. No dice. They’re bringing his new list tomorrow.

 “Why can’t I get out of a home teaching assignment,” he asked. “You got fired as a visiting teacher.”

It’s true I was dropped as a visiting teacher last winter, but I could not help George. I didn’t ask to be released. I was surprised to learn when I called to set up February appointments that someone else had been assigned in my place.

George attends church even less frequently than I do. The only insight I could give him was, “Obviously, the Relief Society has higher standards that the High Priest Group.

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Reverence–More Than Folded Arms and Bowed Heads

I learned about Paul Woodruff’s wonderful book, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue,
a few years ago when Bill Moyers interviewed Woodruff, a professor of
humanities at the University of Texas. Reverence
is the wisest book I’ve read—way ahead of scriptures from any religion.

Woodruff quotes poets more frequently than prophets and defines
reverence as, “the capacity to feel respect in the right way toward the right
people, and to feel awe towards an object that transcends particular human
interests.” His models for reverent and non-reverent behavior are from ancient
Chinese and Greek as well as contemporary American culture.

Being considered irreverent by some of my devoutly Mormon
friends and family, I am gratified that Woodruff considers mockery—at the right
target—a form of reverence. The trick, I suspect, is aiming at the right
target. And that’s a fine line. George believes I should wear a skirt on the
occasions I attend church out of respect for the other members. I, on the other
hand, think the dress rule is a senseless tradition that should be changed—and will
only be changed by women showing up in contemporary attire. Obviously, we must avoid
sacrament meeting in order to reduce family conflict.

Woodruff says it’s easiest to show respect to equals, but
true reverence requires us to feel respect for those of lesser power. He urges
teachers, parents, and other leaders to listen to children, students, and
others who know less than ourselves. Now, I don’t mind listening to children.
Their earnestness and innocence charms me. But I do have a problem extending
the same courtesy to relatives who get their historical “facts” and political
insights from Glen Beck and his ilk.

I suspect our home and visiting teachers feel that way about
George and me. Because our active Mormon lives were lived in a different ward,
our current ward members assume we do not understand the gospel and expend great
effort to instruct us. They read messages from Church leaders and bear
testimony of their truthfulness but have no interest in our philosophical
views. I understand that. Bible bashing is not a game worth playing. Still, I
occasionally succumb.

I thought I was being reverent when I listened to my
visiting teacher, Sister Prim, relate the spiritual experience of her sister which
resulted in the baptism of her non-member husband. I followed with the
spiritual experience that my sister, who is fighting cancer, received at the
Zen Center.   Sister Prim listened politely, but I could
tell she was uncomfortable.

In retrospect neither of us was treating the other with
reverence. Sister P considers me a project rather than a person. That’s her
problem. My problem was insisting on sharing a spiritual experience knowing it
wouldn’t fit her paradigm.  That’s the
kind of payback our oldest son gives me—force-feeding me passages from Romans
to prove Calvinism is the true path—the way I inflicted my Mormon beliefs on
him.

Learning to feel respect the right way to the right
people is tough—even humbling.

Friendly Divorce?

Our new home teacher decided to give us a lesson last month.
He dutifully opened his Ensign and
told us President Eyring’s message gave him some new thoughts about tithing. He
read a few quotes from the text and told us of the blessings he’s received from
paying tithing. George and I were uncomfortable. Even when I was a believing
member, I objected to the self-serving notion of paying tithing in anticipation
of reaping blessings.

When Brother deVowt paused for our comments, George said
that he and I have so many blessings we don’t ask for more; we just give
thanks. I agreed with our HT that generosity is a great virtue. I didn’t
elaborate on why I now choose to bestow my offerings elsewhere. We don’t care
to undermine our home teachers’ faith, but neither do we want to be proselytized.

At least our home teacher did not read the entire message
verbatim, then offer tearful testimony of its truthfulness as my Relief Society
visiting teachers did until I asked them to skip the message during their
visits. That request probably got me dropped from my own visiting teaching
calling.

I know George and I could have our names removed from the
rolls of the church and avoid contact with the faithful entirely, but we had
hoped to maintain a casual relationship with the church of our heritage. George
feels an attachment to the institution which has provided him with spiritual
experiences in the past. Neither of us wants to divorce ourselves from our
neighbors or place a possible barrier between ourselves and believing family
members.

Maybe we’re in the
position of a divorced spouse—grateful to be out of a relationship that wasn’t
working—but still bound by years of shared experience. Being good friends after
a split is a status few divorced couples achieve. It generally takes more than
a few years—and forgetting the past seems to come more easily to those who
leave than to those they abandon.

Visiting Teacher Dilemma

Here’s a poll for readers to solve a delicate visiting teaching situation. 

This situation occurred in my ward. The visiting teacher reported to the bishop that Sister A was not wearing her garments. The bishop called Sister A in to ask her about the garment situation. Sister A told me she had been doing her housework with a jacket over her sleeveless top, got too warm, slipped off her jacket, and pushed her garment sleeves up out of sight. She was pretty miffed at her visiting teacher. How should her visiting teacher have handled the situation?

