A lesson on caring for single sisters

This past Sunday, in the meeting we have of those ordained as an Elder, we had a special topic and teacher for our lesson. The lesson was on how we can better serve as Home Teachers to the single sisters in our ward, taught by one of these single sisters. Home Teaching is a program where the Elders and High Priests of the ward are put into pairs and assigned to met with each family, in their homes, once a month, to share a spiritual message and to try and help the family wherever we can. Usually, Elders aren’t assigned single sisters (by policy, probably because single sisters are perceived to have more need), but since we have 60 in our ward, we’ve all at least one family that consists of a single sister (sometimes with children), rather than a married couple (also sometimes with children).

Our ward may be a bit high on the number of single sisters, but I don’t think it’s all that high. There was a recent New York Times piece on women in the Church, A Growing Role for Mormon Women, that had an interesting infographic, showing the ratios of single men to women of different age groups in the Church. What particularly surprised me was that, while there were more men than women in the under 30 group, each group older than that has progressively more single women than men. Over 60, the ratio of single men to women is up to five women for every man. Some would say that the ratio of 12 men to 10 women under 30 is an indicator that young women are “leaving in droves” over perceived inequality, and that this ratio will continue. I think with the increased numbers of women serving as missionaries the ration will continue to skew younger, it becoming more noticeable earlier that the women who remain in the Church will outnumber the men, even below 30.

I’m kind of conflicted about the numbers of single women in the Church, especially those I see around me. I know they are strong women, many of whom are dealing with impossible circumstances of trying to raise and provide for a family on their own. They do not technically “need” someone else to share the load, but it certainly would make life easier if that were the case. I do not want to ever infer that these women are less than, incomplete people, or anything of the sort, but I do know that beneath it all there is a vulnerability, a need for the Priesthood power only available to men, that they feel in their homes and lives. I don’t think ordination would solve this (even if it may relieve it for some), but some things can only be helped when you can see yourself moving toward that next step of becoming like our Heavenly Parents, in a committed, equally yoked, sealed marriage.

That brings me back to the lesson. The lesson, as I said, was on how we can better serve the single sisters in our ward and was taught by one of these single sisters. She’d done a great amount of work, polling and talking to the single women in our Ward so she could communicate with us the special needs that were there. She’d asked the sisters what the top needs were for Home Teachers. The answers were not terribly surprising, as they tend to apply to all of the families we teach: 1. Show Up, 2. Make an Appointment, 3. Be Consistent.

There were a few comments from the men on how we were needed, especially to help with what I’d refer to as “moving big stuff” (y’know, manly man work) that I wanted to push back against, but I felt that I both couldn’t and shouldn’t. I was there to learn from someone who is one of the women in this group, not to lessen her time to teach by pushing back on this minor misconception. Thankfully, she put in some points that helped put these ideas down. She has her own home, in which she’s done her own yard work, tiled her own kitchen, done her own upkeep. There were also times when she needed an extra hand, like in removing a stump from her yard. She was glad of her Home Teacher who not only got together the people to get the stump out, but went the extra mile of filling in the hole and getting sod to grass the new bald spot. It wasn’t an absolute need, but she was very, very grateful for this service.

She also talked very passionately about the need of having the Priesthood available in times of need. She talked about how we need to build the relationships with those we are assigned to watch over so we’ll be one of the first people they think of when they need help, whatever that help may be. No one is going to call for help someone they barely see once a quarter, not even when something as seemingly simple as a blessing or just a shoulder is needed. These women keenly feel the lack of Priesthood power in their homes, and yet they are still strong in their faith and in the Church.

Priesthood holders are not here to “rescue” these women. We’re not supposed to be swooping in to make everything better. These women are not helpless children. When I attended Young Women’s camp as a Priesthood holder, it was not to be over anyone, to be the “manly man” to keep everyone safe, or to be the body to move the heavy stuff; it was to be simply available when a Priesthood blessing is needed. Yes, this could have been done by any Priesthood holder in the area, but it was important to have someone from each Ward, someone familiar to those being served.

