Thursday, October 12, 2017

Some Thoughts on How to Discuss Questions About Mormon History and Theology and Resources for Aiding That Discussion

As some may have noticed, I've been studying a lot about LDS history and theology lately.  I've had the chance to have a lot of great conversations about this with people and have had several people ask how to go about finding good books to read on the topic.  I've also had a few people, not understanding where I'm coming from, who are worried that I'm lost in dark paths because I've been researching these things.  Which was sad and confusing since I primarily rely on LDS sources for all my information. So, I thought it would be a good time to write a post about some good (church approved) resources for finding out about church history.  Hopefully it can help others who are interested in the topic find what they're looking for and it can assure others that I'm not dipping my toes in a fiery lake of doubt and misery.

First things first, I have a testimony of Jesus Christ.  I have a testimony that we have loving Heavenly Parents who love us and want us to return to them. I have a testimony that by having charity (which is loving Christ by loving others the way he would) we can do extraordinary things. While there are many beautiful and amazing teaching provided by the LDS church, I fear that sometimes those basic tenets of Christ's Atonement, Charity, Hope, and Faith get overshadowed by the controversial topics of our history.  Many of my friends outside of the church know little of what our actual gospel message is and more about church history, controversial topics like polygamy, and comments made by church leaders regarding minority groups. Because these are the things people are going to ask us about I think it's important for us to study them out so that we can have answers.  Having been on the side of questioner and answer-er I thought I'd share some thoughts I had on how we can be more loving and welcoming to those who think differently than we do. I don't think it's enough to just tell people to ignore all the hard stuff and just focus on the good.  Sometimes it's by addressing the "hard" questions that we are prepared to receive the good.  I think that's true for people in and outside of the church

I know that not everyone feels like they need or want to know about early church history, or the origins of priesthood, or women and divinity and that's fine.  Our faith is individual and we come at it from many ways.  Many people learn about church history during their youth and get refresher courses every four years at church and that is enough to build their faith.  Which is great and honestly, I think that is a spiritual gift. I also know that there are a lot of people, like me, who approach things in a more questioning format and want to learn more. For a long time, I considered my questioning nature to be an indication that I didn't have enough faith but I now know that God gave me my questions to lead me toward answers and that he loves me even if I take a little longer than most to understand church doctrines (and maybe even if I have a few on my shelf that I'm still not quite ready to deal with yet.) President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said "Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn't feel that way. Asking questions isn't a sign of weakness; it's a precursor of growth."

Sometimes in an effort to be faith promoting I think we as a church membership focus on only the good that happened and start to think of the pioneers of our faith as beyond human.  We've all probably heard people say things like "the pioneers never complained" or they "never doubted".  While that black and white way of thinking can be motivating for some it can also be demotivating for many others who think they will never stack up.  As I've learned about the good and the bad and read journals where pioneers doubt one day and bear testimony the next I'm more able to see that these were real people living real lives! The point of the gospel is not that you have to be perfect in order to participate. The point is that through Christ we can all be made perfect. When we realize that the pioneers were ordinary people doing extraordinary things it becomes much more relevant and motivating than hero-worship.  As I learn more about the mistakes that were made and how they were overcome I learn that God uses imperfect people to run his church. And if they, imperfect as they were, could be of use, then maybe there is hope for me as well. As I've jumped into family history more I've been very impressed that it's time for me to really study out church history and doctrines as well and face some of the troubling things head on. I've found that in addition to stretching and strengthening me personally, it has increased my love for those who have gone before me.

I've been excited to share what I'm learning with others who have questions or who struggle with the history. I know that when I've had doubts or worries, having other to talk to has been crucial in my church activity. We know from the scriptures that we should seek things out in faith but also through gaining knowledge and discussing that knowledge with others. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118 says "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith”. I'm so appreciative of those who have already travailed this path and the insights they can give me and the encouragement to keep studying and moving forward.

I'm also excited that my kids will have the opportunity to be taught these things in their youth instead of finding out at BYU (like I did) or even later in life that seminary and Sunday school didn't quite show the complete picture.  Some might think that church history detracts from learning about the basic tenets and doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  However, the truth remains that learning about our church history and previous revelations can help us understand the doctrines we are presented with today.  Some want to leave the past in the past but the fact is that temple practices, priesthood ordination practices, attitudes toward women, our view of the afterlife etc. are heavily impacted by the practices of our ancestors in the early church and turning our head away from these facts can only cause heartache down the road. When we don't understand the real history and doctrines of the church we start to fill in the gaps with our own ideas and that is when we get lost in church culture and vain traditions.

When the church announced the gospel topics essays Elder J. Devn Cornish (of the Seventy and also the executive director of the Church History Department at the time) said: “Gone are the days when the history of the Church is just interesting. Gone are the days when it is only important. In our day, the history of the Church is urgent...Our history can either be used as a weapon against the faith of our members or as a bulwark to build and protect their faith". I hope that by helping my kids know about this history early on it will lessen their chance of having it used as a weapon against them later.

So even if your testimony is rock solid about church history, I encourage you to learn more so that you can be of help to those around you who do have questions (including our children). And also, certainly, because over the next several years this history is going to be incorporated more and more into the curriculum for youth and adults and it's always better to learn it on your own time table than to be blindsided by it in the middle of gospel doctrine class.

While it is a great blessing to have family, friends and associates to discuss things with and while I've been blessed with many who have happily pointed me to good sources, studied things out with me, discussed troublesome topics (sometimes multiple times), and genuinely loved me even when I was at my most "faith crisis" moments, I want to caution others to choose wisely who you choose to open up to about your questions. Sometimes, unfortunately, our questions can be met by others with anger or even condemnation.  Some might feel betrayed that we aren't as "steadfast" as they thought we were, some people regard even the act of having questions as sinful, some don't understand why we don't just rely on faith only, some are immature or unsure in their own testimonies or understanding of church history or doctrines, and others hear our questions only in terms of how it will affect them (what does this mean for our friendship? What will others think of me if I associate with this person who is questioning?", etc.).

As a listener, it's important to listen carefully to what is being said so that we don't misjudge or jump to incorrect conclusions. In the LDS gospel topics essay about answering gospel questions it says that we should 1) Show Compassion for the person asking questions 2) Listen Carefully and 3) Fortify Faith.  Don't assume that because someone is questioning that they are doing it justify or cover up their sins, or that they are trying to lead a rebellion away from the church. Sure, those things could happen, but just because someone is asking questions doesn't mean that they are doing those things. Also, as the person asking the questions we need to make sure we can remain calm, not be too aggressive and that we bring them up when we have time to explain where our thoughts are coming from.

Sometimes the context for your questions can help others better know what they can do to help. So before I give my list of resources I used to help with my questions, I'd like to give some context for my questions. For me, things came to a head after the birth of my fifth child.  I began to wonder what it means to be a woman, what was God's plan for me as such, and how the gospel could help me navigate the many changes and trials that occur in the life of women. I decided to really find out what Heavenly Father thought of me as a daughter through prayer and meditation.  After praying about it for several weeks I decided to also dedicate my scripture study time to see how other women had navigated the many changes and demands that are required of women on their mortal journey. As I studied, I became increasingly frustrated that there really aren't many depictions of women outside of who they married or who they begat.  I went to the temple and although I feel uplifted there I also felt frustrated that I still wasn't seeing my Heavenly Mother's hand in this or understanding Eve's entire story. I won't go into my specific concerns or questions about that here but click over to my book review of Women in Eternity, Women of Zion if you'd like to know more about them.

From there I decided to start seeking out books about women in the scriptures and particularly women in the early LDS church.  However, as I began to dive in to their stories, I realized that while I did have some things in common with them, our lives really looked so different!  Many of these women practiced polygamy, actively talked about Heavenly Mother, gave each other healing blessings for the first 80+ years of the church, and received and spake revelations for one another through the gift of tongues.  Having studied many of these things before (I always took more than a full load of classes at BYU so that I could take extra religion classes each semester) I didn't think I would be that shocked by what I found. It also became apparent that as the Sunday curriculum has shied away at times from addressing polygamy (even changing some of the quotes in the Brigham Young manual from "wives" to "wife") that some of these women's lives have been unintentionally overlooked for many years.  While I understand that changing quotes to sound more monogamous helps us to better relate to the lessons on marriage, it sometimes also accidentally distances us from these amazing women.

So, with all that in mind let me get into where we can turn to learn more about church history, women of the church, and more! The Church History department has collaborated with so many different researchers to make sure that we can now have access to records, journals, pictures and stories that most church members have never had access to before (either because they were part of private collections, authenticity or context were still under debate, or because previous generations have worried that some of the "harder" parts of church history were not faith promoting). The cool thing about a lot of the historical papers and books that are being put out today is that they are written for people in and outside of the faith and give a more accurate and complete version of our history.  While much of this information has been available for awhile- timeline corrections, what was said, who said it, and so many things that previously were glossed over, are now being presented to the membership in detail and in easier to find places.

The gospel topics essays are a great place to start.  While they are still not perfect (and will continue to change as new research comes to light) they give a very good overview of some of the more sensitive topics in our history and doctrines.  They've been put together by the church history department and are supported by numerous books and resources that are provided by the top historians and researchers of LDS history.  They are also approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.  You can read more about the essay topics, their approval process and their uses by visiting the essay overview page.

Right now these essays include a range of topics such as are Mormon's Christian, Heavenly Mother, the Book of Mormon and DNA, Polygamy in Nauvoo, Polygamy in Utah, priesthood restrictions, Joseph Smith's teachings about women, becoming like God, and more.  You can access the complete list here:

Not only do these essays give a good overview they also provide an amazing list of references that can also guide your study.  When you click on a topic you will often see the first paragraph of text, related church resources and scriptures, and then other suggested topics.  Click on the show more link to be able to access the whole text of the essay but also to access the full list of resources used.  There are dozens of books listed on most essays.  I've really had to increase my book budget as of late :) For recommendations of books that I've personally read from these lists you can visit my book review page.

In addition to book references, there are also other websites, scriptures, BYU Studies article links, and more.

Below is a list of some of the online resources that are used in the essays and some sites that I have found helpful in choosing which books to read. A lot of these cross paths frequently or link to one another but I'm going to list them out separately. -access to the full text of relief society minutes and other documents, also provides information about current books being published and news in the world of LDS church history.  -full text of revelations, meetings, journals, and more from the early church. -I've found some awesome articles here about all kinds of topics.  Biblical evidences, Mother in Heaven, Book of Mormon historical context, Hebrew translation, etc. A really cool feature is under study resources- For each Sunday School lesson they have linked all their past articles that pertain to that particular topic.

The Neal A Maxwell Institute -for religious scholarship at BYU. (Particularly the Mormon Studies review which can be found under their publications tab.  I recently watched a really interesting podcast about the combining of FARMS into the Neal A. Maxwell Institute and the shift of scholarship being written for a wider audience.  The Mormon Studies Review, rather than publishing new material, is a review of new articles, journals and books being put on a variety of topics within Mormonism.  This one does cost $10 for a yearlong digital pass, but it's really cool!) -From here you can access several of the other resources I've listed here.  It also has publications and another whole list of online resources that you can check out there.

Revelations in Context  -This is found on and you've probably seen links to it in your sunday school manuals for Doctrine and Covenants.  It's a great resource to get some understanding for what was happening during times of revelation.  It also tells us the story from other people's points of view that lived during that time. You'll also find links to other research sources such as the Joseph Smith Papers and church historians press listed above.

Women in the Scriptures Blog -While this blog isn't just about church history it is fascinating! She also has some really good book reviews and recommendations that have really helped me understand more about women in all of the scriptures, Eve's story, Emma Smith and more.

Amazon  and Goodreads book reviews- When deciding which books I want to read I often turn to the book reviews on Amazon or Goodreads to see what others have to say about it and how it helped them in their life.  I also research who the authors are and what other books they may have written. I usually look at what seems to be the overall tone of the reviews.  Is it people who are genuinely searching for answers to their questions or is it people who are looking for new ammunition to shoot back at the church. They can be so helpful in deciding if a book will be a good fit for you.

Well, I know this has been a long blog post but I hope it might be of some help to others.  For those who have questions I hope it lets you know that you're not alone, there are places you can go to find answers and that our Heavenly parents love you!

For those who don't have questions I hope that it might give you some good ideas of where you can turn to learn more, that you can have more empathy for those who do have questions and that maybe it will help you to feel less awkward in having conversations with your brothers and sisters who approach the gospel differently than you.

And for those who aren't LDS I hope that it can give you some resources to learn more about this religion or at the very least help you understand why my Goodreads list has been so boring sounding lately :)

My main hope always, whether you agree with my positions or not, is that my post can at least promote charity and understanding between all people inside and outside of the LDS church. So, please let me know if you have any questions I can help with or leave a comment with your favorite resources to use in your religious study! I love hearing from you all!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships by Julie de Azevedo Hanks

The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your RelationshipsThe Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Your Relationships by Julie de Azevedo Hanks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lots of really good insights and ideas in this book. It's specifically for women but I felt like there was a lot of great information for all genders. It paired really well with so many of the things my therapist is having me work on too and really made me look at myself and others in new ways.

Being assertive in our communication means being able to take care of ourselves and others in our problem solving. Other ways of communicating are aggressive, passive aggressive and just passive. When we deviate from assertive and become aggressive we might get what we want temporarily but we don't foster good relationships or end up getting we need long term. When we communicate passively we might temporarily keep the peace but we don't get we want and we might end up with a lot of resentment or a blow up later.

To discover what type of communicator we are Julie Hanks also has look at what kind of attachment we are most comfortable with. She starts by taking you back to your family or origin and discussing the attachment styles we pick up very early on in life and how those styles can effect our communication as adults. The three attachment styles she discusses are secure, anxious and avoidant.

An anxious style can lead us to be overly connected or clingy, distraught about separation, dependant on others for validation, and give us an unhealthy view of where we end and another person begins. It can also lead to depression or anxiety when we don't live up to expectations of those we are close to. This obviously can be a barrier to healthy assertive communication.

An avoidant style can hinder our ability to have close relationships, cause us to feel unattached, makes us unaware of our own emotions, or cause us to cover things up or not confront problems. This can make for bigger problems later on by leading to depression or the realization that we haven't really "let things go" and is a barrier to assertive communication also.

It was interesting to discuss this with my husband and see that we are in fact totally opposite in our attachment styles and communication. I have a very anxious attachment style while his was avoidant. Maybe that means our kids will be secure? :)

The author says that chances are we won't be able to totally change our attachment style but knowing what we do and why we do it helps us to work within our attachment style to find a place of assertiveness. If we know what our negative tendencies are (not to speak up, lashing out, etc.) we can replace them with positive actions. The way she sets out for us to do this is by learning about our emotions.

As we begin to identify our emotions we can seperate our thoughts and feelings. The way she has us do this is by using this sentence: I feel _______ when________ because I thought ___________. Example would be I felt mad when you didn't take out the trash because I thought you were ignoring me and didn't love me.

I've been working with my therapist about this and she has the same sentence seperated out into I felt _____ when ____ because I have a need for ______. And the author of this book discusses seperating our needs and wants from our thoughts and feelings also. It's hard for others to give you what you want or need if you don't even know what you want or need. That is why it's so important to figure it out.

She also discusses what barriers we set up for ourselves in the way of assertive communication. Some of these might be not wanting to make things worse, not wanting to make anyone mad, feeling guilty about putting our needs at the forefront, not wanting to be misunderstood, etc. One that I keep coming back to in my own life is that I feel like it's selfish to have wants or needs. Like I can't be a good enough mom, wife, pto member, etc. if I have needs that also have to be met. I also have a fear of being a burden or dissapointment to others. If I could just have no opinions or desires it would be totally perfect for everyone I'm sure ;)

Since the author is writing this specifically for women she also talks about the cultural and societal factors that impact our gender. In our society there is a huge emphasis put on women's ability to care for others and sometimes we take that to the next step of not caring for ourselves at all. Being assertive helps us take care of others and ourselves. Part of this is the art of saying no! She gives a lot of good advice on finding balance in our lives and being able to say no to things we cannot do. She talks about being able to know when we are feeling resentful, or overly burdened, or when we are stretching ourself too thin. Being in touch with our emotions helps us take better care of ourselves. And when we take better care of ourselves we have more and better things to give to others.

She then takes us through the practices of self relection, self awareness, self soothing, self expression and self expansion. One of my favorite parts was the act of self soothing. She sets out an exercise for us to do. When we feel upset about something she suggests doing for ourselves what we might do for someone else. Rubbing our arm or giving ourself a hug and saying things like "of course your upset. This and this and this happened. You've been working so hard. That must be so dissapointing". By soothing ourself before we confront someone else we can get to the root of our problems and address those with others instead of just reacting out of anger. When we can stay in control of our emotions then we have a better chance of communicating them to others.

She also goes through some really amazing steps that we need to take before we communicate. Great ideas about starting conversations softly and paying attention to body language before we jump into hard topics. She also has some good advice on setting up boundaries and dealing with toxic personalities who aren't receptive even to the most assertive communications.

I felt really empowered by this book and have also been able to use it and see it's benefits in my life already. I've been able to more effectively apologize when I'm wrong, and I've stopped myself from apologizing for things I don't really need too. I'm been able to smooth out a hard situation and been able to set up boundaries for myself. Reading this in partnership with some of Brene Brown's work has helped me to let go of some of that gender shame I pull around with me. Internal dialogues like I'm not good enough, I'm being selfish, etc. And it's really helped me to better see people and respond to them in appropriate ways. As I gain confidence in speaking up for myself in assertive ways I don't have to worry or feel guilty for how they choose to treat me because I know that I've tried to do my best. It's helped me realize that sometimes others are just unreasonable and that it's okay if I can't please everyone. I still fail at all these things A LOT but I'm at least more concious of my pitfalls and how to avoid them. I highly recommend this book!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Genesis- Poem

Genesis (Julia Layman 2000)

Dark washes the house,
turns the brown paint dark auburn
wrapped in the moonlight.
Naked feet bathed in grass blades.
I hear as the door closes,
as the slightly rusted knob is turned
and the hose begins to water the grass.
I quietly watch through the window.
My parents stand quietly together
looking over the yard.
Making sure each blade of grass gets watered.
Making sure each plant is trimmed and cared for.
I watch them
standing there bare foot,
under one small street lamp,
next to their favorite part of the yard.
Silhouettes, barely seen.
Their presence is known more in the loveliness of the ground
then by their actual movements.
They say they like the feeling of night on grass.
In Genesis God walked through the cool of the garden.

Beauty- Poem

Beauty Extends (Poem by Julia Layman circa 2002)

Beauty extends
but there is nothing within.
We see nothing beyond our faces.
We've become hollow cups,
decorated in jewels and painted like fine china.
So we place ourselves on high ornate shelves.
Where we cannot be hurt,
nor can we serve.
For we are too easily chipped and too easily offended.

An empty crystal glass is beautiful
but will not save from thirst.
When we find ourselves in the desert,
we will long for the steady wooden saucers
filled to the brim with water.
What will we do when those saucers are gone?
When we've all hardened our hearts into crystal?

Beauty extends-
Swallows us up.We wrap it around us so tight we practically disappear.
we cover our chips, and cracks, and wrinkles.
And we think beauty is only in the fixed. 
That beauty can only be found in the new.
Never realizing the value of the chips.
Never seeing the beauty in the cracks.
Like super-glueing arms on the Venus de Milo.

Beauty extends.
It takes over our lives.
We've forgotten what our lives are for.
We've forgotten who gave them to us.
We recreate ourselves in our own image.
Working from the outside in.
Rushed sense of perfection.
Our world crumbles in the tests of the desert.
Beauty extends.
It extends too quickly
and is broken off.
Happiness is just a shelf up.
We stretch to reach.
Happiness is just a size down.
We pour ourselves out trying to fit among the
crystal we see on the post-cards, on the billboards, in our mind.
We've forgotten the value of water,
of inner beauty, of self.

A false sense of beauty,
a rising thirst.
Where the shallow drink last
and the steady drink first.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We Are Not Innocent Bystanders...and We Haven't Been for a Long Time

It's easy in today's world to feel helpless and small.  It's easy to read articles and see injustices and think that the world's problems are too big to deal with or too big for us to fix.  We might feel far away from the problem.  We might feel like we have enough problems of our own.  We might feel frightened to get involved, worried what others might think, or that we might say the wrong thing. In general we become overwhelmed and we often detached.  Maybe we stop even watching or reading the news.  Maybe we stop talking about it with other people.  Maybe we try to forget or maybe we even start to convince ourselves that things aren't really that bad after all.

I go through this pattern myself at times.  And I have to admit that I started down this same path after I read about Charlottesville.  My heart hurt and my head hurt and I honestly just wanted to turn the other way and pretend I hadn't read anything about it.  I felt sad, and angry, and honestly horrified.

I've seen a lot of articles talking about the terrorists and  bullies in this situation. And I've seen a lot of articles talking about the victims. But what I'd like to talk about another key player in our world situation and that is the bystander.  We've often heard bystanders referred to as innocent bystanders.  The reason we use the word "innocent" is because up until whatever event they are about to witness they are innocent.  They aren't planning to hurt anyone or be hurt by anyone.  They are simply there when the event happens. HOWEVER, and this is important, once the innocent bystander has witnessed something, like Charlottesville, they are no longer innocent.  They've now been enlightened.  They've seen something happen and they must make decisions. What they say or do from that point on is now conditioned on what they saw, or heard, or read.  And because they are no longer innocent or ignorant they can no longer remain in innocent silence.  Silence says something.  Silence sends messages. Silence condones.

One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou is "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."  If you didn't know the alt-right existed until last week, fine, but now you know.  And if you didn't know that there were people out there so filled with hate that they could plow over a crowd of people with their car and then reverse, fine, but now you know.  Or you didn't think you'd ever see the day where a group of people walked down the street holding Nazi signs and lanterns and the President won't even call them out for what they are, now you have seen it, now you know. So now that you know, what will you do??

The first thing we must do is start acknowledging others' pain, even pain that isn't ours, even pain that we don't understand.  And that means we might also have to acknowledge that sometimes we have contributed to that pain just by ignoring the fact that it exists.  I've thought a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement. I've heard the argument against them saying "all lives matter".  But saying black lives matter doesn't mean that all lives don't matter. It is saying we know all lives matter but some have not felt part of that "all".  They are saying, "Hey remember us, we are part of the all, we matter".

Sometimes in an effort to help, we respond "of course you're part of the all, everyone knows that" or "of course you matter, you don't have to tell me" and while on the surface that seems like a good thing to say it doesn't acknowledge the hurt and therefore it doesn't move past it.  When someone tells us they feel hurt we have to stop and ask them about it and let them talk about it.  How have they been hurt? What can we do to help the healing process? Sometimes just the acknowledging of hurt helps to heal it just a little.

We can try and have empathy by thinking about times that we haven't felt part of the "all" and think how we feel when our worries are dismissed as non-existent by others who have never had to deal with our same worry.  As a woman I know sexism exists and it's frustrating when people don't acknowledge it.  As an overweight person I know prejudice exists and it's frustrating when people think it's okay to make "fat jokes".  As the mother of a special needs child I know that ignorance exists and it's painful when people I love still vote for presidential candidates that make fun of cerebral palsy.

And I know that most men in my life don't mean to be sexist but sometimes they make mistakes because they just don't know what it's like to be a woman.  And I know my thin friends just want to help me when they give me weight loss advice but they just don't know what it's like to be so overweight you feel embarrassed to even head back to the gym. And I know my friends who voted for Trump didn't think his impression of the reporter was "that bad" because cerebral palsy just isn't something that is in their daily lives.

Once I come from this place of empathy I can then turn the situation around and acknowledge that in many cases I'm the friend who doesn't know better, or doesn't think about what I'm saying, or just doesn't understand.  And race issues, for me, is one of these areas. I don't know what it's like to be hated for the color of my skin.  I've never been afraid to walk down the street because of the color of my skin.  I've never walked in a room where I was in a racial minority.  I don't know what that feels like. And even though I've always tried to not be racist I'm sure there are tons of times that I've been insensitive, made mistakes, and caused extra pain that I didn't even realize. So no, I will never experience racism first hand,  but when I have friends, loved ones and others telling me that they have experienced it I have a responsibility to listen.  To acknowledge their pain.  To acknowledge that racism exists.  If we didn't believe racism still exists a week ago, we certainly have to now! And once we know better, we have to do better!

The second thing we can all do is to stop being silent.  Whether you've been silent out of fear, or ignorance, or feeling like it didn't pertain to you, or just not knowing what to stay.  Step up and say "This is not okay!".

The third thing we need to do is to define what "this" is in very clear terms. So first let start with the things most of us can agree on that aren't okay.  It's not okay to murder people.  It's not okay to run people over with your car.  It's not okay to hold up flags and symbols that were used by a group of people who slaughtered Jews, minorities, and their supporters. It's not okay to hate other people simply because they are a different- race, gender, economic bracket or religion from you.  It's not okay to think yourself superior just because of your membership in a particular race, gender, economic bracket or religion.  It's not okay to be the leader of the United States and not call the Neo-Nazis out by name just because you don't want to lose their political support. Especially when you seem fine calling out just about anyone else who doesn't tweet nice things about you or sell your daughter's clothes.

From there we have to start talking about some of the "this" that we don't all agree on.  When I say "This is not okay" I mean hatred and anger in all it's form.  I know many people reserve the right to have a righteous anger.  But the fact is that what is and isn't righteous is subjective. The alt-right think they are righteous in their anger. They think their lives have been harder because people are different than them. They see no value in the lives of those that are different than them. We hear that and we say, that's not true, every life has value.  But then we turn around and call them "human garbage" or we say things like "I wish they were all dead". And when we say those things, even about people who make terrible choices, aren't we really just perpetuating the idea that some people don't have value?  That it's okay to think of some people as "garbage"?

I'm not saying that we need to try and see things from their side.  Their side is completely misinformed and wrong.  In fact what they are saying is a load of garbage. I'm not trying to defend them in any way. I'm just saying that I don't believe in human garbage.  I believe humans believe garbage. They sometimes say garbage and treat others like garbage. But I'm not willing to say someone is just plain garbage. Yesterday I read a comment where someone said "They're Nazis, I think we're allowed to hate them". And it's true, you are allowed to hate Nazis.  I'm just saying I don't think your hatred is going to change anything.  We can't tell Nazis to stop living their life in anger and hate and then invite them over to our side of the fence when we're also living our life in anger and hate. I hate what Nazis believe.  I hate what they do. But more than that want racism to stop because I love people.  I love my friends and family no matter their gender, race, age or religion and I want them to be happy and safe. And not be hated or live their lives hating others.  The love I have for people making good choices is greater than the hate I have for people making bad choices.

Sometimes when we are hurt or kicked or scorned we think we are now justified to hurt, kick or scorn.  But that action leads to someone else feeling justified to do that. And the next person. And the next generation. And there is no end.  Not to mention us getting angry and fighting and acting out is exactly what they want us to do because it justifies their anger and hate.

The only way to end hatred, the only way to end violence, is love.  That doesn't mean we don't tell them their actions are wrong.  That doesn't mean we don't stop them from hurting others.  That doesn't mean we don't stand up for ourselves and for those around us.  That doesn't mean we don't put them in jail when they run over people with their cars. But that means that our motivation in doing so is out of love for all our brothers and sisters, not hate. Martin Luther King said, "darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive hate, only love can do that".

I would be lying if I said that I haven't ever felt anger or hatred.  I have. But I can acknowledge that nothing good grew from either of those feelings.  Anger might prick at our heart to let us know something is wrong.  But it can't be the seed from which we act.  When it comes to actions, if we want to be effective, we have to move beyond that initial anger or wound.  It's easy to look at the college-aged alt-right marchers and just want to scream in their face about how privileged and spoiled and wrong they are.  And that might make us feel better temporarily but it won't solve a problem.  It's reacting to the symptoms, it's not actually treating the cause. It's a little harder to step  back and ask- how can people so young be so filled with hate? What happened to this person that made their world view so distorted? What a terrible way to have to live...fueled always by hate. And then the hardest question of all-What have I done to contribute to this problem? How have I been blind to this? How has my silence on these issues allowed this person who is in the same race as me, or political party as me, or religion as me- to see the world in such a terrible and bleak way. Which leads me to the third thing we have to do.

The final thing we have to do is start educating those around us.  We have to start assertively acting out in positive ways.  We can't just assume that since we know it's wrong to be racist that our children will just understand by osmosis that being racist is wrong.  We have to start conversations with our children now. We have to explain what is happening in the world and why it's wrong.  And what we can do to help. And what they can do to help.  When they see something on t.v. or in a movie or in real life we need to pause and take time right then to talk about it with them. 

When we hear prejudiced comments or racist jokes we can stop the conversation. We can respectively tell people that we don't agree or we don't approve. Or ask them why they felt that joke was funny or why they felt the comment was prejudiced.  I recently read a quote in an article about Charlottesville that said there is a big difference between those who laugh at racist jokes and those who run over people with their cars.  And while there is a difference, we should at least acknowledge that they are rooted in the same incorrect and hate-filled thinking, and that the distance between the two actions are not as far as we might think.

The members in the alt-right movement were not born hating others.  They learned it bit by bit. The man who ran over people with his car didn't start out on the alt-right path with that in mind.  First he felt pain. Then he decided to blame others for that pain. Then he felt anger and then he decided to run people over with his car. Some of it was probably learned from people explicitly telling him that the hate was good but some of it was also learned each time he told a joke or made a racist comment and no one listening told him it was wrong.  We might not all be able to march in peace protests or create national movements to oppose white supremacy, but we can all speak up within our own circles of influence and call people out when they say something that is racist.

The members of the alt-right don't live in a bubble.  Sure some might live in the mountains on compounds but a lot of those marchers live among us. They are college students, one was even the president of his college's republican group,  they are someone's kids or siblings or parents. And now they will go home to their families, schools, their communities, their church groups, etc. And that is where we must stand up.  We have to tell them- that thinking doesn't have a place today.  And when we see new people starting down that path we need to stop them in their tracks before they get to this place where the are marching around with nazi flags. 

Our influence starts with our family. If we're teachers our influence extends to our classroom. If we are church leaders it extends to our membership. We can use our influence to write blog posts, letters to the editor, emails to our government officials. We can invite our neighbors over more. We can join community groups. We can make an effort to break out of the thought bubbles that Facebook and our favorite news channel creates for us and start trying to see things from another perspective. We can take a look at the groups we associate with and see if what they are doing is helpful or hurtful.  It's easy to correct someone in a different religion or political party when you disagree with them.  It's a little harder when it's someone standing next to you in your own group.  Do we have the courage to lovingly correct our political contemporaries when they've gone off track? Do we have the courage to lovingly correct our brothers and sisters at church when they've forgotten to have charity?

And when we, ourselves, do something wrong or misspeak or have turned a blind eye and someone who loves us calls us on it, do we have the courage to apologize.  We don't need to get defensive or push back or say things like "all lives matter".  We can simply apologize.  We can simply try better the next time.  I do things wrong all the time.  I say things wrong all the time. And people who love me correct me all the time.  When I'm confident in that love and they are confident in my love then we can together work through differences and problems.  That's why, in the listening and correcting of others, we can't be fueled by hate.  It has to be love.

We know that shaming others rarely leads to lasting change.  Shaming people leads to a shallow temporary change of behavior at best and a hate filled, self-righteous rebellion at worst. Shame feeds the other's sense of rightness.  Rationalizing their thoughts like "they shamed me because they do hate me, so I was right to hate them in the first place!" When we correct someone by trying to shame them it's usually out of us wanting them to know that they were wrong, wrong, WRONG! And while white supremacists are absolutely wrong, just telling them they are wrong doesn't give them any tools for changing their wrongness.  When we correct someone out of love by trying to teach them we do more than just tell them what is wrong, we tell them what is right! We teach them what is right through our words and our actions. So after we have unequivocally told them this cannot continue and their thinking is completely wrong we have to then be an example of what is right by loving those around us and refusing to let their wrongness change how we are acting toward others.

Now obviously once someone is bulldozing people down with their car the time for talk is past.  When someone is burning down others property and holding up Nazi signs the time for sitting down and talking is past.  That's why it's even more important that we are talking and helping long before we get to these points of crisis.

And even when people are so far gone that they are willing to embrace hatred and white supremacy and all that it entails we don't give up on correcting them.  We don't cry that these problems are too big or we aren't up to the challenge of fixing it.  We just each keep doing our parts (big or small) to teach others what is right.  To tell racists everywhere they've made a misjudgement.  They've gone down a wrong road.  We ask them to stop living their lives full of hatred and to join us in love. And the only way to show them they are on the wrong road is to show them where the right road is.  We must over and over again declare racism and supremacy are wrong in all their forms! We must be vigilant in making sure there is not a place for racism in our families, in our communities, in our political parties, or in our religions.  And the way we make sure there is no room is by filling each of those communities with love.  

All people everywhere have the responsibility to stop ignoring hate, speak out against hate, and then educate others about what is right.  We can only do all of these through the path of love. Sometimes love means forgiving when we can, sometimes love means learning more about another person, sometimes love means admitting we have been wrong, sometimes love is listening to others, sometimes love is correcting someone who is wrong, sometimes love means sending people to jail when they've hurt others, sometimes love is using whatever influence you've been given to promote that love, sometimes love is meeting a new person, sometimes love is approaching a situation in a different way, and sometimes love means helping others find their voice too.

It's easy to love those who love us.  It's easy to hate those that hate us.  Can we love those who hate us? Can we speak up and tell them they are not right? Can we help to show them what is right? That's the power of the bystander.  Innocent no more, we realize it's time for us to choose. It's time for us to love. It's time for us to act!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Women in Eternity, Women of Zion

Women in Eternity, Women of ZionWomen in Eternity, Women of Zion by Alma Don Sorensen and Valerie Hudson Cassler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this is written in the form of a book review it is really more of an essay about my personal beliefs about the treatment of women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, treatment of women in our culture, and treatment of women throughout history. I self label myself as a Mormon feminist.  I know that some people reading this post might be irked by the fact that I’m a Mormon.  While others might be annoyed with the fact that I’m a feminist.  There is always the possibility that I’m just an irksome annoying person in general. No matter how you view my life choices I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about these topics! So please post respectful ideas below…whether they be of the agreeing or disagreeing persuasion…and lets start a conversation on this. 

I’m on a journey out of pain right now and this book went a long way toward helping ease some of the pain that I've begun to feel as a woman in the church. I knew from page one this book would be of worth to me as the author Valerie Cassler describes her own reason in writing it.  She had begun to feel pain as a woman in the church and was concerned about the language and teachings we often read and hear within church walls.  Some of the popular interpretations of scriptures can be damaging to women such as did Paul really mean women shouldn't talk in church, does Doctrine and Covenants really mean that women can be given and taken from men like livestock, does the story of Adam and Eve really mean that a wife must be subject to her husband for all of eternity?  She finally comes to the realization that this pain was given to her by God so that she would be motivated to search out answers and share those answers with others by writing this book.  This introduction also states that she is no longer in pain about these things...I hope I might be able to get to that point too.

After having my fifth child I began to really question if I was of any worth, if I was doing what God wanted me to do, and how God felt about women. As I began to search the scriptures harder and attend the temple more frequently I began to be overwhelmed by just how male centric the LDS and really all Christian religions are.  The scriptures, church teachings, and even hymns seemed to be filled with phrases like the eternal life of man, sons of men, kings and priests, God giveth to all men liberally, if any man take a wife, faith of our fathers, brother’s keeper, etc etc etc.  I was looking for answers about women's paths in this life and in the eternities and found myself quite dejected about the fact that there isn't much information about women within the written teachings of the church.  I know that current church leaders are quick to add "and women" to many of the scriptures but sometimes it seems almost patronizing.  I understand that the scriptures were written mostly by men, about men, and for men, but surely with continuing revelation if it was God's will to correct this oversight he could have right? And when the church teaches us over and over again that women have unique divine-given responsibilities and talents and callings in this life doesn't that mean that we would also need unique instruction in this life?  And if we need unique instructions about our unique paths is it really enough to simply just tack on "and women" to the scriptures that are meant for men?

I mean, if women are as important as men in the eternities why do we know so little about our Heavenly Mother?  If women are moving toward being queens and goddesses in the next life why aren't there depictions of Heavenly Mother being involved in our creation or the world's creation?  If men can do that by themselves as depicted in the temple or in the scriptures then why do we need women at all?  How can we believe that men are not punished for Adam's transgression but women will be for Eve's? What scripture or doctrine makes it so that only two women speak each conference amid a sea of men? I understand that Men have priesthood authority but does that mean that all but two speakers at conference should be male? Men don't have to have babies or be wives to express their views about womanhood in the women's general session so why would we assume that a woman can't speak in priesthood session just because she doesn't have the priesthood?  If it's important for women to learn from men why not vice versa?  Especially when the family proclamation tells us that women's responsibilities are to teach and nurture God's children- doesn't that include when children grow into adults? If God created men and women to be equal partners in a marriage how can we explain polygamy- how can a man and a woman become one flesh when a man has 20 wives to attend to? If Heavenly Mother is an equal partner to our Heavenly Father why don't we talk about her or know anything about her? If we have the doctrine of Heavenly Mother why haven't we incorporated that into our scriptures or the temple? Why do men become priests to God while women become priestesses unto their husband only? If we are truly equal partners in marriage why do women "give themselves in marriage" and the man just "takes a wife" or "receives" her? How does a husband “preside” in a marriage where both partners are supposed to be equal?

I don't list out these questions to make others doubt but rather to paint a picture of the level of frustration I went into this book with.  This book definitely attempts to answer all of these questions and succeeds in answering many for me! While you'll have to read the entire book to get answers to all of these questions let me quickly summarize three main concepts of the book and add my thoughts.

1) Adam and Eve

The first part I really appreciated was the discussion about Adam and Eve.  First it breaks down the actual order of events in which things happened (this order varies from account to account in the scriptures and in the temple itself).  A quick summary of this is that as the Mother of all living and the first to partake of the fruit- Eve (and women) become the gate keeper for the veil leading into mortality.  Part of that assignment includes convincing Adam (and man) to partake in this also.  Partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge helps us to know good and evil.  It means partaking in the plan of happiness, partaking in the raising of a family, and partaking in the acquiring of knowledge.  After Adam partakes, God then sets him (or man) up to be the gate keepers for the second veil leading into the eternities.  So men and women are doing equal yet separate work necessary for salvation.  Women bringing the sons and daughters of God into the second estate while men (Christ through his atonement and the men he has given keys in officiating) bring them into the third.  Furthermore, because Adam's eyes are not open and he is not yet fully mortal (he won't know death until he eats) until Eve gives him the fruit we can even see that Adam, in a way, is born of Eve.  Thus making her the mother of ALL (including Adam).  This idea also helps us better understand why God then requires Eve to hearken unto Adam.  Because Adam hearkened unto Eve in partaking of the fruit and passing through the first veil, Eve is then asked to hearken unto Adam by partaking of the fruit of the tree of life (Christ’s atonement) and moving toward passing through the second veil. 

However, the book does acknowledge some of the misinterpretations of this plan.  One pitfall that can arise is that because the first veil is already past for all living our focus is on the second veil back to our Heavenly Father.  Because men are the keepers of this veil many people's focus is more on men than on women and many begin to think that man's job is more important than the woman's. They might even think that it is more important for only men to speak or lead in any way. 

Another aspect of the creation story it discusses is the "curse" of Eve.  They bring up the points that God doesn't curse Eve but curses future experiences for her sake. Just as he curses the ground for Adam's sake.  What does it mean to curse something for their sake?  We know that after partaking of the fruit they gain a knowledge of good and evil but that they also can now understand that everything has it's opposites.  In fact after they are cast out from the garden Eve even says that it's good for them to know the bitter so that they might better know the sweet.  In this context, when God multiplies Eve's sorrow in child rearing it also means that he multiplies her capacity for joy!  And in fact, I feel this idea deeply as I consider my own experience as a woman and mother. 

2) Polygamy

As I've discussed in my previous book reviews of books dealing specifically with polygamy, this is a huge sticking spot for me.  Everything I believe and have been taught about God's plan for marriage and women makes me revolt against the idea of polygamy.  And in fact the entire time I read about the authors teachings of Adam and Eve I realized how God fundamentally, from the beginning, sets up man and woman to be in a monogamous relationship.  All of what I learned about men and women in this book seems to fall apart when placed inside a polygamous relationship.  So I was glad when they decided to address just that. 

Their explanations for this principle come mostly from Doctrine and Covenant's section 132 and from there the story of Abraham. Section 132 is pretty much a minefield for misinterpretations.  The wording and order of scriptures make it hard to get at the root of what is being said.  Some of these misinterpretations have even made their way into church manuals and general conference talks over the years (Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball have some whoppers!) causing even more pain and confusion on the subject. The fact that it first talks about the New and Everlasting covenant (marriage) and then talks about polygamy has led many members to believe that the new and everlasting covenant is polygamy, when in fact they are two separate topics.

Here are the two main misinterpretations of polygamy that I’ve heard taught and the authors rebuttals for each:

a) That polygamy is the only acceptable form of marriage to God.  Many early saints living polygamy believed that monogamy was an evil invention of the Romans and perverted the plan of God which was to live polygamy forever.  This books rebuttal of this idea hinges on the fact that God asks several times if Abraham and others would be condemned for living polygamy.  Asking this shows us that polygamy contradicts the established law of monogamy.  If polygamy was God's law on polygamy and Abraham practiced that law why would there even be a question of whether what he did was right or not?  This is the very pattern of an Abrahamic sacrifice.  We see it in the story of Abraham and Isaac and then again with Abraham and Hagar. First God's sets up a law- For the Isaac story it's that "thou shalt not kill" and for the Hagar story it's that a marriage is limited to one man and one wife (monogamy).  Then he asks someone to sacrifice by breaking the law= for the Isaac story it's that Abraham must murder Isaac and for the Hagar story it's that Abraham should take a second wife.  Following this pattern we can see that section 132 introduces first the law (monogamy) and then gives the sacrificial exception (polygamy). However this was certainly not many early church leaders’ interpretation of this passage and they often preached just the opposite.

b) Polygamy is the pattern of heaven and will be practiced eternally. Many early saints also preached and believed that polygamy would never again be taken from the earth.  However, it was taken from the earth and we now enjoy being able to practice monogamy.  This also brings up the question: if the leadership was wrong about it never being retracted could they also have been wrong about it ever being commanded?  The authors of this book maintain that it was a principal given by God while the jury is still out for me on that one.  I feel that polygamy might have a misinterpretation of the sealing covenant by Joseph himself.  Culturally at the time there were many other churches starting out that were practicing “spiritual wifery”. I think as Joseph learned more about sealings and combined that with his own ideas about many wives he might have set out on a path that was never intended by God. However, while the authors and I might disagree about the beginnings of polygamy we do at least agree on its ending. 

Following the pattern of the Abrahamic sacrifice we know that the third part of the story is that God provides a way to deliver the person out of the sacrifice.  In the Isaac story he provides a lamb in the thicket so that Abraham and Isaac are both saved.  In the story of Abraham and Hagar God allows Hagar to leave and for the marriage to be ended.  He sees they are unhappy and he allows the sacrifice to end.  He doesn't smite Abraham or Hagar for parting.  In fact he blesses Hagar with many new blessings and guides her path away from polygamy.  And in fact in Doctrine and Covenants 132:50 God even tells Joseph he acknowledges his sacrifices and will provide a way for his escape.  All of these examples show that no matter the reason for polygamy being lived in this life it will not be lived in the next.  That it is a temporary principal (at most) and that it is considered a sacrifice.  And while sacrifice brings forth blessings, the blessing for the sacrifice cannot be a continuation of that sacrifice.  In eternal life the time of sacrifice will be ended.  Therefore, if polygamy is a sacrifice, it cannot be required of us in eternity.

This knowledge eases much pain and worry for me.  One last quick note is that it also eases my worry that the reason we don't talk more about Heavenly Mother is that we don't know how many there are. There is no required polygamy in heaven, I have only one Heavenly Mother, and that means we can begin to learn more about her!
However, we do need to acknowledge that many temple practices still reflect a much different understanding of this principal in that we allow men but not women to be sealed to more than one person after a divorce or after a spouse dies. We know that God will make all things right in the end and I believe (as do the authors) that these practices will change in the future as we seek out new knowledge.  It was somewhat discouraging though to read the authors' belief that these changes would happen soon and then to realize the book was written 15 years ago and they still hadn't happened. 

3) The idea of Zion and Women's roles therein

In the New Testament, Book of Mormon and early church history we see that God's main purpose in calling a prophet is to establish Zion among his people.  What are some of the attributes of Zion?  That the people are of one heart, there is no poor among them, all are looked after and cared for, and all participate in the administration of Zion equally. 

Since Joseph Smith's interpretation of the law of consecration was mostly focused on the temporal aspects such as food, wealth, and possessions, we as latter day saints sometimes miss the bigger pictures of the idea of Zion.  When it says there were no poor among them it doesn't just mean financially poor.  It also mean physically poor, emotionally poor, and even power (or authority) poor.  It means that no one had more power or more right to happiness than another. All genders, ages and races are as one and enjoy equal say in their worship and equal time from the Lord. This book also clearly illustrates that throughout history women have been made poor in many of these aspects.  It also discusses how within the LDS cultures of today women might still be regarded as being poor.

They point out that we know that Joseph’s Smith’s attempts to institute the law of consecration ultimately didn’t result in a Zion community.  We’ve also been taught that it was because the saints just weren’t ready.  We often equate this with not being ready to have all their possessions in common.  But we need to consider other ways in which the early saints were not yet becoming one.  We know that many of the men during the foundations of the church were called out to on multiple missions or spent much of their time in the school of the prophets while women were left at home (sometimes in another state or country) often raising their children in poverty and watching their children die.  And even then God chastens the saints and tells them they are not yet a Zion people.

While we honor these sacrifices, is it also possible that God was telling them there was another way?  That there were still poor among them because women were not being utilized yet?  They were not allowed to participate in temple ordinances or help with the administration of the church in any way.  Furthermore, could it be that Joseph’s not including women in the administration of the church and priesthood ordinances had less to do with what God wanted and more to do with what culturally Joseph had been raised to believe about women? And if so, could some of those things change for women even today? Looking back on history now we can see that soon the Relief Society was coming, soon the temple was opened to women, but for many years women were still the poor among the early saints.  What changes are coming soon for the women of the church today? That question and the desire to be among the saints when it’s answered is something that keeps me coming back even on my hardest days as a self-proclaimed Mormon feminist.

The New Testament and Book of Mormon further illustrate what is needed in Zion communities.  Sorenson and Cassler do an amazing job of walking me through each story of a people from beginning to end who accomplish or fail to accomplish Zion.  They also give a detailed account of Paul’s teaching on charity and how that too is a call to Zion.  This alone is worth reading this book for!  The big take away “aha” for me was when they pointed out how many times the Book of Mormon authors use gender relations as an indication for whether a group of people were righteous or not.  We have descriptions of the wicked abusing women, practicing polygamy and seeking out concubines, breaking their wives hearts, raping women and even cannibalism.  We also have descriptions of the righteous loving their wives, defending their families, and making sure that there are no poor (women or men) among them.   

They also point out that many of the world's financially impoverished are women.  Much of this is the result of men not hearkening to Eve. What is meant by that?  Many men do not want to settle down into a marriage anymore and as a result many women are also not wanting to settle down into marriage and even when they do marriages are not seen as binding.  Because of this many children are born outside of a truly committed relationship.  If a man was unsure about committing to a woman he is also unsure about committing to offspring and in many cases this results in women caring for children alone. 

Furthermore, since women are often power poor too, meaning that they have less representation in government, that means men are also responsible for much of the allotting of money within societies. If they don't see caring for children as a priority this mean less funds and programs are put toward supporting these women in their efforts. Less maternity leave, less child care, and less financial opportunities for women. Also, if women are put in situations of having to choose between staying with Adam (man) and having children, or having to choose between being able to have a viable career and child rearing this leads to women not wanting the “burden” of children.  Then we begin to see ideas like abortion becoming more popular among women because it is seen as their only choice.  Thus when many people talk about "women's choice" they are only talking about the choice to end a pregnancy.  And then more funding is put into the choice against motherhood (abortion) and less funding and attention is given to the choice for motherhood (maternity leave, adequate health care, child care, etc) Not to get too political here but if we are unwilling to support mother's in the care for their children, is it any wonder that some see abortion as their only choice?

The occurrences of domestic violence against women, rape, and practices such as female circumcision and women's general lack of political representation in many parts of the world are another evidence that women are seen as power poor, emotionally lesser and physically  weak.

After some discussion about the world’s treatment of women (including an appendix in the end of the book) It then talks about what is the church membership getting right when it comes to women rights and what can we still be working on.  The church leaders are wonderful about advocating that men and women should be equal within a marriage and that men should not command or be a dictator in the family.  They are advocates for fidelity within marriage including that we should not be involved with pornography (an industry that is very oppressive to women and men who may or may not be willing participants in making it). They have also been very clear about including women in councils on the ward and stake level and recognizing that women have talents and skills that are needed within the leadership of each group.  They have also been advocates for women obtaining an education and growing their depth of knowledge.

However, there is also, of course, further work that needs to be done.  Just because the leadership have told us to include women in the council doesn’t mean that everyone is doing it.  And even if they include the women are they giving them an equal voice? Does their voice have as much weight as the high priest group leader?  Are their opinions listened to?  And if it is important at the family and ward levels for women to be involved in the preaching and teaching and administering why would it be any different at the church-wide levels?  Why are there only two female speakers during the general sessions of conference? These are all areas that we as a membership must work together to make sure that there are no “poor” among us.  The proclamation to the family makes it clear that men and women have different divine attributes.  If both are equally important within a family group they must be equally important within a church group. Men and women together can see a wider picture and move us toward a more Zion like state of being.

Also, even though we’ve been taught that men and women are equals within a marriage- and while marriages today are progressing forward- I think there are still some teachings and practices that don’t quite seem to echo that belief.  As I mentioned previously, even though polygamy is no longer physically practiced the reason for and duration of polygamy within the early church is something that needs to be addressed to put some of these worrisome beliefs and ideals about male/female relationships to rest.  Also, I think we could stand to have some further clarification about how both spouses are equal but the husband still presides.  The book does address this and they do a good job but I still need more guidance to understand this.

Also, we need to look at the amount of time that is required of men to be in church meetings (and thus the amount of time the woman is required to be at home raising the family by herself).  Not that men shouldn’t be doing good things and serving in the church and not that women can’t do an amazing job of raising children but are we supporting men and women in the same ways.  If she has a calling that demands her time is her husband picking up the slack at home or is she expected to be super woman? Do we see women’s meetings as important as men’s meetings? And more importantly, are we making sure that both men and women are having adequate time to focus on their own spirituality and be edified.  In my own stake I’ve seen many times that the stake priesthood meeting is held on Sunday nights so that all men can attend and nothing is scheduled over it.  But the women’s meeting is always on Saturday mornings and has often been scheduled over with ward baptisms or other events that make it hard for women to attend.  Are the meetings given equal weight of importance? Also, are we training the women in important and spiritual matters?

Similarly, while many men are happy to take the baby to Elder’s quorum or to a presidency meeting some are not.  I can remember early on in my own marriage when my husband and I were both 1st counselors in our respective presidencies.  I took our two oldest children with me to every meeting but one night I was helping someone with something and I couldn’t bring the girls.  When I asked if he could take them to his presidency meeting he replied he didn’t know if it would be appropriate.  My husband is a very thoughtful and enlightened man and realized as soon as he said it that he had, without realizing it, always had a double standard about child care.  If both meetings are equally important- then it would either be equally appropriate or equally inappropriate for us to take our children.  

I mentioned previously that the leaders of the church have advocating for women to gain an education.  But that has usually been followed up with “so that she has a way to support herself if she has to sometime”.  I recently read an amazing BYU devotional given by Eva Whitman that explained there is value in educating women beyond just making sure they can work if they have to. It’s important to gain knowledge always to improve our lives and minds. And it’s okay for women to want to receive education and to want to work.  We don’t have to wait until we “need” to work because of financial reasons.  And furthermore we need to be better about not criticizing the timing or choices of other women getting their education, working or staying home.  I loved the concept of avoiding “friendly fire”.

Another improvement we can make as members is to avoid misusing or interchanging words inappropriately.  Instead of saying church leadership- we may say “brethren” forgetting that there are also women involved.  Instead of saying priesthood holders we may say “the priesthood”.  Men are not the priesthood they hold keys in administering the priesthood. The priesthood is the power of God on Earth and is available to and given for the blessing of all people of the earth.  

On the topic of the priesthood the book does a good job of going over women and how they relate to priesthood.  It does acknowledge that it’s clear we do not fully understand all the facets of the priesthood.  The fact that women used to give blessing and annointings (for example the woman who anoints Christ before his crucifixion, the women who are going to prepare His body afterward, and the early saints who performed an anointing ordinance for other women in preparation for child birth) is a reason to believe that the priesthood and it’s use can be given to different people at different times.  The book is careful to say, and I will be too, that I’m not advocating that women be ordained in the priesthood exactly as men are now.  I know we are different and will approach it in different ways.  But the book does say that we as a membership can be doing a better job in discussing the ways that women do interact with the divine- whether it be through the priesthood itself, motherhood, or some yet to be revealed form of priestesshood.  We know that women cannot conceive or bring children through the first veil without a man. And we know that a man cannot pass into eternal life without the woman.  “Neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord”.  So there has to be a reason that women are needed within the priesthood ordinances.  And I don’t, nor do the authors of this book, believe that it is just to be eternal wombs to grow new spirits in the eternities.  There is definitely a connection between the powers of God and women that we are yet to fully comprehend.  

We should also be discussing Women's roles in eternity more.  In my stake on mother's day nothing was posted at all about women on their facebook page but on father's day there was an article posted about how fatherhood prepares men to become like God.  Maybe they didn't post a similar article on mother's because one has never been written but that is exactly my point.  We talk all the time about how we are here to become like God but we see God as a Father and a Priesthood holder.  Two things I am not.  So how do I, as a woman, become like God? This probably means we need to talk about Heavenly Mother more and also womanhood in general.  How does being a mother prepare us to become like God? I believe that it does, I just wish that it was talked about more.  We've heard quotes at church that being a mother is the most important job, that as a mother we have been given divine power to accomplish raising a family, that it's a noble and respected position.  But we need to go further...why is it an important job? What divine strengths are we given? If we don't even talk about mother's on mother's day in my ward and then have the stake president come to speak about fathers on father's day it's hard to feel respected. Don't get me wrong, the father's day talks were wonderful and we should talk about fathers! I just wish that mother's day could have talked about womanhood, motherhood, or sisters.

So that it doesn't feel like I'm throwing people under the bus there is also a lot of good that goes on in the stake and ward that I'm a part of.  People taking care of one another and trying their hardest to be of one heart.  I know a lot of men and women who have taught me so many important and wonderful things about being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.  I know that there are always so many needs to address and people to help that sometimes things just get forgotten here and there. I'm grateful for those who have helped me on this journey for the last year also.  So many people who encourage and answer questions!
Well, these are my 8 pages of thoughts about this book and many things outside of this book that I’ve contemplated in my own life.  I would strongly recommend this to any of my friends who are seeking more understanding about what God thinks of women and what we as women can accomplish.  I’m already moving on to more books about these topics and am always on the lookout for new and exciting articles pertaining to them.  I’ll be discussing some other interesting articles I’ve read through BYU studies and would love it if others have a recommendation for me.  While I can only approach this topic from an LDS woman’s perspective I know that some of these pitfalls in gender relations happen within many organized religions and I’m interested in how that effects members of those communities too.  I know that Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father love their children.  All of their children.  That if we can use our differences together we can accomplish more good, see a clearer picture of God, and move toward being a Zion people.

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