Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gratitude for Counsel from a Scribe to a Pharisee

Scribes had no authority.  Pharisees acted like they did.

Dear friendly, faithful, righteous Pharisee Nicodemus (not his real title or real name)

Just a note to thank you for your gentle suggestions over the years of our ongoing friendship.  I especially am grateful for the time you take reviewing writing like this very post.

  Kate Lehrer and  her husband Jim exchange their writing all the time, supporting each other and helping to polish the other's work, however, she told Diane (and the audience) that she gets upset when Jim spends some time reading a chapter or an article she has written and says, "That was good, hon."  Jim Lehrer, the anchor of the PBS News Hour, formerly the McNeil Lehrer report appeared on one of the best radio shows I know of: The Diane Rehm Show, between 9 and 11 AM Monday-Friday on NPR.  His wife of 51 years, Kate, a novelist tagged along.  Jim has written 28 books and just published his latest book on his marathon record moderating 11 presidential debates--he says it's like walking on the edge of a very large, very sharp knife.

"I want to hear some real feed back!  What he liked, what I could do better!  Otherwise we're both wasting our time."

I write you that to write you this:  One of the reasons I have come to treasure our friendship, Pharisee, is that you care enough to give me that kind of uplifting feedback on a regular basis.

The first time you did it happened when you came up on stage after our first night of Missionary Boxer and suggested we build an intermission into the second night for the benefit of folks who had a hard time sitting through 90 straight minutes of show.

I was overwhelmed with every detail as writer, producer and head cheerleader for the production.  I didn't take your counsel then--and we probably could have--but --well, I could make lots of arguments in favor of  "plot flow", extending the show length by 20 minutes etc.  

I have never told you, but I appreciated your counsel then and have never forgotten it.  The next time I write and produce a show, the "Pharisee 'Sit Tight'  Break" will likely be included. (Of course playwrights know there's quite a difference between writing a one act play and a two or three act production!

President Packer tells the story about a Stake Patriarch in Brigham City who mentored him as you mentor me.  How wonderful to know someone with more experience who is willing to gently coach and give good counsel!

When President Harold B. Lee clarified the Savior's words in Luke that the Kingdom of God is within you--he indicated that what the Savior meant that the King James translators missed was the idea that the Kingdom of God is AMONG you!

WIth the increasing ability to sense and pay attention to the nudgings of the Holy Ghost, every member of the kingdom has the potential blessing of good counsel from "above" and good counsel from priesthood leaders and  wise senior folks who care about them-- the many emminese grises* (good grey heads) who unselfishly  are informing the rising generation.

(Noun, 1. eminence grise - (French) a person who exercises power or influence in certain areas without holding an official position)

Joseph Fielding McConkie, a wonderful professor of religion at BYU made the point that one of the many reasons the Lord commands us to attend Sacrament Meeting is that in such a community of counselors and counselees, each brings slightly different gifts of the spirit to the community.  As we gather, if we're gentle and observing we get a chance to enjoy most of the gifts of the spirit.   What an uplifting thought.

Therefore, thanks for sharing your good counsel with me on a regular basis.  You may not think it's much-- a word or two here and there, a little mid course correction, pulling back a little much enthusiasm while still encouraging more and better ideas suited to the situation and the process or just a suggestion.  I treasure every one.

Gratefully, thanks to you I am your better informed Scribe,

Jon Robert Howe

PS - In the computer world, a Wizard is some one or in Microsoft programs, some thing that knows a bit more than the user and is willing to share.  As I teach computer classes or the odd church class, I always try to follow your good example and be a good Scribe, a better Wizard and like you, a believing Pharisee who helps and guides whereever he (or she) gently can.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sacrifice: Stay up Late with your Family, if you have to!

Endure to the End?
Our son works late, so I've cashed in my Lark credentials for the same Wise Old Owl qualifications my wife enjoys til early, early in the morning of the next day. Years of working early morning radio news, rising at 4:00 AM has made this shift in my personal time clock less than easy. 

