Monday, October 30, 2023

Yakety Yack

Rachel spoke in church today...finally. She was supposed to give a talk in June, I think, but we were going to be in Utah, so they rescheduled her for a bit later. But then they spontaneously changed around our stake presidency (a member of the stake presidency, who was from our ward, had just submitted mission papers and was being released so he and his wife could go on their mission, and another person from our ward was called into the presidency), and this reorganization meeting just happened to occur the week Rachel had been rescheduled to speak, so her talk was postponed once again. 

So, yes, finally this week was the week she had to speak in church.

You'd think with so much notice she'd have had her talk ready well in advance, but no. She wrote it at midnight after coming home from a multi-stake youth dance in Athens (Grandpa drove the girls and a friend out there, and we are so grateful). 

She had had a lot of time to brainstorm about her talk, though, so it was easier to write than if she hadn't even been thinking about it...but still!

Here's her talk (she read it all in about 2 minutes flat, so she was really zooming through it):

Good morning! My name is Rachel Heiss. I’m 16 years old and a junior in high school. I’m homeschooled, and right now I’m taking some classes through BYU Idaho. I’ve been a little busy because I’m still getting used to that, but when I have free time I like to read. My family has moved around a good amount, and one of the first things we do when we go to a new place is check out the library. 

When we moved to Utah from North Carolina in 2017, my mom went to our new library to see what it was like. When she got home she started telling us about it, and when she said that “it has a great selection of graphic novels and we got a bunch for the kids,” my grandpa looked absolutely horrified. “Nancy!” he said in the tone of a Victorian woman clutching her pearls, “Why would you let your kids read graphic novels??” We all laughed at him, and eventually my mom explained that graphic novels are basically long comic books—not actually explicit or inappropriate for kids like he’d thought.

Because it’s the Halloween season and my youngest brother requested something spooky, my family recently read Macbeth together. A dominant theme we noticed in Macbeth is the phrase “fair is foul and foul is fair,” which means that people and things can be deceptive and not everything is what you assume it is. Similarly, Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” While we don’t live in a Shakespeare play set in 11th century Scotland or in Isaiah’s time, it can still be hard for us to figure out what’s right and wrong because the world tries to trick us into thinking that foul is fair and fair is foul and that darkness is light and light is darkness. The 13th Article of Faith says to seek out things that are lovely, pure, of good report, and praiseworthy, but sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s good and what’s bad. Sometimes certain people hear the phrase “graphic novel” and assume it’s something indecent when really it’s just a regular book, but a lot of the time it’s the other way around. We assume that something questionable is okay when it’s not. 

Because the world in general isn’t a super reliable source on what kinds of things are good, we should ask for help from people we trust (like parents, grandparents, siblings, and church leaders) when we’re confused about something. But I also think that a lot of things aren’t always black and white, and what’s okay for some people might not be okay for other people. For example, I can handle watching scarier movies than my six your old brother. Those movies are fine for me, but they don’t make him feel good, so he doesn’t watch them. I think that we should focus a lot on how things make us feel—if a show, book, or movie makes you feel uncomfortable or bad, you don’t need to keep reading or watching it. You’re the only person who can really figure out what to do with things that we’re not given specific instructions about. 

Figuring this out isn’t exactly meant to be easy, either. The admonition of Paul mentioned in the 13th Article of Faith comes from Philippians 4:8, and says, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” We’re not supposed to automatically know what what’s good or praiseworthy—we’re supposed to “think on those things” and figure out what’s right for us. Knowing how we feel about things can be difficult, especially if you’re facing peer pressure or you feel like it’s something you should like, but the only way to figure out what’s right for us is to keep trying to recognize our own feelings. 

Part of the 13th Article of Faith says, “we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.” We believe that we should be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and good to all men, but despite our efforts to be good people and seek out good things, we’re still going to have to suffer—and not only endure that suffering but hope that we’ll endure even more. This sounds like a little bit of a bad deal. But this Article of Faith also mentions having hope, and I think that seeking out good things can help us have more hope. Seeking out things that are virtuous, lovely, or of good report doesn’t only mean finding good things like TV shows and books (although that is a significant part of it). It also means surrounding yourself with good people who give you hope when things are hard. 

