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How Does Christ Look at an American Christmas?
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|Issue 4 / December 1993||Hatrack River Publications|
How Does Christ Look at an American Christmas?
Christmas may have begun as a holy day, commemorating the miraculous birth of Christ, but customs from other religions and other cultures were soon added on. Today, in America at least, Christmas is the driving force behind much of America's retail business.
Some people complain about commercialism at Christmas, but I think it speaks rather well of America that we spend so much time, work, thought, and money coming up with gifts for other people that it makes or breaks a significant number of our businesses each year. Yes, the retailers work hard to attract our business in the Christmas season -- but it only works because most Americans are eagerly looking for gifts that they can afford to give.
As for the length of the Christmas season, I've heard many complain about the fact that businesses barely wait till after Halloween before they start their Christmas hype. Well, personally, they can't start too soon for me. I love Christmas, the earlier the better, and every year I'm already playing Christmas music before the first Christmas decorations go up.
I love Christmas. Not just the religious aspects of it, but the whole shebang. It is all redolent of childhood to me, of home, of love for family and friends. As the weather turns cold, it warms my heart. And I'm glad that so many businesses help me fill so many of my autumn days with those good Christmas feelings. I simply can't understand people who can look at the Christmas decorations and advertising and get all grumpy about how "they've taken the Christ out of Christmas." It seems to me that it's the grumpy ones who have lost the spirit of Christ in this season.
Hark! The Herald Angels. Christmas music -- from John Rutter's marvelous carols to the marvelous sentimentality of the Carpenters' Christmas album -- is one of the joys of my life. I use it as a dose of joy whenever I feel that I need one. But I'll admit there's an element of defiance in the way I use it. When I was growing up, my parents had a strict rule that no Christmas music was allowed in our house until Thanksgiving. At the time I thought this was inhumane. They instituted the rule because they felt that the Christmas season was swallowing up the season of giving thanks to God, and I approve of their goal -- but not as much as I wanted that music.
So as soon as I was on my own, I indulged myself in Christmas music the moment cold weather in the fall made me think of it. Of course, now that I live in North Carolina, I've had to redefine my concept of "cold" or some years I'd never get to play Christmas music at all! But the fact is that playing Christmas music when nobody else on Earth is playing it is one of my guilty pleasures. (I wish I could say it was my worst vice.) By now I suspect my own kids are so sick of Christmas music that they'll probably reinstitute my parents' rule when they set up households of their own.
Chestnuts Roasting. The music is more than music to me, of course. It's memory. So even songs that I know are awful -- John Gary singing "Little Snow Girl," for instance -- are keys to unlock treasures in my heart.
I remember when I was about nine or so, I became the designated icicler for the family Christmas tree, mostly because I was the only one fanatic enough to put every single icicle on the tree individually, never allowing them to clump up. I stood on a chair, laying the icicles one by one over the branches, as the whole family sat around watching the Lawrence Welk Christmas special. To this day my mental picture of my family writing Christmas cards or making gifts is played out against a background of Joe Feeney, of the Lennon Sisters, of carols on the accordion while fake snow is showered over smiling people.
Icicles weren't just for hanging, though. My brothers and I discovered that if you lay an icicle across the HO train track that surrounds the tree, and then run the train across it, the icicle will short out the circuit with a marvelous sizzle and spark. The train hesitates long enough for the icicle to heat up and melt, and then goes on. We performed hundreds of experiments to verify this phenomenon, all in the interest of science, of course.
It wasn't science, though, that caused us to get out our little army men and have wars all over the tree. This was in the days when toy soldiers weren't yet politically incorrect -- but I still marvel at the fact that my parents allowed us so much freedom to play with the tree. Maybe we were careful to do such things only when they were out of the house, but I don't think so. I think they simply considered the Christmas tree to be, not an artistic statement, but rather a private indoor park for the duration of the season. It was the focus of most family activities, including our playing -- truly a family tree.
