Archive for January, 2008

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The Chastity Talk, Applied to Marriage

January 31, 2008

by M&M 

Since BiV already addresses how I feel about ‘the chastity talk’ I thought I would take a little different approach. I want to share some of my thoughts about what the principles of purity and chastity should mean in a marriage.

[This is all fresh on my mind because I just finished a book by Wendy Watson (now Nelson) about this topic. Her book reinforced already-strong feelings I have on the topic. (I have written about this elsewhere, so more of my thoughts (with some overlap) can be found there as well).] I believe the doctrine of chastity transcends the dictionary definition of the ‘thou shalt not’ aspect of it. I also believe there are teachings associated with this law that can have a great impact on a marriage.

First of all, if we are going to teach our children that sex is wonderful and sacred, we had better believe it ourselves. What might this mean?

One thing that makes sex sacred is that it takes place between [edited] a married man and woman who are supposed to be, as Elder Holland has said, totally united (‘a complete merger’), in every way. Sex was never meant to be fragmented out to be a ‘need’ that simply must be fulfilled. It is not supposed to be a separate element of a marriage, or an activity divorced from the rest of a marriage. It is designed to be a part of a greater, Spirit-driven whole. If we believe sex to be sacred, we should strive to make the whole marriage sacred and Spirit-filled. There is no room for manipulation, or unrighteous dominion, or emotional game-playing, or demands, or criticism, or any of those self-centered actions. I like this quote (I’m looking for the reference):

Thus, physical intimacy is a blessing to married couples when it is an expression of their mutual benevolence and commitment to each other’s well-being, an affirmation of their striving to be emotionally and spiritually one. The key in sexual matters is unselfishness. Self-centered pursuit of physical desire is destructive of the unity and love that characterize healthy marital relations. Such love or charity is long-suffering, kind, not envious, does “not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not [one’s] own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:4-5), and is compatible with the Light of Christ, which directs all in the ways of righteousness.

Another reason sex is sacred is because it is tied to the power of procreation. While we all know the decisions about when to have children and how many to have is between a couple and God, the doctrine of multiplying and replenishing demands that we never forget or take for granted the power that is given us and the responsibility to respect that power. I believe we must be careful and prayerful about how we approach this power and Godlike gift.

Some (including Jeffrey R. Holland, in that talk linked by BiV) have called sexual intimacy a sacrament of sorts. I have heard many people scoff at this notion, but I believe it has merit. This is not to say that sex can’t be fun, exciting, passionate, heated, and physical, but if we believe that God never gives only temporal commandments, we had better believe that there is more to sex than physical/temporal desire, need, and fulfillment. This is a spiritual blessing that should be approached with the Spirit (even with the guidance of prayer), even while recognizing (and, of necessity, understanding) the physical side of it all.

I think in short, recognizing that sex is not primarily about physical pleasure (and surely not about one-sided selfish pleasure) can help us remember its sacred and important role in the big picture of God’s plan for marriage. God surely intends it to be pleasurable, but not as an end unto itself.

Secondly, if we teach our children to separate love or care or concern and sex (“you don’t have to have sex if you love someone, or to prove that love”), then I think we can apply that principle in our marriage as well. President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Love in marriage transcends sex.” While surely one way to express love is to be intimate, this should never be manipulatively (is that a word?) be held over a spouse’s head to ‘prove’ that love. (“If you really love me, you will do this, or engage with me this often,” or….) Perhaps you, like I, have friends whose marriages fell apart because of this kind of unrighteous dominion. (Unrighteous dominion can also go the other way, with a spouse withholding sex as a tool of control. Either way, this is wrong.) Sex is not an entitlement or a bargaining or manipulation tool. It is a blessing and a gift, a stewardship, even, and something that, in the end, needs to exist to be pleasant and meaningful for both spouses, to bring them together, not apart. If it’s doing the latter, then something is not right.

If we teach our children that the way the media portrays sex is not really real or true, then we had better believe it ourselves. Sex is usually not something that just works with passion and perfection like the first encounters we see portrayed in movies. Marriage, with all of its facets, takes work, which means that a healthy sexual relationship will take work, both outside and inside the bedroom. With regard to working through sexual issues, in such a tender side of life, we should be tender, loving, compassionate, patient, caring, unselfish, honest, and also willing to work, sacrifice, compromise, and communicate. A truly healthy marriage, including the sexual relationship, requires the best of our Christlike selves. And it takes a constant willingness to revisit and communicate and revisit again, because life changes and family dynamics change and bodies change. We should never assume that things should just ‘work’ and that if they are, something is wrong, with us or with our spouse. I believe we are meant to work, and work hard, to make our marriages and thus our intimate relationships rich and fulfilling.

