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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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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Perfect Love Casteth Out Fear: A Look at Motivation

Posted on August 6, 2009. Filed under: Family, Jesus, mental health, Mormon Life, religion, suffering | Tags: , , |

 DSCN2399  by Alisa

In Relief Society last month, the teacher said we should encourage our kids “to only marry someone who comes from a family where both parents have stuck it out together, so that our children will be encouraged to stick through whatever trials their marriages bring.” Not having read the General Conference talk she was speaking of, I was unsure whether that was her counsel or the counsel in the talk. Either way, I cringed as I quickly counted that at least 20% of the women in that room had been divorced at some point, and wondered what they were thinking about the marital success of their kids. I realized that the lesson, while attempting to teach good principles, was coming from a place of fear, particularly a fear that adults are too shaped by their childhoods to choose their path for themselves. It wasn’t an atypical lesson for Relief Society, and I do not blame the teacher for the motivation of fear. As a lifelong Mormon, it’s a motivation that I resonate with all too well.
 
I had a recent late-night chat with my terminally-ill father and my siblings. My dad explained how his views of the nature of our motivation for living the gospel has changed over time. He said that while he believes that teaching and keeping the 10 Commandments, the Word of Wisdom, observing the sabbath and fasts, obediently paying tithing, etc. (essentially living the gospel out of duty, fear, or in search of reward), was all the “Gospel 101” class in our lifetime, that he felt that the upper-division course is all about being motivated by mercy and love, which are the motivations he ascribes to Jesus and God. He talked of how the way of explaining the Savior as the mediator and God as the harsh justice-seeking money lender didn’t make as much sense to him when it appears that God is actually very good at blessing both the wicked and the righteous. Because Jesus says that everything he did he saw his father do, my dad has come to the belief that God is very, very compassionate and loving. And I’ll tune my ears to that. Since my dad is dying from his second round of cancer in five years, he has plenty to fear, plenty to feel punished for. Yet he feels overwhelming love.
 
My dad is quite a different man in his 60’s than the 30-something man who raised me to wake up at 6:00 am to read scriptures, who never allowed caffeine or playing cards into our home (nor allowed us to come into contact with these things), and who banned Sleepless in Seattle for promoting cohabitation. We lived in a very strict system where all commandments were to be obeyed to the jot and tittle, and where nothing was excused. We did these things because they were the commandments, because they were a test to see if we’d follow everything the prophet asked of us. And because we didn’t want God to be disappointed or to forfeit our right to be an eternal family.
 
Whether it was intended or not, the message that I received was one of rewards and punishments. I believed it was entirely up to me to earn my salvation, my exaltation. I had a great start. My parents showed that it was somewhat possible to do every single little tiny outward thing. They certainly tried, and I have to give them credit. But for me, I was lacking in the spirit of why we did these things. As a teenager, I began to experience deep depression that I interpreted to be God’s rejection and disapproval of me. I did some desparate things to try to make up for the infinite number of imperfections I had. I became a perfectionist, wishing to cleanse myself of sin, to suffer as Jesus suffered, to shed my metaphorical 1,000 drops of blood, so that the Savior would not have to suffer for me. I convinced myself that I did this out of love for the Savior. But now as I look back on it, I think I was actually trying to cover my bases in case the Savior rejected me. I’d never really had a spiritual manifestation of his forgiveness, so all I had were my works to speak for me.
 
In the New Testament, Jesus uses the motivations of punishment, reward, and love. He occasionally talks of hellfire, holds out reward of heaven an earth in the beatitudes, and lets us know that when we really are in tune with love, we’ll have peace, friendship/neighborliness, and spiritual feasting. I recognize that Jesus is able to live in a meld of seemingly conflicting ideas much better than I am, as I tend to experience one at a time.
 
