Friday, September 7, 2018

Book Review: Saints Volume 1

Saints: The Standard of Truth (Saints, #1)Saints: The Standard of Truth by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed volume one of the church's new history narrative, Saints, that came out this week. I had already read the first 7 chapters in beta and was excited to read the rest. It was very readable and I think it will help inform members about church history. This book really puts things in a easy-to-read format. Since it's written in chronological order it really helps give perspective to the people and events of the restoration. While it does attempt to tackle some of the more troublesome parts of church history it still wasn't quite as comprehensive as I thought it was going to be.

However, I do think Saints is a good beginning resource and is free on the gospel library app under church history. You can also use the church history tab to access articles about people, places and events that are mentioned in the book. I really hope people will use these well researched and insightful writings to enrich their understanding, sacrament meeting talks and lessons. I also hope it will be a good jumping off point for people to expand into other more detailed books on a variety of subjects that this history addresses.

First some things I liked:

I love how the authors took people's journals, letters and remembrances and used them to create a really novel-like retelling of church history. I'm happy that this account included a lot more detail about women, people of color, and other minorities who helped build the kingdom. I loved reading quotes from these groups and hearing their perspective about what was happening at the time. It also included the perspectives of many people who opposed the church and showed that they weren't just one-dimensional villains. Many times the greatest antagonists of the church were actually disaffected members. This narrative does a better job of showing how complex and multi-sided this history really is.

I was so relieved to see a much fairer version of Emma portrayed in this book than has been communicated in past histories (due in large part to Brigham Young's dislike of Emma). I liked that the writing was less formal, using just her first name when referring to her. This history helps put us in her shoes and head and see what a hard, and at times impossible, road she endured.

I loved that they included so much from Phebe Woodruff too. She is one of my favorite founding saints and thanks to her and her husband's journal keeping we get such a clear picture of who they were. Another recent book I read that drew from her story was "A House Full of Females" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Also a great read!

We got to know all of the members of the Smith family better and got a few new insights into Joseph Smith's upbringing and the timeline of his revelations. I think this helps us understand Joseph's ideas about heaven and family a little better also. The book also included some intro discussion about the many different first vision accounts and also his teachings on Heavenly Mother.

In regard to Joseph, I think this book did a good job of using some of the stories everyone knows and mixing in some less talked about facts like that Joseph drank throughout his lifetime, he used seer stones, that the endowment borrows heavily from masonic rituals, that he and many of the saints believed the end of the world was imminent, and that he practiced secret polygamy. While it was great to see these each mentioned and discussed it still didn't really get too deep into any of them. For a more in depth look at the life of Joseph Smith I really loved Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman.

Now for some things I was a little disappointed with:

I was sad to see that while they did discuss polygamy a little more in-depth than usual, they still didn't show the whole picture. In fact there were several parts that really confused the issue if you weren't already familiar with the history. While I know it isn't feasible to include every one of Joseph Smith's plural marriages in this type of book I do think they could have at least shown a better variety of who he married. While it mentioned that some of his marriages were problematic (such as marrying wives of other members in good standing) they don't elaborate on any of these. Instead they focus in on some of the more palatable relationships. I would have really liked them to tackle some of the more problematic stories like Marinda Hyde (Orson Hyde's wife) and Zina Huntington Jacobs (whose husband was on a mission) at the time. Or Helen Mar Kimball who was only 14. I would also have appreciated some discussion about some of the wording used in Joseph's proposals to some of the women including promises of exaltation if they married him and threats of damnation for their whole family if they didn't go through with it. I was glad to see they discussed Fanny Alger partially.

The book also discusses Emma's dislike of the principle and the relief society's efforts to stop plural marriage. The book seemed to imply that it was John Bennett's infidelities that made Emma hyper vigilant about stopping rumors and making sure women weren't being taken advantage of. While that was certainly a factor, the rumors she was primarily concerned with stopping were those claiming Joseph was practicing plural marriage. "Rumors" which coincidentally were true. It also never mentioned that her presidency and much of the relief society at the time were plural wives of Joseph Smith. Emma sends Sarah Cleveland, Eliza Snow, Elizabeth Durfee and others to stop the rumors but since they are all married to Joseph behind Emma's back the issue is that much stickier. However, I do believe the book did do a good job depicting Hyrum Smith's response to plural marriage, as well as Oliver Cowdery and Emma's dissapproval. For a more in-depth look at Joseph Smith and plural marriage I would suggest "In Sacred Loneliness" by Todd Compton. It's a fantastic look at each of the women who married Joseph Smith.

I was also hoping for a little clearer picture of the first Relief Society Meetings beyond just the plural marriage scandals. Although it does mention that Joseph organized the relief society to be patterned after priesthood and that he turned the key to the women it didn't talk at all about female blessing meetings. Women gave and were encourage to give healing blessings to one another and did so regularly during the first meetings of their organization. The history did talk about how women administered ordinances in the temple but not about the washing and anointing ordinance that was done outside of the temple before child birth. Of course that might still get a mention in volume 2 as they cross the plains and make it to Utah.