That’s the key, really – familiarity. Knowing those we intend to serve is the only way we really can serve. Familiarity helps remove the broad misconceptions we may have about any group. I hope I can do a better job of being there for the families of every size and shape around me, especially for those I’ve been assigned.

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My opinion on women’s ordination

I try to avoid the general topics that are going around the Bloggernacle (LDS-themed blogs), but being an outspoken feminist that I am around work, I’ve had a few people want to talk to me about how I see this issue. Also, there’s a possibility my opinion will soon be published elsewhere, and I want to be sure to put what I feel in a full posting, rather than a simplified blurb.

First, as could probably be gleaned from previous postings, I absolutely believe in the existence of two genders, now, in the past life, and in the future. We have both a Heavenly Mother and a Heavenly Father, both working as one, just as the Trinity are one. All of these are working in perfect unity to help bring us back home. Yes, there are sexual ambiguities in some bodies, both in genetics and form, but I don’t believe these exceptions disprove the rule. Even though they are exceptionally hard to quantify, there is a difference between men and women, and only by working together can we hope to accomplish our potential. There is no gender we can do without, at any level of home or society, and our society has been stunted by our suppression and oppression of women that continues to this day.

I will stress, for those who will surely bring it up, that I do not believe that men should only work and women should only be at home with the children. I look forward to being independently wealthy enough that we could both be home (or even in the mission field) to build up our family. I don’t care about success in the world; my focus is in strengthening my marriage and trying to help my children be the best they can be. My working now is a “necessary evil” to help provide the funds needed to do that. And no, independently wealthy isn’t even on the horizon for us right now, but we all have dreams.

As I said, gender differentiation is really hard to quantify. But I do know it exists. We would be better off utilizing both genders together than we are now, making the most of one and insisting that the other would only be useful if fit into the mold of the first. I believe we should have more women finding and working in their interests in the world, but, as with men, the family, even a family of one, should be first. I despair at how rare women are in my field, but we’re drifting from the subject at hand.

I respect and admire many of the women involved in the current Ordain Women movement, and do my best to understand their feelings. I mourn with those who have been hurt by well meaning leaders doing the wrong thing. These are the hazards of a lay clergy, and every effort is being made to both reduce the suffering and teach how these decisions could have been different.

That being said, I do not believe the movement to ask entry to the Priesthood session of General Conference is being done in the best way. The Church does not work by public protest. Some would say that it’s not a protest, but a respectful query. The problem is that when you organize a large group of people to each, individually ask entry when they know they will be denied, it becomes a protest. It’s not signs and yelling and marching; it’s a sit in, without the sitting. To say it’s not disruptive is to ignore this reality.

Some have said that this is the only way to get the attention of Church leaders, doing as Zelophead’s daughters did in Moses’ time. Many changes in the Church have come from simple asking and doing, such as the Word of Wisdom (No tobacco, alcohol, etc.) and all of the Auxiliaries (Young Men, Relief Society, Primary, etc.), then these efforts being taken and moved to the entire church. However, some feel that there is no way to directly petition the leadership now, since the Church has gotten so big. I don’t believe this is strictly true. The leadership is not kept in a cocoon of male only voices, not hearing anything but the same from everyone they come into contact with. The trick is to find and connect with those who do know, and can more directly communicate with, the leaders. Do we think that Emma was the only one tired of cleaning up tobacco? Do we think Zelophead’s daughters (who probably had names, but that’s another issue) were the only women with inheritance issues? Of course not. But these are the ones we hear of, the ones who get credit, simply because they were in a position to ask. That is what Ordain Women is missing, and what they should be concentrating on. You don’t communicate to someone you can’t reach across the room by pulling out a bull horn; you send a message through the people nearby.

I do not believe that women should or will be ordained to the Priesthood. I do not accept that for women to fulfill their potential, they need what helps men toward their potential. I look forward to a different way, a Priestesshood that can only be used by women, that can be used together with the Priesthood and will be more than either could do alone and even more than the sum of what each could do.

