Saturday, January 22, 2011

Motivating Home Teachers

This morning Simple Truths emailed out a little video.  It is called You Can't Send a Duck to Eagle School.  There is some good information in it, but not so much for Elders Quorum Presidents or High Priests Group Leaders.  The premise of the video is that if it is your organization's mission is to climb trees; you want to hire squirrels, not draft horses.  I suppose that is true if you can personally select your work force.  In a High Priests Group or and Elders Quorum we don't have the option of hand picking our members.

The challenges we face in accomplishing Quorum duties such as Home Teaching lie in how we see our mission.  If we are too focused on certain outcomes we will most likely continue in the mediocre status quo.  If, however, we take a different view of our calling we will thank the Lord for not only the squirrels and draft horses, but also the ducks, eagles, skunks and poodles.

For the moment, and for the sake of this discussion; let's forget about numbers for a while.  With that objective removed, what are we hoping to accomplish in our Quorums?  I can think of a few things.  I suppose you'll probably add to the list as well as you seek the Lord to guide your stewardship.

First, we are called to strengthen our brethren. When the Savior gave that admonition to Peter, (see Luke 22:32), I think He also had us in mind.  Our assignment is to strengthen our brethren, not change them.  We are not called to turn draft horses into squirrels or vice versa.  Each Quorum member has unique gifts to bring to the whole, which will be best used if we do not try to get him to "fit the mold."  The first order of business, I believe is not to get our Home Teaching done but to strengthen our brethren.  If we are to rely upon them to bring again Zion we must prepare them for that responsibility.  One of the key responsibilities of a Quorum Leader is to prayerfully consider the resources he has and match them with the needs that arise.  Try not to favor the draft horses over the squirrels.  Each has a unique and beneficial role he can play.

Second, I believe we can change the focus of the stewardship interviews we hold with those in our charge.  If we remove numbers again, we will see that the focus of that interview ought to be one of what I as a leader can do to assist him in his calling.  Meet with the brethren one on one.  Begin with a prayer.  Ask the Home Teacher to offer that prayer.  As he prays you can begin to take his spiritual temperature and discern what he needs in order to become a greater servant of the Lord.  If you don't get such revelation, then ask the brother himself, "What can I do to assist you in your service?"  Or, "Are there obstacles to the accomplishment of your duty that I can help you surmount?"  Or, (if he's just not going) "What is it that makes you resist the fulfillment of your assignment?"  I guarantee you will discover things you had not known and things you can do to help him overcome even the scariest problems.  Remember the focus needs to be on preparing and strengthening the Home Teacher.  If he is not prepared, he is not going to adequately watch over the families he is assigned.

Third, please don't micro manage your Home Teachers.  Please.  Begin by giving them the latitude they need to teach by the Spirit.  If we insist on drawing a detailed picture of what good Home Teaching looks like and refuse to let our Home Teachers color outside the lines I guarantee our Home Teaching will be less effective than it can be.  If, for example, you have a Home Teacher to travels on business frequently and the only way he can visit his families is on Skype then by all means encourage him to do it.  His family needs the time he is at home and what fun it might be to be Home Taught over the internet with Hong Kong in the back ground.

Fourth, we seldom see our Home Teaching and other Quorum assignments as team projects.  A little correlation and communication could go a long way toward making that happen.  If we were to take a moment in Quorum meetings to coordinate and deal with pressing problems we could cover Home Teachers in a scheduling crunch, give suggestions for sticky challenges, swap companions for a night... the possibilities are endless.  No Home Teacher should feel like he's out there on his own.  He should have the comfort that his Quorum is backing him up - all the way.  For example, on a third Sunday, someone might say, "I've tried to get with Sister Williams all month and just discovered she's been in intensive care in Salt Lake City.  Is anyone going that way who might have time to stop in to check on her?  Someone might respond.  Or maybe someone else knows her daughter's name and a number he could call.  That phone call, or that visit by one of his Quorum mates is surely effective Home Teaching.  How about this one?  "Does anybody know where and when Bill hits the coffee shop on Saturday mornings?  I'd like to stop in there and see if that might be a way I can spend some time with him each month."  Someone might answer, "Yea,  hope they have Postum on hand for you!  I see him pull out at about 7:30, follow him."  Someone else might say, "I think he meets Joe there, maybe I could come too!"

Fifth, take a moment at the beginning of each Quorum Meeting to invite someone to tell a Home Teaching success story.  Nothing spawns imagination, courage and continued effort better than witnessing success.  Ask questions like, "I saw Paul out to Sacrament Meeting this morning!  What's going on?"  The Home Teacher might say, "I was as surprised as you are!"  Or maybe, "All I did was invite him."  Or  "When he and Sharron were over to dinner, my little Mary asked him if she could sit by him in Sacrament Meeting.  What else could he do?"  Some Home Teacher in the Quorum might be wondering about a couple he is assigned and realize that inviting the Whosits over for a barbecue, just might actually count as Home Teaching!

Sixth, there is something for everyone.  All who run may win the prize.  Perhaps you'll assign more families to your heavy haulers than you do to your squirrels.  Maybe you'll send a draft horse with a squirrel.  The horse might carry the weight, but maybe the family would rather have a nut.  What if a retired gentleman is wearing out his junior companion with the eight families he's willing to teach.  Maybe you could give him two companions (four families each).  I have a potential Home Teacher who is homebound with poor health.  Could it count as Home Teaching if he wrote personal notes on the Ward News Letter and posted them to families who won't (yet) let Home Teachers in the door?  I think it would.  What about Walt who won't go Home Teaching.  Maybe he'll be Sam's companion at the Coffee Shop visiting Joe and Bill.  I can just hear Walt say, "Now this is what I call Home Teaching!"  Now Walt is helping carry the load (even if he orders coffee instead of Postum.)  Guaranteed his senior companion isn't perfect either.  Okay, so it's more like Coffee Shop Teaching, but which is better, the coffee shop or nothing?  I do a fair amount of Home Teaching in driveways and on sidewalks this time of year.

Now a final few thoughts.  One of the things I like about going to 12 Step meetings is that no one shows up and brow beats me or tells me what to do.  The tradition is to simply share our own experience, strength and hope.  I never feel like anyone is "Holier than Thou."  We would do well to adopt that pattern in our Quorums and in the homes we visit.  We would do well to take the word should out of our vocabulary.  People already pretty much know what they should do and don't often need someone naggingly coming around every month to remind them.  The reason we don't use should's in 12 Steps is because we believe that God will use life to prepare each person with sufficient humility to take necessary steps and that the preparation for humility is God's job, not ours.  We need to accept the fact that we are not in a position to fix anyone but ourselves.  It is time we quit trying.  God does the fixing.

