Showing posts with label agency. Show all posts
Showing posts with label agency. Show all posts

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lesson 2-32 "The Importance of Life"


We've been around long enough to know that this unit, the "Living a Virtuous Life" unit each year, poses some of the greatest teaching challenges to you and usually includes lessons that many of you find to be poorly written, or which contain troubling weird stories, or which need so much adaptation that you wonder if there's anything salvageable in them.

Yeah, Lesson 32 is pretty much like that. Your comments on our poll hint that many of you struggle with how to make the kickoff chastity lessons relevant to the girls in your particular classes.

Amelia says, "I'm desperately looking for help on 'The Importance of Life' lesson. Almost half of it is one huge story that I know will lose our girls."

Vieve agrees, "Yep, would've loved your input on Lesson 32! The long story wouldn't just 'lose' the girls, it actually has a subtext that distresses me (we'll skip it!)" She adds, "We're going to focus on creation and our role in it. We're also going to talk about the perfectionisms we get sucked into, and how it can lead us to try to cover our sins (eg having an abortion to hide that one is sexually active). Our bishop gave the YW a lovely lesson on repentance being a good thing, and I'll make reference to that."

So. We all know the doctrine never changes, but the cultural/historical/emotional context does, and that makes these lessons somehow more fraught with dangers than most of the others in the manual. Maybe it just makes them more quickly outdated because they depend so much on context for understanding. Although I wonder if people even "got" that strange fiction story even when it was first published in the New Era in February 1973. Written as if from the point of view of a young woman with cognitive challenges (but clearly not written by someone with cognitive challenges), the story's supposed to help "normal" girls realize that abortion discards people whose lives could be emotionally and spiritually rich despite their physical & mental challenges. I'm guessing you won't have to look far in your ward or extended family to find a story that explains that far better than this odd little narrative. Just take comfort knowing that young women's leaders have been reading that story and going "Huh?" for over 37 years and that you are in good company trying to figure out what its point was, and whether to use it in your lesson.

Obviously, the underlying message of this lesson is reverence for God's creations and in particular, reverence for the miracle of human life. A pro-life lesson, clearly written to counter the potential reverberations of the Roe v. Wade US Supreme Court decision in January 1973. AND a pro-choice lesson, because our official Church doctrine makes clear that abortion is a choice with long-lasting consequences, an agonizing alternative for only the most dire circumstances.

So this could be taught (especially for younger girls) as a lesson about the joy/beauty of life, with only the barest hint of content about human sexuality. Or it could be taught as a full-on lesson about the Church's clear teaching about abortion, which should include a discussion of the positive options to abortion that the Church promotes, such as adoption and counseling services - and make a clear connection to the gospel of Jesus Christ, with possibilities for repentance and the cleansing, purifying power of the Atonement and the tremendous embracing love of our Heavenly Father for all of his children.

If you feel making the lesson directly about abortion is the right route for your group, then you'll need some auxiliary resources for sure. The Manual 2 Resources recommend the statement about abortion from True to the Faith (and in fact pleads with you to replace the story about Cindy with a clear statement of Church doctrine instead):

"In today’s society, abortion has become a common practice, defended by deceptive arguments. If you face questions about this matter, you can be secure in following the revealed will of the Lord. Latter-day prophets have denounced abortion, referring to the Lord’s declaration, “Thou shalt not … kill, nor do anything like unto it” (D&C 59:6). Their counsel on the matter is clear: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to Church discipline.

Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer.

When a child is conceived out of wedlock, the best option is for the mother and father of the child to marry and work toward establishing an eternal family relationship. If a successful marriage is unlikely, they should place the child for adoption, preferably through LDS Family Services (see “Adoption,” pages 7–8)."

Gospel Library "Gospel Topics" puts it even more simply:

"Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God. Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions may lose their membership in the Church."

The Church's Newsroom has a clarifying statement to explain our official position to the outside public:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience, and counsels its members not to submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions.

The Church allows for possible exceptions for its members when:

• Pregnancy results from rape or incest, or
• A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or
• A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.

The Church teaches its members that even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct.

The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion."

Three recent talks/articles should give you enough material to address this issue with sensitivity and the Spirit & using quotes from within the last decade.

Russell M. Nelson's article, "Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless," (October 2008);

An article collecting statements on abortion and out-of-wedlock elective births from the Ensign in 2005, "Strengthening the Family: Multiply and Replenish the Earth;"

and Dallin H. Oaks, "Weightier Matters," (January 2001), based on a 1999 BYU Devotional address. In it he discusses how the whole debate over abortion in the US falsely opposes life v. choice. He writes, "Pro-choice slogans have been particularly seductive to Latter-day Saints because we know that moral agency, which can be described as the power of choice, is a fundamental necessity in the gospel plan. All Latter-day Saints are pro-choice according to that theological definition. But being pro-choice on the need for moral agency does not end the matter for us. Choice is a method, not the ultimate goal."

