February 18, 2014
I have always loved music that moves me toward the quiet and reflective feelings of peacefulness and prayerfulness. I was never drawn to the Beatles, Elvis, Disco, Rock and Roll feelings or other fast and hard beat music. Although I could appreciate the talent, dedication and skill of the musicians that focused on those types of music it simply did not speak to me, or it spoke in ways that pushed me away rather than drawing me in.
I was drawn in however, to artists whose trained voices gave them the power to touch my heart and thinking. I enjoyed the talent of Carpenters, Peter Paul and Mary, even America and a few other single and group vocalists and consequently was drawn into the messages of their songs.
I signed up for a 9th Grade chorus class, but an embarrassing effort and the following teasing caused me to change my classes around and I ended up in an agriculture and debate class. There I became deeply involved in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and the NFL (no, not National Football League, National Forensics League).
The training in leadership, public speaking, debate and impromptu speaking and agriculture blessed and continues to bless my life today. However, that choice to change course(s) and to miss music and vocal training continues to be a painful weakness in my ability to participate in worshipful music, groups and individually.
Sister Cloward has and now continues with more concentration to try to help me understand, hear and hit the notes, but it is now even a harder new trick for this old dog. While I don’t have the understanding of exactly why, I do recognize when someone else is not on note or key. That makes my appreciation for Sister Cloward’s significant musical talents and those that she was able to engender and nurture in each of our children all the more precious. Thanks Sweetie and keep trying. I may yet learn to howl rather than just bark!
The past two weeks have in many ways been an intense course in listening and voices. Not music however, but the voices that are also powerful in the influence of emotions and feelings, those that draw and those that repel. I suppose that those who seek learn to hear and hearken to the voice of the spirit discover and learn to recognize the difference between the feelings and emotions of the tones of the Holy Spirit and those of the Adversary.
Our recent re-reading of Lehi’s dream and getting such clear insight from Nephi’s angelic guided review and explanation of it has been another great lesson in voices. Visits to two Seminary classes and observing the teachers’ voices and teaching added to my thoughts and thus the topic of today’s blog. I would like to consider and contrast some thoughts with our readers today on the voice of the Holy Ghost, Angels, resurrected beings, being in the spirit and out. The voice of devils and His, their, unknowing promoters.
I believe there may be experience-based value in how we “train” our voices and incline our ears and hearts. For such value and insight I have invited the voice of the spirit to guide my writing.
As I mentioned in the beginning paragraph, I have never been inclined to enjoy or seek music (voices) that enticed, pushed or shoved me or others toward feelings, thoughts and actions that were, to me, contrary to feeling peace and quiet contemplation. That statement is also to say that some music certainly, by its nature, message, beat, volume and voices, can do just that – move one’s head, heart and actions into conforming to the message of the music and its intended message and invitations.
We are each truly dual beings fighting for personal leadership and priority dominance. One of us, our God-borne spirit, seeks peace, quiet, gratitude, harmony (both kinds) and unity in truth and right-eous-ness. The other of us -- our earth-born, world-tied body and its fallen-state tendency to lean toward that which carnal, sensual and devilish --that part of us can hear the voices of spirit and spirits too. Its natural leaning is toward things that stimulate, drive and increase those aspects of our being.
It seems to me that those voices of the Adversary and His minions and mortal ambassadors move us, physically and emotionally, often collectively like the herd of swine to the precipice. Those voices are, voices to the head, even though most of them do not enter through the ears.
Those spirit voices of the Holy Ghost, the influence of the Light of Christ and of guardian and angelic messengers resonate in our hearts and cause us to feel quiet, peace, contemplative appreciation, perspective and patience. The Lord’s voice leads to self-control and self-respect. It leads to respect, compassion and love of others.
In many ways it is a head vs. hearts difference. One leads to feeling invincible, powerful, important and the right-eous-ness of self will. The Adversary’s voices lead to loss of self-control. It leads to objectifying and domination of others.
In those cases, like Nephi, Mohonrimoriancomer and Moses, where they were carried away or enshrouded by glory and in that spirit, they could listen and communicate spirit-to-spirit with the ears and voices of their spirit beings. Whether in the dreams of the night or the quiet voices of spirit as we live out our lives and especially as we read the words of the scriptures, ponder, ask seek and knock in prayer the voice of the spirit of the Holy Ghost, Christ and his servants come to our hearts. These voices lead us to feelings of gratitude, humility, selflessness, submission and obedience.
