Thursday, December 27, 2007

The True Order of Prayer

"Ask, and ye shall receive," the scriptures teach us, yet we have all prayed for things that have not come to pass. Many a sermon has been given on why our prayers are not always answered. But James puts it as succinctly as this: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss." (James 4:3) I believe, as it is possible to pray "amiss," it is also possible to pray correctly, in the true order of prayer, in a way that these prayers are always fulfilled.

The best example we have of this type of prayer is Nephi, the son of Nephi, who later became one of the disciples of Christ when he appeared to the remnant of Israel on the American continent. Nephi was a prophet and missionary who preached the word with unwearyingness. He sought God's will and to keep his commandments, and thus received the promise that "all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word," or in other words, all his prayers would come to pass. The Lord told him why this should be so--"for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will." Nephi had reached the point where his prayers had become united with the mind of God and when he prayed, he did it with great power.

The true order of prayer is communication with our Father in Heaven which is dictated by the Spirit. This principle is taught throughout the scriptures. Paul explains in Romans 8:26-27 that the Spirit can help us to pray in the true order in spite of our human frailties. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but if we listen to the Spirit it can make intercession for us. The prayer dictated by the Spirit to the saints in this way will be according to the will of God. D&C 46:30 tells us "he that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God, wherefore it is done even as he asketh."

Nephi's associates and fellow disciples learned from the Savior himself how to pray this way. When Jesus was among the Nephites he prayed an intercessory prayer to the Father in behalf of his followers. He asked that they might learn to be as united with him as he was with the Father--that they might be as one. Then he approached the disciples and saw that they had indeed learned the principle: "they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire." (3 Nephi 19:23-24)

Praying without ceasing is thus seen to be a uniting of the human will to that of Christ and the Father. It is not necessarily many words which are said. In fact, prayers are often expressed in "groanings which cannot be uttered." Often vocal prayers which are expressed in the language of the spoken word are limited in conveying the true intent of the heart. However, the soul can be continually open to what is given by the Spirit. 2 Nephi 32 is a discourse upon the true order of prayer. It describes how the Holy Ghost teaches people to speak with the tongue of angels, or in other words, to speak the words of Christ. This chapter exhorts us to "hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray." Finally in verse 9 we are that we must pray always and not faint, not performing anything unto the Lord until we are united with him in his will.

When we have learned to pray this way, our prayers will have great power. However, having our prayers come to pass is only a small benefit of learning this skill. The purpose of the true order of prayer is to teach us one of the most important things we can learn in our mortal existence. As we learn to pray in the true order of prayer, we are taught personal revelation. We are taught to converse with the Lord through the veil of mortality, as a preparation to one day enter his presence.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day Report From the Field

'Twas the day before Christmas, and no pine trees to be found!

So here's what we made do with:

A group of carolers came by with songs in Tagalog.

But there's always those who prefer ipod downloads...

Here's the first one up on Christmas morning:

So I had time for a quiet breakfast.

The presents were few, but mostly appreciated.

With the exception of the Scrabble game that ended up having Arabic letters instead of English ones...Oops!

Even the cleanup went smoothly.
Hope you had a happy one, too!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

If I Were Georg Friedrich Handel

If I had a gift such as Handel, I would place these passages in Isaiah in a musical setting, and listen to them sitting in front of a lighted Christmas tree with a cup of hot chocolate:

Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken. Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. (Isa 8:13-17)
This scripture reminds me that religion can often be a stone of stumbling for me, but if I will look for Christ, he can be a sanctuary and a place of saftey.

Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men. And the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment. And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought SALVATION unto him; And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD. (Isa 59:9,16,20)
Christ was sent into the world to dispell the darkness that often overcomes me. I relate with these verses that describe my searchings as groping for the wall as if blind. I've also felt the darkness of the soul that Isaiah describes.

Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O LORD, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. Lord, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all thy works in us. (Isa 26:8,9,12)
This scripture is for those who yearn for something in the night which they cannot name--may the Lord ordain peace to us in this season.

In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; SALVATION will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength. (Isa 26:1,3,4)
This is the song I have in my heart when my faith and confidence are strong and whole. Though I stray and I complain and fret, deep inside there is a conviction that Jehovah is everlasting strength!

Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. The Lord GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him. (Isa 56:4,5,7,8)
I would love to make this the most beautiful song of all. It is to all those who feel they are different, who are outcasts, who need the love that God has to offer. He reaches out to us and gathers us into his holy presence.

For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem: thou shalt weep no more: he will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy Teacher be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy Teacher: And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left. Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound. Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the mighty One of Israel.
I pray that in this season my eyes will be opened to see the great Teacher. I wish for the light of the sun to come into my soul. I want it to heal, to bind the breach, to bring peace and the song of gladness. Happy Christmas, my bloggy friends.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Three Weeks of NaBoMoReMo

Still going strong and right on track for finishing the Book of Mormon by the end of the month! You know what is harder for me than making it through the Isaiah passages? You guessed it, I can't stand all the war stuff in the latter chapters of Alma. We're into the large plates now, so we have a lot of historical information (thankfully) abridged by Mormon. These chapters on wars and war strategies are very difficult for me to read. There are many yukky parts like kings being stabbed and Amalickiah swearing an oath to drink Moroni's blood, and dead bodies, and well, you know.

