Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Cutting Stones, or Building a Cathedral? A Minor Rant
 


Cutting Stones, or Building a Cathedral? A Minor Rant

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 13, 2011

John C. has up a good post at BCC, The Value of Shame in Mormonism, about the recent New York Times piece by the 35-year-old Mormon woman visiting Planned Parenthood for birth control – she has decided that obedience to Mormon ideals of chastity has kept her a child and deprived her of normal human development, and now she’s going to grow up. John rightly points out that how a Mormon interprets her account will depend upon whether we think she is seeking birth control because she’s about to be married, or because she has decided the law of chastity is preventing her from reaching her personal definition of adulthood. John also explores some differences between how Mormons and non-Mormons will interpret her account.

Among some good discussion, there are crude remarks by anonymous/pseudonymous drive-by commenters. Their sneering at Mormon teachings is to be expected; I yawn at both their tiresome predictability and their boorishness. But there is also some evident ignorance of chastity exhibited by a few otherwise inoffensive comments. This is too long a comment to post there, and posting it here means I won’t have to put up with at least some of the contempt it would draw over there.

You’ve probably heard the story of the visitor who observes three men at a construction site. From outward appearance, all three are performing identical manual labor. But when queried as to what they are doing, one responds, “I am earning a living”; another, “I am cutting stones”; and the third, “I am building a cathedral.” The parable is a popular one used by management gurus and religious folks to illustrate the difference which “catching the vision” can make in a person’s life.

You can fast, or you can merely go without food and drink.

You can follow the Word of Wisdom, or you can merely abstain from tobacco, alcohol, tea, and coffee.

You can teach and testify, or you can merely talk until the bell rings.

You can serve, or you can merely fill an assignment.

You can have a marriage, or you can merely live with your spouse (a possibility even after a license and ceremony)

You can make a home, or you can merely cook and clean and pay the bills.

You can observe Thanksgiving, or you can merely eat too much.

You can be an adult, or you can merely have lived past your 18th birthday.

You can build a cathedral, or you can merely put in your time.

There is a vast gulf between living the law of chastity and merely living without sex (or, in a married context, limiting sex to one’s spouse). Those of us, married or single, who are chaste due to commitment and choice and covenant are actively living a principle with recognizable benefits and blessings (cleanliness, self confidence, the respect of ourselves and those who matter most, mastery of spirit over flesh, power in the priesthood, companionship of the Holy Ghost, the ability to stand before God in His temple without fear or shame) that go unrecognized either by those who are merely going through the motions or those who have abandoned the principle altogether. Nobody with a cobweb’s hold on reality believes that chastity is easy, or that celibacy is desirable, or that we wouldn’t prefer chastity in marriage to chastity in loneliness, or that we fit easily into a church of family ideals — those are separate issues thrown in as red herrings in any discussion that denigrates chastity.

Nothing — derision, doubt, or incomprehension by the unchaste — lessens the genuine worth of chastity.



42 Comments »

  1. AMEN!

    I find the trend of mistaking heartless obedience with actual faith very, very, very disturbing. The fact that these kinds of accounts get the ear (or eyes as it is on the webbernet) really says something about society’s backwards understanding of discipleship.

    Thank you so very much for taking a stand.

    Comment by Gdub — January 13, 2011 @ 10:53 am

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. These are the kind of comments that are less sensational but so much more important to make.

    It may be a red herring for the argument, but I wish I know what more could be done (either as a church or as individuals) to help with the fitting into a church of family ideals…

    Comment by Sarah in Georgia — January 13, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  3. Thank you for this post, Ardis.

    It helped me when I needed it.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 13, 2011 @ 11:27 am

  4. Thanks, all. This isn’t the kind of comment that will persuade anyone who doesn’t already understand, but I hoped it would support someone with the reminder that he/she needn’t be persuaded by the volume and sophistication of those who don’t understand.

    (Me, too, Sarah. If I had the answer, then (1) I’d have a wider, happier ward network myself, and (2) I wouldn’t keep the answer a secret!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2011 @ 11:55 am

  5. A second amen Ardis.

    I confess to being puzzled by comments about the exclusion of singles somehow from full Church citizenship. I fall into another group that should equally be on the receiving end of such negativity- the married-but-childless (going on 12 years). I’ve never been made to feel like a 2nd-class citizen in the Church because of that lack, and that makes me question the legitimacy of the ostracizing complaints of others. (I don’t doubt it happens; it’s a big Church. I just have trouble believing it’s as systemic as claimed.)

