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RS/MP Lesson 36: “The Family Can Be Eternal” (Gospel Principles Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on June 14, 2011

The text from the manual for this lesson can be found here.

Now, before discussing the scriptures and other content in this lesson, I wanted to begin with some thoughts inspired by some recent sociology reading I’ve been doing, and some personal experiences, regarding (1) being “sensitive to the feelings of those who do not have ideal situations at home,” as the manual puts it, and (2) how thinking of families more broadly, as primary groups, may be helpful.

Regarding (1), a couple of recent conversations make me particularly aware of some dangers in teaching this lesson to people who do not live in or come from traditional families. To address this concern, it may be helpful to think about families in terms of what sociologists call “primary groups”:

Primary groups are those in which individuals intimately interact and cooperate over a long period of time. Examples of primary groups are families, friends, peers, neighbors, classmates, sororities, fraternities, and church members. These groups are marked by primary relationships in which communication is informal. Members of primary groups have strong emotional ties. They also relate to one another as whole and unique individuals.

Although there are important benefits of the nuclear family to consider, especially in light of the Proclamation on the Family, I think that at least for the purposes of this lesson it might be helpful to think about the term family in broad terms, as it relates to and competes with various kinds of community that have important social and emotional effects on us and our children. Also, making comparisons and contrasts between the nuclear family and other forms of primary groups can be insightful, especially in light of changes resulting from culture and technology (e.g., the increase in virtual interaction). For better and for worse, things are a’ changing.

The Importance of Families

I particularly like the final question of this section: How can we help the youth of the Church understand the sacredness of the family and the marriage covenant?

I like this question because it basically makes the question of the youth in the Church a ward project, rather than merely a family project. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and I think it is very important that we think about the youth, as well as other covenantal relations, in communal and cultural terms—recent news headlines (in congress, for example) make it particularly apparent that we live in a society whose views on the sacredness of chastity and the marriage covenant is waning.

What are the costs associated with the more casual attitude toward marital covenants? I think this question deserves some serious consideration. Here is related question that gets at a similar issue, in perhaps a more subtle way: If I am faithful and loving to my wife and children, does it really matter how I behave when I am away from them? If so, how and why?

Our ward recently had a special 5th Sunday presentation on the problems and dangers of pornography, and it seems there is a common mode of rationalization thinking that behavior done in private does not have public consequences. To combat this idea requires a concpetion of one’s identity and individuality that runs counter to many Western cultural attitudes. (In my field of study, economics, the idea that we are atomistic individuals is a very commonly employed assumption, with often disastrous consequences, in my opinion….)

One alternative to the “atomistic individual” conception is based on the idea of habit. It is tempting to think that our choices are temporally indepdendent; however, the scriptures seem to present a conception that is more consistent with the idea that we are creatures of habit, that living righteously is not something we radically choose to be in each moment, but it is way of living that is practiced each day, with constant nourishment of the spirit, renewal of covenants, repentance, etc., etc.

One of the scriptures in this section is Prov 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The NET Bible has a nice note on the word “train” used here:

The verb khanakh means “to train up; to dedicate” . . . . The verb is used elsewhere to refer to dedicating a house (Deut 20:5; 1 Kgs 8:63; 2 Chr 7:5). The related noun khanukhah means “dedication; consecration” . . . , and is used in reference to the dedication or consecration of altars (Num 7:10; 2 Chr 7:9), the temple (Ps 30:1), and town walls (Neh 12:27). The related adjective khanikh describes “trained, tried, experienced” men ( . . . Gen 14:14). In the related cognate languages the verb has similar meanings: Aramaic “to train,” Ethiopic “to initiate,” and Arabic IV “to learn; to make experienced” . . . . This proverb pictures a child who is dedicated by parents to the Lord and morally trained to follow him. On the other hand, a popular expositional approach suggests that it means “to motivate.” This view is based on a cognate Arabic root II which (among many other things) refers to the practice of rubbing the palate of a newborn child with date juice or olive oil to motivate the child to suck. While this makes an interesting sermon illustration, it is highly unlikely that this concept was behind this Hebrew verb. The Arabic meaning is late and secondary – the Arabic term did not have this meaning until nearly a millennium after this proverb was written.

Since I’m currently in mourning that my son’s earlier love of trains is wearing off, I can’t help thinking about the etymology of the English term “train,” which comes from the Latin trahere meaning “to drag.” This has interesting resonances, then, with the common hope among Mormon husbands that their wives will “drag” them to the Celestial Kingdom with them. I wonder if this isn’t an interesting way, then, to think about the effects of the cultural norms and mores that we support in our homes and wards. Although perhaps not ideal, I do think there are virtues in dragging our kids (and ourselves) to church and finding various ways of coaxing and appeasing them during 3 hours (!) of church each week. Of course the hope is that the “dragging” mentality will eventually yield selves that are intrinsically motivated to live the Gospel, but such motivation does not usually arise ex nihilo—rather, it usually requires time and effort to cultivate.