I just cannot see why it is necessary for the righteous Nephites to involve themselves in so many battles. Supposedly they believe the promise that the Lord made them that if they were righteous they would be protected and never brought down into captivity. It seems to me that they could rely on their righteousness and/or leave the lands of the Lamanites' possession, like Nephi did early in the book.

I've always really admired Moroni because of the verse that says that if all men had been, and were, and ever would be like unto him, the very powers of hell would be shaken forever. But I was disappointed to read one of his letters today. He just doesn't sound very nice, kind or fair. Ammoron sends to Moroni to ask him to exchange prisoners. Moroni writes back telling Ammoron how ignorant he and the rest of the Lamanites are concerning the gospel (I would tell you these things if ye were capable of hearkening unto them), he tells him he is a child of hell, and he refuses to negotiate unless the Lamanites will exchange a Nephite man, wife, and children for one Lamanite prisoner.

Ammoron's response to all this is actually pretty admirable, considering his point of view. He says: you have murdered my brother, I am not afraid of your threats, I will exchange prisoners according to your request since I want my men of war back, so we can fight you. Furthermore, we don't know anything about a God, but neither do you, and if there is a God, he has made us as well as you! And if there is a hell, won't God send you there for murdering my brother?

Anyway, I don't think I'm getting what I am supposed to be getting out of these war chapters. Peace out.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Church is True"--A Solid Position

Each first Sunday of the month these words can be heard echoing through microphones in LDS Church buildings throughout the world, "I know the Church is true."

Recent comments on my last post have prompted me to do some thinking on these words. In the past I have felt that these words are too broad and ambiguous to be useful. How can one "know" something that relies on matters of faith? Wouldn't it be better, as Rich suggested, to use the words "I feel," or "I believe," or even "I testify?" Wouldn't "I know" have to be reserved for cases when one has actually touched the wounds in Jesus hands and feet and side, or when a conversation with God has taken place wherein he has told the seeker that he chose Joseph Smith to restore his Church to the earth? What is "the Church?" Isn't it an imperfect, changing, adapting institution that seeks to implement Gospel truths? And what does "true" mean, anyway?

A few statements from fellow Latter-Day Saints have helped me to understand why they feel justified in using the words "I know the Church is true." Linda Hoffman Kimball said:

I understand the need for using the word "know." For me the restored Gospel, the authority and ordinances of the Priesthood, the divine guidance of this Church are the truest things I know. My conviction about these things is the standard by which I measure all other things claiming to be "true" or for anything else I say I "know." To use another verb might lessen the impact, the authority, the imperative this personal revelation has for me. I know what I mean when I say I know, but I'm less certain what others mean when they say it.

Another reason I think Church members use the word "know" is to underscore the exclusivity of the truth claims of Mormondom. This is a touchy subject in our modern culture. When most people want to hear "If it works for you, then God bless," Mormons unabashedly declare that Jesus Christ is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life; that angels came again; that ancient translated books bear witness of Christ; that ordinances essential to spiritual progress are necessary for everyone and available to them now or in the eternities. Some Mormon folk may think that to say "I believe" sounds too much like the broader cultural norm of "my truth is as good/valid/right as your truth."

Bookslinger said:
I can also honestly and boldly state that I know some things are true, because the Holy Ghost caused me to know. He not only told me, but he transfered in, or poured in that knowledge to me. Even more descriptive, he burned that knowledge into me, like page 38 of Gospel Principles, Chapter 7:

The convincing power of the Holy Ghost is so great that there can be no doubt that what he reveals to us is true. President Joseph Fielding Smith said:

“When a man has the manifestation from the Holy Ghost, it leaves an indelible impression on his soul, one that is not easily erased. It is Spirit speaking to spirit, and it comes with convincing force. A manifestation of an angel, or even the Son of God himself, would impress the eye and mind, and eventually become dimmed, but the impressions of the Holy Ghost sink deeper into the soul and are more difficult to erase” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:151).

President Smith also said, “Through the Holy Ghost the truth is woven into the very fibre and sinews of the body so that it cannot be forgotten” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:48).

Yes, I could say I believe or I feel. That would be true. But the "whole truth" goes beyond that. To tell the whole truth, I have to say "I know" that a) God the father lives, b) Jesus the son of God, lives and is the Savior, c) the Book of Mormon is true (ie Jesus really visited the Nephites, etc), and d) Joseph Smith's first vision really happened.

I think that when they assert that "I know the Church is true," many Mormons are coming from the position that the claims made by the Church are authentic and conforming to reality. This would mean that, among other claims, Joseph Smith had a genuine encounter with a physical God, and that he translated an ancient record that was tangible. These are the types of things they wish to communicate in their testimonies.

In his recent talk at BYU-H, Elder Ballard said, "Our position is solid; the Church is true." I am interested in the solidity of my readers' positions--do you frame your testimony with the words, "I know the Church is true?" What does this mean to you? How is your "knowledge" different than belief?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Defining our Mormonism on Blogs

I may be the only blog in the Bloggernacle to react with consternation at Elder Ballard's recent injunction to blog!

Elder Ballard has asked BYUH students to "join the conversation by participating on the Internet, particularly the New Media, to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration." His message makes me nervous. For some of you, whose blog messages share the gospel and speak in glowing terms of the message of the Restoration, this Apostle's approbation will be welcome. But I'm a bit concerned about his caveats. Elder Ballard says that "we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches...We are living in a world saturated with all kinds of voices. Perhaps now, more than ever, we have a major responsibility as Latter-day Saints to define ourselves, instead of letting others define us."