    Comment by Ben S — January 13, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

  6. Ardis, I like the analogy of building a cathedral rather than just cutting stones, and think it works well here. As I read the NY Times article, though, I had to admit that I felt a certain sympathy for the writer. But that comes more from a sense of “she doesn’t get it” than agreeing with her choice.

    The dynamic tension in this whole argument is that the church teaches us about family, eternal perspectives, and what the ideal is, but also has to be inclusive with all those who aren’t there yet. That includes not only those who remain unmarried, but those who are struggling with same sex attraction, women married to men who are emotionally abusive or neglectful.

    I have to admit that I was touched by the compassion showed by the Planned Parenthood worker, but felt that a whole lot of other people should have been more compassionate along the way.

    In that sense, the atonement is about teaching us how to advance from cutting stones to building the cathedral, and raising our vision to see our complete potential. And cathedral building means that all of us have a lot more work to do to help our fellow stone cutters.

    Comment by kevinf — January 13, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  7. Ben, married-but-childless aren’t prohibited from hosting elders for dinner, and aren’t denied hometeachers, which are really the only systemic exclusions I’ve experienced. Married-but-childless must have some problems, though, that are analogous to the singles exclusion on a personal, not systemic basis — I was once asked to be a waitress at the ward Sweetheart Dance on Valentine’s Day “because you won’t have anything better to do,” and I’ll bet you’ve either been excluded from nursery duty on the assumption that you won’t know what you’re doing, or else had it taken for granted that you would welcome nursery duty to, you know, compensate for the obvious craving you must have for changing diapers!

    But mostly I think my feelings of exclusion have come from the constant refrain about the importance of families — something I felt was frequent but never quite realized HOW constant it was until six of the Relief Society and Gospel Doctrine lessons I’ve been expected to teach in the past two years have had as their topic the joys and responsibilities of family life. (And since RS lessons were just once every second month, and GD lessons once every second week, that means I sat through more than those lessons as a class member.) Throw in the family-centered visiting teaching messages and the conference and sacrament meeting talks, plus a realization that my peculiar needs as a single are never, ever addressed seriously, and you begin to feel excluded even when it’s not an active exclusion.

    Those lessons don’t hit the childless with the same force?

    I fight to face those challenges the same way I do the issues in this post: to realize that I’m not merely enduring life without a husband, but instead fill my life with worthwhile opportunities and services that might not be options for a married woman.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

  8. Thanks for your comment, Kevin. Including those who are (or, in my case were) married to someone who is emotionally abusive (and I feel there are more women who are emotionally abusive in the church than we like to admit) shows a great depth of understanding.

    I made a comment over there which was largely overlooked by my own fault, but I felt lonelier in the church when I was married than I even do now.

    My only personal picture of marriage is a life where I had to work harder, sacrifice more, and suffer silently. Now, at least, I can cry freely when my kids are with their Dad, the sacrifices I make are educated and freely made, and when I work harder I can reap the benefits. It is hard for me not to cry out to people who have never been married, to tell them how blessed they are. Better no marriage at all than marriage to a user and abuser.

    But the hard truth is that there is no comfort in comparing situations. The comfort is in “mourning with those who mourn”, rejecting less and loving more, even if loving means more pain.

    And it means respecting those who make hard choices without the lashing out at those who do not make the same choices.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 13, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

  9. Ah. Thanks for that detailed response. I haven’t actually seen examples before, to my knowledge.

    I admit to being insensitive (in the sense of ignorantly thick-skinned) and/or tone-deaf to certain things. I suppose at times it can be a blessing, in the sense that I’ve never felt any exclusion or negativity from the family rhetoric.

    Comment by Ben S — January 13, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

  10. Ardis, if you as a single sister are denied home teachers, that is flat out wrong, and not how things operate in our stake. As the HPGL in our ward, I am acutely aware of how much the bishop depends on home teachers to reach out and be there for the single sisters in our ward, and as much as they will accept them, they are assigned. Some are taught by husband/wife combinations, some by a pair of HP, some by a HP and his son. If your’s is a case of systemic exclusion, as you say, it’s a local problem, not church policy. However, I’m aware that your ward, like most of ours, all have their particular cultural eccentricities.

    No wonder some folks feel alienated.

