Friday, June 21, 2013

What is Modesty?

I'm not going to link to the stories about male BYUx students writing passive aggressive notes to females about how scantily they are dressed even when most of the time they are clearly not(and even if they are, it's none of the guys' business). We've heard the stories, and you can find them easily enough. I will, however, note that I have only heard about those things happening at BYUI and BYUU, not BYUH. Maybe it happens at BYUH, too, but my guess is that being in a warm climate with beaches and swimsuits abounding and many of the students working at the Polynesian Cultural Center (wearing native traditional dress) and/or being from the islands, the over-focus on modesty is less of an issue.

There are many other posts on this topic, but I'll just link to this one so you can get some context on the discussion surrounding modesty. On one side, you have people saying that women should cover up so as to help men have pure thoughts. On the other side, you have women saying they can wear whatever they want and no one should judge them for it. No one seems to be able to agree on what it means for a man to be modest, which multiplies the sexuality and sexism surrounding the term.

When it comes to modesty, I have to quote Inigo Montoya to both sides here.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

From True to the Faith:

Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to “glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).

The section on modesty mentions sexuality but also tattoos, piercings, sloppy dressing, and language. There is so much more to modesty than how much skin someone is showing or the tightness of their clothes. The hyper-focus on women's clothing takes away from the greater message about us all being modest in all that we do and lets men off the hook completely.

Several of the priests in our ward have long hair. One in particular was being presented to the ward awhile ago when he turned 16. He's a high school football player. The Bishop made a joke about him cutting his hair after football season was over and Samson - the obvious connection being that he benefited from the extra strength when playing football. But the clueless look on his face made it obvious he didn't know who Samson was, so from the pulpit in front of everyone the Bishop tasked him with going home and reading the story. I think he was too clueless to even be embarrassed for being called out in front of the ward for not being familiar with one of the most well known bible stories. Returning to the hair - it grabbed attention away from what was happening, a young man advancing in the Aaronic Priesthood, and highlighted his lack of understanding in a somewhat awkward way. Going a level deeper, his casual approach to his appearance mirrored his casual approach to learning the gospel. His immodest hair (not sexual hair, but rather his attention-getting hair) is what made that point possible.

Just as his lack of modesty drew attention to himself in an unflattering way, and bikini-wearing women won't like this, so can women's swimsuit or other apparel choices draw attention to themselves in an unflattering way. Of course, a ridiculously large diamond ring sends a similar message, even though it is in no way sexual in nature. Women claim that they should be able to wear a certain cut of clothing or swimsuit because it's cute, comfortable, or functional, but I can't imagine a bikini being any of those three. A 2 carat diamond is certainly none of the three. A guy's pants precariously hanging off his butt is none of the three.

It is still not about what others think of you, though. Modesty is a reflection of the individual. That is where the point gets lost. We need to stop placing the blame for men's impure thoughts on women. Men will have impure thoughts no matter what women are wearing, and that is their load to carry. Just as the football playing priest's immodest hairstyle gave away his need to read his scriptures and pay better attention in Sunday School, a woman's choice to dress immodestly highlights something amiss in her priorities.

That said, I wrote a post awhile ago about how we should not judge others. If we do, that is our own fault (and a common one at that) that we need to deal with. President Uchtdorf must have read my post, because in the next conference, he gave us this instant classic:

This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:

Stop it!

It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.

He followed that up by quoting a bumper sticker that read, "Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you."

Let us stop telling men they need to shave and cut their hair and pull up their pants. Let us stop telling women to cover up.

Instead, let us all consider our own behaviors and how we choose to present ourselves to others. Think about what message you are sending to others. The point here is that how others receive the message you are sending is not what we're talking about. It is about what message you are sending, regardless of how others interpret that message. Modesty is an attitude. What is your attitude? What is your intention? If you draw attention to yourself or something about you, why are you doing that? Are you glorifying God?

Answer those questions for yourself. Put your own house in order and stop judging others as they work on their own favorite sins.