These words bother me because they presuppose a blanket "definition of Mormons." As we have seen in our different conversations here on the Bloggernacle, there are so many ideologies and strains of thought common among faithful Latter-day Saints. And there are a myriad of others invested in the Church who have much to add to our conversation. Although my blog often deals in the ambiguities found within Mormonism, I have felt more authentic sharing these things here on my blog than I have ever felt within the Wards and Stakes of the Church. Here I am defining myself, here I learn what I really think and feel rather than what I am told to think and feel.

If my major responsibility is to define myself, instead of letting others define me, I feel I am doing a good job here on "Hieing to Kolob." I chose the name of my blog because it represents my striving to reach the throne of God, but always finding myself falling a bit short. Sometimes my thoughts seem to be on some other planet than the typical Mormon. I feel that I share commonalities, but never really fit in with conservative Mormons, liberal Mormons, fundamental Mormons, new order Mormons, or any other subset. But here I have found community. Mormons don't always fit into a neat categorization! I've had my share of those who call me to repentance, but also those who are accepting of my strivings.

Recently I was asked to censor some aspects of my blogging by a Church leader (Perhaps this experience is informing my unease). I very much appreciated the way it was done. The way the leader approached me was respectful and classy. I agreed to change some things because my blog had the potential to negatively affect other members of the Church. Had the consequences been limited to myself, I may have had a much harder time with the decision. I have come to value the things I have learned while blogging. I feel a great resistance against religious censorship on our blogs. The value of discovering the beauty of diversity and wrestling with worldviews here seems much greater than any negative result that could occur. Faith can only increase with examination and grappling with truth. It may seem to lead us away for a time, but in the end doubt is a valuable part of our human experience.

I understand the Church's need to be more visible on the internet. It is true that in the past webspace has been dominated by antiMormon perspectives. It is good to see the proliferation of more positive presentations of the Mormon experience. I hope that this is what Elder Ballard is trying to promote. It seems to me, however, that we are not so much being asked to define ourselves on our blogs, but to present a unified, sanitized version of Mormons.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

I couldn't live another day without finding out what the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were supposed to represent. Sunday School class was no help at all. The white horse was confusing me. I didn't want to believe he was representative of a punishment, or an AntiChrist, or even unrighteous dominion. It seemed to me that white was symbolic of goodness and purity. But then, how did this horseman fit with the others? My own wisdom was not sufficient. I used Google, and read many interpretations which I could not quite accept. I tried prayer, and was impatiently waiting for a dream, a vision, or a voice in my head, when I remembered a quote from Joseph Smith about understanding the symbols in the scriptures. I looked it up, and here it is in it's entirety:

"I make this broad declaration, that whenever God gives a vision of an image, or beast, or figure of any kind, He always holds Himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof, otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in it. Don't be afraid of being damned for not knowing the meaning of a vision or figure, if God has not given a revelation or interpretation of the subject." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 291.)

I decided to look for a scriptural interpretation of the meaning. Perhaps God had given the meaning to this symbolic passage. My first stop was D&C 77, which is a series of answers to questions about Revelation. It didn't seem to help much, but it did clarify that "the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh." I saw that the four horsemen were associated with the opening of the first four seals.

My next big break happened as I read a little further in Revelation and noticed this description:

Rev 14:14--And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
Then Revelation 19:11-12--And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.

There it was! The same scriptural symbols--a white horse, a crown, a conquerer--were used to represent Christ. I was vindicated. But I still didn't know why Christ was included in this particular set of four. He didn't seem to fit with the others.

More searching in the scriptures brought me to the obscure book of Zechariah. Did you know that the same four colored horses are mentioned in chapters 1 and 6? News to me. Zechariah even had the presence of mind to ask what these horses meant; and the angel answered that they were "they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth." Prophets! I realized. Then it became clear to me that the horses were symbols of prophets who were sent to preside over the unveiling of Christ at the opening of each of the seals, or in the thousand year dispensations.

That would make Christ the horseman on each of the horses. I took yet another look to see if I could recognize Christ in these riders. The first was simple: a rider with a bow and a crown who went forth to conquer. The second horseman was sitting on a red horse. The red could represent the blood of Christ. This horseman had power to take peace from the earth. Sounded like Christ's words in Matthew 10:34. The rider of the red horse also had a sword. As I turned back to the rider in Revelation 19 I read: "And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." This perfectly described the second rider, and identified him with Christ.

The next rider had been identified by many scriptural scholars as "Famine," and this interpretation seemed to fit so well that at first it was hard to see how it might represent the Savior. However, the scales he had in his hands could also represent judgment, and the famine could be a spiritual famine; a hunger for the "Word of God," or Christ. Reading again in Revelation 19 revealed that the horseman "in righteousness he doth judge..."

The final rider had a name: Death. And Hell followed with him. So how did this horseman represent Christ? As I read about how power was given to them to kill with sword, hunger, death, and beasts, I recognized a connection with the rider of Revelation 19 who made war with the kings of the earth, slaying them with the sword and filling the mouths of the fowls with their flesh. This Messiah image, though not as comfortable to us as the loving Good Shepherd, is nonetheless an important scriptural aspect of his reign.