I'll Be Home for Christmas. When we got up on Christmas morning, as kids, we found the entrance to the living room blocked by an indoor clothes-drying rack with a sheet over it. No peeking allowed. When we had gone to bed the night before, the only presents under the tree were the ones we kids had set out. Now, we knew, the spread of presents across the floor would be greatly increased, and we were dying to see -- but no. My mother had other ideas. Because of the amount of candy Santa always put in our Christmas stockings, she insisted we eat a healthy breakfast, which usually meant something disgusting like Wheat Hearts mush -- the food served at every meal in hell. When we complained, she always countered us by saying that her father had made the whole family do fifteen minutes of calisthenics in addition to the healthy breakfast before they could get to the tree on Christmas morning. We knew better than to argue when our parents got into one of their "We had it worse during our childhood" speeches -- no wonder they called it the Great Depression.
Finally the clothes rack would be moved aside and Dad would go into the living room, where he had already assembled more photographic equipment than the average camera store. When he gave the all clear, we marched, youngest first, into the living room, where we caught our first glimpse of the flood of presents that had overtaken the shining tree during the night. We never had to pretend to be surprised, awed, thrilled.
Not the first time we marched in, anyway. But sometimes a flash failed to work, or a lens cap mysteriously leapt in front of the lens just before the shot, whereupon we would be sent back out of the room and forced to march back in so Dad could get the pictures right. Thus we all became experts at faking surprise, a skill we still have. We also have thousands of pictures of us, as children, in pajamas, looking surprised, awed, and thrilled.
Dad handed out the presents one by one, teasing and tantalizing us, seeming to choose the presents at random but actually balancing the giving so that no one went too long without something to open, and ordering things so that the big gifts were all held till the end. My dad's parents always gave us pajamas every year. I remember we used to complain ("Pajamas again?"); but when they switched to giving us cards with money, we were vaguely disappointed. It was a tradition, after all.
Bearing Gifts We Traverse Afar. We kids always spent great thought and effort on our gift-giving, carefully budgeting our meager resources to give good presents to everyone in the family. With six kids, that meant a minimum of fifty-six presents a year -- but of course there were cousin presents and aunt-and-uncle presents and grandparent presents and extra presents from siblings who saw something they just couldn't resist (or mischievously found a way to wrap a single gift in many different packages). The little ones, of course, were filled with wonder at the prospect of the gifts they would receive -- but by the time we were seven or eight or nine years old, our greatest eagerness was to watch family members open the presents we had bought or made for them.
It took hours to work our way through the pile.
But we did start early. My parents were up late -- how late I never realized until my own four-a.m. Christmas eves -- but when we roused them from bed at six in the morning they never batted an eye. Well, my Mom did have a tendency to doze off about ten in the morning, which seemed incomprehensible to us -- sleeping? On Christmas morning? -- but she woke right up again with a smile when we called to her, and they didn't crash until after the noon meal.
(I'm not as nice to my own kids. If I'm up till four, no way am I getting up at six. No doubt they'll tell stories to their children about how their father slept in till nine on Christmas morning, forcing them to cool their heels upstairs till he bothered to get out of bed. My parents were made of sterner stuff than I. Proof of the decadent self-indulgence of my generation.)
When I turned twelve, my parents began to let me help with the secret anonymous gifts of Christmas. I learned that my older sister, Janice, had appointed herself co-Santa at age twelve. My parents first realized it when they each pulled a marvelous gift out of their Christmas stocking -- a gift that the other one had never seen before. What Jan began surreptitiously had since become a custom for her -- by the time I got into the act, she had completely taken over preparing the stockings for my parents, allowing them to put only one gift for each other in each sock. In addition, then, she and I were both allowed to take over one of the other kids stockings. It made me feel so grown-up, so trusted, to be allowed to take part in the secret late-night mysteries, and I daresay I spent more care on those anonymous gifts than on the ones that bore my name on the tag.