In graduate school, one of my colleagues introduced me to the idea that we don’t keep the commandments to earn a reward such as salvation, but that we keep the commandments because we love the Savior and have faith that he will take care of our salvation—afterall, that is his job. This was a radical shift from the way I had structured the whole system in my mind. Taking the idea of earning rewards or punishments out of my hands and filling myself with love and faith at first seemed to completely remove my control over my spirituality. Could love really be enough of a motivation to live a good life? Over time, I let this thought of love slip into my heart more and more. Eventually, it’s became my primary motivation for doing what I do. It’s even why it has taken me this long to feel good about conceiving this child I’m expecting in January—I waited until I felt so full of love and so devoid of fear that this monumental change seemed to work in my life.
 
When I look at the world, there is plenty to fear. At the same time, there is plenty to bless. Those two flip sides are enough to keep me engaged for a long time as I go back and forth. But focusing on love is like a peaceful respite through that process, a rest which takes me right to the core of where I need to be, centered and grounded. As John said in his first epistle: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear… We love him, because he first loved us.”

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The Double-Bind

Posted on June 1, 2009. Filed under: Acceptance, Belief, charity, confidence, Doubt, faith, feminism, Gender roles, Mormon Life, religion, spirituality, testimony, women | Tags: , , , , , , , , |


Mary and Eve

Originally uploaded by Hi, I’m G

by mraynes

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend an all day conference about the dynamics of gender violence in the South Asian community. The conference was put on by a wonderful South Asian feminist non-profit organization in Phoenix that I work with and was one of the best conferences I have ever attended.

Among the excellent speakers was a representative of the Peaceful Families Project which is a national organization devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families. I was impressed with the mission and the action of this particular organization but I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with the speaker as she progressed through her presentation. Although very knowledgeable about the Quran and the culture of Islam, the speaker seemed unable to acknowledge the problematic aspects of her religion. My frustration came to a climax when the speaker used the Quran’s Sura (chapter) four, verse thirty-four as proof of the progressive nature of Islam. Here is a translation of that scripture:

Husbands should take full care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in the husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. (Haleem, 2004).

If you are wondering what is progressive in this, men are commanded to provide for their wives and if there are problems, they are told to first separate and only hit their wives if the separation doesn’t work. (In other translations, men are told to lightly beat their wives which I suppose is better than savagely beating your wife. Go here for further translations and explanations.) I was perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief and categorize this scripture as a product of its time but to be told that it was a good thing for women was more than I could take. It was at this moment that I realized that for the first time in my life, I was on the opposite side of the double-bind.

The double-bind is a dilemma that many feminists find themselves in when they participate in a patriarchal religion or cultural tradition. Feminists of faith who identify with religions where women are not equal in either the theology or the institution find themselves caught between the two worlds they love, risking the reputation as a dissidents by fellow believers and as pawns of the patriarchy by secular feminists.

As a Mormon feminist I often find myself in the middle of this double-bind. I have been told on more than one occasion by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that I don’t have a testimony of the restored gospel and that my heart is hard, that I have been deluded by Satan and that I should just leave the church. I have also been pitied, ridiculed and dismissed by feminists who say they care about women. The tension of being stuck between these two worlds is often overwhelming and painful and yet I find that there is very little compassion for women like me. So when I found myself in the role of the skeptical feminist, judging another woman for her faith in and apology for parts of a religion I find offensive, I was so ashamed of myself. That Muslim woman and I are in the same position; we are both believers of a religion that is undeniably problematic for women but nevertheless brings happiness, peace and meaning to our lives.

In the time since the conference, I have thought a lot about how to integrate my feminism and my faith and how to thrive within the double-bind. In order to make it as a faithful feminist you have to accept the double-bind as inevitable; secular feminists will never fully accept you and neither will members of the church. The trick is not to care; live in a way that is authentic to yourself and the God you love. The Muslim woman I spoke of earlier might have frustrated both the traditional believer of Islam and the outsider but nobody could accuse her of not believing in the God she wanted to believe in. There is nothing inauthentic about that.

I worry that the Mormon Church is losing amazing feminist women and men in the search for authenticity. I certainly do not mean to offend those of you who have chosen to leave, obviously the individual must do what is best for themselves and their family. But for those who are in the process of choosing or have already chosen to stay please don’t believe that it is impossible to live authentically as an active Mormon feminist. The truth is our lives are only as authentic as we make them. You don’t have to believe in or make apologies for doctrines and practices you find offensive. I have found that the more honest I am with believers, non-believers and myself, the less I feel pulled between the worlds of feminism and the gospel that I care so deeply about.

I will never say that life in the double-bind is easy or even desirable. I cannot promise an existence of peace and acceptance. I can say that the double-bind is a very brave life; it is not easy to live with that amount of complexity for a prolonged period of time. But there are rewards; there is something in losing yourself in a cause that seems impossible. There is something in the humility that comes from being dismissed on all sides. There is something in those quiet moments where God whispers to your heart “keep going” and gives you that one last breath to make it through Relief Society. There is something in shaking your fist at God and asking why until you feel like your soul will explode and then taking that energy and being the change you think God would want.

They are simple gifts…but who needs more than passion and God?

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Reflections on My Faith

Posted on May 7, 2009. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , , |

Lake Cloud Reflection

 

by Kelly Ann

Perfectly still, I am still amazed at how the lake water reflected the trees, hills, and even the clouds (better said the fog remnants that had evaporated off the lake in the morning due to the season beginning to change).  On vacation, with countless similar beautiful views, I relaxed and enjoyed the outdoors.  As one who has been over-occupied with work, house projects, family, complicated relationships, etc. as well as a shifting faith, a real vacation last month was overdue.  I was fortunate enough to enjoy myself for three weeks visiting family, tourist destinations, and even an area of my mission.

When I returned home from my mission seven and a half years ago, I wanted to visit the people, the culture, and the environment that I had fallen in love with in the near future.  However, as life has marched on, it hasn’t been a priority.  In a way, it is easier to leave it all as part of my memory, especially at a time when my perception and feelings toward the church are drastically different.  However, given I was in the region, I felt impelled to visit a small town where I served for 6 months and had amazing experiences even if I did not have the time or the desire to visit all my areas.  Although I had lost contact with most people and did not have current phone numbers, I knew there were some people who would remember me and would enjoy a surprise visit.

Having not regularly attended church since the Sunday before the November election, my goal was not to relive my missionary experience.  Feeling assaulted by the role the church played in the Prop8 campaign, I snapped a few days after the election.  Embroiled in a mess at work regarding politics and religion, I decided I could not cross the picket lines to go to the temple or church.  I quite drastically and abruptly took off my garments, ripped my temple recommend in half, asked to be release, and switched units.  Although I sometimes have a desire to believe, occasionally go to church, and am externally processing my doubts (which encompass more than Prop8 but were previously shelved), I have definitely distanced myself from my historic faith with my actions.

As a missionary, I never thought I would be less active or even inactive.  I served with the traditional zeal and basic testimony.  I enjoyed teaching the gospel, seeing people get baptized, reactivating members, teaching members church responsibilities, and serving the community.  My faith was never perfect but my mantra was “why not.”  I believed that God had the power to appear to a young boy searching for the truth, that it only seemed fair that Christ would go to America as well, that he would have an organized system for both the living and the dead, that families could be eternal, and frankly I had my share of emotional spiritual experiences.

But as I have aged, I have started asking “why.”  My concerns include polygamy, polyandry, the role of women in the church, discrimination, imperfect members, various scandals, and complex early church history.   My frustrations did not emerge when the Prop8 votes were counted, it just made me step back and realize that I was dis-satisfied.  However, it is hard.  The church has been my life.  I have dedicated my time, my talents, and everything which the Lord has given me to live the gospel.  I have served as a temple worker and missionary, and willingly said yes to every calling and assignment given.  I have two degrees from BYU and most of my friends are LDS.  I have lived the standards meticulously and really tried to believe in the basic teachings of the church.

Therefore, with my shift in faith, I was nervous to visit the small agricultural community where I served. With only a day or two to see people, I did not want to share my frustrations with them but rather just catch up. Although I did chicken out visiting the ward on a Sunday in order not to be asked to speak, teach, or pray and so no one would notice I did not take the Sacrament.

However, unfortunately, I did not find anyone I knew home the Tuesday afternoon I arrived. After walking about three miles around town, remembering many streets and houses but sweating in the hot sun extremely frustrated with a heavy backpack, I thought I maybe made a mistake in coming and maybe it would be easier if I didn’t have to answer questions about my church activity.  But before departing, I decided to walk to the church from the plaza where I cooled off with the hope that someone might be there albeit very unlikely mid-week.  And true missionary story miracle style – there was …

With a dropped jaw, the former mission leader greeted me with a hug.  He updated me on the changes to the town (new supermarket, dairy farm, etc) and ongoings of the church.  I found out that many families I knew have moved, some have divorced, and of course all the children have grown.  He called the family I knew the best and got a kick telling them he had a surprise waiting …  So I spent two days enjoying their company, successfully passing by others, and just taking it easy.  It was great to see the people I knew even if it was weird to focus on the church connection and to remember myself as a super-ultra Mormon.

No one ever asked me about my activity (I guess it may have been assumed I was) but as the guest, the families I visited asked me to pray.  And so I did.  I don’t routinely bless my food (never have) but with them, I prayed like I would have as a missionary.  Although a bit unnerving, I have to say that it was just good to pray with them, to feel the connection of faith, no matter what it is.  That is the way I felt when I was a missionary and prayed with investigators who did not share my classic Mormon faith.  It made me realize that the one thing I really believe in right now is prayer.  And with time, if I maintain contact, I will share with them how I have changed.  For now it is just interesting to see how the seasons have changed my faith and what “fog remnants” of my faith are still reflected on my soul.

Tree Reflection So while this entry may best serve as an introduction to myself, a couple questions I have for discussion follow:

If your faith has shifted, how do you share that with those who have known you differently?

Do you think many people (active or inactive) go back and visit their mission and why or why not?

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Exponent II Classics: Keepers of the Keys to the Culture

Posted on April 29, 2009. Filed under: Mormon women | Tags: , , , , , |

I love this piece from one of my favorite Exponent II founding mothers, Judy Dushku.  I hope that we bloggers continue to be the Exponent II women that others will seek for companionship when they are questioning or feel like they don’t fit in.

Judy Dushku
Watertown, Massachusetts
Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer 1982)

In a recent Relief Society meeting, a convert bore a powerful testimony filled with exhilaration about spiritual manifestations she had experienced in answer to her prayers pleading for peace of mind and confirmation that the Lord loved her. Because the woman was new in the Church, the words she chose to express her gratitude and joy and the experiences she described were unusual for an LDS group. She spoke openly of knowing that Jesus’ spirit was present and that she had felt in clear and vivid ways his love for her. (more…)

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Coming out of the Feminist Closet

Posted on April 27, 2009. Filed under: Mormon Life | Tags: , , |

by Jessawhy

Butterfly

With at least two like-minded feminists in my ward, I’m beginning to feel a little bolder in expressing my feminism at church. My husband reminds me that my personality is intense and feminism can be my hammer and sometimes everything I see becomes a nail. So, I take this analogy into account in my comments at church. I’d like to think that some people my know a lean liberal, but most don’t think of me as a feminist.

That all changed at church yesterday. Because Stake Conference is next week, we had fast and testimony meeting. After the sacrament portion of the service, a bishopric member (the one who talked to me about the Pinewood Derby change), began talking about how exciting it was for a family to have a son newly ordained to be a deacon passing the sacrament. He explained that our ward has a tradition to have his older brothers and father pass the sacrament with him. He recognized and praised the boy and his family for the honor of passing the sacrament.

As this man, who was not the father of this boy, spoke about the priesthood ordinances and offices and recognition,  I felt something was missing. I felt left out. Women don’t have this milestone (or many like it) in our church, and sometimes they are not recognized for the significant contributions they do make to the church and the world.