I guess both sides have something to learn.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Virtual MTC

I've been wondering with the huge influx of missionaries, plus the recent discussion of expansion at the Provo MTC and the closing of the high school in Mexico to convert to an MTC there, and the inevitable eventual decline in number of missionaries after a couple years when the older missionaries are through the system, what the future is for the MTC. How do you build an infrastructure than can expand quickly as well as contract as needed? The total number will be greater than it has been traditionally, but there will be a small dip in two years, no matter how you do the math.

I think you could do some of the MTC virtually, with software to teach some of the language starting immediately when the call arrives, and having those who are waiting to go, go on splits with the local missionaries. Maybe the full-time mission call would include a short-term call as a stake or ward missionary.

Depending on the length of time between receiving the call and leaving, there could be a lot of time to learn the language fairly well. There's Rosetta Stone and Mango Languages and likely other language learning software that could be licensed for cheap. Given the large cost of infrastructure at the physical MTCs, if you traded that away, it would cover much of the cost of developing a new software product focused on church terminology. The church has a lot of technology and expertise in distance learning and training that could be leveraged here. Some of the practice in a new language could be facilitated directly through the technology itself, and then video conferencing could allow for remote instructors and fellow students to practice certain aspects of the language as needed.

Mission prep classes could (and do) teach most of the teaching methods that are learned in the MTC. I had a mission prep class during Sunday School my senior year in high school, and I took a mission prep class in Institute my freshman year at college. There was also a temple prep class fit somewhere in there as well. Maybe the senior year Seminary is focused on missionary work and temple preparation. It's convenient now, how you have four years of high school and four major topics to rotate through - Book of Mormon, Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine & Covenants. You'd have to combine two of those somehow. Maybe D&C could be refocused on mission and temple prep. I don't think it would be too much of a stretch, given how much of the D&C is relevant to missionaries. The other three could be rotated through a three year cycle and D&C/mission/temple prep would be done every year for the seniors. Some aspects currently covered in the D&C could be moved in to the Book of Mormon year as needed. It's a logistics issue more than anything. The most problematic aspect would be dealing with early morning seminary and the smaller class sizes that exist when you get further away from Utah, but it's not insurmountable. Are we hastening the work or are we hastening the work?

I could see a three to five month period at home preparing after the call, in addition to all the preparation going on in the previous year before papers are submitted, and then as soon as the visa is available, you're in your new country. For those who don't need to learn a language and/or are going to their own country, you get the same mission prep classes and splits with the missionaries, and go on the predetermined date.

The benefit I see to the MTC is the 100% focus all the time on missionary work. Life doesn't get in the way. It's intense and compressed. There is an opportunity to find those who needed to repent of something before heading out to the actual mission field. But with more involved bishops and stake presidents, as well as getting the missionaries out before they have a chance to visit the land of Siron in college, in addition to the increased focus during the senior year of high school to prepare, I think the same preparation could be accomplished. It would just be spread out in bits and pieces over a year period rather than compressed into getting it all at once in a 3-8 week period.

A full-time mission is intense on a daily basis but also requires long-term focus. The MTC gives them a chance to live the gospel 100% during a few weeks in the MTC, which gives that day to day view of what the mission is like. But it doesn't do anything to prepare them to sustain their focus on something for a year or two. Focusing on mission preparation at a moderate level but for a full year or more beforehand will give them that long-term vision for their missions. Ideally they make changes and mature before leaving on their mission because of that sustained focus.

Perhaps there is still a quick MTC experience, much shorter than they have now. Perhaps there is no MTC. Maybe it's just for those who didn't graduate from seminary (all the more incentive to go to seminary). Maybe it's just a quick check on progress with the language. I just can't think of anything they could learn better in the MTC than they will learn with their trainer after actually hitting the mission field or beforehand from their families, teachers, local missionaries, and priesthood leaders. There are no more discussions to memorize. Is there something the MTC does that can't be replicated elsewhere?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Only stick with something if you like it

There's an interesting post over on Segullah about piano lessons and whether or not to allow your kids to quit taking them.

I play the piano, although not much more than hymns. I was ward organist for a couple years, mostly because no one else could play, not because I was that great. (I used the bass coupler rather than playing with the pedals, although I did take an organ class to try to learn to play with my feet.) I think it's a life skill to play the piano. You tune other instruments to the piano. You accompany people singing and other instruments with the piano. You learn the notes, many styles of music, and possibly more than that - a little bit of discipline.