    Comment by kevinf — January 13, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  11. Your post reminded me of how easy it is to substitute thoughtless participation for faithfulness, at least for me.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — January 13, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  12. kevinf, I have two fine home teachers now who would make good poster children for the whole program. But in a previous ward, I went 16 years without home teachers because “men can’t visit single women. It’s to protect the men as much as it is to protect you.”

    (I also couldn’t have visiting teachers because “ladies like to be at home with their families in the evening” which, of course, was the only imaginable time to visit a working woman, but that’s another story.) Gotta love the Twilight Zone of Utah County, no?

    I’ve been trying for about eight months now to get home teachers assigned to the elderly widowed sister — too fragile to go out, although she was active until she had to be moved to her inactive daughter’s house in our ward boundaries — whom I visit teach. It isn’t that there’s a policy against sending home teacher to her as a single woman, either; it’s just negligence on the part of the high priests assigned. If you men only understood what home teachers can mean to us!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

  13. Ardis, glad to hear that your experience was limited somewhat to just Utah County, but I am otherwise horrified at it’s existence there, just not as surprised.

    Demographics often plays a part in some of these home teaching/visiting teaching issues. About 10 years ago, a ward in our stake was dissolved and absorbed into four other wards. Our ward got most of the families with kids, while another ward got 39 widows and one high priest, an 80 year old widower. It all had to do with geography. I don’t know how the other ward handled that many new single sisters for home teaching.

    Home teaching and visiting teaching done well is definitely cathedral building. I’ve often been too much of a stonecutter myself.

    Comment by kevinf — January 13, 2011 @ 2:11 pm

  14. Where do you all feel organizations such as Singles Wards and Single Adult groups play into this?

    I’ve been home from my mission for six years and have attended singles wards/branches the whole time. I’ve never lived in Utah, so it’s been the non-BYU-Singles-Scene type of ward. In my experience it’s been a blessing to have a place where I’m not taken for granted simply because I’m not married.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen a disturbing trend of more and more people funneled through the YSA system, coming out the other side unmarried and unequipped to deal with a normal family ward. I think the issue is the separation of the gospel and the doctrine of families that can occur in singles units.

    If more youth and YSA’s understood that this is a gospel and church based on families I think they’d find a better way to frame themselves within that, rather than feel as though they’re on the fringe. Does that make sense?

    Comment by Gdub — January 13, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  15. Ardis, I loved this. Thanks for writing it.

    Comment by Emily M. — January 13, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  16. Ardis, just lovely. Valuable for anyone who strives to keep commandments.

    SilverRain, appreciated this comment of yours, too: “But the hard truth is that there is no comfort in comparing situations. The comfort is in ‘mourning with those who mourn’, rejecting less and loving more, even if loving means more pain.” Bittersweet.

    And Ardis, thanks for the kick in the seat to remind me to be a better home teacher. :-)

    Comment by Paul — January 13, 2011 @ 6:01 pm

  17. Thank you for your post Ardis.
    I feel for you.

    Comment by psychochemiker — January 13, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

  18. In my experience, whenever the law of chastity comes up in an adult church class, we tend to quickly outsource the subject to the youth, and essentially have a discussion of how we can help teenagers not have sex. I suspect that sort of habit tends to (unwittingly) play into the reduced notion of chastity as abstinence Ardis describes.

    I’ve often thought it would be interesting to have a discussion of the law of chastity in Relief Society that began by taking the youth option off the table and forced us to talk about what chastity means to us as adults, married and single, and how we can negotiate relationships with one another in that mutual commitment. But it would take a lot of skill and care to manage the discussion so that it was productive, and I doubt I have that skill and care, so I don’t know that I’ll ever try it, should I have the opportunity.

    Comment by ZD Eve — January 13, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

  19. I’ve been thinking about this post all day.

    I’d read the NYT piece, quickly, and not given much thought to it. And although I enjoy almost all the topics Ardis picks for Keepa, I nearly didn’t read this one. Not just because it seemed to have no immediate relevance for my life, but because it touched on private parts of other people’s lives, lives that are different than mine and that I don’t wish to intrude on.

    But I’m glad I came back. The discussion has been so moving. So much has been expressed here about what it means to care for others as family and what it means to take “family” seriously as an essential human bond.

    Thanks for the lessons, everyone.

    Comment by Mina — January 13, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

  20. Thanks for a beautiful and thoughtful take on the subject.

    Comment by Amy — January 13, 2011 @ 10:25 pm

  21. In 1986 or 1987 our stake had a policy of assigning single men to home-teach single women. I went inactive shortly after that, so I don’t know how long that lasted. I assume it was a disaster.