On the First Day of Christmas, My True Love. The first Christmas tradition I started myself was with the first young woman I dated when I got home from my mission -- Kristine Allen. She had brought me a milkshake when I was recovering from wisdom tooth surgery, and in response I baked her a spice cake with penuche icing -- a traditional family treat. It happened that it was either the thirteenth or fourteenth of December -- a date that allowed for twelve days of Christmas ending either on Christmas eve or Christmas day. So, piling up many odd-sized layers of cake, I took it to her house with a note saying, "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a lopsided tumble-down cake." From there, of course, I was committed -- you can't give the first day of Christmas and then not give a second! On my budget at the time, there was nothing extravagant. One day was a box of animal crackers, for instance; the eighth day was "eight ripe bananas," hung individually in a row on the banister of the stairs in her family's house in Orem.
My giving her the twelve days of Christmas became an annual tradition -- even during Christmas seasons when we weren't particularly seeing each other (it was an up-and-down courtship). I should have seen at the time that this twelve-days tradition meant our eventual marriage was inevitable -- any other woman I might have married would no doubt have become annoyed at my continuing to give twelve gifts to Kristine Allen every year. And the tradition continues to this day, with the kids almost as excited as we are about what each day of Christmas will bring.
That first Christmas, however, brought another tradition into my life. Kristine invited me to spend Christmas eve with her family. This was not in invitation lightly given. Her family had a tradition of going to carol at and visit in the homes of a couple of other professors who had begun their service in the history department at BYU at roughly the same time as Kristine's father. The specific traditions that I joined in with that night were all new to me -- I had never seen luminaries before, and had never thought of cheese balls as having anything to do with Christmas -- but I saw that the very fact that these families spent their Christmas eves together, year after year, was a sign that they were more to each other than ordinary friends. I knew it was an honor and a trust to be invited into this inner circle; I had been inducted into a sacred family mystery. And it wasn't just because my tenor voice added another layer of harmony to their caroling. By letting me be part of their Christmas traditions, they had told me that they were willing to let me be one of them.
Reindeer Pause. When Kristine and I married, we almost immediately began to create our new Christmas traditions. We decided first that once we had children, we would not spend Christmas morning with either her family or mine -- we would have our own Christmas celebration, with our own rituals. We borrowed from both her family and mine, and then created our own traditions.
In the months leading up to our first Christmas together, Kristine was flat on her back with intense and seemingly endless morning sickness from the pregnancy that would bring our first son, Geoffrey. During that time she made needlepoint ornaments for our tree, and embroidered lace snowflakes. The next Christmas, we worked together making funny little animals and people out of felt and puffballs. All these ornaments still go on our tree every year -- the kids love having ornaments that are older than they are. Most of the ornaments on our tree have some kind of story. Either we made them, or we bought them at a particular time and place, or we received them as a gift from a loved one.
One of Kristine's early Christmas projects was a felt advent calendar, and all their lives Geoffrey and Emily have turned over alternate days, trying to remember which character or animal from the nativity story would be revealed each day. This year we couldn't find the calendar until two weeks into December, and Kristine automatically set the calendar up with the first fourteen days turned face-out. We discovered quickly enough that that was a mistake -- Emily, at 13, was outraged that we had violated tradition by turning over half her days.
Children cling to these traditions, and build memories on them. They also treasure Christmas stories. For instance, I will forever be the father who was so deeply absent-minded that I could actually buy the same gift for the same person twice in the same Christmas and watch that person unwrap it the second time without realizing that it was a duplicate. And a good friend who spent Christmas with us, Phillip Absher, is now legendary for jokingly speculating on what was in a particular package before it was opened -- and being exactly, infuriatingly right every time, until we finally had to shout him down when he started making guesses.
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. Lest you fear by now that I intend to write down every single Christmas tradition, story, memory, or song I've ever known of, let me assure you -- I couldn't write it all even if I set out to do so. My point should be obvious by now, anyway. Almost none of these wonderful memories has anything to do with the original religious occasion of Christmas.
I wasn't thinking of the Savior when I took that lopsided tumble-down cake over to the Allen house in 1973 -- I was thinking of Kristine. Nor were Kristine and I thinking sacred thoughts as we made our puffball animals for the Christmas tree in 1978 -- we were thinking of our little boy Geoffrey and the brothers and sisters that we hoped would soon come after him.