Religion–A Weighty Matter

A new study shows that religious Americans tend to be more overweight than their less devout neighbors. The news source I saw attributed the weight problem to the foods served at church potluck dinners. While I agree that high fat/high carb food is generally served at church socials, even the most faithful church members still eat most of their meals at home. I think the answer is not in the meals dished up at church, but in the guilt.

Popular media gives the religious guilt award to Catholics, but I think Mormons outdo Catholics in this contest. Do Catholics receive monthly phone calls asking if they’ve completed their visiting or home teaching assignments? Those calls require a brownie—maybe with a scoop of ice cream—to ease the feeling that not only God, but your church leaders mourn because you couldn’t bring yourself to visit Sister Crabbee and her houseful of dander-ridden felines this month. And what about being called into the bishop’s office and asked to accept a calling for which you have no aptitude or interest? Any variation of, “I’d really love to help you out by serving as Primary President, but I hate all kids except my own—and sometimes I’m not too sure about them” is not acceptable.  Both accepting a calling you will hate or lying to get out of it will send you home to the pantry. And since low-cal substitutes like cigarettes and black coffee are not available to Mormons, chips and dip fill in—literally.

General Conference can really send Mormons on a food binge. Warnings about what might happen to you and your family if you aren’t diligent about Family Home Evening, daily prayer, scripture reading, Sabbath day observance, fasting, temple work, and sharing the gospel would push anyone less spiritual than Gandhi to seek solace in the box of Ding Dongs purchased for the kids’ lunches.

On the other hand, Evangelicals who are already saved probably don’t do Mormon and Catholic level guilt, yet plenty of them are portly. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe chubby church-goers are the result of spending Sundays sitting in church instead of biking and hiking with the svelte secular crowd.

I’ve Been Fired as a Visiting Teacher

I tried to take a leave of absence from visiting teaching several years ago. The fact that I was teaching full time, working on my master’s degree, had four teens at home, and was serving in the YW presidency failed to impress my Relief Society president. “You’ll have to talk to the Bishop if you want to be released as a visiting teacher,” she said—frost forming on her lips as she spoke. I kept on visiting, convinced I would not be released from this calling until I was planted deep underground.

Fast forward nearly two decades and a different ward. When we moved into our current ward, I told the RS president, who met us as our furniture was being hauled in, that I wasn’t a regular churchgoer. She asked me to be a visiting teacher anyway, and I enjoyed getting acquainted with my partner and the three sisters we visited.

February was my partner’s turn to set up appointments. By mid-month I hadn’t heard from Jessica. When I met her at a neighbor’s Pampered Chef party, I asked about her schedule for visiting this month. “Didn’t they tell you? We’ve been switched. I told Eloise (our new RS president) I hated losing you for a partner.”

Since I haven’t been informed of a new assignment, I can only assume I’ve been fired—is this a first ever for a visiting teacher to be sacked? I suppose asking my own visiting teachers not to read me the lesson each month and answering honestly when asked if I had a testimony might have hoisted a red flag for our new RS president. While I did enjoy visiting women in the neighborhood whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise—I have to admit I won’t miss trying to coordinate my schedule with my partner’s, a mother of six who is finishing her degree, and then trying to make appointments with a young mother working on her associate’s degree, a busy business owner, and a grandmother on steroids. If I’d only known how to get fired 20 years ago.

It’s More Blessed NOT to Give

One of the things I like most about my current ward is that the visiting teachers don’t bring little gifts—not even for Christmas or birthdays. Over the years I’ve been inundated with gifts from the dollar store. I once had visiting teachers who didn’t call or knock—they just left a plastic googah on my porch each month with a note. Another VT was a second grade teacher whose appreciation gifts from her students kept on giving—to me. Besides the usual soap, bath powder, and cologne, I received a pair of curved scissors for scrapbooking (I hate crafts) and a box of Christmas ornaments stamped with a date from two Christmases before from this good sister. At least I didn’t get a box of stale cookies or chocolates.

But it’s not really receiving tacky gifts that turns me off—it’s having to think up gifts that don’t look born of desperation and obligation for my own visits. It wasn’t so difficult several years ago when I didn’t mind baking. Homemade bread and cookies are generally welcome. But age has forced George and me to adopt a healthy diet and making candy, cookies, breads, or cheese balls is too much temptation for weaklings like us to deal with.

So, I’m grateful that “thoughtful gifts” are not part of our ward’s visiting teaching routine. Our neighbors do bring over treats at Christmas and I love the fact that their kids are involved in the spirit of giving—one family even carols while delivering goodies. I’ve thought about reciprocating. I could wrap cans of Stephens’ cocoa mix to deliver, but that smacks of obligatory giving. I’ve finally decided to return our neighbors’ kindness with a personally delivered “Thank you” Christmas card instead of a gift. Like the Grinch whose theft let the Whos discover that Christmas is more than gifts, I’m allowing my neighbors to experience the joy of giving without expecting a gift in return.

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