    Although marriage and family is the ideal, I like Kevin’s comment #6, about being inclusive of those who don’t meet the ideal yet. There are those, such as the abusive type that SilverRain refers to, who really shouldn’t marry.

    It wasn’t until I was 42 that I finally realized some of the emotional/personality reasons why I needed to stay single. And it was a few more years before I learned of more psychological aspects of myself, such that I was even more grateful I had remained single. Otherwise, I would have suffered even more and caused more problems as a husband/father.

    There really are “big picture reasons” why many people remain single, both in and out of the church. It’s not merely a matter of not enough men to go around, or enough righteous men, or men who are just lazy or don’t “get it.”

    There are toxic people, both men and women, who when they marry, are just going to create more abuse, toxicity, dysfunction and misery. I think we all have a picture of what an abusive husband/father is like. But I believe there also exist women who somehow attract and provoke abuse. Something about them seems to seek out an abuser, and then unwittingly push his buttons. One of my theories is that we replay the scenarios of our childhood. Sons of abusers have a tendency to be abusers. Daughters of abusers have a tendency to marry abusers.

    I don’t want to say too much (forgive me if I already have) because it may hit too close to home for some of the regulars here.

    Comment by Bookslinger — January 13, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

  22. I think, Bookslinger, that you are both correct and incorrect about people who attract abusers. Correct in that women who have low self esteem for whatever reason attract abusers by definition. Correct, also, in that cycles of abuse repeat through generations.

    Incorrect that women necessarily seek out abusers, or that most victims of abuse were victims before. Women often don’t need to seek out abusers, because abusers are the ones most likely to seek and find them.

    And some abusers are actually attracted to those who are strong. When I met my ex, I was more confident of myself and my relationship with God than ever before or since. Some abusers seek to be with strong people because they see themselves as weak. If they are with strong, confident people, they can either 1) hope that the partner can make them strong as well, or 2)believe if they tear down the strong, that makes them stronger. It is a pernicious myth that victims of abuse have some internal flaw that makes them different from those who are fortunate enough to escape abuse.

    Everyone has weaknesses, and a consummate abuser will explore whatever those weaknesses are.

    I know this is off-topic a bit, but the current way of dealing with 30+ singles is dangerous for this reason. As a case in point, in the two years since we’ve been separated, my non-custodial ex is on his seventh “steady” girlfriend (that I know of) and has proposed twice in the last six months. This last proposal stuck. Where did he find many of his marks? The singles wards.

    In contrast, as a custodial parent with a sense of responsibility to my children, I have been to one dance, attended a singles ward twice, and dated not at all in those same two years.

    The current structure of events is perfect for predators and strongly discouraging to those who, by inclination or situation, are more responsible. It is not hard for the predators and the needy on either side of the gender divide to find each other, but it is nearly impossible for those who are prepared for marriage to find even one like-minded person as things currently stand.

    And I’ve been wracking my brain for ways to effect change, but have so-far failed to find one. Other than the possibility of playing the widow to the unjust judge, which is a distasteful option, but perhaps my last.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 14, 2011 @ 7:40 am

  23. Bookslinger,

    I agree that sometimes there are valid and logical reasons that we can understand for why some people don’t get married. Sometimes those reasons may be caused be God. But I felt a lot of pain when I insisted on “finding that reason” and changing it. We don’t know for certain if all persons who aren’t married are lacking something. I actually don’t believe that all persons who aren’t married are lacking anything. Some may stay single because God wants us all to know that we can be righteous and faithful and awesome, single or married. Some may stay single for other reasons. In the end, it’s none of my business. I don’t need to judge or change them, but I am commanded to love and support them.

    One other thing you wrote reminded me of a book I’ve just finished. “Something about them seems to seek out an abuser, and then unwittingly push his buttons.” Check this out from a library if you can, the first chapter is available on googlebooks too.

    Comment by psychochemiker — January 14, 2011 @ 7:43 am

  24. Silver and Psycho: Thanks for filling in the gaps. I did not intend my comment to cover all the bases/cases. I was trying to speak to common situations I’ve seen (in my family and in my social circles), not to the univeral. I think I avoided using absolutist language, but I did not make it explicitly obvious.

    SR: I’m starting to see some wisdom in Dr. Laura’s advice for divorced parents not to remarry until the children are grown. Again, not intended to be universal, but just a common thing.