Separating ourselves from the lies of the media, I think we should also take Elder Nelson’s counsel to heart and not corrupt our marriages with media (or any other thing) that offends the Spirit.

Because it is ordained of God, the intimate physical expressions of married love are sacred. Yet all too commonly, these divine gifts are desecrated. If a couple allows lewd language or pornography to corrupt their intimacy, they offend their Creator while they degrade and diminish their own divine gifts. True happiness is predicated upon personal purity. Scripture commands: “Be ye clean.” Marriage should ever be a covenant to lift husbands and wives to exaltation in celestial glory.

Being clean involves more than just sexual purity. It’s about having clean hands and pure hearts, which (as Elder Bednar recently explained) is about being purified and sanctified through covenants and the Atonement of Christ. We must not limit ourselves to thinking that principles of purity are only about sexualtiy, because they are not. Any impurity in our hearts and spirits will affect the marital relationship, including the sexual relationship.

The world’s ways should not be our ways. This applies to our perceptions about sex (which the media distorts) but also our approaches to addressing challenges with sexuality. There are many out there willing to give advice and counsel, and while there may be some situations where a counselor’s help might be sought and helpful, I think we should never forget that the solutions to our struggles with sexuality (because let’s face it, many couples have them) can be found as we humbly and lovingly and jointly approach God in prayer. He is the best counselor of all. (At the very least, He should be counseled if a couple needs to seek a counselor, because there is a lot of bad counsel out there.)

One last thing. I hope that as we teach our children to love and respect their bodies, and that they have infinite worth as spirit children of God, that we will believe the same in our lives and our marriages (about ourselves and our spouses). We should never reduce ourselves or our spouses to being just physical beings, just bodies. We should care for and respect our bodies as temples of our spirits. We should remember the eternal worth of our spouses’ souls as well. We should never tie our love only to the body of our spouse (which means we should be accepting of his/her physical limitations or faults, differing sexual performance/desire, brain chemistry and wiring, etc. — not to facilitate bad choice, but to love along the way of eternal progression), but remember that he/she is a living, beloved soul — a imperfect body joined with a beloved spirit child of God. We cannot mistreat another’s body or spirit without hurting our own soul.

So, there are some of my thoughts. Just as I am not a fan of a one-time chastity talk with our children, I believe that the doctrine of sexuality should be ever-present in our interactions with our spouses, in this eternally-important aspect of our marriages.

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The Birds and the Bees

January 29, 2008

by BiV

Would you be surprised to learn, with my large family of children ages 23, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 13, and 9, that I have *never* given the “sex talk?”  It’s true.  And I’ve come to feel that if you’ve had to give “the talk” to your children, you’ve waited too long.  Sexuality is part of the human condition, and I feel it should be a natural part of growing up.   DH and I don’t parade around the house naked, yet we don’t dress behind locked doors, either.  I think it’s very common for children to see the bodies of their parents and siblings as they grow up in the home.  Calling body parts by their correct names–as well as by slang names–happens in our home from Day 1.  I hope that all of this has given my children a healthy attitude toward the human body.

I’ve discovered that sex can be discussed as it comes up.  This may be controversial to some of you, but I believe that if a young child is watching a TV show and a sexual reference is made, I can ask, “Do you know what that means?”  Then I briefly and tastefully explain.  (Of course, you may run into trouble at times, such as when your 2nd grader is the one to tell everyone on the school bus what a blow job is.  Eeek.)  That’s when I learned to teach them there are things we only talk about with our family, and the difference between “sacred” and “secret!” 

I remember how uncomfortable it was when my parents sat me down for “the talk.”  I haven’t had any of this with the approach I’ve taken with my children.  They seem to feel quite at home asking me any questions whatever.  It also helps to have age-appropriate books around the house that don’t shy away from talking directly about sex.   Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret has probably done more for teaching young girls about the anxieties they encounter in regards to menstruation than any other source.  That’s because it addresses the subject in a straight-forward manner and doesn’t moralize. 

