Families Can Be Together Forever

imageI enjoy the tumblr feed at Just Say Amen Already (JSAA). The author is K, a Jewish convert who lives in New York City. K has a great sense of humor, handy when you are a single female Mormon professional who happens to be a Democrat.

I browsed JSAA a few weeks ago after hearing my son-in-law’s father had died. K’s witty tumblr feed was a comfort. I clicked through to K’s blog posts and read K’s comments on Families Will Be Together Forever.

As a single Mormon woman who is the only member of her family, K took issue with this song, with a line by line critique. I get where she’s coming from. I mean, some of us do live the dream. But when I was getting beaten by my first husband or my dad, the words “[my family] is so good to me” didn’t accurately describe the situation. I am aware of other actual situations that are stark exceptions to the ideal of the good family, like a friend who was murdered by her husband, or another friend whose mother was a prostitute who abandoned her children.

How might it be possible to modify the song ever so slightly so it conveys the original sense of hope and admonition, but rings true to all members of the Church, particularly those whose lives don’t fit the ideal Mormon model for whatever reason?

My husband and I enjoy poetry, meter, rhyme and scansion, and we sometimes like to develop alternate words for hymns or published music (sometimes required to make a traditional piece of music consistent with LDS doctrine). There is a long tradition of updating LDS hymns when older words are no longer appropriate (remember singing “You who” unto Jesus?). So we thought of some minor word modifications that might better teach the doctrines that are so precious to us.

I have a family here on earth,

Yes. Yes I do. There’s really not much one can criticize about this line.

New: They mean so much to me.
Old: They are so good to me.

Not all families are good here on earth. But no matter what is happening, each of us cares deeply about our family.

New: I want to share God’s love for them through all eternity.
Old: I want to share my life with them through all eternity.

I like this one. The ambiguity of the grammar allows this wording to support two readings. It can be me wanting to share God’s love with them. It can also be my prayer to God to fill my heart with the love He feels for them.

So even when a family member has been horrific, they are still a child of God. And we can be filled with the love God has for them, even as we take the necessary actions to protect ourselves.

Families can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s Plan.
I always want to be with my dear family, and The Lord has shown me how I can.

Old: I always want to be with my own family, and The Lord has shown me how I can.

Here I prefer to leave the original text mostly unchanged with the exception of “my own family.” My dear family doesn’t destroy the reading of one’s own family, but allows it to be expanded beyond the nuclear family.

Today I accompanied my husband in delivering the First Presidency Message for July to a single sister my husband home teaches. This month’s message was from Henry B. Eyring, and spoke of the love and concern we can have across families, speaking of his mother’s love for her brother’s family. I realized another amazing thing about the Book of Mormon that reflects the fullness of the gospel.

In the Bible, we see the rivalry between Jacob and Esau, between David and Saul, and between Abel and Cain. Christ asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but I don’t see a theme of extended families yearning to save a lost branch of the family. 1

Yet in the Book of Mormon, we constantly see the Nephite prophets yearning for the salvation of the Lamanites, the children of their mutual father, Lehi. We see the stripling warriors risking their lives to save the Nephites. And when all hope was lost for the Nephite people, Mormon and Moroni crafted a record with the express purpose of saving future generations of Lamanites and a non-Jewish people they had come to realize God also treasured.

Who is part of my beloved family? It isn’t just the diminishingly small group of people who live under the same roof as me. Each of us has a group that we look to and consider as “our people.” Whether that group is intimate or as expansive as all time and space, this is our “dear family” or even our “own family.” And that is the family that the song says we can be with.

New: While I am in my earthly years, I’ll prepare most carefully
Old: While I am in my early years, I’ll prepare most carefully

The “early” word is fine for a primary song, but this isn’t just a primary song now that it’s been included in the hymnal.

New: So I can cov’nant in God’s temple for eternity.
Old: So I can marry in God’s temple for eternity.

It is the covenants that we make for eternity that we should be focused on. The fundamental covenants we make in the temple are ones we can make whether or not circumstances allow us to be married. If we are fortunate enough to be married to someone we can wed in the temple, it is crucial even then to realize that the covenant includes God. Even if circumstances might tear the spouse whose hand we clasped at the alter from our eternal side, it is still a covenant with power and purpose, for God holds us in His heart, and He will do all that is right.

[Update] Here’s audio of me singing the modified version a Capella shortly after waking up. I will also note that though the 2014 Primary Sharing Time theme is “Families are Forever,” this song in its original form is not one of the suggested songs. So it appears the current form is understood to be sufficiently hurtful that it isn’t being included in the Church-wide songs being taught to the children on this year, when it ostensibly would be most appropriate.

The words again, without all the explanation:

I have a family here on earth. They mean so much to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.

Chorus: Fam’lies can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s Plan.
I always want to be with my dear family, and The Lord has shown me how I can.

While I am in my earthly years, I’ll prepare most carefully
So I can cov’nant in God’s temple for eternity.

Chorus: Fam’lies can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s Plan.
I always want to be with my dear family, and The Lord has shown me how I can.

