Thursday, July 28, 2016

Most organizations face a dilemma. On the one hand, too much factionalism and resistance and they break down into feuding, balkanized  fragments. On the other hand, without any pushback, they turn into an echo chamber of yes men. The trick to success is to harness the power of loyal opposition. 
 Thus the Chinese wisdom saying:  “A thousand yes-men cannot equal one honest advisor.” 
 And even Forbes talks often about Yes Men and the peril they represent. 
 I got pulled into a conversation on the topic when I tried to bring up the Ensign and Church messages with someone who had left the LDS Church.  They pulled up and started reading the August Visiting Teaching message.  Next thing I knew they had thrown their iPhone across the room and told me "This is the sort of thing that is the f*cking reason I left the church!"
So I read the article, and got to talking about it with friends.  It turns out that the entire 2016 year of Visiting Teaching messages were not drafted or chosen by the Relief Society Presidency but were picked for them and written by the all male correlation committee.  
As you might suspect, the messages often are mostly men lecturing women on things such as to how to suffer joyfully.  
The August lesson consists of two lectures from men, with a small, non-substantive ornamental note in the middle by a woman. The express design for the entire year of articles is to show how the values of the Proclamation on the Family works in application. 
The first lecture in the August article is on not saying anything but positive things. 
 The core of the lesson is the story of a woman with cancer, who because of an ill guided surgery, has crippling pain. Doing the daily family ironing caused her such pain that she would have to break in the middle of it to go cry in her room. When her family noticed her pain, what did they do that illustrates the spirit of the Proclamation?

  1. Take over the ironing so she was not in Take Take over the ironing so she was not in such pain?
  2. Trade lawn mowing or other services with another family in return for ironing?
  3. Wear wrinkled shirts?
  4. Pool their lunch money to pay for shirt laundry services?
  5. Let her suffer for a year until they could afford, by saving lunch money, a better tool for ironing shirts?
The point of the lesson is that the Proclamation’s spirit led the family and the father to pick choice 5.

That story was used as an example of caring for a family in the spirit of the Proclamation. Notice that it is a story told by a man about what a man did as a lecture to women about how to live their lives. It was held up as an example about how a real man cares for his wife.

The untold part of the story includes a 13 year old Elder D. Todd Christofferson going to his grandmother.  He asked her teach him how to make bread so he could start making bread for the family as a way to help his mother.  He was unaware of the pain ironing caused his mother until years later or I suspect he would have also had someone teach him to iron.

That part of the story wasn't seen as worthy of publication by the committee of men. There is a shout-out to Jacob 3:7 in the Book of Mormon, which is about how the Lamanites were more righteous than the Nephites because they had rejected polygamy, and there is an encouragement to use kind words. 

The bulk of the lesson is about how if a woman is in such pain that she breaks down crying from it, the proper response is to let her suffer for a year and then do something that lets her keep suffering at a reduced rate rather than change things so she doesn’t suffer at all. If we do that, let the women suffer, but reduce their pain after a year so they don't break down crying in their rooms so often, then we are real men.

The biggest problem with this article is that this message isn't directed at the men; this is the Visiting Teaching message for the women of the Church. I've been told by a number of women  that the real lesson is that the Proclamation means they should expect to suffer, weep, and iron.

