Christianity


After having read Sister Julie B. Beck’s talk given at the L.D.S. Church’s General Conference on Sunday (which you can listen to here, and in a few days you can read on the Church’s official website), I would like to share my feelings on my reconciliation to her words. Much of this post comes from an email conversation I had the other day with Azúcar, in which she helped me sort out the words and calm myself down.

Here is a brief quote from the talk (which I found not on the Church’s website, but on Feminist Mormon Housewives, a group blog dedicated to helping people in the church come to terms with their faith and become better Christians through examination and discussion):

“Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role in the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence. Therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world.

Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowlegeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make up homes that create a climate for spiritual growth.

Growth happens best in a house of order, and women should pattern their homes after the Lord’s house. Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a powerful and influential role bestowed on women.”

At first, I felt like the talk was so directed at mothers being better maids. The specific things she brought up later, kids in pressed clothes, missionary haircuts, house as clean as the temple, seemed so far from any doctrine that could help me be a better person. And saying that mothers who “know” do all those things seemed like such a slap in the face. Especially since it’s so cultural, and really unnecessary to salvation. (The “mothers who know” references a story well-known to Mormons, in which there are 2,000 young men who fight in a war and are not seriously injured, but have great faith that God will help them. When asked how they gained such faith, they respond that their mothers knew it.)

I don’t take exception to advice to be a better mother, but I do take exception to the notion that if my house isn’t clean, I am failing and/or unfaithful. I don’t believe it is only the mother who should be cleaning, but rather, it should be a full-family endeavor. Husbands have just as much responsibility in keeping their surroundings clean. I will say that it is definitely the parents’ responsibility to teach the children how to clean, and to involve them in the process whenever they can, but that burden should not be laid squarely on the mother’s shoulders. I’m not sure Sister Beck intended her words to be taken that way, but it seems to be how they came out.

After having such a negative reaction to this talk, and reading many other people’s reactions, I decided to try to find something that really could help me be a better mother and person. I’m already trying to live in a clean house, though it almost never happens. I don’t think missionary haircuts or white shirts mean anything. I try to be a leader, but I don’t think of myself as the primary example of leadership, because my kids have a father too. I know Sister Beck meant well, which is why I wanted to know how other people perceived her words. I wanted to have an alternate explanation that isn’t my own “she’s just reaffirming old gender stereotypes and throwing us back into ‘The Art of Homemaking’ so people think Mormons are happy because they look like June Cleaver.” I felt like I might have over-reacted.

Carina helped me think about it in terms of why, rather that how the message was given. It really is the why that is important. I’d gotten way too offended at the how. I still think the manner was offensive, but I’ve cooled down.

I did go back and read it again, and tried to add in some things that would help me with the semantics. So where she says “homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes and keeping an orderly home,” the word “includes” is key. It also includes reading, playing, painting, laughing, etc, but those are things we already know. We have done as Daring Young Mom said, we’ve made the housekeeping part of the equation a joke. “It’s sort of en vogue to be a slacker mom, to joke about how big your pile of laundry is, how long it’s been since you did dishes, how you’ve given up trying to feed your kids enough veggies or that you’re always late for everything.” So when Sister Beck says we should be the best homemakers, she’s not saying we should be the best housekeepers. We can be the best at creating a loving and spiritual environment that is hopefully as clean as we can get it. Likewise, if we know a lot about mitosis and meiosis, it won’t help our children if we don’t have the skills to teach it to them. I have to believe that she’s not just talking about housework.

We, as mothers and part of a parental team, can create a powerful world for our children, one in which they are free to learn what they want, and they also see the value in learning what we want to teach them, or what society requires them to know, that is, how to be clean, responsible, respectful of others, kind, doing good to all man, virtuous, lovely…

(That last gratuitous reference is from the 13th Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s like a part of the Credo for the Mormons. “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say we follow the admonition of Paul- We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.)

OK, I’m long overdue for the Genesis question to be explained. And since tomorrow is the holiday, and Derek and I are going to San Francisco for my cousin’s wedding this weekend, now is my chance.

So, first, what is the main theme of the book of Genesis? My cousin Liz took an IQ test, wherein she was asked this question. She was troubled by it, so she called me and asked how I would answer it. Liz is no Bible dummy, she teaches The Bible as Literature, as well as other English classes, at a high school. And she goes to Sunday School, and reads the Bible on her own time. I’m no teacher, nor a Bible scholar, but I’ve read the thing at least a few times.

But apparently Liz and I had more trouble with the question than most of you did. First of all, I thought it odd that it was even part of this IQ test, with the inherent assumption that the test-taker has read and/or is familiar with Judeo-Christian literature and themes. I wasn’t sure how that relates to a person’s intelligence, since intelligence is a measure of a person’s ability to learn and adapt, and, as NungNung said, “Those things are nowhere near culturally, socially, or economically neutral, so people from certain backgrounds tend to be “smart,” and those less privileged, less fortunate, or less Christian are often left behind.” But apparently there is a “crystallized intelligence” section of the test, which is more about things learned previously, than adaptability.

Sheila’s short answer was “separation.” Adam and Eve were separated from God, and expected to deal with it. Cain and Abel, Noah and his people, the people of Babel, the physical example of the covenant of circumcision, Lot and his city, Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob, Esau and the birthright, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, Joseph being sold to the Egyptians, and in the end of Genesis, the people of the covenant as slaves in another land, waiting to return to the promised land, all had to work through some sort of separation. Also see Azúcar’s answer, which elaborates the separation theme.

