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?







Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sabbath-day Thorn in my Side

Stake Conference in our Stake is a bit different than in other places in the world. Because the units are spread out over a vast area, the stake leaders bring the conference to each ward. Members are warned several weeks before the Conference that it will be their chance to obtain a temple recommend. Interviews with the Bishop are held, and the Stake President is available after the meetings to conduct interviews. It is perhaps the only time members will see Stake leaders for 6 months or a year. Because of the difficulties in traveling and in women getting around, the wives of the Stake Presidency are called to be the Stake RS President, Stake YW President, and Stake Primary President.

I enjoyed meeting our Stake leaders, and I had a chance to talk personally with each of the women leaders. They were very nice, and I enjoyed our conversations. They are about my age, and I think I could be good friends with each one of them. However, I cannot contain my opinion of their talks. As I've said before, women leaders have a great opportunity when they speak in Conferences. It is their opportunity to have a voice in the administration of the Church. It is one of a very few times that they can appropriately give counsel and instruction to the general membership of the Church, including men, women, and children. Not surprisingly, I was looking forward to hearing what these women would say during our General Session and also during our Adult Session.

So what did I hear from our illustrious women leaders? None other than RECYCLED CONFERENCE TALKS!! It's the biggest Sabbath-day thorn in my side there is. I don't like when anyone gives recycled Conference Talks. I'm fine with themes are given to speakers, but I feel they should be developed by the speakers themselves, with personal experiences and relevant scripture stories chosen according to personal guidance of the Spirit. This way both speaker and listeners are enriched. A Conference Talk summarized again and again in Sacrament and other meetings loses its immediacy and power that it had when the message was received and given by the General Authorities. I and many other members of the Church read our Conference Ensigns and are quite familiar with the talks. Hearing them summarized in Church is boring.

None of the men speakers at our Stake Conference gave recycled Conference Talks. Every woman who spoke summarized a Conference Talk. None of the women even went so far as to include a personal experience or opinion on the topic. I'm extremely disappointed. By doing this, we women are diluting what little authority and influence we do have. For shame.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Etoiles Dans Les Yeux

Leaves From My Missionary Journal

Monday, 25 Jan 1982
Sunday we were so excited that Renee had a baptismal date. We had a really good day. Our whole lives are now revolving around Andre and Renee. It takes so much spiritual strength just praying for them and trying to receive revelation on what we can do for them. This morning Sister Bird called Renee and she said she did NOT want to be baptized. We were really floored! We didn't know what to do! We drove by their house because we really wanted to talk to her. But Andre was there, the car was in the driveway. So we didn't go talk to her. We drove past the house and sat in the car. I was so upset. We decided we would get out today and do some Spiritual Harvesting, then go by and talk to her tonight. So we went out and it was so cold. When we were just about frozen solid we knocked on one more door. Just as I knocked, Sister Bird noticed the names on the mailbox--the occupants were nuns! I wanted to just leave real quick, but it was too late, and an elderly lady answered the door. I didn't know what to say! I stood there looking dumb. I said, "We didn't know you were sisters...we're sisters too!" Then I just stood there. Well, she said, "Come in." Well in we go to warm up and talk to two Catholic nuns. They were so cute, they fed us hot soup and citronouille cake.

About 4:00 we were going to go home for dinner but before we went we just drove by Renee's to see if the car was in the wasn't. So we knocked. She let us in and we started talking. At first she talked about how she had already been baptized. So we came down really hard on authority. She took it all really well. That wasn't the real problem. The real problem came out later when she said, "I heard that they seal families together for eternity." She was quite upset about it. We explained eternal marriage but it upset her more. Finally she said, "I don't want to be with Andree." It was so sad. She's just enduring her marriage and she's so unhappy. We know that the Church can help them!! We talked for a long time. At one point she told us, "You just don't understand. All you missionaries come from rich families and you had a wonderful home life and you never did anything wrong in your life. Then you come to me with stars in your eyes, telling me how wonderful it is." Those are her words, so poignant in French, "avec etoiles dans les yeux." I just started to cry so hard. She looked at me, astonished. Through the tears, I said, "Renee, I too had a sinful past. There were things in my life that were bad. But this is the TRUE CHURCH! I found that I could repent and gain these stars in my eyes! I wanted her to know that it was the Gospel that did that. And that she could have that too!

