So, the open threads at conference used to be something I really enjoyed, but the one over at BCC really got off track when Sister Dalton started talking today. I guess they were dazzled by the shade of her hair or by counting the bows on her sweater, but they missed a really standout talk by being distracted by her appearance... ironically, part of her talk took straight aim at the propensity of both men and women to focus on women's appearances too much. I was so proud that she decided not to wait until next April before having a general YW broadcast, and the fact that it happened in the middle of Saturday morning session of General Conference seems to have thrown some folks in the bloggernacle a little off balance. Let's make sure that in our browser windows we're not mixing up the NBC replay of last night's SNL skit with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, with General Conference in which Sister Dalton gave a powerful and empowering talk, okay?
She opened by talking about the first presidency meeting that she had with her counselors after they were called in April. They hiked Ensign peak (we got a photo of them on that hike, so they either have a secretary who doubles as a photo-documentarian, or someone from the Church Office Building's photo dept tagged along). Now, let me just pause here for a moment to celebrate. Let's review.
They had a presidency meeting out of doors, not in skirts, no floral centerpiece. They went and hiked together. I love this. No more whining that girls don't hike. I mean, I've never been up Ensign peak, but I like the example they're setting. Get out in nature, lace up your boots, be strong. "More fit for the kingdom," I believe was how she put it. She's not just talking the talk about fitness.
Part of why they chose that particular hike was that not long after arriving in the Salt Lake valley, Brigham Young had climbed the same peak and planted a standard to the world, a yellow bandana on a walking stick. Dalton and her counselors did the same, unfurling a Peruvian yellow shawl on a walking stick as their banner to the world. We got a picture of that too, which I really liked - both as symbolic gesture and as an act a little off the beaten path, a little outside the box, so to speak.
The focus that this walk helped them identify was preparing every young woman for the temple. Notice this. Not preparing them for "marriage and family" but for "temple covenants." It's subtle, but the distinction is actually important.
The rest of her talk was a rousing call to virtue (Latin root, "strength"). Not letting vice "poison us by degrees." Getting out of the trap of an obsessive focus on the self and on women's appearance, which distracts from the potential of women to change the world. That, my friends, is a feminist message, even if she might not label it that way. Setting the example in going to the scriptures for a "marathon-level" training program. Again, she didn't hand out pre-packaged, canned spiritual food here. She had really gone to the scriptures and come up with a list of personal directives, phrases taken from the scriptures which speak to her personally. She went through them so fast I didn't catch them all, so they'll be in the print version, but I was really inspired by the model she's building here of HOW to get personal direction from the scriptures, for a calling, or just for life in general.
She ended by talking about her son blessing his new daughter, who was named for her grandmothers and specifically counseled in the blessing to draw strength from her mother, sister and grandmothers. Girl power surrounded and lifted up by priesthood power. "Never underestimate the power of your righteous influence," she told us. Don't sell yourself short as merely attractive, or let yourself or anyone else forget who you really are.
Finally she asked everyone to unfurl their own banner for virtue. My first stop after work on Monday is going to be someplace where I can get a roll of really nice yellow ribbon, and I'm going to give a small length of it to each of the girls in my class next Sunday and ask them to tie it someplace public... around the strap of their purse, or backpack, locker door, car rearview mirror, as a personal yellow fluttering banner of virtue to the world. I'd like to ask them to take a picture of their "banner" and then I'd like to post them here. I'll post a picture of mine, too. If you do this, send me a picture.