|Print | Back|
The Time My Father Ripped Up the Book of Mormon
Sacrament Meeting Talks
Sign-Seeking in General Conference
Taking the Lord's Name in Vain
Careers and the Church
|Issue 13 / December 1996||Hatrack River Publications|
-- Spencer W. Kimball
"How many a man has dated a new era of his life from the reading of a book."
-- Henry David Thoreau, Walden
My father's unique outlook on the gospel and life in general was evident the very first time the missionaries knocked on our door over thirty-five years ago in inner-city Cleveland. When the two young elders introduced themselves as representa- tives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my father was amazed at the church with such a long name and replied, "The Church of what?" When the missionaries rejoined that the Church was commonly referred to as the "Mormon" church, my father then said, "Oh, I know who you are now - you're the grasshopper people!"
In response to the missionaries' puzzled looks, my dad explained, "I just saw your movie about that guy who took his church out west in the wagons and the grasshoppers were eating up all your crops. And then he prayed for help and God sent thousands of seagulls to eat up all the grasshoppers!"
The missionaries were surprised that Dad was acquainted with their story. My father admitted, "You know, if that really happened, that was a miracle!"
The elders smiled between themselves and assured my father that it was indeed a miracle and asked him if he'd like to know more. And the rest, as they say, is now a part of my Mormon family history.
I was five at the time and mostly what I remember was the missionaries' hats and suits, the filmstrips that they would project onto the wall in our living room, and flannel boards with little word strips and pictures that never seemed to stick.
They gave to my parents copies of a book they said was the word of God and challenged them to read a prescribed number of pages each week. My father eagerly took up the challenge, intent to prove the book was false. Each week he would read his 100 pages, and when the missionaries would ask him what he thought of it, he would reply that he hadn't "found anything wrong with it yet."
After a month and a half, my father finished the last page of the Book of Mormon and told my mother that he could find nothing in this book that wasn't true. My parents were baptized a few weeks later.
My dad now reveres that book that "dated a new era of his life." He has read it many, many times. And because he loved it so much, one spring he ripped it up.
My father was a laborer for a division of General Motors for more than 30 years. He put in a lot of time at the huge factory that was over half a mile long. He realized during the course of a normal day that many valuable moments would come that could be put to good use studying the gospel if he would just plan ahead. He determined to use his lunch hour, break time, and waiting periods to get more intimate with the book that had changed his faith and his life.
The only problem was that he couldn't always carry around with him a book of more than 500 pages. In my mind, the solution my father came up with bordered on genius. He took an old dog-eared copy of the Book of Mormon and ripped off its brown simulated leather cover and binding until just a stack of pages remained. Each morning when he went to work, he would take four or five pages and fold them up to fit into his shirt pocket. During his free moments at work he would then take out his precious pages and read and reread them at least three or four times. As he left work, he would leave those pages in his locker.
Over the course of the next few months, the stack of pages of the Book of Mormon at home would dwindle as he took them to work and consumed them in those spare moments someone has called "the gold dust of time." Likewise, at the end of each work day, the reassembled stack of pages would grow higher in his locker. And in my father's heart there also grew a stronger and stronger love and commitment for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the book which revealed it to him so clearly. That spring my father read and reread the Book of Mormon three or four times.
My father's example has taught me many things in my life, but perhaps none so simply and profoundly as when he creatively made time for a thing that really mattered.
I have used his reading technique on a few books myself when I wanted to utilize my time better and when I thought the book was worthy of assimilation in such an intimate way. It was Francis Bacon who said, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." And, following in my father's footsteps, I would add that some books are good enough to be ripped up and carried in one's pocket to be read over and over again.
Now when I go into the homes of the Saints and see old inexpensive copies of the Book of Mormon collecting dust on shelves, I think of my father's example and how those old copies could be "feasted upon" by ripping them up. It goes without saying that this is a holy book and should be treated with respect. I am firmly convinced though, that the very finest way to respect the word of God is to rewrite it "onto the fleshy tables" of our hearts. I know of a good way to do that now - my father's way.
-- A Reader in Utah
In 1975, my husband Michael and I purchased our first home. We had been married six years, were as yet childless and Mike had just been made a partner with the law firm that brought us to California in the first place. Buying the home, I think, made us "stable" in the eyes of the powers that be in the ward, and I was given my first visiting teaching assignment. I had four women, three active and one inactive who was married to a non-member. This inactive sister, Shanna, lived halfway down the next block. Because she was inactive, and even after receiving information from a mutual friend that Shanna was not antagonistic toward the Church, I assumed that she would be hostile.
For three and one-half years, Shanna was on my list and I did not contact her once. After that time, my husband and I had the opportunity to transfer to his firm's Paris office where we lived for the next four years. Upon arriving home from Paris after four years, I learned that a faithful home teacher had contacted and fellowshipped Shanna and her family. Shanna's husband joined the Church, they were sealed in the temple and had two of their three children sealed to them. (Shanna had an older daughter from a previous marriage who has not been sealed to them by her own choice.) Shanna then had a baby, born under the covenant, and everyone was active and happy.
I had been left out!!! I regret to this day my inert, frightened attitude about visiting teaching in general and about this sister in particular. Since returning home from France, Shanna and I have become the best of friends. She reminds me, good naturedly, of how she could have enjoyed the blessings of the gospel years earlier had I been faithful. I remind myself, not so good naturedly, of how I could have had the blessing of bringing the gospel back into the life of my best friend. I make up for it a lot. I am grateful that I have the chance to at least do that.
-- A Reader in California
"The gospel is hard, and it's simple. But it's more simple than it is hard."
-- Anthony Witherspoon
-- Anthony Witherspoon
Many people react with fear when they are asked to speak in sacrament meeting. They'll come up with any excuse not to get up in front of 30 or 300 people and talk about something they might not know much about. And if you haven't had much experience in public speaking - if you didn't grow up with regular Primary talks (with Mom at your shoulder), for example - then you don't realize that it really isn't that bad.
Now, I won't say I'm an expert on public speaking. Much of what I'll say here falls into the "pet peeve" category, so don't take this as gospel.
The first thing to remember is that you're not alone. Most others called to this task feel exactly the same as you, more or less. And as long as what you say comes from the heart, no one is going to give you a hard time about it. (Or, if some amazingly insensitive individual does, you'll be able to handle it with grace.)