Overall, it was a very good picture of the first era of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints. I hope that people will read it and research each part further as well. Like I said before, this is really just an introduction. I am very grateful to the large number of historians, writers and editors who worked on this history. I am so excited that the church is putting a spotlight on church history and helping us to begin our journeys to being more well informed saints. I'm excited to see what happens in volume 2!

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Review- The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal About Mormon History

The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon HistoryThe Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History by Matthew J. Grow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up the last time I was at BYU. I hadn't previously read the council of fifty minutes but this was a good over view to what they contained and what some of the themes seemed to be throughout the minutes. And consequently, I read over some of the minutes as I read my way through this book. The minutes were not made available to the public until 2016 when they were published by the Joseph Smith Papers. Each chapter of this book is an independent essay by different religious or historical scholars that take us through the minutes somewhat chronologically and by topic. While I find some of these authors and/or topics more interesting than others I generally enjoyed each chapter and their unique insights.

The council of fifty was organized not long before Joseph Smith was killed, held meetings during the years in Nauvoo following Joseph's murder, and met occasionally in Utah under Brigham Young and John Taylor. It was comprised of around 50 men (it fluctuates a bit), 3 of whom were not members of the church. The minutes give some great insights into not only the final days of Joseph Smith but also to the years that always seemed to be glossed over in Mormon history between the martyrdom and the arrival of Brigham Young and company in the Salt Lake Valley.

This book begins by giving a little background into the reasons behind the creation of the council of the fifty. Joseph Smith took things very literally at times. He and most of the Saints believed that the second coming was imminent. Joseph believed that in order to bring forth the second coming the kingdom of God needed to be established on earth. While most Mormons now view the kingdom as an eternal institution Joseph and associates thought of it as a physical world government. The saints at the time also felt very let down by their country's government. Some contributing reasons for the creation of this secret group were the protection of the saints and their leaders, writing a new constitution, and campaigning for Joseph Smith's presidential run.

Under Joseph Smith's leadership the council meetings seem to focus around their thoughts about national and local governments, the meaning of the "Kingdom of God", the relationship between church and state, the relationship between the church and the kingdom of god, the injustices they felt they had endured as United States citizens, and Joseph Smith's run for the United States Presidency. Many of these sessions are pretty philosophical in nature with not much concrete work getting done in terms of actually writing a constitution or moving Joseph Smith's campaign ahead. Patrick Mason writes an excellent essay on the term "Theodemocracy". As explained by Joseph Smith that is a government where power is held by God and by the people. Instead of the famous saying "The voice of the people is the voice of God" (thank you west wing!), theodemocracy is based on the idea that "The voice of God shall be the voice of the people" (as asserted by Brigham Young). How much power should be given to "Theos" and how much power to be given to "demos" is a topic of debate amongst the members of the council. With Joseph leaning toward demos and Brigham leaning toward theos.

Using this concept of a theodemocracy the council attempts to write a new constitution for the world. The saints at this time had been heavily persecuted and had also participated in violence themselves. They felt that local government and the federal government had failed to protect them or assert any form of justice in their behalf. Saints at this point had been beaten, raped, killed, stolen from, and driven out of several states. The council realizes that the U.S. constitution has some pretty large holes in it when it comes to minority rights and so they set out to form a constitution that is more inclusive to minorities (with their emphasis being on religious minorities). After Joseph Smith's murder the council's sense of injustice is increased even more and the discussion turns to ideas of justice, revenge, and even punishment for those who contributed to the martyrdom. I found this discussion interesting because the church today has so entwined patriotism with religious ceremony. I think it would be interesting for many members to learn about the true feelings many of the founding members of the LDS church had toward the United States and it's leaders. There are many statements from the minutes quoted in this book about how fallen the country is, ways in which the US constitution fails and needs revising, and more.

One of the authors even talks about a time when the Salt Lake Tribune was writing an article about the pioneers and asked him to supply 3 interesting things that the average church member wouldn't know about the pioneers. One of his facts was that they were pretty dissatisfied with the government and were actually seeking to leave the country when they came to Utah. He wrote that before these minutes were published and said that while he received a lot of hate mail at the time from people who declared that their ancestors loved this country and it's constitution, he has since been vindicated by the evidence as found in these minutes.

This leads us into the next topic that is discussed- moving the saints. Dissatisfied with their treatment under U.S. law they begin to look outside of the country to places like Utah, Alta California, Texas and Mexico. It is discussed somewhat under Joseph Smith and then detailed and decided upon under the guidance of Brigham Young. While California and the coast seemed to be most favored at first and favored by Joseph Smith, Utah is finally decided on. Having been driven out of several places already by "old settlers" they want to find a place where they can be the first settlers. They also want a place that isn't too desirable so that others wont fight them for it. Salt lake seems to meet both these requirements, cuts about 600 miles off of their trip to the coast, and it's also on the trail to California and Oregon so they can get some traffic coming through for trade.

Another theme discussed is that of Mormon and Native American relationships. The early saints believed Native Americans to be Lamanites and they saw it as their responsibility to convert these Lamanites back to the truth of their fathers. They also believed that once the Lamanites were converted and joined up with the Mormons they would help them take back the land and overthrow the government that had oppressed both the Mormons and the Native Americans. There are several campaigns and missionaries sent out from Nauvoo to accomplish this goal. They are for the most part unsuccessful but this idea is another reason pushing them to migrate west and live among the different tribes of Native Americans.

The minutes also cover development and construction both in Nauvoo (completion of the temple and Nauvoo house) and in Salt Lake as they begin to establish their vision of Zion. We see the minutes really change from discussing the philosophies and big pictures of the church to discussing the very tangible and day to day needs of the church.

This document also just gives us a window into some of what happened during that time. We see many brethren leave the church. We get a glimpse into some of the chaos that occurred after Joseph is martyred. We see that there were many people who claimed that Joseph had told them what should happen next and where the saints should go and that it wasn't just peacefully decided that Brigham Young would be the next leader. I was aware of some of the conflicts that arose between the high council and the quorum of the 12 apostles but this also highlighted that many of the members of the fifty thought that the governing power should lie with them.

For me the overall take away was how much some of these men persevered even when the things they thought were going to happen didn't. They thought the second coming was imminent, they thought Joseph Smith would be vindicated, they thought the U.S. would protect them, they thought there would be widespread conversions among the Native American's, they thought the council of the fifty was destined to become the new and greatest government the world had ever seen, they thought the Nauvoo house would be finished and that it would be a place where the dignitaries of the world would come to stay, and even when none of these things came true in the ways they'd hoped they still stayed dedicated to their prophet and religion and to moving the saints out of persecution. The minutes give us a glimpse into the fact that these were men with differing opinions, backgrounds, and ideas. It also shows us the nature of church councils and leadership. We often think that all the early church decisions were made in meetings where God just came down and told the saints exactly what to do. While they did claim to be inspired by God they also made choices by counseling and studying and doing what they thought was best. Sometimes they got things right and sometimes they didn't- much like today. The minutes and this book provide an interesting look at the evolution of thought amongst the Latter Day Saint movement.

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Thoughts

I've spent a lot of time thinking, talking and writing about different aspects of my worldview including my religion, political leanings, and books that have inspired me.  Often my posts may sound overly analytical or even critical against policies and injustices I may find within the cultures and communities I'm a part of.  Speaking specifically of the LDS church culture, it's no surprise to anyone that I have strong feelings and opinions that sometimes seem to go against the mainstream.

Today, however, rather than focusing on the things I have questions about, I want to focus on the things that I believe. I'd like to talk about my testimony of my Savior, Jesus Christ, and how a belief and hope in Him has shaped the way that I interact with others and the way I view the world.  I'm not trying to speak on behalf of anyone else or convert anyone to my way of thinking.  I just want to express my own personal beliefs about who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for me.  Whether you believe in Christ or not, whether you belong to an organized religion or not, whether you consider yourself spiritual or not, I hope that this post can at least be an interesting study into what one person believes is true and give you a better understanding of who I am as a person.

First a quick background into my religious upbringing.  My mother was born into an LDS family but didn't attend church from her early teens through her early 30's.  My father wasn't raised in any religion and while he is a spiritual person is somewhat skeptical of organized religion in general.  My mom began attending church again around the time I was born and my siblings and I attended the LDS church with her growing up.  My dad briefly joined the church when I was 8 (we were baptized by the same missionary) and left the church around the time I turned 11.  We were sealed as a family (Mormon's believe that families can be together for eternity when sealed by those in authority) when I was 10 years old. My dad hasn't really attended any church since that time although he's well versed in scripture and spiritual matters.  My mom has served faithfully in many callings in the church (we don't have paid leaders at the local levels of the church- so when we're asked to do things it's called a calling).  She was one of my primary presidents, young women's presidents and stake young women's president while I was growing up and has served as a seminary teacher and Gospel Doctrine teacher for the last 10 years or so.  She's pretty knowledgeable when it comes to the gospel and has the unfortunate task of fielding most of my questions and concerns and complaints about the church.

And so I find myself incredibly dedicated to a religion that I also occasionally disagree with or feel hurt by.  On my bad days all I can see are the policies that I want to change (the role of women, our treatment of the LGBTQ community, our tendency to romanticize our history as perfect, etc).  However, on good days I'm filled with the an enormous gratitude for the teachings that I've received from being a member of the church. 1) That Jesus Christ is my Savior, 2)That I have Heavenly Parents who love their children, 3) That we are commanded to love others as much as we love ourselves and 4) Our Heavenly Parents have given us the gift of the Holy Ghost, our agency and direct lines of personal revelation to help us achieve our goals in this life and lead us to a new life to come. I'm trying to live my life in a way that reflect these beliefs and I want others know that to me, following these beliefs is what it means to be a Latter Day Saint.