I also feel my approach of speaking about sex candidly and early in the home is more conducive to promoting the attitudes I would like to teach them about this important subject.  In 1988 (a few days before my third child was born), Jeffrey R. Holland gave the talk Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments in the Marriott Center at BYU.  I felt that the tone he achieved was lovely and well-suited to teaching children and youth about sex, love, and chastity.  Said [then] President Holland:

 First, we simply must understand the revealed, restored Latter-day Saint doctrine of the soul, and the high and inextricable part the body plays in that doctrine. One of the “plain and precious” truths restored to this dispensation is that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C88:15; emphasis added) and that when the spirit and body are separated, men and women “cannot receive a fulness of joy” (D&C93:34). . . human intimacy, that sacred, physical union ordained of God for a married couple, deals with a symbol that demands special sanctity. Such an act of love between a man and a woman is–or certainly was ordained to be–a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything. It is a symbol that we try to suggest in the temple with a word like seal. The Prophet Joseph Smith once said we perhaps ought to render such a sacred bond as “welding”–that those united in matrimony and eternal families are “welded” together, inseparable if you will, to withstand the temptations of the adversary and the afflictions of mortality.

This approach obviates shame and promotes the beauty and pleasure of human sexuality while giving clear and concise reasons for remaining chaste outside of marriage.  I’ve read the talk many times, and tried to carry over its beautiful message into the nitty-gritty details. 

Imagine that, if you will. Veritable teenagers–and all of us for many decades thereafter–carrying daily, hourly, minute-to-minute, virtually every waking and sleeping moment of our lives, the power and the chemistry and the eternally transmitted seeds of life to grant someone else her second estate, someone else his next level of development in the divine plan of salvation. I submit to you that no power, priesthood or otherwise, is given by God so universally to so many with virtually no control over its use except self-control. And I submit to you that you will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power.

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Media and salad dressing

January 26, 2008

By

Chris

Some people are connoisseurs of bad salad dressings.  They have a knack, talent, or instinct when it comes to picking mixtures that will in no way make a salad better.  In some cases they make lettuce, the most benign of all salad components, worse.  If a bottle says low fat, fat free, low sodium, it will find its’ way into their fridge and somehow on the dinner table when you come over to eat with them.  And though you will be smiling on the outside, you will not be happy on the inside.

Sadly my parents are among ranks of the salad dressing impaired.  At any given time there are seven already opened bottles of dressing in their fridge, and none of them are good.

I am willing to abstain from fried foods, cut back on red meat, and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables that I eat, but I will not, (Foghorn Leghorn) I say I say I will not let bad salad dressing and low fat mayonnaise grace the shelves of my fridge.  To do so would require nothing less then mosaic like rites of purification to redeem it, or require my roommates and I to take the unclean appliance outside and stone it.

Like the people who habitually choose bad salad dressing, many Mormons that I know are like them when it comes to the movies and music they choose.  Friends of mine have on, countless occasions, said a movie was great and then said there was no swearing, sex, or violence.  Like people who buy bad salad dressing, these unfortunate souls choose their media based on what’s not there instead of how it tastes.  And as a self-proclaimed foodie, if doesn’t taste good, regardless of the calories, what’s the point?

Really, if your criterion for judging media is, “I did not have to walk out or turn it off”, then you are missing out and should reexamine how you choose your media.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe that a constant diet of violence, sex, profanity, and other evils in popular media is good.  I believe that some media is just so offensive that it will drive the spirit away.  But I do believe that there is a way to choose media that will not leave that bad taste in your mouth the same way that fat free raspberry nastiness will.  Ponder the last bit of the 13th Article of Faith.

If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

I have followed it from time to time and when I’ve applied this teaching I have found lots of good movies and music that has been good for my soul.

I said earlier that a constant diet of sex, violence, drugs, profanity, and rock and roll was bad.  Let me relate watching the movies Hero and Saving Private Ryan for the first time.

Hero tells the story of a nameless man who is seeking to avenge the death of his family by conspiring to kill the man ultimately responsible for their deaths; The emperor of China.  I won’t give it all away, but I will say that after watching this movie it taught me how horrible and destructive seeking revenge can be.  It taught me that all the parties involved would have been better off letting go of their anger and living peacefully with themselves and with others.

If anything were removed from Hero, it would be less then what it is.  But it would not be better if the director added anything to it.

I watched all of Saving Private Ryan during Christmas break in 2000.  After the credits I could only say, “My God, I had no idea that so many, gave so much, for their fellow human beings.”

Again this brings me back to balance.  No matter what I do, I cannot escape this.  I seem compelled to read, write, and think about the middle way.  A good salad dressing, meal, movie, book, or music is balanced.  Somewhere in that last bit of the 13th article of faith lies the balance for choosing good media.

(This blog was written while the author was listening to Siamese Dream and Editors.  A great album by the Smashing Pumpkins.  At some point this week, I will watch his first season of Arrested Development on DVD when my homework is done.)

