Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What if the "Sunday School Answers" Were...

First, do no harm

Be kind

Help others

I see nothing but good coming from praying, reading the scriptures, and keeping the commandments. But it seems to me that these things give us an inner focus, while a main thrust of Jesus' message as Messiah was how we treat others. Since our primary concentration during Church instructional periods often centers around improvement of the self, we groom our members to become paragons of personal righteousness who may be lacking in their living of the social gospel.

I first realized this when driving to Salt Lake City from Provo to pick up my parents from the airport. They were arriving to attend my temple marriage, or rather, the reception and ceremonies surrounding my temple marriage, since they were nonmembers. Our car broke down on the way there. It was a Sunday, and the highway was crowded with Mormons in suits and dresses, presumably on their way to Church related activities. None stopped for a young couple in distress. Back in 1981 no one carried cell phones, and we waited for about an hour and a half before a man in blue jeans and smoking a cigarette stopped his truck to assist us. The young convert BiV, just off her mission, was disillusioned that all of the fine Latter-day Saints of Utah would pass by while the "Samaritan" was the only one to stop.

I particularly feel a lack of empathy when members justify not giving to the less fortunate in their own circle of influence because they already pay their fast offering; or because they've decided that the bums don't deserve it, are too lazy to get a job, or will spend it inappropriately anyway!

I know there are many things we do as Latter-day Saints that come under the category of "service." In the past few years I've seen service projects under the auspices of the Relief Society increase. A popular service lately has been putting together kits to go to schools, or to people in different parts of the world who have been devastated by natural disasters. I don't want to say these aren't good things! Recently at BYU Women's Conference, thousands of LDS women were urged to make a difference in the world by putting together hygiene, school and infant kits made of items donated by different large corporations. These will be shipped abroad to fulfill humanitarian needs. I don't want to denigrate this type of service. It's hard to put together a service activity for a large number of people to do in this kind of context. I guess I just want to point out that this is a service that is removed from personal contact. It's just right for an internet generation who is one step removed from real face-to-face contact with other human beings. I see too many sisters who put together humanitarian kits, all the while gossiping about others in the ward.

Some things I've seen in the Church that I think foster other-focused living of the gospel: We were living in Texas in 2001 during Hurricane Allison. Our home came through OK, but there were homes in our ward and stake which were completely destroyed. On Sunday we showed up for sacrament meeting and the members of the Bishopric were dressed in jeans. They dismissed the meetings and sent the members out to shovel out homes, rip up carpet, collect belongings and prepare food. We started at the homes of members and spread out to the entire neighborhood. I have never seen the youth work harder or feel more fulfilled. Their faces were absolutely glowing with health, exertion, and pure joy in service. These same members were so touched by this experience that a few years later when New Orleans was flooded they organized parties to drive down and spend their weekends assisting with the efforts there. They brought with them food, shovels, and everything they needed to be completely self-sufficient while they were there plus contribute in a major way.

Mormons are actually quite good at this. But huge disasters don't happen every day. What can we do to symbolically dismiss our members from Sacrament Meeting to go out and make a difference in the small disasters of people's lives? How can we send our members home from Sunday School not only to pray and read their scriptures, but to see the people around us and be kind to them?


SilverRain said...

Is this a Mormon thing or a human thing? It seems that most of us have trouble applying our lofty goals to our trenches lives.

"Serve" is one of the Sunday School answers.

Anonymous said...

Your very own Samaritan story makes me want to cry. But maybe I should be heartened that there is goodness all around and maybe it takes an event like that to recognize it when you're expecting it from one particular avenue.

Hope everyone made it to the reception and was able to enjoy.

anonymous alice

lma said...

Thanks for that, BiV. It's something we all need to hear every day, not just on Sunday.

But, honestly, I don't think it has to be limited to the "small disasters".

Take the extra five seconds to hold the door for the next person. Smile at the grocery clerk and say hello rather than talk on the cell phone while he or she is checking your purchases. Let the impatient driver into your lane once in awhile rather than mumbling about what an idiot he or she is. Ask your neighbor if you can help when he or she is struggling to get the groceries into the house with the kids and/or pets underfoot.

