Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Relief Society Practice Song

On Sunday the lesson in Relief Society will be from the Joseph Smith manual, lesson #29 "Living with Others in Peace and Harmony". I have been planning for a few weeks that "I'll Walk with You" would be the perfect practice song, and now after reading Eternity's posts about it (even though I haven't read the actual lesson yet) I still think it is a good choice.

Back in November I wanted to use it as the practice song when Scott bore his testimony in Sacrament meeting about being gay. I called the R.S. president, and gave her a general idea of what I wanted to say prior to singing the song as an explanation (that Carol Lynn Pearson had written it with gay people somewhat in mind). She said she needed to talk to the bishop. I asked her to wait until after Scott had talked to the bishop that morning (about bearing his testimony) and that I would call her back. But she didn't wait--the bishop mentioned it to Scott as he left that morning and told him that I did not have his approval.

The next week I gave the RS Pres. a copy of the following, and told her to run it past the bishop again with the exact wording I wanted to use:

Early in August 1987, ... I received a call from the General Board of the Primary, the Church's organization for children. She said, "Sister Pearson, we have a problem, and we wondered if you could help us solve it. We're preparing a new songbook for the Primary and it's ready to go to press, but there's one more song we need and we don't have it. We're asking you to write it for us. There are so many children in the Church who have special needs, so many who are handicapped or are different in one way or another. We want so much to include them, to encourage the other children to be kind and loving to them. We need the song immediately. Can you do this for us?"

I said, of course, I would try.

"I'll Walk with You" is found on page 140 of the Children's Songbook, music by Reid N. Nibley. It has an illustration of one girl in a wheelchair being pushed by another, both of them smiling. Sometimes when we sing it in Relief Society, I am asked to lead the singing. It pleases me so much to know it is sung in LDS congregations all over the world, by children and often by adults. As they sing, they have in mind children like ... the little girl in the illustration, but as I wrote it I also had in mind the little children who, as they grow up, will find themselves of a sexual orientation sure to present a challenge for them in our church and our society. (No More Goodbyes, page 112-113.)

So, I haven't talked to anyone about it since I gave the paper to her in mid-November. Two days ago, I sent her an email telling her I wanted to use it on Sunday and wondering what she and the bishop had decided. I just received a phone call from one of her counselors, the one over the lessons and music, letting me know that we could not sing the song I had chosen for Sunday.

Me: Can't sing the song? I questioned. It is in the children's songbook. Maybe they don't want me to say what I was going to say, but not even letting us sing the song is ridiculous. It is "I'll Walk with You."

Her: Oh, I love that song, and if it is in the children's songbook, I'm sure it is fine. I don't know. Do you want me to call her again and make sure?

Me: No (then I start crying and rambling about how I want to be released and out of Relief Society and if only people would let Scott and I talk about this incredible mission we are on and the difference we are making and the friends and family we have online that are not real family at all, etc, etc.)

I feel bad that I unloaded on her. I've had a stomach bug for two days now, and I really must go to work tomorrow, and I am getting rather grumpy about it. This was the last straw today. The last homophobic, stupid straw.

I want to just do it anyway, with their disapproval and all.

Thanks for letting me vent. Is it the flu-bug crazziness talking, or a streak of "revengeful" genetics that I get from my mom making me want to go against the adamant council? Our bishop had surgery this week, so I really don't need to add to his stress. And I ought to respect my RS president who has been pretty respectful and non-judgemental of me through all of this, starting with the anonymous letter I wrote to her last August. Bother, here comes the submissive "do what you know is right" side of me. I'm sorry, but I am not in the mood to be Molly Mormon any more. Argh!


Alan said...

It's simple, Sarah. She said "If it's in the Children's Songbook I'm sure it's all right." Don't ask again, just go with that and do the song. If anybody calls you on it, ask them to defend their objection to a song that is published by the Church and in the official Primary songbook. Then watch them squirm. You won't have to say anything more.

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Alan, I agree that there is no reason NOT to sing the song. The battle I am waging in my mind is whether or not I should go ahead and read the quote from NMG in its entirety, even though I've been told not to.

Anonymous said...

if only people would let Scott and I talk about this incredible mission we are on

There's half your problem right there. You are using distinctly church terms, in a church context, in ways that are discordant to the church members you are talking with. I think there are a number of things you can accomplish in a church context, but you can only really hope to achieve one. It doesn't help that some of these things are antithetical to each other. It seems to me that you haven't decided what you need/want and you're being torn back and forth between them. That's presenting a mixed message and confusing folks. It might be helpful if you could concentrate on a single, main goal.