Given that background, here are some hints that can help you get through the experience without a disaster.
1. Consider the topic. Generally, it'll fall into one of two categories: Things you are well-acquainted with, or things you know nothing about.
If it's the former, then speak from your experience. Don't lord it over the congregation, but include references to things you know, or things you've experienced. "I learned a lot about [topic] when this happened to me..." makes it personal, and helps those listening empathize with you. Empathy is one of the keys to a successful sacrament talk.
If it's something you know nothing about, however, don't panic. Consider that there is a good chance God set this up so you would learn something new. Given that assumption, don't try to sound like an expert. There's nothing wrong with saying "I didn't know very much about this before I was asked to give this talk." Be honest.
But this means you may have to put a lot more effort into it. Any talk requires spiritual effort - prayer, study, perhaps fasting or even a blessing for assistance. But one of these "learning" talks usually needs more. Ask God: What am I supposed to learn from this? Use the Topical Guide or Bible Dictionary in your scriptures and think, ponder, and pray about every relevant reference. Usually, two or three will stand out, and you can start from that foundation.
It may be that the topic is one which you've been having trouble with. Be careful: Sacrament talks are not the place to confess your sins. It's often okay to say "I'm grateful for the opportunity to have studied this topic, and to have strengthened my testimony of it." It may be acceptable to say "This is a topic with which I've had my share of struggles," omitting personal details. It is almost never acceptable to start tearily recounting past transgressions in the middle of your talk.
2. Speak from the heart, with support from the scriptures and other sources. Too often, people base their talks on the sources themselves, and never get their heart into it. These are the talks that people talk through, sleep through, snore through, and generally don't pay much attention to. They fall into a number of sub-categories, all of which should be avoided:
3. Practice. You have to run through your talk at least once. Whether it's to your mirror, or your dog, or (if you're brave!) your family on Saturday night, you should go through it at least once. Time it - if you were asked to speak for 10 minutes, and you find your talk will go on for 20, better to find out Saturday night than Sunday morning when the bishop is kicking your calves. This is the most common problem with not practicing beforehand - you'll seldom have anyone give you grief for a short, heartfelt talk (you may even get great praise!), but run over time and/or bore people and it'll be a bad experience for all concerned. I've found that if it's at least 5 minutes, it won't sound too short, but that if it's over 15 or 20 minutes, it will definitely sound too long.
Another advantage to practicing is that speaking is very different from writing, and without experience, you may not realize it until you're up on the podium. Often, what looks good on paper sounds clumsy or silly out loud. Sentences that seem to flow well on the page end up wandering, fading, and dying in the chapel. You or your home audience will know when this happens - an over-whelming feeling that you'd be embarrassed to utter that sentence in public will come over you. Time to edit.
Also, if you've picked one of those neat scriptures (the Old Testament is famous for this) with unpronounceable words (especially names and places), better to spend some time thinking up how to say it Saturday night than Sunday morning. Even if the pronunciation you pick for a word is wrong, it won't sound as bad if you're confident about it. Better to say "neb-uh-CAD-neh-zar" in confidence than to go "Neb-uh, neb-you-cad-something-or-other. . ." with an embarrassed look on your face.
4. Hang on tight. Okay, you've made it this far, you're up at the podium, and you start shaking. This is perfectly normal. Don't panic. First, no one can see your knees, so if they're shaking, don't worry. If your hands are shaking, grab the sides of the podium. The congregation will generally not notice the particular shade of white your knuckles may attain. In fact, standing at a podium, holding the sides of it forcefully, and leaning forward just a tad can make you look quite strong and "in control."
Practice helps here, too. While you're speaking to your mirror, pay attention to yourself. Are you saying "um" a lot? Are you looking down too much? Are you shifting your weight from side to side too much? (This can make you look like a drunken sailor on shore leave, so be careful!) A lot is made of eye contact. But don't feel that you have to make eye contact with all 300 people in the congregation. Pick three to five people scattered throughout the congregation - it helps if they're friendly faces. Try for one in the center front, one in the center back, and one or two on each side. Switch from one to the other now and then. (If you do it in the middle of sentences sometimes, rather than just in between, it looks more natural.)
5. When it's over, don't give yourself a hard time. You may think you did a really lousy job. But - especially if you really worked to have the spirit with you - you probably touched at least one person, and likely many more. They may very well come to you and thank you for the talk, tell you how good it was, tell you how good it made them feel, and so on. Don't say "Oh, it wasn't that good" or "No, I'm really a lousy speaker." Just say "Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it." That's all you need to say. It's humble, it's gracious, and it lets you absorb the self-esteem boost you probably need after such a traumatic experience.
-- A Reader in Calgary
Several events occurred this summer that have made me stop and think about an issue that has been on my mind for a number of years.
My mother died when I was young, leaving a family of five children ages 12 to 2 months. Just prior to her death, Elder Harold B. Lee was visiting our stake and was asked to give her a blessing. He promised Mom that her life would not be taken before her time had come. Over the years, I have asked myself many times what purpose on the other side could possibly have been more important than raising her children and being a wife to a young husband.
For a number of years, I have had the sense that it was my responsibility to write a history of Mom's life. There were a number of abortive attempts at doing this, each of which was followed by periods (some longer than others) of inactivity. Finally it occurred to me that if I failed to get this information from those who knew her, the window of opportunity would close for the remainder of this lifetime. So, I determined to spend a couple of weeks in Utah interviewing face to face her siblings, cousins, etc., who remain. The research caused the old question of "Why?" to arise again.
During the two weeks of my visit, my niece was in an automobile accident that could have been very serious, but she and her friend walked away virtually unscathed. About the same time, a cousin of mine and his 16-year-old son were in an automobile accident. One police officer said, upon seeing the condition of the vehicle, that he could not believe anyone came out alive. Yet the son walked away and my cousin, though hospitalized, will fully recover. Another cousin of mine was in Utah about the same time for the marriage of her oldest son. A couple of days prior to the wedding, she, members of her family, and some friends decided to hike to a lake in the mountains. Upon their arrival, several dove into the water and were swimming when her second son, who had just recently returned from his mission, simply went under. They pulled him out, but were unable to revive him.