So, when people started going to bear their testimonies, I felt that feeling that I haven’t felt in years.  Butterflies fluttered in my stomach, my heart was racing and my palms were sweaty. I knew I needed to get up and say something. I needed to have integrity and be true to myself and my beliefs, and recognize the contributions of women in the church. (more…)

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Persecution and a Small Voice

Posted on April 16, 2009. Filed under: Acceptance, Belief, Family, marriage, Mormon Life, Relief Society Lessons | Tags: , , , , |

tulips1

by Alisa

Easter Sunday, our Relief Society Lesson from the Joseph Smith manual on the Responding to Persecution. In graduate school, I studied religious persecution in England from the 16th to 18th centuries. It has always saddened me to read the recording of a woman on trial for her life, as she recounted her belief in whether or not the sacramental wafer was the actual body of Christ. If nothing else, this has given me a strong appreciation for the founders of the United States who realized that the government’s non-involvement in religion is what would allow religions to flourish. Because of my religious belief, I want to uphold the separation of church and state, and I guard that freedom most dearly. Sure, I can’t legally force others to believe as I do, but they can’t do the same to me. I glory in that.

During the lesson, I began to feel uncomfortable with the accuracy of some of the ideas suggested, such as the idea that Mormons never amassed weapons to defend themselves against the mobs, that Mormons were the only group severely persecuted for their religious beliefs in America, and that Mormons always went as lambs to the slaughter when mobs came, choosing peace over their own lives. While I don’t necessarily agree with these statements any longer, I understand them. These are the interpretations I’ve heard my whole life in the Church. These are the historical interpretations everyone expects to hear.

The instructor then asked for someone to recite the 11th Article of Faith:

“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

After the recitation, the instructor then said: “What about modern-day persecution of the Church? What about California’s Prop 8? How does that apply to the 11th Article of Faith?”

My heart was pounding inside. Knocking on my chest. I knew that the answer the instructor expected was not what I felt in my heart. I had sat still during the 19th-century persecution stories, but tying it into this contemporary issue, an issue over which I struggled and mulled over, was hitting me to the core.

No one responded for awhile, and the instructor repeated her question: “How does Prop 8 tie into the 11th Article of Faith?”

Hardly without my knowledge, and without any preparation of what I might say, my hand shot up. When called upon, I said, “Well, some people think that marriage is a religious thing, that it’s part of worship.”

“Yes…” was the instructor’s reply, and some women nodded.

“So…” I said, my heart still pounding, and my hands matching the shaking in my voice, “Maybe we should allow people to marry whom they want?”

My comment hung out there in the silence. I felt on the verge of tears. Nervously, I unwrapped a small bag of chocolate-covered cinnamon bears and started popping them into my mouth, one after another. Anything to distract myself from what I had just said.

The Relief Society president chimed in: “Proposition 8 was a very emotional and personal issue for many people, on both sides of the issue. It affects people’s families, on both sides of the issue. It was a divisive issue.”

A less-active single mother who sometimes attends with her mother then said, “Our purpose here is to love everyone. It doesn’t matter if they are gay or straight. Christ said to love everyone. Period.”

There were several other comments about how we should strive to be less judgmental and more tolerant. For once, I felt like I was not entirely alone in that room with my unorthodox opinions. For once, I felt like a member of my ward’s Relief Society. I felt, for a moment, I had found my voice.

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Gold Plated Enigma

Posted on April 3, 2009. Filed under: Belief, book of mormon, Doubt | Tags: , , |

by G
[here’s what my Book of Mormon looks like on the inside]

Something I struggled with when re-negotiating my faith in the church, was to find the exact location of the Book of Mormon in the grand scheme of my personal beliefs. The generally accepted stance from the pulpit goes something like ‘if it is not what we say it is, than everything else is a lie too.’ Well, I do not believe the Book of Mormon is what ‘they’ say it is. Then again, I don’t believe the all-or-none rhetoric surrounding it either.