Do you want people to accept you and Scott as unflinching champions of Gay causes? If so, then talk about gay events, people, and causes every chance you get so people will understand how important they are to you.

Do you want people to pay special attention to your needs? If so, then talk about how much you are hurting. Talk about the things that you need to receive in order to gain more equilibrium in your life.

Do you want people to listen to your opinions about gay issues and maybe, possibly, change people's minds about them? If so, then you need to concentrate on building relationships with members of the ward and pick your battles very, very carefully. Emphasize your commonalities in practically everything and speak very quietly and very rarely about gay issues.

I know that last isn't going to be palatable to hear. You feel strongly about these things, I know. But that's the problem. People who don't feel as strongly have no way to relate to what you are trying to communicate. They perceive you as partisan and that fact neuters anything you can do to influence them in the ways you seem to want.

Don't get me wrong, the world needs its champions/partisans and I would never denegrate that choice if that is your desire (there's a reason my personal website is Partisans help focus the attention of the faithful and explore weaknesses in the opposition--very useful functions. But they aren't the missionaries of the movement (in the modern, non-compulsion-based sense of missionary anyway). The missionaries are those who get in among the population, share their lives, learn to relate to them without violating any sensibilities they don't have to, and speak in those quiet moments when people are open to their message.

Ignoring the second option above (which kind of trumps the others, really, and is no less legitimate, IMO) you really have two options and should make a conscious choice which way you want to go. Missionary or Champion. They're different roles and every movement needs both. Very, very few people are capable of being both. I can't think of any. Even Jesus had only very rare moments of being the champion. And on the other side of the coin, Moses, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Moroni were pretty much all champion all the time with rare interludes playing the missionary.

If you want to be the champion, read the NMG quote. If you want to be the missionary, don't.

Ned said...

For what it is worth, I think the song itself communicates a strong message without any introduction needed. Sometimes, many times, less is more. If I had to choose between singing the song without the quote, or giving the quote without singing the song, I'd definitely go for the song. (And that's coming from me, primarily a word person as opposed to a musician.)

I do totally agree with Jacob that choosing your battles, as difficult as that may be, is the way you can be most effective.

Please know that I am praying for you and Scott and your family and your ward. It goes something like this, "Dear Heavenly Father, I'm so grateful for this brave couple. They have helped me and so many others. Please bless them in their relationship with each other and with their dear children. Please bless them that they may feel your love and our Savior's love, that they may feel peace. Bless them with the peace that they have brought to so many others. Please bless Sarah that she may feel better, that her stomach and her mind may be calmed. Please bless her in her work, in her home and in her relationships with her Relief Society Sisters. Please bless all the friends and neighbors and ward members of this wonderful family that they may be loving, kind, accepting and open minded. Even though I have never met them face-to-face, I have felt their noble spirit and I thank thee for this blessing in my life and pray that they and those they live and work among might be blessed in every way that they stand in need of...

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Jacob, thank you for your insights. You've given me a lot to think about (and pray about). I appreciate the view you are able to give as a member of the ward, and even though you may disagree with me on a lot of things, you also seem to really understand what I am feeling and going through. Thank you for helping me to better understand the conflict and choices that I face.

Ned, I agree. The song is beautiful by itself. And I think that I can interpret the message I received today that it is the intro for the song that is not approved, not the song itself (being published church material and all). Words cannot express how grateful I am for your prayer; thank you for sharing your thoughts. God bless you, Ned.

Eternity said...

Sarah, I agree with Jacob & Ned. Maybe for your introduction you just need to say that every song has a special meaning that you would hope that as they sing this song they will ponder the meaning. I will be curious as the word about the meaning of this song gets out if it will continued to be used in the sacrament program as it has in the past. Know that you guys are in my prayers also and I say to you hang in there we can't let other people get us down even though it is easy for us to do. Just remember that "someone" is helping us thru each day. If you get a chance check out Janets Jabberings Blog and see the video she has posted. It really puts things in prospective.

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Thanks for the thought, Eternity.

What if I end the above quote right before the last sentence, and then include my own thoughts right before singing, something like this:

"I hope that as we sing this today, we can each think about the diversity that exists amongst God’s adult sons and daughters, that we can see them and treat them like Christ would, withholding judgment and instead outpouring love and true friendship. This one thing could make all the difference to some struggling soul, and sometimes I don’t think we realize what a profound influence we can be for good, or for bad, in the life of another person."