Beyond the normal relief and grief that we all felt over these incidents, the same question came into my mind, "Why?" But now the question was, "Why were some required to leave and some were allowed to stay? And how was that decided?" Was it purely capricious chance that made that determination? For certainly each of these people, including my mother, from my perspective had sufficient reason to remain in this life. I visited the scriptures to see what answer I might obtain and I have thought about the question long and hard. The conclusion that I arrived at is, "I don't know exactly why and probably never will in this life." In spite of this, my testimony has been strengthened that for each of us there is a purpose in life (or perhaps "pattern" gives a better description). I have never believed that every facet of our lives is controlled by the Lord's will or foreordination, but I have come to believe more strongly that the Lord does watch over us. He does care for us and wants the best for us.
Too often we require that we understand everything that happens to us. This, I believe, is simply one of those areas where we must walk by faith and have trust in the Lord's wisdom. And by doing so we become stronger people.
-- A Reader in Kansas
For the past couple of years I have been seeking signs in General Conference waiting for the prophet or one of the twelve apostles to get up and call us to get ready; that momentous things are going to happen in the world shortly and if we are not prepared dire consequences will happen. That now, more than ever before, every needful thing must be prepared. The world is about to go through tumultuous changes in preparation of the second coming.
I have even been waiting to hear the prophet maybe single out regions of the world and call the saints there to be especially watchful and prepared. I live in Southern California and I have had in the back of my mind that maybe someday the prophet will get up and call us who live in Southern California to pack up and leave. That the judgments of God are about to befall the state. Perhaps the great earthquake - or the Big One as we in Southern California call it - will finally come and sink half of California into the Pacific Ocean.
I guess I have been looking for these signs because I know that an overt declaration of that type will jolt me out of the spiritual lethargy that I so frequently feel these days. It would cause me to pray and read my scriptures more diligently, to finish my year supply, and get out of debt. The thought of hearing explicit counsel to "get prepared or else" is exciting to me because it means that the second coming is really getting closer. I have even had daydreams of President Hinckley coming down to my stake conference and calling us saints to pack up and go carve out a home in the desert because circumstances in the world call for the saints to gather for safety. Any faithful Latter-day Saint would immediately jump if the prophet came out and said where to and how far. I'll go where you want me to go dear Lord - as long as it's the prophet telling me where.
The April '95 General Conference marks a turning point in my sign-seeking. After being somewhat disappointed at not receiving my sought-after sign, a curious thought began to grow in my mind. Could it be that the prophet and general authorities have been telling us to "get prepared or else" all along? Haven't they always admonished us to get out of debt, get our year supplies in order, and to be prepared? Also, another thought came along with the first: Isn't it possible that my stake president or my bishop could receive revelation calling my stake or ward to sell everything and go live out in the desert for a while? After all, D & C 115 says that our stake shall be a "defense and a refuge from the storm."
This was a jolting revelation for me. In my daydream I have President Hinckley coming down and calling my stake to gather in the desert, but what if it was my stake president doing the calling instead? Would I listen and follow him as surely as I would President Hinckley? The scripture "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same" kept coming to mind. I had to seriously ask myself if I would follow the counsel of my stake president or bishop in such a situation. I know these men, and work with them. They do not speak from ivory towers in Salt Lake, but talk from my ward's pulpit every Sunday. They are friends but I have also seen their weaknesses. Could I accept such a revelation if it came to my bishop instead of President Hinckley?
After much soul-searching, I now find that I can support my bishop and stake president in whatever they call me to do. The nature of these humble servants of God has really shot up in my mind. I now listen more closely to what they have to say. I am thankful that the Lord calls humble men to these positions who have as much responsibility for my welfare as the prophet does.
Although I no longer seek signs in General Conference, I appreciate the message even more today because the prophet will not wait until just before a major pre-second coming event occurs to warn us. He is warning us now, and telling us what we need to do now to be prepared. And as we all know, if we are prepared we shall not fear.
-- A Reader in California
Growing up as a member of the LDS Church in a large midwestern city presented many learning experiences for me. My older brother and sister and I were the only members of the Church in our grade school, the church house was five miles away, and the nearest LDS friend my age lived four miles away. Consequently, I played with my non-member neighborhood and school friends most of the time.
Although I was only five, I knew that I went to a different church and believed different things than my non-member friends. I knew that we did not drink coffee, black tea, alcohol, and cola drinks. I also knew we did not swear or use the improper language which I heard my non-LDS friends using. What I did not completely understand yet, though, was the difference between taking the Lord's name in vain and not taking it in vain.
I had heard my non-member neighborhood friends use the Savior's name several times in casual conversation while we cavorted around the neighborhood, but I did not know then that they were using his name in vain. I was just excited to know that my friends also knew of Jesus Christ. I did question them, though, to make sure they were referring to the same Jesus Christ I learned about in Sunday School and Primary each week. They were.
I was so happy that we had this in common that I wanted to learn to use the Lord's name the same way they did even though it sounded different than the way my parents and the people at church normally used it. I figured that by so doing I could then fit in better with my non-member friends and also be able to go home and impress my parents with my new understanding and usage of the Lord's name. I knew my parents would be proud of my cleverness and initiative. I could hardly wait.
That evening at dinner, I looked for an opportunity to use my new found way of bringing the Lord's name into everyday conversation. Finally the right moment came.
My sister was being stubborn and would not pass the corn to me when I asked, so I asked her again, but this time I put our Savior's name at the front of the request for emphasis the way I had heard my friends use it.
Then several things happened in quick succession. Unfortunately none of them were the expected praise and adoration I had anticipated for my new found usage of the Lord's name. First there was an instant of sudden silence as what I said still hung in the air. And second, even though my father and mother have never struck any of us children other than when we really deserved it, and then only once or twice and only on our bottom after making sure we knew why we were "getting it," my mother's opened hand flew through the air and caught me along side my head quicker than I have ever seen her move before or since. And, finally, she told me never to use that name again.
Of course the blow did not hurt, but I was greatly astonished by the reaction my attempt to enlighten and impress my parents received. And what did she mean to never use that name again - we always used the Lord's name. But, when I reminded my mother of this fact she denied it.