What does any of this have to do with Christ? There is no mention of trees or stockings in the New Testament. Reindeer and elves don't figure in the Christmas story in Third Nephi. Matthew says nothing of snow or electric lights; nobody in Luke goes shopping.
And yet all these traditions and rituals and memories fill me and countless other people with love and joy. Most of them are not religious at all, but what of that? Christmas is also a national holiday, and we Americans have evolved our own unique way of celebrating it. Regardless of how religious we are, and often regardless of which religion we believe in, Christmas for Americans is a season for giving gifts, for celebrating, for sending cards to keep in touch with people we once loved and still care about, even though we are separated by time or distance. Instead of mourning that so much of Christmas is not piously connected with actual religious observance, we should instead rejoice that it is the remembrance of the birth of Christ to which these annual rituals of giving and sharing and friendship and love are attached.
Sweet Little Jesus Boy. These traditions, both religious and secular, bind us together. They give us good memories and pleasant expectations; they shape our lives so that for these few months we think of others, share with others. It makes us all part of a great and wonderful secret, and the secret is giving, and the gift is love.
All of these countless miracles acted out in the rituals and traditions of Christmas are doing the work of Christ -- giving joy. And wherever and however these traditions first arose, today they are all performed, to one degree or another, in the name of Christ.
When the Savior looks across this world, this nation, each town and city, all our homes, and sees what we do in celebration of his coming to the world, I can't help but think that he rejoices with us, that he enjoys it -- trees, lights, elves, and all.
So in these last days before Christmas, prepare your own happy surprises for the people you love; tell the stories of Jesus; act out your family's rituals and traditions, or create new ones. Watch eagerly for the joy your gift, your smile, your words of love can bring. All these things you do, you will do in celebration of the Savior, for all open-hearted gifts are given to him; all assurances of love affirm his life's purpose. When children are happy, when older people feel loved and needed, when families draw closer together, when fond memories are awakened and we see that the meaning of life is love, how can it help but be a time of rejoicing on the other side of the veil? I think the Lord approves of all such good gifts in joyful seasons.
-- Orson Scott Card
When I read the latest issue of Vigor, I was absolutely amazed at how perfectly your article on Ward road shows expressed my own feelings [Vigor #2].
For many years I have been involved in road shows -- in acting, directing, and judging -- and I had come to the conclusion that I wanted no more to do with them as presently organized with the emphasis on competition and only three winners possible.
In fact, after my last road show experience, when I was asked to meet with Stake authorities and make a speech strongly supporting road shows, I'm afraid I refused.
You see, I had seen the bitter disappointment suffered by these wonderful young people when, despite all their terrific efforts and good performances, some other wards had been judged Superior, Excellent, and Good, and their ward had been simply left out in the cold. What capped it for me was the sight of one little girl out in the hallway, sobbing her heart out because she knew how hard they had worked for how well they had performed, and they had LOST! So I couldn't in good conscience be a booster for road shows as a great activity for young people. The hurt involved for so many was too great.
But now I read in your Vigor article not only an expression of my exact feelings on the subject but also concrete steps to take to correct the situation, and they were simply and plainly expressed. Anyone could understand and follow that plan. Handled as you suggest, road shows can become the great activity for our young people that they were intended to be.
I would like to add one further suggestion to help the hapless judges. As a road show judge, I was most often given a judges' sheet with such general categories as "Showmanship" and "Originality" on which to base competitive ratings. I feel strongly that the criteria should be categories as concrete as possible. For example, the category of Music might be broken down into: Vocal; Instrumental; Choral; Original Composition; etc. Also, since not all judges have rich backgrounds in the arts, a category like Instrumental Music could list some specific excellences to be watching for. In this way, under your suggested system, there is opportunity for the judges to give out even more individual awards. Then, recognizing that the harried judges have very little time to make decisions and, under your system, are not burdened with having to come up with Good, Better, and Best ratings, here is my suggestion:
Instruct the judges to indicate only special excellences for a group on their rating sheets. They should not be asked even to comment on every category for every ward. Since more than one award can be given for each category, the judges can note all excellences on judging sheets.
