Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Sexual Abuse Survivor Responds to Joseph Smith's Polygamy

I just had to share this post. I really have nothing more to add to it, it's so well and beautifully written.

A Sexual Abuse Survivor Responds to Joseph Smith's Polygamy

I am not a sexual abuse survivor however I have empathy for those who are. Please take a moment and read this and support the writer.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The God Blaming Card

The world blames God.

We blame Him for everything. We blame Him for children starving in Africa. We blame Him for our car breaking down. We blame him for allowing people to kill each other. Even atheists who don't believe in God blame God. "If there really were a God..." or "I can't believe in a God that would..."

And maybe sometimes it's fair to blame God because we don't understand. Frankly I think He can take it.

The interesting thing I see happening now, is that people who would never dream of blaming God, are blaming God.

And it isn't for things that aren't understandable, like why children are starving in Africa and why my car breaks down.

Nope, it's out of protection of men.

In the LDS church there is such a strong belief in prophets and apostles that there is almost an infallibility belief. "Sure they aren't perfect, but they're still like perfect."

Joseph Smith married young teenage girls. Now most of those people that defend him would find marrying teenage girls repugnant, criminal by anyone else. After all, Warren Jeffs, the fundamentalist prophet was downright evil. Ask any LDS person.

Those same people will defend Joseph. "God told him to. If God told him to, then it must have been right."

That would be God blaming. For some reason the idea that a man could sin so seriously as to ruin lives is harder to accept than that God Himself would send down an angel with a flaming sword and death threats to command a man to do the unthinkable and force women and young girls into marriage with him and then rape them.

See, Joseph Smith would never do that unless God told him to.

We see it in the bible. God sent His people into cities with the orders to kill every man, woman, and child, and then steal everything and take hold of the city.

Because there's no way that the children of Israel would do that on their own.

God blaming.

Men of color in the LDS church didn't get the priesthood until 1978. Why? Because God said so. It wasn't the apostles or prophets fault that they didn't have the priesthood. Their prejudices had nothing to do with it.

Women currently don't hold the priesthood because God said so. After all, the apostles and prophet would never deny women the priesthood if it was up to them. Men simply don't do that ever. Okay, sure for thousands of years women haven't been legally equal to men, and maybe that was the fault of men, but maybe it wasn't. Maybe that was God's fault too.

I want you all to read a blog post by an LDS writer. Now before you read it, let me tell you that I think she is a talented and sincere woman. Here's the link. You need to go read it so we can talk about this. "Women and the Priesthood a Mormon Woman's Perspective."

Did you read it? Or at least skim it? Or at the very least, read the hypothetical story that she wrote near the end of the post.

Okay, so now that you've read it, I'm going to tell you why I have a problem with her little story.

First off, I as much as any woman, like anti-men jokes. Tell me a joke about how dumb men are and I will laugh. Yes, it is sexist of me. I admit it.

Here's the thing about such jokes. I believe that it comes from a core of anger. Many women are angry. We're angry at the way women have been treated throughout history. We're angry that we didn't have any basic human rights until the early 20th century. We're angry that in many parts of the world, women still don't have basic human rights. We're angry that we have to always be on guard for rape. We're angry that women are abused. We're angry that until recently we didn't even have rights to our own children that we bore into the world. So we tell anti-men jokes.

It's better than killing.

Besides, along with our anger, we also love men. We love our fathers and our brothers and our uncles. Later on we add boyfriends, husbands, and sons into that love. And later grandsons become the twinkle in our eyes. We love our men. We fiercely fight for and defend our men. We will move mountains for our men. We even pick up their hard, crusty stinky socks from the floor. Some of us even wash them and put them away. Yeah, I'm not one of them. So sometimes we have trouble reconciling our love for our men with our anger towards men in general. It is two separate things and our way of coping is to make jokes about how dumb all men are.

Humans have a tendency, when they are feeling lesser, to try and beat down the people that we feel threatened by.

For instance - girl with books, danger, danger, must shoot in head.

To the Taliban, a girl with a book is a frightening thing.

I think the rise we are seeing with abusive men is anger towards women for becoming equal. Must keep women down. Must show woman who boss is.

And I think Janette Rallisons story, as entertaining as it is, is another symptom. Of course she would deny it. But if you read it, what it does is first, it treats men as if they're lazy idiots. Second, it rewards them for being lazy idiots. Third, it excuses men for being lazy idiots and fourth, it blames God for doing it.

Let me make something clear. I do not think that individually, men are lazy idiots and I do think that there are many wise and good men in the world. I also think that men as a whole have screwed things up big time. All you have to do is look at history. I would also suggest that wise and thoughtful men would agree. It would be hard to make a comparison as to how women would have done since there are so few incidents in history where women have been in charge. When they have been, they have had to behave like men in order to obtain or maintain their position. Mainly the idiot ones.

And it seems to me, that if men have screwed up so badly, where billions of people have been lost to wars, torture, and starvation, then putting them in sole charge of the "one true church"  or any church or organization is probably not a wise or fair course. Nor does it seem like something a wise or fair God would do.

Furthermore, excusing bad behavior as "isn't that cute" is not respectful to men or women who are honestly and sincerely trying to do the right thing.

So Ms. Rallison's story, may help women in the church feel better about themselves. After all, it puts down men, and it puts women on a higher plane, and it blames God, but it doesn't solve the problem of unfairness and abuse that exists in the church. It's simply a demeaning pat on the head to both sexes. "There, there, we know that you're dumb and useless but we're putting you in charge anyway." "There, there, we know you can do better but you get to take the higher road and sit in the back seat where you must remain quiet because you're better and you don't want to hurt his feelings."

It's like back several decades ago when a young woman would be advised that if she wanted to catch a man then she better not do anything better than he did. She could be the best bowler in the league, but she was supposed to pretend she couldn't throw anything other than a gutter ball when he was around. The exception to this is that she was allowed to be a better cook, seamstress, house cleaner and diaper changer. Just as long as she hid the fact that she knew how to fix the plumbing. After all, a man simply couldn't handle being with a woman who might be better at something. It would hurt his fragile ego.

It's what's happening in the church now. There are women that would be better leaders, financial advisers, counselors and teaching manual writers, but, they are not allowed to be because...

Well, because it's God's fault.

After all, men couldn't possibly stoop so low as to deny women the priesthood. Men would never do that.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Letter to My LDS Friends and Family

The following may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

Woman at the Well by Simon Dewey
Dear LDS friends and family,

You may have noticed that I have not been at Sunday meetings for a long time.

You may have wondered why, or you may have not given it a second thought because you're too busy trying to stop son number 2 from torturing daughter number 5 while you prepare for the lesson you have to teach in ten minutes.

For the sake of this post, I will assume that somehow I crossed your mind and you're going "where is Anna. I haven't seen her for awhile."

I want to tell you why you haven't see me in awhile.

But first I want to tell you what I believe.

I believe in God. I have felt Him. I have experienced Him. I have woken to feel His arms around me. I know He is there.

I believe in Heavenly Mother. One Heavenly Mother like one Heavenly Father. I wish I knew more of Her, but it stands to reason that if men and women are made in God's image, then I am in the image of my Mother.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He came to earth, born of the virgin Mary. I believe He healed the sick and performed miracles and taught His people. I believe He suffered and took upon Him our sins in the Garden. I believe He was innocent and perfect and died on the cross. I believe He rose up in a perfect body three days later when Mary saw him. I believe in Christ. He is my King and based on the scriptures in the New Testament, I believe he is a different and separate being from Heavenly Father.