So, back to experience, strength and hope.  When we share our Home Teaching success stories (in humility, I hope.)  We give the audience a chance to examine their own circumstances and accept the Spirit's invitation to emulate the good and success they see in the examples given.  They remain free to choose and often enough, will choose well.  That is if they don't feel manipulated, guilt tripped, arm twisted, carrot and sticked, into doing something they're presently uncomfortable with.  I once made this suggestion to a brother who jumped right in with the protest, "But what about D&C 20 where we are counselled not only to be with and strengthen, but to expound and to exhort?  You are asking us not to exhort."  I realize the dictionary defines exhort as to: urge strongly, give warnings or advice.  But, it was not always so.  Most New Testament instances that were translated from the Greek as exhort held a quite different meaning.  In the Greek, παρακλέω meant to call near or invite to come with, accompanied by strong connotations of  lending comfort and encouragement.  Quite a different view of exhortation, don't you think?  I believe that definition more closely parallels the counsel we are given in D&C 121, where exercise of the Priesthood is to be done by:
persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
If we are about enlarging souls we will be successful.  We can now put numbers back into the equation.  Numbers will naturally follow strong and strengthened Quorum members.  That's where numbers should be, behind people, not before them.  Putting numbers first is Spiritual Dyslexia. It is putting the cart before the horse (or squirrel.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Guilty of Prostitution

a person who willingly uses his or her talent or ability in a base and unworthy way, usually for money.
Okay, I've skirted around this issue long enough.  I felt so excited to have the time and focus to write full time when I began this project last Summer.  Then as finances grew tighter and revenue streams dried up I became more and more distracted by money and my writing began to suffer.  I felt a distinct loss of imagination, creativity, motivation and my writing practically stopped.  In the mean time my attention turned to other important and very gratifying activities of service and companionship.

The ever pressing need for money drove me back to the keyboard time and time again, but there was little that came to my mind or fingertips.

I began seriously writing in my recovery program from addiction.  I was astonished at what I could discover by asking questions and seeking answers on the written page.  More and more I wrote.  More and more I felt knowledge and understanding streaming into my conscious awareness.  Some say we all have it in us we just have to dig it out.  Writing is the spade.  While there is truth to that, to be sure.  I feel certain that there is also a large measure of actual revelation involved in the process.

I write to discover and refine my understanding of myself, of life, of God and of my circumstances.  When I began to think of writing as a career that all changed.  Unavoidably, I began to write for money.  In doing so the color, texture, taste, smell and joy of discovery largely disappeared.  "You cannot serve God and Mammon," Jesus declared.  I am finally willing to admit that He was right.

I need to parenthetically mention that I am more than grateful that others have written books and shared their wisdom, knowledge, imagination and insight with me.  I do not condemn them in any way.  Where would I be without them and their wonderful inspiration?  I do not begrudge them the blessing of revenue from their efforts.  All I am saying here is that I am unable to do that.  I have tried.  I have tried and tried to keep my focus on the subjects at hand, but always, in the back of my mind, was the nagging question of whether or not my writing would sell.  That niggling undercurrent has ruined the process for me and as of today will stop.

I am taking the tip jar off my blog.  Also all advertising.  I am no longer going to pursue publication of any of my work.  I will put it all online, complete or not for you to use or reject as suits you.  I no longer intend to profit from the gifts God has so generously granted me.  Every time I write something that lifts, inspires and changes me, I am already recipient of such good, kind grace from God that it seems a violation to seek monetary gain from it as well.

I have always been uncomfortable with what I call "Marketing Mormonism."  I remain so.  As I said before, it puts me between a rock and a hard place because I don't know what I'd do if I no could no longer visit Deseret Book.  I love perusing the shelves and shelves of creative thought and inspiration.  Coming to the conclusion that such a course is not for me has been a difficult struggle.  In the end I had to concede that I am just not cut out for self promotion, or from profiting from God's liberal gifts.

I have come to realize that were I to be a successful writer, especially in the genre that most of my writing fits, I would be especially vulnerable to entering into priestcraft.

Alma 1:16
Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.
I suspect that one does not necessarily have to preach false doctrine in order to practice priestcraft.  Even true doctrine taught for the sake of vanity, wealth and honor, to my mind, is suspect when it comes to priestcraft. I hope with all my heart that I have never preached false doctrine.  Would that more readers would comment; most especially to challenge notions I have that may not bear up under the scrutiny of the truth.  Yet I can imagine how easy it would be, for the sake of wealth and influence, to doctor up the truth to make it more marketable.  Heaven forbid.

This morning, I haven't a clue as to what my financial future might hold.  Nor can I conceive of how I can possibly make ends meet.  But I finally realize that is a separate issue and so I want to make it plain that I will no longer prostitute my talent (such as it is) for fame or money.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rethinking the Notion of Setting Goals

A few recent circumstances have caused me to reconsider what it means to "Begin With The End In Mind."  I have long been a Stephen R. Covey fan.  I have studied his books extensively and have applied the principles he teaches in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  While I haven't applied them perfectly, nor do I suppose anyone has; I have made near Herculean efforts to use those habits to achieve the ends I had in mind.

While in the throes of addiction I had great hopes that The 7 Habits would be a means of escaping my bondage. They were not.  In fact I have come to believe that the second habit, Begin With the End in Mind actually exacerbated  my problems.  Let me explain.  As I have boiled down my addiction to it's bare bones I've discovered that the fundamental problem for me was wanting life on my own terms.  I would envision in minute detail how my life would turn out if I pursued such-and-such a course.  That course always produced different, and to my mind, unsatisfactory, results.  The ensuing pain of disappointment then, led to substance abuse, depression, and retrogression.

Beginning with the end in mind was my problem; not a solution for it.  Now, this being said, I must admit that I remain in a bit of a quandary as to what this discovery means for me.  So, writing this, is more of an examination for discovery than some stipulated conclusion.  I have personally heard the present prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, encourage the setting of and earnest pursuit of goals.  How can it be then, that the pursuit of established goals has become my nemesis?

For me a significant part of the problem has been that my goals had not been my own.  As is common for people in childhood, goals are often set for us.  Someone bigger, stronger, wiser than us always seems ready to tell us how to proceed with our lives.  My father in particular had a very specific future outlined for me.  That future included athletics, heroics, fame, security and success.  Essentially, he was endeavoring to create me in his own image.  Eventually, I rebelled against that pattern for my life.  Partly because it was impossible and partly because I had other ideas.  I concluded to make my goals my own.   I replaced the ends my father had in mind for me with ones of my own.  That approach was flawed too because now I was trying to create myself in my own image or in other words after my own imagination.  That was equally impossible and ultimately, utterly frustrating.

Covey and others have long preached that goals need to be specific.  We are supposed to establish what it is we want to achieve and then break that down into smaller more individual components of the whole that can be worked toward in bite sized portions.  Makes sense.  But for me it just doesn't work.  At least it hasn't.

Let me give you a recent example.  I have long had a goal to write a book.  I could do it page by page, chapter by chapter until it was complete.  Well, what foolishness.  If I am honest I have to tell you why I wanted to write a book.  I wanted to be important, famous, wealthy, and admired. That was my purpose for writing the book.  Sitting down to do it though, I have discovered that I have nothing much to say.  Oh, I can write a book alright.  I can fill it from cover to cover with words, I can complete my goal and then some.  But then what?  Is writing a book a good goal?  I think not.  Is discovering something worthwhile to say a better one?  Perhaps.  But I think that even that is a misbegotten pursuit.  What kind of objective is it to seek something to say, just so you can become admired for saying it.  All of those objectives are completely confined to self-centeredness.  They are not about contributing something to the world, but about contributing something to me.

All goals I might set for myself seem doomed to be selfish and thus, unsatisfactory.  What is to be done?

I appears that the answer is in letting God set my goals.  Allowing Him to create me in His image.  This calls for a completely different approach.  An elaborate, gate-folded planner will be unnecessary.  This approach doesn't require planning, nearly so much as it requires seeking.  Seek.  That is the word the scripture uses.  You won't find goal or objective or aim in this context in the holy writ.  You will find seek quite commonly.  There we are counselled not to seek for riches (Alma 39:14), power (Alma 60:36), glory (1 Thess. 2:6), praise (2 Nephi 26:29), "great things for thyself" (Jeremiah 45:5); but for God (Deuteronomy 4:29), His glory (2 Nephi 1:25), His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33) and the blessing and interest of our fellow men (D&C 82:19).

