I Have a Question

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    Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

    At a recent family council, we decided to pay more attention to the kind of music and art we have in our home. Do you have any suggestions on how we can improve?

    Janice R. Welker, homemaker and mother. A couple of summers ago, I found myself humming a popular song with a light, happy melody, no great work of art to be sure, but pleasant and catchy. Unfortunately, the lyrics were questionable in their message. At first, I was convinced that if I just didn’t pay any attention to the words it would be all right. It did not take long for me to realize, however, that I could not separate the music and the lyrics. When I found myself singing these words I despised, I began to see how important it is to be selective in my music.

    Since then my husband and I have decided that we want only the best art in our home and in our lives. At first, this decision required some effort. Our family did not know a lot about the arts, but we began to learn about them and appreciate them, especially music. We began to notice very quickly how much easier it was to have the Spirit of the Lord with us when we were not being bombarded constantly by worldly things.

    As Latter-day Saints, we know we need to cultivate a sense of taste and propriety. Not all good art, even if it is technically perfect, is appropriate for a Latter-day Saint home. On the other hand, not every work of art that aspires to enshrine noble principles or significant events is a true work of art, even though the artist’s motives may have been very worthy.

    A second factor to consider is appropriateness. For example, not all good music, not even splendid classical music, is appropriate for sacrament meeting. Listening to the Spirit will help us know what is truly appropriate for each occasion.

    Sometimes people feel that their likes and dislikes are fixed and unchangeable. Not so. The keys to appreciating the arts are exposure and education. A person need not have a Ph.D. in art to enjoy an inspiring symphony, a fine painting, good drama, or whatever. We merely need to take advantage of our opportunities. I suppose that there are many ways to learn about the arts (or any other subject), but the three things that I feel helped our family the most in our quest to improve our musical tastes were a good friend who knows a lot about music, a classical music radio station, and our local library.

    Our friend was happy to spend an hour with us periodically playing records of good music for us, often explaining points about the piece and answering our questions. He was careful to select pieces that we could appreciate, increasing their complexity as our capacity increased.

    When we first started listening to our local classical music station, the only thing we recognized was the “Lone Ranger” theme of the “William Tell Overture,” but we continued to listen and became familiar with more and more music. This is an activity even young children enjoy.

    From our public library, we checked out records, often works that we had heard about but were not very familiar with. We also read about the great composers and their works and shared what we learned with one another.

    We are now trying to expand our tastes and knowledge even more. Of course we are still learning about music, but we are also trying to learn about the other forms of art. One home evening each month is devoted to appreciating and understanding the arts. We may spend some time at the library or attend a cultural event in the area. Because we try to sample a variety of things, we are never bored.

    I have a strong testimony that as we “seek after [the best] things” (A of F 1:13), we invite the Spirit of the Lord into our homes, helping us to establish an atmosphere of reverence, love, and joy.

    How is it possible to do all the things that are asked of us, especially when we have so little time to do it all in?

    Dolores C. Ritchie, Department of Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature, Brigham Young University. Certainly, members of the Church are asked to involve themselves in many activities. We are counseled to exercise, cultivate, store, read, pray, fellowship, research, organize, educate, communicate, listen. … The list seems endless at times—so endless, in fact, that, in spite of the scripture, many of us find ourselves “weary in well-doing.” How, then, do we cope with the overload?

    First, we should realize that the injunctions given us are both universal and particular—universal in that these pursuits are worthy of consideration by members of the Church universally; and particular in that they must be responded to by individuals of varying abilities, constraints, and needs.

    Our challenge is to decide which of all these possibilities we should focus on right now (keeping in mind that some—like prayer and exercise—are absolutely necessary for our spiritual and physical well-being).

    Meeting that challenge is neither simple nor immediate. Each of us must earnestly and honestly evaluate our priorities and our present opportunities for growth and service. Once we have decided what is most important in our lives and what is not so important, we will be able to make wise decisions about how to spend our time. We will also be able to decide how we can best use our unique gifts to bless our own lives and the lives of others.

    The scriptures teach us that “to every man is given a gift,” but that not all have the same gifts. (See D&C 46:11.) Some members feel that they must involve themselves in every good effort and work for every gift; but such an attitude will usually result in paralyzing frustration. I like to think that there is a selective process in creating a life and a life’s work that is analagous to creating a beautiful painting. Since trees are so majestic, I must have one in my painting; and who could leave out the mystery of fog, the texture of pearls, the sinewy torso of lion, the luminous emerald green of meadow after rain, the iridescence of goldfish, the vermillion of sky at twilight, the encircling arm of a mother? With so much beauty and goodness, I cannot fail to create a perfect work of art—and all within one frame! “Overload” works no better in life than it does in art.

    Zubin Mehta, the brilliant conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, was once asked how he handled the complex demands on his time and talents. He responded that for him it was necessary to limit his focus to just two areas: his work and his family. Though he enjoyed sports and had many other interests, he found that it was essential, if he were to survive artistically and personally, that he resist fragmenting his energies. Like a composer, he has selected two or three controlling “melodies” and is building, not a symphony, but his life around them.

    Too many of us contend with the paradox created when we try to be perfect in all things immediately. For while we seek perfection, we disperse our energies so broadly as to preclude excellence. We must realize that perfection is a matter of selection and focus and must be determined on an individual basis within a broad range of choices. How we work on a particular talent or capacity, and when, is largely a matter of personal, responsible, realistic choice.

    Often, our dilemma is in deciding which of all the suggestions we face are in fact requirements to be acted upon by everyone immediately and which are suggestions to be implemented as it is appropriate by each individual as he applies his differences, background, and circumstances. Given that there are choices to be made and that our accountability is associated with them (remember the Parable of the Talents), it behooves each of us to carefully and prayerfully analyze our challenges and opportunities and then be guided by the Spirit in pursuing the activities that are needful now in our lives.