I thought about also mentioning "Scott and I have found this to be very true as we have learned to truly love and accept others that are like Scott." That would get the message across, at least a bit, without using any gay "buzz" words. Hmm, a bit of a compromise. I will have to think about it...

Christopher said...

Wow. This post and the ensuing comments have really given me a lot to think about. I appreciate all that you are doing Sarah, and I think that as you pray, things will work out the way they are supposed to. I admire your faith and courage.


Anonymous said...

Sarah: I like your idea up until the "Scott and I" part. It looks to me like you want to hand-deliver what they should be thinking about and that tips over from missionary to champion to me. Leave it open. Leave the connections implicit. Leave people the possibility of finding their own interpretation for their own benefit. Leave the spirit to make the extra step. People don't appreciate things nearly so well when lead by the hand as they do when they get there on their own.

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Thanks, Jacob. I was actually going to leave that part off when I wrote the other part, but it was something I had been mulling over last night and this morning, so I decided to add it as a possibility and get some more input.

This is assuming that I ever get better and get to go to church at all on Sunday!

Elisabeth said...

Without knowing your thoughts behind choosing this song, and the back and forth with your leaders about the propriety of the introduction, I think my reaction as a class member would depend in large part on the context - when you choose a practice hymn, do you usually just have the class sing it, or do you usually introduce it, talk about the author's motives, etc.? If the former, then the introduction would seem like a misplaced attempt to make a social statement in church, which I probably wouldn't appreciate, no matter what the statement (in my life I'm surrounded by people trying to "convert" me to their social views, and I look to my three hours at church on Sunday as a refuge from that). If the latter, I probably wouldn't do much more than catalog it as an interesting piece of trivia about the song.

I'm a firm believer in the spirit's ability to touch people's hearts and teach them, often by leading them to connect the topic with their own life experiences in ways that I as a teacher could never anticipate. I also believe in following the guidance of my leaders, even when I disagree or think some of the guidelines/practices are more cultural than divine.

My parents (and my siblings who were living at home at the time) were once asked by their bishop not to attend the ward they lived in and had been attending for the previous year. He instructed them to attend the international ward instead (they were living overseas, but had made a conscious effort to try to integrate into the local ward), which was much further from their house. They were devastated. We still find it hard to believe that council was inspired (it seemed mostly to reflect his own cultural biases), but over the next three years in the international ward they were richly blessed in ways that they couldn't have anticipated, and that continue to reverberate many years later.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is - the Lord's won't be foiled by something as small as how you introduce the practice hymn. His is a "house of order," which usually depends on respecting the counsel of our leaders. But he also expects us to stand up for what we believe, and as long as you are doing that and bringing the spirit into the equation to touch people's hearts, I think you'll approach things from an appropriate angle.

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Elisabeth, thank you for your story.

To answer your question, I do often introduce the practice song with a little about it, usually from a book that has been published that has a little bit of information about each of the hymns.

The bishop just called me. Everything has now gone back up through the line of authority from the phone call on Wednesday. I read the bishop the quote without the last sentence and he told me I was fine to use that along with the song.

He said, "I don't know what kind of mission you and Scott think you are on and what exactly you are doing, and that is fine (his voice was without any tone of judgment or criticism). But I will not have you talking about this stuff at church."

He also said he spent some time on the internet last night researching Carol Lynn Pearson. He said he was able to learn some interesting things, but didn't say if it was good or bad, but again, his tone of voice sounded loving, like he was trying to learn and understand our situation better.

At this point, though, with my illness, it looks like I won't be at church tomorrow anyway, so all of this doesn't really matter, sadly.

I'm just glad that maybe my outburst on the phone this week could possibly lead the bishop in a good direction on all this, that maybe, like Scott's dad, he has realized that he has not done enough to understand the situation and make us feel welcomed and loved at church. Hmmmm....

Melissa Proffitt said...

You missed a beautiful lesson, by the way. Our discussion focused on how to be a peacemaker by learning to see other people's point of view and agree to disagree (which is a summation that completely fails to do the lesson justice). That was also more or less what I said about the song when I introduced it. The whole experience was very good.

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Melissa, I have no doubt that it was a beautiful lesson, but I'm sure it was better because I was not there, bringing an unpeaceful spirit with my thoughts (and possibly comments). Thanks for subbing for me. I'm glad it was a good lesson for the sisters in our ward.