My view of how we would get the Priestesshood (which could be completely wrong, and I’d be ok with that), would be for it to come as the Priesthood did, through the laying on of hands by those in authority. This could not be done by the authority of the Priesthood, but by those who we may barely know who had the Priestesshood before. This would be done with a full confirmation that it happened by the General Authorities of the Church, who would introduce the changes that would be needed for the Church to move together with the new Priestesshood. It would not be an easy transition, and I don’t think we’re ready for it, but I look forward to the changes that are continuing to be made to try and prepare us for it.

Men and women working together, taking advantage of what both have to offer, is the only way for all of us to reach our full potential, becoming like our Heavenly Parents, in perfect unity. The hard part will be being patient with our rate of growth and the rate of growth of those around us; to not get discouraged or despair because it seems so far away as to be unattainable. Even if I can hardly see a glimmer of how or when, I know it will happen.

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Bringing our best to the Temple

There have been two new versions of the presentation they show in the temple recently, taking advantage of new technologies. When I saw the first one, I had a real hard time. I’d been feeling especially resentful of the inequality of some parts of the ceremony (which I’d blogged about before), and felt that some of the interpretations just made things worse. Afterward, I was just in bad spirits, nearly getting into a heated argument with my wife over the interpretation.

The next time I went, I decided to go in with a different spirit, trying to concentrate on the good things I saw in the presentation and the experience of doing work for one of my kin. I went with specific questions of my own in mind, and actively worked to leave behind feelings of resentment of how things weren’t how I would have done it. At some point during the presentation, it hit me.

The people who had created these presentations, all of them, actors, directors, visual effects people, musicians, were simply bringing their best to the Temple.

It’s not how I would have done it, but I wasn’t asked and that’s okay.

Some people complain about the costs and work that goes into building and maintaining a Temple. I’ve talked to people who have worked building Temples and some who help provide materials (like stone), and I’ve come to one solid conclusion. It’s not about the cost, which can be expensive. Providing the best is going to be expensive, but the best is also not the most expensive. It’s about bringing the best to the Temple. From the time we have recorded of the first Temple, the Temple of Solomon, we have been asked to build the Temple with only the finest materials. Could the money to do this be put to a better use? I don’t think it can, actually. Yes, we should be working hard to help those in need, but it’s also important that we both honor God (as He has commanded) and honor our ancestors by helping them share the joy we’ve found in being connected eternally.

So, since I’m not likely to be asked to do construction work or help create a new presentation for the Temple, what can I do to bring my own best to the Temple? This is what I’ve come up with, some obvious and some not:

- Do my best to be spiritually clean. No one is required to be perfect to go into the Temple, but we do need to be trying. We all go before God as imperfect children, but we can go knowing that we are covered by the Atonement, and are still His daughters and sons, who will be welcomed in no matter how meager our best may seem.
- Find work for someone that needs to be done. This does not mean you need to have something of your own, as you may not have the resources, time, or inspiration to do so, but I can assure you that there are hundreds of names being held by the members of your Ward that need work done. Find your Ward Family History Consultants and use this as another way to serve not only someone’s ancestors, but someone in your own Ward as well.
- Bring the best in our own Temples, our physical bodies. This is not only being washed and clean, it is adorning yourself with clothing that is simple, clean, and well cared for. This especially includes the robes that are used in the Endowment and Sealing ceremonies. Learn how to wear them properly with the help of someone who can see how it looks and provide suggestions and adjustments that need to be made. I’ve seen too many men with the robe barely hanging on them, askew and in constant need of shifting to remain on. You are not restricted to wearing your robe only in the ceremonies that use them. You should try it in the privacy of your own bedroom, keeping in mind the sacred things they represent.

For men especially (since I’ve only experience with the men’s clothing), two things. First, it’s a sash, not a belt. It’s not supposed to bunch up around your waist like a piece of rope. Second, learn how to sit, stand, move, and kneel in a robe. You likely don’t have experience wearing a dress, but the mechanics are much the same. If you can, get tips from someone who has worn skirts on how to sit properly, so you don’t end up with a wrinkled mess every time you sit down.