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Sex and violence: Which is “worse”?

January 25, 2008

From a 2006 blog post:

Hearts ripped out of chests and held aloft in all their pulsating, graphic glory as thousands of people cheer in delirious approval. Heads decapitated and tossed as gifts to the crowd, people rushing to catch them with the same fervor and delight as a child catching a foul ball in their mitt at a baseball game.

Just two of many such violent, over-the-top, gut-wrenching, stomach-turning scenes in Mel Gibson’s masterful piece of moviemaking, the R-rated “Apocalypto,” which opened at No. 1 at the box office.

Now imagine a movie featuring a man and a woman madly in love — so much in love they can’t keep their hands off each other. In this movie, which tells a compelling story that is also masterful, they repeatedly make love to each other and we see them naked (as we see the Mayan tribesmen and women in “Apocalypto”). The scenes are as sexually explicit as “Apocalypto” is violently explicit and nothing is left to the imagination.

How would that movie be rated? R or NC-17?

When it comes to media, squeamishness with respect to sex and nudity coupled with comparative tolerance for violence is probably more correctly described as an American phenomenon, rather than one specific to Mormondom. Recall the Janet Jackson Super Bowl XXXVIII controversy (“Nipplegate”)–Mormons certainly weren’t alone in their outrage.

That controversy is emblematic of this idiosyncrasy. The big television companies take comparatively little heat for profuse amounts of violence featured in their shows, but the instant a bare breast shows up, controversy ensues, and the FCC decides it’s time to “crack down.” While we’re willing to tolerate incessant beatings and killings in prime time dramas, a bare nipple (something that every human being has) on a female breast (something that roughly half the human population has) is “obscene.”

The MPAA apparently embraces a similar philosophy. While a movie may feature a liberal amount of violent content and still sneak in under the PG-13 rating (e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Smith or any James Bond film), an exposed breast is almost a guaranteed R. Too much sex, and you’ve got an NC-17 on your hands (e.g., Ang Lee’s recent Lust, Caution). I’m really not sure how much violence would be required to merit an NC-17 rating, but as the blog post quoted above hints at, apparently it’s not a particularly stringent standard.

Why is this? This perplexing approach seems totally arbitrary. When you get down to it, nudity is unspectacular (even though, in a strange alliance, both pornographers and social conservatives have tried to convince us that nudity is inherently sexual); all of us have nipples and genitals. Sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, and common of human behaviors. The desire for such intimacy is something that virtually every human being, from adolescence onward, can relate to. Violence, on the other hand, is one of the most disturbing of human tendencies. If sex represents a high point in human relations, intentionally killing or inflicting physical pain on another person certainly marks a low point.

Yet we love it when Tom Cruise shoots another nameless bad guy in the forehead and when Matt Damon kills with his bare hands.

Levi Peterson writes, “I consider the depiction of violence unrelated to sex far more pornographic than the non-violent depiction of sexual parts and acts. Ironically, millions of readers and TV watchers who pride themselves upon their militancy against sexual display calmly ingest graphic shootings, stabbings, decapitations, and disembowelments.” Such people, he continues, “do not commit a sin of lust, [but] they commit an obverse sin of prudery. Prudery forces the sexual impulse underground, banishes it to the territory of the abnormal and forbidden. Ironically, prudery reinforces pornography.”

Before I conclude, I would like to clarify that I am neither condemning all violence in media nor advocating the graphic or gratuitous depiction of sex. I believe that violent imagery may be used to reinforce a non-violent message. I also believe that sex should not be exploited, but should be treated in a tactful, mature manner. (Note that, as just implied, I feel it should be treated, rather than neglected, in our media.)

If we are more comfortable seeing one person blow another’s head off than we are two people in passionate embrace, I have to wonder: What is wrong with us?

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My Thoughts on Women and Education

January 25, 2008

I am a week behind, and I hope it’s ok to do last week’s topic. BTW, I deliberately did not comment on the other posts (and even didn’t read them all) so I could share my thoughts without being reactive to others’.

This week, I watched a movie about the history of BYU. I was moved by the sacrifices that were made to make that institution what it is today. I was grateful for the opportunity I had to get an education, and felt the urgency to urge my children to do all they could to get all the education they can. The Spirit is strong when I consider the importance of education. It’s something I have given presentations on to both teenage and college-age young women.

I’m also deeply passionate about the roles of women as repeatedly addressed by our prophets and as outlined in the Proclamation on the family. While I know that some women don’t have the chance to fulfill all of these roles in this life,  I believe for those who do, there is simply nothing more important than being a good wife and mother. (And I believe that is a process, not something we all will just necessarily come ready to do. More thoughts on that follow.)