A Renee

Un jour tu nous as regarde
Et tu as remarque quelque chose comme une lumiere
Qui brillait dans nos yeux.
Et tu as dit
Ma vie n'est pas comme la votre.
J'ai vecu toute ma vie
Dans le monde
Et maintenant, voici vous venez
Chez moi avec des etoiles dans les yeux.

Et quand tu as dit ces mots
Les larmes ont commence a couler
Et je me suis souvenu des annees passees
Ou je marchais dan les tenebres
Sans la lumiere de la verite
Je me suis souvenu, et j'ai realise,
Comme tu dois le realiser aussi,
Pourquoi j'ai ete appele a venir ici.

Aujourd'hui je remercie le Seigneur
De m'avoir mis des etoiles dans les yeux
Afin de me permettre de participer
A les mettre dans tes yeux aussi.

Apologies to french speakers, but when I post this, all the accents disappear. Anyone know how to do accents in blogger?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

DH's Missionary Meme

DH is catching on to this blogging thing quickly, and he has tagged me on this missionary meme:

1. Answer the three missionary questions
2. Do the missionary activity and return and report.
3. Tag 5 of your friends.

Here are the questions:
1. Did you serve a mission, and where?
2. What was your best missionary experience?
3. Who is the most missionary-oriented leader you have ever had?

Missionary Activity:
Ask a random stranger if they have ever heard about the Mormon Church, and if they would like to know more (Golden Question)

1. I am indeed a returned missionary, and I served in the Canada Montreal Mission. (CMM) Back then we used to call it the "Canada Marriage Mission" for the amount of Elders and Sisters who met there and married after their missions. Scandalous. I was a convert of only a year, and a mission was a real eye-opener for me. I was fresh from being a Born-Again Christian, and I'm sure my over-zealousness was a real trial for many a companion and District Leader. (I wish to apologize to them all.)

2. My favorite missionary experience was when I was in a threesome with Sisters Lavigne and Carmack. It was only for a few weeks near the end of December. We put together a singing discussion, with Christmas carols, three-part SSA harmony, and references to Christ; and went around with a guitar singing to all who would let us in their doors. The discussion brought the Spirit to virtually every home we entered.
Second runner-up is the time our district was on our way home from a Zone Conference in a severe ice storm. Cars had run off the road everywhere. Our two cars would drive up to a stalled car, the Elders would jump out, and in their suits would manhandle the car back onto the road and send it on its way. Not a proselyting word was spoken. They'd jump back in the cars and on we would go to the next stranded motorist. Good times.

3. Most missionary-oriented leader was Sloan Alma Smith, president of the Charlotte NC mission when I joined the Church. He was a Bible-bashing, pulpit thumping old-style Mormon with white hair and the most energy I've ever seen. He would stop his car at red lights and signal for the car next to him to roll down the window, then hand the unsuspecting victim a missionary tract!

Challenge: I actually asked the Golden Question recently to a Filipino woman I work with. She said that when she was a little girl her family had the discussions and they were going to join the Church, but they had to go to a cousin's wedding, and several weeks went by, the missionaries were transferred, and the baptism never happened. What do you know.

I'm going to tag David, OLL, SilverRain, M&M, and MCQ

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bearing Children--The Default Position

This question came up as I wrote my last post, and I'd like to discuss it further with my readership. What is the preferred "righteous" Latter-day Saint position on procreation?

1. Begin having children and don't stop until you receive revelation to do so.
2. Wait to have children until you are directed that it is the right time.
3. Have as many children as you desire unless the Spirit intervenes with different instructions.
4. Use your own wisdom to figure out how many children you can support financially, physically, and emotionally.
5. Strive to discover the exact number of children that Heavenly Father wishes to send to your home, and act upon this information.
6. Other?