Most of the time, it really is the little things that matter.

Have a good day. :)

JayFlow22 said...

Slightly off topic...
...but wasn't it Tropical Storm Allison back in 2001.

On topic...
I would agree it is a largely human trait to rationalize not helping another. And, for now, Mormons are still humans.

aaron said...

I agree that it is very easy and our human nature to ignore the little things. Thanks for the great reminder!

Yet Another John said...

Your story reminds me of an experience I had several years ago. It was ward temple day and several groups of us had carpooled and were rushing to make our session at the St. George Temple. As we flew along, one of my friends said "Isn't that your mother there by the turnoff to the farm?" Well, by golly, yes it was and we all waved cheerfully at her standing by her truck as we zoomed by on our errand for the Lord.

Later I saw her and asked her what she was doing there. Well, she told me she had truck problems and was waving at all the dutiful Mormons heading to the temple! Finally, an old Paiute stopped and helped her into town where she could call dad. This was pre-cell phone days, remember.

I've never forgot that lesson.

ptalady said...

Our stake president has been encouraging us for the past couple years to get out of our comfort zones and get out into the community to serve on a regular basis. The Savior served everywhere he saw a need, and we should try to do the same. Sadly, I haven't seen any major effort in this area. We are good about rising to the occasion when disaster strikes, such as a hurricane, but other than that, I don't see much effort to get out into the community on a regular basis.

I have spent a lot of time volunteering at a local girls' home, and my RS Pres actually told me "you just need to get out of there." I was truly shocked and dismayed by her attitude. I told her I had felt prompted to volunteer there, and those girls really needed more positive role models. I tried and tried to get sisters from the ward to help at the girl's home, but none would come on a regular basis. They would tell me they simply didn't have time, yet they always have time for "Sisters' Night Out," or "Scrapbook Night." Maybe I'm too hard on them, but I think they could find time to volunteer if it were really important to them. I know we all need some down time, but I find that serving others gives me much more of a lift than finishing another scrapbook page.

I see all the other churches in town doing a lot of community work. As far as anyone can tell, the LDS church doesn't care about anyone but ourselves. I know we all have busy lives, but I don't think we were meant to keep our service all to ourselves. And how can we share the gospel with others if we don't interact with and serve those outside the church?

I wish I knew the answer to your question BiV-- how do we get people to go out and make a difference? There are so many needs and we have so much to offer.

m&m said...

Our stake president has been encouraging us for the past couple years to get out of our comfort zones and get out into the community to serve on a regular basis.

Our bishop just did this too. I've been feeling the need to do more of this lately.

I also think that the SS answers help us have the Spirit so we can be more in tune with what needs abound around us, and we are more willing to actually do something about that. We shouldn't be praying and reading simply for ourselves, but so we can be better instruments in God's hands -- as Sister Beck has said, praying to know who needs our help today.

I also like what Ima (or lma?) said about the little things. I'm amazed how the Spirit can fill my heart when I let someone in on the road, hold a door for someone, help someone pick something up that has fallen.... As I am aware of others around me, in little ways, I feel that is service that makes a difference. And I know what little things like that do for me when I'm on the receiving end. (And on the flip side, I think we all know what it's like when someone does something little that isn't kind, like snapping at us in line or zipping in to get that parking space, or speeding up when we really need to change lanes).

Julie Stephens said...

Great post.
I think however loving and serving others is the 2nd commandment. Loving God is the first.
I think that if we really try to do God's will he will help us serve others, because he loves all of us.
Many of us are serving others. It is perhaps hard to know exactly what people are doing.
I think many people are guilty of not responding when opportunities for service present themselves. Sometimes we are poor observers and don't notice the opportunity. Sometimes we don't think or act quickly enough and the opportunity passes us by and it is too late. Sometimes we are scared or it seems too difficult. Sometimes we have too many burdens and we simply can't imagine how we can help.
I think the best solution is to pray for opportunities to serve. If we pray then the spirit can help us notice the opportunities, and help us know how to help.