Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Calling And Election Unsure

Fact: I am a church going Latter-Day-Saint. I’m not supposed to drink, smoke, swear, have coffee, fornicate, or listen to raunchy music, especially not backwards.

Fact: I don’t drink, smoke, have coffee, or fornicate. Sometimes I listen to Lady Gaga, and I often throw in a “damn” or “hell” for good measure in some conversations. On very rare occasions I have referred to someone as a jack***, but that’s only because my friend’s ex-husband really is one, and calling him a “jerk” wasn’t satisfying enough. Oh, and remember that part about skinny dipping? I’ve done that a couple of times too.

You may recall that a little over a year ago I was asked to serve as the President over our Women’s organization at church. (Key operative word there is “asked” – that’s how it works in my church. With all leadership positions, whether it be a teacher, a pianist, or presidency member of some sort, we are asked to serve and we choose whether to accept or not.) I accepted the responsibility, and instantly inherited a stewardship over approximately 100 women. Along with my two counselors it is my job to make sure that the temporal and spiritual needs of these women are being met.

My quandary is this: As their leader I am expected to serve as an example. It seems reasonable enough, to count on people in certain positions to act a certain way – to “practice what they preach”. However, sometimes I struggle between the boundary of being myself and being a good example. The two should probably not conflict, but hi. Have we met? Here’s where things go fuzzy for me.

First of all, I am suspicious of certain people who change their personality when they get a particular job (we say “calling”) in the church. I want them to be real, and I can see through them when I feel like they’re pretending to be something that they’re not, as if the status of a high profile calling has somehow elevated their worth. (Which it hasn’t.) In other words, if my friend needs a wake up call in her life and I suddenly change from being the sort to shake her shoulders and yell, “What the hell is wrong with you?!” to someone who pats her hand while cooing, “Oh my heck dear, you sure seem to be in a pickle,” she would be like, “Aw crap, you too?!” Most people don’t buy it.

Secondly, I feel like my ability to be “real” is, frankly, a gift that God gave me. It is something that I am drawn to in others, and I think it helps me to be relatable, which is a huge advantage in this job. Nevertheless, being real is tricky because this is the family from which “Too Much Information” was born. So, go ahead. Be real.  Perhaps you used to love liquor more than the Lord. I want to know that, and I want to know what changed you. Have you been a victim of a horrible act and found peace through the love of a Heavenly Father? Tell me your story! Let me share in the hope! Did your parents have eight kids with names all starting with the letter “A” only to adopt an orphan later whose name was already “Ben”? How did you handle it? Tell me. I LOVE real. But, are you still struggling with your pornography addiction? KEEP THAT TO YOURSELF. Work out your repentance, figure it out, and don’t tell me how it’s going. Naturally, there are also different approaches when speaking one-on-one vs. addressing a group. More specifically, save the story for the boy you knew that used to pick his scabs for a one-on-one.

In addition, I don’t want to ignore the fact that accepting certain church responsibilities and bearing a mantle of leadership can inspire one to do/be better. It’s no secret that there’s room for me to improve, and I know I’m not alone. But I have found that confessing to sharing similar temptations when you are a leader can sometimes draw a negative reaction.  Either your audience no longer respects you as their leader or, they accept you as their leader but now look at you with tainted glasses.  What I'm usually going for is behind door #3: I'm working out my own salvation just like the rest of you, and together we can move mountains.  Quite honestly this calling has motivated me more than once to consider change not just for myself, but for all of the people with whom I serve. It’s a phenomenal sight to be able to stand in front of a group of women, God’s daughters, and for one brief moment to see in them what I think God sees.

Still, I can’t help but sometimes feel like I am missing the mark, exchanging a bulls-eye for an outside hit of hypocrisy. While I haven’t broken any serious laws or covenants, I’ve still had people question some of my behavior. Should I change that behavior, even though it isn’t innately wrong, to make them more comfortable? What do you think is required and should be required of your church leaders? To take it to the extreme, if you saw your pastor at a topless bar would you leave your church? Not to mention, WHAT WERE YOU DOING IN A TOPLESS BAR?!  Perv. And are the rules the same for everybody, or do you expect more from the Pope than you do from your priest?