The message is that they would be lesser women if they could not fulfill stereotypical household tasks. The message is that the family's cleanly pressed shirts were more important than a cancer-stricken woman's comfort. Ultimately, the message seems to be that real women who embody the spirit of the Proclamation never complain, should expect to feel pain, and should show gratitude for new irons instead of expecting the men in their lives to stoop to this domestic task. As one woman put it:
This message is ostensibly written for women, and yet the woman in the story is completely passive. Things happen to her. She never acts. My first question was not "Why didn't the men in her life...?" It was, "Why didn't she...?" Who was she helping by crying alone, in her room? Why would this be held up as an example when she did nothing but suffer??Why didn't she teach her sons to be compassionate and take responsibility for the operation of their own household? What kind of sick pretense for womanhood is this? I am so done with this message that women are never to act, that the only role for us to fill is to spend our lives doing menial labor and, if we're really ambitious, to ask a priesthood holder to do something more exciting on our behalf and then support him in it by doing all the yucky parts he doesn't want to be bothered with, if we really feel inspired to do so. Otherwise, we should just be quiet and work, and go in our rooms to cry alone if we absolutely have to.
I did get some discussion on how such a tone deaf lesson could be sent out.  I got comments that asked how a group of men could write lesson after lesson like this, an entire year of them, for women who do not seem to get the same message from the lesson that the men think they are sending out. I was told that in many of the committees, the lower level people who do the work are very afraid of offending anyone.  They ruthlessly self-edit.  Then, when something is proposed for publication, even something as flawed as this lesson, rather than pointing out its flaws, everyone just nods and says yes for fear of offending anyone.  I asked if Elder D. Todd Christofferson was really that fearsome. I was told no.  Definitely not.  He is exactly what you would think of someone who started baking the family bread at age thirteen and then kept them in fresh bread until he left for college to try and make his mother's life better. A despot leader wasn't the problem.  It never got to Elder Christofferson ever expressing anything but love and kindness.  The people below him self edit.  They have created a culture of yes men so thorough that this sort of tone deaf train wreck gets into print without challenge  That is the result of the lack of a loyal opposition. I've since been talking with my wife's best friend growing up.  Kristine Lesperance's dissertation chair had her gathering literature on the topic and doing specialized graduate readings on it. The bottom line:  Without honesty and pushback, without a loyal opposition, a culture of yes men will go off into the weeds.  Such a culture will generate lessons like this year's sequence wherein the topic of the Proclamation on the Family is hammered home with tone deaf lessons such as the August one. Such lessons lead to people like me getting blindsided by the anger and response of people like the person I was trying to share the gospel with. What do you think?
  • Do we need a mechanism for pushback or do we just need "yes men?"
  • Was the August lesson exactly what women needed to hear?
  • What is the lesson a woman should have gotten from the August lesson?
  • Is there something better out there that shows how a family is nurtured other than by letting women cry in pain by themselves in their rooms while the men become heroes of the story by skipping lunch for a year?
  • Is there a better lesson this year that I should have focused on rather than just wandering into this one?
  • If you had to face the five options that family had, which one would you have chosen?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Getting Involved
Wondering how to get involved? These resources can help you and your family find opportunities to lift and serve within your community.
women in kitchen cooking

Five Ways to Get Started:
·         Get informed about the needs in your community
·         Volunteer with an organization you admire
·         Make a new friend
·         Do something you enjoy with someone new
·         Invite someone to your family night

Seven Challenges Refugees Face:
·         Learning a new language
·         Building a new support network of friends
·         Understanding different cultural customs and practices
·         Providing the appropriate academic support for their children
·         Accessing basic services, such as medical care
·         Finding transportation
·         Securing employment
woman and child in school

Local Organizations That Might Need Volunteers:
·         Government resettlement agencies
·         Schools
·         Religious places of worship
·         Interfaith groups
·         Low-income health clinics
·         Local nonprofits
·         Community centers
In the United States, members can call 2-1-1 to learn about opportunities to serve refugees in their communities. Outside the United States, leaders can contact their area welfare manager for help in identifying trusted organizations in their area.

Five Questions to Ask When Identifying Potential Organizations:
·         Whom do you help?
·         How are you helping them?
·         What needs would you like to address but aren’t able to?
·         Beyond financial contributions, how can I help?
·         How do the services you offer help people to eventually meet their own needs?
mother and children

LDS Charities is the humanitarian arm of the Church. In 2015, LDS Charities completed 2,300 projects in 136 countries that provided aid with disaster relief, clean water and sanitation, wheelchairs, maternal and newborn care, immunization campaigns, vision care, and family gardening.
Did you know that in addition to supporting local organizations, the Church partners with global relief organizations that assist refugees, such as:
·         Adventist Development and Relief Agency(ADRA)
·         Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
·         International Medical Corps (IMC)
·         International Rescue Committee (IRC)
·         United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund(UNICEF)

At the last day the King shall come ...

This moment does not define the refugees, but our response will help define us.

“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me. …
“… Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”1

There are an estimated 60 million refugees in the world today, which means that “1 in every 122 humans … has been forced to flee their homes,”2 and half of these are children.3 It is shocking to consider the numbers involved and to reflect on what this means in each individual life. My current assignment is in Europe, where one and a quarter million of these refugees have arrived over the last year from war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa.4 We see many of them coming with only the clothes they are wearing and what they can carry in one small bag. A large proportion of them are well educated, and all have had to abandon homes, schools, and jobs.
Under the direction of the First Presidency, the Church is working with 75 organizations in 17 European countries. These organizations range from large international institutions to small community initiatives, from government agencies to faith-based and secular charities. We are fortunate to partner with and learn from others who have been working with refugees around the world for many years.

As members of the Church, as a people, we don’t have to look back far in our history to reflect on times when we were refugees, violently driven from homes and farms over and over again. Last weekend in speaking of refugees, Sister Linda Burton asked the women of the Church to consider, “What if their story were my story?”5 Their story is our story, not that many years ago.
There are highly charged arguments in governments and across society regarding what the definition of a refugee is and what should be done to assist the refugees. My remarks are not intended in any way to form part of that heated discussion, nor to comment on immigration policy, but rather to focus on thepeople who have been driven from their homes and their countries by wars that they had no hand in starting.