Even though the Devil can conform and disguise himself nigh unto an angel, yet his voice and message can always be recognized as he attempts to lead away from Christ and that that is Godly. His messages are self-justification and agency-granted freedom from the obligations to be subject to law, consequence, order, obedience and accountability. Whether his voice comes to us in the lyrics, the instruments, the spirit voices to appeal and cajole us, the written word or the counsel and advice of other mortal beings, even those who claim to be acting in the name and by the direction of “the spirit,” we can recognize the voice.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us, the adversary speaks to us and we speak to ourselves (the dual being). But, the choice of whom to hearken (listen to and follow) is our choice and ours alone. Indeed that is the greatest drama of our lives. It is the drama that we live out between two voices that call to us.
We used an experiential activity to illustrate this principle in the Wilderness and Pioneer Trek programs. We would blindfold the participants, connect them to each other by holding hands and then in groups of 10-12, lead them up a mountain trail. The activity was all done in silence, no speaking. One of staff members would put a small pebble in a tin can and rattle it to the side of the person who was at the head of the group, the leader. The leader quickly got the message, “follow the voice of the tinkling can.”
Then, a short time later, we would add a second can with several larger pebbles and that can made a louder clacking sound in contrast and in competition to the “voice” of the can with the more quiet and less frequent tinkling sound of the first can. The leader then had to choose which sound to follow and thereby, which direction to lead the group.
When the leader followed the loud voice of the second can, the can led them into the thicket, off the trail, into the mud of the stream, into the trees and generally into trouble. Listening and following the first can’s “voice” kept them on the best path and away from the troubles and challenges of thickets and mud.
Once the experience was over, after everyone had the opportunity to “lead” the group and discover the voices of the cans, it resulted in powerful insights and discussions.
This week we visited two Seminary classes to evaluate the class and teacher, part of our role as S & I [Seminary & Institute] Coordinator Missionaries. The first class was an early morning class at 6AM. There were six students in a large church-owned classroom at the Johannesburg area CES offices. The teacher, a white Afrikaans woman, was very well versed in the scriptures, doctrines and was experienced seminary teacher for many years.
We were immediately taken in by her soft, calm voice and demeanor. It was like being in a classroom with “Mr. Rogers.” The young people responded readily and with the same quiet and confident voice tone and pattern that she had set. The subject matter was 2nd Nephi and the prophecy of Joseph of Egypt regarding his seed in the last days. Admittedly, it was a very interesting subject.
The other class, later in the week, was held in a very small home in the center of Soweto (poverty African suburb of Johannesburg). The room was tight with a small couch and several chairs. The sixteen students, teacher, Sister Cloward and I as well as the old woman who owned the tiny home, in that 8’x10’ space left us nearly all knee-to-knee and quite literally cheek-to-cheek. It was a wonderful, yet powerfully contrasting experience.
Here again, the teacher, an African black woman, was again very well versed in the scriptures and a seasoned Seminary Teacher. I must admit that Sister Cloward and I were an intervening variable to the normal function of both classes, although we tried to quickly fit in as just observers and participants in the lesson.
The second teacher almost immediately took us aback a bit in the opposite direction of the first teacher. She immediately raised her voice to a near “hell, fire and damnation, pitch” and began a process of nearly accusatory questioning and expounding of the text. The students were slow to respond and were often off target and told so. Again the text, doctrine, questions and teacher knowledge were comparable. Also, it was the obvious teaching position having been developed in the life and from the experience of the teachers’ personal lives, more so than from any precious training.
It was also clear that both sets of students, although there were no white students in the second group, and there were nearly equal black and white students in the first class, loved their teacher. They knew that their teacher loved them. From the outside it would appear that the difference was simply what we might call “personal style.” It was two different voices, two different ways to try to get the message and meaning of the text to the students.
As I have reflected on it since, I realized that in one case the teaching was to the “head” the other to the “heart”. One way was factual focused, one was feeling focused. In the much larger and nearly empty room of the first group, the spirit was present and the calm of the lesson left the students spiritually enriched. In the other tightly packed class, the noise and intensity of the teacher hit the ears and emotions of students but the spirit was not present to carry the message to the heart.
Both experiences were highly enjoyable for Sister Cloward and I. The intent, focus and diligence of the teachers, the interest and goodness of the students and comparable intelligence and commitment of both groups were wonderful. But we left understanding just how important it is that the teacher set the tone in the class such that the voice of the spirit is invited and can enter the room and the hearts of the students to testify of the truth of the principles and doctrines the teacher guides the students to discover.
Know we have to figure out how to teach the larger group of all the teachers in the stake S & I program the principle without offending or discouraging the second teacher, or any other teachers who may be following that cultural and heritage-based approach to expounding the lesson.