I've noticed this week on the tabloid mags that a certain celebrity (let's call her Jen) has decided that she's ready for a baby "on her own" and "without a man" (those are the headline's words, not mine). Now, putting aside that she's gonna need the other half of the baby's genetics from SOMEWHERE, it's pretty clear that these days some people openly celebrate their option to create (and conversely, to destroy) human life at will. As Latter-day Saints, though, we have a responsibility to seek the Lord's will - not our own will - especially when it involves someone else's life. I think that's the take-home message for youth, that human life is interdependent and that we find happiness and joy in keeping our Father's commandments and in aligning ourselves with His purposes for the human family and the divine creation.

Good luck with it, and let us know how you approached it with your girls. Your experiences are really helpful to our other readers!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lesson 2-28 "Agency"


This lesson is pretty heavily reliant on role playing and discussions, so I know I'm going to have to come up with something else to fill the time. I have never once had a group that would go for role playing, and I currently have one Laurel, so that's not going to go over well.

As luck or Providence would have it, I was just listening to an old episode of the excellent Mormon Stories podcast that was a conversation with Gregory Prince, the author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.

I have heard this quote from the lesson:
President David O. McKay explained: “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man. … Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any possession earth can give”
a million times, but listening to that podcast gave it a really interesting context for me. This was a belief held very close to the heart for President McKay, so much so that he fought for the right for people to disagree with him. When other leaders wanted to excommunicate author Juanita Brooks for her book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, he personally stepped in and stopped it. He allowed people he disagreed with on both ends of the spectrum to make the choices they believed in and he refused to compel them to "get in line." My jaw just gapes at the thought of how much humility he must have had. As the Prophet, when everyone is looking to you for a definitive answer, to still acknowledge that someone else may be right and they have to follow their own conscience...I'm just so inspired by him.

Personally, I think the girls get plenty of "be good" lessons. I want to use this opportunity to discuss how to be more Christlike and follow the example of President McKay. I want to talk about how we can have more respect for the agency of others.

This was something my last, much admired, bishop used to talk about in every ward council meeting. How in all our missionary efforts, we had to respect the agency of others. No fear, no manipulation, only love and truth. I think it's something that is just so pertinent to these teenagers as they watch their peers take one of an endless number of divergent paths and have to choose how to handle that. If a friend starts drinking, do they have to stop being their friend? What if a parent starts doing something the teen knows is wrong? What if the parent is just doing something the teen wishes they wouldn't - like get a divorce? How do you respect someone's agency when it affects you?

I found this talk given by Elder Merrill Oaks, formerly of the 70, given at a conference at BYU. It's given for parents, but I think there's a lot of valuable insight in here, particularly in some of the stories he uses from the scriptures.

This talk by Elder Douglas L. Callister has a brief section on agency I really liked. I love that sentence about "divine hesitancy."

This "Questions and Answers" column from the Ensign has some good ideas about respecting the agency of someone close to you.

If I can just point out one bit of subtext to be careful to avoid, it's the thought, present in the lesson as well as the passage from True to the Faith, and in the Resource Materials, that the consequences of using your agency wisely are happiness and blessings. This is a prime example of how we all somehow adopt the thought that if trial or calamity befall us, it's because we're not righteous enough. Read the lesson again with that thought in mind. This is how the confusion happens.

Yes, using our agency righteously will bring us peace. And it can bring us the type of happiness that comes from being proud of ourselves, having good relationships, or a clear conscience. But I don't think we can afford to be vague or generalize the blessings we receive from righteousness. Those blessings are blessings of the Spirit and eternal life. That's all we're promised. Other things are blessings, and those things might come, but healthy children and a well paying job are not consequences for any kind of righteous behavior, and I think we need to be clear about that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lesson 1-32 "Personal Purity through Self-Discipline"


Let's talk about marshmallows for a moment. Everyone likes marshmallows, right? Especially little kids. Over the last few months I've run into several different accounts of one scientific experiment involving little kids and marshmallows, and it had some pretty interesting results.

It starts with a group of Stanford psychologists in the 1960s, led by Walter Mischel. Mischel used a small research room at the Stanford University preschool, and he posed the following scenario to the kids in the study:

"Here's one marshmallow for you. I am going to give it to you and leave the room. While I'm gone, you can eat it, or not, it's up to you. When I come back, if the marshmallow is still here, you get TWO marshmallows because I will give you another one. "

Then he'd leave the room, and watch through the one-way observation window. You can imagine what they did. In fact, there's video here of kids in a similar study, and you can see what they do. Some just eat it right away and don't even try to wait. Others poke it, sniff it, lick it, hold it, and some of those ultimately give up and eat it because they can't stand not to any longer. The ones who hold out until the researcher reappears turn their back on the marshmallow, put their hands over their ears and sing, kick the chair, distract themselves with counting things--in other words, they develop coping strategies for the stress, and control their impulses while waiting for a larger goal that is coming at some unspecified future moment. And the study was published, discussing the ability to delay gratification as a developmental milestone in the young child.