I could not believe it! My own mother was lying to me. I started to cry because, besides being only five and not used to handling traumatic situations like that, as sure as I was sitting there I had heard my mother use the Lord's name in conversation just as recently as the day before at church. And when, through my tears, I tried to recall this to her memory, I only seemed to upset her more.
What had happened? Why were my parents doing this to me? My whole world was falling apart. So, then, after a forced apology to everyone, I decided to keep my hurt and confusion to myself until I could prove I was right, because I knew I was right. But, if what my parents said about us never using the Lord's name was true, then all of the ward members were liars and hypocrites along with my parents. For, I had heard them all say Jesus Christ's name many times, and especially during those slow fast and testimony meetings.
I decided I would wait until Thursday to ask my Primary teacher about this whole thing. I knew I could trust her. After all there was no sense in talking to my parents any further, because they were obviously going crazy and/or conspiring against me.
At Primary that Thursday I asked the teacher if there might be a difference in the way my friends had used the name of Jesus Christ and the way we use it for church. And, to my relief, and to all the ward members' (including my parents') salvation, she said there was. She then explained the difference to me.
Life was good again. My parents were not evil, demented or crazy after all, and I understood why they had gone into their seeming uncontrolled insane spell - I had broken one of the Ten Commandments. I had taken the name of the Lord in vain.
I learned a valuable lesson that day and have never had a problem obeying this commandment since.
-- David Ullery
How do you get smart people to believe a big lie? Let me count the ways:
1. Repeat it constantly.
2. Get the academic elite to sneer at people who don't believe it. Eventually the media elite, the literary elite, and finally the business and political elites will fall in line, until everybody agrees that only the ignorant disbelieve it.
3. Put a little (and obvious) truth on top of it and get people to stand on the big lie in order to embrace the little truth.
This last one -- this is the one that fools us all the time. For instance, take the little (and obvious) truth that "Communist governments have been invariably corrupt, destructive, ineffective, and evil." That one has been sitting for eighty years on top of the big lie that "capitalism is the reason America and the West are such wonderful, prosperous, and free places to live." How many Mormons who have read the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants still embrace the nonsensical idea that God loves capitalism -- just because he hates Communism? (But that's another essay.)
Another example: The little (and obvious) truth that it was unfair for employed women to be paid less for the same work as men, and to be denied earned promotions or the chance to do jobs they were qualified to do -- just because they were women. It took about twenty minutes in the late sixties to convince almost everybody in America that we needed to stop this unfair practice.
But in embracing that truth, we swallowed this huge lie: That because men achieved greatness and/or fulfilment through careers, women should have careers too so that they could also be great and fulfilled.
This lie still remains virtually unchallenged, even though almost every man and woman old enough to have accrued some experience in the world knows, intuitively, that this is one of the most ludicrous of all the lies grown-ups have ever decided to believe.
Why is it a lie? Because:
1. Careers don't exist.
2. Careers, even if they did exist, bring neither greatness nor fulfilment for men or women.
3. Careers are the enemy of the family, of the Church, of the government, of business, and of the individual.
Feminism and Careers
And yet, just at the time when men's pursuit of careers was starting to tear apart more and more families (i.e., the 1950s and 1960s), women started leaving their homes in droves to pursue the same chimera.
Now, it wasn't just about "pursuit of career," of course. Some women started working outside the home because they had to -- though reasons that one "had" to work began proliferating. (Here's the progression: Husband laid off or laid up. Send kid to college. Pay off some debts. Need bigger house. Need nicer car. Can't quit now, look at all these bills.)
Even before payment and hiring practices became more fair, there really was a financial advantage to a family with two paychecks -- partly because most families didn't have two paychecks. In an era when $10,000 was a very good annual income (the 1960s), if a woman could get a job paying $5,000, the family got a real economic boost -- particularly since there were so many women at home who could provide cheap day care for nickels and dimes, just to supplement their husbands' incomes.
But as more and more women entered the work force, and as wages for women began to rise until today's nearly complete parity (the remaining differences can be accounted for almost entirely by the relative economic strength and value of professions women choose to enter), the labor supply was increasing far more rapidly than the number of consumers. (Indeed, as more women went to work and delayed families or had fewer kids, the population increased at a much slower rate than before, when women generally stayed out of the labor pool.) And, more and more, they were competing for exactly the same jobs as men and for exactly the same salaries.
The result was predictable and obvious:
Real wages for everybody dropped, until it became much harder for families to live on one wage-earner's salary. Those old pre-feminist payment and hiring practices, while definitely unfair to the woman who was trying to support a family, did work to the advantage of the woman who wanted to stay home and maintain the household, because the family really could live on her husband's salary alone.
Now, the new "fair" system is very, very hard on the family that tries to have one parent remain at home to raise the children and participate in the community -- because the average job a man can get, especially at the age when his children are young and most need their mother at home, doesn't provide enough income for the family to live in the style that Americans have come to think of as the minimum acceptable.
The new "fair" system is also very hard on people at society's margins. Just as American blacks were gaining their civil rights and a real shot at decent educations and jobs, real wages started dropping because of the labor glut, and because of disadvantages caused by past discrimination, lingering racism, and steadily rising educational requirements for entry level jobs, many black men found themselves less able than ever to get jobs and provide for a family.
And this wasn't just because of the sheer numbers of women entering the work force -- it was because of the numbers of educated women. When you have more applicants for a position than you can handle, how do you select the few you have time to interview? Simple: Raise the educational requirements. This worked very much to the advantage of middle-class women and to the great disadvantage of poor, uneducated, young and inexperienced men and women, as job requirements kept rising out of reach.
Yet most of these jobs actually did not require a college education at all. The proof is that in most fields a college degree has now become the exact equivalent of what a high school diploma used to be, and the college grads are doing those jobs just fine. In fact, it is partly because of the glut in the labor force caused by the massive "immigration" of educated women that educational standards fell. As education requirements for jobs rose as a weeding-out device, more and more people had to go to college, even though they were neither suited for nor interested in what college used to provide, and even though what college used to provide had nothing whatever to do with the jobs they were trying to qualify for.