Successful pursuit of the Kingdom of God can never be a selfish one.  It, of necessity, requires that we think instead of God and of others.  Attempting to approach Heaven with ourselves in mind is like building the Tower of Babel and pursuit of that goal will always be confounded.

In a recent article on Home Teaching I wrote:
I am aware that most of us tackle such a project and have been trained to begin with the end in mind.  We suppose that if we are nice and give service for a while that we will eventually bear the fruit in some preconceived way.  And, if we don't, we tend to become discouraged and soon move on to greener or more golden pastures.  I believe that Ammon had no such agenda.  He let God be in charge of the agenda.  His call was to be of service forever if need be.
I was moved by the reply of a dear and very wise friend:
I think if we begin with the end in mind, imagining what the fruit will look like, we might miss the fruit as it blossoms, ripens, and eventually falls rotten to the ground without us noticing, because it wasn't how we pictured it to begin with. 
What an astute observation.  You see what I'm getting at?  See what happens when we establish specific goals for ourselves rather than giving God his role in our lives.  Another dear friend in recovery often makes this telling statement:
I have come to know there is a God; and I have come to know that He is not me. 
I am forced to conclude that if I selfishly, independently set my own goals to the purpose of achieving my own ends I am declaring myself to be a god in whose image I am attempting to create myself.  But, if I am willing to get out of my own way and let God be in charge, He will create me in His image.

Now, when God established The Promised Land as Lehi's goal for himself and his family, did they all get their planners out, their maps and charts, their encyclopedias and catalogues?  No.  Instead they simply, continually, sought God's guidance and direction.  Literally on a daily, even hourly basis they asked Him, or by extension the Liahona, where they should go next.  Had they planned the trip themselves, they wouldn't have anticipated a fraction of what they eventually encountered on the journey.  In a very real way every trip to The Promised Land is more about the journey and less about the destination.  So it was for the Children of Israel, the Jaredites, the Lehites and the Mormons.  So it is for us.  For the promised land to be a land of promise, the promise has to be in us before we get there.  We have to learn to let God lead.  He is after all the Author of our Salvation.  Let us quit trying to write our own stories and let the Author write them for us and for those around us.

Years ago a visiting authority at Stake Conference made a statement I have never forgotten.  I've forgotten his name and I'll have to paraphrase his comment.  Essentially he said:
It is interesting that we spend such great effort to put roofs over our heads, clothing on our bodies and provide ourselves with retirement investments, insurance policies, police and army forces all in an effort to feel secure in a world that was designed to be insecure so that we would develop faith in Jesus Christ and learn to put our trust in Him.
Is that why we set goals?  In order to take care of ourselves and others; in the event that God fails us?  Who then is failing who?

God began this business with the end in mind.  "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)  He knows where he wants to take us.  Can't we let him?  Even an alcoholic understands this notion when he prays, "Lord, what would Thou have me do today?  Please, give me the strength to do it?"  God knows where we need to go, what we need to do.  Why is it so hard to abandon our false security and let Him take us there.  For me there can only be one end; which is to begin each day letting God be in charge of my life.  When I was in charge I careened from train wreck to train wreck.  Even when I planned carefully.  More and more I want to be like Nephi; knowing in whom I have trusted.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Love My Life!

I've been blessed with so many opportunities to serve and the rewards are enormous.  Last night I was facilitating a 12 Step Group at the Detention Center.  15 Youth attended the meeting.  We talked a lot about pain.  There was eager participation, but a general reluctance to focus on what's hurting them.  Still, I could see in their eyes a specific hurt that despite are cavalier demeanor, betrayed their fear.  After the meeting two of them asked for some personal time.  Our hearts had met in some way and they wanted further help to deal with the wounds of their souls.

I love looking past their hardened exteriors where tattoos and indifferent or defiant faces conceal what longing eyes reveal.  These are tender hearted children who've been severely harmed by this mortal world.  They've put up walls with which to protect themselves, but deep inside they are still hopeful.  Hopeful that there might actually be someone out there they could trust.  Someone they might dare to invite inside to share the load.

Do you know what a blessing it is to be that person?  That one they are willing to trust?  It is such a burden, for I could not bear to let them down.  But it is also such a joy.  These precious children of God are in such great need of His love but fear is keeping them from it.  We need to offer them love unfeigned so they can find a safe place to grow and heal.  There is no greater gift God could give me than to be their friend and to witness their joy as they emerge from their sorrow.

There are millions in the world who, like these, need such love.  They are old and young, large and small and it is you and I who must love them.  That is really all that is required.  Love.  Just as they are.  Love.

I do not know, how I could be so blessed as to have this privilege.  To love and be loved is the greatest gift of all and it is mine.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Are You a Gadianton Robber?

My little town prides itself on its conservatism.  We typically vote Republican. That right there is an oxymoron if you call yourself a Conservative.  But I digress.  Being conservative we are often heard to complain about Federal spending and about the Federal deficit.  We vote for candidates who claim to believe the same but then go about doing the opposite.  One of the most glaring examples is the current palace being constructed as our new City Hall.

We weren't even fully utilizing the old one, but just had to have a new, state of the art, show piece to boost somebody's ego.  When I complained to a city employee about what I considered to be inappropriate extravagance, especially during an economic down turn; he justified it by saying that the money for the building had been granted long before the recession.  By granted he meant that a good portion of the funds for the building had been received from the Federal Government. "So," I replied, "You let the Feds take the fall for higher taxes instead of taking the political hit yourselves."  His response was that somebody was going to get that money and it might as well be us.

And thus, we have rationalized our way into trillions of dollars of debt in this country.  We think we ought to get a share of the pie and so does everyone else and there just isn't enough pie to go around.  It's like cutting our own throats and drinking the blood to stay alive!  Who are we kidding?

In The Book of Mormon there was a group who took over the government and destroyed their political system by the very same "if we can't beat them, join them" mentality.  That group was called the Gadianton robbers.  Too often we think that we have to be a co-conspirator in some heinous scheme to get personal gain, in order to qualify for membership in that gang of greedy low-lifes.  In reality, all we have to do to join is to surrender to their system.  This country would not be in the financial pickle we're in if we each stood on our own two feet and took care of ourselves.  In my opinion, collecting unemployment payments, instead of saving for a rainy day, is joining the Gadianton Robbers.  What about seeking a Pell Grant instead of working our way through school?  Doing so increases their power and influence and decreases our own.  The same thing applies to government grants for individuals and municipalities, states and such things as Universities and other institutions.  They get the money, which always comes with strings attached.  Strings that always restrict our freedom.  The funny thing is, most of that money doesn't really exist, all we are really getting is a mountain of debt which translates to a monstrous burden on our own backs.  So we get the restrictive strings and the debt and those who pull the strings pay nothing for the bondage we willingly let them subject us to.

This is a system that is destined to destroy itself.  The more who join the robbers the fewer there are to rob.  When there remain none on whose backs the blood suckers can feed, they will surely turn on themselves.  Of course by then, they has become we.

To the degree that we vote for political candidates who make us promises of caring for needs we ought to be meeting by our own sacrifice and effort, we are joining the Gadianton Robbers.  Such candidates must take the resources to buy those votes from someone; and that someone is you and me, the fools who thought we might as well get our share of the plunder.  Didn't we ever stop to consider that we were plundering our own purses?

I call upon our community and our citizen to stop this foolishness.  Let us take care of ourselves and our own. Let us stand on our own two feet and quit this free ride mentality before it becomes too late!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"They Don't Want Home Teachers?" Nonsense!