And so this week I have become acquainted with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse--all representative of Christ. This Messiah is revealed to the peoples of the earth by prophets, or the four different colored horses. And if you have made it through this post, you are ready for next week's Sunday School lesson, since my ward is a little bit ahead. I'd love to hear how your Sunday School teacher spins this chapter! Send me a comment.

Friday, December 7, 2007

NaBoMoReMo Update

An update on the first week of my NaBoMoReMo: It's been 7 days and I have already read to Jacob 5. I haven't read the Book of Mormon so quickly in quite some time! I usually prefer to take a chapter or even a verse very slowly, looking up relevant scriptures and studying thematically. So it's interesting to be able to see the events in quick succession. I'll just note for you a few things that I saw from reading the Book of Mormon this way.

1. Two stumbling blocks. We all know that the main stumbling block for the Jews was not being able to accept Jesus as the Messiah. 2 Nephi 18:14 (quoting Isaiah 8) says that Christ will be a sanctuary for those who accept him, but for the house of Israel he is "a stone of stumbling" and a "rock of offense." Normally I wouldn't have read 2 Nephi 26 so soon after reading chapter 18. But since I did I noticed Nephi's explanation that the Gentiles must also be convinced that Jesus is the Christ. (v. 12) Their stumbling block is a bit different than that of the Jews. In 26:20 Nephi describes the greatness of the Gentiles' stumbling block: they are lifted up in pride. They have built up many churches but deny the power of God, preaching their own wisdom and making money in the bargain. I sure recognize Jewish and Gentile tendencies in these two descriptions!

2. The second thing I noticed was a repetition by Nephi of the same Isaiah passage. In 2 Nephi 21:4-9 Nephi quotes the famous passage from Isaiah 11 where the lamb shall lie down with the lion. (Except it actually says the wolf shall dwell with the lamb--the lion eats straw like an ox. We must get that lamb and lion image from Hymn #2!) Later in 2 Nephi 30:9-15 Nephi repeats that very same passage. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain. That's important to me, and I'm glad that Nephi had such strong feelings for the establishment of peace among both man and beast in the last days that he repeated this message twice.

There were many other interesting passages in my Book of Mormon reading, such as the reasons for the Nephites following the Law of Moses when they had already accepted Christ, but these are just two that I hadn't noticed before and that jumped out at me as a result of reading quickly straight through.

If you are reading the Book of Mormon this month, tell us if you've noticed anything new!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Two Truths I Wish I Could Live By:

1. Dieting is notoriously unsuccessful at producing substantial long-term weight loss.

2. Aim for healthy habits -- choosing healthy foods and exercising regularly -- and let your weight stabilize where it will.

As a woman, a mother of seven daughters, and a feminist, I often become concerned about body image issues. I sincerely believe that women who are healthy and self-confident can be beautiful and attractive no matter what their shape. I deplore the use of overly thin, unrealistic and photoshopped women images to sell products. I literally cheer when I see non-traditionally shaped women confidently presenting themselves in the public arena. Among my favorite exercise videos are the Richard Simmons series where hugely fat people are dancing and sweating as an inspiration to all to get in shape.

But here's my confession: I'm a chronic dieter. At a visceral level I can't convince myself that I'm OK at the weight my body would like to maintain. I have a constant fear that if I let myself eat brownies and cheesecake my weight will quickly soar over 300 pounds. Although my background is in health and physical education and I am capable of sound nutritional counseling to those who consult with me, I have read hundreds of fad diet books. I'm ashamed to admit I've done Grapefruit Diets, Three-Day Stewardess Diets, Atkins, the Zone, Low-Fat, and Nothing-But-Green Diets.

One of the most profound statements on this issue by Church leaders is Jeffrey R. Holland in an address he gave to the Young Women of the Church in 2005:

I plead with you young women to please be more accepting of yourselves, including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else. We are all different. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are round, and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or other wants to be something they are not! But as one adviser to teenage girls said: “You can’t live your life worrying that the world is staring at you. When you let people’s opinions make you self-conscious you give away your power. … The key to feeling [confident] is to always listen to your inner self—[the real you.]” And in the kingdom of God, the real you is “more precious than rubies.” Every young woman is a child of destiny and every adult woman a powerful force for good. I mention adult women because, sisters, you are our greatest examples and resource for these young women. And if you are obsessing over being a size 2, you won’t be very surprised when your daughter or the Mia Maid in your class does the same and makes herself physically ill trying to accomplish it. We should all be as fit as we can be—that’s good Word of Wisdom doctrine. That means eating right and exercising and helping our bodies function at their optimum strength. We could probably all do better in that regard. But I speak here of optimum health; there is no universal optimum size.

I know-beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt that when I die, my body will instantly revert to it's most perfect form--the 105 pounds I weighed at age 21. :) But in the meantime, I cannot be satisfied with the extra padding I have added since then. What is it that makes many girls and women deeply ashamed of their bodies? Why do we diet when we know in our rational minds it is unhealthy and ineffective? Does our emphasis on modesty for women keep us from being pleased with our bodies and presenting them attractively to others?

I think the woman in this video is gorgeous, sexy and feminine. She also looks healthy and vigorous. But she is overweight. Would I dare to be happy with myself if I were her?