I believe in eternal progression, the pre-existance and that families can be together forever. I believe that death is not the end but another beginning.

I also love the members of the church. I believe that for the most part they are loving, caring and spiritual individuals who are trying to do the right things and live good, honest and decent lives. I don't want to lose those friendships.

And now I will tell you why I have not been at church.

Through my over thirty years of membership in the LDS church I have served in many different capacities and in the presidencies of all three of the women's auxiliaries. I have taught every age group and studied the institute manuals. I have spoken in church, written and directed road shows for the youth, been the music conductor in Relief Society, been a stake missionary, tended the ward library, and served on the activity committee and the homemaking committee.  I have been what I thought was an informed member of the church and an active one as well.

During that time there have been things that I found disturbing and went against my moral values. So I put them on the shelf or on the back burner, or somewhere in the deep recesses of a closet. Polygamy, racism, the inequality of women, the ordinances in the temple. I put them away taking them out occasionally but not dwelling on them. I was afraid to.

Two years ago I took on the challenge I gave myself of reading the scriptures straight through. I began with the Old Testament (that was brutal, there's a lot of killing that goes on there, some that appears to be directed by God), then the New, followed by the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.

While reading the Old Testament I discovered that no where in it, did God command polygamy. There is no passage that states that Abraham took another wife because God commanded him to. David was not given wives by God. No one was. God never once said "Go forth and gather up women like cattle and marry them for thou art blessed and deserve to have as many wives as thy heart desires."

Nope, not even once.

Whats more, the Book of Mormon condemns polygamy very strongly.

Jacob 2

23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
 24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
 26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.

 27 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
31 For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.
 32 And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.

 33 For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.

Oh yeah. God was mad. He even refers to the "mourning of the daughters of my people", in other words "His daughters". 

And so I decided that Joseph Smith, like many prophets before him, such as David, made a big mistake. Like a huge whopper of a mistake and led many people astray.

I could live with that.

But the thing that changed everything for me, was the discovery by doing further research from well respected LDS historians, that Joseph did not translate the Book of Mormon through the Urim and Thummim.

Joseph found a rock that he used to seek for treasure. He would hire himself out to local people promising to find treasure with this rock which he was never able to do. That same rock he stuck in a hat, put his face in the hat and "translated" the Book of Mormon.

This did not even involve the use of gold plates. I don't know where the gold plates were, but they certainly weren't in that hat.

Now some people might say "so what?"

What the church said happened.
Here's the so what for me. It's not the story I was told by the missionaries or in any class I was in. It's not the story I taught in Sunday School. It's not the picture in the church library of the translation. Essentially, the one true church - lied to me.

What really happened.

Let me repeat that. The organization that I put my full trust in, the organization that I allowed to help me raise my children, the organization that I gave my time and my belief to, lied to me.

Which made me feel like this: (note - you need to press the play button otherwise all you get is the pretty smiling lady).

 I thought I was getting something real. Instead I got plastic.

And once I realized that the translation story was a lie, then everything else fell apart. Joseph Smith was no longer someone who could be trusted. From my research about him (using well respected LDS historians) I have come to the conclusion that not only did he lie about the plates, but he also did several other heinous things that would be considered criminal. In fact Joseph would not be allowed to be a member of the church he had founded.

The claims of the church that they are the one true church, that they have authority straight from God, that we should "follow the prophet" no longer held together for me.

However the people are good. Is there really a church that doesn't have a shaky and twisted history? Probably not. So was there something I could hold on to even though I no longer believed in the authority of the priesthood, the Book of Mormon, and  that the church was the way back to God?

And so I looked at the church today and it too had problems. Like really big horrendous problems.

Following is a list without going into great detail since each of these subjects could make a blog post of one, or two, or ten which I hope to delve into at a later date.

1. Polygamy - still practiced today in the temples and the belief it will be practiced again later.

2. The inequality of women in the church. I know there are women out there that don't see it that way because they haven't experienced it. But just because you haven't experienced it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. This is a huge subject. Equal but different is not necessarily equal. Especially when the different has no voice, no authority, and isn't even trusted to handle finances.

3. The secrecy behind the financial records of the church. The City Creek Mall, the hunting preserve for rich people, the expensive temples, keeping women out of executive positions within church businesses since those are reserved for priesthood, the pay and perks that apostles and missionary presidents get while members are told that "there's no paid clergy". This is just a short list of financial indiscretion.

4. Withholding blessings based on money. Members are taught that they must do their temple ordinances in order to enter the celestial kingdom. Members cannot do their temple ordinances unless they pay tithing. It's similar to indulgences that Martin Luther was so against. It causes hardship for the poor when they are told they must not only pay tithing but spend money to travel great distances so their families can be together forever.

5. The temples. The first time and every time since that I went through the thought that went through my head was "secret combination". I never could believe that God needed secret handshakes and passwords. Changing two letters of a word from secret to sacred doesn't take away the fact that it's secret. Plus they are great and spacious and expensive buildings. And it isn't ancient rites that have been handed down or revealed. It's masonic rites.

6. The anti-family stance. Yes, the church is anti-family even though it says differently. It keeps parents and family members from weddings, prevents missionaries from attending family funerals, keeps fathers away from family while they do church callings, discourages many family activities on Sundays, tries to break up marriages when one spouse leaves the church, encouraged gay men to marry women without telling them about being gay, has anti-gay rhetoric that causes problems within families, creates an atmosphere of ostracizing when family members leave the church, and takes money from poor families that would be better spent providing food and shelter.

Chris Cobb's Mormon Ad

7. Is always behind on social issues. The church as a mouthpiece of God should be in the front. Instead they are behind. They were behind on slavery, equality, women's issues etc. How can the church be so wrong over and over again?

8. The church is politically active. By being so (proposition 8) they ask people to vote a certain way. Many members did even though it went against their conscience. A church is not supposed to tell people how to vote.
The church owned City Creek Mall ad that features
a woman wearing a beautiful dress that no devout
temple going Mormon woman can wear.

9. Modesty rhetoric. The church teaches that girls are responsible for boys thoughts and embarrasses young women about their clothes. This has caused my daughters some grief. Furthermore there is body shame attached. Yet the church advertizes a different standard.

Let me add again: Girls are not responsible for what boys think. That is rape culture. Boys are responsible for their own thoughts. By the way, boys will think sexual thoughts if all they see is girls in parkas, snow pants, and balaclavas. 

10. The treatment of gay people. I have heard some awful things said about gay people at church without regard to who is in that class. A church should be inclusive, not be figuring out ways to keep people out or different. Saying negative and nasty things about someone's child is not Christ like.

11. Censorship. This is huge for me being the granddaughter of a man who was murdered by Stalin for the things he said. The church has threatened people with excommunication for things they have said or blogged about and demanded that blogs be taken down. In fact they have excommunicated people for their blogs. In fact, in one instance not only was the blogger excommunicated, but his wife was as well - apparently for associating with him.