Thank you for your wonderful suggestions Hooray for Road Shows!
I like to remember my growing up years because I learn the lessons again. My mother insisted that the beds in the house be made with tight, hospital corners, thoroughly plumped pillows, side seams even with the floor on all sides, and smooth on top with no wrinkles. I would give her a hard time about it. Finally, one day she told me why she insisted on this -- she said, "Because it makes me happy!" I never complained again. I could do this simple thing to help make her happy. I could show her that I loved her. One of the reasons we keep the commands is to please Heavenly Father and to show Him that we love Him.
The year of 1993 will probably be remembered as "the year of troubles" in Mormon history. Well, maybe not. In the overall sweep of things, far more important developments are taking place in Russia and everywhere else, but from the point of view of some intellectuals they will think of troubles with a capital T. This refers to (a) the BYU denial of tenure, along with protests and some resignations; and (b) the excommunication of a half dozen intellectuals.
I'm sure you have followed all of this and have been the recipient of news clippings and letters. Just to add another voice, here are some of my reactions.
BYU. The administration there may be right or wrong. Apparently there are strong feelings on both sides. Institutions should have the right to grant or to deny tenure as long as they follow fair procedures. Most of these who have been vociferous critics have not had all the facts. The complainers, or victims, have released their selective information, but whatever exists in the department and committee files on the other side has not been made public. For this reason I refused to sign a protest. Others were quite willing to jump on that bandwagon, denouncing BYU and the Church.
Gunnysacking. Scooping up the negatives and preserving them, called "gunnysacking" by a psychologist, is not considered mentally healthy. This is what Lavina Fielding Anderson (and the Mormon Alliance) did, accumulating (and soliciting) instances of "spiritual abuse," which were then lined up and listed in an article published in Dialogue. This was a self-appointed office and that the results were not placed in the hands of the Brethren for their consideration but were shouted to the world.
Accuracy. Several times in letters to the editor and in panel discussions the claim was made that no inaccuracies have been found in the article. One historian told me that he knew of two inaccuracies concerning himself. But the larger point, so obvious that it should not need mention, is that the complaints consisted of the case for the prosecution. We get only the charges, not any answers. The point of view of the Church, or the bishops or whoever was acting for the Church, are not represented. Is this "accurate?" It is certainly not complete, and one might suspect that sometimes, perhaps always, there might be something to be said for the other side. Respecting privacy, the Church does not respond. Who is taking advantage of whom?
Grounds. Over and over again, I notice, it is assumed that the disciplinary actions were taking because of someone writing or publishing their ideas. Thus the issue is framed in terms of freedom of speech, even courageous independence versus an oppressive, authoritarian Church. But the fact is that, once again, we are not privy to the files of these individuals and were not in attendance at the confidential meetings where their cases were discussed. That more might be involved is suggested to my mind by the newsletter of the Mormon Alliance, a recent issue of which contained an article by Lavina in which she instructed anyone called in for counsel or disciplinary action just how to respond. Her advice was unbelievable. You refuse to go in. You insist that charges be put in writing. You consult an attorney. And on and on. the assumption throughout was of a corrupt organization trying to intimidate poor little old me. Absent was any assumption of good will, any willingness to accept counsel from one's ecclesiastical leaders, any notice of just talking to explain and help clear the air.
Bandwagon. Among the "in" group, the Signature and Sunstone crowd, there was only one response that was politically correct. The Church was wrong, the excommunicants right. They had their vigils, they wrote countless letters to the editor of the newspapers, they called in to the radio talk shows, they appeared on panel discussions. Scarcely ever did any of these people say, "I don't know all the facts." And here was a thought that seemed to occur to no one: "I love my Church. In my experience its leaders are good people, prayerful people, trying to do their job. I am willing to trust them." Well, yes, the Church had its defenders, but often they were poorly informed.