We were invited to spend last Monday with the Davies (a new couple) and Knowles (a couple who are just finishing their mission at the Area Offices) in a Brother Khumbulani guided historical tour of the Soweto townships. Soweto is the poor area where the Africans were pushed to at the time of Apartheid. It was the equivalent of the Indians put on the reservations in American history. It is where Nelson Mandela was living and where the voices and actions of injustice of Apartheid boiled over and changed the course of South Africa.
The tour was very interesting and valuable on many fronts. I think it was absolutely necessary for us to know about the history to begin to understand and appreciate the culture, people and obstacles they face and that we face in our work in the Soweto Stake. The history is tragic and again so wrapped up in the voices of people that believed in conflicting values and objectives.
Like the days of the US segregation, the separation was bad enough. Then when the Africans were being forced to submit to having their children being taught the Afrikaans language in the schools, the voices of the people combined and rebelled. The students gathered and marched and protested the policy. More laws were enacted to prevent them from gathering in groups larger than five. Police had near universal control and gathered up and imprisoned the Africans without trial or due cause.
The Africans were beaten, tear gassed and atrocities occurred on both sides. As in all wars that start with conflicting values and voices, the inborn agency of man rebelled against force and restriction of freedom.
We visited the Mundi Catholic Church where hundreds of marching students met and protested Apartheid. We saw the bullet holes in the ceiling where the police fired to disperse and frighten the students. We saw the communion altar of marble where the police slammed the butt of their rifles, breaking off the polished edges in a show of force and power. We visited the museum and watched the films and viewed the pictures of the conflict and stood at the memorial of Hector Pieterson, the 14-year-old boy whose killing became the fulcrum and leverage point to unite the world against the Apartheid government that brought the people of the nation to see that they could not go forward as a nation with the racism and separation of the people and their rights as Africans and as human beings.
We stood at the cemetery where ___________ Sisulu, the man responsible for working with Nelson Mandela to end the Apartheid government control and allow the democracy that now exists in South Africa, was buried. We came to understand the power of Mandela’s voice for forgiveness and unification. He, as so many great statesmen in history, was not without stain, yet he as they have been so influential in moving humanity toward the place where the light of the gospel, the Priesthood and Restored Church are becoming available to people.
The day and the understanding about the Nation, the people and this place we will spend the rest of our mission, was so valuable. I think we heard and now can better hear the voices of the past, the present and those that we will influence for the future.
A final sharing of the lesson of voices is more personal and to a degree more painful than the class experience. Indeed this class and learning of the lesson about voices had only one student – me. It is my hope that my experience and temporary failure to learn and the hindsight realization and learning may help readers learn from my mistakes.
Our uprooting from Botswana and the subsequent uncertainty of just where, what, why and how our mission would continue has been incredibly stressful. Maybe it shouldn’t have been, and clearly it would not have been had I (Sister Cloward, as usual, was far ahead of me in the calm and go with the flow thinking and feeling). I like to liken the situation of having a powerful sports car with engine running and revving, but unable to get in gear. That warming up may help the car initially, but if it remains in neutral for too long with the engine revving… you get the picture.
In the growing frustration of the uncertainty and after the seven moves in and out of a place to stay brought further fuel to the frustration I found that I was listening to the wrong voices. Those of, if not discouragement, certainly impatience, reverberated between the walls of frustration. I began to feel and to say things that were contrary to my knowledge of the truth of our call, work, testimony and blessings.
No, I didn’t do or say anything that wasn’t true and an honest reflection of our desire to “get with it.” But I let the voices about the unfairness and unnecessary inefficiency and lacksidasicle attitudes of some of the bureaucracy and the situation guide my tongue. That was listening to the wrong voices. Those were those self-justifying, self-righteous and impatient voices that, if followed far and long enough, could have lead to what I am sure has and is causing many Sr. couples to reconsider their missions.
Thankfully, Doug Simpkins had shared some of his experience in California with me, as had others who had faced the less-than-ideal and less than expected aspects of their service. That sharing had become a forewarning and a forearming that pulled me away from the voices that clearly were loading in my head but far from my heart.
Sister Cloward manages with a simple recognition of the situation in a third world country where things just aren’t there in so many ways. Yet, the opportunity to help get them there and to make contributions that may speed up the work and the results are everywhere – if you are listening to the right voices.
Well, the lesson was valuable, I hope the learning has caused me to better recognize the source of the voice and to better deal with the frustration and impatience that seem to be so much a part of this man’s fallen state.
