Tag Archives: questions

There is Room to Ask: How, What, and Why

“In the Church, we want everyone to feel welcome, safe, and valued, and of course, there is room to ask questions. But how we ask is just as important as what we ask.”
–Ally Isom

In this statement regarding communication in the Church, Ally Isom makes a distinction between the “how” of questioning and the “what.” To begin with, I’d like to address the interpretation that what we ask or say is less important than whether the message conforms to a contextually appropriate how. Most people, I think, can feel the untruth of this. As one friend put it, “Saying it sweetly don’t mean you’re sweet.” Some refer to this as the “bless your heart” phenomenon—the idea that linguistic venom can somehow be alleviated by adding a little semantic sugar. But even under sugar, bitterness can still be tasted. The what matters, and being sweetly or jokingly mean is still being mean.

The second aspect of Isom’s statement, the how, has frequently been reduced to one word: tone. Often, tone is understood to mean the emotional characteristic of voice, either written or spoken—whether we sound happy, upset, depressed, angry, contemplative. Some may also understand it as referring to register—formal, casual, direct, etc. (speaking differently with our friends than we do with our boss or colleagues or our children). Tone can also involve language features such as word stress, pitch, volume, and speech rate, all of which contribute to meaning.

In all of these instances, tone is an aspect of pragmatics, which is a branch of linguistic study dedicated to explaining “how language users are able to use context to interpret utterances, to ‘do’ things with words, and to ‘say’ things without actually uttering them” (Parker & Riley; emphasis added). Continue reading

Rhetorical Questions

Questions to ruminate over

Have you cut your hay where you had no right to or turned your animals into another person’s grain or field, without his knowledge or consent?

Have you branded an animal that you did not know to be your own?

Do you wash your body and have your family do so as often as health and cleanliness require and circumstances will permit?

During the Mormon Reformation era of 1856-57, church leaders devised a catechism of questions asked of apostles, bishops, missionaries and regular church members to discover areas of personal attitudes and behavior that could use improvement. These were among the questions asked. These soul-searching questions and others designed to measure spiritual and behavioral commitment to the church had an influence on our contemporary temple recommend interviews.

I renewed my temple recommend this past week, and the experience caused me some useful introspection. Continue reading


Today’s UP CLOSE piece is by Emily Falke.  Emily lives near Austin, Texas with her fantastic little family consisting of her husband, her daughter, and their really big dog.  She relishes the sweet busyness of home life, and she quilts and tutors in her spare time.  She blogs at www.memoirsofmotherhood.wordpress.com.

Two little blue lines on a little white stick. Just two little lines, and one little stick, but with far-reaching consequences.

And questions.

There was the beginning. Is it the right time for us to try? Could we handle it if I got pregnant right away? The answer came: “Can you ever handle it?” Continue reading

Rock the Boat (don’t tip the boat over…)

You know how you can pinpoint the exact place and time you were when you learned about the events on September 11th? Certain days become frozen in time; indelible impressions that mark a change. On 9-11 I was leaving to shop for a washing machine. My in-laws were visiting. My mother-in-law was upstairs ironing. There aren’t many events in life that leave impressions as unforgettable as this one was for me. There comes the realization that something horrible is happening—that forms the lump in your throat; the pit in your stomach: The thing that rocks your boat.
Continue reading

Leaving the Foyer

In my old filing cabinet next to the piano, there is a folder marked “spiritual insights” with articles and quotes that, at some point in my life, sparked something within me.  Lately I’ve needed some spiritual sparks—the shape of my testimony worn down by mundane daily-ness and taken for granted for too long—so I’ve turned to this folder to see if anything still hits a chord or can provide some New Year’s motivation.

Halfway through there is a paper (handwritten!) that I wrote as a 17-year-old college freshman for an honors religion class.  We were asked to write weekly thought papers responding to the scriptural reading assignments.  Mine tended toward the confessional, ardently admitting my failings and doubts on a variety of subjects. I enjoyed taking my testimony out and poking and prodding it like a specimen on a table in front of me.  Keep in mind that every weekly paper included some variation on this theme: Continue reading