Do you think there is a general Latter-day Saint position on this question? Does it differ from your personal position?

When I was a young mother, I perceived the Church's position was to have as many children as you possibly physically could. I began by having my first two girls less than a year apart. There were some problems with #2, and the Dr. advised that we should be satisfied with two children and not attempt to have more. He sent us home with a prescription for the Pill. I held the paper in my hand and cried. I felt strongly that I should not use this contraception. We went home and researched statements of General Authorities on birth control. I could find nothing that condoned the use of artificial birth control, and discovered many General Authority quotes preaching against it. These impressed my mind so much that to this day I have never used it. As you know, readers, I went on to have 8 children. Miraculously, there were no further physical problems.

As the years went by, my zeal for having children has waned. I once saw my childbearing as a great demonstration of faith and obedience to the Lord and dedication to Church teachings. But in recent years, teachings on procreation have changed in their emphasis. Now a young couple can be considered perfectly orthodox and faithful while waiting to finish schooling or spacing their children. I feel that my sacrifice has become essentially meaningless. I could have had 4 children and saved myself the year of serious post-partum depression, financial struggles, and marital discord. Perhaps the children would have had more advantages, more attention, a better home life. I would have been free to pursue educational and other interests. I love and value each of my children, but I don't know if my choice was the wisest one I could have made. I don't even know if it was the Father's will that I have that many children. I just had them by default because I believed the #1 example above. Since I never had a direct revelation to stop having children, I often feel guilty that I haven't had more.

Julie Beck's talk has taken us back to the era in which I was starting my childbearing. I react to it differently than many younger couples. I feel pressured to have more children. I'm noticing that many younger couples can listen to the directives without feeling this pressure. They are not applying Julie's admonition directly to themselves. They see it as advice that doesn't necessarily have to be acted upon immediately.

I'm waffling dreadfully on this issue. In a way, I'd love to be true to that zealous, faithful little Latter-day Saint girl I was in the beginning. But I've lived long enough to see that there are other ways I can contribute to society and to my family than having children and staying at home to cook for them and clean up after them.

What is the Spirit trying to tell me? I just don't know.

Monday, November 5, 2007

"Wanna-Be" Woman Who Knows

Alternate Post Title: Still Whining

I may be a complainer and a whiner, but I have now read our illustrious RS President's talk 2,049 times and can quote large sections of it, so that must count for something!

The thing is, I want to be a woman who knows. I've spent a great portion of my life trying to discover the doctrines of the gospel and searching after the face of the Divine. And I want so badly to know as I am known.

So here's my latest on Julie's talk. Halloween night we spent some time with another LDS family, and "Sister Suzy" engaged me in discussing the talk. She asked me, "Have you ever heard of Feminist Mormon Housewives?" :) and then proceeded to scold those who were speaking ill of their leaders and refusing to take the counsel of the speakers as if from the Lord's own mouth. Now, in my previous incarnation, I would have meekly listened while seething inside. But a year of blogging and being honest with the latent liberal Mormon inside emboldened me, and I indulged in a bit of ranting (regretting it later, of course.) "Sister Suzy" was taken aback and I felt a chasm as wide as eternity open up between myself and one of the few people here who has been truly kind and generous to me and my family. Later in the evening, Sister Suzy's husband brought the subject up again, urging me to try to find some pearl of wisdom from the talk that would apply to me. These people have such a different perspective of Julie Beck's talk it's like we live in an alternate universe. Yet the strange thing is, my Molly Mormon head can see things exactly the way they do.

Dear Readers, so far I have considered this talk as completely ineffective in creating a people who know God. I mean, seriously, bringing your son to Church in a starched white shirt? Spending the day housecleaning? I'd much rather sit at the feet of Blake Ostler and discuss Atonement theory, something Julie Beck didn't even mention!