I look forward to when I can go to the Temple again, to do work for and honor the dead as well as my God. I will do my best to not only bring my best to the Temple, but to better appreciate the best that others have brought. Are there still issues? Sure, but I can take heart in knowing that God will compensate for and heal all hurts, will make us and our offerings perfect, and will be waiting with open arms for when we return to His physical presence.

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An unexpected feminist in an unexpected time

I’ve been reading to my children the OZ books, since I’ve always enjoyed them so much, and have come to one of the parts that have always made me cringe. In the second book, The Marvelous Land of OZ, we come across an army of pretty girls armed with knitting needles intent on taking over the Emerald City to take the jewels (which would be better used as jewelry) and raid the treasury (which woud buy each of the girls a dozen dresses each). To me, this seems to have been a rather scathing rendition of the suffragettes of the authors day (1907).

So, being fortunate enough to live in a time where we could look up such things, I decided to look up what relationship L Frank Baum (the author) had with the womens suffrage movement of the early 20th century. What I found surprised me.

Baum was the secretary of his town suffragette society. Susan B Anthony stayed at his house when she was in town. He’d evidently also written several other books, not in the OZ series, of girl detectives and of women in traditionally male activities. I was also reminded of the many strong female characters in the OZ series. From the start, Dorothy moves forward to find her way home, helped not ony by a small cadre of male characters, but also the strongest magic users in the land, all women. Even in this second book, after defeating the silly army of girls, the land of OZ becomes led by Ozma, who advocates for gender equality. The remaining books have just as many female as male main characters, all strong in their own way. It’s funny that this one characature throws me every time I read it.

Sometimes that’s the way we can be; despite all the good things we see in someone, we take one thing we think is bad, expand it, magnify it, and let it remove all the good impressions we had before. I think that’s part of why we’re told to not judge. Not only can we never really know all the details or circumstances involved, we can have our own biases that get in the way.

And it’s cool to learn that L Frank Baum wass a feminist.


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Neither marry nor are given in marriage

I’m going to touch on another part of our temple worship that I hope will be changed. This one applies to the LDS marriage and sealing to spouse that is done specifically in the temple. At this time, the woman is asked if she will receive her perspective husband and if she will give herself to him. The man is asked only if he will receive. There have been various reasons given for this inequality by various sealers, working from their own understanding on it. (no, none of them immediately come to mind.)

To me, this inequality can be removed by following the direction given by the Savior for the state of marriage in the afterlife:

And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: (Luke 20:34-35, also in Mark 12:25)

Some have taken this to mean there will be no more marriage. LDS thought takes this to mean that only those that have been sealed together by God (or those given the power to seal), will remain together. I think we should not wait til the resurrection to get to this.

To marry is to take a woman and make her your wife, to give in marriage is to take your daughter and give her to another man as his wife. In neither is the will of the woman considered. She is simply the object of the transaction, to be given and taken as the men see fit. Our usage of giving and receiving (even though the woman now gives herself) is a remnant of this. A sealing for eternity should be about being together as a couple, not as master and property. Just because “this world” has started with women being objects does not mean we need to keep it that way. Rather than asking both in the couple if they give themselves and receive the other (doubling being made an object), we need to remove this part of the marriage and replace it with a simple “do you agree to be sealed to this person for time and all eternity?”

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I am not a feminist ally – I am a feminist

If some of my posts before this haven’t been a clue (or even the links on the page), I consider myself to be a feminist. Not a feminist ally, but a full feminist.

Feminism, to me, is the desire to remove the barriers of opportunity between the sexes, as far as they can be while being constrained by some things biologically. I find that women and men are equally capable in their work, home, and leisure, and while there are some generalized differences, there is also quite a bit of overlap. For example, women are generally shorter than men, but there are men who are shorter than most women and women who are taller than most men. There is only one aspect of gender that I am sure is delineated between the two, and that is in the creation of children.