Whenever some one says a family doesn't want Home Teachers I have to wonder what kind of Home Teachers they've had?  Who wouldn't want Home Teachers?  Unless they've had lousy ones.  So what do we do then?  Excuse ourselves because we failed a family and they don't want us to fail them any more?

Years ago I was sitting in for a regular member of the Ward Council when it was mentioned that so-and-so and so-and-so refuse Home Teachers.  I was appalled!  This was the first time I'd heard of such a thing.  I asked if those two families might be assigned to me?  There was some reluctance.  I never knew whether they feared for my well being as I was willing to enter a hostile environment; or, if they were reluctant to give up the excuse not to visit those folks.  After some persuasion I prevailed and was assigned Sue and Jan, both of whom had non-member husbands.  I was handed their information with a caution, "Whatever you do, don't tell them you're their Home Teacher!"

"You want me to lie them?" was my response.

"Well no....."

"Then, I'll take it from here.  Thanks!"

I knew Sue, she'd been baptized a Catholic so she could be wed to her husband at the Vatican in Rome.  Still, her membership was on our records as well.  That afternoon my wife and I went over to see Sue and Roger.  They were probably the most wealthy folks in our Ward.  Sweetie and Sue had known one another for a long time and we were welcomed in with open arms.  We sat down and had a bit of a conversation at which point I announced that I was their new Home Teacher.

"We don't do Home Teachers!" was Sue's abrupt reply.

"You do now."  I said.

"No we don't."  She countered.

"Are you kicking us out?" I asked.

"Well, no..."

I thanked her for not kicking us out and explained that the role of Home Teacher was to watch over and care for those in his charge.  Then I asked, "Don't you want to be watched over and cared for?"

"I don't mind someone keeping an eye on the house when we're out of town."  she stated.

"I'm your man!"

"I don't want the gospel crammed down my throat!"

"I'm still your man."

We hammered out a few more details and were off and running.  Over the course of the next years I did watch her house when she was out of town and weeded her flower beds and kept up her lawns and made regular visits.  Sue and Roger took us out to dinner once and every month Sue baked us a pie.

Roger came down with bone cancer.  He suffered with a great deal of pain.  At Christmas time I stopped by with some goodies and found him watching a video tape of the Tabernacle Choir singing Holiday songs.  Tears were streaming down Roger's cheeks.  I made some remark about out touching their music was and Roger explained, that though that was true, it wasn't the reason he was feeling such emotion.  He went on to explain that he'd grown up on South Temple and had lived next door to the Richard's.  If the Thomas kids and the Richards kids weren't climbing around in the belfry of  St Madeleine's they were crawling through the rafters of the Tabernacle.

"I love the Latter-day Saints they were such a big part of my youth and now you've given that gift back to me."

I never baptized Roger, nor did Sue ever return to activity in the Church, but I was their Home Teacher.

Now on to Jan, the other member who didn't want Home Teachers.

Jan was a bit tougher nut to crack.  Members of the Church had so embittered her that she wouldn't even speak to us.  Now I'm not saying there was no fault on her part, but I am saying that we are sometimes less than kind to those who don't conform to our standards.  Her husband Ron, however, was very welcoming.  If Jan came to the door, we stood on the porch.  If Ron did, we were invited in for an enjoyable conversation, but Jan never came into the room.  I suspected a few times that she was eaves dropping around the corner.  Then Jan came down with lung cancer.  We never saw Jan again.  Ron still welcomed us and we always asked about Jan.  Her prognosis wasn't good.  Sweetie'd heard that fresh vegetables, especially cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower were good for cancer patients.  Every Saturday, she made a big salad with heavy emphasis on those three ingredients.  Using a whole head of each, plus the lettuce, onions, carrots and such, made for a big salad.  Enough for us and for Jan and Ron.  Each Saturday for months we took them a salad.  Ron always thanked us warmly and told us how much Jan loved that weekly treat, that lasted for several days.

We never did have a conversation with Jan.  Rarely saw her.  Just before she died though, she phoned and asked if I would speak at her funeral.  She didn't have much else to say.  There wasn't much to say.  In her own way she had acknowledged and expressed appreciation for Home Teachers.

I don't suppose Lamoni was too keen on having Ammon come around either, but he accepted Ammon's service and devotion.  Ammon wasn't in it for Ammon.  He was in it for Lamoni and he was clearly in it for the long haul, at considerable sacrifice to his own convenience.  He never pushed anything upon Lamoni.  He just cared for him, until Lamoni sought for more.  What a classic example.

I would have been so easy for the Sons of Mosiah to say, "Well, the Lamanites don't accept missionaries."  And left it at that.  Are we willing to make such a puny excuse?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Improving Home Teaching From Another Perspective

My good friend Carl, tells a story of a new Home Teaching assignment.  He and his companion, his son, were given a sweet widow to visit.  They made their first appointment and went to see her on the last day of the month.  She sweetly invited them in and listened attentively to the lesson.  When it was time for them to go she excused herself for a moment and returned to present them with a cake.  A cracked, dried out, slightly dusty old cake.  Carl asked, "What's this?"

"This is your Home Teaching cake.  I bake one for my Home Teachers every month.  I'm sorry its in such bad shape, I baked it on the first day of the month."

They never procrastinated getting to that house again.

Do you think her encouragement was out of line?  I presently Home Teach a Sister who pretty much instructed me when I was to come and that is when I go.

What do we do to encourage our Home Teachers?  Do we make ourselves available?  Do we make them feel welcome?  Do we ask them when they are coming?  Do we call on them to help us when we need it?  I think we should.

From the days when as a Teacher, I heard my companions ask those we visited, "Is there anything we can do for you?"  Never in nearly forty years did anyone ever express a need that their Home Teachers could fulfill.  There was the occasional call for a blessing once I'd received the Melchizedek Priesthood, but never anything else.  That is, until I was called to Home Teach Jude.  He was a tough old farmer as well as a prosperous businessman.  He never came to Church.  He always welcomed us in.  I don't think he liked our first lesson, but he listened to it.  When, at the end of the visit, I asked if there was anything we could do for he and his wife.  I'd been condition to expect some answer like, "Naw, we're doing just fine."  Instead Jude said, "Yessirree, there sure is!"

Timidly I asked, "What would that be."

"I'd like you to read that book about The Mountain Meadows Massacre and report on it to me next month."  He went to his bookshelf, took it down and handed it to me.

I didn't know what to say, so I took it.  I took it home and read it.  I more than read it, I studied it.  I wanted to give a report that would look favorable to the church while acknowledging the reality of that horrific event.  Apparently, my report was satisfactory.  Certainly, our conversation at that next visit was interesting.

I can't believe I succumbed to habit and asked again if there was anything we could do.  There was.  This time it was to read No Man Knows My History by Fawn Brodie.  I read that too, as well as No Mame That's Not History by Hugh Nibley.  The discussion the next month was quite lively, but Jude seemed content when we were finished.  Perhaps I had been exonerated for actually reading Anti-Mormon literature.

One time I'd read the Autobiography of Elmer Bair.  Elmer was Patriarch of the Meeker Stake in Colorado.  I knew Elmer, as he lived in my daughter's Ward in Glenwood Springs. I told some of the story to Jude and Marilyn.  Jude not only read the book, but got so excited they drove over to meet him themselves.  Elmer, a sheep man, was 99 years old at the time.  Jude started coming to Church after that.