I do wish I was better at music theory and being able to do things like play jazz or make up songs on the fly or transpose music into another key on the fly. But I'm okay with being able to play most of the hymns and learning a song if I need to. I actually only took lessons for maybe 3 years. I don't remember wanting to quit or asking to quit or how lessons ended. It might have been a financial deal, as we didn't have a lot of money. I'll have to ask my parents. I just didn't take lessons anymore but kept up on my own. The first Sunday I turned 12, I was playing piano in priesthood meeting. Preparing a hymn and prelude for priesthood meeting was something that drove me to practice, because I needed to be able to play. I wasn't just practicing some scale for a piano teacher.

My wife quit when she was young and wishes she could play better. A lot of people feel that same way. I know a lot of people quit and don't feel bad. A lot of people don't quit and do feel bad, because they hate music and their parents for it. Everyone is different.

That said, I wonder about the culture that seems to be growing across the country, within and without the church to just embrace who you are and not try to push yourself to be something you're not. I get it, that we need to love ourselves, although not in a prideful way, and love others and accept them for who they are. That is great. But you can love and accept that you're not musical and still learn to play the piano. Whatever happened to seeking earnestly the best gifts? In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul lists a ton of gifts and points out that not everyone has same gifts, but then finishes up by recommending that we develop the gifts we don't have.

I don't pretend that piano is the be-all and end-all and that everyone really has to play, as my favorite line from Mulan goes, "Well, we can't all be acupuncturists." But back to the culture thing, the comments in the blog post I linked above are as telling as the post itself. One comment in particular says:

Why on earth would you force your children to do anything like that (music lessons, sports, whatever) if they don’t want to do it? Have them try different things and only stick with something if they like it. And you’re wrting about piano lessons as if every child takes piano lessons. That’s a rather odd thing to think.

No, not everyone takes piano lessons. All the more reason to be the person who does. Seek the best gifts. Be the one who steps up where others have been afraid to. On my mission, in one area I was teaching our branch president how to play the piano. My parents bought a little learning how to play kit the church had in the distribution center and sent it to me, including a simplified hymnbook, and I left it with him when I left the area. He played one verse, one hand of a very simple hymn in sacrament meeting and completely slaughtered it, but he was learning. I could have played most hymns much better, but I would be gone in a few months, and who knew if the next elders who came would be able to play.

The more disturbing part, however, is the first thought. Only do something if you like it. What if you don't like reading scriptures? Just stop reading them, I guess. What if you don't like cooking? Hope you marry someone who cooks well or get a good enough job you can afford to eat out all the time, I guess. What if you have a stubborn child who doesn't like doing anything you ask of them? Just stop asking them to do things, I guess.

As much as I disliked the old lesson manuals and rarely taught from them, one thing has stuck with me from one of the lessons. I'd have to search to find which manual and lesson it was, but the idea was that young children may not be experienced enough to be able to understand spiritual promptings. (Sometimes they're more in tune than we are, but that's a different discussion.) But as parents and leaders of youth, our job is to help guide and direct those in our care in the same way the Spirit should be guiding and directing us. That way the youth learn to seek and find answers and follow the guidance they are given from someone they trust, eventually being able to transition away from listening to us and towards listening to the Spirit.

Maybe it's the piano or maybe it's something else. Teach them to sacrifice and do things for others. Teach them to serve. Teach them a foreign language. Teach them to cook and clean up after themselves. Teach them to garden. Teach them to push themselves. Keep in mind, however, that your example is as important as what you're telling them. You practice the piano yourself, whether or not you already know how to play. I have a personal policy to not ask someone to do something that I'm not willing to do myself. Let them see that you're doing hard things, too, so they don't think we're just trying to live out our broken dreams through them or that we're being lazy and making them change a diaper just because we don't want to.

If we don't try to push them to do something that would be good for them, what they'll learn is that they don't have to stick with anything they don't like because that's just how they are. When the Spirit prompts them to do something they don't want to do, they will have learned from us to ignore that prompting, as it will eventually go away like our promptings did. That’s a rather odd thing to teach.