Feminism (again, to me) is not all about opportunity for women. It is about removing sexism, of any kind, from our society. Feminists have a wide range of views, from those who think men are wholly unnecessary and should be vilified, belittled, and dismissed at any chance, to those who are simply glad for the work that has been done to allow the advantages they have. I fall somewhere in the middle – there has been much good work done, and there is yet much work to do.

Now, to my point. An ally is someone who supports, but is not really active in the cause. Some think that men can only be feminist allies, since they are not discriminated against in our culture as a whole. These people think men should be seen and not heard, relegated to the back of support rallies, brushed aside as “someone who can’t ever really understand”. To me, this should never be the case. Injury is injury, no matter who the perpetrator. Women cannot be absolved of oppressing men because their overall oppression is worse. A kid who beats up other kids is not absolved of it when it is found they are beaten by their parents at home. Two wrongs, nor even an hundred wrongs on one side to one on the other, do not make a right. No one should be a 2nd class citizen. We should be moving forward together, hand in hand.

Have I ever been hurt by sexism? I certainly have. It may not be to the extent of the sexism committed on some (or even many) women, but it is still there. I am a feminist because I want to make sure pains of sexist actions and ideals do not happen to anyone, no matter what their gender. This is my fight.

I am not an ally – I am a feminist, and proud to be so.

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The talk I’d like to hear in General Conference Priesthood Session

Brethren, there have been many times when the instruction to women over this pulpit is to “get all the education you can”. This has been to prepare women for the realities of death, financial strain, and divorce that have been all too common, as well as to fight the stigma of those who have fewer children or delay children for a time to pursue their educational and professional goals. While the instruction is the same, the intentions of this when directed toward men is different.

It is fairly well established that men will seek education to be able to better provide for their families through their professions. While this is a worthwhile goal, this is not the direction needed when I tell you to “get all the education you can”.

Just as death, financial strain, and divorce have been more common among women, it has also been more common among men. If a great need arises, what do you men need to learn to be able to better support your home? It you’re thinking the answer is to simply make more money, you are thinking of this in the wrong direction.

The discipline most needed for additional education in our men is in the home. While you may have done well as a missionary or while away from home at school to take care of yourself, the dynamics change greatly when a family is involved. Eating ramen over the kitchen sink is a far cry from needing to provide healthy food for at least one additional person.

First, do you know how to care for your children? Simple tasks, such as changing diapers, helping the children get ready for bed, and making sure they have clean clothing to wear are basic parts of their care. Do you know how to provide nutritional food for them, get them to and from their school and other activities?

Second, do you know how your household finances are budgeted, beyond simply paying the bills you receive? You need to learn how to shop for food, clothing, and other necessities within the budgetary allowance you have made. You need to know what these necessities are, beyond potatoes and underwear.

Third, do you know how to care for the home itself? While you may know how to maintain the “perfect” lawn, this becomes less important when your floors become a mass of crumbs and stains because you have failed to learn how to maintain the “perfect” floor.

There are many more things that have often become the day-to-day work of your wife, even if she has needed to have work outside the home. You need to have a working knowledge of this work, just as it is important for her to have the education that can help provide an income, if necessary. Just as with the women, the time for the men to begin this learning and application is now, not when circumstances force you to.

Now, be warned, this call for education does not mean you should demand changes, take over, or force your wife to take the time to teach you. It must be approached with supplication and humility. Learn what you can, when you can. Ask to share tasks you would have otherwise left to others. Offer to help, do not demand to be in control.

Above all, learn about the part of your life more important than all others – your family. As a father, your most important contribution to your children is not in how much you can provide for them, it is in how much you can work with your wife in raising and teaching your children so they can go forward with strength into adulthood. The education of both you and your wife are of equal importance, whether it be in schooling, home and family maintenance, or in the Gospel. All of the learning you attain here will be of help to you in the hereafter, but more immediately, it will be a strength to you in the here and now. This I testify, in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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