Interrogatory. Does the Church have the right to discipline its own members? Has it been prone to engage in large-scale witch hunts? Has it a record of considerable restraint in allowing wide latitude of behavior and belief? If known members are misleading others, working against the programs of the Church, encouraging people to flout the existing procedures, proclaiming their own doctrines on basic issues such as the nature of priesthood and the nature of God, is the Church left without recourse? Can and should it call such people in -- for discussion, for suggestion, for reproof, for counsel, and, if necessary, for action?
Loyalty. No man can serve two masters. It did seem, watching the bandwagon effect, that a certain number were quite willing to renounce their membership in the Church. In some instances this was a formality, as they had not attended for many years (Maxine Hanks).
Sometimes it is a moment of crisis that forces one to take a stand, to recognize just where one's primary loyalty rests. It did not take me any time at all to recognize that it is the Church and Kingdom of God on earth that commands my loyalty if it comes to a choice between it and the sire call of a few intellectuals. The dissidents themselves see it as a choice between submission to unrighteous dominion and their own courageous stand for truth and right. That's phony, but however they wish to rationalize what they are doing, they are making a choice. It is by such choices that we define who we are.
Illusion. How many hundreds of excommunications are there each year. I do not know. We have heard of a group of right-wingers in southern Utah who got out of line and were unchurched. But they are not the noble victims the leftist dissidents wish to identify with. These prefer to leave the impression that the Church is about to fall apart over the issues that concern them: academic freedom, the right to think and speak freely, etc. And caring not for the negative effect on the Church, they exploit the media with a vengeance.
If the same individual is quoted again and again, if the same cases become the center of national attention, if Jan Shipps writes in Christian Century an article about these few cases, it is easy to create the illusion that all of Mormonism is about to come apart at the seams.
Refusals to appear. Several of the excommunicants refused to appear before the Church court (thus following the advice Lavina had given). This noncooperation meant that the ecclesiastical superiors on the local level had no opportunity to hear what might have been said in defense. What choice were they left with?
We need calming voices. We need loyal intellectuals. We need local leaders with a sense of humor, love and understanding, feet firmly on the ground, an ability to listen, and of course in contact with the Spirit. But we already have all of this (never enough, of course, never enough), and it will be of no use if the dissidents refuse to get off their high horse. I hope and pray they do, at least those I know best. But don't hold your breath.
One of my children had to complete a certain project for school by the next day. If not completed, he felt he would face disaster. After dinner, my wife said she would help him complete the task. I worked with the other children. I periodically heard outbursts from our child, who kept insisting that he wouldn't do another thing on the project, or that it was impossible to complete by the next day. I was ready to send him to his room and call it quits, but my wife calmly urged me to let her proceed with the project. After several hours, my child was carrying the project proudly in his hand. He placed it on the counter and started for his bed. Looking back at his mother, his face revealed a broad grin. The two of them exchanged glances that carried great meaning.
After he went to his room, I asked, "What happened? How did you do it?"
My wife simply said that she had made up her mind that no matter what he said or did, that she would not give up . . . and that she would not lose her patience . . . that leaving him was not an alternative, no matter how long it took.
I believe she discovered patience she may have never found without the deep commitment that grew from a sense of real belonging.
Belonging is for thick and thin . . . and this was one of the thin times. From learning to feel and to practice such love and loyalty to another person, we learn to love. We also learn how to love more like the savior.
I live in a small branch made up of older members, many who have had limited formal education. They are all wonderful and faithful members of the Church who sometimes provide interesting and humorous twists to our Mormon lingo.
One of our former Branch Presidents announced each month that there would be a corization (correlation) meeting following priesthood and relief society meeting; another would announce that our meeting would close with a "little word of prayer." The same Branch President asked the congregation to sustain a brother with a "liftupted" hand.
The Relief Society instructor gave a complete lesson on the "law of concentration." Another elderly sister read from Luke for a Christmas program in a loud, clear voice that the wise men brought "...gold, myrrh and Frankenstein..." to the manger, while another speaks of Jelusarem with regularity. We also have a "speed singer." The dear sister sings in a monotone and at her own preset speed -- fast.