Another time Jude had read a collection of old pioneer stories about our town.  One of the stories was about a man who'd been buried alive and died in the casket.  My assignment that month was to locate his grave so Jude and I could go there and pay our respects on Memorial Day.  As Jude put it, "That man deserves a handful of posies!"

If we want to improve Home Teaching, lets make use of our Home Teachers.  Let's make it plain that we need them.  Let's make their effort worthwhile.  President Spencer W. Kimball once said of our youth, that they don't often walk away and leave their duty undone if they are given something significant to do.  Neither do Home Teachers.  Of course it would be nice if they just saw what needed to be done and did it.  Or if they received such notions by revelation.  Sometimes they actually do. But, these are men after all, and quite often, though more that willing to serve, could use a few hints and maybe even the occasional 2X4.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Home Teaching With the Spirit

Who would dare to presume to go into a home as a representative of the Lord without first seeking the Lord's guidance and blessing through prayer.  Me.  I've done that very thing far too often.  Be it resolved that from hence forth, I will cease and desist that prideful practice.  Dear Brother Pennington taught me this principle when he came over to train me as a Family History records extractor.  He was appalled that I just set to work on my extraction without ever pausing to seek the grace of God to influence my errand.  Thank you Ned for your kind counsel.  Each set of Home Teachers ought to seek the Lord in order to best meet the needs of each family they are assigned.   How much better and easier our work will be under the direction of God.

We've all heard horror stories of tactless and hurtful things spoken to people newly returning to activity.  Or of offensive things spoken by Home Teachers to families they visit.  Is it any wonder that many people would just plain prefer not to have anyone visit them any more.  The only sure way to ensure that the things we say and do in our Home Teaching assignments are beneficial, not detrimental, is to speak the words of Christ as directed by the Holy Ghost.

For this reason, it is inappropriate to script in advance, the things one might say.  We as leaders need to shy away from giving examples of other's success stories without making it plain that what was said successfully in situation A, might not fly in situation B.  How grateful I am that the Holy Ghost will guide the words I speak so that I have no fear of stepping beyond my bounds.  Only God knows what is best spoken in each particular case.

I believe that one of the key reasons members of the Church have been notorious for resisting the repeated invitations to go out and be member missionaries; is because they've been told what to say and do and when they get out there, the Spirit counsels otherwise.  How often were we told in my own youth to GQ everybody.  GQ meaning to ask the Golden Question, "What do you know about the Mormon Church?  Would you like to know more?"  How many times were those questions flatly rejected because the candidate was no where near prepared to answer in a "golden" way.  I'm certain that the reluctance I felt and often over rode in a determination to be obedient was the Spirit whispering, "He's not ready yet.  Take some time, be patient, loving, friendly, exemplary and the day will come when he will ask you."

Now don't get me wrong.  GQing worked.  Hundreds joined the church after being asked that question.  Often it was the perfect question, but more often it was not.  Perhaps influenced by a sales mentality the GQ movement was a numbers game.  Ask enough people and a certain percentage will buy.  If all we're about is getting numbers then what of those, who might respond to a gentler, more patient approach.  We were told on my mission that if we couldn't get them into the water is six weeks, we were to abandon them and move on to greener pastures.  What if the Elders and Sisters who taught Agusto Lim did that.  It took nine months of continual visits to prepare him for baptism.  Since then he's been a General Authority, Mission President, Temple president and much more.  I mention him because he was in our Mission Presidency when I was in the Philippines and he hated that "six weeks" policy.

"Six Weeks" and "GQ" have largely disappeared from our culture, but their effects remain among many of us.  Especially for those who are goal oriented and desire impressive numbers.  It is easy for those to whom numbers are important to abandon the slow ones for the "golden" ones.  What a sin, to declare anyone less than golden.  What a sin to ignore, abandon, reject or neglect those who don't make us look good.  God wants all of His children home, not just some of them.  If we Home Teach by the Spirit, we will know that and our efforts will be congruent with that knowledge.

Sometimes the things we say and do with the Spirit have less to do with words and more to do with feelings.  I once had a wonderful young Aaronic Priesthood companion who taught me this lesson in a very poignant way.  We had visited the home of Sister Wilson for months.  She was in her late eighties and had not been to church since she was a girl.  She was always sweet, hospitable and welcoming.  She didn't resist having lessons, but she specifically rejected my invitations to attend church.  One day she asked why Kaleo never gave the lesson.  I was quite chagrined that I had never shared that assignment with my companion.  We promised that he would give the lesson on our next visit.  I reminded him of the assignment when we made our appointment for the next month.  Arriving at Sister Wilson's home we chatted for a moment and then I turned the time to Kaleo for the lesson.  He fumbled in his shirt pocket for a slip of paper.  Opening it, he explained that he didn't know what to teach and that his mother had found this poem for him to read.  There was nothing particularly special about the poem to me and Kaleo was a bit awkward in reading it.  When he finished though, he looked at Sister Wilson with tears shining in his dark eyes and said.  "I love my Mother."

That was it.  We had a prayer and left.  The following Sunday as I walked into the Chapel I found Sister Wilson there sitting on the back row.  I sat beside her and welcomed her to church.  I couldn't help but ask why she'd changed her mind after all the invitations I'd proffered.  Her answer I'll never forget.  She said, "When Kaleo looked into my eyes and told me how much he loved his Mother, a feeling came over me that I cannot describe.  I felt that love and more.  I felt a beautiful peace I have never felt before.  I came to church today hoping to feel that feeling once again."  She did and remained faithful; attending church and serving in the temple for another decade; well into her nineties.  Sister Wilson had monetarily felt the Comforter in her life and was for ever changed because a young Aaronic Priesthood holder brought the Spirit into her home that day.

Our task as Home Teachers is to bring God into people's lives.  Not the concept of God, but God himself, are we doing that?  Really?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Even More Thoughts on Home Teaching

The new Handbook 2 gives the following directive to Home Teachers:
Home teaching is one way Heavenly Father blesses His children. Home teachers “visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” (D&C 20:51). They are assigned to families and individuals to “watch over … and be with and strengthen them” (D&C 20:53). They “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59).
Then the handbook goes on to offer ways in which this might be done:
Where possible, home teachers visit members in their homes at least monthly. Home teachers may also find other meaningful ways to watch over and strengthen the families they are assigned. For example, they may render service to the families or contact family members by mail or telephone. 
Ideally, a face to face visit is best.  And under that ideal situation phone and correspondence would only enhance the existing in home visits.  This language, though, seems to open the way for letters, email, texting, phoning, internet chatting, Skype, Facebook etc. as viable means of accomplishing the task of being with and watching over the families we are assigned.

Lets face it there are plenty of circumstances that are outside the norm.  I know a Bishop who has pretty much turned his Priests Quorum around by texting them.  The key is communication and, being in the 21st Century as we are, it is time to look to means of communication we had not considered before.  If we haven't the resources to visit every home, we certainly do to send a letter to every home.  If we can't stop in, we might at least make a serious phone call.

What I am getting at here is that we need to be thinking outside the traditional box if we are to fully perform our duty as Home Teachers.  I'd like to see us getting 100% and if that means sending a personalized newsletter in the absence of a warm body, we ought to do at least that.