Notes:

  1. My husband notes that Terryl Givens, in his book The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction, makes the point that the brothers in the Old Testament who feud mostly do reconcile (e.g., Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers) and the feuding brothers in the Book of Mormon do not have this reconciliation in this life. But in the Old Testament, the peoples that spring from the formerly feuding brothers become separate. There isn’t a sense that the family that retained the priesthood birthright yearns to save the children of the other brother, e.g., the Israelis aren’t yearning for the salvation of the Palestinians who claim common descent from Abraham.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

47 thoughts on “Families Can Be Together Forever

  1. Beautiful rewrite Meg. But some might say this is political correctness. I’m a big fan of political correctness, but the church doesn’t seem to be. The reality is that most LDS families are high functioning enough to apply appropriately to the song. Anti-political correctness believes in protecting the ideals of the 99 from the exceptions of the 1. Political correctness believes in having the 99 adapt to become more sensitive and inclusive of the 1. But my view is that the church simply is not for the one. It is for the 99. The individual within the church is for the one: hometeaching, interviewing, serving, reaching out. But when that person is brought within the fold, they are nourished with the 99. They don’t get their own personal church adapted to their particular state of exceptionality.

    What I don’t like about the song is that it doesn’t include polygamy and the doctrine that anyone who doesn’t abandon mother or father is not worthy of Christ.

  2. Made a couple of mods, including uploading audio of me singing my proposed update to the words.

    As for the 99, yesterday my husband and I also taught the teenagers in Sunday School, where the lesson was on making the sacrament more meaningful. My husband had us listen to a 1977 talk by Elder Howard W. Hunter on the sacrament, where he described being able to attend his home ward for a change, and seeing the many forms of family gathering to Church, including singles and single-parent families, including himself with his wife Clara.

    What Elder Hunter didn’t mention was that every Sunday when he wasn’t able to make it home for Sacrament Meeting in his home ward, it is likely that Clara had to attend by herself, alone. Clara was aging – she would die a few short years after this talk was given. So I doubt she always accompanied Howard on his Church assignments. I particularly like Elder Hunter’s comments at 1:30, the third paragraph:

    Families usually consist of a father, mother, and children, but this is not always the case. Sometimes there is not a mother or a father, and sometimes no children. Often there is one person living alone. In years gone by, our family was larger, but now it consists of only two.

    One might say my update is PC, but again note that the list of 2014 Songs for Use during [2014 Primary] Sacrament Meeting Presentation across the Church does not include Families can be Together Forever, even though the theme this year is Families Are Forever. If that isn’t tantamount to an official repudiation of the song in its current form, I don’t know what they could do, short of recalling all hymnals.

  3. Nice rewrite, Meg. It is up to date with how families now are in the Church. This was added to the Church hymnal almost 30 years ago, when the Church was still mostly Utah/American, where most families were still intact and strong, etc.

    But we now live in a time where the Brethren are giving new focus and counsel. We don’t pressure those with SSA to get married to the opposite sex, but to be chaste and to serve diligently. We recognize that most of our members did not grow up LDS in Happy Valley, but are converts that were born outside the USA.

    We should consider making our songs more applicable to more members. Contrary to nate, I do not see this as being politically correct, but just adapting to the reality of the world we live in.

  4. Much appreciated Meg. As I have “transitioned” from a celebrated, poster worthy Mormon family to a divorced, non church attending father trying to maintain my relevance with my 4 sons, I have been working through making sense of my childhood faith and the one that my boys are defining their lives by. I can’t seem to easily cast this faith aside, for my sake and for theirs. How do I talk to them about their real world family dynamics? How do I teach them that their family is not “less than”? How do I prepare them for families of their own?

    The family unit is great but it is only a start. Beyond that we typically extend our loving relationships to family, tribe, country, and other like minded groupings wherein exists a natural affinity. Christ has called us to extend our loving relationships beyond those natural groups. He sought to redefine the meaning of neighbor, prayed that all might be one, purposely ministered to the outcast. We are likewise called to extend our definition of family. To those family members who have gone before us, to those who become family through a rebirth in Christ, to see in all the divine parentage of common Heavenly Parents. The family is important as a starting place for loving and teaching and experiencing. But amid the reality of fallen world families and never realized dreams we are called to love more and love bigger.

  5. While I have no real substantive opposition to the proposed changes, I do have a huge problem with the entire supposition for a need of rewrite.

    I do think the need comes from supposed perceptions of injustice and oppression, political correctness, and a severe misunderstanding of the fact that the ideal exists only because it is pushed. Once you start pushing for the minority, however innocent the victims end up being, the unintended consequence is that the important ideal becomes less emphasized, the more of the minority increases, and the less of the ideal there is. I don’t understand anyone who really understands the gospel who actively tries to increase the non-ideal circumstances by de-emphasizing the ideal. So I hear I must strongly disagree with RAM and Meg, and suggest they re-examine their motives.

    That people are disenfranchised and depressed is not a valid reason to give up important parts of the gospel, and if you start here, you may as well just acquiesce to protests and give women the priesthood now. If we’re no longer allowed to preach, or hope for the ideal, you may as well just give up.

    This is the absolute nicest way I know how to express myself about this, and I’m leaving quite a bit of analysis out. But I disagree with the assumptions behind the OP, and hope some others here will back me up.

  6. Half of my now or previously married children have made accommodations to the traditional pattern of a father supporting a stay at home mother and their children. Of these, all but one, now in the process of divorce, has a stay at home father. These three men have been a blessing to their families by providing guidance and care on the intimate level usually reserved for mothers such as caring for sick children and supervising science fair projects. Yet even after years of living with the situation, their children will now and then cling to the mother on her way to work and plead “Why can’t you stay home with me?”
    Those who have been able to sustain a more conventional approach have sometimes done so on the edge of poverty as they forgo a second income.
    “I’m so glad when Daddy comes home.” is another lyric that can remind a child who fears his father that his life is out of joint. There are a few other Primary songs that mention similar themes, but should we banish them because they fail to reflect the reality of many children or should we keep them as reflecting an ideal? Those of my daughter’s and daughters in law who are financially supporting their families have expressed the yearning to spend their days raising their children but they try to live as near the ideal as they can. A number of songs and hymns have been changed over the years but I believe we should be very careful in making changes.