You don’t have to wait for good things to come to you through media and other people, either—we can also create that goodness ourselves. Life can be rather difficult at times, and it’s easy to feel hopeless about the world, especially with the incredibly devastating news coming out of Palestine and Israel right now. Obviously I can’t do a lot to fix that or anything that’s happening around the world, but when it feels like everything’s bleak and you can’t find anything good, we shouldn’t just wait for someone else to fix that for us. Instead we should create goodness ourselves by serving others and helping them to feel hope, “having,” like Mosiah 5:2 says, a “disposition to do good continually.” 

I bear my testimony that doing and seeking out good things and finding a community of good people can help us endure all things like it says in the 13th Article of Faith, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Miriam was scheduled to speak just the day after we returned from our trip to Utah, so she spoke at the very end of June and I just never put her talk up because, well, we were busy writing about so many other things (I also feel like one of the girls had to switch dates with Andie at some point...was that Rachel or Miriam?). Miriam was stressing out about her talk the entire time we were traveling over the summer, but it ended up being just lovely:
The 8th Article of Faith is one of many things that sets us apart from other branches of Christianity. It states: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”

I never thought too hard about this Article of Faith, I just memorized it so I could earn a ribbon in primary, so let’s break it down and analyze it now.

The first part says, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly.” The key phrase here is “Translated correctly.” Other branches of Christianity believe in Biblical Inerrancy; believing the Bible to be complete and incapable of faults. We don’t believe that. In the Topics and Questions section on the Church website, there is an article about Biblical Inerrancy that says: “Latter-day Saints revere the Bible. They study it and believe it to be the word of God. However, they do not believe the Bible, as it is currently available, is without error.” That is, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly.” We believe in the Bible, but we don’t believe we have the complete and correct translation of the Bible. Sometimes teachings and rules in the Bible get lost in translation, and sometimes the teachings might not be applicable to our situations.

Some churches and religions do believe the Bible to be complete, and strive to follow the teachings in the scriptures how they interpret them. For example, in Orthodox Catholicism, women cover their hair when praying, because of the teachings in 1 Corinthians 11. In Orthodox Judaism women cover their hair when they are married, and some Orthodox Jews don’t wear blended fabrics, because it says in Leviticus 19:19, “neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.” But even though this may seem like outdated practices to us,  we have to respect the way they express their faith, because another key principle of our church is found in the 11th Article of Faith, which says, ”We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” We also have our own rules that we follow from the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants that other religions may find odd. If we expect our beliefs to be respected, we have to respect other people's beliefs

So, we believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly, which means we believe that there are portions of the Bible not translated correctly. We also believe that there is a most correct version, the King James Version. In the Church Handbook it says that the King James Version is the preferred version for English speakers, but that “other editions of the Bible may be useful for personal or academic study”. The preferred version for Spanish speakers is The Reina-Valera. 

For the past two years, while studying the Old and New Testament, our family has been using different translations and versions of the Bible.  Some people have the King James Version, some people have the New Revised Standard Version, and some people have study Bibles. While reading the Old Testament, it was very interesting, as there were different scripts used, different details, and entirely new books, like the book of Judith, and the story of Bel and the Dragon. We also had various study editions and compared footnotes, and sometimes people read in different languages, like Russian or German. King James can also be pretty hard to understand at times, partially due to language from the 1600’s, but mostly because scripture is confusing, and sometimes using a different translation can help clarify things. Study Bibles often include lots of footnotes that explain confusing currency, like shekels and denarii, or lengths, like cubits. They can also give historical context and general information about what is going on, which can offer a new perspective on the teachings in both the Old and New Testaments.

The second part of the 8th article of faith says, “We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God”. This part is pretty self-explanatory. We, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believe the Book of Mormon is true scripture and is as important as the Bible in our theology, each book supports the other’s teachings. The Book of Mormon is another Testament of Jesus Christ, as it states on the title page.

