Saturday, November 01, 2014

Hymn-spiration

So, there's this song we sang in primary this year and I'll admit I'm kind of torn over it. On the one hand the chorus makes me cry almost every time and verses 1 and 4 are beautiful. On the other hand, verses 2 and 3 are a little difficult for me to swallow—especially with the gender-role stereotype sharing time lessons we had while we were learning them. Not that the sharing time lessons in the manual were explicitly stereotyped; but our teacher's interpretations of them were.

It made me uncomfortable to hear about Daddies going to work and holding the priesthood while Mommies did all the cooking and cleaning and kissing of boo-boos.

I'm a stay at home mom but my husband spent the entire afternoon cleaning the house today and when I tried to help with dinner he shooed me out of the kitchen and told me to take a nap. So be it. Because once I was a stay at home mom and I worked in the evenings to earn just barely enough money to pay for his (second) master's degree.

Not that I'm keeping score. I'm just saying that those lines between gender roles are a little more fuzzy than we make them out to be sometimes.


Can I even count the number of times I've had to lead us all in family prayer to share my love for Father in Heaven? I mean, any trailing spouse (medical, PhD, career, whatever) can tell you about how busy their partner is...and approximately how many times they get to have them home for dinner, let alone bedtime. Let's just say that my children sometimes go days at a time without setting eyes on their father (except for Rachel because Andrew gets up with her in the mornings—helps her do her hair and everything—and puts her on the bus, just like a caring father should).

The line "to love and teach the gospel to their children" has always sounded awkward to me as well. Are they loving their children and teaching them the gospel? Or are they loving and teaching the gospel? Who knows? Either way, I assure you that I do that just as well as Andrew. In fact, the vast majority of FHE lessons are prepared and executed by yours truly.

My role, though, is "to care, prepare / to nurture and to strengthen all [my] children." Further, mothers teach their "children to obey, to pray / to love, and serve in the family."

This, naturally, meant that mothers are supposed to do all the cooking in the home and comfort their children when they're sad. Oh, and to make kids do their chores. Nice.

The song is—as you may have guessed if you're LDS and involved in primary—The Family is of God. And recently a blogger wrote a post about this, basically stating that it's super wrong to not like those verses because that's akin to "drinking down stream, where the philosophies and ideologies of the world have infiltrated the pure flowing waters of righteousness." She says the words to the song are "pure doctrine, undefiled and taught with power" because they were inspired by The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

Let's be clear, The Family: A Proclamation to the World was delivered by the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley and it does mention gender roles:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. 
Ten words about mothers. Ten words. That's it.

The song The Family is of God, which was not written by a prophet, uses twenty-nine words to describe what mothers are "primarily responsible" for so I think the song writer took some liberties. And the song ignores anything about fathers and mothers being obligated to help one another as equal partners

Besides which, the two middle verses are wordy and awkward to sing. Perhaps there's some way we could condense them into one verse.

A father's place is to preside, beside
The capable, kind mother of his children.
Our parents teach us to obey, to pray, 
To love and serve in the fam'ly.

Still a little lame, I must admit. And there's definitely room for offense in there, too. It's a work in progress. Whatever.

Our primary actually learned the verse about mothers rather well and sang it for Mother's Day and it was sweet. But I still like to think I do more than cook and clean (because sometimes my husband does those things...so if all I do is cook and clean and my husband does those things, where does that leave me?!). I also like to think that my husband does a little more nurturing than his verse makes out that he does. I mean, we are equal partners on this parenting adventure.

I don't recall spending a lot of time on the verse about fathers. I think we might have learned it in June (for Father's Day) but, uh, June was a bad month at our house (remember: pink eye! the not-strep super-infection from H-E-double-hockey-sticks! tick-borne illness! crazy stomach flu!) and I'm not sure how many of us actually made it out the door on any given Sunday that month.

When we sang this song for the program—and I managed not to cry on the chorus ("God gave us families / to help us become what he wants us to be / this is how He shares His love / for the fam'ly is of God") so kudos to me—the children belted out verses one and four and mumbled their way through two and three, which in my eyes was just fine.

I don't think that makes me a bad person who needs to be "sifted" out of the fold, as a friend on Facebook so delicately put it.

Honestly, I love music. I love hymns. I love primary songs. I love singing in the choir.

Music speaks to my soul in a way that the spoken word can't.

I think people who write music and poetry are amazing (and that's not because I started our annual Christmas poem today because I'm not sure that enters the realm of good poetry) but I also think that sometimes they can get things wrong. And I know sometimes those wrongs are righted.

In volume 28, number 3 (Fall 1995) of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Douglas Campbell published an article called "Changes in LDS Hymns: Implications and Opportunities" where he discusses various changes that have been made to the church hymn book as well as the hymns themselves. It was a fascinating read, I thought.

And I also think that if all those songs were changed, it's okay to change songs in the future to be more inclusive and sensitive and correct.

(Just to clarify: I wasn't offended by the song as much as some people have described (eg. not sending their children to primary because of it) but it didn't really jibe with me, that's all.)

16 comments:

  1. I had the same thoughts about those middle verses, though I think it bothers me slightly less than the "home is where there's dad who is strong and awesome and oh yeah there's mom and kids and stuff" song. I like your version!

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    1. Now I'm trying to figure out what song that is...

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    2. Hahaha, it's this one: https://www.lds.org/music/library/childrens-songbook/home?lang=eng

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    3. I don't think I've ever heard that song before! But, yes. Oh, and mother and kids, too. ;)

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    4. I feel like the second verse of "Home" was all about getting the rhyme to work...that happens to me when I write poetry...