  7. I have two points to consider/question based on the comments so far (and these are honest questions I am asking myself. No “gotchas” here).
    What is the true ideal? As I read Christ and his message I read Him often being at odds with the perceived ideal, pointing to something grander and more expansive than what we thought the ideal to be.
    As for making accommodations for the minority when are we then suppose to go after the 1 and leave the 90 and 9? I don’t think it has to be an either/or. I think that as we are called to answer with compassion the plight of the 1 we find new answers.

  8. I dislike these quite a bit, almost without exception. (The exception being the ‘early’ to ‘earthly’ change.) They are moves from the concrete, the particular, and the specific, to the abstract and the generic.

    I really fail to see why the imperfect but decent family I came from and the imperfect but decent family I and my wife have created is something to be swept under the rug. If Mormonism doesn’t stand for *that*, it doesn’t stand for anything distinctive.

  9. That previous comment was throat clearing. Now for my main observation:

    that’s a pretty fantastic tumblr blog

  10. I’ve never liked this one in the Hymnal, simply because its form doesn’t really fit. It’s like someone suggesting we get more “modern” music in.

    There are lots of hymns that can use a word tweak. (Hie to Kolob comes to mind). Those I don’t mind so much, as most people don’t have them memorized and only lightly engage with what they’re singing as it is. This is more than just a simple word change; it’s a shift to the entire point of the song. The perfect family is something we continue to strive for. This is like setting our sights lower, so no one gets discouraged at how hard and seemingly impossible that ideal can be. It’s like taking the “if we should die” verse out of “Come Come Ye Saints” because we don’t want people killing themselves by doing more than they can handle.

    We all hope to be married in the Temple someday, even if we can’t see that day ever coming. We all have work to do to seal our families together, even those we personally don’t think worth the effort. We all are in our youth, even those who have been on this Earth 100 years or more.

    Yes, this song can hurt. What can we learn to see how this song can also uplift?

  11. The PC side of me says change the words and sing them to yourself all you want. The intellectual property side of me (and of the author, Ruth Muir Gardner 1927 – 1999, were she alive), says “Leave my words alone – go write your own lyrics to someone else’s tune. I worked long and hard to come up with those lyrics, and they read the way I want them to read.” We all know the story of President Kimball and the change he suggested — and which was accepted — to “I Am A Child of God.” I rather like keeping the ideal, and as President Packer notes, dealing with the exceptions on an individual basis. Just about any Sunday School Lesson dealing with families and temples and marriage encourages teachers to be sensitive to class members whose situations may not be ideal. Therefore, it’s not as if the church is not aware that not every one or every family falls into the ideal. But I see no need to “dumb down” the message, even if it is well intentioned.

  12. Life is not art, as the artist Maclean wrote. Not too infrequently, while sitting with the family watching a movie, most recently the My Neighbor Totoro last Friday, someone will get a bit too literal-minded and complain about a character taking a course of action that he disagrees with. “It’s art,” I will try to soothe. “Try to accept it on its own terms.” Of course much art isn’t great and makes it hard for us to accept its deviations from mundane reality. More often, though, the fault lies more in egocentrical literal-mindedness.

    “Only he who does something is worthy to live. The world has no use for the drone.” Oh, dear, that’s so strongly expressed, it might drive someone to suicide. Couldn’t we bland it down, bland everything down.

  13. Hear, hear! Or in other words, I heard it and I approve. I’ve been known to add or change words to Primary songs, to make them more current and/or relevant. One song in particular that I remember adding a verse to was “Follow the Prophet”, about Pres. Hinckley. The kids loved it. And, back to your new words, I have often wondered what kids from less than ideal families think as they sing this song. Your words make the song relevant and uplifting to all. Bravo!

  14. So there seems to be a building consensus in the “ideal family unit” as the center of doctrine and culture, but little discussion as to how our doctrine can handle equally and elegantly other variations that present themselves in our fallen state. I think that PC is too loaded a word to use in this context. These are real world examples being driven by real world hurt and I have to think that the gospel is expansive enough to point beyond our concept of the ideal and to not just hang an asterisk on families that don’t meet the grade.

    Lets also keep in mind that we are talking about a primary song here. One that gets sung by kids not fully formed and able to navigate the nuances of doctrine. and that they are being taught by adults of varying knowledge, attention and testimony.

    So what am I, as a divorced, loving, mess of a father suppose to do with the bonds I share with my kids? what of that that they share with their mother? what am I to do with their testimonies of the gospel as outlined by modern mormonism? This topic hits too close to home for me to just spout a protect the herd mentality.

  15. Lastly for now, but lets stretch this word “ideal” a bit. What is the label for my family as constituted? What is at the core of “ideal”?

  16. I am reminded of those who thought there were literally dinner plates made of gold (The Golden Plates lay Hidden). Or that they golden plates were hidden by “an ugly man of old.”

    Kids are hilarious.

    I’m amused at the varying reactions this post got.

    For what it’s worth, our Primary decided that they want us to sing Families Can Be Together Forever as the opening hymn on the day we present the Primary program. And so sing it we will, as it is contained in the hymnal.