    PC: You’re right, it is nobody else’s business why an individual is single. But for some reason, many (not most and not all) people, especially married women, seem to frequenty ask us singles “Why aren’t you married?”

    Another sticking point is that while marriage and family is “the rule”, too many (perhaps not the majority, and certainly not all) people, including some (not the majority and not all) priesthood leaders seem to think it is a universal rule with no exceptions, and then go on to apply undue pressure upon those who legitimately and with good reason are single and should remain single until they realize what their issues/conditions are that are keeping them single.

    Granted, no one is perfect upon entering into marriage, and many issues are resolved in the growth and learning process of living married life. My assertion is that there exist some “deal-breakers” or “marriage killers” which, if present, must at least be identified/admitted-to by both parties prior to the I-do’s, with some kind of intent on resolving them. Some (not all) deal-breaking issues need to be actually resolved prior to marriage, not just be “in the process”.

    To cover another base, yes, there are issues which won’t be discovered by either party until long after the wedding.

    Now to tie this back to something practical:

    From what I’ve seen in my stake, I think too many (I’m going to stop belaboring the point that I’m not being universal, just realize when I’m saying “some” or “many” not “all” ) people (singles and married) think of the Single Adults program mainly or solely as a marriage-market, a place to go to prospect for a spouse. I never had that outlook. I’ve always seen it as a social outlet for singles. I see the mere human social interaction, as providing three things:

    1) learning/improving social skills for those of us who are less socially adept, 2) blessings/benefits/growth for those who go to serve and uplift others who need uplifting, 3) the blessings/benefits that the “needy”, or “poor in spirit” or “leaners” receive from the “lifter-uppers”.

    The over-30 singles groups I’ve seen tend to be dominated by the needy/poor-in-spirit/leaners. Someone who “could” be a lifter-upper, but whose mindset is actually focused on “who can I date?” or “what’s in it for me?” shows up, sees all the needy/leaners, goes “Ick!” and then never comes back.

    One possibility I see is: if more lifters, or people who are lifter-capable, could just stop focusing on “Ok, who here is marriage material? Who can I date?”, and turn outward, then more of the lifter-types would show up. Which would have three benefits:

    1) the needy/poor-in-spirit/leaner types would eventually be outnumbered, and the overall spirit/atmosphere would be in positive territory, and each lifter person would bear a smaller portion of the load, 2) the lifter-types could discover/meet/get-to-know each other due to there being a critical-mass of lifter-types, 3) and maybe with all the positive energy, lifting up, and good examples, the poor-in-spirit might grow towards being lifter-uppers themselves.

    Comment by Bookslinger — January 14, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  25. Dr. Laura doesn’t have the framework of the gospel to work in. How do you give that kind of advice to someone who has sacrificed almost everything on the altar of marriage only to have it truncated because of the actions of another?

    And I think your described scenario would be more possible if the activities and schedules for those activities were less based around nightlife and sports.

    It may be good in an idealistic sense for a person to go to these things with no question in their minds about what is in it for them, but in reality other factors come in to play. It is asking a great deal of people to come and participate in frivolous activities without participating in the frivolity. As I posted some time ago, if more activities were service- or personal-improvement-oriented, and kept real-world, adult needs in mind, and if instead of singles wards, we had singles magnet wards so that those with children could attend regularly, perhaps there would be some hope for what you suggest.

    It is hard enough just to attend the existing activities when you have a life beyond searching for a mate, at least let there be some sort of benefit in it.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 14, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  26. SR: good points. I especially like your point about meaningful (non-frivolous) activities such as service-oriented or personal-improvement oriented.

    Hopefully, the church’s various ways to serve the needs of single members will evolve and grow. Unfortunately, the evolution and growth of church programs is more reactive than proactive.

    In your other post you noted you couldn’t write church headquarters. Technically you “could”, but we’ve been advised not too. On the other hand, you could write a paper/essay on your ideas, and send copies to your bishop, stake-pres, stake-pres-counselor-over-singles, high-councilor-over-singles, and might I suggest, your Area Authority. No instructions have come down saying we can’t write those guys.

    One of the self-governing benefits of Adult singles is that through ward and stake committees we can pretty much do what we want, and don’t need to wait for priesthood leaders to tell us what we can do. You want a service project? Ok, go ahead and organize one. Coordinate it so it doesn’t conflict with other events on the singles calendar, and put the notice in the stake singles email list, and get it out to ward bulletin boards and ward sunday bulletins.