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    1. I can see where your concern came from but I'm glad that you rethought about posting this, though I also wish you'd have left it so people could see where YOU are coming from.

      As I mentioned, a lot of my feelings came from the sharing time lessons that accompanied the teaching of this song.

      I agree that mothers care and prepare and nourish and strengthen their children.

      But I also think that fathers care, prepare, nourish and strengthen their children.

      And so, as I said, when we sang the song specifically for mother's day it seemed appropriate, it just didn't feel right to me to sing it after singing the father's verse, which I feel are also roles that mothers often take on. For example, in my sister-in-law's family she is the bread winner while her husband is the stay-at-home dad because that's they way things have to be for now (due to circumstances beyond their control). I imagine that sometimes songs like this make them feel...less than. There are many other situations I could think of that would create the same feeling.

      I'm a stay at home mom and I love being a mother, but I also feel like if we can be more sensitive to other people's feelings that that's a good thing.

      I think it's a beautiful song in general, but I found the middle verses to be subpar both doctrinally as well as linguistically. To me the verses were mostly...empty, void of actual meaning, made the song too long, and created hard feelings for some people to deal with.

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  3. Hi Nancy,
    I'm trying to understand more where you are coming from. Could you clarify how the lyrics "A mother’s purpose is to care, prepare/ To nurture and to strengthen all her children/ She teaches children to obey, to pray/To love and serve in the fam’ly." drew the conclusion in your mind that "This, naturally, meant that mothers are supposed to do all the cooking in the home and comfort their children when they're sad. Oh, and to make kids do their chores."


    It seems like quite the jump!

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    1. From sharing time. That's how I made the conclusion.

      Granted sharing times were different all over the world.

      I'm glad that you enjoyed the song in its entire form, but I know a lot of people did not. And I think that's okay.

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    2. "When you ask people [about whatever], their perception often doesn’t match reality. But that’s where things get tricky: Perceptions matter more."

      http://news.byu.edu/archive14-sep-favoritism.aspx

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  4. I'm glad I rethought posting my first comment, too. I wrote it late at night when I was really tired.

    Now that you explained the context in which this song was taught in your ward, I understand why you said this. But I hope that objectively, you can understand that the lyrics themselves do not portray the image of a mother who simply cooks, cleans and comforts crying children. At all.

    But does that change anything? If anyone knows the heartbreak and struggles that comes from not being in that traditional role, I believe my mother does. She was a single mother of 6 kids and had to start all over again with nothing. She's had to work a lot. But she doesn't get angry or hurt or bitter when people talk about the ideal. Instead, she teaches her children that there is nothing more noble to strive for.



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  5. Oops...I deleted a sentence....

    Before the last paragraph, I wrote that there are women who are not in the traditional role as the primary caregivers for their children and it makes them feel bad when we discuss that as the ideal for children.

    (and then the last paragraph I wrote...sorry...I'm rushing...)

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  6. I have very conflicted feelings about this song as well. Thankfully, the chorus is the best (from my point of view) and is also the part the children will remember the best throughout their lives. I belong to the Facebook Primary Choristers group, which has over 6,000 members, and you can imagine that we had a very, very long discussion about this song, how to teach it, whether to learn all the verses, etc. In the end, my take away has been that the verse rings true: God gave us families to help us become what he wants us to be. This includes really, really hard family situations in which the children have suffered through incredibly hard things--but now that some specific children I am thinking of are almost grown and are individuals of incredible strength of character, I can see that their horrible family situations have blessed their lives in unforeseen ways. That reinforces that line to me: Any family can be a blessing and can help a child become somebody wonderful. My own situation, which turned me into a breadwinner and an academic when all I really wanted was to be a mother with 21 children because you can never have too many children, right?--well, the verses in the song are not about our family for sure. But the chorus still riings true. And we get to sing that four times!

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    1. Oops! THE CHORUS RINGS TRUE is what I meant to type! I wish there was a way to correct comments!

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  7. I don't think this song is malicious in intent. I was not personally strongly offended by the verses; they simply are not my favourite. I think there is quite a bit of room for improvement, especially since I know they have more deeply wounded others.

    I love the chorus as well.

    I know of no family situation that is completely ideal, but I also believe that God gave us the family He gave us to help us become what He wants us to be. I love the proclamation and how it says specifically that individual adaptations are necessary—and completely okay. Family relationships—even with all the skeletons in the closet—teach us so, so much about love.

    I think seeking for the ideal is great; but I also think it is important for children to feel loved NOW. I think it's important to understand that if you don't obtain or sustain the "perfect" family that God still loves you. I need a little more hope—a little more wiggle room to be me without being culturally boxed in—and those verses simply didn't give that to me.

    I love more than 50% of the song and I think it's great that you love it 100% of the way. Please don't be offended that I don't love those middle two verses. You should really read that article about changes made to hymns—inspired hymns full of truth...that were later changed to make more sense, be more inclusive, and not offend. Still inspired. Still beautiful. But just a smidgeon better...

    (PS. I'm thinking I know who you are now...if you're from HR).

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    1. That hymn essay was so interesting! I particularly was interested in Naomi Randall's take on the changing of the word "know" to "do" which I had not heard before--I knew the story, of course, but not her reaction to the change. I may have to use this essay for a future Hymn Sing at the library! Thanks for sharing it!

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