I had occasion to attend a memorial service of a fellow employee at a local Catholic chapel. The entire service was traditional Catholic until the service ended and the congregation was leaving. As I walked down the aisle to exit, the strains of "O my Father" filled the air. I thought that unusual until I looked toward the organ. A member of our small branch was seated at the organ grinning from ear to ear.
It is the flaws, the humor, the willingness to serve despite weaknesses that provide the endearing qualities of these good and faithful members of the Church.
This past summer our stake planned a youth conference that included doing over 1000 family file baptisms at the temple. The youth worked hard leading up to the conference and the actual day at the temple was quite an undertaking. We had with us just the right number of priesthood brethren to take care of all the responsibilities of the baptisms, confirmations, witnessing and recording. We had divided the youth into three different sessions. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the final session one of the brethren informed us that he had to leave for a business appointment. We were now short one priesthood holder for our session to proceed. One of the brethren in our group went up to the temple cafeteria and found an elderly brother eating there. He explained our difficult situation, how far we had come and how hard the youth had worked. This dear brother, whose name I do not know, came and spent nearly three hours helping with our baptismal session. There are many witnesses of love and service in the temple daily, but the unselfish service of this brethren to the youth of our stake was especially uplifting to my soul on that day. And he thanked us for the privilege. I thank him and all those who give of themselves to help the work of the kingdom move forward.
There is nothing in this world that can compare to the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, and of knowing the part we are called to play while in mortality. There is also no greater comfort than to know that we are members of the Kingdom of God, fellow citizen with the Saints. Yet, in the thirteen years I've been in the Church, I've seen so many members drop out of active role, and more often than not, quit the Church altogether.
I am black, and proud of it. I know the theories and beliefs about the black race, and I also know that with President Kimball's Declaration, the Lord has set the record straight. We are all engaged in the same battle, working for Zion.
There should be no barriers due to the color of one's skin, but that is only my understanding of the gospel, not necessarily Church Doctrine.
When my children keep on repeating week after week that they have no friends in Primary, that other children would move away from the, it hurts inside. It hurts because I know that whatever anybody would say about the Race of Ham being less valiant in Pre-mortal life, there is such a thing as foreordination also. I know that if I'm called to play a role in the Priesthood now, it is also because I've been sent to fulfill a certain mission here in mortality.
It's not an easy ride being black in the Church. There are zillions of our forefathers who need their temple work done, and I know it takes a very dedicated and valiant person to tackle the task of working for all those people.
I know that those who shun the black members are not doing it consciously. But the trail of hurt feelings and resentments and broken relationships grows long.
Once, I was very hurt when a member told a friend that blacks were second rate, by reason of the curse Noah pronounced on Canaan. I felt very low, even though I've spent most of my life in the Church helping black members understand their importance in the Plan of Salvation, the burden they are called to lift for the countless generations gone before. The only recourse I had was prayer. And as a result of that prayer, I wrote the following poem:
Someone called me a slave
Because, said he,
The Holy Book has so called me.
My spirit is troubled,
My heart bleeds.
Why o God
Why o why am I cursed?
If I was not valiant then
In the full knowledge of the Council
Why has Thou sent me in this time?
Why in the time of the greatest battle?
Servant of servants
Am I called.
If thus my King decrees,
So be it. Thy will be done.
Be still, my child
The still small voice whispered,
Don't let your heart be troubled.
We all serve that which we love,
And we learn by serving.
Even my Only Begotten Son
The greatest of all,
Was the servant of all.
I know the Lord loves me, and I know the Church is His. I hope is some ways I'll make a difference in someone's life.
Like my father once said, "We are given talents only to bless others."
There's a story from the frontier days of the Church, when Brigham Young used to travel through the territory. He arrived in Parowan and a man ran out a door to greet him. The man said "Brother Brigham, I'm so glad you came. I've been a bishop for eleven years and now you can release me." President Young told the man he would give him a blessing. After a lengthy and beautiful blessing, Brigham Young said to the man "That blessing ought to hold you for the next eleven years."