I also know that navigating these important goals and roles can be tricky, and that the Lord can guide us each a different way. In addition, there is great variation in how life unfolds for each of us. (I thought I would be married before age 21. I wasn’t. I ended up serving a mission, getting a graduate degree, and building a career before I married and had children.) There is no one-size-fits-all answer on the “how” or “when” of all of this.

But we know the “what”s. And yet, I have talked to many who are either personally conflicted or confused about it all, or who have looked at the Church’s counsel to be a wife and mother (home with children whenever possible) and to get all the education you can somehow incompatible.  I have also seen those who want to suggest that somehow now things are drastically different than before somehow, because President Hinckley has talked about education and making contributions to society. I do not believe things are so different, nor that these concepts are incompatible. I will try below to share some of my thoughts and beliefs in more detail.

1. Education is a means, not an end. If we make educational and career goals our primary focus, it is very possible that we will miss the mark. Education is a facilitator. If we are educated, we can better serve the Lord, our families, our communities. We will be more prepared for whatever life may throw at us. Education can help us in our roles. We will be more likely to sort through all the many sorts of information out there with more discernment, and be able to make wiser decisions (in theory, anyway, right?).  We will be able to teach others (particularly our children) the importance of education, and do so by word and example. And yes, we can find personal joy and fulfillment, but that should not be the primary focus. Even our own fulfillment and success should be about glorifying Him and being closer to Him and following His plan (all of it!). It’s too easy to fall into traps of ego and success, and I think it’s possible the single most difficult challenge with being educated and capable of success – to keep priorities in place. (Were this not so, we wouldn’t hear so much about the importances of priorities. Think Elder Oaks, for example.)

Which leads to point #2.

2. Education should be attained with wisdom and order. I don’t mean this only in terms of time and energy, but also in terms of focus and priorities. Education is an important priority, but it’s not THE most important priority. (I’m not advocating foolish choices, and each person (couple) will have to decide what wisdom and order means. But I still think that we need to keep education in proper perspective, and, again, remember it’s a means, not an end.)

For those of us who are women, I liked what Sister Beck said in her Conference talk. “[A]ll the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth.” She makes it clear what should be most important in our lives. Elder Oaks does, too — faith and family are our first priorities.

This counsel is not new. We are reminded time and time again, both by ancient and latter-day prophets that we need to put the kingdom of God first, and put trust in Him before trust in the arm of flesh.

To me, this also applies to how we approach the acquisition of knowledge. As we gain knowledge, we need to keep it all in perspective and make sure that we learn through the lens of the gospel, not try to change the gospel to fit with worldly philosophies. (Often, truths we learn ‘in the world’ and in the gospel proper are not incompatible. But sometimes they are. When they are, I believe we should put the gospel first and let those things that seem not to fit either sit on the back burner, or fall off the stove completely.)

And, yes, wisdom and order also means being wise about time and energy. Sometimes life situations mean that we won’t be able to get it all done, right now. That’s okay. The Lord can guide and open doors. Sometimes this is all a process. I saw a sister have four children in six years and take a class at a time and graduate with two degrees at the age of 27. Other women go back to school when children get into school, or later. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting an education. I think the key is keeping that goal present, remembering the counsel to ‘get all we can’ (which will be different for all of us) and seeking the Lord’s guidance on how and when to fulfill that goal.

I think that kind of variation and flexibility and sometimes more-spread-out-than-we-would-like-it-to-be process will tend to be more true for women than for men. I am one who believes that in a marriage, a man’s career and education should take priority in almost all cases, simply because I believe there is divine purpose in the roles we have been given. I know there will be exceptions to this, but I am not a fan of making the exception the rule on this point. Flame me if you will, but I feel strongly about that.

That said, I also believe a supportive husband can help his wife find ways to fulfill the goal of getting an education and keeping practical and use-able skills current as appropriate along the way. The Lord can help make this happen, if we are patient and obedient to His guidance and counsel. I know that because I have experienced it, and I have been a SAHM the whole time we have had kids, but my résumé is anything but empty or filled with large gaps.