Mormons get a bad rap sometimes because we do a lot of things that seem very different from other religions. If you're not a member of the church the "weird" stuff might even be all you know about Mormons.  These include the facts that we study from the Book of Mormon in addition to the Bible, we wear different underwear, we don't drink alcohol, we attend a temple, we perform baptisms for the dead, many youth go on a two year mission, etc.  Because these things get talked about so often (in and outside of the church) we can sometimes lose sight of the most important aspect of the religion, which is our faith in Jesus Christ.

I remember the first time someone told me I wasn't a Christian.  It was in a Jr. high P.E. class.  The girl sitting next to me during warm ups leaned over and told me that she'd noticed I had been talking with a girl in our class who was Mormon and that I should be careful because Mormon's weren't Christian.  I asked her how she knew I was Christian and she told me that she'd heard me talk about Christ before.  I replied that I was a Mormon too and since she knew I was Christian she could believe that the other Mormon girl was christian too.  She left the conversation sad, saying that I wasn't a Christian after all and that at her summer bible camp one of the classes she went to was about how terrible Mormons were and how to avoid them.  I remember telling her a couple more times that I believed in Christ and so I was a Christian, but she let me know that I wasn't because I didn't accept him into my heart the same way that she did.   My two main thoughts from that conversation were: 1) how did she know how I accepted him in my heart? and 2) Would Christ teach a class on how to avoid other people?  Didn't he spend his life talking with and serving the tax collectors, the poor, the sick, prostitutes, and unbelievers?

I attended a pretty religiously charged high school.  I had the opportunity to discuss religion with many of my friends and even some of my teachers.  While I've learned so much from my friends of other faiths and have had many friends who respect my beliefs, high school was also spent defending my religion from some pretty negative criticisms from others.  Interestingly enough several of my closest friends were jewish, agnostic and atheist. Probably because while my ideas seemed strange to the other Christians in my school, my atheist and Jewish friends thought all Christians were wrong and didn't see me as being any weirder than any of their other religious friends. In many ways my non-Christian friends were much more Christian in their treatment and respect for my opinions.  I've had amazing friends with many different religious or non-religious beliefs that have deeply touched my life.  I believe that truth can be found in many places and each of us will pick up the things that we need or feel inspired to carry with us.  And from each interaction, friendship and relationship we will find ourselves changed.  This is how it has been for me.  My testimony is a living thing and I'm constantly picking up new pieces or letting go of pieces that no longer fit.

However, the central piece of my testimony is my Savior Jesus Christ.  So what are the things I believe about Him?  Twenty-two years after that first person told me that I didn't accept Jesus into my heart correctly, I want to try and set the record straight about how I accept Him and who I believe He is.

First some things I believe about who He is. I believe that Jesus Christ is the literal son of our Heavenly Parents.  He was born to Mary and raised in this life by Mary and Joseph.  This made him both divine and mortal.  This is the condescension of God.  I also believe that all people on the earth are spiritual sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents.  This makes Christ our brother.  And I think of him that way often.  As my brother and friend.

I don't believe in a trinity in that I believe Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are two distinct beings. I do however believe that they are in complete unity of purpose.  Christ talks many times of being one with the Father.  However, He also talks about being one with the church and tells us that we can be one with the Father.  This leads me to believe that when he talks about "being one" with the Father- he doesn't mean they are the same person, but that they are on the same mission.  Further evidences that they are separate beings are when he prays to the Father; when he's baptized and people hear the voice of God in Heaven, see Christ in the water, and the Holy Ghost as a dove; and when Stephen is martyred and sees Father, Son and Holy Ghost as separate beings.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the only person to make it through this life perfectly- meaning without sin or mistake.  This was accomplished through His inherited divinity from God and His total dedication and understanding of the Gospel and purposes of God.  That purpose being to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men and women. Central to that mission is also that they want us to have joy in this life and the next. In that vein, I believe that all the commandments that we've been given are here to help us have joy and are not just an arbitrary test to see if we'll listen. Commandments bring us joy because they help us love one another, maintain control over our own lives, and to become more like Christ.  They aren't a to-do list with us getting points added or subtracted from our score every time we follow each of those commandments.  God doesn't love us more when we keep the sabbath day holy and he doesn't love us less if we smoke a cigarette.  However, if we keep the sabbath day holy we get the blessing of having a peaceful day of rest and enjoyment.  If we never smoke a cigarette we don't have to worry about becoming addicted, paying enormous taxes, or having an increased risk of cancer.

I believe that Christ spent his mortal life teaching, helping, serving, healing and loving those around Him.  Because He was perfect and had a will completely in line with the mission of our Heavenly Parents, He was able to love and have perfect charity for those around Him.  He also taught us how to have a more perfect love for those around us.  Having charity requires us to put away our selfish desires.  Being less selfish means being less self centered.  If we are loving others as much as ourselves we aren't going to lie to, harm or steal from others.  Just as Christ came to redeem and not to condemn, we know that we shouldn't judge or condemn others either.  Each of us may judge what we are going to do but we must also allow all others the right to decide for themselves how, where and what they will worship. This makes Christ a perfect example, a leader, a teacher, and a prophet.

At the end of his mortal ministry, Christ, empowered by his divine heritage and his perfect mortal mission, was able to perform the atonement on our behalf.  I define this as a reconciliation between God and man.  Through this atonement he enabled us to become one with our God again.  Just as he and the Father (and Mother) are one.  This atonement involved and intercessory prayer in Gethsemane, a crucifixion, and finally a resurrection. This makes him our redeemer and our savior.

In Gethsemane he prayed on behalf of the world and took upon himself our sins, our shortcomings, our mistakes, our sorrows, our pains, and our abuses.  Then, while carrying them, he allowed himself to be crucified to pay the price for those sins. By paying this price he used His mercy to satisfy the laws of justice.  While, as I said before, our sins don't make God love us less, they do prevent us from being one with Him.  If God's purposes are for us to have joy and love those around, then every time we make choices that deviate from that purpose (i.e. when we steal, or cheat or lie or harm others) then we are not being one with our God.  Christ, now aware of those sins and mistakes and intimately familiar with the fallen condition of the human family, becomes our advocate to the Father.  As we repent with our hearts, in his name, we can be reconciled again to our Father.  Christ understands how our intentions, our ignorance, and our confusion can lead us to part from God's plan and He makes up the difference for us. Instead of our sins resulting in a permanent separation from our Heavenly Parents or a spiritual death, we can now repent and be clean again, one with our Savior, and one with our Heavenly Parents.

But not only did Christ's atonement save us from this spiritual death, it also freed us from physical death! And that is the gate he opened when he raised himself up from the tomb three days later. Mormons are sometimes criticized for not putting enough emphasis on the cross.  We don't wear them or use them in our decor or on our church buildings.  However, to me, it's not that we don't believe in the cross but that we put our emphasis on the fact that the cross is now empty! That death is temporary and that Christ now lives! I love the story of him and Mary at the tomb.  That a woman is the first witness of Christ's rebirth seems fitting since women (our mothers) are the first to witness our first births.  He was triumphant over death and opened the way for us to be triumphant as well.  I believe that there is life after this life.  Not a heaven and hell that we see depicted on tv or in books, but a glorious new life where we will be free of our physical, emotional, and mental burdens that plague our life here on earth. Where we will be able to be with our loved ones and see them perfected as well. Where we will have a full realization of the good and bad we put in the world.  With this new perfect knowledge of our lives, we will choose for ourselves if we feel worthy and ready to enter the presence of God.  This makes Christ our savior, our redeemer and our King.

But knowing who He is is or what He has done is only half of accepting Christ into your heart.  We must take hold of the gift He's given to us and use His teaching to better our lives.  This doesn't mean to be perfect through our own works but to become perfect through repentance.  Another criticism that I've recieved is that Mormons think we can buy our way into heaven through good works. I can honestly see how that could be a perception given that Mormons have a lot of "rules" and "practices" that seem to be different from other groups.  However, I have been taught, and believe that the only way we are saved is through the grace of Jesus Christ! He gives us each this gift and asks us only to receive it. Recieving it means to repent and be one with Him.  However, I do believe this Gift leaves us changed.  The bible tells us that faith without works is dead. When we truly love someone it leaves us changed. When we truly love and accept the Savior it helps us change our lives.  As I mentioned before- we follow His Commandments because we love Him and we realized that He gave them to us to keep us safe and happy.  When we repent and accept Jesus into our lives we no longer want to cheat or harm others.  We don't gossip about others or assume the worst in people.  We are kind to others even when they aren't kind to us. We respect and make room for people who are different than us.  We listen to different opinions and respectfully state our own.  We are changed and we do better, because we know better, because our Savior has shown us the way.

In respect to us "earning" our way into heaven- I recently read an article discussing the parable of the ten virgins.  It talked about that one solution to the problem of not having enough oil could have been to have larger lamps.  But that wasn't the solution because none of us can change the size of our lamp. None of our lamps are large enough to carry enough oil to last through the night.  We don't increase our lamp size by doing right and decrease it by doing wrong.  The thing that makes us wise is realizing that our lamp is too small to last through the night.  We are wise when we bring that extra oil, the Savior's oil, to make up the difference. He will fill our lamp and get us through the night.  He will increase the light we emit and bring us safely to the wedding party.

Yes, reading our scriptures and saying our prayers and attending the temple can help us become better.  But we're aiming beyond better, we're aiming for perfect.  None of those things alone can get us where we need to be. Scriptures, prayers, and temples are all there for the sole purpose of bringing us closer to the Savior and improving our relationships with our fellow man.  To paraphrase Paul- it's charity or nothing!  If you have not charity you have nothing, because Charity is the pure love of Christ.  Without His love for us we are nothing. Without my love for Him I would be nothing.

So, I believe I am a Christian.  I study about Christ, I believe in Him, I believe Him, I pray in His name, and I try so hard to love as He loved.  I fall short.  I fall so short every day.  I say wrong things. I do wrong things. I put myself first. I let pride and envy dictate my decisions.  I speak without thinking. I talk more than I listen. I write half baked soapboxy posts. I can be ignorant, judgemental and dismissive of others.  I lose my patience.  I swear a little ;) and so so much more.  But I know that Christ loves me. And I know He loves my family. And I know he loves the person I sit next to on the bus. He loves the people I go to church with. He love you and the people you go to church with. He loves your family. He loves people who don't believe in Him. He even loved the people who killed Him. He loves the world. He loves us all. Equally. I am amazed at the power that idea gives to me.  It frees me from sin, from anger, from envy, from ignorance. It allows me to forgive things I couldn't forgive on my own.  He takes that from me and gives me peace.

Being a Christian goes beyond time spent in worship, interpretation of the bible, degree or calling. It's not manifest in what we say, in our success or in the size of our audience. Being a follower of Christ is manifest in our actions and in the changing and opening of our hearts. Christ left people better than he found them. Being a follower of Christ means leaving people better than you found them.  That is who Christ is to me.  He takes my little wimpy lamp and he makes it shine.  He finds me broken, and alone, and sick and he heals me.  He gives me an eternal family. He fixes my wrong thoughts and actions.  He shows me how to repent, and apologize and forgive.  I'm trying to leave people better. Not by preaching at them or trying to change them or anything like that.  But by simply being more loving and accepting. By listening and being more honest. I'm trying to focus more on others and less on my own pride, opinions, or insecurities. Christ helps me do that.  And He helps make amends when I fall short.

This Easter I am so grateful for Christ's love for me.  I'm grateful for His infinite atonement.  I'm grateful for the peace having charity brings to me when I manage to have it- as fleeting as it can be! And I hope that in some small way I have shared that peace with you, not by my words, but in my deeds. These are my beliefs and they feel good to express. I'm grateful to all those who share their beliefs with me and trust me with their truths. I'm grateful for all of those people, Christian or not, religious or not, who have left me better than they found me. I know that Easter means something different to each of you. This is what it means to me. He is risen!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Book Review: Women at Church- Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact

Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local ImpactWomen at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact by Neylan McBaine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great read! I wish I could give a copy to every man and woman in the church today. It's a faith based practical guide to fostering gender cooperation within the LDS church. The author is also the creator of the Mormon Women Project which highlights stories about Mormon women throughout the world. She is a practicing member of the LDS church and is supportive of our current leadership.

The author does a great job of making her position clear that while she hopes that there will be changes to gender relations (i.e. women in leadership positions, priesthood, patriarchy, etc) that she is operating within the belief that the system we have now is the system that will be in place for the near future. However, even within our current, mostly male leadership system, there are tons of things that we as a people can be doing to build Zion between men and women.

She brings in a lot of great quotes from general authorities to talk about better communication and participation in our ward councils, family councils, ym/yw programs, etc. She addresses many of the issues effecting women in the church today: not having a voice, meeting with bishops without another woman present, double standard modesty lessons, losing some of our stewardship that was given to us during the restoration, etc.

She then uses ideas and examples that other wards and groups have used to address these issues. I am grateful for the many excellent examples that were given of men and women working toward Zion. In many of her examples she uses interviews with the actual participants so that we can hear the point of view of the stake president, the relief society president, the speakers, the attendees, etc. It helps it really hit home that these examples are real, and that they can work, and that many different types of people with different personalities and callings have been able to enact great changes in the lives of many.

The ideas include many things like not always having the man speak last in sacrament meeting, honoring the YW for their Personal Progress awards in a similar manner to the YM when they receive their eagles, having wives of high councilors speak with their husbands on assignments, giving the stake women auxiliaries more opportunities to speak, including single women in our presidencies, listening to women in the ward councils, inviting the women leaders to PEC meeting, having a stake Q&A session with the women and the stake presidency so that they can know the women's concerns, having women speak at priesthood holders' meetings (we have men give their perspective on women's issues all the shouldn't women give their perspective on men's issues), not using the term "The Priesthood" to mean the men (there's a difference between the priesthood and the priesthood holders), discussing in talks and lessons the many talents/skills/contributions that women have in addition to being mothers, and many many more.