Miss Platnum -- Give Me The Food

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Another Gift Taken

Years ago at a women's retreat Sister Aileen Clyde was invited to be the featured speaker. In the course of her remarks she told the story of how the Prophets manuals came to be the course of study for the Relief Society. Previous to 1989 the Relief Society had been responsible for their own Sunday curriculm and manuals. Sister Clyde said that the RS Presidency and their board were in the process of preparing new manuals when they were approached by the First Presidency asking them to read the new Brigham Young manual and approve it for use in Sunday meetings. After reviewing the manual, they reported that they did not feel this should be the new course of study for the women of the Church. The First Presidency asked them to take the material back and pray about it again. Their answer was the same. They rejected the material a second time, but were told to go back and read it again. As the disheartened Relief Society Presidency met together, they realized that their efforts to stop the correlation of Sunday lesson material were fruitless. They must accept the inevitable with good grace. Sister Clyde's point in sharing this story was that sometimes things don't go the way we would like them to, and how to make something good out of a disappointment.

To me, however, the knowledge of how this shift in control of RS curriculum came about is important. Does it make you as furious as it does me? Just as I mourn the loss of women's privilege to perform blessings of healing and comfort, I mourn the loss of women's autonomy to create lesson manuals specific to their needs. I do this without hope that the current policies regarding these issues wil change.

I do see that the leaders of the Church and the writers of the Prophets manuals have been cognizant that the manuals could use some improvement with regard to their relevance for women. Over at VSOM I have posted a review of my thoughts on the upcoming manual containing the teachings of Joseph Smith and it's relevance to it's woman readers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Brag Along With BiV!

If you don't already have enough to do during the month of December, join NaBoMoReMo in reading the Book of Mormon. When President Hinckley challenged us to read the Book of Mormon two years ago, I took the challenge. I didn't really notice any special blessings regarding my testimony or the Spirit of the Lord in my home, but I did get the blessing of not feeling guilty when church leaders mentioned the challenge over the pulpit. I liked doing it, and I'm sure it was good for me. I also got bragging rights for having taken the challenge and finished the Book in the time allotted. So I've decided to do it again with NaBoMoReMo. They've got a nifty little site up with a reading schedule and a place to blog about it and get motivated. I'll be bragging, I mean blogging about my experiences here. Join the group, and let me know how you're doing, too!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reverse Missionary Work

I got one of those comments on my blog yesterday--you know the type--urging me to leave the Church if I didn't like certain aspects of how it is run. "Anonymous" said:

"I think you are one of those people that is looking for an excuse to be mad and to be offended. A truly humble person can not be offended. Go join the Catholic church. Because the Prophet of this church agrees with Julie B Beck, so if you don't agree with her you don't agree with the Prophet. Maybe it is time for you to find an easier religion!"

I've read these types of comments quite often, and I view them as "reverse missionary work." This week I've been trying to understand why anyone would become involved in reverse missionary work, and what their motivations might be. (And why they are always "Anonymous.") Let's try to put ourselves in the place of these "Anti-Missionaries" and see what they are trying to accomplish:

1. Reverse missionary work will cleanse the Church from those who might be a corrupting influence.

2. Those who complain against Church leaders or policies might lead others astray. For the good of these weaker members, the complainers should be driven away from the body of the Church.

3. People who don't believe the mainstream teachings of the Church are different, and do not belong. They make the faithful members feel uncomfortable. They should leave the Church and find another group which is more closely aligned to their beliefs.

4. Members of the Church have a responsibility to call their less faithful brothers and sisters to repentance. Perhaps inviting them to leave will show them the error of their ways.

5. Faithful members should not have to listen to contention. Dissenters cause a lack of unity and thus do not belong with believers who are trying to build Zion.

6. What other reasoning lies behind reverse missionary work?

And you, dear reader? Are you a missionary, an anti-missionary, or are you lukewarm on the issue? Do you feel a responsibility to keep members like me in the Church, would you rather I leave, or don't you care one way or the other? What is your opinion on reverse missionary work?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Political Confession

Although I have no intention of voting for either Mitt Romney or Hilary Clinton, I have a confession to make. Sometimes I entertain the thought of supporting Romney, just to see what it would be like to have a Mormon president. And at times I am tempted to seriously consider Clinton, just to see what it would be like to have a woman president. And there are times when I daydream just a bit about a Mormon woman President of the United States.

One of my heroines is Mormon woman politician Martha Hughes Cannon. Her story fascinates and intrigues me. She is best known as being the first woman ever elected as a state senator in the United States on November 3, 1896. She ran as a Democrat, handily defeating her husband, Angus Cannon, the Republican candidate. (Did I mention she was his fourth polygamous wife?) You can read more about this fascinating woman here,and many other places on the web if you know how to use google. As I've learned about Martha and her life, I've pondered several questions:

  • How was Martha, a lifelong career woman and mother of three, able to gain political support from predominantly Mormon Salt Lake County residents?

  • Was the Church's position on careers for mothers less defined in the late 1800's than it now is?

  • What kind of relationship did Martha have with her husband after living in a polygamous marriage, living in exile in Europe for two years, and running against him as a member of a different political party?

  • Why aren't YW and RS manuals packed with stories from the lives of women like Martha, Ellis Shipp, and Minerva Teichert, women who combined successful family life with accomplishments of their own?

  • Within Mormon culture today, is there a possibility for a Mormon woman president? Do we provide enough encouragement to our young girls for them to believe that this is attainable and/or desirable?

