Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Equality Means Something -- It Means the Valleys as Well as the Mountains

Julie M. Smith, writing at Times and Seasons, is right when she says, in regards to women having the priesthood (or not) that “equal does not mean the same. But it does mean something.”

She is right to propose that the young women in the LDS Church ought to have more visible responsibility, equal to that of the young men, who get to prepare the sacrament, bless the sacrament, pass the sacrament, act as ushers at the chapel door and reap the recognition that comes weekly as bishopric members everywhere regale the congregation with the immortal line “we’d like to thank the young men for administering the sacrament.”

I’m all for her proposals. Were I a bishopric member, I’d be all for what she’d like to see the young women do. I’d even aid the fight in penetrating the bureaucracy that is not LDS Church headquarters but the iron-clad tradition of ward choirsters and organists.

Why? Because I have a young woman myself who is itching at the chance to participate more in church, and since she turned twelve just a few months ago has already taught a Beehive lesson, worked on quilts for a service auction, and volunteered in the nursery during Primary inservice. And, thanks to her mother who is breaking the mold with service in the Boy Scouts of America, has been to more weeks of Scout camp than most of the Boy Scouts I know.

But I have to wonder if Julie M. Smith is looking at the young men with rose-colored glasses.

Not wonder, I know.

I know because I was once a young man in the LDS Church myself. And my current calling has me working with the young men every Sunday and every Tuesday.

So as long as we agree that equal has to mean something, let me suggest the following results in that equality:

Recognition, in the form of “Wow. We have a crop of really short deacons. Except for that tall one with the messy hair and high-water pants who we’re never really sure washes his hands before he passes the sacrament, because he sure smells funny,” and “Why did the bishop make that priest say the Sacrament prayer three times? I couldn’t hear anything wrong with the other two times. That bishop is a real micromanager,” or “That priest is a moron who can’t get anything right. Even I know how to pronounce the word ‘O’.” Not forgetting that the “we’d like to thank the young men for administering the sacrament” is just the kind of ritual Sunday ornamentation that rolls off the tongue as easily as “I’d like to bear my testimony,” “all in favor show by the raising of the right hand” and those damn doilies y’all cling to in Relief Society. Pretty, fitting, innocuous, but tell me you sincerely remember a spiritual goose the last time you heard such thanks or saw such a doily at church.

Purpose, in that the young men slag off on coming to church early (or staying late) for fast offering collection, “forget” they’ve got that duty, tell Mom and Dad they’re going to Scouts but instead run off, insist on playing basketball every freakin’ Tuesday when they do go to Scouts, slump over like department store mannequins as they “usher” at the chapel doors, and fight like devils when it’s “their turn” for the “extra blessings” that come when it’s time to pass sacrament at the old folks home, go home teaching (my memories of home teaching at the tender age of fourteen revolve around faithfully visiting two families where at Home A my partner and the man of the house would talk about hunting for two hours followed up with an additional two-hour conversation about HVAC systems with the man of the house at House B; my duties were limited to saying the closing prayer at the end of each visit, after they woke me up), or have to do anything at the Sacrament table other than be the warm body who sits in the middle and doesn’t have to do a damn thing. (I think the files all of this under the rubric of the young men “working out the logistics of passing the sacrament in their quorums.”)

Motivation, in that despite sins that beckon them and entrap them and beguile them every other day of the week, they will still risk the hellfire and damnation of their parents to officiate in the sacrament because it’s what’s expected at their given age. And nobody wants to say no to priesthood duty and have to confess something in front of the bishop, probably right there in the chapel because mom and dad insist they participate, do they? (Trust me, I have experience with this firsthand.)

Spirituality, in (see Purpose above). Oh, and one of the quorum leaders or the bishop or a counselor or one of those creepy visitors form the stake might cry during a “spiritual” portion of the lesson, but they’re just some fat old guys who joke about having to get out of the tent in the freezing cold on Scout campouts five times to go to the bathroom, so the boys know they’ve got no control over their faculties anyway. That’s if they can hear the lesson above the noise created by the ADHD kid who will chatter with whomever you sit him next to, even if that someone is one of the creepy guys from the stake. And the noise created by that one kid who always brings LEGO minifigures to church to stage epic battles during the lesson and always has more minifigures in his pockets, no matter how many you take away from him and it’s not seemly of a Melchezidek Priesthood holder to frisk and otherwise pat down his charges, but you’d certainly like to try. And if they can penetrate the tablets and smart phones the young men bring to church “because they have their scriptures on them,” even though they can’t locate books in the Book of Mormon let alone the likes of Obadiah or Habakkuk, except for the know-it-all who read the lesson at home and has to answer every. Single. Stinking. Question.

Growth, in that, we hope, they will learn something from the experience (Julie M. Smith gets this part right). And hopefully confess to a myriad of sins before they get to the MTC, unless we can pass of their untimely return as some sort of persistent yet undiagnosed illness and get them out the door, huh, look at that, a year later.

Am I exaggerating in my examples?

No. I’ve seen it all, and I’m not even a high priest yet. I’m a priesthood holder who revels at the chance to use young men/scouting obligations to skip Sunday School not because I’m like the young men and uneducated in the sheer seriousness of priesthood responsibility (we get Section 76 read to us at an alarming rate) but because I, like the young men, am a human being, prone to the frailties of living in this world despite having authority given me of God and the recognition that comes with it, whether it’s sincerely offered or offered by rote.

Since we’re talking about equality meaning something, let me tell you something about meaning. Having the priesthood doesn’t give me or our young men an instant “in” with all things spiritual. Maybe as we grow we come to realize that priesthood responsibility and the recognition that comes with it does lead to greater spiritual growth, but it’s the rare Aaronic priesthood holder who will tell you, in the moment, that very thing. We grow, bit by bit, jot by tittle, just the same as the young women and members of the Relief Society do. And can I tell you I’ve seen more spiritual growth in my young woman of twelve than I’ve seen in my young man of fourteen? I love them both. I pray nightly for the challenges they face. Yet it’s my son I worry about the most, despite his holding the Aaronic Priesthood and the honors and benefits that come with it. Both are equally challenged by the world, by inequalities inside and outside the church.

Yes, equality does mean something. Just don’t get me started on Eagle Scouts.

No comments: