To Some It Is Given

Posted on February 1, 2010. Filed under: Acceptance, Belief, Doubt, faith, Mormon Life, spirituality, testimony, women | Tags: , , , , |

by mraynes

I was introduced recently to the work of up-and-coming Tel Aviv street artist, Know Hope. I don’t know that much about street art but I was deeply touched by his simple and profound messages of hope and love, especially in a city that knows so little of both. But it was his name that stopped me short; know and hope are two words that don’t naturally fit together for me.

The verb “know” means to be certain of the truth or factuality of a subject. “Hope” means to desire with anticipation. Perhaps it is because of my Mormon education that I see these two words as a contradiction.

When I think of the word “know”, I think of fast and testimony meeting: “I know the church is true…with every fiber of my being…without a shadow of a doubt.”

When I think of “hope”, I think of Alma 32:21: “And now as I said concerning faith–faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”

The distinction is important to me. I have always been a little embarrassed of my lack of knowledge. In a church that places so much importance on personal revelation and truth, my seeming inability to get either has been deeply troubling. Despite my sincere efforts, the hours of fasting and scripture study, the strict obedience and the tearful pleadings with the Lord, I have never received a personal witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, or of Joseph Smith or of the Book of Mormon. I never even got an answer to whether mr. mraynes was the right man to marry. (I hope I made the right choice.)

Instead, my mind is often drawn to D&C 46: 13-14: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”

I do know that Jesus Christ is my Savior so I extend these verses to the answers I don’t have. I have accepted that for the time being, it is not for me to know. I believe that my belief is a spiritual gift. In fact, I believe that the with-holding of answers has been a tender mercy. My heavenly parents know me well enough to know that I could not and can not understand a dogmatic god and so I have not been allowed to be dogmatic myself. I am comfortable in Mormonism and if I knew, really knew, that the church was true I’m not sure that my eyes would be open to the things that could make it better. Not knowing has allowed me to be more charitable with those who struggle with their faith…to see shades of grey and interpret the gospel in a way that strengthens my relationship with God.

In not taking for granted that all choices by fallible men are divinely inspired, I have been allowed to ask questions that are scary and painful and viewed by some as “not useful.” I have asked why God allows horrible things to happen to innocent people. Why do the strong prey upon the weak? I have asked why God allows half of humanity to be routinely oppressed, violated and silenced. If women are equal to men, why can’t they have the priesthood or preside?  I ask why God would allow His church to sanction polygamy, racism and homophobia. And seriously, God, who’s idea was it to make the entrance age for nursery 18 months?

…I haven’t received any answers. But I continue to keep my covenants, fulfill my callings, attend church every week and go to the temple. I teach my children about God and maintain my relationship with my heavenly parents. I try not to let the wound of unanswered questions fester. I do all of this because I love God, because I am stubborn and because I have theories and ideas that work for me. That I can believe in. That I can hope for.

All of this is a long way of saying that just because some of us have questions it doesn’t mean that we are hostile to the church…or to the prophet…or to those who are generally satisfied and know that all of it is true. We just haven’t received the same answers. And that can be a blessing in and of itself. It can be the way that each of us knows hope.

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Music and the Church II: On Regulation and the Unfamiliar

Posted on January 16, 2010. Filed under: authority, guest post, music | Tags: , , |

by mr.mraynes

My first guest post was principally intended as an exposition of music’s role in spirituality and my own feelings about its potential to affect all of us. Now my aim is to explore some more specific issues regarding the Church’s complicated relationship with the art form.

First, let us note that music has always been an important component of worship in western religion and that church leaders have long viewed it with mistrust. One historical example: In the Counterreformation, as the Catholic Church struggled against the burgeoning Protestant movement, the Council of Trent convened to discuss changes that would bring back conservatives that had left because of the Church’s perceived decadence. Among the topics they discussed was whether liturgical music had become too ornate and complex and obscured sacred texts in their services. They worried congregations were beginning to focus their worship on the music itself rather than the message of the mass’s words. An oft-related legend (now considered spurious) is that Cardinal Borromeo, upon hearing the composer Palastrina’s new Pope Marcellus Mass, was so struck with its simplicity and purity of expression that he influenced the Council to pull back from its initially stringent regulations on church music.