  17. Mike,

    When I was going through my divorce, I remember leading this song. And I realized, standing before my fellow sisters in Relief Society, that at least a few of them were wondering how I would take this song. As I do believe that Families can be Together Forever (even if mine was in flaming ruins) and that my family has done so much good (despite the occasional evil), I embraced the song and sang with vigor. So no one got to watch a sister melt into a weeping blob of pain that day.

    I guess one problem with suggesting alternate words that resonate with some is that from now on when this song is sung, those who liked the alternate words might think on the revision and regret that the original words are still the original words. I hope no one will do that, though.

    Rather, reflect on the glory of the plan of salvation, of the beauty of our ability to reach across generations of time and all nations to gather God’s children. If one’s personal family is sufficiently far from “ideal” that this song causes pain, embrace the idea that mankind is your family. To quote Bob Marley as written by Dickens:

    Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.

  18. Jesus’ admonition to “be ye therefore perfect” comes to mind. That is His ideal for us, and should be our ideal for ourselves, right? But since it is impossible to attain, in this world, at least, should we feel hurt or “less than” or proceed to rationalize all the excuses why His command can’t possibly apply?

    Children blithely singing about the ideal family ought to be a cheery, rather than nauseating, reminder to adults of the kind of family we should construct, as well as our responsibility to teach them the Gospel. Yes, there may be painful flashbacks, but as some might say, “deal with it” and hold onto the hope of a “they-are-so-good-to-me” family in a better world to come, which is what we all want anyway, right?

  19. We should use judgement with this song.
    Families can be together forever might not sound appealing to someone having bad or dysfunctional family problems.

  20. Meg, thank you for the direct response. My take on this (as can be seen in my long winded posts) is that on these occasions where the daily grinding of life confront our limited knowledge of the metaphysical that there is room in the wide embrace of the gospel of Christ. Think of the expansion of Mormon theology when the question of those who died without hearing the restored gospel. Within the conundrum was found a new expanded definition of the love and mercy of Christ. A saving gospel should be, in my estimation, bigger and wider and deeper than is our ability to define it. It should truly be “good news”. By looking beyond the limited definition of the “ideal” family we can and do see the human family. This isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a placebo to placate the broken “less than”s. This should be the enlarged version of our current understanding, the line upon the already existing line.

    So while I and my children and my ex-wife are currently in the less than ideal column it shouldn’t require doctrinal gymnastics to feel at peace.

  21. I love the change of working from “early” to “earthly”. Other than that though, I feel there is true value in the original words.

    I was one of those children that grew up in a non-perfect home and still sung this song. I will admit, at times it was hard to sing of the ideal when my family clearly did not match the words of the song. Still, I am glad that the song read as it did. By stressing the ideal it taught me two important things: first, that I could have a family that was the ideal. It might take my whole life, but it was possible through the atonement of the Lord and His gospel to raise my own family after the ideal taught by the Lord’s prophets. And second, it reminded me that even though my family, and particularly my parents, were extremely dysfunctional, I still had a responsibility to love them. Being reminded of this principle has helped me to show forth greater love for my family, which has been a blessing in its own right. Thus, I find myself very glad that I had songs such as this growing up that could set my sights far higher than my reality at that time would have otherwise encourage.

  22. Preaching the rule versus the exception.

    I’m the kind of person who wants to take what the prophet and apostles say as absolutes. I once staked a major decision in my life on what one of the apostles said. When the reality of the situation didn’t match what the apostle said it “must be” I was hurt, and that became part of the reasons I left the church for a long time.

    This quote from Elder Nelson did much to resolve the conflict I had. My life would have taken a much better path had I known this 30 years ago.

    Elder Russell M. Nelson, Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
    CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 6, 2005. Brigham Young University.
    http://media.ldscdn.org/pdf/ces-firesides/2005-ces-firesides-for-young-adults/2005-02-01-faith-and-families-eng.pdf?download=true

    “Through the years you will note that apostles and prophets teach the rule. We don’t teach exceptions to the rule. Exceptions are left to individual agency and accountability. The Lord knows we live in an imperfect world. He knows it is ‘ripening in iniquity’ (D&C 18:6). His judgments will be fair, just, and merciful.”

    Elder Oaks explained the same principle in a talk given May 1, 2005, at a CES broadcast, and reprinted in the June 2006 Ensign.
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/2006/06/dating-versus-hanging-out?lang=eng

    “The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I have said. As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.”

  23. Oh, for goodness sake, it’s a primary song! Besides like somebody said already, the author probably had a good family and was grateful for it, therefore was inspired to write the song, so why do people have to project their baggage and sensitivities unto everything including a sweet and innocent primary song intended for sweet little children most of which probably have at least one loving parent or siblings.

    Meg I like your posts in general, the love still the same, but this sounds like PC to me.

  24. “Throughout your life on earth, seek diligently to fulfill the fundamental purposes of this life through the ideal family. While you may not have yet reached that ideal, do all you can through obedience and faith in the Lord to consistently draw as close to it as you are able. Let nothing dissuade you from that objective. If it requires fundamental changes in your personal life, make them. When you have the required age and maturity, obtain all of the ordinances of the temple you can receive. If for the present, that does not include sealing in the temple to a righteous companion, live for it. Pray for it. Exercise faith that you will obtain it. Never do anything that would make you unworthy of it. If you have lost the vision of eternal marriage, rekindle it. If your dream requires patience, give it. As brothers, we prayed and worked for 30 years before our mother and our nonmember father were sealed in the temple. Don’t become overanxious. Do the best you can. We cannot say whether that blessing will be obtained on this side of the veil or beyond it, but the Lord will keep His promises. In His infinite wisdom, He will make possible all you qualify in worthiness to receive. Do not be discouraged. Living a pattern of life as close as possible to the ideal will provide much happiness, great satisfaction, and impressive growth while here on earth regardless of your current life circumstances.”