3. Education goes far beyond just a degree or diploma. Education is a life-long pursuit, and this pursuit can be both formal and informal. I sometimes hear people say that the only way to keep a résumé current is to work. This is simply not true. With or without formal education, and within and without one’s field, there will be myriad ways to keep one’s saw sharp (to borrow a Covey phrase). I have not taken a formal class for nearly a decade and a half. But I keep reading, learning, networking, talking to people in and out of my field, volunteering…. One can take a class at a time, or get practical experience an hour a week, or volunteer a day a month or work here and there, or…. Sometimes finding ways to serve and develop ourselves takes taking a step back from typical approaches, and being creative (and willing to let go of Our Way). This is possible and I think in order to fulfill our responsibilities with faith and family, that kind of creativity is more often than not a necessity, particularly for women.

Also, while life experience is harder to record on a résumé, there is much to be learned from the day-to-day stuff of life, particularly when we have an eternal perspective and understand that there is nothing mundane or ordinary in what we do. Life is an education, and we should not forget that along the way.

4. Tied to #3 is the idea that I think we should avoid thinking in binary terms. I have seen too many women think in terms of either working or being at home. There are SO MANY ways to use our time and to be of good when and if we have some time and energy to spare. We can volunteer in a million different great causes, or do family history work, or work at the temple, or help sisters in the neighborhood (I will forever be indebted to my stay-at-home sisters who could be working but instead are available to help mommies like me), or take night classes, or teach community classes, or or or…. Again, a résumé is not only built or kept current by for-pay work. And again, what we do should be about God’s will and work, not our own.

5. The Lord cares about all of this, and He will help us achieve goals in the way that will best suit us and our families and His work and plan — if we involve Him in our decision-making and are willing to seek His will and find His plan for us. I have experienced this miracle time and time again. Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach, I believe we must seek His help. The consequences of our decisions on these eternally-important issues are too significant to go it alone.

This means, however, that we might have to adjust or forgo some of our plans along the way. I will encourage my girls to vigorously pursue their goals, but always, always, to keep the need for family foremost in their minds, and always let the Lord guide, all along the way (not just in the initial decisions). I will encourage them to thus consider carefully their career choices, to leave room for options that can allow for flexibility, for entering and leaving the workforce with some ease through different stages of life. I would hate to see them choose a career that leaves them bound to professional obsoleteness if they choose to stay home full time. In my view, there are just too many choices out there that will allow for some flexibility and creativity to bind one’s self to such a rigorous career path, given what our leaders have said about our primary roles. (This is not to say that the Lord couldn’t lead one to such a rigorous choice. But I, for one, would only want to choose such a thing if I knew that was what the Lord wanted, no question. Again, I think involving the Lord is essential.)

One aside: I have heard of women who are a force for change to make that kind of flexibility more acceptable in their fields or companies. Let’s not assume that what is is what needs to be.

6. We may not always be guided to what is natural. My husband bluntly told me recently that I am much more suited to the boardroom than to motherhood. My ‘natural’ abilities are not in dealing and playing with small children. I’m not good with bodily fluids, which is a constant feature of motherhood, particularly of young children. I am not the most patient person in the world. Nevermind the fact that I LOVED my career.

But I believe in the importance of this role, and I knew that being home was what the Lord wanted me to do. And nearly a decade into it all, I can tell you that He is adding to my list of what is ‘natural’ to me. My capacity has been increased, and I believe that has come from following what I knew He wanted me to do, even when it was harder than anything I had ever done. So I plead with women to not just make decisions based on what they think they are best suited for alone, but to also discover how the Lord can magnify them, be that in the personal realm or in the professional realm. (Another story for another day is that I was led to a graduate program in something I had ruled out completely as an undergrad degree, for sheer and total lack of interest. Go figure.)

In summary, I think we cannot overlook the fact that education is important, for men and women. But I think that, generally speaking, we cannot overlook the fact that education for women is not always going to unfold in the same way or for the same reasons as it will for men, by reason of the fact that we are given different roles to fulfill. Education and career pursuits for women may take more creativity and flexibility, particularly for women who are (or will be) married and have children.

Still, these goals are important, and I believe they should be on every woman’s mind, regardless of age or stage of life. As that seed is planted, the Lord can help it grow as it should, when it should. As we put the things of the Lord first, I believe He will bless and guide and magnify and open doors. In my case, He led me to dreams I never knew I had, résumé bullets I could not have anticipated, and personal growth and change and becoming that I never would have found with my dreams alone.

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TV–Choice or Necessity?

January 22, 2008

by BiV

A number of years ago, when DH and I were setting up our household, a big question for young parents was whether or not they would have a TV in their home.  Technology had progressed to the point that almost every family could afford a television, but whether or not we wanted its influence in our home was still a big question.  This, along with the related question, “Should we get cable?” has been hotly contested between my spouse and myself for 25 years.  In the early days of our marriage, and for a few years after a move, we were TV-less.  But for many of those 25 years it has occupied pride-of-place in our living room.  What advantages and disadvantages does a television hold specifically for Latter-day Saints?