My sweet Rosie's health is such that she has such a hard time getting to sleep and and a hard time getting up before early afternoon.  Like a newborn, her sleep and wake clock has been turned upside down.  

Elizabeth Anderson, a fifth grade teacher friend of our family in Wyoming in the 60's, once told me that every hour before midnight you get to bed is worth two hours of extra sleep.  I haven't enjoyed that bonus in years.  

My wife's prime time starts about 10:00 PM.  If I went to bed at 10 PM,  we'd have precious little quality time to speak of.  I'd miss my son completely.  He gets in about 11:30 PM when he's not out doing his Midnight Gardening with a flashlight and a harvesting basket. On one hand it's cooler, on the other hand he misses the little veggies you can't see easily in a narrow flashlight beam.

President Henry B. Eyring counseled parents of late sleepers and late workers to stay up and visit with them on a regular basis.  "If you're tired when you get up and go to work next day, please, do what I do." he said.   "During my lunch hour I inform my secretary, put a "Do Not Disturb hanger" on my door. Then I lock it, clean off my desk and pull out the blanket and pillow I keep in the closet and take a quick nap.  That and an apple keep me alert and focused for the rest of the day.  As long as you don't do it behind the wheel, napping is good for you!"


Monday, September 5, 2011

The Best Church Instructors Know How to "Play the Organ"

Organ playing as a metaphor for
Great Teaching
In 1969 I was called to teach the two seventies and three high priests of the Washington D.C. Singles Ward.  John Miller, our stake patriarch took me aside soon after I was called and taught me a most valuable principle of church class leadership.

"A church class is like an organ recital." he began.  "In the academic world, the professor knows so much more than the students that they come to be taught.  

In the kingdom the instructor is the focus of discussion, yes, but if he is wise he will follow these step and harness the inspiration in his fellow students:

1. Prepare Thoroughly:  Study, Pray, Seek Inspiration, Simplify and Condense.

2.  Come Humbly:  Understand that the class has nothing to do with showing off your skills or intelligence.  They are your fellow student and while you are the focus, your task is a simple one:  create the atmosphere of love and trust so that each member will feel comfortable sharing.  The following steps are key.

3. Cite THE Scripture:  In the limited time you have, just the right scripture will make all the difference.  Of course you can use other scriptures to fortify your point, but don't get caught up in using so many scriptures that you neglect "Playing the Organ" 

4. Pose a Great Theme Question:  Phrase it so that it sparks some interest and thought in members of the class.  It should recall experiences and motivate sharing for the next step.  Don't underestimate the power of your silence at this point.   One great instructor I know told the group, "Well, that's all I've got! and that he was going to depend on them for the rest of the class, then he backed away from the microphone.  He was only about six or seven minutes into the class but he had phrased the Theme Question question in such a way that the class immediately picked up on it.  He spent the rest of the hour just calling on members to "help him out".  It takes maturity and a good sense of what works!  It is the essence of step 5.

5. Play the Organ:

This wonderful, wise 80 something brother had a twinkle as he shared this simple formula for great church teaching.

I had to ask, "What do you mean, 'Play the Organ' ?

"Every brother  in the class (and in the auxiliaries, sisters, too) have deep opinions." He continued.  "If they've studied the sciptures as they should, they'll have corresponding life experience that can inform and inspire the other members off the quorum.  

"Each man represents an organ key, and it's your duty to create an atmosphere that will help them feel comfortable to share their inspiration and edify one another.  As the instructor you, too can learn from them and be inspired with their truths in a mutually satisfying and spiritual experience.  That's what "playing the organ" means.  Touching them as you would touch the keys in a magnificent recital."  He knew me well enough to know that I played the hymns for priesthood once in a while.

Church "instruction" is less about facts and much more about feelings as we build testimonies in church classes.  It's all about edifying one another when a skilled and loving teacher knows how to, "Play the Organ"..