But...what if, Naaman-like, I'm simply being told to dip myself 7 times into the River Jordan? What then, readers? What does this bode for your tormented BiV?

I'll tell you--if I truly value the family, and desire children as a woman who knows I will not hesitate to bring yet another small spirit down here to live with me. At age 47, I find myself still gravid. We have the financial resources, the space. I've never had that enviable revelation that I was finished childbearing. Yes, people, of course I've prayed about this. But in the absence of any reply, it seems that Beck's talk places the default position as being----pregnancy. So. A 9th child, and I'd be 48 years old at it's birth.

The scary thing is I'm such a fanatic that I'm seriously considering all this. After 15 years of non-stop pregnancy and nursing; 25 years of devoting myself to home and family, I've begun to step out into the world and attend conferences, women's retreats, get back into coaching, reenter the workforce and find personal stimulation. Now I'm ready to quit my job, cut out those unnecessary activities and turn my eyes back to the home, cleaning and polishing and "nurturing," never off duty. Perhaps I've been gaining the world and losing my soul.

As a wanna-be woman who knows, can I turn my back on this counsel? In the absence of a sure voice from On High, do I listen to my own worldly wisdom, or the words of my church leader, speaking for the Lord and approved by His prophet? Shall I take the step of faith that will bring me the blessings of eternity? Or am I poised on the brink of a quagmire of depression, guilt, and loneliness????

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Feminine Imagery of the Divine

Feminist readers of the scriptures are well aware of the passages in Proverbs 8 which personify Wisdom (GK Sophia, HEB Hokhmah).
These passages affirm that Sophia was there when God made the earth and acted as a partner with God in the creation. This idea fits in well with my conceptualization of the male/female duality of the Divine. The passages can be interpreted as instructions to the earnest seeker to discover and follow the promptings of a Heavenly Mother:

The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth;
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
When he prepared the heavens, I was there:
When he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
When he established the clouds above:
When he strengthened the fountains of the deep:
When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: When he appointed the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;
Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth;
And my delights were with the sons of men.
Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children:
For blessed are they that keep my ways.

Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.

In the scriptures, there is additional female imagery which tends to support the existence of a feminine counterpart to God. I hesitate to use them as proof-texts for a Mother in Heaven. These passages can just as well be interpreted to mean that a male Deity has loving and nurturing characteristics. However, if one believes, as I do, that "Elohim" consists of both a Mother and a Father God, the verses that follow add welcome insight into possible roles and characteristics of a Divine Mother Goddess.
One of the early titles for God in the Old Testament is El Shaddai. This word has been translated "Almighty God," or "God of the Mountains." It may have linguistic ties to the word "breast," prompting some to translate El Shaddai as "the breasted One." Though I might not go as far as to use this translation, I enjoy the word play which is typical of Hebrew writing and which connects this title of God to breasts and nurturing. In the language used in Jacob's blessing to his son Joseph in Genesis 49, El Shaddai gives him
"blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren."

Isaiah uses many feminine images of God in his writings. Consider the following:

The following poem in Hosea 11:1-4 is in the first person, presenting God as a mother who calls, teaches, holds, heals, and feeds her son.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
The more I called them, the more they went from me;
They sacrificed to the Baals,
And burned incense to carved images.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them.

It is possible that Hosea is indirectly presenting God as mother over against the fertility goddess of the Canaanite religion that he is challenging.
Interestingly, Hosea presents God as the husband figure in Hosea chapter 4, and the mother figure in chapter 11. These paired images suggest the male/female duality of God.

Searching for feminine images in the scriptures is a fruitful pursuit. There are many other examples too numerous to list here. I realize that different conclusions can be drawn from the presence of the Divine Feminine in scripture. Some faith traditions have posited that God is genderless, yet "accommodates to human limitations by using physical, relational, gender-laden images for self-disclosure." Others believe that God is solely masculine and patriarchal but possesses qualities that we culturally see as feminine. I present this view as one which aligns with the Proclamation on the Family where it affirms the eternal nature of gender: "All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."