    –Richard G. Scott, “First Things First”, April 2001 General Conference

  25. Those are nice changes, but I have issue with the reason why they were made.

    No one lives in a perfect family. Not even your Utah Mormons. Every family has their issues …. everyone.

    My family can’t even put the “fun” in dysfunctional, but still have faith and pray that one day we will be healed and made whole. So, I will remember the good times and try to work thru the bad times with them. I still love this song the way it’s written, because it gives me hope.

    I am so tired of “political correctness” … it seems like everyone is a victim these days, even in the church. I think if we teach the doctrines to everyone, then minister to the one, we’d be better off than trying to make a thousand exceptions for everyone and every last little situation. I was an older single, whose younger siblings all married before me. I was then the awkward half of an infertile couple for many years. I did not fit in the mold, or “what was expected” … but I relied on the Lord to help me and heal me, and I learned that it’s ok to reach out to others and bring them along. We have got to stop being victims. Because that’s what I kind of feel like the motivation for this was.

  26. Regarding the quote I posted above, I think the keys here are that 1) there is such a thing as an ideal family unit, 2) we should be making efforts to reach that ideal, and 3) we are only expected to approach it as closely as our circumstances allow.

    Meg is not only a wonderful contributor here, but she is always so careful to be kind when dissenting in comments, so I want to reciprocate: I have some disagreements with your ideas this time, but thanks for all you add to the community here–your excellent work is appreciated!

  27. Hi Huston (and Pat!),

    I appreciate your kindness in expressing your caution about my proposed modifications.

    As a bit of background, my husband was the one who brought up the subject of attempting to rework the song in response to K’s comments. I had read her comments several weeks ago, but since I don’t naturally spring to modifying songs, I hadn’t thought to rework the text originally.

    But when my husband began telling me his proposed modifications, I objected (ah, the irony). Because he was completely changing the wording of the song.

    So inspired by his passion to adjust the words, I took on the challenge of finding alterations that would not alert the casual listener to the fact that anything had even changed, striving to make the new words scan like the originals.

    Changing early to earthly was the best of these. If english still retained thorn as a letter, it would literally have been only one letter to change.

    I think part of the vehemence expressed here by those decrying this as PC and expressing dislike of the change might be inspired by the fact that I did try to make the changes so minor. This, perhaps, inspired in some the revulsion experienced when something different is too close, the uncanny valley phenomenon observed in animation and robotics.

    So if we look at the changes I made, it seems the ranking of “OK” to “darn the PC-ness of such a change” would potentially be:

    early –> earthly: Good change for a Primary song that’s now a general hymn

    are so good –> mean so much: OK, neither here nor there, though confusion regarding the new words could lead some to sing “they are so mean to me…”

    share my life with them –> share God’s love for them: A potentially dangerous change, though of comfort to those who currently really wouldn’t want to share eternity with certain family members

    my own family –> my dear family: a change that by virtue of being a change emphasizes the ways these aren’t synonymous, implying that we might only have to embrace those who are already dear

    marry –> cov’nant: @#$% the PC-ness. Don’t touch these words

    So I think there are a couple of minor tweaks (earthly, mean so much) that would do 90% of work in expanding the reach of this song to more members. The other changes could be seen as (obviously were seen by some of you to be) such fundamental changes that they challenge the particular doctrines the song is traditionally understood to teach.

  28. Those who follow Mark Steyn’s Song of Week will be familiar with the idea that simple songs are hard to write. An example he has repeated a few times is Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. It takes a good writer to make a line like “God bless America, land that I love” come off right. “I have a family here in earth; they are so good to me,” is in that same class of just-right craftsmanship. If the words don’t directly apply to you, because your family isn’t so good to you or because it’s a long time since you were seven years old, then imagine someone they would apply to. That’s what we do with most songs. We don’t have to be in the middle of a break up or new-found romance or be seventeen to enjoy a tune about a character who is, sung be someone who isn’t.

  29. I usually bristle at PC-ness, but I have to say that I don’t see any problem with any of these. In fact, I like a couple of changes more than the original.

    early –> earthly: I think this is an appropriate change.

    are so good –> mean so much: this is probably my favorite. Having grown up in a home that was borderline neglectful, I can’t fully say that my family was “good to me.” For many people, ideal or not this isn’t true. I, and those like me, can’t change that and had no control over it. However, what I can control is how I either feel towards them, or how I’m working to feel towards them. I think its entirely appropriate to emphasis how you feel about your family rather than how your feel your family treated/treats you.

    share my life with them –> share God’s love for them: I don’t love the new words, but “share my life with them” seems odd when we really don’t fully share our lives with our families. We grow up, move out and frequently away. Even in ideal situations, we marry, have kids, and those kids then grow up and move out and often move far away. The only one you are ideally sharing your life with is your spouse. Or maybe I’m reading to far into the words.

    my own family –> my dear family: This strikes me as a change that could have been there originally and no one would have noticed either way. I don’t see this as PC at all. My “family” is really more than my “own” family. It includes my extended family, in-laws, brother and sisters, nieces and nephews. “Own” strikes me as either my brother and sisters living at home with my parents or my current family, with my wife and kids. “My dear” family feels more representative of what it really is.

    marry –> cov’nant: I understand your change. I don’t love the change, but I don’t love “marry” either. So many people come into or return to the church later and are sealed, which is obviously just as good.