    You sound like a git-er-done type, but so many singles sit on their hands waiting for all ideas, plans and edicts to come down from on high.

    Comment by Bookslinger — January 14, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

  27. I really appreciate this discussion. In our ward, under the new instructions, we’ve totally released all individuals on our ward activities committee, and I fear that the rest of us on the ward council are all thinking “how are we going to handle things without an activities committee?”

    Instead, we need to catch the vision of building something better, and I’ll have a lot of these comments on my mind over the next few weeks. We sometimes fail those in our stewardships who don’t fit the ideal, perhaps because we too often figure it is somebody else’s responsibility.

    I can think of two specific situations in our ward where others have befriended and supported the undesirables in our midst. I think in both cases, these people feel more at home in our ward than they ever have anywhere else. There are more out there, in my ward and others, who need the benefit of being befriended by more cathedral builders, instead of being dealt with as just another rock by the stonecutters that doesn’t quite fit.

    I am hoping that I can do better.

    Comment by kevinf — January 14, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

  28. Before anybody else says it, and to avoid derailing a great conversation, I’m sure kevinf does not mean that “singles” = “undesirables.” Singles may cause additional headaches for a ward (higher home teaching loads, perhaps) that may sometimes be more visible than what we can bring to a ward, but there are all kinds of other situations that may be a lot more difficult — a lot more undesirable, if you will — to a ward. If kevinf’s ward has supported and made some of those people with difficult situations feel more at home than they have elsewhere, I’m glad to hear of it.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 14, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  29. Kevin: “There are more out there, in my ward and others, who need the benefit of being befriended by more cathedral builders, instead of being dealt with as just another rock by the stonecutters that doesn’t quite fit.”

    Stolen.

    It’s a tremendous balancing act that I don’t know how resolve: how to serve both the misfit/dysfunctional/poor-in-spirit singles and the cool/with-it/functional/successfull singles at the same time. It’s hard to do at the same time, as the “cool” people get scared off by the dysfunctional. And if you make separate attempts, you’d be categorizing and labeling people.

    I’ve learned that it is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to do cross-gender. If someone tries to be brotherly/sisterly/uplifting/supportive to someone of the opposite gender, it’s too often mistaken as romantic interest or affectionate intent. Or maybe I’m just too Asperger’s to realize all the unintended signals going on. But there are some single men and women who interpret any cross-gender attempt at interaction as romantic interest/intent.

    Comment by Bookslinger — January 14, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  30. 28 Ardis, I think about one ward in which I lived that had a high population of single adults over 30 — and by high I mean probalby 1/3 of the active members. They were a somewhat closeknit group of friends, but also had friends outside that circle. It was a unique circumstance that they formed a community among themselves (because one would normally expect enough variability that they didn’t all get along or wouldn’t choose to be friends). But in that particular ward we also NEEDED those folks in order to help our ward to function. One single sister served as Primary president. Another in the RS presidency (I think), others in the YW. Single brethren served in the EQ presidency and others taught classes, etc, etc, right along side the married folks. Some of these folks had kids the ages of mine and we were all friends and socialized together, too. But I must say it was a unique ward with a unique mix of people. I can’t say I’ve ever seen another ward with such a well integrated group of single adults.

    And, frankly, since I didn’t walk in their shoes, I don’t know that some also didn’t feel the longing and exclusion that comes from being single in a family church regardless of the callings they held. But I know my life was richer from my association with them.

    Comment by Paul — January 14, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

  31. (Ardis: sorry for hijacking the thread)

    Kevin, one thing that has occurred to me regularly over the years is the importance of mainstreaming all singles in a ward with the whole ward as far as activities, fellowship, and one-on-one friendships. And not just singles, but all families too.

    Part of the source of hurt feelings is that many of us singles feel like we’re relegated to _only_ Single Adult activities, as if we’re not welcome at the _Ward_ Dinner, _Ward_ Christmas party, _Ward_ picnic, etc. (Part of the problem is that these _Ward_ events are often advertised as “Family” events, and the implication is that singles are not invited to “Family” events. Though I’ve personally thought that “Family” event merely means, or should mean, “kids allowed” not “no singles allowed.)

    I hope I was reading them wrong, but sometimes I’ve picked up on an attitude from married members that seemed to indicate “You singles go off and play by yourselves, and when you’re married, then you can come back and join the rest of us.”