Our own church’s conflicted attitude toward music is remarkably similar. (more…)

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Baptism, or the Anniversary of my Arranged Marriage

Posted on January 14, 2010. Filed under: Belief, faith, Family, Mormon Life, religion, spirituality, testimony | Tags: , , , |

by Alisa

Twenty-two years ago this month, I sat in my bishop’s office with my parents for my baptism interview. My bishop asked me, “Do you feel you’re ready to be forgiven of your sins and be baptised?” I sat confused at the question, and then, a little lightheartedly, told him, “Well, I’m still seven, so I don’t think I have any sins to be forgiven of.”

I giggled a little as I gave him my answer, and my parents responded in shock at my apparent mockery of the interview. I guess I don’t blame them. They were the ones who held weekly FHE and family council, who gathered us for gospel instruction and scripture reading every single day. They thought they’d prepared me well to answer the bishop’s questions. They’d even taught me to pray for forgiveness of my sins since I was three years old (for practice, my dad said). But honestly, I was confused, and my giggles were my attempt to cover up the immense awkwardness I felt at being interviewed so seriously for something I didn’t understand and wouldn’t have thought to ask for if left on my own.

I couldn’t understand why I was getting my sins washed away when I’d also been told that I hadn’t begun to become accountable for my sins. To my almost eight-year-old mind, this seemed a strange paradox. I was eventually baptised three weeks after I turned eight in a stake primary baptism, but I wonder what I could have done in those three weeks to put my soul in need of such infinite redemption requiring immediate absolution. What I did understand was the social aspect of the ordinance: My best friend was also baptised that day, and honestly, that’s what I was most excited about. That and the fact that I got a new dress and got to eat out with my family, which definitely signified a special occasion.

I don’t think baptism of children of record is something we spend a lot of time thinking about. Usually it’s a happy family occasion, and it’s not my intention to downplay that rewarding family experience by bringing up my questions and concerns with the practice. But it’s something that as an adult I still have a lot of confusion about. We often speak of baptism necessarily following faith and repentance, which I can completely understand for a person who is making the choice with more life experience and knowledge. But what about primary-aged children? What about those who just are beginning to be accountable? Why are they baptised, what sins are keeping them out of the Kingdom, and what should be the rhetoric surrounding their baptisms?

In attending my niece’s primary baptism last week, I listened closely to the reasons given for baptism and heard they were 1) to follow Jesus’ example, and 2) to become clean. The second reason implies that little children are in fact not clean, which is a concept I still have a hard time reconciling with many scriptures including the 2nd Article of Faith.

In junior primary, we have children sing this song in preparation for their baptisms:

I know when I am baptized my wrongs are washed away,
and I can be forgiven and improve myself each day.
I want my life to be as clean as earth right after rain.
I want to be the best I can and live with God again.

I know a child can do wrong (and know s/he is doing wrong) before age eight. But my understanding was that the atonement gave them an automatic pass. So when we speak of barely eight year olds getting their sins washed away, I’m wondering, where do those sins come from?

We sometimes emphasize or even pride ourselves on rejecting the concept of original sin, or the need to redeemed merely by entering into mortality. But to me, saying each eight year old – who has been declared sinnless and/or non-accountable until that age – is in immediate need of similar redemption isn’t too far off. We’ve just transferred the date of the onset of original sin from automatic-at-birth to automatic-at-eight.

Perhaps I take baptism way too literally. But to me it is an important decision that I wish were left to those who were more able to understand the life-long implications. I feel baptism is like a marriage, choosing to become a member of the Church – the bride of Christ – and take His name upon ourselves and enter into a covenant that He’ll share what he has with us as we strive to be as deserving as we can. It’s just that we often talk about how disgraceful it is for other churches to have their children enter into this metaphorical marriage as babies or toddlers. Yet I feel that for eight year olds, it’s still very much an arranged marriage, proposed and implimented by the adults surrounding the child. The child may understand s/he is getting baptised, but might not have gone seeking that relationship, at that age, without the conditioning and expectations of their parents and teachers that they begin to experience from the time they are three-year-old Sunbeams.

What do you think of baptizing children at eight years old? Do you think our official lessons and materials – whether adapted for children or adults – adequately address the reasons for the baptisms of children of record? Should there be a difference between the preparation of a child versus that of an adult for baptism, or a difference in how we reflect on that experience in accordance with first principles and ordinances?

For those of you who were raised as children in the Church and baptised at eight, what are your thoughts about when you made the covenant of baptism? How do you look at it now?

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Why I’m Still Mormon and Why I Don’t Homeschool

Posted on January 11, 2010. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , , , |

Subtitle: The Path of Least Resistance Part II

by Jessawhy

On the surface, you wouldn’t necessarily think these things are related. But, for me, they describe a part of my personality, or a part of my lifestyle that makes it easier to go with the program than find my own path.

Although no one, including me, wants to describe herself as a follower, it seems I am. Let me explain.

When my oldest son was 3, I started looking into homeschooling. I know several families who do it successfully and I read many books that convinced me of the virtues of home education. To prove my commitment, I joined some local homeschooling groups and attended their gatherings. Everything I read said that homeschooling can be hard, but it just takes organization, commitment, and the ability to let things go. “That, I can do.”, I thought. Actually, I was too good at the last part and not good enough at the first two.

When my second son was born, I began to worry that my resolve to homeschool was slipping, but no, I persisted in believing it would happen without actually taking the steps to make it happen. I didn’t buy materials, I had infrequent and mutually frustrating lessons with Jaxon.

By the summer Jaxon turned 5, my sporadic attempts to teach him anything (reading, patterns, etc) had failed miserably and I decided that if I couldn’t get a steady program together during the summer, I would enroll him in 1/2 day kindergarten in the fall (I was expecting baby 3 in October).

Jaxon really struggled in 1/2 day K, so I transferred him to a Montessori program (which I loved) but even that wasn’t helping. So he tried full-day K the next year at a traditional public school and now he’s in 1st grade at the same school. He still struggles behaviorally and at 7 1/2 he’s just learning to read. Part of me wishes I had just put him in preschool at age 3 instead of pretending I could run a household, care for three small children, and run a home school.

In sum, my belief that homeschooling is the best thing for my child/ren was not enough to make that a good choice for me or our family.

On the other subject, that of my staying part of the LDS church, it’s a similar situation. While I see much good in the church and love and respect the members, I no longer believe that the LDS church is the only path that God wants for his children. In fact, I have a strong belief in a Divine Feminine as well as a desire to connect with her more deeply which isn’t allowed within Mormonism. I’ve even written articles of faith about my intentions to find my own rituals, study sacred text, and worship in un-orthodox ways (for LDS, that is). I want more than the LDS church offers. I want a deeply fulfilling spiritual and religious experience. The trouble is, I just don’t have my life in order to do it. Even re-reading my articles is like an awakening. I wrote that? They seem helpful, but not if I don’t remember them.

Mormonism is like public school for me. It’s easier to just do what I’m used to than carve my own path, or even remember to supplement spiritually. It’s three hours, every Sunday. I put up with it and come away with a spiritual morsel if I’m lucky (not so mucn now that I’m nursery leader). I’m aware that with three small children, our goal is really just to survive every day. But, in the back of my mind I wonder if I could find a way to really live my articles of faith, I could do more than survive, I could thrive.
I feel that way about homeschooling, too. If only I could just find the time/motivation to organize my life (perhaps stop blogging?) I could help Jaxon thrive in a way that he isn’t doing in public school.

Lest I come across like a victim, I realize the story isn’t written for either Jaxon or me. We have time to grow and change. But, it’s helpful for me to step back sometimes and look at what I’m doing on auto-pilot and why. Examining these choices helps me see my current opportunities in a new light.

In the end I’m caught between feeling like I’ve missed not one boat, but two, and thinking that I’m doing the best I can with what I have. Jaxon will doubtless learn to read, and I will surely continue on my own spiritual path.

Self-doubt is only helpful if it leads to change, so the question is how much do I doubt my current situation? Is it mild, moderate, or severe?

How about you? Is inertia preventing you from making changes that would be in your best interest in some area of your life?

What do you do about it? How do you manage?

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Guest Post: On Music and the Church

Posted on January 4, 2010. Filed under: Mormon Life, music | Tags: |

(I’m happy to introduce a post by one of the most brilliant, young musicians in the church, if not the world! And while I may be a little biased, I know no better individual than mr. mraynes to lead a discussion about the state of music in the Mormon church. Over the next couple of weeks, mr. mraynes will be writing a series of posts for us about the church and its relationship to music and musicians. I hope you enjoy!)

by mr.mraynes

Many months ago, EmilyCC kindly extended an invitation to write a guest post on church music (which my wife has now turned into a guest series). I have procrastinated composing this piece for varied reasons (finishing my doctorate, subsequently accepting a faculty position and moving my family across the country, laziness) but I decided to act now and claim the honor of writing the 1,000th post on The Exponent (according to WordPress). Congratulations to all those who work so hard on this blog!

First let me stipulate that, as a musician, I take music and its influence on us very seriously. It is possible I overestimate the extent of music’s power. I hope the following discussions will give those with differing views the opportunity to voice their perspectives.

Music’s place in Mormon doctrine is most clearly delineated in the 25th section of Doctrine and Covenants, a revelation offered to Emma Smith. She was commanded to compile a book of hymns with the explanation that song (I believe we can interpret this to mean all music) offered with righteous intention is synonymous with prayer. This doctrine is oft-repeated and, frankly, trite to most Mormons. We take this remarkable analogy for granted. (more…)

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Save the Women’s Research Institute!

Posted on November 5, 2009. Filed under: Changes, education, feminism, Mormon women | Tags: , , , , |

by mraynes

This morning I awoke to the terrible news that Brigham Young University had decided to shut down the Women’s Research Institute. This is a personal tragedy for me, one that I am deeply grieving.

I have written before about how lonely and isolated I felt as a young feminist at BYU. But that was before I found the Women’s Research Institute (WRI). I was in my junior year when I discovered that a Women’s Studies minor even existed at BYU and was housed in the WRI. I eagerly changed my minor in music to women’s studies and never looked back.

I took every class I could sign up for: Women’s Studies 101, The International Political Economy of Women, Women’s Lit, Women in Music, Sociology of Gender. These classes saved my college experience and had a profound impact on who I am today.

As I became more entrenched in the Women’s Studies minor, I started making connections with the teachers and eventually I was hired as a research assistant. That job took me in and out of the WRI office on a daily basis. There I met women who embodied Emmeline B. Well’s belief in”thinking women.” It was the staff of the WRI and its affiliated faculty that proved through their example that I could be a thinking woman and a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Almost three years ago I got a request from the Women’s Research Institute asking me to share my experience as a Women’s Studies minor and as an employee of the WRI. Unfortunately that letter came the day I gave birth to my oldest child and it got pushed aside as I fumbled through the first couple of months of motherhood. I deeply regret that missed opportunity. But today, I will endeavor to share what the Women’s Research Institute has meant in my life.

I do not exaggerate when I say that the WRI has affected every aspect of my life, both while I attended BYU and since I left the university. It was the professors affiliated with the WRI who opened my mind and allowed me to think critically about really difficult things. The director of the Women’s Research Institute took time to individually counsel me about my career and pointed me in the right direction after the disappointment of not getting into grad school. And then when I was working in the domestic violence field, it was the things that I learned as a research assistant that paved the way for me to frequently lecture to professionals and students about the effect of domestic violence on women worldwide.

Of more eternal significance, it was the lessons I learned in my women’s studies classes that influenced my ideas of marriage and motherhood. I have a happy marriage because I was taught gender theory and was looking for equal partnership. I love being a mother because my teachers not only validated motherhood as a feminist choice but provided models of how to be a mother without losing one’s self. I am still a faithful, temple-recommend holding member of the church because my teachers acknowledged the painful and problematic aspects of our doctrine and provided me with enough satisfactory answers to stay. And they were able to do this because of the safety and support of the Women’s Research Institute.

No where else on BYU campus were topics such as female sexuality, the exploitation of women and feminism safe to broach. The WRI was a haven of academic freedom, largely due to contributing over half  of their operating budget themselves. But the WRI was not just concerned with academic pursuits; they actively strived to make every lecture, film, and colloquia a matter of conscience, social justice and faith. This was their foundation.

In the press release, BYU says that they are trying to streamline their programs and there are other campus entities that address women’s issues. It is true that the Women’s Resource Center is specifically interested in issues that affect the female population at BYU. But they address them by offering activities like “Risk Free” Speed Dating.

While the contributions to BYU that the WRC and the Faculty Women’s Association make are important, the academic rigor and vitality that the WRI provides in the field of women’s studies is irreplaceable. For ten years the Women’s Research Institute has been studying the lives of women in a small town in Mali, and offering micro-finance opportunities to the women there. The WRI has published groundbreaking studies on peace and violence, specifically studying women’s perspective. And it was the Women’s Research Institute that almost single-handedly financed the WomanStats project when no other department on campus wanted much to do with the it. This project has since become the most comprehensive compilation of information on the status of women in the world. WomanStats is beginning to have a profound impact not only in the academic community but also where this information can do the most good, in government. Just recently, some of the contributors to this project were asked to testify before Congress. This project, and the many others that  the Women’s Research Institute have undertaken are a credit to BYU and something they should be very proud of.

It is for this reason that it is so hard for me to understand why Brigham Young University is taking this action, one that no other university in the nation has done in the twenty years that records have been kept! I understand the argument that having a separate institution for women’s studies further bastardizes the study of women because it keeps it isolated from the rest of academia. And perhaps this is what BYU is trying to do, mainstream women’s studies. But I fear that this is a premature action. Women and their needs have not been equally mainstreamed into American society, the Academy or the structure of the church. The WRI was the one lone beacon demanding that BYU, academia, the church and the world take notice of the needs and issues of women.

I don’t presume to know why BYU has decided on this course of action. In a time when good PR for Mormonism is hard to come by, shutting down a symbol of social progress and equality seems to be a very bad idea. But I would hate for the genuine frustration over the elimination of the Women’s Research Institute to turn into a conversation on how BYU/the Mormon Church are trying to silence women. While there may be some validity to that argument, I don’t believe it is productive.

Here are some actions I do think are worthwhile:

  • Join the Facebook group “Save BYU’s Women’s Research Institute”.
  • If you live in Utah, attend “Save BYU’s Women’s Research Institute” and Parity’s rally on Thursday evening from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in room 270 of the SWKT.
  • If not write a letter to President Samuelson and tell him how you feel about this decision.
  • Or write a letter to the Academic Vice-President, John Tanner whose office has been in charge of this decision. His email is: john_tannerATbyuDOTedu
  • Write a letter to the editor of BYU’s Daily Universe.
  • Call BYU’s Alumni association and threaten to withhold further financial contributions.
  • Send a letter to the First Presidency. Yes, it will get sent back to your Stake President but at least leaders will begin to see that members are concerned about their decisions regarding gender.
  • Talk to anybody who will listen. Talk to ward members, family members, friends, media. The more public outrage over this decision the more chance we have of saving the Women’s Research Institute.

If these measures fail and the Women’s Research Institute closes its doors on January 1, 2010 then we need to keep BYU honest. We the alumni of BYU and the tithe-payers who keep this institution running need to demand that they live up to their word of “significantly expand[ing] resources for research and creative activities pertaining to women.”

This is an opportunity to show BYU, the leaders of the church and the outside world that yes, gender is important. This is an opportunity to demand that women have place and a voice in our religious institutions. Let’s not waste this opportunity.