12. The excommunication of scholars, historians and feminists for expressing opinions or speaking the truth. The current church essays have the same things in them that people were saying and excommunicated for in the early 90's. Just recently several bloggers and well known Mormons such as Kate Kelly and John Dehlin have been singled out. There has been fear in online church communities with crackdowns for what people have said and blogged about.

13. Hiding historical information. Researchers and historians cannot get into many church archives. History belongs to everyone. Furthermore when research is done, it is discovered that the church has left out important details or out right lied about the information (such as the face in the hat). If the church is true, what is it hiding?

14. Abuse. There are so many stories of abuse. This can happen in any church or community, however the church sets up the situations where it can happen and then defends the abuser. Rape victims are frequently blamed for their rapes and often punished by being forbidden to fully participate in church worship.

15. Taking young women alone into rooms with middle aged men and grilling them about sex. This is so inappropriate and damaging on so many levels.

16. Having untrained men as clergy. "But they're inspired and called of God" is the argument. Yet there is story after story of how men who have no training have severely emotionally and spiritually damaged members of the church. There is story after story of leaders who have committed adultery and sexual abuse. Being called does not make them experts, no matter how sincere and righteous they are.

17. Sexual shaming that causes sexual problems. The church needs to stay out of people's bedrooms. Especially married couples.

18. The insistence that the church has the one true gospel. Not only that but it leads members to believe that all others are lost, that the world outside is evil, and that other churches are completely wrong.

19. Follow the prophet he will never lead you astray. Again, if we study history and the scriptures we will find that simply isn't true. We concentrate more on following the prophet, than on following Christ.

20. Not focusing on grace and the price that Christ paid. We recognize it, and then the church tells the members all the things they must do to be accepted. And it's a long list.

21. Tithing. I believe that tithing has it's place. But ten percent from someone making a thousand dollars a month is completely different from ten percent from someone making a hundred thousand a month. It is not really voluntary when you attach temples to it. We don't know where it goes (billion dollar malls?), and the emphasis is not on the giving, but on what you get if you give it. It also tends to discourage people from donating to other charities (I gave at my church), especially when it can be so demanding. There really isn't a sense of giving when it's handed in. It's automatic and thoughtless. A true tithing would be a prayerful study of who best to give it to.

22. No outside church community. The LDS church tends to hold itself back from participating in activities with other churches. Sure, sometimes other churches leave the LDS church out, but the church itself does it and also discourages members from participating in other churches activities. There is more community with other Protestant churches. It's an Us versus Them mentality.

23. The insistence that everyone must believe the same things. If you don't believe in A, B, and C, then you don't have the spirit. If you question things out loud you are an apostate.

24. "I know the church is true". Look, unless you have spoken face to face with Christ about it, you don't know. You believe. There is too much emphasis on knowing when we are actually supposed to be learning about faith. If God wanted us to know, He would appear in front of the entire world.

25. Free agency. We talk about it and then deny it. The church demands obedience. In order to be a member in good standing you must be obedient. I guess that's a form of free agency, but is it if you feel threatened by not being obedient? Isn't that part of Satan's original plan to force people into obedience? It's why I kept my mouth shut for so long about my questions because the consequences of asking were too great. It's why I've been afraid to tell people about my disaffection. The consequences of losing my family and community seemed a high price to pay.

26. The teaching that the world is getting worse. It's not getting worse. Any student of history can tell you that. It's getting better. People have a higher standard of living. Children have a voice and are better cared for (just read Charles Dickens or Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Match Girl"). Women are gaining in equality. Rape is illegal. You don't step out of your door and see heads on pikes. Health care is better. Prisons are more humane. We don't go to public executions for entertainment.  People are more concerned with each other's well being. Freedom of choice is more widespread. Yes there are still horrible things in the world, but the world is getting better. Frankly the world was never the Donna Reed 1950's shangrila that we are led to believe.

One of the other things that has been happening for years that I didn't put on my list, is my feelings about going to church. Sunday mornings were a battle for me. I would be fine during the week, but on Sundays I would feel angry and afraid and the last place I wanted to go was to church. I felt exhausted and dissatisfied when it was time to go home. Sundays were not filling my soul and for a long time I blamed myself. I was not spiritual enough. I didn't try hard enough. I wasn't in the right mood and that was my fault. I battled it and then finally decided that Sundays shouldn't be that hard and punishing. Sundays were supposed to energize your soul so you could face the rest of your week. I felt more uplifted going to other churches or staying home and listening to informative podcasts and spiritual music.

And it has irked me when I hear members say about the new essays that the church put out "I've always known that". Really? I didn't. I didn't know about Joseph's penchant for young girls and other men's wives. I didn't know about the face in the hat. I didn't know about the treasure seeking, about the false translation of the Book of Abraham, or that it was Brigham Young's serious mishandling that caused the tragedy with the handcart companies. Nor about Brigham Young's hatred of black people, women, and interracial marriages. I didn't know that he taught that Adam was God, or blood atonement. I didn't know these things because they weren't in the church approved manuals. I was obedient in not looking much further. So I didn't know. It wasn't until I broke away from the admonition to not look outside of church manuals that I discovered the truth. South Park was more honest about the truth than the church was.

And by the way, if you knew about it, why didn't you tell me before you were teaching my daughters moral standards that you thought it was okay to force fourteen year girls to marry already married middle aged men? Because frankly, I can't jump on board with that concept. In my mind, that's rape. According to the law, that's rape. And even the argument that it was a different time doesn't hold. It was wrong then too. It was one of the reasons people were afraid of the Mormons.

I have been visiting Christ's other tribes, looking for a place to fit in. It isn't easy. But my moral compass can't allow me to support the LDS church anymore. I cannot believe that a 38 year old man who coerced a 14 year old into marrying him and threatened other women with destruction if they didn't marry him, who sent men away on missions and then married their wives, tested couples by demanding to marry the wife, did all this behind his wife's back, publicly lied about it and destroyed a printing press for publishing the truth about it, is a good man to follow. Would you readily hand over your teenage daughter for marriage if the prophet knocked on your door and demanded it? Or your wife?

And I cannot be a part of a church that treats women as children, supports censorship, and builds great and spacious buildings instead of helping the poor.

I do not believe that Christ's gospel is about lies and secrecy.  Why hide things? Christ does not need us to lie for Him. He does not need secret rites. He does not need us to keep things underground. The gospel is for everyone. All of the gospel. Not just the milk but the meat too.

And so as much as it hurts me, I have to say goodbye to actively being involved in the church, although I hope I don't have to say goodbye to friends and family. I will not turn my back on people however, it is possible people will turn their backs on me.

I am on a faith journey. I climbed over the fence and found a world filled with great beauty and compassion. I support others on their faith journey, whether they choose Mormonism, other Christian churches, non-Christian faiths or even atheism.

In "The Last Battle" by C.S. Lewis there is a character that does not know Aslan the Lion who is a representation of Jesus Christ. Instead this character has done good in the name of Tash. Yet when he meets Aslan, Aslan tells him that all the good that he did for Tash Aslan takes as service to himself.

And so I am continuing on my journey of faith knowing that if it is done in a sincere desire to do right and to know Christ, He will accept it.

Some may ask why I don't just quietly go away and never speak of this.