Addtionally, the new handbook suggests a few stop gap measures:
With approval from the bishop, Melchizedek Priesthood leaders and Relief Society leaders may temporarily assign only home teachers or only visiting teachers to certain families. In some cases, leaders may assign home teachers to visit a family one month and assign visiting teachers to visit Relief Society members in that family the next month.
This is a great, though temporary, solution.  Especially, when coupled with this:
In some locations, visiting every home each month may not be possible for a time because of insufficient numbers of active priesthood holders or other challenges. In these circumstances, leaders give priority to visiting new members, less-active members who are most likely to respond to invitations to return to Church activity, and members with serious needs.
And this:
Quorum and group leaders assign the most effective home teachers to members who need them most. When assigning home teachers, leaders give highest priority to new members, less-active members who may be the most receptive, and others who have the greatest need for home teachers, such as single parents, widows, and widowers. It is often helpful to assign a youth leader to a family where a young man or young woman is experiencing special challenges. Home teachers should be assigned to converts before the converts are baptized. 
I think with the guidelines given and the latitude allowed, we can effectively reach everyone in our Ward despite a deficit in the number of active Home Teachers available.  We are just going to have to abandon the old conventions and start adopting the new.

A few other "out of the box" examples come to mind:

  • We have a brother who is home bound.  At a rather advanced age, his body is giving up on him, but his mind and spirit are still marvelously bright.  I would be willing to go to his home to be Home Taught.  That would free up my Home Teacher to go somewhere else.  I suppose there are other valiant families in our Ward who would be willing to make the same accommodation.  Who says he has to come to me to be an effective Home Teacher?
  • We have three widows who live in adjacent apartments.  Would they be willing to be visited together in one or other of their units freeing up a pair of Home Teachers to go to two other families?  They have Family Home Evening together once a week anyway.
  • Occasionally, we have husband and wife companionships.  What if they were assigned another husband and wife companionship and could thus home and visiting teach one another in one visit.  That frees up each couple to take one more family.
  • So you have a family that is hard to catch at home.  How about taking 20 minutes after church to sit down with them in a classroom on Sunday before you all head home.
  • Suppose you are a business man who travels a lot.  You might be assigned families with the internet and could visit them on Skype from your hotel room.  How fun to be Home Taught from Hong Kong or London or Gusher.  I realize this solution might make it hard to go with your companion.  Still, with the Bishop's approval, perhaps a companion would not be called for as there are no safety concerns at such a distance.
The possibilities are almost endless.

Our Ward has a pretty long list of those who refuse to receive Home Teachers.  I personally love to take on those challenges and have yet to fail to get in on a regular basis.  I have had to be a bit less traditional in my approach to these families, but I have never failed to be able to meet with them on a monthly basis.  As High Priests Group Leader, I don't expect this of all of my Home Teachers, but I do have some who would get out of their comfort zone and make the attempt.  

I have one fellow right now who I plan on asking out to coffee in the morning.  Of course I will have hot cocoa or something, but I feel certain that he'd love to get out of the house and chum with a buddy at the coffee shop.  He will be more comfortable on neutral ground, so will I.  He won't feel judged for his Word of Wisdom problem, because I'm the one who suggested it.  We can begin building a relationship of trust.  Once that is established my new friend and the Lord can take it from there.  I'll be handily in a position to help as needed.  Hopefully, when the weather warms we can move from the coffee shop to the fishing hole, but who knows, we might form a group and Bob and John and Larry, who are also less active might join us to be Home Taught on a regular basis.  Fred, the first guy is a Teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood.  He can be my Home Teaching companion.

When I was a Stake Missionary we began teaching a woman whose husband was a less-active member.  Soon they were both coming to Church.  In no time he accepted a call to be a Home Teacher.  He was devoted to the call.  One day after we'd taught a discussion to his wife he mentioned that it was getting close to the end of the month and that his companion was out of town.  I volunteered to go with him.  We visited one of his families who hadn't been to church in years.  He invited the brother to come to Priesthood Meeting telling him what a good time he was having in the Elders Quorum.  The brother responded, saying, "I'd feel uncomfortable coming back to church.  You see, I chew tobacco."  His new Home Teacher replied,  "So do I," which left him totally without excuse.  He came to church.

How's that for a good example.  We don't have to be an example of one who pretends to be perfect.  What's wrong with being an example of flawed mortal beings attempting, through the Atonement of Christ, to improve.  Then those we hope to help can better see how that is done.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More Thoughts on Home Teaching

I don't think the Home Teacher's job is to be a catalyst for change.  Still, I have been taught quite often in various ways to try to tip the balance in peoples lives in order to get them back to church.  While I have seen that method seem to work and while I've seen a number of Home Teachers take credit for such; I strongly suspect that the facts are that something else stimulated the change, the people were sufficiently humble, and the Home Teachers were simply fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.

God uses life as change's catalyst.  I've seen it over and over, especially in 12 Step settings.  So often has a person turned up a meetings because it was mandated by the court as part of a rehabilitation process.  So often that person made all the meetings and said all the right things and then stopped coming as soon as they were no longer under the judge's jurisdiction.  We're cool with that.  We in recovery understand that if they are not ready yet, God will use life to get them ready.  We have learned to be patient and let God's process work.  It is easy to tell when it has; when that person who so blithely left our company comes crawling back with a new found humility and a deeper awareness of need.  You might ask then, what do we do at the meetings.  We simply share our experience, strength and hope with those who come.  We don't preach.  We don't scold.  We don't even give advice.  Who are we to tell others how to live their lives.  In sharing our own experience with addiction and the process of recovery we are offering hope and testimony which are really the only things they need.  They already know they need to make changes.  They already know what they're doing wrong.  They already feel guilty and full of sorrow.  They don't need any of that from us.  What they need is the hope and belief and tools they can use to do something about it.  And they need to know that someone understands and cares and might help.  Also, they need to spend time in places where they can feel and comfortably enjoy the Spirit.  They need a place safe from condemnation, recrimination, accusation and manipulation.

I bring this up because most of those we Home Teach who are not active in the Church are dealing with some sort of addiction.  They are in a trap they have no idea how to climb out of.

Now, when we go into someone's home are we creating that kind of an environment for them?  Are we building?  Or are we wrecking?  I'm confident that those who reject Home Teachers have had plenty of condemnation, recrimination, accusation and manipulation.  It has come from parents, spouses, friends, law enforcement, the pulpit and yes, even Home Teachers.  Is it any wonder they want no more of it.

Now, what can we do to correct this?  The answer lies in what the Church Missionary program calls BRT, Building Relationships of Trust.  These people in our charge are tender, fearful, banged up and wary.  It may take a good deal of unconditional love to get them to let down their guard.  It will take:  long-suffering, gentleness, meekness and love unfeigned.  It will take kindness and  pure knowledge and a complete lack of hypocrisy and guile.  You will notice that I left off persuasion.  I wanted to discuss that one a bit further.  At first, at least we are not there to persuade them to come to Church.  Lets start with the basics.  Lets persuade them that we can be trusted.  Trusted to love them for who they are, right where they are.  In this kind of persuasion actions speak far louder than words.  The second we put conditions upon that love, were done.

I'll finish with a story.  I lived for in a small town the years I was in 7th and 8th Grades.  I had a friend there, we'll call him Jim.  Years later when I was nearing 40 my occupation took me back to that town.  One of the people I was dealing with bore the same last name as Jim.  I inquired after him.  It turned out the lady was Jim's wife.  We'll call her Sue.  Immediately, Sue hastened to explain that Jim was no longer the reprobate he once was.  I explained that he was a fine fellow when I knew him.  She then proceeded to tell me his story.  After they married, Jim became an alcoholic.  He couldn't keep a job.  He was in an out of jail.  He'd lost his drivers license to a string of DUIs.  He'd lived a tough life.

I asked, "So he's doing better now?"