35 comments:

Kourtney said...

Personally, I prefer a leader who is totally real. I'm also serving in Young Womens right now and I really feel that when they see our flaws but know that we are also trying to improve, it helps them to see that they are not expected to be perfect either. More like a, "we're all in this together" sort of thing, instead of having some perfect-on-paper adult preach to them. I think it really helps them to see their leaders and people who are relatable and are working hard to live the gospel, just as they are. The point is, we are all striving to be better and I think sometimes we feel like we have to put on a show that we've already reached perfection. But, then again, I'm an occasional hell and damn kinda woman myself, so maybe I'm a little biased :)

Kate said...

It scares me that you have been called as RS Pres. because you seem to exhibit many qualities that I have always considered my safety net. Diet coke, my favorite drink. A** my favorite after kids go to sleep vocabulary word. Strange clothes purchased mostly from Saver's (you seem to have more class then this but you get the picture.) Could I be next? Then again you're out in the "mission field" where the bar may be lower. I'll stay here in "happy valley" where there are plenty of far more perfect people then me.

Kristi said...

I think that the fact that you are worrying about walking the line, recognizing that you will try and sometimes fail to do better might just be what makes you effective. Sure some will judge you but most will respect your effort. . . right???

Jill said...

You forgot to mention giving your sisters coffee flavored suckers. CLASSIC

Vern said...

Jill: That was an ACCIDENT!

Watson World said...

I myself am in the Young Women's program in my ward, a ward that I grew up in and returned to recently. I can honestly say that I prefer my leaders to be real and have chosen to do that with my girls. I have given them lessons and rather than give nameless examples I use myself. I inform them that I made bad choices when I was a youth, but thanks to the atonement I made my way back. This way they know that no matter what they do there is always a path back, but it's also important to teach them that it's MUCH easier to stay on the straight and narrow than to take the long road around. This also puts me in a position where they do not see me as a "perfect" example who would judge them for what they have done. By being real it makes them feel more comfortable to come and talk to me rather than assuming i've never done anything wrong. One thing we must remember in the church is that the Church is perfect, the people are not. If someone can't see past that, then they are going to have problems.

just call me jo said...

My husband just was called to be ward mission leader. He's great at it but not "celestial" as the one before him was. Rick (husband) says they can either take him flawed or release him. He is who he is. I would love you as my RS Pres. I don't understand people like Julie Beck. They make me want to smack 'em. God loves you the way you are. He knows you strive to improve, but you're not perfect. I say stay the course and though you can always be better, you are who you are (as Popeye would say.) I bet you're wonderful. Few of us are Eliza R. Snow--thankfully.

tawnya said...

People often comment how REAL I am and I sometimes wonder what other women in the church are? Is real just the nice way of saying I'm loud and opinionated and a little bit of a hippie feminist in a church that isn't always that way? I'm not sure. But I do know I like people like me more than ones who purport to have the 'perfect' life...

Amy said...

I always thought being called "real" was a nice way of insulting you. Because apparently I am "real" too. I always thought people were saying "we've probably seen you at your worst...." then muttering something about "if THAT isn't the worst heaven help us all..." So even if it is an insult I prefer reality.

Katie said...

Be who you are. You were called for a reason. You have talents and abilities that the Lord values and needs, and that's why you are serving where you are right now. Who cares what anyone else thinks?? It doesn't matter what they think! It matters how you feel and how you think the Lord feels. Puh-lease! No one is perfect. You don't get called to serve in positions because you are perfect. You get called to serve because you have talents and abilities that the Lord knows will benefit those you're serving. I think you're hilarious, and I only blog stalk you. We've never met. ha ha. Please don't change!!

Aaron and Devony said...

I was the molly mormon growing up with the "perfect" leaders. I was taught that you grow up, get married, have kids, do everything right and live happily ever after, and I believed it. Much to my shock when I married and discovered I couldn't have kids, life wasn't easy. Happily Ever After is a long ways away when you're looking back, not when you're living it. Life is hard and marriage is even tougher. I struggled for awhile before I realized that people had to start being real (particularly in the church) to quit giving everyone else the impression that we are perfect. That just makes us unapproachable. Julie Beck is watched and criticized by women all over the world, so she has to put on a better show than we do, but I'm sure she's yelled at her kids just like the rest of us. I think judging others is the thing we are worst at as members of the church.