Family Life

I believe TV has a huge effect on family life.  During the years we did not have a TV, our family played games together.  The kids went outside and played, and we went with them.  We went to parks, we went swimming together, we visited friends.  The family ate dinner together more often, and we talked more.  With TV, many of our family home evenings became watching TV together (the same thing we did every other night.)  Once a television enters our home, we find it difficult to control.  We will start with rules like: No TV except on weekends.  This becomes: No TV until homework is done.  Later, we wake up one day to find that all rules have vanished. 

Consumerism

When my children were growing up with no television, they were happy with whatever cereal I brought home.  They asked for one or two things for Christmas, often toys they could play with outside, like a football, or a baseball glove.  I felt that this had the effect on my LDS family of making us more sensitive to how we could help others with our resources, instead of having so many things that we “needed” placed inside our heads by TV commercials.

Time

We don’t realize just how much time the TV sucks out of us until we live for a while without one.  With the Mormons and all we have to do, time is at a premium.  Suddenly we find ourselves doing our home and visiting teaching more often.  We read scriptures every evening before bed.  We have time to do homework and review the times tables with our kids.  There is time to read together as a family, and everyone gets hooked on books.  We spend more time on our callings. 

Being Informed

This is one area in which there are advantages and disadvantages to having a TV.  On the one hand, with a TV you are kept up-to-the-minute on what is happening in the world.  Programs on the History channel and other cable offerings have much to teach that is not available in any other way.  And what about sports???  On the other hand, you are more swayed by politically correct opinions than if you search out your news from a variety of sources, including internet, newsmagazines, newspapers, NPR, etc.  With a TV everyone in the home is bombarded with secular points of view and specifically Mormon teachings we are trying to instill can easily be eclipsed.  DH always campaigned for a TV by citing how convenient it was to watch Conference at home.  But now we can do this online — no TV needed.

I still don’t spend much time in front of the television (guess where I am while the rest of the family is watching “So you think you can dance?”).  But I still wonder how important this media choice is to Latter-day Saints today.  What do you think?  Does television make a difference in the quality of your life?  Do people still make a conscious decision, “will we or will we not have a TV?”  Or is it simply a given that when you set up house you will get a toaster, shower curtain, and TV? 

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Thou Shall Not Watch Rated-R Movies

January 21, 2008

by the narrator

I grew up believing that all rated-R movies were pornographic. I don’t recall ever actually being taught this, but the rhetoric and taboo from my family and through church implied and ingrained this into my mind. It wasn’t until I was twelve or thirteen that I saw my first R movie. I remember it well. I was at my best friend JR’s house for a sleepover where we stayed up late and watched Terminator 2.

Now it has been a long time since I had last seen that movie, but from what I remember, the movie was awesome (at least from the perspective of an adolescent) and there wasn’t anything offensive. I don’t recall any gratuitous violence, sex, nudity, or vulgarity. What exactly was it that I had been sheltered from for all this time? It was certainly not pornographic (as a teenage boy, I would have certainly remembered that). There wasn’t any gore. This wasn’t snuff. I’ll admit that it wasn’t necessarily the most morally uplifting film, but on the other hand, it wasn’t the opposite either. The movie didn’t preach or support immorality (unless helping a bio-cast cyborg from the future to protect the future leader and savior of mankind from a mimetic polyally android is immoral).

Since this introduction to the world of rated-R movies, I would not be surprised if I have seen more R movies than any other rating. In fact my current DVD collection probably has a 2:1 ratio of R to non-R movies. While some rated R movies certainly could be called pornographic, so are many PG-13 movies. In fact, I would say I have probably seen more PG-13 movies that I have found offensive or immoral than R movies.

So with that brief introduction to my relationship to the R. Here are some thoughts on Mormonism and R-rated media.

1. There is no Mormon commandment or standard against rated-R movies. A few days ago, two of my aunts left comments on my family’s website celebrating a recent Mormon American Idol contestant who apparently boasted that she had never seen an rated-R movies. “She told them that she was raised differently–had never seen an r-rated movie, etc. She told them that they couldn’t bring her over to the “dark side.” Bet you couldn’t guess what religion she is!” “The judges thought it was pretty weird for a married young couple not to have seen R-rated movies. Well, there are many of us in this country who have the same standards.” It seems wherever I go in Mormondom, there is the omnipresent appeal to this Mormon prohibition of the R. Where did this come from?