  30. I really like the “earthly” and “cov’nant” changes for use in the hymnbook. The original words make sense for Primary children, but for a family congregation Meg’s new words work better. I especially like using “cov’nant,” as all the ward council meetings I’ve attended have focused on helping members make their next covenant, from baptism through sealing, and not on marrying our singles. And as Nate T pointed out above, many members are already married when they join; the “cov’nant” change makes the song more universal and representative of our experiences. Not that “marry” is wrong, just that I think “cov’nant” is better for the hymnbook.

  31. The rewrite doesn’t go far enough.

    Here’s my version (it doesn’t quite scan, but in true progressive fashion, we can change the music to make it fit the lyrics):

    1. We all have families here on earth.
    They’re full of diversity.
    The number of parents or their gender does not matter to me.

    2. While I am in my earthly years,
    I’ll condemn all bigotry,
    Let same sex couples enter the temple for true intimacy.

    3. Fam’lies can be together forever
    Through Heav’nly parent’s plan.
    I always want to never judge a family,
    And progressive blogs say how I can.
    Progressive blogs say how I can.

  32. Just to clarify – that was satire, and I’m not making fun of progressive rewrites per se – more just trying to show how badly a rewrite could go.

    I like some of Meg’s suggestions and not others, but other commentators have already covered all that. I figured having this for contrast might help make Meg’s points clearer.

  33. I am NOT a fan of PC-ness, but this didn’t strike me that way. This struck me as a way to make trite words more meaningful.

    I grew up in a rough family situation that has only gotten worse over the years. I enjoyed this song, probably because of the melody. The words are not meaningful to me, except in an academic way. Yep, that’s how things should be.

    If the lyrics were similar to what Meg suggests, I would have *felt* this song. There are certainly no doctrinal issues with what she has suggested, because there have been multiple talks saying these things over the past 40 years. This just puts it all in one place.

    However, in a church that could not handle the word “genealogy” being changed to “family history” (y’all know which song I mean), I don’t see this going over too well. Not that we operate on popular vote, but I have to wonder if a new song is the way to go. Let this one fade into the shadows created by a bright, new song. Any volunteers to pen such a gem? Meg, I think I saw your hand up…

  34. Comments directed to Mike…
    I am sorry for the troubles you are having. However, it sounds like you are asking me to stop getting my kids vaccinated just because you are offended by the idea of vaccines. If you and your kids were allergic to vaccines, their health would be better off if I made sure my kids are vaccinated for herd immunity. So your argument works well, just not to
    your side. I find it highly ironic that you claim that kids are
    less able to navigate with nuance, when the proposed post actually does require more nuance, less certainty. I am of the opinion, that parents in circumstances that require exceptions, need to be able to explain their positions. Parents should help kids navigate nuanced teachings… not expect a hymn to cover every nuance and exception.
    It appears, Mike, that the root problem here isn’t being able to explain things to your kids, it’s that you are not at peace with your current situation. A good counselor can help you find that, a LDS-themed blog can’t. Regarding your questions… “How do I talk to them about their real world family dynamics? ” “How do I teach them that their family is not “less than”? These are rather personal questions to ask (and to attempt to answer), but in an attempt to show I’m not trying to say, “shut up and go away” I’ll put my two cents in. 1.) Honestly. If family dynamics involve mistakes, admit them. If you don’t know how they got where they are just admit it. If you do, and the subject matter isn’t age appropriate, punt. To me it is important to recognize that circumstances, choices, and relationships are not ideal, coupled with the eternal truth that everything occurred because of past choices. And learning from others mistakes, recognized or unrecognized, can help them avoid the same mistakes in the future, if they are aware.
    Instead, they will find other pitfalls and mistakes to make. Hopefully they will have learned to have charity, and will look for (and find) a spouse who exhibits charity, with the people who are trying. That’s something that some people learn from their parents, and some people learn in their own marriages. I just react energetically when someone might be implying that non-ideal circumstances are just as good as ideal circumstances. There is a hierarchy of “better” on this issue. Circumstances can be better and less than, without personalizing the folks. Perhaps that’s the difference.

  35. Hi Meg,

    I’m going to attempt to provide some more detailed feedback about why I disagree with you.

    First an agreement. I certainly agree that when your father or husband were physically abusing you, that they “were being good to you” at the moment. Nothing else that they did in their lives will make up, or excuse those facts. But was everything your father did to you terrible? Was their nothing you could be grateful for? Were there no sacrifices of his life that he made for you?

    The point of the song is not to falsely sweep all bad behavior under the rug, but hopefully to get most of the kids who do have wonderful parents to realize that. Kids today think their parents are mean because they don’t let them eat horribly unhealthy foods, and because they make them eat their vegetables, or don’t let them play some video game for hours on end, or don’t let them hit their siblings or bully their peers. Kids need reminders to be grateful for their parents.

    I don’t think the phrase was meant as a general statement that “All parents are always 100% perfect and never do anything wrong, or even terribly wrong.” so bringing up counterexamples (also known as unverified anecdotes) where some parent somewhere does something terribly wrong really doesn’t counter this strawman-argument.