Kirsten said...

Hi, Vern. Been stalking your blog for awhile, but felt I should come out of hiding and comment.

First off, I think that no matter which direction you try to go (real vs. fake) there will always be people who will be judging you and your fitness to be prez. (heck, there will probably be a few who will be judging what you're wearing and not necessarily what you say and or do.)

Secondly, I want to share a little story- once when I was about 18 yrs old, I had to go meet with the bishop. (just one of those things where the bishop checks up on the youth- no big deal) I show up and he sticks out his hand and says "hi, i'm bishop so-and-so" I think he's joking because I've known him my whole life and he's been the bishop for nearly a year, and so I say- "Hi, I'm Kirsten ____"
"Who?"
"Kirsten ____. You know, Bob and Sally's daughter..."
"oh, sorry, I thought you were one of the new move-ins."

And of course I am trying not to be offended that he doesn't know my name (and I am terrible at names, so I let this one slide)let alone even recognize my face, after 15 or so years of being in the same ward, and a year of him sitting on the stand facing all of us (and I went to church each and every week)

And so as I am fighting off feelings of irritation and offense, he starts to grill me on the word of wisdom, and believe me when I say I followed it perfectly- yet the line of questioning went something like this- "You never even tried to to see what it tastes like? not even one tiny sip? not once? are you sure? what about cigarettes? coffee? tea? beer?..." And of course I'm thinking "what is this? the spanish inquisition?"

I guess what I am trying to say is if you love them and try to find ways to show them, then nothing else really matters. And sometimes you have to repeat to yourself over and over "the church is true, even if the people aren't perfect..."

violyngirl said...

I have nothing cool to contribute. I CAN say that I sometimes consider crashing your Relief Society to see what it's like with you in command.

happy mommy said...

I've got nothing, except to commiserate with you about it. It is the line I straddle all the time...

ganelle said...

Cut. Paste.

Although, I'm finding all these comments remarkably comforting...

Stefani said...

Well I like being "real" and I take it as a compliment when people say I am. This is probably why I like you, even though we have never met.

I say that what you say and do should be ENTIRELY you and not some put on show. I'm not saying you should cuss or air your dirty laundry (even repented of dirty laundry) unless the spirit dictates. But you should walk (and talk) according to the spirit. If you feel guilty about the diet coke maybe it's time for a change. (note: this is not a call to repentance, I drink diet coke too and don't feel guilty about it, except around my mom:)

You should share stories and feelings according to the spirit and you should mold yourself according to the individual circumstances (don't "over" share with Molly Mormon - she might freak, but be perfectly open with Dolly Doesn't-Fit-In. But, switch it up if the spirit prompts.) Always make other feel good about themselves. Laugh with them. Be cheerful around them. Be positive around them.

Don't compare yourself with J.B. if that isn't how you do "real". Don't judge J.B either. Maybe this is her "real". Just be your "real" and people will love and respect you as much as we all love and respect J.B.

I like the to remember the scripture, "open your mouth and it will be filled". I learned this on my mission, that if you are humble and prepared, living the way you should and asking for guidance, when you open your mouth what comes out will be something the Lord wants you to say, even if it sounds dumb or inadequate or heaven forbid, "real". I'm sure you're doing a great job. I love my RS Pres. but I would love to be in your ward to share in your realness.

Stefani said...

wow, who was that long-winded person that commented above??? (don't ever call her as R.S Pres.)

April and Michael Maughan said...

It is so sad how much the president of every organization is criticized. It wouldn't matter what you did.
I like the "real" and the hilarious and that is why I too stalk your blog. I started following when Light Refreshments served closed. So sad. But I see now that I was missing out on much of your hilarity by not coming directly to the source :) I believe most people will learn to love you for the service you give them. It's a lot of work.

Amy said...