Whether you have felt this pain or not, this book is a great read. If you are interested in understanding better why some women in the church today are in pain this is a great resource. If you are interested in helping women to feel more included and loved at church this is a great read. If you are interested in building a Zion people where there are no poor among us this is a great read. If you are in a leadership position and are looking for better ways to include the female community this a great read.

I believe that while Heavenly Father has given men and women different gifts he also created us with many things the same and he expects us to respect and value all people equally. He also created each person uniquely and we need to remember even within one gender there are going to be a lot of different ideas, points of view, personalities, etc. No gender is less than and as we use the talents of men and women we will be able to create more beautiful communities and lives. As we include the perspective of women and men we will see a more complete and perfect view of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep (Everything #1)Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So this was the first of the my black friday dollar books that ended up making me want my dollar back ;) I guess my lucky steak of picking out random good books had to come to an end at some point.

Based on the fact that the plot sounded similar to other books I've enjoyed in the past I picked this up on the cheap during black friday. I was mostly just looking for a quick escape type book to rest from some of the heavier reading I've been doing lately and thought this might fit the bill. When I first started ready I was struck by the complete overuse of cliche's and monotonous dialogue but was a little excited by the promise of a mystery to solve (the book starts at her fiance's funeral and a mysterious woman telling the main character that her true love isn't really dead!). Overall it had all the makings of a good book but didn't follow through. It felt like the author was trying to maybe imitate Liane Moriarty or Jodi Piccoult but it really missed the mark.

Sadly, the mystery/twist was not to be. The plot and "big reveal" are pretty absurd. The writing is terrible. It didn't keep me turning the page. The first half of the book is the main character deciding if she should go on a trip or not and takes forever to get started. It was all build up and no payoff. The characters weren't likeable. And while there are two love interests in the book I wasn't really rooting for her to end up with either. About half way through she starts throwing in language and sex out of nowhere that don't really fit in with the feel of the rest of the book. I'm really pretty surprised that it has such a good rating on goodreads...and that there are two follow ups...

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870

A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most people know that the first Mormon settlers in Utah practiced polygamy, but what is less known is that those same saints also gave women the right to vote 50 years before the 19th amendment, had some of the best divorce laws of the time for women, and that many of those women were political activists who rallied with Susan B. Anthony and the like!

While their marriage system may seem in complete opposition of the women's rights movements they maintained that polygamy actually gave women freedom to choose who she wanted to live with, who she wanted to have children with, saved women from prostititution, and gave women a bigger support system which gave her more resources to pursue her own goals and talents. While for some women polygamy certainly seemed to achieve these goals, there are also many stories from women for whom polygamy left them feeling unloved and lonely, struggling with depression, living in poverty, relying on their children and extended family for financial support, and more.

More than looking at women's rights, or polygamy, this book gives us a more complete look at the women who helped found the LDS faith. Much of the history that is commonly talked about circles around the male pioneers with women's names popping in and out of stories here and there. Maybe we've heard about Emma Smith or Eliza Snow but even then it's only in stories where they are interacting with Jospeh Smith or Brigham Young. Not to mention there are so many other strong and dynamic women to learn about. What were these women’s lives like day to day? What were their thoughts on revelation, priesthood, marriage, and women’s rights?

At first I thought that we didn't talk about women's history because we just didn't have as many resources about the women. But the truth is we have notes, letters, journals, and pictures of the women. After reading several books about the lives of women I've concluded that we often don't talk about the women because we can't talk about them without acknowledging the parts of history we don't like to talk about as much like: polygamy, secret and exclusive societies in early mormonism, babies dying, saints disagreeing on things or even hating one another (like Brigham and Emma), the fact that women used to give blessings for the sick, that some of the notes from the first relief society meetings were altered by church leaders and have now been changed back, and even just the fact that pioneers sometimes complained or doubted. The author also mentions this idea. She says that some feel that the women's voices tell the other side of the story and that for some it takes away from the dominate narrative of miracles, and priesthood power, and faith unwavering. As LDS we do like to focus on the faith promoting views of history but we sometimes don't realize that the whole picture, including the failures and disappointments, can help us relate and empathize with the historical narrative and that can be just as faith promoting.

These women lived amazing lives. Many gave up money, status, stable homes, and health to travel across the country and build a community up in the middle of nothing. Their husbands were often gone on missions leaving them responsible to maintain the house, gardens, land, children and earn the money to support the family. Even when their husbands were home they were often doing the jobs in the spotlight and receiving much of the praise while the women do the quiet behind the scenes work. While many were happy with these roles, others were not. It's fascinating to read about their different accounts. This book will give you access to their actual words and thoughts through their letters and journals. Even more interesting were the letters they wrote but never sent. The grief they had to hold in, the anger that ebbed and flowed, the doubt they tried not to feel. I loved realizing that they struggled with those things too.