    But there’s a more important point. This K, at least the way you’ve represented her, seems unable to take responsibility for her own emotions, feelings, and reactions to things.

    // begin snarky rant with a lot of sarcasm. Don’t take it personally, and it may not all be true.

    Let’s take a cue from K for a moment, and try and look at the original lyrics from the truly-puke-tinged glasses, (the concept to which you introduced us).
    “I have a family here on earth” Not everybody does. Some people are orphans. Some people are cared for by the state government and then
    handed over to child-molestors. Some embryos are created by scientists just to do experiments on them. They don’t have a family. God must hate them. There is no God.

    “They are so good to me.” Nope, once my father yelled at me. He isn’t always 100% good 100% of the time. The Church isn’t’ true.

    “I want to share my life with them through all eternity.”
    Nope. My mother is Kate Kelly. She thinks being a human rights lawyer is more fulfilling than being a mother. I don’t want to spend another instant with her in my life again, let alone an eternity.

    “So I can marry in God’s temple for eternity.” Marry? Why, it’s just a piece of paper… I can commit to someone without a religious group performing it. Besides, my excommunicated mother couldn’t attend. Why would I want to marry somewhere where my own mother isn’t allowed. My OWN mother, for heavens sake!

    I hope I’ve illustrated something here… It may be a caricature, but this mindset exists, at least in the aggregate. It is mentally and emotionally unhealthy, it is promulgated by the unchecked bloggernacle, and it is found in the self-described faithful blogs like BCC and M* alike. Initially I wanted to call it the EOR mentality (named after Winnie the Pooh’s friend, not the blogger). Always taking the absolute worst possible interpretation, even when not the likely interpretation. It is the uncharitable, b*tchy, annoyingness present in every OW, FMH, BCC post that I fight against so hard.

    The EOR mentality could also be used against Meg’s rewrite.

    I have a family here on earth. (What about the orphans, they literally don’t have any family on earth. Especially if they are test tube babies).
    They mean so much to me. (What about folks who have emotional disorders where they literally don’t care about their families?)
    I want to share my life with them through all eternity. (ditto)
    Chorus: Fam’lies can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s Plan. (I don’t like my family)
    I always want to be with my dear family, and The Lord has shown me how I can.
    While I am in my earthly years, I’ll prepare most carefully (It’s hard to live the gospel on earth, so I won’t)
    So I can cov’nant in God’s temple for eternity. (I’ll never keep any covenant perfectly, and then I’ll be in Satan’s power, so what’s the use of trying?)
    Chorus: Fam’lies can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s Plan.
    I always want to be with my dear family, and The Lord has shown me how I can.

    Other reasons to dislike it is from some of the positive comments it has received. Nate creates a strawman where conservatives want things to describe the majority because “they need protection” whereas most “normal” human beings want descriptions to describe the average, mean, and mode of the population (hope someone else sees the pun there.) To conservatives, this is just being honest. Requiring every statement to include every single possible exception no matter
    how statistically insignificant is not only crazy, it’s criminally insane, yet that’s what liberals want.

    RAM insists the song is somehow Utah/American. Unfortunately, I can’t find the references to the mountains or Salt Lake Valley, or happy Valley. I also didn’t read the line that said converts were somehow unpleasant to God (a strange view to have for such a strongly missionary based church). Indeed, if I wasn’t American, I might be offended that some choose to see a happy intact family as a distinctly old Mormon/American theme and not a universal longing of all (rational) human beings. I would give a CFR to RAM about official statements that used to pressure unhealed members suffering from Same Sex Attraction to marry an uninformed and unwilling woman, or the supposed fact that the brethren no longer hope or pray that these individuals will be healed and be able to progress towards exaltation. Throughout history many individuals with SSA (either with or without OSA) have married, and fathered children. Can’t imagine why that should stop now. Should I go tell my friends they made the wrong choice, and the Lord wishes they weren’t sealed to a spouse and with children now, just because RAM is mis-stating what the brethren HAVE said on the issue? RAM in this case, is going far further than church statements, because it fits his worldview. But it is a false-representation
    of the LDS church. But that’s OK, in RAM’s viewpoint, once the majority of the world accepts murdering your neighbor as OK , the church will change its doctrine to accommodate that, too, because that’s just “adapting the reality of the world we live in.”

    Using a non-inclusion of a song as a repudiation of a song is not very good logic. Was this a joke that went past our heads?
    At least in my simple-minded mind, an official repudiation of the song in its current form would include sending out a letter,
    asking that the song not be sung and gluing the pages together. Perhaps we could ponder more other reasons for not including it.
    Perhaps, allowing individual wards to include it, although it is the logical choice, thereby reducing the agency of the primary presidency. Damn the patriarchy, they’ll stop at nothing to put women down.

    // end snarky part of post.

    I personally didn’t care if the changes were minor or not. What I cared about was the reason the were implemented, the unspoken understanding, that if you are offended, it is someone else’s fault, or some other words fault. There was no accountability to choices in interpretation.

    Finally, Meg,
    I am glad that you point out the private pain you could have chosen to feel, and the faith and grace that enabled you to chose to feel differently. That choice enabled you to turn from suffering, and towards love. The problem I had with suggesting the alternate words was embracing the falsehood so often observed in our society that our feelings are influenced only by externalities, and that we have no influence, agency, or accountability for how we interpret them or express them. I agree with finding alternative interpretations when needed, and your final one, “mankind is your family” is great for situations such as you described.