As a result college really was irrelevant to more and more students. They cared less and did worse and it didn't matter because they didn't need the education anyway. Yet college still made sense in the economy, not because it provided needed skills, but because it kept an ever larger number of young people from entering the labor force until four or more years later than they otherwise would have. (There are plenty of other causes involved in the decay of our educational system, including stupid educational theories and politicizing of college campuses; but this is an unignorable cause as well.)
All these changes in our society are obvious, completely observable results of a major change in our social and employment pattern. The result is disaster, as more and more children are being raised by day care facilities and by seriously corrupted public and private schools, and then are unable to find decent work at a decent wage when they do get what passes for an education. We are locked into a system in which a one-paycheck family feels economically crippled.
And yet our sons and daughters are still being raised with the idea drummed into them that girls have as much right to a wonderful, fulfilling career as boys have!
See how the little truth -- that girls have as much right -- is resting on top of a huge lie -- that boys have wonderful, fulfilling careers!
(And right now, you people sharpening your tiny pencils to write letters attacking me for blaming the fall of western civilization on women: Don't waste your time. This is an essay, not a book -- of course I left stuff out. Of course there's more to it than this. But this is part of the cause, and the only reason you haven't been hearing more people point out the obvious link between the vast influx of women into the workforce and the drop in real wages, the rise in hardcore unemployment, the devaluation of education, and the inflation of educational requirements for jobs is because it's politically incorrect.)
The Myth of Career
Careers don't exist. At least not in the sense that most people conceive them. The myth is that you go to college, train for a career, get an entry-level position (with higher pay because of that college degree!), work hard and distinguish yourself, rise within your company, change companies from time to time if that's what it takes to rise, until finally you are a success and can retire comfortably, knowing you had a successful career. p> That paradigm is a sad, cruel joke. First, you don't train for a career in college. Colleges aren't good at training you for a career. They never were. They used to be good at helping you become educated, and presumably an educated person would be better able to make a contribution to society regardless of what "career" he followed -- but what colleges don't do is train you for a job. They don't even do a decent job of training you for a job as a college teacher.
And I'm including business colleges in this. Most graduates of business schools spend their first few months and years unlearning all the outdated, irrelevant, or flat-out false things they were taught in college. I have only talked to a handful of business-school graduates who haven't told me, ruefully, that they could have learned, in three months or less, every single thing their business school taught them that actually had value.
Even great scientists don't become great because of what they learned in college. They become great because of their original research -- and colleges, with their cruel and exploitative mistreatment of graduate students by washed-up or never-had-it careerists on the faculty, are often the largest roadblock standing in the way of students with genuine ability. By and large, people who have "great careers" have them regardless of and often in spite of their formal education.
Second, there's no guarantee that, having "trained" for a career, you will actually get work in the career you trained for -- or that, having got a job, you'll like it or be particularly good at it. I know very few people still happily working at the career they trained for in college. Now, I must admit that as a theatre major, I have a biased sample -- hardly anybody with a theatre degree will ever earn a living doing what he trained for! But even if I confine myself to people I know who majored in other fields -- accounting, music, engineering, law, English, writing, humanities, education, history -- fewer than half are working in their major field, and of those who are, many if not most are deeply dissatisfied with their "careers" and would like to change jobs if they could. They just haven't the heart to start all over again, climbing up the pension and salary ladder. Money keeps them on the job as surely as any assembly-line worker or ditch-digger.
Third, hard work and achievement are virtually unrelated to pay increases, promotions, or distinction within any field I can think of. Here and there a company -- usually a small creative start-up that hasn't had time to grow a bureaucracy yet -- actually rewards hard work and achievement, but by and large what gets rewarded is seniority (i.e., willingness to stick it out year after year), conformity ("a team player"), docility (if they don't notice you, you won't get fired), mediocrity (turns in assigned work on time), and regular attendance with no tardies. If this sounds like high school to you, congratulations: Your education really is working for you now!
Fourth, in many if not most fields, the way to get real raises and promotions is to change employers, which is actually destructive of any kind of through line that your career might be following -- but this is what the "star players" do all the time. The people who stay at the same company are almost always the plodders -- indeed, the very fact that you are at the same company or school you started at will look to some people as if you weren't very ambitious and as if your career were very dull.
Fifth, you can't succeed no matter what you do. Careers are like videogames -- they're designed so that no matter how well you perform, there's always another level that will kill you. If you can just get to be a supervisor, then you'll have it made, right? Only you get to that level and the pressure and competition only increase. If I can be CEO/dean/star/MVP/bestseller/ Nobel prize winner, then I'll have made it! Only the CEO is still a failure in the eyes of his stockholders, the dean has to answer to the faculty and the college president, the star of the show won't be star of the next show, the MVP will get his butt kicked by the new kid on the team, the bestseller will find that now he wants academic respect (just as the American Book Award winner finds that now he wants a bestseller), and even if you're a Nobel Prize winner you'll have to watch as the next Nobel Prize is given to a young upstart who disproves all your theories.
In other words, "success" in the world's terms recedes infinitely. You never get there. And all the markers that other people think of as "success" become nearly meaningless the moment you get them. The sad thing is that even though we all know this, we still keep reaching for the next prize the world offers to tantalize us.
Sixth, you will hate retirement if you liked your work, and if you hated your job retirement will come too late by thirty years. Finally you'll have the time to do all those things which, had you really wanted to do them, you would have been doing all along.
Careers only exist in the eyes of other people, and they're never right.
Instead of a Career
What actually exists are these: Lives and jobs. And people who believe in careers and try to have a "successful" one invariably do so at the expense of their life. Let me put it as boldly and outrageously as possible: You can't have both a career and a life.
David O. McKay said it more kindly when he declared that no other success can compensate for failure in the home.
What I'm saying is that there is no other success, period, because your home is your life and no matter how hard you try, your job cannot be and should not be anything more than a portion of your life.
Your life is:
Your family -- parents, siblings, spouse, children, relatives. You have responsibilities toward all of them, and when you create bonds of love with these people you really do rejoice when they rejoice, mourn when they mourn, help when they need help, turn to them when you need help.
Your church. Brought together by shared (but not uniform) beliefs and a mutual love of God and his works, you labor side by side on tasks which, while they matter in themselves, probably don't matter as much as the way you treat the people you work with.