The author also uses their husband and leaders journals, letters and speeches to help us see that sometimes the men and women would see the same history quite differently. Although dealing with much different issues than we do today, it was interesting to see the dynamics between the genders in family life, church and social gatherings. While it was often hard to read some of the teachings going on at that time in regard to gender (such as women cannot be saved without a man, Women should have no say in the leadership of their family or they will incur the wrath of God, Men can’t help but wanting more than one woman, the higher up your husband’s calling the better chance you have for salvation, the more wives you have the higher up your exaltation, and that men should try not to love their wives too much) it was also very touching to read how much some of these men did love their wives and how they were often just as confused and hurt by the polygamist system as the women.

The author does a good job of using many women's voices too so that we get to see the diversity among the women of that time. We often see them all in black and white pictures and they tend to look the same and we combine that with one or two quotes from from Eliza Snow and we begin to think they all thought the same way too. But they were diverse in their thoughts and feelings. This book lets us see how they used that diversity to build a community, form organizations and committees to help with education, health, women’s rights, and spiritual improvement. Using voice of well known women (Eliza, Emma and Zina), notable women (such as Phebe Woodruff, Mary Richards, and Sarah Kimball), and many women who I previously had not heard of (Augusta Cobb), the author is able to help us see how these women interacted with those who agreed with them and those who didn’t. How they were able to come together and also what sometimes held them apart.

It was also very interesting to read about the women’s rights movement happening all around the country at the time. It was interesting to read about Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer. Even thought these women were advocating for a very different life for women that what the Utah polygamist wives were advocating. They were on some points able to unite in their common goal of giving the women the right to vote so that each woman could have the right to pick the type of life she wanted and have a voice in local and national politics of the day. How wonderful it would be if in today’s world we could focus more on the things we have in common in order to get things done instead of refusing to work with people whose political leanings seem so different from our own.
If you have any interest in LDS history or the history of women’s rights this is a great read!

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book started out slow but really picked up steam throughout. The ending was intense and seriously creepy. The author does a good job of letting you feel the tension mounting and unraveling the story faster and faster as the book moves forward. I am seriously amazed at how little I knew about the history and events covered in this book. At the end of each chapter I found myself asking, "How have I never heard about this before?"

The book tells two main stories and for the most part alternates between the two every chapter. The first story is that of the Chicago World's Fair and the second is of H.H.Holmes, a seemingly wealthy and charming business owner/hotel manager/fraud/bigamist/murderer/psychopath who lives in Chicago during the fair.

I'll be honest that in the beginning of this book the two stories seemed pretty unequally yoked and I found myself rushing through the chapters detailing the conversations and business meetings leading up to the fair so that I could find out what crazy pants Holmes was going to do next. However, while the business details of the fair were slow and tedious at times to follow, the descriptions of the construction and exhibits of the fair itself were amazing. The descriptions of beauty and innovation sometimes seemed other worldly. It reminded me at times of the Night Circus only it is something that actually existed. It was interesting to read about the construction that was fraught with terrible weather, freak accidents, construction deaths, etc. I also enjoyed reading about the exhibits- the ferris wheel, modern electricity, shredded wheat, and more. I was also stunned to learn that an assassin ruined the closing ceremonies...again, how have I never heard about this?

The history of H.H. Holmes was insane. Often referred to as the first american serial killer he built an apartment building (also used as a Hotel during the world's fair) full of secret passages, air tight rooms, secret chutes to the basement and torture chambers. He killed friends, family, strangers, business partners, etc. Sometimes to collect insurance money, sometimes to cover up other lies, and mostly just for the thrill of it. Sometimes he cremated the bodies himself and other times he sold the bodies to medical schools as cadavers or skeletons.

While he's doing all of this he somehow finds the time to get married to several different women and have two children. He even lets two of his wives live. The scary part is how he manages to commit these horrendous crimes while still playing the part of normal, successful, charming business man and husband. Amazingly as girlfriends, secretaries, and acquaintances go missing he is questioned several times by family, neighbors, police, and private investigators and is still never suspected. Everyone seems to just keep believing him when he says they went back to live with their parents, or they eloped with another suitor, or they were hiding from ex-lovers.

He also cheats and steals from others using several different aliases and businesses owned by the different aliases. When people come to collect money he simply blames the debt on one of his other aliases to divert the attention and punishment away from himself. He is finally arrested on a charge of fraud against an insurance company who believes he faked the death of his business partner. During the investigation they find out that he actually murdered his business partner for the insurance claim and that his partners three children are now missing. As the investigators search for the three children they uncover all of his horrific secrets.

The scariest part for me was in the end that he really believed he was the Devil and that many of the people who helped bring him to justice seemed to be cursed afterward. A very creepy ending to an already creepy story. That again left me thinking "How have I never heard of this before?".

While this book was definitely not one I would have picked up on my own it had some fascinating history and I'm excited to discuss it for book group.

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Book Review: Saints Volume 1

Saints: The Standard of Truth by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints My rating: 4 of 5 stars I enjoyed volume one of the church&#...