"Yes, much better!" was her reply.  She went on to tell me about it.  We had two wonderful Home Teachers. They came to our home on a regular basis.  Jim would never stay in the room when they came by the house.  (He obviously had his guard up.)  Our Home Teachers were always there for us.  They never made Jim feel shunned or disapproved of.  When they saw him on the street they would always wave and smile.  Occasionally, they would catch him in the yard and just visit.  Then one day they came to the house when Sue was out.  Jim apparently forgot to peek out the window before answering the door.  Seeing who it was Jim told them that Sue wasn't home and that they might want to come back later.  They pointed out that they were his Home Teachers too and would love to visit with him.  There was a long awkward moment before Jim finally asked them to come in and sit down.

The Home Teachers went in, treated Jim with respect.  Deliberately avoided conversation that might make Jim uncomfortable.  They never asked if he'd found a job yet, for instance.  They never mentioned that he'd recently been in jail.  They never condemned him for the pain he'd put his wife through.  They never even mentioned the church.  What they did do, was express an interest in Jim and those things that were of interest to him.  Jim is an excellent wood carver and they got him showing and teaching about his craft.  After twenty minutes, they got up, shook his hand, thanked him for sharing his gift with them and excused themselves.  When the Home Teachers got to their car, Jim came running out and invited them back in.  They returned to the house.  Seated back on the couch one of the brethren asked Jim what he wanted.  Jim said that he didn't really know.  He went on, a bit embarrassed, to say that he'd just felt so good when they were there and that when they left he'd felt lousy again.  He didn't want to feel lousy right then, so he ran out and asked them to come back so he could feel that good feeling some more.  You can imagine what happened next.

Sue told me with tears in her eyes how thankful she was for good Home Teachers who did nothing more than love her husband just the way he was.  They didn't bring Jim to the point where he wanted to change.  They were just patient enough to wait, love, serve and be there on the day that time had come.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Home Teaching

As I have just become High Priests Group Leader I am quite involved in encouraging good and frequent Home Teaching.  A good deal of that is happening in our Ward, but there are a number of families and individuals who are not being regularly contacted by Home Teachers.  Over the next few days I'm going to be examining Home Teaching in an attempt to understand better what our charge is and to examine ways in which we can each serve better in our Home Teaching assignments.

I once attended what I teasingly called The Stepford Ward in Orem.  They claimed that there was only one non-member family within their boundaries.  I think every single member family was active.  They had so many missionary farewells and baby blessings that they averaged 110% attendance at Sacrament Meeting.  Every calling was filled and their Home Teaching numbers were through the roof!  This is not because of some miraculous Enoch-like leader.  It was just a matter of neighborhood choice of a number of affluent, previously active families, in an area already concentrated with Latter-day Saints.  I'm sure the Ward has it's own unique set of problems, but activity isn't one of them.

I, on the other hand, live in an inner city Ward with a number of low rent apartments, and a district of older more run down "starter" homes.  We have a large membership turn over, few youth and great difficulty maintaining the kind of consistency the other Ward might enjoy.  Our dear Elder's Quorum has activated a number of Prospective Elders who subsequently moved to a more prosperous part of town, making room for more less active Prospective Elders to take their places.  The number of potential Home Teachers far out weighs the number of active Home Teachers.  This creates a big burden on those who are willing and able to Home Teach.  The district with a bit nicer homes is mostly occupied by old folks.  Our Primary has 16 kids in it.  Currently there are three years between the newest Deacon and the next boy to enter that Quorum.

I am not complaining.  Ours is a most wonderful Ward.  I have loved living here more than any Ward I have enjoyed, with one distant, long ago exception.  I will probably mention the Imperial Beach Ward later.
Suffice it to say.  I am more than content with our Ward.  It is far from perfect.  But it is abundantly meeting my needs and is filled with wonderful people.

Still, we have some pretty pathetic Home Teaching numbers and will be working hard to overcome those deficiencies over the next months and perhaps years.  I am not the only one who is earnest about such a difference taking place.

As I have sat in council regarding Home Teaching, I get a sense that most of my brethren have a pretty restricted view of what Home Teaching is and is not.  Recently, the Stake Presidency, in an attempt to expand our view of Home Teaching, made some allowances as to what is reportable as completed Home Teaching.  One brother in the Ward protested saying that the new definition did not correspond with Section 20 of The Doctrine and Covenants.  He was concerned that if we lower our standards just so we can show better numbers we are cheating.  I agree that numbers must never be the objective and that if we dumb down the quality of our Home Teaching just so the numbers look better, we are doing ourselves and those we serve a great disservice.  As a matter of fact, such a move, under those conditions, I would consider sinful.

If, on the other hand, we are seriously attempting to broaden the definition of Home Teaching so that we can actually reach more people and more completely fulfill our stewardship, I am all for it.  The brother who protested the change had two major concerns.  One very valid one is that if we overload our Home Teachers, they are likely to shut down and wind up accomplishing less, instead of more.  The other of course was stated thus:  "If you lower the standard of Home Teaching to a chat over the back fence, Home Teaching in general will decline.  A chat over the back fence is not Home Teaching!"

I understand where he was coming from and I admire his desire to hold to a lofty standard.  Still I have to ask myself,  "What is Home Teaching?"  Is it confined to a living room visit complete with a prayer, lesson and conversation about the weather?  Or, can it be more than that?

For me the answer lies in the Book of Alma.  When Ammon began his missionary service to King Lamoni he did some quite unmissionary-like things.  If he were to report to his Mission President that he'd spent the past week herding sheep, how would his leader have responded.  What do you think?  Was he doing missionary work, or wasn't he?  I say he most certainly was.  That honest, well intentioned, unconditional service was indeed missionary service and resulted in the conversion of thousands.

What if we, like Ammon did a few unusual things in our service as Home Teachers.  Couldn't we call that Home Teaching as well?  My next door neighbor is a member of the church.  His wife is a former member.  They attend another denomination.  When they first moved in they approached us with a very cold and prickly warning that they wanted nothing to do with the Church, Missionaries or Home Teachers.  I respect that.  I am somewhat aware of their history.  They have been, in my opinion, mistreated by members of the church.  They have had manipulative Home Teachers who tried to put them on a guilt trip for they way they were living their lives.  Their experience was repulsive to them and disappointing to me.  I have no choice but to respect their rejection of what I have to offer them.  But - they don't reject my warning that the sewer main is backing up.  They don't complain when I sneak over of an early morning and shovel their walks.  They don't mind if my grandkids invite their grand daughter over to play in my back yard and they frequently ask about the neighbor who has Alzheimer's that I help with, who lives across the street.

We don't get to know how long Ammon herded sheep before he was given the opportunity to defend the flocks and impress the King.  It might have been just a few days, but what if it was months or years.  Could it be that it was not a matter of time?  Could it be that Ammon had no ulterior motive?  That he would, as he said, be willing to serve the King the remainder of his days.  Could it be that he was serving Lamoni just as an expression of love, with no strings attached.  Could it be that he would have continued to serve regardless of the out come?  Could it be that he had no further agenda than to be of service?  I think it could.

I am aware that most of us tackle such a project and have been trained to begin with the end in mind.  We suppose that if we are nice and give service for a while that we will eventually bear the fruit in some preconceived way.  And, if we don't, we tend to become discouraged and soon move on to greener or more golden pastures.  I believe that Ammon had no such agenda.  He let God be in charge of the agenda.  His call was to be of service forever if need be.  I believe that if we go into a situation with an agenda like the eventual activation of a less active family then all of our actions seem manipulative and are much more likely to be rejected.  If on the other hand our service is rendered with no agenda other than kindness and love and a sincere interest in the happiness and well being of the individuals we serve, that too is easy for them to perceive.