What an enigma it is, the Book of Mormon, claiming to be a history of an ancient people on the American continent and also a religious book, containing the teachings of Jesus and his prophets. The account it weaves is extensive giving details of monetary exchange rates, record keeping practices, war strategy, political maneuvering, and the discovery of earlier civilizations; along with prophesies about the birth of Jesus (almost 600 years before his actual birth), accounts of the formation of christian churches, and theological treatises on subjects like faith, baptism, receiving answers to prayers, and the atonement of Christ. It is a tale of epic proportions, produced in a very short amount of time by an ‘uneducated’ man in his early twenties. That, of course is a big arguing point of true believers; Joseph Smith could NEVER had made this all up, never in a million years! On the other hand, the historical and scientific evidence against the Book of Mormon is hard to ignore, like the doubtful DNA link between native Americans and Israelites, and the lack of archeological evidence for the kind of civilization described in the Book of Mormon. (The recent one-word change to the Introduction stirred that controversy anew.)

George Cannon (father of Elder George Q Cannon) said about the Book of Mormon “an evil man could not have written it, and a good man would not have written it unless it were true and he was commanded by God to do so.” [Paraphrased.]

An Anti-Mormon preacher I ran into on my mission  said the Book of Mormon was the most trivial piece of trash he had ever read.

Mark Twain called the Book of Mormon ‘Chloroform in print’ because of it’s ability to cause him to fall asleep.

And personally, the Book of Mormon has put me to sleep quite a few times.

Then again, at other times it has captivated me, caused my soul to burn.

I’ve read the Book of Mormon about eight times. Once or twice before my mission, several times during, and a few more times afterwards. I had hundreds of passages  memorized (including the whole book of Enos.)  I had never doubted it’s authenticity. Ever.

Then,  a while back when President Hinkley issued the challenge for everyone to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover by years end, I found something had changed. Every time I sat down with the book to work on that goal, I found myself increasingly disturbed and agitated about what I was reading.  Questions of history, of perspective, of doctrinal loop holes and pitfalls jumped out at me from every verse.  Eventually I realized it would just be better if I gave it a rest.  I put the book down indefinitely. Others would talk about how much their testimony had been increased by fulfilling that challenge, and I would just nod and not say anything because for me, it seemed, reading the book was destroying my testimony.

Well, that testimony still got shattered. And I find myself even more conflicted as I try to find a context for this collection of words and stories. What is the answer to the question of the Book of Mormon?

I enjoyed this post over at the Cultural Hall, portions of an interview with Greg Prince in which he puts forth an alternate reading of the Book of Mormon. He posits: “Perhaps the most prevalent viewpoint in the church is either the Book of Mormon is a literal history of the Americas before Columbus or it’s wrong. There is an alternative somewhere between those two.”

Prince goes on to suggests that perhaps the Book of Mormon is more of a revelation instead of a translation, perhaps a ‘fiction’ inspired by God for the purposes of teaching and helping mankind (“…a metaphorical Book of Mormon, if you will…“) Prince recommends the reader “Get inside of it and grab the truth that’s in there, regardless of the form that it’s in, regardless of how it got to be in [there].”

It’s a thought.
Perhaps someday I’ll take up the book again with this new lens and give it another try.

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Exponent II Classic: Fear of Fasting

Posted on December 29, 2008. Filed under: Classics, Mormon Life | Tags: , , , , |

by Anna Tueller
Somerville, Massachusetts
Originally Published in Exponent II, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Summer 1986)

Fasting had always been a window-cleaner that allowed me, at least for occasional moments, to see through the glass a little less darkly. It was a key that I trusted and used to open, however slightly, the spiritual dimension when I needed to be comforted, assured, renewed, or enlightened. I loved Fast Sundays; my hair was always a little bit cleaner; my skin more radiant; my dress more pristine; my voice more melodious. I depended on that monthly spring-cleaning and trusted that if I would do my twenty-four hour vigil, my windows would be cleaned, that the light would shine through more brightly. My testimony was born and grew in those adolescent years as I participated in the spiritual communion of testimony meetings, and I learned very early that I needed to belong to a spiritual community. I went to those meetings and was fed. I found peace, joy, community, and truth. When the meeting was not a spiritual feast, it was because I had not properly kept my vigil.

(more…)

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