Read the following quote by Martha Hughes Cannon:

"Somehow I know that women who stay home all the time have the most unpleasant homes there are. You give me a woman who thinks about something besides cook stoves and wash tubs and baby flannels, and I'll show you, nine times out of ten, a successful mother."

I identify with this quote because, even though I spent many years as a stay-at-home Mom, the best times were those times I had something to think about, something I was involved in beyond the home. These causes energized me so that I was able to be a better mother. When I had "something to think about" I did a better job at the cookstove and the baby nappies. I don't think a woman must have a paying job to find motivating interests. I also think there are many women who are quite different from me and Martha Cannon in that they can find satisfaction without competing commitments to their wife and mother role.

We are all very diverse, yet I continue to wonder: can we celebrate the accomplishments of LDS women today if they fall outside the umbrella of traditional wife and mother? Would you vote for a Mormon woman President?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ernest Strack and the Inoculation of a Generation

Right next to Kinko's Copies across the street from the old BYU Social Hall was "Grandpa's Bookstore," a two-story building rented by Ernest Strack. When his cash flow was down, he rented the upstairs, and sometimes he had the prime downstairs location. Here the young, black-bearded polygamist historian fed sensitive documents to the Mormon underground in the 1970's and '80's. The famous "Seventh East Press" ran their magazine out of the same building, and used some of his material in their writings. DH and I were students at BYU at the time, and were curious about the establishment. In the Spring, when it was warm, Ernest would stand outside and zealously engage students as they walked by. He would say, "I've got something that you really want to see," and he would take you inside and show you a Second Anointing compilation, Patriarchal Blessings of early Apostles and Prophets, Xeroxed copies of William Clayton's journals, or Brigham Young's press books. If you didn't have the money or couldn't afford his discounted prices, often just the cost of printing, he would just hand you the documents, making you promise to bring him something he didn't have.

Ernest Strack was well known by students and faculty alike. The religion professors made jokes with their graduate research assistants, speaking knowingly of the "Mormon Underground." The professors knew that their assistants could obtain many of Ernie's latest acquisitions for their perusal and use. Documents flowed in and out of Grandpa's Bookstore during this period of openness at the LDS archives in SLC.

Familiar faces in the church today formed this group of student inquirers. They run the gamut from conservative BYU professors, LDS authors, and members of the "September Six." Some of you bloggers of a certain age may also have been frequenters of Ernie's establishment. I would not be exaggerating to state that an entire generation of Church historians got some of their documentary evidence from the clandestine materials being disseminated by Strack.

Strack had his agenda to expose the Church to the light and make known the secrets of Mormon history. But looking back over the past 25 years, Strack's legacy has strengthened individuals as well as the families, students and readers of his adherants. If you've ever read the works of Richard Holtzapfel, David Seeley, Bruce Van Orden, Orson Scott Card, Maxine Hanks, Michael Quinn, Gary Bergera, Elbert Peck, the Toscanos, Lyndon Cook, Andy Ehat, or David Whittaker, you may be the beneficiary of Ernest Strack's legacy.

Grandpa's Bookstore was an inoculation for many of these young LDS students that allowed them to open their minds to the vagaries of Mormon history. The materials Ernest Strack made available gave them an opportunity to examine Mormon history from many angles. Now, many of the recipients of materials from Strack have donated their collections to the University of Utah in order to keep them available to the public.

I know a lot of you bloggers frequented Grandpa's Bookstore back in the day. (Blake Ostler and Jim Faulconer--go on, admit it!) Do any of you have any pics or stories of Ernie Strack himself, Grandpa's Books, or the 7th East Press?

Monday, November 19, 2007

عيد ميلاد سعيد Eid melaad Sa'eed

It's my birthday and since I don't get any mail where I am, you are all welcome to use this post to send me some birthday greetings. Go ahead, make my day!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

More on the Greater Spirituality of Women

Thanks to DH, I've discovered that there is indeed authoritative support for the notion that women are more spiritual than men. From some preliminary searches, it seems that this idea is a relatively recent innovation in the Church.

From the Church's earliest days, its leaders championed the equality of women in spiritual matters. Although the Prophet Joseph and many who followed him noted the propensity of women for "feelings of charity and benevolence," I have found no indication that these early leaders felt that women had a greater natural spiritual endowment than men. John A. Widtsoe clarified that the priesthood was not given on the basis of capability, competency or excellence, but as a gift. He said,

"Women of a congregation … may be wiser, far greater in mental powers, even greater in actual power of leadership than the men who preside over them. That signifies nothing. The Priesthood is not bestowed on the basis of mental power but is given to good men and they exercise it by right of divine gift, called upon by the leaders of the Church. Woman has her gift of equal magnitude.” (John A. Widtsoe, Priesthood and Church Government, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 90).

This equality between the sexes in spirituality was preached until the end of the 1970's. Elder Bruce R. McConkie declared in Nauvoo at the dedication of the Monument to Women:
“Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord. He is no respecter of persons nor of sexes, and he blesses those men and those women who seek him and serve him and keep his commandments.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Ensign, Jan. 1979, p. 61.)