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Punctus Contra Punctum

Posted on October 26, 2009. Filed under: Changes, feminism, Mormon Life, Mormon women, personal notes, religion | Tags: , , , |

by mraynes

Point against point, this is the meaning of counterpoint. The term describes a musical tool where two or more voices are written in a way that is completely independent of one another but are  harmonious when played next to each other. Indeed, it is the interdependence between the counterpoint lines that provides the interest and beauty to the music.

It was this metaphor that the Mormon Women’s Forum looked towards when they inaugurated the Counterpoint Conference in 1993; a hope that both the church and Mormon feminists could each sing their unique song but still be harmonious with one another. This hope was not realized. In 1993, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Claudia Bushman were banned from speaking at BYU, several feminist BYU faculty members were fired and many of the founding mothers of the Mormon Women’s Forum were excommunicated. There can be no counterpoint without a second voice and the voices of Mormon feminists were all but silenced for over a decade.

(more…)

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Relief Society Lesson#43: “He Was a Prophet of God”

Posted on October 6, 2009. Filed under: Belief, Relief Society Lessons, religion, spirituality, testimony | Tags: , , , |

by Alisa

Contemporaries of Joseph Smith Testify of His Prophetic Mission.

As an overview, this lesson is divided into four main sections that I’ve summarized below:

  1. Like his contemporaries, we too can have a testimony of Joseph Smith
  2. Joseph Smith was an example of developing a Christ-like character
  3. Joseph taught the Plan of Salvation with Clarity and Power
  4. We can treasure the words and live the principles Joseph Smith taught

My main objective is taken from the subtitle of the lesson, which is about Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission. The theme that I see woven throughout the different sections is the way that Joseph Smith was called to his mission, and the way he lived in accordance with that mission. As a lesson objective, you may want to encourage sisters to identify their key spiritual missions. Throughout the lesson, point out ways they can live to strengthen the missions to which they have been called.

Section 1:  Like his contemporaries, we too can have a testimony of Joseph Smith

This section talks about the personal mission of Joseph Smith. As an opening activity, you might start off talking about missions. There are of course full-time missions, but have the class think beyond that into the kind of missions that may coincide with our day-to-day lives. Ask the class to think about and discuss people in their lives who seem to have been called to a special mission. This might include people who have a gift of healing the sick, resolving difficult situations, or the ability to teach principles in clear and effective ways. 

This makes me think about a cousin of mine who has Down’s Syndrome, but seems charged with a mission of reminding us that there is energy and force around us that we cannot see with our physical eyes. Encourage the class to think especially about women whom they have observed, and the missions that they see in their lives. How did these people live their missions? How did they deal with setbacks and discouragement?  Do any of the sisters in the class feel that they have been given a special mission, even if for a period of time, in their lives? Tell sisters that this lesson is meant to help them think about their own missions in life, and to draw strength for those missions from the example of Joseph Smith.

As with many of the people we have known and observed in our lifetime, Joseph Smith was a man who was called to fulfill a divine mission:

Eliza R. Snow, the general president of the Relief Society from 1866 to 1887: “In the cause of truth and righteousness—in all that would benefit his fellow man, his integrity was as firm as the pillars of Heaven. He knew that God had called him to the work, and all the powers of earth and hell combined, failed either to deter or divert him from his purpose. With the help of God and his brethren, he laid the foundation of the greatest work ever established by man—a work extending not only to all the living, and to all the generations to come, but also to the dead.

“He boldly and bravely confronted the false traditions, superstitions, religions, bigotry and ignorance of the world—proved himself true to every heaven-revealed principle—true to his brethren and true to God, then sealed his testimony with his blood.”

Encourage sisters to think about their gifts and their missions. What might they follow from Joseph Smith’s life to help them live with conviction? Some answers may be along the lines that because he knew his true purpose, he was not afraid of the judgments and prejudices of the world. There was no need to be defensive, in fact knowing his divine mission allowed him to carry himself with grace and kindness before others.

Section 2: Joseph Smith was an example of developing a Christ-like character

Ask sisters to think about the qualities in Joseph Smith they admire as you read the following quote.

Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church: “He was brimming over with the noblest and purest of human nature, which often gave vent in innocent amusements—in playing ball, in wrestling with his brothers and scuffling with them, and enjoying himself; he was not like a man with a stake run down his back, and with his face cast in a brazen mold that he could not smile, that he had no joy in his heart. Oh, he was full of joy; he was full of gladness; he was full of love, and of every other noble attribute that makes men great and good, and at the same time simple and innocent, so that he could descend to the lowest condition; and he had power, by the grace of God, to comprehend the purposes of the Almighty too. That was the character of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

What I love about this quote is that it shows that there can be happiness, joy, and fun while living one’s mission. Even though Joseph Smith was called to such an important work, he took the opportunity to relax, play, and show his love toward his family and others. Doing these things didn’t detract from his mission, but gave him the strength he would need when times were rough. As sisters, we can often be very hard on ourselves, but in reality when we take care of ourselves, when we allow ourselves some time to recharge our stores, when we permit ourselves to feel and experience real joy that comes from recognizing we are human and can only do our best, we can be more profitable servants in a sustainable way.

Ask the sisters in your class what qualities they seek to share with Joseph Smith? How can they work to attain these characteristics?

Section 3: Joseph taught the Plan of Salvation with Clarity and Power

This might be a good section to ask sisters how they think Joseph Smith received his ability to speak with clarity and power. While this may have been a gift of the spirit, and we all have our different gifts, what can we do to receive more clarity and power in our convictions of Christ’s gospel and the missions we’ve been called to?

Section 4: We can treasure the words and live the principles Joseph Smith taught

Wilford Woodruff, reporting an April 6, 1837, sermon: “President Joseph Smith Jr. arose and addressed the congregation for the term of three hours, clothed with the power, spirit, and image of God. He unbosomed his mind and feelings in the house of his friends. He presented many things of vast importance to the minds of the elders of Israel. Oh, that they might be written upon our hearts as with an iron pen to remain forever that we might practice them in our lives [see Job 19:23–24]. That fountain of light, principle, and virtue that came forth out of the heart and mouth of the Prophet Joseph, whose soul like Enoch’s swelled wide as eternity—I say, such evidences presented in such a forcible manner ought to drive into oblivion every particle of unbelief and dubiety from the mind of the hearers, for such language, sentiment, principle, and spirit cannot flow from darkness. Joseph Smith Jr. is a prophet of God raised up for the deliverance of Israel as true as my heart now burns within me.”

I think one of the most impressive images from President Woodruff’s quote is the one taken from Job’s testimony of the Redeemer and the resurrection. Job wishes that he could have that testimony written on his heart with an iron pen. As a good closing discussion, you can ask sisters to share their own take-away from the lesson. Ask sisters what are some of the principles of the Restoration that they would like to write upon their hearts? After a few responses have been shared, remind them that there may be no right or wrong answers, but it could be something the Spirit calls upon them to attract more into their lives. It could even be something that could cue them into their divine mission, at least for the present.

Close with your own experience and testimony of the lesson material.

Additional Thoughts as You Prepare

A note to some of you who are struggling with the material/quotes in this lesson: It might be because of the overlap in Sunday School and Relief Society this year of Joseph Smith stories, but this lesson seemed remarkably similar to a few others I’ve recently participated in. When I first read through all of the quotes in the manual, I became a little overwhelmed by the full forcefulness of Joseph Smith’s countenance as described by his contemporaries, especially when compared to some of the lower-key leaders of the Church in my lifetime.

If you struggled with some of the quotes and messages as I did, you may be helped by this essay at Beliefnet, by Exponent’s emeritus blogger Linda. As you teach this lesson to some women who may feel like they don’t have or could never have the same gifts and power of Joseph Smith, which could be used to fuel a sense of hopelessness about their own spiritual abilities and missions, these quote from her essay might help to provide balance and serve as a reminder of the ends to which Joseph Smith lived:

[…T]he president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, said in April 1995:

This church does not belong to its President. Its head is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name each of us has taken upon ourselves. We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as mine in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. To each of us in our respective responsibilities the Lord has said: “Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you: succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (Doctrine & Covenants 81:5)

[And from] Joseph Smith [in] the History of the Church:

The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.