    Comment by Bookslinger — January 14, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

  32. “If someone tries to be brotherly/sisterly/uplifting/supportive to someone of the opposite gender, it’s too often mistaken as romantic interest or affectionate intent. Or maybe I’m just too Asperger’s to realize all the unintended signals going on.”

    I felt this way when I was single. Consequently, I went out of my way to not pay any attention to certain people who I felt were misinterpreting earlier friendly contact. I’m not sure if I should feel bad about it, or if I also am too unskilled in interpreting signals.

    Comment by Ben — January 14, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

  33. Sometimes the only thing to do in that case is to pretend that you don’t notice the misunderstanding and continue to interact with him/her in a friendly or professional or pastoral way (whatever the *intended* nature of your contact) regardless of his/her reaction or that of anybody else who misinterprets. Sometimes the misunderstanding dissolves, and by having pretended not to notice, you make it easier for the misunderstand-er to act as if everything has been all right all along.

    The downside to that is that you become so good at not noticing the signals that you no longer remember how to encourage or return signals when you *are* interested, or think he is. sigh

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 14, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  34. Ardis, my problem as I see it is how to diplomatically explain to (and convince) the other person I’m not interested such that they stop glomming on to me and acting like I’m their beau. I (and I think Ben) was speaking to a situation where the other person _wants_ to be your beau, but you’re not interested.

    I think your suggestion would work only where neither party is actually romantically interested in the other.

    If mere friendliness/pastoralness is what caused them to make an incorrect assumption in the first place, then continuing it without some other way to correct the misunderstanding just compounds the problem. I suspect that some people, desperate/dysfunctional or not, are just incapable of conceiving that friendliness to them by an unmarried person of the opposite gender is anything but romantic/affectionate interest.

    I’m thinking of a couple experiences in my past where even casual interactions became intolerably painful to me due to the toxicity and open wounds of the other parties. It was like they were wiping their open wounds on me merely by them speaking to me.

    A couple more recent cases, two sisters thought they had the right to casually, but unnecessarily, touch me frequently during conversations. One of them literally refused to comply when I stated categorically to stop touching me and that she specifically did not have my permission to touch me. A week later, she made a point to cross an empty room, get closer than what was needed and do it again. I had to get 3rd party help with her. But I still never got an apology for what she did (after I told her to stop) and I never got a promise that it wouldn’t happen again.

    So no, I’m not a fan of pretending the misunderstanding is not there, at least not until the other party corrects their understanding. I think that if they can’t grok that friendliness does not equate to romantic interest, then the rules of respectful decorum seem to suggest breaking off even friendly contact. One can’t, or shouldn’t force friendly social contact where it is not welcomed. And in the other case, where romantic interest is felt by the “glommer”, then I think the glomm-ee has a right to withdraw.

    I think the scritpures give some good advice on how to handle it in the passages about being offended: D&C 42:88-89, and Matthew 18:15-16.

    Comment by Bookslinger — January 14, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  35. It works both ways, Bookslinger, by just refusing to notice or react to unwanted interest. It’s an extension of the old-fashioned training of ladies to appear not to notice all kinds of unpleasantness, and not to return rudeness for rudeness, for instance. Maybe it comes more naturally to women who have already absorbed (even unconsciously) that particularly “lady-like” training.

    The kind of manhandling you’re talking about by someone who refuses a direct request not to touch is not normal, rational behavior, though, so normal social distancing wouldn’t work, I admit.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 14, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

  36. Ardis,

    I absolutely loved this post. Thank you.

    Comment by michelle — January 14, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

  37. Sarah, there are many blogs which welcome comments disputing basic gospel principles and advocating lifestyles in opposition to the commandments as understood and taught by the LDS church. Keepa is not one of them. Thank you for your visit and especially for the courteous tone of your disagreement; however, your comment will not be posted.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 15, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

  38. downeyd, if you had a blog for people to discuss their exit from Mormonism, and some Mormon came over and told you how wrong you were, and preached repentance to you, his comment wouldn’t be welcome no matter how sincere it was or how cordially worded. If the blogger barred such calls to repentance, it wouldn’t be because he’s afraid that one of his friends might actually be converted back to Mormonism; it would be because such comments are off-topic, out of order, and an intrusion into the peaceful conversation of people using the site in the way it was intended.

    Ditto for comments I don’t post here. They’re an intrusion. Keepa is a different kind of blog. People needn’t agree with me all the time, but they do have to be respectful of Mormonism and Mormons.