Okay, now here's where it gets interesting. Mischel's own kids were in the study, and so were some of their classmates, and as they all got older, he started to notice that there might be a correlation between the ability to delay gratification and other markers of academic performance and life skills later. So he tracked down the original study's participants, then in their teens, and tested them all kinds of ways. The researchers found that the kids who had skills to delay gratification as small children performed better in school, maintained better friendships, got higher SAT scores, had fewer behavioral problems, you get the idea. The study and its results were in a really fascinating New Yorker article this spring, and in a RadioLab podcast a few months before that, and David Walsh has a book out that draws on the research, titled No: Why Kids--of All Ages--Need to Hear It and How Parents Can Say It.

Walsh argues that in previous generations there were multiple cultural constraints in favor of teaching kids self-control and delayed gratification, but that one by one, those have weakened or been undermined by a marketing/entertainment "Me Generation" Gratification Juggernaut. He wants to bring back those lost constraints, and his slogan is "Say Yes to No." Sound familiar? I thought so. It's the foundational principle behind church teachings and Heavenly Father's commandments: you can choose what feels good now, or you can wait for rewards and blessings later, but it's up to you, and here are some resources to help you develop coping strategies for that stress and feel supported in your efforts at self-control.

This lesson's a chastity lesson in disguise, if you want to teach it that way, but as we've discussed many times since President Dalton's talk last fall, "purity" and "virtue" have multiple meanings beyond just whether someone's had sex or not, and self-discipline is a broadly applicable trait.

I've been watching the Bristol Palin saga over the last year. Very pretty teenager, daughter of a famous family-values conservative, a photogenic boyfriend, a cute baby, a dramatic breakup full of recrimination: a soap opera totally made for the tabloids. Since her son Tripp (Freudian name?) was born, she's done her best to become what she admits she needed while she and her boyfriend were having a sexual relationship: an abstinence ambassador. Although clearly, she managed to ignore every message in that direction that she herself had gotten in a born-again Christian household, throwing some doubt on the efficacy of the abstinence message if teens are determined and the marshmallow is RIGHT THERE. I thought the headline on People's cover (with Bristol as a grad-gown Madonna) earlier this summer sort of a stunner: "If girls realized the consequences of sex, nobody would be having sex. Trust me. Nobody."

The subtext being: it's girls who get the "skank" label, it's girls who are either scarred by an abortion, heartbroken over an adoption decision, or stuck for life raising their out-of-wedlock child, missing the senior prom and working part-time just to pay for diapers. Sex goes from something glamorous to something very un-glamorous, very fast, once the whole issue of "consequences" is attached to it.

I am not sure where I will head with this lesson. I want to keep it light, for sure. I think I'll be exploring the root word of discipline, "disciple." Maybe I'll talk about bonsai trees (long-term shaping, training the tree, the small pruning, commitment). There's a good talk by Elder Uchtdorf from April's conference on "The Way of the Disciple." I want to link developing self-discipline to being a disciple of Christ. I think that once someone develops self-control and personal discipline about important things--both in the sense of making yourself DO something (practice an instrument, daily prayer, exercise) and of making yourself NOT do something (binge on Twinkies, meet your boyfriend when you know no one else is home, sleep in rather than go to Seminary)--then sexual purity is just part of your way of being. Christ never did anything out of self-gratification or to coerce another person, and seemed always to be able to see the big picture. His disciples should be the same way; the inner peace that comes is way sweeter than marshmallows.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Lesson 3-24 "Agency"


This lesson explores the different paths of Nephi and his brothers as a study in the consequences of righteous & unrighteous uses of agency. Pretty basic stuff, but pretty profound in implication. One main idea is that it's a good idea to choose ahead of time when it comes to situations that would involve peer pressure or temptation.

Other related lessons could include:

Lesson 2-28, "Agency" from last year's YW manual - which uses seeds as the metaphor

Agency: The Power to Choose, from the 12 & 13 year old Sunday School manual, Lesson 2

Freedom to Choose, from Gospel Principles, Chapter 4

Agency & Accountability, from the LDS Basic Manual for Women, B - which has this great quote:

“It was a wintry Sunday morning in northern New York. The temperature was several degrees below freezing. The walks were icy; roads were blocked with heavy snowdrifts. No one came to church that morning except the minister and an 89-year-old woman, who had hobbled ten blocks from where she lived.

“Surprised at seeing her, the minister called her by name and asked: ‘How did you get here on such a stormy morning?’

“ ‘My heart gets here first,’ was the cheerful reply, ‘and then it’s easy for the rest of me’ ” (quoted by John H. Vandenberg, in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 40; or Ensign, July 1973, 32).


"Proper Use of Agency," from the Aaronic Priesthood Manual 1

Why "I have agency" and "follow the prophet" don't conflict, from the New Era, November 2007.

Recommended resources for this lesson:

Robert D. Hales, "To Act for Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency," Liahona and Ensign, May 2006, 4. He offers suggestions on how to reclaim your agency.
Personal Progress, "Choice and Accountability Value Experiences," no. 3.
I'll bet you could get a good brainstorming session going talking about what the girls' value projects have been for this area or what they think would be good projects to complete.

My questions for you:
How have you taught a "gospel basic" like this one in a memorable way?

What does it really mean to "Choose the Right"?