Your neighbors. Brought together by job, residence, commuting patterns, shopping, schooling, you and the people you run into every day have responsibilities to each other that are far more important than the formal structures of your relationship. That is, when you buy something at the store, of course you must pay the person who receives payment and receive fair change, but the transactions that matter are not financial or formal, they are moral and personal. You can be kind and understanding to others; you can help them, encourage them, wake them up sometimes (but only when they already know your respect and love for them); you are also helped by them, taught by them, encouraged by them. And when they hurt you, you move on without rancor and forgive them when they repent.
In fact, if you look closely you'll realize that family, church, and neighbors are really part of the same project -- your life. And the markers of success are the love you have for others and that they have for you; and even when, at times, your best efforts fail to win that love and respect in certain cases, if you have truly acted in a Christlike way you will have the joy that comes from the Comforter. Because you are blessed by what comes out of you, not by what comes back to you.
That is a life.
It is the opposite of a career.
A career has a trajectory. A beginning, middle, end. Obstacles to overcome. Success to achieve or fail to achieve.
A life just happens, day by day. You plan, but you don't take your own plans all that seriously except insofar as they are within your control. You know that no matter what, things will come up and you'll deal with them. What matters is the love and decency, the moral decisions and the correct actions along the way. Your act of honesty at age eleven is neither more nor less important, successful, and meaningful than your act of honesty at age 67. Treating the store clerk well is neither more nor less important than treating your boss or your Sunday school students or your spouse well. In a good, successful life, you simply go about doing good.
And you can have a good life just as easily whether your job is teaching school, soldering on an assembly line, farming, writing books, managing a company, selling shoes, or sweeping floors.
Well, strictly speaking, that's not true. Because some jobs are hard to get unless you have become a believer in the idea of careers. And if you pursue a career with the relentlessness that gets you to the "top" of your profession, then chances are you have done some things that damaged your life and the lives of those dependent on you. If you want to see what Christ meant when he said it was as hard for a rich man to get into heaven as a camel to get through the eye of a needle, just look at what most successful people have done in order to advance their career -- or because they believe that, having "succeeded," anything they do to other people is perfectly all right.
The power-seekers who betray their spouses. The careerists who abandon their children -- whether or not their families remain nominally intact. The successes who leave a trail of damaged co-workers and exploited underlings behind them.
Careerism at Church
Sadly enough, the myth of career is so pervasive that many men -- and even some women -- carry it over from the world into the Church. It should be the other way around, of course. We should all conduct ourselves on the job according to the same principles that the Lord expects us to use in our Church service (cf. Section 121), not only because it's morally right, but also because (as with all morally right actions), it is ultimately the only system that works.
Instead, careerism creeps into our lives in the Church at every level.
It's the man whose first calling in a new ward is to serve in the meetinghouse library, who looks at his bishop in shock and says, "I didn't come here to work in the library." Library? Bad career move. Means you're not on the fast track.
It's the man who seeks to conceal his mistakes or blame them on others so the bishop or stake president won't hold those mistakes against him when considering whom to call to the next lofty position that comes open. Wouldn't want to spoil the upward path.
It's the missionary who knows his dad expects him to be Assistant to the President or at least zone leader, and so he's got to baptize a lot of people in order to get noticed by the mission president. No time to waste on those investigators who aren't going to make the report look good this week.
We're not really talking about ambition here -- naked ambition never plays well in church, and where it exists, it gets hidden. Most of the time, careerism consists of something much less nefarious: The desire to be publicly validated by high office.
It was Mrs. Zebedee who tried to get Jesus to seat James and John at his right and left hand when he came into his kingdom. My guess is that they were embarrassed to death that she would ask for such a thing. But maybe not. Maybe they were like the junior high kid who writes a note: Do you like me? Yes. No. Check one.
The world promises validation through career -- and after fooling most men into seeking that empty prize, they're fooling an awful lot of women, too. But that's not how God gives validation. He's very clear on that. When the sheep are divided from the goats, it's going to be on a completely different basis than what offices we held or how our Church "career" went. He's going to say, "When I was hungry you fed me." He'll say, "Even as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me."
Most people, when they finally realize that they're getting caught in the careerist trap at Church, sober up and realize that there's no future in it. Where does the career track go? Bishop, stake president, mission president, Seventy, Apostle? Not a lot of openings at the top, and you can't get there by aiming for those offices; if you could, they wouldn't be worth having.
So even those who are hungriest for the validation that comes from "high" office usually mature past that desire and come to realize that the real validation comes from joy -- from the joy that comes from doing good for others in Christ's name. It also comes from the respect of good people, who are plentiful in every ward and branch of the Church, and who bestow their love and honor freely and without any kind of price tag -- something the world almost never does.
The situation gets most confusing, though, for those whose worldly career is in fulltime Church employment. Anyone who has worked for the Church as an employee has seen that all the ills of worldly careers can be found within the Church bureaucracy. Sniping, backstabbing, malingering, cruelty, shameless sycophancy, they're all there. Why not? So far, at least, all the Church paychecks are issued to human beings, and among human beings the catalogue of temptations and flaws doesn't change much.
The surprise is that pockets of Christlike service are so common in Church employment -- people who really aren't trying to advance their careers. People who really don't care about promotions or payment, beyond having enough to take care of their families. Sometimes it's an individual; sometimes it's a whole department or project where that spirit is pervasive. And the good people are patient with those who are still confused about whom they're working for. It can be frustrating, especially when the snipers and backstabbers are able to disrupt and sometimes destroy projects that the prophets really hoped would work; but the Lord and the Brethren are patient, and so are the good men and women who work under them.
But careerism can sneak in even when motives are genuinely unselfish. For instance, fulltime teachers of religion in the Church Educational System are a group that works very hard to be true servants of the Lord. But they are also academics, and partake of the spirit of the academic world often without even realizing it. Academics are validated by their original contributions to their field, which in most cases is measured by the number of their publications in juried journals.
In the Mormon Church, however, original contributions to Church doctrine are only to come from prophets, seers, and revelators. Thus religion professors can never, ever "measure up" as true academics. And this is how it should be, for the academic world's system is actually a wretched one, which creates an enormous volume of meaningless, time-wasting publications, often created by people who really only want to teach and have a life, while only a relative handful have anything of importance to contribute as writers and researchers. A professor or teacher of the Mormon religion should never make a contribution to Church doctrine.