In an April 1986 general conference address, President Ezra Taft Benson speaking directly to the youth of the church encouraged them to avoid lewd media. Rated-R movies were among the list of things he encouraged the youth to refrain from. Since that address, any sort of call to avoid the R has been limited to 2 or 3 lines from seventies who usually just quote President Benson – the last of these occurring in 1993. The general membership of the church has never been instructed to avoid the R, and contrary to most myths, the Church’s Strength of the Youth pamphlet/booklet has never contained instructions prohibiting the youth from watching rated-R movies.

But President Benson said so! First of all, this talk was directly given to the Aaronic priesthood youth, so to turn it into a general claim is going beyond the scope of his talk. Furthermore (and this is part of a much bigger issue which I’ll leave out), the statements made by a President of the Church – even in general conference – are hardly grounds for determining LDS doctrine or commandment. There is a long list of statements made by Church Presidents in general conferences that have never become become Church commandment or doctrine. For example, Brigham Young’s Adam-God Doctrine or Spencer W. Kimball’s October 1978 conference talk against hunting.

2. The myth of the prohibition of the R prevents Mormons from seeing some very good movies. In his unsatisfactory book, What Is Mormonism All About?: Answers to the 150 Most Commonly Asked Questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, author W. F. Walker. Johanson begins his answer to the question of why Mormons don’t watch rated-R movies with the rhetorical question “Why would anybody even want to watch a rated-R movie?” He then continues to provide a caricature of the R nothing more than violent and pornographic trash. It became quickly clear that he was simply an ignoramus who has never seen a rated-R movie, nor is willing to recognize that an R movie can have some value.

Not only are all R movies not simply trash, but some of the movies that have most impacted my life in a positive way have been rated R. One of the first movies I saw after my mission was the beautiful and powerful theatrical translation of Stephen King’ The Green Mile which deeply moved me and gave me a whole new perspective of the immorality of the death penalty and our prison system (King’s The Shawshank Redemption did much of the same). War movies such as Saving Private Ryan, Glory, and the recent and amazing Letters from Iwo Jima are must-sees in this age of wars and rumors of wars. Historical depictions such as Schindler’s List or Munich help us learn from the mistakes from our past so as not to repeat them. Not only are many R-movies morally uplifting, but many (though perhaps not having a moral message) are just powerful works of art. Children of Men, Sweeney Todd, No Country for Old Men, Gone Baby Gone, Kill Bill, and The Passion are just a few recent R’s off the top of my head that excel in their artistic story-telling – whether or not the R rating was warranted.

3. The myth of a Mormon prohibition of the R leads too often to self-righteous holier-than-thou judging. Back to W.F. Walker Johanson’s lacking book. “Why would anybody even want to watch a rated-R movie?” When you create a false commandment, you create a false sense of righteousness resulting in false and ignorant judgments of others. Growing up, I thought people who watched rated R movies were sinning.

4. The R prohibition is no standard to judge the contents of a movie. While growing, the R was strictly prohibited in our home. If we were watching a PG-13 movie, my dad would have the vcr in hand, ever ready to depress the fast-forward button in case something were to show up on the television screen. It was embarrassing in front of friends.

The prohibition of the R is very much akin to the modern revision of the Word of Wisdom, the biggest difference being that the latter has an actual official position. With the modern Word of Wisdom we find all too many Mormons who won’t touch a Coke because of the unhealthiness of caffeine, but continue to stuff already obese bodies with fats, sugars, and cholesterol. They spare on meats about as much as Mitt Romney spares on lacking integrity. Similarly, I see many Mormons who frown on any rated-R movie (while even recognizing that there may be nothing wrong with the movie besides its rating), but have an an anything-goes policy with offensive hyper-sexualized PG-13 movies simply because it does not have the scarlet R. Like the Pharisees of old, they have placed a false fence as a standard of righteousness and have failed to recognize what was that that fence surrounded.

Now I don’t think that all R movies are for everybody. I don’t think any movie is for everybody. (I also think that most LDS-films are for nobody. Nor do I believe that ratings should be simply ignored. More than not, the MPAA ratings (which are very problematic) give a somewhat appropriate guide to helping us make a decision. However, that rating should not be the sole guide, but rather a sign by which we should then proceed to make further inquiries. If we see a PG-13 or R rating, we should find out why such is the case, and then determine if those things can appropriately fit within our own personal guidelines, sensibilities, and gospel understanding.

* On a side note, Richard Dutcher’s new movie Falling, billboarded as the first rated-R Mormon-film is crap. Seriously. Don’t see it.