    Non-Mormons and former Mormons are welcome to participate. Some do. And the ones who do contribute regularly and peaceably are freer to disagree with me a lot more vociferously than you, a stranger, will ever be permitted to do.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 16, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

  39. Hear, hear!

    Comment by Researcher — January 16, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

  40. Bookslinger, sorry but I’ve been away from the blog for the weekend, but I think you are right that the key is to mainline singles in a regular ward. Granted, though, that it is incredibly tough, both because the default attitude in most regular wards (I hate to use the term “family”, even though it is an accurate description) is going to be geared towards a family perspective. However, I’ve seen ti work in many cases. My current ward that we’ve lived n for 17 years has a mixed record. We’ve done pretty well in some cases, not so well in others. You hate to see assignments made to married families and couples to to associate and befriend singles, but sometimes it works. We’ve had a 30+ single sister who served as our YW president, some who have served in RS leadership, and many other front and center positions. We’ve had less luck with the 30+ single brethren, and I’m not sure we have any answers for why. Inclusiveness is the key, and it takes a concerted and directed effort to get it started, to change the attitude of the majority of ward members.

    I think that if we in family wards (there it is again, sorry) think that we need to help the singles get married, it’s dead from the start. If we take the approach that we just need to befriend everyone, then it seems to work better. No one needs to be a project; everyone just needs to have friends and be included.

    Comment by kevinf — January 17, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  41. Thanks for this post. I think there are so many important issues of discussion raised. I’ve kept out of the discussion primarily because most of my thoughts have been expressed by others much better than I could have done myself. I would like to comment on Kevinf and Bookslingers remarks. I believe they are correct about the inclusion of singles in traditional wards (aka family wards). I have been both a single in a traditional ward as well as a married and I have seen it from both sides. I was very appreciative as a single graduate student moving into a small unit. I had been in a Utah student ward before then and felt completely isolated & unneeded. In this unit, however, being that it was so small, it needed me as much as I needed it. At one point I was wearing five different hats. For the first time since my mission I felt like I was needed in the Church.

    I currently am in a small unit. There is also a small university in town so we get a handful of LDS college students/YSA people. Some of these have shaky testimonies and their activity varies. Others are returned missionaries well grounded in the Gospel. We had a situation a couple of years ago where the person called as institute teacher began to isolate the college students/YSA from the rest of the branch–in essence she created a quasi-student unit within our unit. At the time our BP thought that it might be a good thing if there was a YSA GD class so they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with “family” discussions. The institute teacher’s husband was called to teach this class. Institute teacher and her husband also oversaw a YSA FHE in their home. While all these were intended to aid the YSA what happened was that she cut off (and I think it was intentional) the YSA from the rest of the branch. Students would be in the branch for a couple of years and no one knew who they were. The needs of the singles were not being met. Occasionally, singles who had made mistakes confessed to the institute teacher rather than the BP. We in the branch presidency finally had to release this sister from all her callings regarding the YSA. We dissolved the YSA GD class and have assigned different families in the branch to host YSA FHE in their homes on a rotating basis so that we can integrate the YSA into the branch.

    Sorry for taking up too much on this comment, but I believe it is crucial to involve the singles in a very meaningful way. Under certain circumstances, I realize a need for singles wards or student wards (singles and young marrieds). That said, in most cases it is important to integrate singles in traditional wards in meaningful ways. BTW: In my small unit we certainly utilize the 30+ singles, that’s for sure.

    Comment by Steve C. — January 17, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

  42. Bookslinger #25—Sorry for the long wait, I don’t have internet access at times.

    I probably wasn’t clear about the details of my situation. I did talk to my bishop, who recommended that I write the Office of the First Presidency (the office, not the people themselves) in the hopes that some secretary would know the correct committee and direct the inquiry. The letter was then forwarded to my Stake President, whom I thought had been addressed by my bishop on the matter, but was apparently blindsided and embarrassed, and questioned my faithfulness and testimony in return.

    With this in mind, I haven’t the least idea how to identify the other people you listed, nor would it likely be appropriate considering I’ve already damaged the bridge between me and my SP.

    Same thing goes for any grass-roots attempts to organize things for singles on my part. I suspect that would be seen now as an act of rebellion.

    Unfortunately, this leaves my hands tied and me frustrated and trying not to be bitter.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 18, 2011 @ 9:31 am

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