Liz’s short answer was “punishments and rewards.” Each of the above examples shows a clear consequence for some action; being cast out of the garden for eating the fruit, being banished for murder, civilization being destroyed for wickedness. This also fits right in with the separation theme, since the punishment for most of the wrong-doing is separation of some sort; separation from the presence of God, from a society, from a loved one.

Initially, I was going to say “the beginning,” but, . So my answer was “good versus evil.” Adam and Eve were given the option of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and having chosen to eat it, blessed the rest of humanity with the choice to act on that knowledge. In each of the above examples, there was a good side and an evil side, so it was about taking sides.

The “correct” answer was “The beginning of the world.” Short, simple, and not hard to justify. Or is it? My first thought, upon being asked the question, was to say, “The beginning.” But then I though about it and decided, like Liz and others who responded, that it was too simplistic, since the creation account only takes up the first two chapters, and with the continuing saga of the children of God, there is much more to it than just the creation. The guy who administered the test told Liz that she was over-intellectualizing her answer. They really only wanted a simple answer.

Yet, I can only think that a better wording of the question, if they were looking for “beginning” as an answer, would have been, “What is the first thing you think of when you think about the book of Genesis.” Since a “theme” is “an implicit or recurrent idea: a motif” (American Heritage Dictionary), I think “the beginning” is an element of the book, but not so much a recurrent idea. Then again, I must also be over-intellectualizing it. I guess each of the above examples of separation could be looked at as new beginnings, a few of them more strikingly so than others, namely, the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, Noah, the tower of Babel, and the Abrahamic covenant.

So are you mad at me? I wasn’t trying to trap anyone into giving an answer only to tell you why I thought your answer was wrong, I just wanted to know what other intelligent people thought. Obviously, some people did choose “the beginning” as their answer. But each of the other answers, in my humble genius IQ opinion, was also a “right” answer. Human life after the fall, obedience, love, separation, good versus evil, punishments and rewards, God’s relationship with his people, all these are recurrent themes in the book of Genesis.

I just don’t think this question was appropriate for an IQ test. I welcome disagreement in any form.

I’ve been following this post on Easter Traditions at Rocks in My Dryer, and her previous post on the commercialization of Easter, and how she likes to celebrate the coming of spring as a separate holiday from Easter. I love that idea. I want my kids to know that spring is great, and something we should celebrate, but Easter is completely different . I want to have Easter be a spiritual holiday, not just one about marshmallow peeps. Although, I must admit, I can down an amazing amount of peeps, in a very short time. Especially if they have been opened a few weeks earlier to “age” properly.

It makes sense to me that the Resurrection happened right at the beginning of spring. Spring is about rebirth, starting over, welcoming light. We’ve had a long, dark, cold winter, and with the lengthening of days and warming of the soil, we’ll have early reminders of the beauty of Christ’s Atonement in the crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils, and easter lillies.

Easter should be about our own rebirth, as well. It should be a time to remember Christ, a time of prayer and thanksgiving, and joy.

I’ve been thinking a lot the past few days about Jeana’s “Get Real” post at Laughter for Days to Come, and how it relates to my life. Jeana talks about how Sunday School began as a way to give moral training to poor or orphaned children, but has evolved into a replacement for parental training that should take place in the home, and how many, many people now rely on outside influences to teach their children how to be good people.

I am so guilty. I’ve got these three fantastic kids. They’re all pretty little, the oldest is just barely 5. I’ve always thought I would bring them up with correct moral training, a love of God and scripture, a definite knowledge of right and wrong, and the ability and desire to choose the right. Every once in a while, I give Calvin a lecture on peer pressure, treating people kindly, or some other thing, but I do not think this is enough. I don’t even practice what I preach.

“It was assumed that a child of Christian parents would be learning biblical truths at home.” It is no longer the practice of most families to learn biblical truths. And if they do, it’s more likely to be from storybooks, Veggie-Tales, or some other substitution. I, like Jeana, believe there is good to be found in many places, including books, videos, and Sunday School, but nothing can be better that a parent who studies the things they believe, and actually tries daily to live it. Children learn so young how to behave like adults they know. They mimic, they practice, they experiment until they’ve got it right. They use the same vocal inflections, the same phrases. They do what we do.

So how can I expect my children to love the scriptures if I do not read them? How can I expect them to be kind to others if I yell at them? Will they want to give service if I don’t go out and serve? What will they do when they hear me criticizing a neighbor? Will they ever want to pray, if I don’t pray with them?

I really want my children to grow up to be responsible and kind. I really want them to decide not to hurt each other because they care about each other’s feelings. I want them to try to be like the Jesus of the New Testament. I want them to be forgiving, kind, patient, loving, honest, generous, and always doing good.

I want to fill my young children’s heads with instructions, and to let their eyes see me trying to live what I believe. I want them to grow up knowing how important it is to love and respect others, even when they might not be loved or respected by them.

We are studying the New Testament this year at church, and I want to use this opportunity to have Sunday School be the supplement to our study as a family. I want to teach my kids, not just once a week, but every day about how to love others the way Christ does. I want to pray with them, to help them learn to trust their Father, and to develop my own relationship with my Father through study and prayer. I want to stop being afraid to be a Christian.