I think you're doing it just right. No one likes a faker Molly Mormon. And I like Julie Beck because she's the first general woman leader I can remember who doesn't get up there and speak to us in that soft syrupy sweet sister voice. Never having lived in Utah, I always wondered if all Utah women talk like that.

Patty Ann said...

I think that it is important to let the spirit guide your footsteps. You were the one set apart. You were the one that was given the blessing to know how to reach the women you are responsible for. I think, too often we take ourselves at our muddy, dirty, absolute worst and compare that person with other sisters at their sunday best. Neither image is completely accurate. Sometimes we are all "the worst" and sometimes we can be the best. I think it is important to do the best job you can do. I used to be one of those women who swore once in awhile and slept in, skipped prayer and screamed at my kids. It has taken me a lot of years to change that person into someone I like better. I actually have found joy in keeping the commandments and following the prophet. It has been a lot of work. I am not perfect, and I still slide once in awhile, but I am better than I was a year ago. I think that is the purpose of the Church in our lives, to help us make changes that bring us peace. I think we are all working hard, just not at the same things all the time. We are each in a different place. That is perfectly alright. I think we are all real, some are just a little better at faking it than others. I love the old saying, "Church is for the sinners, not the saints!" I suspect if we were all truly saints, we wouldn't need church to prove it. And my other favorite saying, "There was only ever one perfect person in the world, and you are not Him". Just be yourself, with all your imperfections. someone who is striving for the best for herself and those she is leading. That will be good enough for anyone.

Heather said...

Totally been there, I am a lot like you, very me all the time. So when I was called as RS Pres at 33, yes I did say butt hole in relief society (perfectly in context IMO) and I did have a path paved by others to the bishop's office with complaints about me. Only by people who clearly were perfect... But I was called for a reason, and I did what I needed to do, its a tough calling. We can grow and that causes change, but we are called for our personalities as well... so go on ladies, pave the way to the Bishop's office, it makes a good story later! And sometimes Butt Hole needs to be said:)

Karen said...

I would reccommend the books about J. Golden Kimball. He was an apostle, he cussed in General Conference and other less than perfect things and yet he served the Lord with all of his heart, mind and soul. He is my inspiration.

kat said...

I've stalked you for awhile - also found you via LRS. I've also wanted to come and visit my friend Erin on a Sunday just to be able to sit in on your RS. Of course, then I would just be talking to her through the whole meeting and getting in to trouble, so probably bad idea.

It's so frustrating how much pressure is put upon leaders to be perfect for everyone. ARGH! If we all could only remember how hard they're trying . . .

My vote is for being real. I believe we receive callings for a subset of specific individuals that we alone are uniquely able to help. The vast majority of folks just about anyone would be qualified to help. And then there's the remaining subset who will be irritated by whomever is in charge, no matter what they do. (If I was a numbers gal I would break it down into percentages, but I retired from thinking and now just construct awesome train track systems for a living.)

Now I'm getting all preachy and bossy, as if you know me and have any reason to listen to what I'm saying. You were called because you're you. God knows you. That's why He picked you. I'm guessing your fire and humor and sass were/are really needed for at least ONE person in your ward right now. The grouchy pants gals can just suck it up and wait for the next leader who might be more their style.

I think you rock.

Jessie said...

Leaving my lurking status...

I think we're here on earth to progress. As people. I don't *expect* my leaders to change just because they've been called as leaders. I expect them to be striving to be the best people they can be though, because that is what the church is all about. We all have bad days (or weeks or months or years...), but the purpose of earth is to become the best we can be. If that means giving up your swears and diet coke--that's your choice. I want my leaders to be real people. I know that they're not perfect, but I hope that they're trying to be. I'm positive we're not called to be leaders because we're perfect (I'm a primary president right now, myself, and I KNOW I'm not perfect...), but because it will give us the opportunity for growth that we need.

rocslinger said...

I like real, I like you because your real.

I think that there are numbers of people who left the church because they could not deal with Joseph Smith being flawed.

Jodi said...

As one "real" woman to another...keep keeping it real. We are who we are. Our Heavenly Father loves us for who we are. He loves us with all our warts, our wrinkles, our gray hairs, our weaknesses and our various oddities. We're here to have joy. Do what brings you joy!

Vern said...