Yet during my lifetime I have watched some very curious doctrines arise through "doctrine creep." They begin as discoveries or speculations arising from the Journal of Discourses or odd (and usually meaningless) juxtapositions of unrelated scriptures. Over time, within a community of scholars, talmudization is inevitable, as "commentary" gets built upon by others and becomes validated, not by evidence, but by the consensus of scholars, who then treat it as settled doctrine. (This is what has happened to "higher critics" who regard their consensus about scriptural authorship, origin, and provenance as "scientific truth," even though their evidence remains nonexistent.)
Every now and then one of these doctrines bubbles up to visibility where it gets popped by a bemused prophet. Even though the fulltime scholars in the Church Educational System are perhaps the least ambitious group of teachers anywhere, this process is inevitable in communities of scholars where the worth of a person is judged, however obliquely, by careerist standards.
Living without Careers
Few people are immune to considerations of career. For instance, I just sat out the last election in silence, even though my position as a writer has given me a chance to be heard by at least a few people when I speak on public issues. Why? Because I've already seen how my public utterances -- like this one! -- can turn into people leafleting or heckling my public appearances, or banning my books in bookstores here and there. During the campaigning season I was working to start a film company, and didn't want to write anything that might -- you guessed it -- damage my career. And as I watched the results -- Jesse Helms reelected in my state, Bill Clinton at a national level -- I could console myself that I wouldn't have been able to make a difference anyway.
And yet ... because I was silent, for the sake of my career, I'll never know whether I could have made a difference or not, will I? And so this essay is, in part, the beginning of my repentance. I'm not trying to create a career, I'm trying to tell stories that will make the world a better place, and offer them to the public in the most effective media possible. What does not matter is whether I become a "successful Hollywood writer," anymore than it matters whether you become CEO of a corporation or top insurance salesman in Utah or winner of the Parley P. Pratt Prize for best essay published in tiny samizdat newsletters aimed at religious communities.
So what can we do to free ourselves from the poison that comes from careerism?
Mind Our Own Business. I put this first because the last thing we need is for people to judge others to determine who is a careerist and who isn't. In the Church, we teach correct principles clearly and firmly, but then leave judgment up to those who are appointed to that office by the Lord.
Have Jobs, Not Careers. Many, many Mormons -- I daresay most Mormons -- already live this principle. That's why Mormons are so common in middle management, but not at the tops of corporations (except those corporations they started themselves). Because there comes a point -- usually when their kids reach their teens, but in some cases long before -- where the Latter-day Saint turns down the promotion or the transfer because it wouldn't be good for his or her family.
But I'm suggesting we change something even deeper. We should cease utterly to answer the question "What do you do?" in the way that people expect. The world labels us, tags us, sorts us out by careers. We must refuse to play the game, both in public and in private. When someone asks you what you do, why not answer, "Right now I'm teaching Sunday school," or "raising three great kids," or even "struggling to be a decent human being." Overtly pious? Absolutely. But this world could use a little more obvious piety; heaven knows the other side expects us to take their assertive statements in stride!
We don't have careers, folks. We just have jobs. We do them as well as we can; if we earn more than we need, we use the surplus in the service of the Lord. But we aren't trying to "succeed" at careers. We do an honest day's work for an honest day's wage. And then we come home to go about our lives.
Expect Nothing from the World. Because we tend to be trustworthy people, we are often taken completely by surprise when our career expectations are betrayed. We get downsized, we get stabbed in some bureaucratic maneuver by a careerist, we get a truly vile boss that it is impossible to work for and keep our self-respect, or our job duties change to include things that make us morally uneasy. Many Mormons, because we believed the world's lies about careers, are devastated when these things happen.
But just as we refuse to identify ourselves by our careers, we should also not expect the world to keep its promises. We must be ready to change jobs at any time. This is more than just a matter of remaining psychologically prepared for job changes. We must also be educationally and financially prepared. When we go into debt, we are doing so on the assumption that we will continue to have the same income we have now, with normal raises and promotions. Not only will that debt force us to break our promise to pay if we lose our careers, it can also force us to continue working at jobs that are destroying our families or our character because we can't afford to quit.
Change Careers. Nobody should do the same job for more than five or ten years at a time -- you start thinking that's who you are. The world's system is designed to keep you in the same job (until it takes it away from you). Thus you have to keep working at this miserable, soul-destroying job ...
... until you vest in your pension
... because you can't afford to start all over again on the seniority ladder
... because you majored in this field in college
... because what if you failed at a different career?
... because this career is who I am!
I know a man who worked as a dental technician, for which he had earned an associate degree. But he decided that he'd rather be a fireman, and so he trained and passed the exams. He also decided he should have another job on his days off, to supplement his fireman's salary, and so he is now a top-notch wallpaperer. And yet none of these jobs even begins to tell you who he is.
I know another man who worked for many years as a typesetter, made the transition to page layout and design when personal computers killed most of the typesetting industry; and then, in his forties, decided to become an optometrist and went back to school. He and his wife had avoided all debt and had saved enough -- and lived simply enough -- that they could afford his schooling.
There's the junior high teacher who jumped to computer writing. The accountant who is now a computer network supervisor but is nearly done with a terrific novel (I tend to meet a lot of writers). The woman who has been a teacher at a university but is going to turn down a prestigious career advancement because she has creative projects she believes are more important -- though there's no guarantee she'll get paid for them. The man who had a terrific film career going but walked away in order to take a job in academia that he thought had more value -- even though he knew he might never be able to pick up that film career again. The man who turned down a senior vice-presidency with a major corporation -- and a high six-figure salary -- in order to pursue his own start-up business because ... well, because that vice-presidency was the logical next step in his career, but not in his life.
These are all real people, who will recognize themselves very easily when they read this. And I know many, many others. Not all are Mormon, but they all have this in common: They weren't afraid to change jobs when the old one became empty or they felt they could serve better in a different line of work.
There are, of course, people who are quite content in their work and have no wish to change jobs. In my experience, however, people who express this attitude are either so completely caught up in careerism that they are incapable of seeing how it is stunting their lives -- or they have already made the transition to complete non-careerism and are content precisely because their personal fulfilment is independent of the worldly perception of their "career."