One of the first comments about a special spiritual sensitivity on the part of women that I have been able to find came from Neal A. Maxwell. In explaining women's roles in the Church and in they eyes of God he cited some of the notable women of the Bible:
"When we would measure loving loyalty in a human relationship, do we not speak of Ruth and Naomi even more than David and Jonathan?... A widow with her mite taught us how to tithe. An impoverished and starving widow with her hungry son taught us how to share, as she gave her meal and oil to Elijah. The divine maternal instincts of an Egyptian woman retrieved Moses from the bullrushes, thereby shaping history and demonstrating how a baby is a blessing—not a burden... Does it not tell us much about the intrinsic intelligence of women to read of the crucifixion scene at Calvary, "And many women were there beholding afar off." (Matt. 27:55.) Their presence was a prayer; their lingering was like a litany. And who came first to the empty tomb of the risen Christ? Two women. Who was the first mortal to see the resurrected Savior? Mary of Magdala. Special spiritual sensitivity keeps the women of God hoping long after many others have ceased" (Neal A. Maxwell, "The Women of God," Ensign, May 1978, 10).

Also about this time, Spencer W. Kimball also began to extol the virtues of womanhood. He made the following comment, which can be construed to mean that women have more of a natural inclination toward spirituality than men, and thus are more likely to join the Church:
"...much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world." (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Nov. 1979, pp. 103–104).

Perhaps the greatest champion of women's greater spiritual capacity was James E. Faust. He gave many talks for and about women beginning in the 1980's. Some of these included
Womanhood: The Highest Place of Honor,
What it Means to be a Daughter of God, and
You Are All Heaven-Sent.

President Faust repeatedly told women that they had an inner spiritual strength that surpassed that of men. See DH's blog post for several quotes by President Faust along these lines.

President Faust's ideas were reiterated by several of the other Apostles. Boyd K. Packer said that men and women are by nature different, and while they share many basic human traits, the “virtues and attributes upon which perfection and exaltation depend come [more] naturally to a woman.” (Boyd K. Packer, For Time and All Eternity,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 22).

M. Russell Ballard told women,
"Now, finally, I turn again to you dear sisters, you who have such a profound, innate spiritual ability to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. You need never wonder again if you have worth in the sight of the Lord and to the Brethren in the presiding councils of the Church. We love you. We cherish you. We respect you. Never doubt that your influence is absolutely vital to preserving the family and to assisting with the growth and spiritual vitality of the Church. This Church will not reach its foreordained destiny without you. We men simply cannot nurture as you nurture. Most of us don’t have the sensitivity—spiritual and otherwise—that by your eternal nature you inherently have. Your influence on families and with children, with youth, and with men is singular. You are natural-born nurturers. Because of these unusual gifts and talents, you are vital to taking the gospel to all the world, to demonstrating that there is joy in living the way the prophets have counseled us to live." (M. Russell Ballard, “Women of Righteousness,” Ensign, Apr 2002, 73).

These teachings by the General Authorities have been repeated by local leaders and members and sometimes used to promote the idea that the priesthood is given to men to compensate for his lesser spiritual ability. It is also said that the priesthood can help men develop spirituality, a gift that women do not need since their spirituality is innate. This idea has been repeated despite the lack of prophetic approbation. Apparently this year (2007) marks the first time a General Authority has espoused linking the Priesthood and a woman's spirituality. An article by Bruce C. Hafen, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy in a recent Ensign reads:
"Spouses need not perform the same functions to be equal. The woman’s innate spiritual instincts are like a moral magnet, pointing toward spiritual north—except when that magnet’s particles are scrambled out of order. The man’s presiding gift is the priesthood—except when he is not living the principles of righteousness. If the husband and the wife are wise, their counseling will be reciprocal: he will listen to the promptings of her inner spiritual compass just as she will listen to his righteous counsel." (Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen, “Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” Ensign, Aug 2007, 24–29).

The study of the words of these recent General Authorities shows a  mainstream doctrinal expression that women are endowed with an innate spiritual gift. It is certainly a beautiful thought as worded by Maxwell and Hafen. However, I wonder at the wisdom of proclaiming that the bestowal of the Priesthood upon the male sex is compensatory. I object to the idea that Priesthood is given to the less spiritually inclined to help them "catch up." Look at the way Priesthood works among men: it is not given to the less spiritual among males to help them become stronger. Rather, men who have already proved worthy are ordained to Priesthood offices so that they may lead, serve, bless, and speak in the name of God.

I would like to explore these ideas further. I am especially interested to know if there are any statements about women's greater spirituality coming from authoritative sources before 1978. Was this idea expounded at all before the time of the Women's Movement in the '70's? If not, what was the reason for the doctrinal shift?

Friday, November 16, 2007

SS Permutations on the Letters of John

OOOOOOHHHH, just wait until you hear what was discussed in SS today under the auspices of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John! Bro. SS Teacher went from expounding on the topic that "God is Love" to telling us that women are naturally more spiritual than men, one of those Mormon throwaway statements that annoys me greatly. I was sitting in the second row, which you Mormons know really means the first row, and I said, just loud enough for him to hear, "Could you repeat what you just said???" in an incredulous tone. So he further expounded, "Yes, women are more spiritual than men, that is why men have the priesthood." And I couldn't let that pass, so I replied, this time loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, "You have absolutely no scriptural support for that opinion." And, dear readers, he TOOK ME ON with chin raised high as he spouted more extreme speculation: "Of course they are more spiritual than men, otherwise why would we have polygamy if not for the condition that will exist in heaven of more righteous women than men?"

And the whole room erupted in buzzing private conversations.