This I know for sure, the Lord is in the details, His economy does not allow for wasted best efforts nor righteous desire. He can turn the bitter lessons of life and voices into the sweet success of experience based better effort and improved armor against those spirit voice fiery darts. For that I am clear and grateful.
Now after this long diatribe, if you are still reading and interested the report, in brief, of the last two weeks and Sister Cloward synoptic and wise comments are to follow.
We are now settled into the flat that will likely house us for only a couple more months. The other CES couple who are in the flat across the street, that we were in the first week we were here, have applied for residency in Botswana. If that occurs they will move there to take our place and build on our labors. The will take our flat in Gaborone and return with our car and we will take their car and move back to their flat. Neither of them are a step up, but in those matters we are not in control, other voices and contracts are. Both are shoes that are too small, but they are shoes in place where many have none.
It will be both a sad and a happy day to see them move - sad because we have come to love them so much. We walk and talk with them at 6:30 AM and morning. They have been both good friends and good therapy for our situation. It will be happy because they will do such a great work with the S & I program there in Botswana. While it is yet premature to predict the success of their application, it seems obvious to us that that is the best and right thing given the circumstances.
We are also grooving into the assignment in Soweto. It’s a challenge and an adventure just trying to find the churches. The satellite-guided Garmin, computer-assisted MapQuest and printed maps combine to get us in the right areas, but it is the human direction that is usually necessary to get us to the exact place. It is a sprawling area with six chapels and seven Wards. We rarely see any other white people, except other missionaries on Sundays at church. The general worry of safety and security are settling into a pattern of keep alert, aware and avoid situations and places that make for opportunity for crime. Large signs on the highways and other areas identify “High Accident Area” and “High Carjacking Area” to warn people about those areas of opportunity.
We are not supposed to be out after dark, but the area is 40 minutes to over an hour away from our apartment and some of the classes don’t get over until after it is dark. That and we will likely be teaching FHE and YSA/Institute courses where we will also be done after the sun sets means we will have to be extra careful in our travel.
Most importantly we are getting to know the people, members, teachers and students. On Saturday we went to attend an Institute and Seminary class at the Pimville Chapel. The teacher, a recently returned missionary, forgot the keys. He called for someone to bring a set. That resulted in us cramming into our car all we could fit in while it rained hard. The harder it rained the louder we sang the hymns and the more the windows fogged up. I told them I hadn’t seen that foggy of windows since I was dating Sister Cloward!
An hour later we got into the church. The lesson was good and the students were involved in the discussion. This teacher’s voice was not soft, nor loud. He had been a student of the Loud teacher before his mission. Only a convert for a short time before his mission, now an Institute teacher of youth only slightly younger. It was yet another witness of where this country, continent is in its evolution of the generational development of the church, membership and leadership.
It is hard to describe how exciting it is to see so many YSA age, first generation, only-member-of-the-family members being so well prepared to take the reigns of leadership in the next generation. There is no question that this is Africa’s time for foundations to be laid for enormous growth to take place. We are excited, not just resigned, to our change of location and the work here. We will gladly add our voices to the teaching and testimonies of our associates in the Mission and the work.
As usual I have written too much and left too much out of what Sister Clwoard knows you may want to know.
Judy, you’re up.
Sweetie, do you really think they will bother reading my P.S. comments after reading your 10.5 incredible pages of insight and reflection? Y’all can take a pause and when you want a light-hearted laugh and smile, come back to these slanted letters and maybe I’ll give you a lift.
Elder C has such an incredible memory! He’s like a virtual live and walking history, botany, driver’s ed, dictionary, bible and triple combination all in one made just for me! I’ve never enjoyed “reading” so much in my life! Thanks Elder C for your insightful blogs which cause much reflection and purpose-filled improvement for me. I love you. I LOVE you. I LOVE YOU. I couldn’t have chosen a better companion to take with me on our African mission :) !!!
Elder C is taking pics of our current flat. It’s a large and spacious flat for us and we are enjoying every minute we are in it :) Today it is raining. In fact, nearly every day we have been here it has rained during the night. The bricks testify to that fact every morning we walk with Elder and Sister D around the cricket field to the tune of about 2 miles a day.
I was so cold yesterday I put on my summer black long sleeved pajamas under my Sunday skirt and blouse so that I wouldn’t “chatter” while singing the hymns at church. (And no, Krys, I was wearing my one and only long sleeved, high necked dk brown velour blouse with my ankle-length green and brown skirt.)
[This is Bryndi. Looks like Mom wasn't able to finish her thoughts, but we can look forward to the next blog post. Here are some of their pictures from their tour and other things.]