  36. I’m living the Mormon dream of good wife, good children, but I have to say I really like Meg’s version. While I wholeheartedly agree the church should maintain the picture perfect family as the ideal, I also feel it’s really important for those from broken families, or those whose families clearly won’t match the ideal in this life, to have hope and a determination to move forward, feel they can still be on track, and still belong. The only one of Meg’s changes I would resist is “cov’nant” for “marry”. I think we need to keep “marry”.

  37. h_nu, thanks for the response. There is much that can be chalked up to tone in a conversation and a blog is not the most forgiving format when tone is so crucial. Regarding the original topic I was thanking Meg for bringing up a topic that I have been working through myself lately. The main point that I was trying to make was that in these uncomfortable real life questionings there is often found a better way. As we struggle with difficult questions we can find grace in the answers.

    I think this thought exercise of a lyric change was intended to do just that, provoke thought. As I said I have been working through this dissonance of life and doctrine. I have had conversations with my Primary aged son and then a similar conversation with my missionary son. I didn’t have a pat primary lyrical answer. I had to spread out the doctrine on the table, so to speak, and seek for answers. Both for them and for myself. And in that doctrine I found a call to all Christians to elevate the love we typically reserve for family ties to be extended to all. Here, for me, was that expansion of belief and the beginnings of an answer that can not only make them fit within the gospel but help the gospel fit within them. You see, the church will continue to be a very real part of their lives and as their father I feel the need to help them negotiate that chasm.

    As for my very personal questions I wasn’t expecting answers as much as I was using them as a rhetorical device illustrating my point. I have a need and a desire to help my boys find faith in this life with their circumstances. And the faith that are blessed and burdened with is that of Mormonism.

    This is not an attack on the “ideal” family only a call to faithfully go beyond the known, the trite, the expected. As I tried to say above I believe that the gospel of Christ is grand enough to house all the disenfranchised less-than-ideal folks. Modern revelation has proven the point that the embrace of Christ is bigger and better than what was (is) currently defined.

    Lastly, as a personal aside, your comment regarding seeking therapy vs searching on an LDS blog was a bit below the belt. Might just be a matter of tone but still…

  38. As for those of you thinking “Why modify an existing song, come up with a new one,” I present the lyrics my husband developed over twenty years ago, when he was a never-married, single man in his thirties. I’ll note that Bryan wasn’t in a relationship at the time. These words were written for friends who had gotten married in the temple:

    Covenant
    by Bryan Stout

    To covenant our lives in love
    Fulfills our soul’s desire.
    With clasping hand, on bended knee,
    We pledge to live in unity
    With one another, and with thee,
    Our true and gracious sire.

    Grant us the firm, enduring faith
    to meet commitment’s need:
    To face affliction side by side;
    To seek the spirit’s constant guide
    ‘Til heart and mind are purified,
    Of every evil freed.

    We work with bright, inspiring hope
    Toward our covenant’s end:
    In royal, priestly raiment dressed,
    Inseparably joined and blessed,
    Inheriting eternal rest,
    To thy throne we ascend.

  39. I love your husband’s hymn. I appreciate the meter and the couplet choices.

  40. Similarly I adore ELiza Snow’s poem, Conjugal, as a hymn. I like it as it has long been published, and I like it as I think Eliza originally wrote it. This one can be sung to one of the current tunes in the hymnal, but for the moment I forget which one:

    Modified version:

    Conjugal
    To Jonathan & Elvira.

    Like two streams, whose gentle forces
    Mingling, in one current blend—
    Like two waves, whose outward courses
    To the ocean’s bosom tend—

    Like two rays that kiss each other
    In the presence of the sun—
    Like two drops that run together
    And forever are but one,

    May your mutual vows be plighted—
    May your hearts, no longer twain
    And your spirits be united
    In an everlasting chain.

    Possible Original:

    Conjugal

    Like two streams, whose gentle forces
    Mingling, in one current blend—
    Like two waves, whose outward courses
    To the ocean’s bosom tend—

    Like two angels that kiss each other
    In the presence of the sun—
    Like two drops that run together
    And forever are but one,

    May your mutual vows be plighted—
    May your hearts, no longer twain
    And your spirits be united
    In an everlasting chain.

  41. Commenting on Bryan Stout’s poem, he also commissioned his roommate (a composition major at the University of Illinois) to compose music for the poem. It’s around somewhere, and our choir has sung it in church.

    As for the form, Bryan works in love, faith, and hope, the triune Christian attributes the Apostle Paul recommended to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13).

    So each verse has the following rhyming scheme:

    X (the words love, faith, and hope)
    A
    B
    B
    B
    A

    In imagery, the first verse covers the actual ceremony of being wedded. The second verse covers the walk through life, side by side. And the final verse discusses the end of the earthly experience of those who entered the covenant.

    I think one could think of each verse as an iambic heptameter couplet (each line ending in A) bracketing two iambic tetrameter lines (ending in B). Alas, this is not a common meter, so there won’t be many existing tunes you could use with this poem.

  42. And thus we see that all one has to do to completely shut down conversation is start talking technical (at least when it comes to poetry).

  43. The thing about prosody is that while I find it fascinating, there’s not much to say about it.

    Of course, no one responded to my (admittedly terrible and deliberately lame) parody revision above, so sometimes no one feels the need to respond to a particular comment for all kinds of reasons.

  44. I think it was just the ‘squirrel’ phenomenon (Up). Something more interesting to chew on came along. I well may be because we are in the ‘dog days of summer’ when heat raises the tendency to growl in a sort of lazy way ; )

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