The Savior knows how it feels to be a refugee—He was one. As a young child, Jesus and His family fled to Egypt to escape the murderous swords of Herod. And at various points in His ministry, Jesus found Himself threatened and His life in danger, ultimately submitting to the designs of evil men who had plotted His death. Perhaps, then, it is all the more remarkable to us that He repeatedly taught us to love one another, to love as He loves, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Truly, “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction”6 and to “look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.”7

It has been inspiring to witness what Church members from around the world have generously donated to help these individuals and families who have lost so much. Across Europe specifically, I have seen many members of the Church who have experienced a joyful awakening and enriching of the soul as they have responded to that deep, innate desire to reach out and serve those in such extreme need around them. The Church has provided shelter and medical care. Stakes and missions have assembled many thousands of hygiene kits. Other stakes have provided food and water, clothing, waterproof coats, bicycles, books, backpacks, reading glasses, and much more.

Individuals from Scotland to Sicily have stepped in to every conceivable role. Doctors and nurses have volunteered their services at the point where refugees arrive soaked, chilled, and often traumatized from their water crossings. As refugees begin the resettlement process, local members are helping them learn the language of their host country, while others are lifting the spirits of both children and parents by providing toys, art supplies, music, and play. Some are taking donated yarn, knitting needles, and crochet hooks and teaching these skills to local refugees old and young.
Seasoned members of the Church who have given years of service and leadership attest to the fact that ministering to these people so immediately in need has provided the richest, most fulfilling experience in their service so far.

The reality of these situations must be seen to be believed. In winter I met, amongst many others, a pregnant woman from Syria in a refugee transit camp desperately seeking assurance that she would not need to deliver her baby on the cold floors of the vast hall where she was housed. Back in Syria she had been a university professor. And in Greece I spoke with a family still wet, shivering, and frightened from their crossing in a small rubber boat from Turkey. After looking into their eyes and hearing their stories, both of the terror they had fled and of their perilous journey to find refuge, I will never be the same.
Extending care and aid is a vast range of dedicated relief workers, many of them volunteers. I saw in action a member of the Church who, for many months, worked through the night, providing for the most immediate needs of those arriving from Turkey into Greece. Among countless other endeavors, she administered first aid to those in most critical medical need; she saw that the women and children traveling alone were cared for; she held those who had been bereaved along the way and did her best to allocate limited resources to limitless need. She, as so many like her, has been a literal ministering angel, whose deeds are not forgotten by those she cared for, nor by the Lord, on whose errand she was.
All who have given of themselves to relieve the suffering around them are much like the people of Alma: “And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; … they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.”8
We must be careful that news of the refugees’ plight does not somehow become commonplace when the initial shock wears off and yet the wars continue and the families keep coming. Millions of refugees worldwide, whose stories no longer make the news, are still in desperate need of help.

If you are asking, “What can I do?” let us first remember that we should not serve at the expense of our families and other responsibilities,9 nor should we expect our leaders to organize projects for us. But as youth, men, women, and families, we can join in this great humanitarian endeavor.

In response to the invitation from the First Presidency to participate in Christlike service to refugees worldwide,10 the general presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary have organized a relief effort entitled “I Was a Stranger.” Sister Burton introduced this to the women of the Church last weekend in the general women’s session. There are multiple helpful ideas, resources, and suggestions for service on

Begin on your knees in prayer. Then think in terms of doing something close to home, in your own community, where you will find people who need help in adapting to their new circumstances. The ultimate aim is their rehabilitation to an industrious and self-reliant life.

The possibilities for us to lend a hand and be a friend are endless. You might help resettled refugees learn their host country language, update their work skills, or practice job interviewing. You could offer to mentor a family or a single mother as they transition to an unfamiliar culture, even with something as simple as accompanying them to the grocery store or the school. Some wards and stakes have existing trusted organizations to partner with. And, according to your circumstances, you can give to the Church’s extraordinary humanitarian effort.

Additionally, each one of us can increase our awareness of the world events that drive these families from their homes. We must take a stand against intolerance and advocate respect and understanding across cultures and traditions. Meeting refugee families and hearing their stories with your own ears, and not from a screen or newspaper, will change you. Real friendships will develop and will foster compassion and successful integration.

The Lord has instructed us that the stakes of Zion are to be “a defense” and “a refuge from the storm.”11 We have found refuge. Let us come out from our safe places and share with them, from our abundance, hope for a brighter future, faith in God and in our fellowman, and love that sees beyond cultural and ideological differences to the glorious truth that we are all children of our Heavenly Father.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love.”12

Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period—we hope a short period—in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and contributors in other fields. Indeed, many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us.

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”13 In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.