Bro. SS Teacher went on for quite a while in this vein, saying that he had come to this conclusion after "working backward from the scriptures." Meanwhile, I was accosted from behind by a woman who was visiting in the ward. She was anxious to tell me her story about when she was single and had many struggles with immorality. She went to her Bishop to discuss the unfairness of having to remain chaste for eternity and her equal horror of solving the problem by becoming the plural wife of some hypothetical man. The Bishop calmed her fears by telling her of the many male babies who died in infancy, thus evening the male/female ratio in heaven. (Heard that before, folks?) Not understanding my objection to the SS Teacher's comments, she mistakenly felt she had put to rest my anxieties.

I am reminded of the reason why I rarely challenge ignorant statements made in Church meetings. I find that 90% of the time, the members of the class are unable to understand what my objection is. But, lucky me--now I have my blog to spout off on.

Those of you who know me well have discovered that polygamy is not one of the doctrines which troubles me. Rather, my issues lie with this "Mormonism" that priesthood is given to men to compensate for their alleged lack of spirituality compared to women. In the next few days, I'll be looking for the answers to these questions. Help me out, readers, if you will:

1. Is there any doctrinal support for this notion, i.e. Conference Talks, or authoritative statements from Mormon leaders? (I'm already pretty sure you can't come to this from scripture, working backward or forward or any other way. But if there are scriptures that can be construed to make this assertion, what are they?)

2. Would a "greater spirituality of women" postulation support bestowal of the priesthood upon men to the exclusion of the entire female population?

3. What arguments have been made against the idea from an LDS point of view (GA statements, Sunstone/Dialogue articles, blog posts)?

4. Is there a succinct reply contesting this type of assertion that one could make in the context of polite company, say a SS/PH/RS lesson?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Campaigning for a Calling

"In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how." (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., CR, April 1951, 154)

"Sometimes men and women in the Church aspire for office. This is unfortunate. It becomes the very reason why they should not be granted such office." (Gordon B. Hinckley, Keep the Chain Unbroken, Talk given at BYU, 30 Nov. 1999)

"And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers... I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed." (Abraham 1:2,4)

I might use this collection of quotes to begin a post on women and the priesthood, but I will save that for another day. Today I'd like to talk about callings in the Church. Quite naturally, there are some positions in the Ward and Stake that will appeal to us more than others. Since we are both human and diverse, there are different reasons why this might be so. Perhaps our talents align closely to a particular talent, such as ward organist. Perhaps we enjoy working with one age group more than another. Maybe we yearn for a calling that will be challenging, such as Gospel Doctrine Teacher. Or conversely, we might desire something that takes little to no work (Sunday School President :) ) Some members enjoy power, high visibility, and leadership, while others prefer to build the Church behind the scenes.

As an LDS member, I enjoy teaching, public speaking, and scripture study and interpretation. My favorite age group is youth, and I enjoy being in the limelight. Therefore the callings I most earnestly desire are: Youth SS Teacher, Seminary Teacher, YW Advisor (teaching the Sunday lessons), and yes, I love the calling of Gospel Doctrine teacher also.

According to Gordon B. Hinckley, above and in other places, members should not aspire to callings. But the quote from Abraham can be read as a righteous aspiration for a priesthood office. Look at the things that Abraham desired as he sought for the High Priesthood:

1. the blessings of the fathers
2. ordination to administer blessings
3. great knowledge
4. to be a follower of righteousness
5. to be a father of nations
6. to be a prince of peace
7. to receive instructions
8. to keep the commandments of God

Some of these things sound very humble, and others sound, well, aspiring. Is it OK to seek a calling if one's motivations are as lofty as Abraham's? How should we seek for the appointment? Is it appropriate to pray for a calling? Shall we let the Bishop know what callings we most enjoy?

I'll be the first to admit that I have campaigned for callings. This has manifested itself in the following ways:

  • When moving into a ward and having my first interview with the Bishop I have mentioned the callings I have had in the past, telling him the ones I've enjoyed and conveniently neglecting to mention the ones I do not wish to repeat. (Except, sometimes I'll mention that I've been in the Nursery five times already.)
  • I've successfully been called to Gospel Doctrine teacher twice by letting the regular teacher know I am always available to substitute. I'll prepare the lesson each week and accept with alacrity even when asked 15 minutes before the Sunday meetings begin. I think this technique works for almost any calling. Just make the offer that you would be willing to "help out" any time you are needed. Then be sure you are Johnny-on-the-spot when someone else falls through.
  • Part of campaigning for a calling is not appearing too anxious to step into the calling. A deep show of humility and just a touch of hesitation is essential. Don't step on anyone's toes!
  • Several years ago, DH reached the age where he was uncomfortable remaining in the Elders' Quorum. He hesitated to aspire for the calling of High Priest, but I read him the above quote by Abraham, and encouraged him to fast and pray for it. Not long after, he was called to be the HP Group Leader.

Where do you stand on campaigning for callings?

--It is completely wrong to aspire to any calling. You should be totally open to the Lord's will in the matter, and accept the callings extended to you.

--It is acceptable to desire or seek for a calling, as long as you do it with humility and a desire to build the kingdom, learn, grow, and serve.

--Everyone has callings they are better suited for, and there is nothing wrong in making your desires known to the leadership and/or placing yourself in a position advantageous to be noticed for these callings.

What types of "campaigning" are kosher?