Friday, September 30, 2011

"Daughters in My Kingdom" Post, the First

I am trying very hard to read this book with an open mind. It is difficult, because I had an extremely hard time with the Young Women's program and my antipathy has more or less translated to Relief Society. I begin to read the book with two expected possible paths before me. Either I will love the book and be frustrated that the real world is so far from it and I don't know how to change it, or I will be frustrated that what the book describes is hopelessly fluffy and unrealistic. However, I am reading it with faith that there may be a path I haven't yet seen, and trying to pick out whatever good I can. I am also reading it slowly, to make sure I don't miss anything.

So far, I have two impressions that I would like to share. First, I am delighted to discover that in the beginning, Relief Society membership was not automatic with Church membership. Rather, there was a grueling application process, and only those deemed to be genuinely engaged in the work were accepted.

I like this idea because I believe that the purpose of Relief Society (ostensibly to provide relief to those who are in need, in the name of the Lord) has become watered down by those who are not engaged in it. (Me, included, I'm afraid.) When things such as Visiting Teaching and Relief Society membership are base-level and mandatory, they lose a great part of their value. What purpose is there in being visited by women who are visiting you because they want to turn in their numbers for the month? What good does a home-cooked meal do when it is an expectation, and not a gift? (Particularly when things such as Little Caesar's Hot-N-Ready $5 pizza or frozen supermarket dinners are possible.)

I have never been a fan of busy work. I think that service projects should be a vehicle for learning charity, not an item on the list that is crossed off. I am slammed with my single working mom life. Despite being disgustingly busy, I would happily make time and find money to make a meal or clean the house of someone in the ward who is genuinely in need, but I find myself unable to muster the same zeal to make a meal for a woman who has just had a baby, her husband, and her six visiting adult family members. Or donate money to a wedding gift for a Relief Society Sister's child whom I have never met.

Things like that make me grumpy.

If the Relief Society had ACTUAL, PURPOSEFUL, relief-driven, problem-solving meetings, I would participate gladly. Rather than being deeply grateful that I have been assigned to teach in Primary so I don't have to sit through one more insipid "lesson" on the "gospel," even though I really don't like teaching 11-year-old smart-mouths.

The second thing that I have been impressed with is that originally, Relief Society efforts were voluntary, tailored to the individual skills and inclinations of the women. Not everyone was asked to canvass the neighborhood, or knit socks, or sew clothes for the temple workers. Each one was able to contribute to the overall temple building effort with HER skills, and what SHE was comfortable doing. I never in a million years would want to go to non-member merchants and ask for cloth donations, but I would have been happy as a clam sitting in the corner and knitting socks, or making home-cooked meals.

The point is that a problem was presented to the Society, and each woman was able to chime in with what she, personally, could do to help the effort.

My greatest dream is to someday belong somewhere where I can use what I am good at, what I like to do, to contribute to the group, somewhere I could be a working, contributing member of a whole. I have never felt that in my life. But it sounds to me that the Relief Society used to be just that.

And that is a Relief Society to which I would want to belong.


  1. I love the perspective you presented here. I hope you don't mind my chiming in with some thoughts on the subject. I really wish we could all just be as you described, without worrying about how much or how little the situation actually resembles the "reality." Honestly, right now we are the reality. I am mine. You are yours. We determine that reality directly, whether at church, "at home, at school, at play" (sorry, primary songs are always with me).

    That goes for even when we feel utterly alone upholding that good. That's what I learn from Mormon and Moroni in the closing books of the Book of Mormon. When they were absolutely alone in their faith in Christ, they were still righteous. They still maintained their reality with unflinching faith and endurance. We could be just as strong in our personal or family sphere.

    The solution would seem to be, make absolutely certain that we are not visiting for numbers, or speaking hollow words without heart behind them. We have to find the better spirit behind that law for ourselves. Others will follow that lead.

  2. I think that is an organization I wouldn't mind being a part of... women who have a desire to give, and an ability to give... It would be a lot smaller organization and a lot more effective.

    My very conservative brother and I got in a discussion about charity. If service and charity are expected, they become an excuse to not do for ourselves or some become entitled... If service is charity - a pure love of Christ and a desire to lift someone up, it would never be that.

    The organization that could help those who can't help themselves, but not be 'forced' to help those who don't need help. (The new mom with a ton of family visiting.)

    Thanks for the vision of what could be.

  3. "I click open a blog post. It is another criticism of “the Church.” I feel defeated...It doesn’t matter what it is, except it is about how the Church should change." I agree with the sentiment of this post so I hope you won't mind my tying it to your previous post. I suppose you could differentiate my point by arguing that this post doesn't criticize the brethren only local leaders or that this post just beckons RS back to what it once was but so does arguing for more "focus more on Christ". What is and is not acceptable to criticize?

  4. That's a fair question, Howard. First, I never claim to be free from the vices I sometimes explore. In fact, that is a big part of the point of my blog. However, in this case, I think there are certain differences between the criticisms I mentioned in my What is Real(?) post, and what I have here.

    First, President Beck has made it clear* that this book was created with the intention of turning our hearts back to the roots of Relief Society, and applying what we learn to what we do today. This post is the beginning of my attempts to do that. It is not critical, it is evaluatory.

    Secondly, there is a vital difference between criticizing what OTHERS should change, and examining what I can change. Although I am no Relief Society President, and probably never will be, it is important for me to search out what Sister Beck would have those of us under her stewardship learn. If you read what is said in this post, there is nowhere I criticize a person. I am examining what happens.

    To use the example I am guessing you are specifically referring to, the post made by Tracy M. where commenters suggesting the Church "focus more on Christ" almost always says that OTHERS don't speak enough, OTHERS should change. That is vastly different from saying, for example, that I don't speak enough about Christ, I don't think enough about Christ, or even my ward doesn't speak enough about Christ, so I am going to bring my concerns to the Bishop.

    Criticisms about the Church brought to an online forum can focus two ways, on how everyone else is doing things wrong, or on what is going wrong so I can help. Destructive vs. constructive criticism. Self-aggrandizing diatribes, or self-improving analysis.

    My intent is to do the latter.

    *Liahona 2010
    October 2011 General Conference
    September 2001 Liahona

  5. And one last thing to clarify a little further. A post addressing the thoughtlessness of others and the marginalization of divorcees in the Church would be appropriate if I were posting about the pain it causes me, and what I can do to teach others, to build relationships, or to learn how to deal with the pain. It is not appropriate to bring up comments which were made or things which happened, and discuss how thoughtless, rude, and ignorant the people were, and how if they only changed, my life would be better and the Church would be an actual Church of Christ.

    The Church of Christ is not sunshine and roses. It is hard work, learning to get along with our fellow disciples.

    Does that help?

  6. Yes, thanks for the clarification.


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