And the big bad wolf said, "My, what nice readers you have." Thanks everybody, especially all of you who delurked to be heard!

Paige said...

That's why Primary is good. The adults are glad it's you there and not them, and the kids don't care as long as there are the occasional treats.

Lorie said...

You kept it under wraps when you were Primary Prez, at least. Forget the "primary voice"... it was all about, "hey dude, sit your butt down and be quiet". J/K. We love president Vern. How's your scooter working out for you?

Heather said...

Do you really need one more comment confirming your "REAL" coolness? Yes, yes you do.

Nicole said...

Totally relate! I was just "asked" to be the 2nd counselor in the Stake RS. Wow. Now I feel major pressure to get. that. Visiting Teaching. Done. Hopefully my reality and my example are the same!

Colorado Oldroyds said...

If it makes you feel any better I accidentally dropped the "s" bomb in front of all of the Laurels last year when I slipped on some ice.;) After the silence ended, one of them exclaimed, "you're the coolest YW's president ever!" That's probably why I've been banished to the nursery . . . we'd love to have you!;)

Lisa said...

Have you been reading my journal? Because, if you have, that's creepy. Honestly, (and maybe I should be sending you this privately, but our relationship has always been public so why change now?) when I found out you were called to this position I was really excited for you and for your ward and for the Church. If you're the future of the leadership in the Church, then I'm sticking around to see what happens! (Also, then it must be good and true.)

We all have little things to work on and I know that all sin is bad but sometimes we inflate some sins to drag us down to feel as if we'll never get ahead and that's why I like you. You don't give in to that lie. Also, sometimes we have "favorite sins" that we use as examples of things we shouldn't do because WE'RE really good at staying away from those particular ones. It doesn't mean we don't have something (s) to work on. I know you know all of this. My point is: when you're in a position of leadership, it is a great, difficult gift to expose yourself to others (watch it. . . not what I meant) in order to best serve them. And it is a gift. And that's what you're doing.

Christy said...

This post spoke to me personally, as did all of the comments! I've had the RS pres calling now for two years and it doesn't get a whole lot easier the longer you do it. I'm very "real", and it bugs some of the old fuddy-duddies in my ward, but who cares? No matter what persona I use, someone will always be upset about it. I am a hopeless Diet Coke addict, and have been known to bring it to an enrichment meeting *gasp* every now and then. I keep telling myself I'm going to quit, but the irony of the matter is that I NEED that Diet Coke to get me through the day and deal with whatever crisis is thrown at me at any given time. So maybe I'll quit AFTER I'm released... which I've recently heard is not likely to happen for the next 3 years. *sigh*

Susan said...

There's just something about being a President of an organization in our church that is different and indescribable unless you've done it. I was a RS Pres. in college and right now I am the YW Pres. We don't ask for these positions (and NEVER would!) nor do we ask for the inspiration we receive in them and the criticism that sometimes follows. It's a hard thing -- to live your own life, work on your own self -- and be an example (whether you want to or not). I think of some of the psycho pop-stars like Britney or Lindsey or whoever, who claim that they "never wanted to be a role model." Guess what: ME NEITHER. But I am. Whether I like it or not.

I am a lot like you. I'm real good at keeping the big and obvious commandments... but I love my diet Coke (and will continue to do so until a prophet literally says "Thou Shalt Not Drink Diet Coke" from the pulpit -- and even then I may have to reconsider my membership in the church or go for Diet Dr. Pepper instead, unless he names that specifically too), raunchy music, trashy reality t.v. shows and the off-color joke like the rest of them. But recently, I have to admit that I have felt the need to dial-down my risqué behaviors, just a bit, and dial-up some other things like a little more scripture reading, more than one prayer a day, making a greater effort to attend the Temple regularly, being a little more attentive at General Conference, etc. I don’t know if that’s a consequence of my calling or just a concerted effort to keep hold of “the rod.” Or both.

I embrace the concepts of “perfect people don’t go to church,” and “as long as I’m moving forward, I’m okay.”

(BTW, do you remember when we were in the same ward, that one person who WOULD make his very personal confessions from the Fast Sunday pulpit? I’m still scarred!)