Let God have the agenda.  He is interested in preparing ALL of his children to return home to dwell with him. He will add the turning factor, just as He did for Ammon.  He will cause something tailor made to happen in their lives, perhaps a crisis of some sort or other.  If they have a genuine friend in their Home Teacher, I promise it is he to whom they will turn for relief, comfort and solace.  It is then that he will be able to share the gospel and it's blessings with them.  My experience has been that it may take a number of such instances before significant change begins to take place.  Two of the keys to exercising the Priesthood as outlined in Section 121 of The Doctrine and Covenants is patience and long suffering.  Are we in it for the long haul?

I have a very dear friend who once was excommunicated from the Church.  Sitting in the court that withdrew his membership was a young, newly called High Councilman.  The situation touched the young man's heart and he resolved that day to make weekly contact with my friend for the balance of his life.  I imagine deep in his heart he hoped my friend would one day return to the fold, but his commitment went way beyond that.  That young High Council member kept his commitment.  My friend had a saddle shop across town.  Every week the young man stepped into that shop.  Week after week he was spurned and berated by my friend.  Every overture was rejected.  Eventually, my friend moved out of state.  The young man persisted.  Each week he called my friend and greeted him with a smile and proffered friendship.  There was never any needling or pressure to return to the fold, only friendship and love.  Once a month he actually drove out of state for a face to face visit.  Still my friend pushed him away.  He often swore at him, berated him, called him names and still the young man carried on.  Years went by under these circumstances.  Love always offered, always rejected.  At fourteen years my friend began to soften.  He finally realized this fellow was never going to give up.  He finally accepted that there were no conditions places upon his persistence, reliability and love.  My friend finally accepted that there was something, someone in his life he could count on.  He began to look forward to those visits, to respond to them.  When a crisis came, as they always do, my friend knew who he could count on and turned to the not quite so young man and sought his help, his advice, and his assurance.  At fifteen years the long since former High Councilman baptized my friend.  And they remain close to this day.

Could we Home Teach like that?  Should we?  I think we can and we must.

When the Church sends humanitarian supplies to Pakistan are there strings attached?  Do we say, "If you are to receive this food, medicine and supplies, you must let our missionaries preach in your land?"  No we do not.  We, when we serve, will do well to follow that example.  Let us be going about doing good, because we love, because we should.  Not because we hope we can make some changes which seem to them to be only to our own advantage.  Let us accept the fact that we can change no one but ourselves.  That all we can really do is prepare the soil so that when they come to the moment of change, they will find a place where they can grow and be nurtured, because that place has already been prepared for them.

For me, the days of quotas and numerical objectives are gone.  If we labor in the vineyard with love with the interest of our charges our only desire.  If we love unconditionally, persistently.  I promise God will give the increase.  He is the only one who can.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Setting the Tone

I love this photo from the Glendora First Ward because it depticts a group of High Priests in the act of serving.
Yesterday was my first opportunity to teach a lesson in my High Priests Quorum.  It was intimidating.  There are two former Bishops in there as well as one former Stake President, among others.

I wanted to set the tone for the time I shall be serving them as their Group Leader.  I have very little experience in a Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum, having spent most of my adult life serving with the youth in Aaronic Priesthood.  I prayed at great length concerning what I should teach on that initial occasion.  I decided to discuss Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants beginning with verse 33:
33How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.
I tried to help them understand that God would pour down knowledge upon their heads regarding their Stewardships.  They kept leading the conversation elsewhere.  I wonder if they are uncomfortable with the notion of personal revelation.  I wanted them to understand that God would willingly direct them in their Home Teaching and other service opportunities.  I hope the notion eventually sank in because I don't want to spend my time as High Priests Group Leader telling them what to do. These are fine men fully capable of getting their own direction from Heaven.  Verse 33 is dear to me because God has poured down knowledge in abundance upon my head.  Were it not so, I could not be sober today.  I want to create a culture in my Quorum in which we stand shoulder to shoulder in the service of the Lord.  One in which they are not always looking to their leaders for direction.

34Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
36That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
Key to our success as a Quorum is the way in which we go about performing our labors.  I think the reason most people reject having Home Teachers in their homes is a distinct resistance to manipulation.  We have set out to satisfy goals, fulfill assignments and carry out the work of the Lord and we have commonly looked upon our charges as obstacles rather than opportunities.  We have marched into their homes and called them to repentance and left them with the impression that we think them of lower stature than ourselves.  To the extent that we have done this we have not handled the Priesthood on principles of righteousness, but have more closely followed the manipulative path of Satan.
37That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
Now it was time for me to make a confession to my brethren.  They are already aware that I am a recovering addict.  I explained that the last time I had a Melchizedek Priesthood assignment (I was Stake Mission President) I came away with a bitter taste in my mouth.  I had set out to be the best Stake Mission President in the Church.  My numbers were exceptional and I received a good deal of praise for my accomplishments.  I also alienated many of the Stake Missionaries as well as the Stake President in the process.  I perceived them all to be obstacles in the accomplishment of my objectives.  From the much more humble perspective of an addict who realizes his utter dependence upon God for everything; I see that I was completely wrong.  During those years in the Stake Mission I had:  undertaken to cover my sins, I had sought to gratify my pride and vain ambitions, I had sought to exercise control and dominion by compulsion upon the souls of the missionaries in my charge as well as the people we taught and also the Stake President I was supposed to be serving.  I told my brethren that I didn't ever want to go to that dark place again and that I hoped they would correct me, if I were to revert to my former and wicked ways.

I then personally read these verses:

38Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. 
39We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40Hence many are called, but few are chosen 

I had been left to kick against the pricks and to persecute the saints.  I told anyone who would listen about the offences people had committed to hinder my progress.  I had fought against God and been left to my own sinful devices.  I felt the Spirit in the room as by Quorum mates considered what I was trying to tell them.

It was such a blessing to go from there to explain what I hoped for us in our future as we serve side by side.

41No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

I promised the High Priests that I would lead in such a manner and plead with them to fulfill their callings with those principles and characteristics foremost in their hearts and minds.  We need to enter the homes of those we serve with no other object than to bless, lift, serve and inspire.  These are the characteristics Ammon Mosiahsson exhibited when he went to serve King Lamoni with the distinct exception of "without guile."  So, he wasn't perfect, neither are we.  But we can better approach such a standard if we will emulate such great prophets in our effort to do our duty.

We High Priests can do this.  We can serve in love, rather than compulsion and we can accomplish the will of the Lord if we invite Him to join us in our service.  He will give us strength for the task.  He will speak peace to our souls.  He will give us the words we must speak.  And if we:

45Let (our) bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish (our) thoughts unceasingly; then shall (our) confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon (our) soul(s) as the dews from heaven.
46The Holy Ghost shall be (our) constant  companion, and (our) scepter an unchanging scepter of  righteousness and truth; and (our) dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto(us) forever and ever.
The key to all of this can be found in the word LET.  Read it again in verse 35.  Brother Wilcox once related a story of finding himself looking in the opposing mirrors in a sealing room in the temple.  He was standing.  He found him self bobbing back and forth in order to get a better view, when he sudden realized that he could see Eternity a lot better if he could just get out of his own way.  That is how we let these things happen for us; by getting out our own way.  By refraining from thinking of ourselves and our own convenience and glory and by spending our efforts thinking about the needs and fears, and hopes, and dreams, and desires of those we are called to serve.
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