Thank you, Brother Joseph.

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Modesty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Posted on August 15, 2009. Filed under: body image, confidence, feminism, Mormon Life, Relationships, religion, women | Tags: , , , , , |

two women

by mraynes

Before I left my job two weeks ago, one of my colleagues came into my office and asked to speak with me.  She immediately started apologizing for the behavior of her adult son who had been volunteering at the shelter for the day.  I stopped her and asked why she needed to apologize for his behavior; she looked at me with some bemusement and said, “Because he’s been checking you out.”

I was surprised because I hadn’t noticed her son looking at me but my co-worker assured me that he had been looking at me in a way that she deemed inappropriate.  We laughed about the situation, my co-worker told me that her son loved redheads and I jokingly said, “well who doesn’t?” and then promised her that I wasn’t offended.  But I left that conversation feeling a little bit uncomfortable. 

Uncomfortable because  the first thing I thought upon being told that I had been an object of lust was, “what am I wearing that would make him look at me in that way?”  I was shocked by my reaction, I am an adult woman who was wearing perfectly appropriate and professional clothing and still my first inclination was to blame myself for another’s behavior. 

It probably comes as no surprise that I have major problems with the rhetoric of modesty in the church and its implications for both sexes.  I will not focus on those reasons in this post because they have already been endlessly discussed on the bloggernacle.  Rather, I want to offer this experience up as a case study of the long-term ramifications of our focus on modesty in adult, Mormon women.

As a life-long member of the church, I have been indoctrinated to be modest like all good, Mormon girls are.  My mother refused to let me wear sleeveless dresses after the age of 8, I sat through modesty lessons at least once a month from the time I was 12 to 18.  At BYU, I signed the honor code, lived through the one-shoulder backpack fiasco, received the modesty talk once a semester from the bishop and listened to the concept reiterated in CES firesides and General Conference.  Even now, as a married woman with two children, I am still told that it is my modesty that determines the kind of disciple I am.  All of this is to say that I thoroughly understand and live modestly in my life.

Up to this point, while acknowledging the problematic aspects of our modesty rhetoric, I had not experienced anything negative from being modest.  Sometimes I think in acknowledging the problems of an over-focus on modesty, we forget the empowerment that comes from controlling how we present our bodies to the world.  By living modestly, both in dress and in deed, I have felt more confident that it is the quality of my thoughts and actions that garner the respect of those I interact with. 

That being said, the modesty indoctrination is insidious and the ugliness which has been discussed in the past undoubtedly rears its head in many Mormon women.  Perhaps the mildest form are experiences like mine where I had to do a mental check of what I was wearing despite being completely faultless.  The more serious cases range from women who blame themselves for a sexual assault to those who are unable to appreciate the beauty of their bodies and let it affect the intimacy they can find with a partner. 

In the end, I go back to the conversation I had with my colleague.  Despite being a zealous evangelical christian, she placed the blame for her son’s actions squarely on his shoulders.  Nowhere was there condemnation for my behavior or the way that I was dressed.  She did not stomp into my office and accuse me of being walking pornography.  She realized that her son was an independent actor and was therefore responsible for treating another human being with dignity and respect. 

If we are to believe as a church that we are only accountable for our own sins, then it is the paradigm of my co-worker that must be adopted by our highest leadership and the members in general.  If, indeed, it is the opinion that women are accountable for the lustful thoughts of men, might I suggest supplying young girls with a set of scriptures that omits the second Article of Faith…it would cut down on the confusion later on.

Have your experiences with modesty as an adult, Mormon women been positive, negative or both? 

Have you experienced any long-lasting ramifications of the modesty doctrine?

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LDS family values

Posted on July 30, 2009. Filed under: Doubt, Family, marriage, Mormon Life | Tags: , , |

by G

George Q Cannon and other LDS leaders in Prison
George Q Cannon and other LDS leaders in Prison

I’ve had several conversations with individuals who continue to attend the LDS church, even though they may have serious doubts about the theological/doctrinal claims, because they like the church’s emphasis on family.

(more…)

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