Loving Family Relationships

This section nicely furthers the question discussed above about helping the youth, though more focused now on parental responsibilities. The one scripture citation in this section is Mosiah 4:14-15 which reads, in part, “Ye will not suffer your children . . . [to] fight and quarrel one with another. . . . But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness.” This passage was also part of a recent lesson, and I still find this language interesting and provocative: what does “truth and soberness” mean here?

Regarding truth, I recommend Terry Warner’s entry on truth in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Of course this is not an official or authoritative source, but Warner takes up several Mormon scriptures in thoughtful, responsible and interesting ways. In short, on my reading of Warner’s entry, he is harking back to the Hebrew connotations of truth which emphasizes the idea of being true to, as in being true to our covenants.

Regarding soberness, Webster’s 1828 dictionary lists “not wild” among its definitions for sober. As our kids have a tendency to get wild, this phrase stuck out to me. I also like the overtones relating this scripture to the allegory of the olive tree. If we live among the nations of the Gentiles, then giving up our wildness entails a kind of submission to the law and teachings of the Gospel.

The idea of teaching “truth and soberness” is, in other scriptures, applicable not only to children but to everyone in the church. To me it means that we take our covenants and obligations to God and others seriously(/soberly), and this includes being true to our word, in our families, wards, communities, business relations, etc.

How to Have a Successful Family

I like the manual’s question: What are you doing to help strengthen your family and make it successful?

There is an implicit list of suggestions given in the final question of this section (though I don’t care for the “evidence” way that question is framed): family prayer, family scripture study, family councils, family meal times, and family home evening. I would, however, try not to let the discussion center around a cliche list of answers. To do this, since I am teaching the lesson, I might make some crack about Monday night as family fight night at our house, or something, to try and get quorum members talking on a very real level. I think this is a good section of the lesson to really focus on quorum participation. As the teacher, I will study this section rather carefully so that I can be prepared to find opportunities to tie what I hope will be a spontaneous and genuine discussion of real family challenges and successes to points made in the manual. To that end, here is a sign-posted list of the manual’s listed points:

1. Family prayer
2. FHE
3. Scriptures
4. Family activities and work projects
5. Charity, etc.
6. Attend church
7. Establish a house of order, etc.
8. Genealogy

Point number 7 strikes me in particular, based on D&C 88:119, perhaps because this builds nicely on the theme of teaching childen to be sober (in the sense of not being wild, as discussed above). I think it is important, however, to temper a discussion of establishing a house of order with the idea of showing forth patience, love and charity (e.g., point #5).

The scriptures use the phrase “set thine house in order” somewhat frequently. In Isaiah 38:1, this is used by the prophet when Hezekiah is on his death bed and told that he will not recover. A similar expression is used today, to set your things in order before a departure. The Hebrew verbal root used for order, tsavah, is usually translated “to command.” For me, as a father who prefers a rather laid back, laissez-faire leadership style, this makes me think about the ways that I could improve in terms of helping “train up”/discipline my children (compare the discussion above of the phrase “train up” in Prov 22:6). Of course it is important to recognize the dangers of being too autocratic as a parent, but I do think that in our day and age there is a tendency to be too lenient with our children, and this notion of establishing a house of order seems a nice corrective to such tendencies.

9 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 36: “The Family Can Be Eternal” (Gospel Principles Manual)”

  1. Ama said

    Ok, me again…where’s the lesson on family responsibilities? I teach this coming Sunday and love preparing with the insights! Thanks!

  2. Janell said

    I’m the same, I came looking for an alternate perspective on Family Responsibilities.

  3. kirkcaudle said

    Robert brought up the question from the manual, “How can we help the youth of the Church understand the sacredness of the family and the marriage covenant?”

    I’d like to add an additional component to this question. How does the sacredness of the family and the marriage covenant differ (if at all) in secular compared with temple marriage? How would the answer a youth might give to this question affect how he or she sees the sacredness of the marriage union between his or her own parents?

    In other words, is “sacredness” equal in all marriages?

  4. Robert C. said

    Sorry guys, we’re running a bit short-staffed this summer and falling behind in the posts (any volunteers?!). I’ll try to throw something up for lesson 37 later today….

  5. […] comments Robert C. on RS/MP Lesson 36: “The Family Can Be Eternal” (Gospel Principles Manual)kirkcaudle on The Role of PsalmsRuthS on The Role of Psalmskirkcaudle on RS/MP Lesson 36: […]

  6. kirkcaudle said

    I am going to be gone for most of the rest of the day, but I am always free to write up lesson notes. Just e-mail me or something if you need me.

  7. Robert C. said

    Kirk, want to post on Lesson 37? We usually try to get things up a week prior to when the lesson’s to be taught (i.e., tomorrow for Lesson 37!), though we’ve slacked recently. If you can’t get to it by, say, Wednesday, I can put something together (thought he quality won’t be that great, as I’ve got a very busy week coming up). Thanks….

  8. kirkcaudle said

    Yeah, I can do that. I will for sure have it posted before Wednesday.

  9. kirkcaudle said

    I posted my notes. I see you posted some also. Two sets are better than one.

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