I bear my testimony that I believe the Book of Mormon is true, and that it is another Testament of Jesus Christ and his miraculous resurrection and atonement. I also believe the Bible to be the word of God, and that the teachings there are true, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Benjamin hasn't spoken in church yet this year, but he will be speaking next month when the kids do their primary program. This will be Benjamin's last primary program (and his first time participating in about four years because we've been doing home-primary for various reasons). He was given a prompt by the primary presidency and I had him go off and write his own talk. I was pretty impressed with what he brought back to me—he'd even looked up scriptures and everything.

"But I kind of cheated," he said, "Because I just typed what I remembered of the scripture I was thinking of into the search bar and that's how I found them. I didn't really look them or anything like that."

We've been working on using book indices, a skill which—while still important—is admittedly becoming less important as documents are digitized and keyword searches are becoming more commonplace. So, yes, I do teach my children the importance of using the index and topical guide and whatever to find what they're looking for (in the scriptures and in school), but no shade on keyword searching. 

Knowing what to type into a search engine to find the information you're looking for is equally important. For real. So I think it's really cool that he thought of which scriptures he wanted to include and then hunted them down so he could be sure he was accurately quoting them. 

Here's his talk:
Hi my name is Benjamin Heiss and I have been asked to talk about my favorite story of Jesus. 

This is kind of hard for me because there are many great stories, but the one I chose was when Jesus fed the five thousand. In this story five thousand people were following Jesus around to listen to his teachings, but most of them forgot food. When it was time to eat, his apostles found a boy with some food and asked him if he would be willing to share. He agreed and Jesus turned his measly offering of a single meal—two fish and five small loaves of bread—into enough food to feed 5000.

This story shows me that Christ can make a lot from not very much. In Alma 37:6 it says, “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” One example of this that I can think of is tithing. We all pay a small amount every time we earn money, but when that money is pooled together, we can do many great things like build temples, support education, and provide welfare for those in need—things that we can’t do very well on our own.

But even when we want or need to do something on our own, many small efforts can make big things happen. Here is a question to consider: which is more—saving $10 a week or saving $520 a year? The answer is that they are the same! Many small payments accrue over time to create a large balance, and it’s often easier to save money that way. Faith works in the same way. In Matthew 17:20, Jesus said, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed…nothing shall be impossible unto you.” We just need to show a little bit of faith, and Jesus will help us. As it says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

I bear my testimony that I know the church is true and that Jesus really did die for me and for you and for everybody, and that by showing a little bit of faith—and doing the necessary work in small and simple steps—we can do great things. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Zoë was asked to share how she felt when she got baptized. Every time she gets to the part where she says, "I felt cold and wet...because the water was cold and wet," the primary president looks at me a chuckles, so I know she appreciates how literally Zoë interpreted that question. Here's what she said:
I first felt nervous about getting baptized because it was something I had never done before. Soon, though, I felt cold and wet instead, because the water was cold and wet. But after, I felt happy because I knew that the Holy Ghost was with me and I was following Christ's example. 
I squeezed an answer out of her organically while we played a "home-primary" review game in preparation for the primary presentation. Alexander had received the game "The Floor is Lava" for his birthday and really wanted to play it, but we had run out of time. The following day was a Sunday and so I promised him we could play "The Floor is Lava" for primary, so I took each of the foam stone thingies and put a sticky note on the back with either a question for the kids to answer, a song to sing, or a scripture to recite, and we hopped around pretending the ground was lava while completing these activities (whichever stone was chosen to disappear would indicate which "activity" we did; the game kind of works like musical chairs, but instead you have to jump around to find a certain colour of stone to be "safe). Anyway, the kids had fun.

One of the stones had a sticky note asking the kids to share how they felt when they got baptized. I simply wrote down things as Zoë was talking and then showed her at the very end of our primary time and asked her if that was accurate and what she wanted to say. 

I did the same thing for Alexander, who was asked how he can follow Jesus:
I can follow Jesus by listening to others, trying to meet their needs, and choosing the right.

These kids are so brave for getting up and speaking in front of a crowd. Rachel may have been a little motormouth through her talk this morning, but when Benjamin was practicing his talk in the primary room he spoke clearly and confidently and I was really quite impressed with his public speaking skills!

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