I spent over thirty years in the church. I married, divorced, and raised seven kids in the church. This is my story. I can't forget thirty years. Those thirty years helped shape who I am now. I can't pretend they didn't exist. Mormonism will always be with me. I even still retain some beliefs because I think they were inspired. And I can't help but wonder if there is someone out there who is feeling alone who might be helped by what I have to say. If you are out there, please let me know.

I will be continuing with this spiritual blog and I invite people to have a dialogue with me. I will not be posting this blog to facebook out of respect for those who might feel uncomfortable. Nor will I bring up my beliefs to anyone unless I am asked first and then only when the setting is right.

Sincerly and lovingly
The Woman at the Well - Anna


Following are some links to more information.

The Church Essays on

  1. Are Mormons Christian? November 20, 2013
  2. First Vision Accounts November 20, 2013
  3. Race and the Priesthood December 6, 2013
  4. Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah December 16, 2013
  5. Book of Mormon Translation December 30, 2013
  6. Book of Mormon and DNA Studies January 31, 2014
  7. Becoming Like God February 24, 2014
  8. Peace and Violence among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints May 13, 2014
  9. Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham July 8, 2014
  10. Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo October 22, 2014
  11. The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage October 22, 2014
Other Information

I've Heard It All Before (a response to what members are saying)
Why Mormons Leave
Mormon Stories (podcasts that feature a variety of Mormons and reveal a balanced look at the church)
Journal of Discourses (standard works of the LDS church)
Year of Polygamy (podcasts that look at the lives of women who lived in polygamy)
Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony - Jeremy Runnels 
Are We Paying Too Much Tithing? (an historical and scriptural look at tithing)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Thought Experiment

Oddly enough, something I said on Facebook actually captured some amount of interest.

Who knew I could come up with something interesting?

So I'm blogging it here, because I don't want the thought to escape into the deep recesses of the internet, never to be see again.

Besides, I want to prove to my children that occasionally I do have thoughts besides "you can't put metal in the microwave" and "don't leave your shoes in the middle of the hallway".

It ended up being christened by someone as "The Thought Experiment" because, well there was some thought involved, and even though it wasn't their thought, they recognized that I had thought.

So here it is, "The Thought Experiment"

Imagine a classroom where the ratio of boys to girls is fairly even. There might be one or two extra girls, but that's about it.

One day the teacher decides that it would be good to create leaders in the classroom. A president, a vice-president, a treasurer and other leadership positions.

However, all leadership positions can only be held by boys.

These positions allow the boys to make all the decisions. They can choose to ask the girls for their opinions, but they don't have to.

Any money raised by the class for special activities, will be handled by the boys and all the activities are chosen by the boys.

The girls are told they are equal to the boys but they have special roles. They can take care of the class pets. They can clean the erasers. They can hand out papers for the teacher. These are special roles that only the girls can do. The boys decide which girls do these roles.

Now the girls are encouraged to have their own special club where they can learn to do wonderful things like bake bread, and sew, and look pretty. They even get to have special lessons in their extra special club. But, the boys decide who is the president of that club, and they decide what lessons should be taught, and who teaches the lessons, and they also have to be told what the girls are doing so that they can stop them from making a mistake and doing something wrong that the boys don't like. With authority comes great responsibility so it is up to the boys to make sure the girls are doing the right things.

The boys get to have their own club too. Now the boys can go to the girls club anytime, and they can even teach lessons there, but the girls are never, ever allowed to go to the boys club. 

But everything is completely fair, because just because girls and boys have different roles, doesn't mean they aren't equal. Everyone is completely equal. After all, the hamster cage has to be kept clean. It's important, even if the girl who is assigned to it doesn't like doing it.

For example, in this class, when someone does something wrong, they set up a court system, something like governments do. Both boys and girls, when they do something wrong might have to face the court.

So when a boy does something bad like hitting a girl, he has to face the court. The court is made up of a judge and jurors just like in real life. There are only boys who serve as judges and jurors because the girls don't need that kind of responsibility. So when a boy has to face his buddies, some of them get to be on his side and defend him to the court. That way his side is heard and everything is fair. Then the jurors and the judge make a decision about what to do with him. He may not be punished at all. Or he might have some of his rewards taken away for a little while, or he might be thrown out of the classroom altogether. But they don't really want to throw him out so they try and make it so that it doesn't need to happen.

It's just as fair for a girl. If she does something really, really wrong, like say that the system is unfair and ask why the girls can't be leaders and make decisions too, then she has to face the all boy jury too. But she doesn't need to defend herself and she doesn't need to have anyone defend her either. She just needs to apologize and promise to never, ever, ever do it again. If she doesn't do that, then the jury can punish her just the same way they do a boy.

See, totally equal and fair.

And the boys can reward the good girls who do the things they ask without question. In fact, those girls are allowed to form a group together and stand against all those nasty bad girls who cause problems and question the rules.

Plus the boys are allowed to tell the girls how to dress, and teach them that if they don't dress properly then they will be a distraction to the boys and how can the boys do a good job if they're being distracted? It will be all the girls fault if the boys do something wrong because they're being distracted by what the girls wear. See, it's only right that the blame falls on the people that are causing the problems.

It's obvious, that even though girls and boys have different roles, everyone is completely equal.

There is no reason to change a thing.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: Raspberries and Relevance - Linda Hoffman Kimball

Raspberries and Relevance: Enrichment in the Real World - compiled by Linda Hoffman Kimball

Kimball has done it again. This time she got her friends together and asked them to write about Enrichment night.

For the uninitiated Enrichment Night refers to "Home, Family and Personal Enrichment Night" which used to be "Homemaking Meeting" which I guess before that used to be "Homemaking Day" in the LDS church and before that it was "Work Meeting."

It started off as a day to help out those in the community. The sisters would get together and can foods or make quilts or sew shirts. It's evolved and although those things are still done it can be pretty much anything the sisters want.

This book is a bit of a celebration and a bit of a guidebook. As a guidebook it actually is pretty decent. I would encourage groups of women from any organization to have this in their arsenal. There's some pretty good ideas in here and quite an extensive list of suggestions.

There's also stories of some unusual Enrichment nights. One of my favorites was of a sister who covered the gym with tablecloths and had sisters purposely break eggs as they thought of a frustration or a problem they had. Pretty therapeutic. Then she had them come up with ways to protect the eggs before they were tossed. I wouldn't have minded being at that one.

There was also a story that brought a tear to my eye of a sister who brought her baby to Enrichment night after several weeks of the ICU and struggles with having that baby survive.

Basically it's not about the crafts that Homemaking is notoriously known for but it's about the friendship and the time women take from out of their lives to serve or to just be and love one another.

Enrichment night, or Homemaking or whatever you call it, is a lovely and positive night in the LDS church.

This book is pretty decent too.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Next Round of Excommunications Part 2

Well it's happened.

Today the verdict was in. Kate Kelly, leader of Ordain Women has been excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Her crime isn't what she thinks. Her crime is that she thought it out loud. She thought it out loud and people listened. They listened because she said out loud the very thing they were thinking and were too afraid to say. It gave them courage to say it too, to claim it and stand by it and know they are not alone.

And the more she said what she thought, the more people heard it and joined in, not because the message was new to them. But because the message was the thing they had believed deep down themselves.

Throughout history there have been those who have dared to say their thoughts out loud. Joan of Arc claimed that God told her to lead an army to free France. She was burned at the stake. Martin Luther nailed up a list of things that he found wrong with the Catholic Church. He was imprisoned. Martin Luther King stood up and said that segregation was wrong and asked for peaceful protests. He was assassinated. The suffragettes, demanded equality. They were slammed into prisons and force fed through tubes jammed down their throats. Malala Yousafzai continues to say that girls deserve an education even after she was shot in the head by the taliban.

Kate Kelly is in a smaller sphere. Her influence is only felt by a tiny portion of people on this earth. Her punishment is not as severe as others, unless you are a Mormon and believe that excommunication locks you out of heaven and bans you from your family.

But in spite of her small sphere, she did impact it.

Although the church would deny it, it's interesting to note, that no woman gave a prayer in general conference until after OW was formed and became known. Nor was the priesthood conference available for viewing until after OW was formed. Coincidence? Interestingly the very people that would claim that they don't believe in coincidence would probably say that it is.

It alarms me that having a voice in the church is dangerous.

This terrifies me. Especially when you read my previous post on this subject.

Yet if you asked most devout members they would see nothing wrong with this because Christ leads the church and the apostles follow Christ so they would never, ever, do any wrong.

And consequently you have members all over the world, willing to do anything and believe anything that these fifteen men tell them.

I am not willing to put my trust in anyone but the Lord. Not to this extent anyway. Especially after reading about what previous apostles and prophets have said. Now if you want scary bed time reading there is plenty.

There are folks in the church that have checked their compassion and Christian charity at the door and are cheering this. They believe it means that she will just go away now.

Because that's what the church wants. They want women to shut up and make some food and some babies and tell teenage girls that their bodies are so shameful that it causes teenage boys and men to think about rape.

I pray that Kate will find a new church family, one that will accept and love her and be grateful for her talents and won't just throw her away.

And at least there are thousands of Mormons who have not abandoned her.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bandwagon Jump: The Next Round of Excommunications

 My grandmother and Waino's wife, Maria, and their children
Olavi (the older one) and my father Waino (Alfred).
I wish I had a picture of my grandfather.

My grandfather, Waino Junus, was a promising young Finnish professor at the University of Leningrad in the 1930's. He had a wife and two sons. In 1937 he was arrested by the Soviet government, imprisoned and executed days later. I am not clear on what the charges were, but it was related somehow to the work he was doing and things he said and wrote. Plus he was a professor and had access to youthful minds and as we all know, the youth are notorious for wanting to change things. My grandmother was sent north to a place like Siberia. She was only allowed to bring one child, so she left my father behind with his paternal grandmother. The news of what happened to my grandfather didn't reach his family until decades later. As far as they knew, he was in prison all that time.

The Soviet government was one of the worst in history. Children were taught to report on their parents. Care had to be taken with written and verbal opinions. The government controlled the jobs you did, where you lived, what you read, and forbade religious worship.

Fast forward to the United States 2014. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has brought charges of apostasy to three private citizens and members of the church.

John Dehlin, has expressed doubt over the claims of the church, and more importantly, has acted as a reporter, journalist and interviewer, by giving a voice to many, many Mormons through his podcasts. John has interviewed church historians, LDS leaders, critics, past Mormons, people struggling with the faith, Mormon apologists, psychologists, professors, and the faithful. He has also come out in support of women and gays, two groups that have suffered inequalities in the church.

Kate Kelly is the founder and leader of Ordain Women, an organization that sees a future where women within the church can hold the priesthood. It is a priesthood that is offered to any LDS man over the age of 12 but denied to all women, no matter their level of activity.

Alan Rock Waterman has a blog where he shares his opinion about discrepencies he sees between  the church today and the scriptures.

Kate has been asked by the church to dismantle OW. The church has no jurisdiction over OW. They have asked Kate to take away a venue where women can have a voice.

Rock has also been asked to take down his blog even though the church has asked members to share their beliefs and write in blogs. Translation - share the church's beliefs and only write what they deem appropriate.

And I'm not sure, but I think that John has also been asked many times to take down his podcasts. His podcasts give a voice to those people that might not get the opportunity to hear otherwise.

I belong to a church that tries to control what people say. If we have questions, we are to keep them to ourselves or we may discuss them with our bishop, a man who has no more understanding of church doctrine or the gospel than any other member. Openly discussing concerns, doubts or questions is discouraged. We say questions are welcome, but they generally are the surface ones, the ones that can be explained away easily, and we must accept the church answers. To question, criticize or say the emperor has no clothes will lead to accusations of apostasy. We claim that the leaders are not perfect, and then slap those who point out imperfections. Private get togethers to discuss church doctrine, or study scriptures is discouraged as well.

Now I'm not saying that what these three individuals are facing is the exact same thing as what my grandfather faced and I'm sure they would each agree that their trials do not match the horror that happened to my family. My grandfather had no choice about where he lived. Mormons can choose to leave the church. No one is going to execute them. They can continue to live full and happy lives.

But to a devout Mormon like Kate, excommunication is like spiritual death. According to the teachings you have all your saving ordinances taken away and your eternal family ties are severed. If you believe this, it's devastating and spiritually abusive.

Excommunicated members are still welcomed at church although they can't be full participants. And I suspect with the charge of apostasy, they will not be as welcomed as someone who has sinned in other ways, because having an opinion that doesn't match the church's makes you a danger to other members. You might talk to them.

If they choose to go to their trials, John and Rock will be facing their peers. Kate will be facing a group of men who will not be understanding. She is a threat to their power. Women have no peers in a "court of love" since no woman has ever been a judge in one. Women are not allowed. Kate will be facing them alone. As it is, Kate is in unable to go to her trial, so she will have no representation.

From what I understand "courts of love" are much like what my grandfather faced. It has already been decided. The trial is just a formality. It is more than likely that they will be executed - sorry, excommunicated.

I mourn. I grew up knowing my grandfather was a hero. I grew up hating book burning. I grew up believing that knowledge and truth was something to be shared. John and Rock have done nothing but do that. Demanding that their opinions and work be destroyed is akin to book burning.

In addition, the church has a "Strengthening the Church Members Committee". If that doesn't sound like a government spying and controlling people, I don't know what is. In fact, church wide we're encouraged to report on suspicious behavior to our bishops and Relief Society presidents, so that we can help those people who are going astray. Of course it's not said precisely in that way. We're to go to our leaders about concerns and for the most part it is done in spirit of love, such as if someone needs food, is moving, or needs employment. But it can quickly expand to something else. Many a person has reported on another and made accusations. In fact I've faced false accusations without knowing who the accuser was.

So I say, thank you to John, Kate and Rock for having integrity.

And I am saddened that the church that I once loved and believed in would do this and say it's of God.

It makes it so easy to justify things when you can claim that God said so and I believe THAT would be heretical.

For further reading:

*Waino Junus in Wikepedia (Finnish language)
Two Activists in Mormon Church Threatened with Excommunication
Trib Talk
Church Responds to Questions About Disciplinary Action
John Dehlin's Mormon Stories
Ordain Women
Alan Rock Waterman's Pure Mormonism

* if anyone understands Finnish I would love to know more about him. Everything I've found is in Finnish.

Blogs about this subject   
(This is by no means comprehensive. I know there's more, but this is just a quick look from posts I found today. Anyone who wants to link their blog to this post, just let me know. I will happily add you.)

Will We Be Silenced Again?
Feminist Mormon Housewives (has several blogposts about this)
The Problem with Niceness: My Excommunication from the Mormon Church - Margaret Merrill Toscano
Mormon Truth: Stranger Than Fiction

Monday, June 2, 2014

Book Review: Chocolate Chips and Charity - Linda Hoffman Kimball

Chocolate Chips and Charity: Visiting Teaching in the Real World compiled by Linda Hoffman Kimball

One of the things that I have hung onto from the LDS church is visiting teaching. I may not go every week to services there, or every other week, but I do have a good companion who keeps us on track and so we do our visiting teaching every month.

For those who don't know, visiting teaching is a program in the LDS church where women are paired up and given other sisters to contact at least once a month. If they can they visit the sister in her home where they may or may not give a message that's published in the church magazine the Ensign. While there, they have a chat and see if the sister has any needs.

Sometimes visiting teaching is a blessing and sometimes it's a failure.

Like most things.

Sometimes I love visiting teaching and sometimes I don't. Most often I love it. I like getting out and spending time with other women.

Sometimes you connect with the women you visit teach, or who you are companions with, or who teach you. Sometimes you don't.

My current companion was my first visiting teacher when I moved to this town and we've been friends ever since. Good friends. Although at the time of this writing she doesn't know about my disaffection to the church. No one at church does as far as I know. And frankly I can't tell my own visiting teachers because they both have husbands in the bishopric and women tell their husbands everything. So unless I want them to know, I can't let my VT's know.

Anyway, this book is about visiting teaching.You would think it would be filled with faith filled stories - the kind we hear about at church to uplift us and encourage us to sail forth with conviction to do His work through loving our sisters. And it's got the word chocolate in the title, so it has to be good.

To be sure there is some of those feel good stories, but there are also examples of where it didn't work. Sisters who's needs were not met, or sisters who recognize where they screwed up.

I have no problem with this. I like the honesty.

What is puzzling, are the stories that simply aren't stories. They don't go anywhere one way or another.

It's like Kimball, who compiled this, simply asked her friends (some known within the church) to write something, anything about visiting teaching.

And so we get a book (a very short book - it can be read in a couple of hours), filled with the good, the bad and the indifferent.

So I'm not sure what to make of this. Perhaps that is visiting teaching. Good, bad and indifferent.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

VT Message April 2014: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ Savior and Redeemer

One of the things I have hung onto is visiting teaching.

It doesn't always work. But right now I love my companion who has been my friend for the past 15 years, and I love the women I visit teach.

And this year, the messages have been on the Savior.

This month is about the Redeemer.

We don't talk much about grace at church. We talk a lot about obedience and the lists of things we're supposed to do. But this month, it's all about the grace.

And it isn't just about sin. I've heard people say "what did I do so bad that someone had to die for me", or "why can't God just forgive our sins without having someone pay the price."

I don't know the answers to these questions. They are valid questions. It's one of the things I've put back on the shelf and said "there are some things I just don't know."

So I accept that there needs to be a balance for things. That Heavenly Father has laws that He must abide and one of them is that no unclean thing can enter heaven and for some reason there has to be a complete innocent to pay the price and make us all clean.

That premise is the basis of the atonement. It's why many people reject Christ as the Redeemer. They don't see the need for a Redeemer. So to them Christ was this really cool guy who had a lot of wild things to say.

I accept the premise. I have no reason to accept it. I just do. Maybe I don't want to go down that rabbit hole.

So the premise is that God has laws He has to follow and to balance out the law He had to send down a Redeemer.

Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President (quote from woman Yeah!) said "Heavenly Father sent His Only Begotten and perfect Son to suffer for our sins, our heartaches, and all that seems unfair in our own individual lives."

So not only did Jesus suffer for our sins, He suffered for our heartaches as well! Those things that happen to us even though it is not our fault and we have no sin tied to it, He suffered for those things as well. Not that we need to be forgiven for them, but because we are scarred by them. We bear the marks of them and His sacrifice will make those marks go away.

"One woman who had been through years of trial and sorrows wsaid through her tears, "i have come to realize that I am like an old 20-dollar bill - crumpled, torn, dirty, abused, and scarred. But...I am still worth the full 20 dollars."

Not one of us is a fresh new crisp 20-dollar bill unless you are a new-born baby and even those come with problems. We are all abused, scarred and crumpled.  But we are all our full worth (which by the way is way more than 20 dollars.)

The message also includes the story of the woman at the well which can be found in John 4. Jesus stops to speak to the woman who is getting water for her household and tells her "whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." 

This woman was not ignorant. She says "I know that the Messias cometh, which is called Christ when he is come, he will tell us all things."

Jesus revealed Himself to her - okay can you imagine. She knows a savior is coming and then she meets a man who basically says "Hi, I'm superman" only way better than superman.

I would assume she would have a spiritual experience (he knew who she was) to know that what He said is true and not just some guy who goes around and says this. We are told  "The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?"

We do not know how long she spent with Christ. If it had been me, I would have talked with Him for as long as He would allow. But the interesting thing, is that out of all the things she had to do that day, getting water would have been the most important. More important than sweeping the floor or doing dishes or making dinner. And yet she didn't say "I just need to finish this and this and this, and then I'll tell people about Christ." Nope, she left her chores undone, even the water chore and ran and told people of her experience.

How many times do we put aside the things that Christ wants us to do until we get our lists of chores done?

In the end, it doesn't matter what we have do, Christ is the one who has created the bridge that we need to get home. We just need to find it and cross it.

Christ is our Redeemer. One of my favorite songs is a Point of Grace song.

"The Great Divide" 
 Svensson, Peter Anders / Sveningsson, Magnus.

Trying to fathom the distance
Looking out 'cross the canyon carved
By my hands
God is gracious
Sin would still separate us
Were it not for the bridge
His grace has made us
His love will carry me
There's a cross to bridge the great divide
A way was made to reach the other side
The mercy of the Father cost His son his life
His love is deep, His love is wide
There's a cross to bridge the great divide
God is faithful
On my own I'm unable
He found me hopeless alone
And sent a savior
He's provided a path
And promised to guide us
Safely past all the sin that would divide us
His love delivers me
There's a bridge to cross the great divide
A way was made to reach the other side
The mercy of the Father cost His son His life
His love is deep, His love is wide
There's a cross to bridge the great divide

Here's the link to the message.

Gospel Medicine: Chapter 6 - Late Bloomer

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book. 

In this chapter Taylor tackles the story of Abraham and Sarah. Abram and Sarai are old and infertile. Sarai is well past the age of child bearing, Abram is even older. So when God promises that they will be the parents of more people than stars that can be counted in the sky there is some skepticism. As a promise and a reminder (much like the rainbow) God rechristens them. Abraham meaning "father of a multitude of nations" and Sarah "kings of people shall come from her".

The promise doesn't happen instantly. Years earlier Sarai had asked Abram to impregnate her hand maid Hagar. It must have taken an act of desperation to ask your husband to have sex with another woman. But in that time, a woman's worth was based on motherhood.

I feel more sorry for Hagar than I do for Sarah. It appears that hand maid is merely a nicer term than house slave. It does not appear that Hagar was asked for her opinion on this plan. She was ordered to have sex with an old man until she became pregnant and then give up her child to Sarai. The child was not completely given up. Hagar was still a part of Ishamael's life. But even though she bore him, nursed him and took care of him, she would always be viewed as the lesser mother. Ishmael belonged to Abram and Sarai. Furthermore, the child that Sarah eventually bore took presidence over Ishmael, the lesser son. Plus Hagar is not allowed to have a husband of her own as she is owned by Abraham and Sarah.

It's no wonder that Hagar is resentful.

The point of this chapter is that we must be patient for God's promises. He will fulfill them in His own time.

Who knows, maybe he would have fulfilled them faster if they had treated Hagar with dignity and respect. You know, not enslaved her and allowed her a family of her own.

Which really isn't the point of this story, but this story makes me so mad that I have trouble seeing anything else. I know Abraham and Sarah are considered to be righteous people, but I'm having trouble with the whole slavery, polygamy thing. Even when you consider it was the culture of the time.

I guess God blesses people even when they behave badly and he judges based on what knowledge we actually have. He won't condemn you if you have slaves and you don't know that slavery is horrible because that's the cultural construct of your time.

I like to think that Hagar was rewarded when she died. Rewarded big time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Book Review: Leaving Church - Barbara Brown Taylor

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal Priest, first as an associate priest in large city parish in Atlanta and then as the minister in a small country church. Taylor relates what led her to the priesthood, how she discovers the tiny church that appeals to her and the five years she spends there. While she's there the church grows and the demands on her time increases until she finally suffers burn out. She promised to stay for ten years but when an offer to teach religion at a nearby university comes up, she grabs it.

This is her story how leaving the ministry actually allowed her to find God again. Not that she ever really lost Him, but there was never time to have a conversation with Him. She experiences discovering the sabbath again, a time where she is not expected to be somewhere doing something and it is rejuvenating for her. She discovers church and God in the backyard of her country home.

As I rounded the corner on my first front porch church service with my congregation of creation, I framed an apology to all the people who had ever told me they were not in church the previous Sunday because the weather had been so nice. At the time I had judged them for shirking their duty to worship in community. I had thought they needed to be where I was, meeting their own responsibilities for keeping Grace-Calvary going. Clearly I had forgotten that people are not the only creatures who glorify the Lord...On the first Sunday after I left church, the irony was hard to miss. If one day without work had that much holiness for me, then what else had I missed while I was laboring for the Lord?

I can relate to this. The LDS church preaches the importance of keeping the sabbath and then proceeds to break it by demanding so much from the congregation. God took a break on the seventh day from work. For the Mormon people the sabbath means that you don't work at your regular paid employment (exceptions for essential services excluded), but you're still expected to work. You have to get up early and get everyone ready for church on time. And you're there for at least three hours or it doesn't count. If you have a leadership calling you have meetings. You may have to do your home teaching that day. There's a fireside you're expected to be at in the evening. If you're lucky you might squeeze in a meal and a quick nap.

No one thinks any of this is restful. In fact there's a joke in the church how Sunday is the busiest and hardest day of all.

I never saw in the scriptures that the Sabbath was supposed to be a day of hard work.

Taylor points out that she is given another Sabbath while she's a minister but because hardship isn't convenient and as a devout minister she couldn't say no, her sabbath was taken up with work.

Leaving church is not about a woman who leaves God, nor even really leaves church. There is no crisis of faith here, just a woman who finds God in other ways.

It's a lovely book with beautiful writing about a woman who's identity is in her vocation and how taking off the uniform leaves her invisible and lost for awhile. She explains her adjustment from being the star of the show to being on the side.

Here's an excerpt randomly selected. It takes place at a house party - a rare occurrence of an invitation because you simply don't invite the parish minister to fun parties, but since she has handed in her resignation then she is free to accept it. She's standing at the edge of a pool when suddenly a fully clothed adult gets pushed in.

I stood back and watched the mayhem that ensued. All around me, people were grabbing people and wrestling them toward the water. The dark night air was full of pool spray and laughter. The kids were going crazy. Several people hunting for potential victims turned toward me, their faces lit with smiles. When they saw who I was they turned away again so that I felt sad instead of glad. Whatever changes were occurring inside of me, I still looked waterproof to them. Like the sick man in John's gospel, who lay by the healing pool of Beth-zatha for thirty-eight years because he had no one to put him in when the water was stirred up, I watched others plunging in ahead of me. Then two strong hands grabbed my upper arms from behind, and before I knew it I was in the water, fully immersed and swimming in light.

I never found out who my savior was, but when I broke the surface, I looked around at all those shining people with makeup running down their cheeks, with hair plastered to their heads, and I was so happy to be one of them. If being ordained meant being set apart from them, then I did not want to be ordained anymore. I wanted to be human. I wanted to spit food and let snot run down my chin. I wanted to confess being as lost and found as anyone else without caring that my underwear showed through my wet clothes. Bobbing in that healing pool with all those other flawed beings of light, I looked around and saw them as I had never seen them before, while some of them looked at me the same way. The long wait had come to an end. I was in the water at last.

I can relate to this book. I too am leaving church. Not God. And I haven't completely left church either. I like church. I just want to feel the spirit more and claim the sabbath back. So I will go to whichever church I feel like going to and no longer be guilted into doing things I don't want to do.

Or at least I'll try.


I am doing a series on the Barbara Brown Taylor book "Gospel Medicine" because I'm so taken by her thoughts and writing style. So here's a little bio about her stolen from Amazon.

 Barbara Brown Taylor's last book, An Altar in the World, was a New York Times bestseller that received the Silver Nautilus Award in 2012. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, received an Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association and won the Theologos Award for best general interest book of 2006. Taylor spent fifteen years in parish ministry before becoming the Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College, where she has taught world religions since 1998. She lives on a working farm in rural north Georgia with her husband Ed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gospel Medicine: Chapter 5 - Refreshing God's Memory

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book. 

In this chapter, Taylor focuses on Noah and the Ark and the rainbow of promise. I wrote my own blog post about rainbows several years ago which won me a place on a well known blog and scholarship money for my education. You can find that post here.

 Chasing Rainbows.

Self promotion aside, Taylor offers a distinction I had never thought of before.

The promise of the rainbow wasn't for humans. The promise was a reminder to God himself.

She talks about covenants but says that the rainbow wasn't a covenant, which is a two way promise. There were no conditions placed upon this promise. It was God promising never to do it again and He sets out the rainbow to jog his memory and remind himself that no matter how horrible we are, He loves us.

As parents we all need that sometimes.

She also offers us a God who repents. A God who says not only that He made a mistake in creating the world and in anger destroys it, but a God who regrets destroying it.

It's a unique take in a world where God never makes mistakes, never has to repent.

And yet when we read the Old Testament the change that we see from the Old to the New isn't in the people. People remain the same. They murder and cheat and do amazing acts of sacrifice and are all over the place. That part is consistent.

No, the bible tells the story of a God that changes. A God who punishes and repents. Who loves and hates, who gives and takes back. A God who controls and relinquishes control.

I have no problem with an imperfect yet still wiser God. It actually fits into my Mormon belief (one of the ones I still hold onto) that "as man is God once was, as God is man may become."

I actually like the idea of a man and a woman (for I believe God is a couple) working things out and trying to make the best world possible and finding out what succeeds and what doesn't.

For some that may be sacrilege. For me, right now, it makes sense.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Straw

Through the years there were things about the church that I had joined at seventeen that I didn't like and because I didn't understand it, I would put it "on the shelf" or "on the back burner" or "in the closet" where I didn't have to deal with it.

Some things I loved. Families are forever, Heavenly Mother, Jesus.

But some things like polygamy caused pain. In fact polygamy caused so much pain that I was too frightened to examine it, in case it really was true.

But in the end, polygamy wasn't what broke the camel's back. It sure weighted that camel down though and after the back was broken polygamy took a hammer to it. Which now is just making this whole metaphor bloody.

Nope, it was the face in the hat.

Old Institute Manuald Testament 
When I joined the church I was taught that Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni who commanded him to get the Golden Plates which were buried in a hill near where Joseph lived. Following the angel's directions Joseph found the plates but was forbidden to remove them. It took several years before he was considered worthy to have the plates and with the plates came the Urim and Thumim, devices that would help him translate the characters on the plates.

Now I was never clear on what the Urim and Thumim were. Sometimes it seemed to be a breastplate representing the twelve tribes of Israel that a man with the priesthood would wear while doing his duties. In fact there's an illustration on one of the church Institute manuals. You can see the guy sitting down is wearing it. I tried blowing it up but it just made it fuzzier.

The other explanation is that it was spectacles that Joseph could put on and see the characters. In fact the Urim and Thumim could be both these objects.

Art in the church depicted Joseph studying the plates.

This is what I was taught. The story never changed. This is what was said at church in sacrament, in Sunday School, in Relief Society and in every church meeting where the subject was about this the Golden Plates. And I was satisfied with the explanation that after Joseph translated the plates, the angel Moroni took them up to heaven.

Nowhere at church did I get this image.

Not once did anyone at church mention that Joseph stuck his face in a hat where he had placed a rock and translated that way.

When I first heard this I was watching an episode of South Park. It was an episode about the church that even I, a devout member found amusing and I wasn't even a South Park fan.

Of course when they said this I knew that the South Park people were making it up, or at the very least just saying stuff that anti-Mormon people make up. It was too ridiculous to be true.

One day my son mentioned it to me and I brushed it off. "That's just anti-Mormon stuff that people say. It's not true."

It took a couple years later when I dared to venture out of the safety of Mormon hood and started listening to John Dehlin's Mormon Stories. I'm not sure which church historian said it, but it was someone who was a respected historian, who was or still is a member of the church, and was or still is fully believing.

This was no anti-Mormon.

And as I looked further, I found that  the face in the hat story was true, not the story that the church had been teaching me.

Furthermore that rock that was in the hat, was a rock that Joseph happened to find one day and he told people that it helped him find buried treasure. None of which he found. Think about it, a poor boy claims to be able to find buried treasure and charges people money to do it. If he could find buried treasure wouldn't he keep it for himself and not have to charge other people to find it?

He was arrested and found guilty for this. And he wasn't charged just once. The church never tells that part of the story either.

So then he uses that same stone that doesn't work to translate the gold plates which don't even have to be in the same room with him.

I'm a miracle believer. I believe that God can do pretty much anything He darn well pleases. I have seen miracles and experienced them. We don't know everything that this world has to offer.

So I can believe in angels and golden plates and translations with instruments coming from God.

I can't believe in a face in a hat with a found stone that was used to con people out of money.

More importantly, the church lied to me. For over thirty years, it lied to me. It's not like the church didn't know. The church does know. And it lied to me through teaching other people like me those lies and writing it down in manuals and asking us to spread those lies and sending out young men and women to knock on doors and proclaim those lies.

So how can the church be true?

And how can the Book of Mormon be true?

Or the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price?

And if Joseph lied about how he translated, then how can the temple rituals which Joseph got from the Masons be binding?

The entire thing topples to the ground because of a face in a hat.

The one thing that is left is Jesus, because Jesus has other resources that testify of Him. And there are teachings within the church that can still stand because there are other resources that testify of them.

But the church itself? The church is a liar.

Can the church stand once everyone discovers this?

I think the church has some repenting to do. I think it can still survive. But the church has to admit its mistakes. It has to stop proclaiming that these stories are true. It has to admit that Joseph was not a prophet but just the guy who started the church. The church has to abandon the temple practices. The church has to admit that the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price are not accurate and that the Doctrine and Covenants is not a testament of God.

The church has to admit that they are another Protestant church that testifies of Jesus Christ.

And then maybe it can survive.

And then maybe that is a church I can support.

But I can't proclaim an unapologetic lying church as being the only true church.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Gospel Medicine: Chapter 4 - Blessed Brokenness

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book. 

I loved this chapter! There is so much wisdom in a few short pages.

Taylor writes about the travelers on the Road to Emmaus who are joined by a stranger. During the journey they speak of Christ and His death and the rumors of His resurrection. The travelers do not believe in the testimony of those who claim they saw Christ expressing their disappointment. It takes the stranger to point things out to them.

Taylor writes: "The Christ is not the undefeated champion; he is the suffering servant, the broken one, who comes into his glory with his wounds still visible. Those hurt places are the proof that he is who he says he is, because the way you recognize the Christ and his followers is not by their muscles but by their scars... Which means they are not to interpret their defeats as failures anymore."

It's very soothing and hopeful to not consider my many scars and my many defeats as failure. My scars and defeats are a by product of living, of not just staying in my room and watching TV but of going out into the world and taking chances and failing because I cared enough to try.

Jesus did not stay in His room. He did not stay in His father's carpentry shop. That wasn't His place although I'm sure he made beautiful tables and chairs. He went out into the world and said things that weren't popular and broke the rules and embraced the people. The consequences were devastating and initially it appeared that He had lost, that He had failed.

And yet, He did anything but. He rose above it and two thousand years later many still strive to live by His words and follow His example and we watch hoping to travel with the stranger on our road to Emmaus.


Watershed: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs

I went to the United Church today. I had been doing so much at the United Church lately that I figured it was time to go to a service. So I went and was greeted warmly by people I knew, mostly from those other things I had been doing. There's the book club group on Tuesday mornings and a group that was looking at "Living the Questions" on Sunday evenings. So it wasn't an entirely scary thing that I was doing. Just different. Plus I had written an article for the newspaper about the United Church building.

The pastors message today was about the woman at the well. 

And about watersheds.

And so inspired I wrote a poem which has music in my head because that's generally the way I write poetry even though I have no musical abilities whatsoever in spite of being a singing nun in the Sound of Music.

Here it is. I never promised greatness.


The stream runs to the river, twisting, rushing, falling,
The river runs into the sea,
The water leaves its life, giving everywhere it goes,
And moves on towards its destiny.
I have been turned around from the road I was on,
And away from where my path had always led,
The view here is different, in sight, and touch and sound,
As I mark the point of my watershed.

Come and drink from the river rushing by,
Let it pool in the places that had dried,
Open up my eyes, open wide my heart,
Feast upon the word and be well fed,
I may travel this alone, as I make a brand new start,
I will mark the place of my watershed.

Though the path is different, the goal remains the same,
I re-examine things I thought and said,
I put on all my tools, my armor and my sword,
And mark the place of my watershed.
The road is bumpy and uphill, I’m not sure where I’ll be led,
And I look back on my watershed.