You discover careerism in your life, not by examining your feelings of the moment, but by looking back at the course your life has taken and the choices you have made. Some people are so focused on bulldozing their careers forward that they are blind to the wreckage behind them. These are the people who most need to break free and change jobs; they are also the least likely to do so.
Keep Your Heart at Home. Forget the guilt trip the world puts you on if you dare to suggest that most women's lives can be perfectly fulfilling without a career; answer with the obvious truth that nobody's life is fulfilled by a career, and all parents should do only the work that is necessary for the good of their family. A parent must be home when children are too young for school; but even after that, at least one parent should have the kind of job where he or she can decide to stay home whenever the good of the family requires it. In most families this is, by inclination as well as convention, the wife. But even the parent who is the breadwinner should never let the job be more important than the family. If you are constantly having to miss your children's lives because of long hours or trips away from home, change jobs. They need you, father and mother both, and if you miss their childhood you can never, never make up for it.
Enough Is Enough. Here's the key to making the rest of this work: We have to recognize what "enough" is when we have it. It's perfectly all right for your children to grow up relatively poor (though poverty in America can look a lot like wealth in other places I've been). If you and your spouse are both working, maybe it's because you have to -- but look again at what you're spending your money on.
Children don't need money. They don't need large fine houses. They don't even need "nice neighborhoods." (A lot of neighborhoods called "nice" will provide your kids with friends who buy cocaine out of their weekly allowance.) If you still think that big houses and fine cars suggest a neighborhood with better values, then you probably need to have a refresher course in reality.
I grew up sharing a bedroom with my brothers. It didn't kill me. There were whole months when we didn't have a working TV. I recovered. I didn't get to Disneyland until I was in my twenties. Mickey got along fine without me. And yes, my mother worked during many of the years of my childhood, not by my parents' choice; my father sometimes worked two or three jobs, too. But both my parents always included us kids in their lives. I helped my dad grade papers. I proofread dissertations my mother typed, or went to her office after school, where I often collated and stapled projects she was doing for her boss. Both my parents worked hard but we always knew, from actions as well as words, that we kids were more important to them than their jobs. By the world's standards, neither of my parents had a "career." We kids were and are their vocation, with church service a close second.
Term Limits. The Church provides us with the perfect model of how we ought to regard all our jobs. One of the reasons the Church is as true as the gospel (to use Gene England's phrase) is that we change jobs so often. One of the best Blazer leaders I've ever known was the stake president who set me apart as a high councilor, and he put as much love and energy into the Primary as he did into the stake presidency. Today's stake Relief Society president may be -- should be -- tomorrow's Primary teacher.
Wisely, the Church puts well-known but flexible limits on the terms of service of the "loftier" callings -- the ones that deluded careerists might think of as validation. Five years as bishop. No more than ten, often less, as stake president. Three years as mission president. Many general authorities now have fixed terms, and most others are given emeritus status when they have served to an age where the demands on them can be relaxed. Because of this policy, release from a high calling is never a shame, but rather is a relief (unless you still haven't been cured of careerism); and Mormons learn to let go of offices and look forward to new challenges without regard to status, validation, or hierarchy.
I can foresee a time when this policy will also extend to paid fulltime Church employees. Almost no one should have a lifetime career in Church employment; for their own sake and for the sake of the Church, Mormons who work at 50 East North Temple should do so only for a while, and before and afterward work somewhere else. They'll have more to contribute to the Church because of the experience; and perhaps their experience of working for the Church will give them more to contribute to their secular employers and co-workers. If this were a publicly announced policy, no one would be shamed by being let go, and careerism would virtually disappear from Church employment.
Of course there would be difficulties and drawbacks to such a practice, but the benefits so obviously outweigh the problems that it is only a matter of time before it becomes the policy of the Church. If, as a people, we are to break free of the distorting influence that careerism has on our lives as Latter-day Saints, the Church, which already sets an example in the way callings are handled, can set an even more powerful example by expecting its paid employees to follow a similar pattern. And in every area of Church business affairs, the Church -- and the Lord -- would be better served, on average, than they are now.
But we don't have to wait. We can start today to strike careerism out of our lives and out of our hearts. We really don't care about a promotion or a raise. We really can imagine changing our line of work, even going back to school to accomplish it. We really do regard our children as so important that we could and would give up career opportunities and our jobs themselves in order to meet their needs. We really don't love money and material possessions, and will do whatever it takes to free ourselves of debt so we are no longer held hostage by our careers. And when it's time to measure ourselves, to see whether or not we have succeeded in life, it won't even occur to us to look at our balance sheet, our bottom line, our award shelf, our curriculum vitae. We'll look at our families, our friends, our fellow Saints, our neighbors, and see how lovingly intertwined our lives are with theirs. We'll listen for the Spirit of God in our hearts, whispering, "Pretty good so far, thou faithful servant, carry on."
-- Orson Scott Card
Copy This Newsletter!
This newsletter is distributed using the samizdat system. If you find Vigor interesting and valuable, we hope you'll make copies and pass them along to friends.
The entire contents of Vigor are copyright © by Hatrack River Publications. We grant permission for you to make an unlimited number of copies, with the following restrictions:
1. All copies must be of an issue in its entirety; the right to copy individual articles or quotations of any length separate from the newsletter as a whole is expressly denied.
2. The recipients of such copies are not to be charged, including copying charges, however nominal. Those who make copies of Vigor do so at their own expense.
We Need Your Articles!
Vigor is an open conversation among the Saints about the common problems, challenges, and opportunities that we face in ordinary Mormon life in our wards and stakes. Nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something about how to make wards and stakes work together well.
We'd like to hear from you. Activities that worked well; problems you faced and overcame; problems you're still facing and would like to have advice about; anecdotes about funny or wonderful things that happened in your ward; tips and tricks for handling common situations from basketball to ward dinners, from printed sacrament meeting programs to Sunday School lessons - just write it down and send it in! [See "How to Submit" box.]
How to Submit Articles
P.O. Box 18184
Greensboro NC 27419-8184
| Copyright © Hatrack River Enterprises. All Rights Reserved - www.nauvoo.com/vigor
|Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com|