It would be nice to have a blessing from a Prophet every time I got tired in a church calling, but it will never happen. I tend to be somewhat perfectionistic, I set high goals and expectation for myself, and I feel God deserves my best efforts. Burnout usually occurs during and after long periods of stress. Some of the symptoms I have experienced are: fatigue, irritability, apathy, anger, depression, guilt (my personal favorite), frustration and disillusionment. Many members of the Church have had similar experiences.
How to be a phoenix. I learned how to be a phoenix when I was to be a Primary president in a young married student ward with four nurseries, a huge junior primary and about ten children in senior primary. At the time I was in a Primary presidency, a counselor and secretary had moved away and for several months the remaining two of us were doing the work of four. We were exhausted and often talked about the luxury of easy callings in the Relief Society. When the bishop called me to be the new Primary president, I thought he was out of his mind. After spiritual confirmation of the calling, I knew God would help me be a phoenix. I started with prayer, seeking once again the excitement I had felt when newly called as a counselor. I talked with friends who served in other Primaries and got some fresh new ideas. It occurred to me that I had neglected my own spiritual needs. I realized that because I was in Primary, I must be my own Gospel Doctrine teacher and my own Relief Society teacher. I spent a long time reading scriptures and personal study guides for edification. I hadn't realized how spiritually hungry I was until I started. I felt myself filling with confidence and love as I read. I was rejuvenated and excited about my new calling.
'Tis a gift to be simple. I didn't live "happily ever after." My ward isn't perfect (what a shock), neither am I. In my efforts to magnify my callings I tend to complicate things, go the extra mile when I'm not sure of the direction of the road, handle everything myself without complaint. Complication is a very stressful lifestyle. As the Shaker hymn says, it is a gift to be simple. A good way to simplify is to communicate. It's next to impossible to meet others' expectations if I don't know what they are. I learned to ask for and get clarification of my calling requirements. Asking was frightening at first, sometimes I heard that I was doing a great job and other times I discovered I was going in the wrong direction. I learned to forget about the second mile and focus on getting the first mile right. As I did so the second mile took care of itself. The church has set up stewardship interviews throughout the ranks. Just as I need clarification, my leaders need to know how to help me. I have learned to complain if I need to. When I was Primary president, all four nursery couples moved away in the same month (graduation is the curse of a student ward). I submitted the names of eight couples to the bishop. All eight were turned down because the bishop didn't feel that nursery was a good place for new couples in our ward. I was furious. I should have been honest with the bishop, but instead of complaining, I just stressed out. If I had been honest I could have saved myself a lot of grief later. The policy of personal interviews is an inspired one because we all get frustrated and we all need reassurance. I will set up the meeting myself if the reassurances aren't there.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. Because I hadn't learned to ask for help and to honestly express myself, feelings of frustration and resentment began to fester. I began to wear my calling as a martyr's cloak. I blamed the other stresses in my life (a husband getting a Ph.D., a child's chronic ear infections, a new baby) on my Primary calling. I felt that it was more honorable to do a job well than to mentally release myself, and become incompetent until someone notices and gets around to releasing me. I still fee that way. When I asked to be released, my bishop was shocked. He had no idea how I had been feeling. He did reluctantly release me, but I was filled with guilt and I felt that my year as Primary president was a failure. I don't blame the bishop for my feelings. He was new to his calling and hadn't much experience in dealing with Primary martyrs. My life was in ashes. In the childhood game, we all fall down, but we all jump right back up and play again. It had taken time to burn me to the ground; it would take time for the phoenix to rise again. I learned much during this difficult period of time. I learned to give myself the understanding and compassion I always gave others. I realized that I needed to simplify other aspects of my life. I learned that although I will always serve God in church callings, I also serve God by hugging my children, supporting and encouraging my husband, and taking care of myself. With love and time, I did rise again, wiser, more honest and definitely stronger.
-- Adrienne L. de Jager
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