Monday, October 7, 2013

Small victories

On Saturday night I watched the Priesthood session for the first time.  I got to watch it with my little son running around and my dad and brother.  Right before it started my dad actually told me that Priesthood is his favorite session because all three members of the first presidency speak in a row.  I'd never realized he even liked going before, so that was news to me.  The speakers knew that this was the first time women would be watching, even if they weren't there in person, and avoiding talking about pornography and abuse, both of which are discussed in almost every priesthood session.  Every talk felt applicable to women.  

All comments from FMH and YMF on facebook since Saturday night have been about being sad and depressed.  I feel like we are not being grateful or considerate enough of the changes that are taking place and that need to take place in order for women to get the priesthood.  Change does not and, arguably, should not occur quickly.  The ordination of Mormon women would be huge.  Huge things take more than one year.

In one year women have began a real movement that is getting a lot of notice and discussion in Mormonism.  That is a victory.  Pants Day, women praying in church, and watching the Priesthood session live are all victories on the road to the eventual elevation of women.  Will we get the priesthood someday?  I can't say for sure but women are now getting more in respect.  I appreciated that the women who spoke at conference this time didn't direct their talks at the women or children and didn't talk about families or other "womenly" topics.  They gave real talks.  I also appreciated how much discussion there was of women.  Perhaps I didn't agree with all of it, but the fact that there was some openness was great.  For the first time, I didn't feel like I was going directly against the general authorities by working and wanting to be the primary provider for my family (just against most of them).

Was I surprised that women didn't get in to the Priesthood sessions?  No.  Was anyone really? Although I am grateful for all the men and women who went and tried. Pants day was last December, do you think the church will change so fast?  The general authorities are just beginning to think about the future of women in the church being different from the past and present.  I think improvements are happening and we need to be grateful for them.  

To be honest, I think they will pray and ponder about women and the priesthood but I don't think they have yet.  I think first they need to have a different mind set about women.  They need to see women as their equals before they will be of a mind to receive an unbiased answer.  Most of these men were born just shortly after the constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was passed.  They had children in the fifties, the era of prosperity in the US that created the "stay at home" mom.  The general authorities must change decades of bias against women before they will be capable of receiving a "yes" answer (of course, the answer could still be no, but at least it would have been possible to go either way).  I think now is the time to show we are responsible and faithful, willing and able.  I worry that the great momentum that has been built will taper in the meantime.  I hope that  regardless of the ordination question, women will continue to be more noticed and be a stronger presence in the church than the mothers of future sons.  I hope women speak up and pray and stand out.  We are at least half, if not more, of the Mormon population.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

To Fox News: Read the book next time

I will admit that I have sort of placed my faith on hold for the last five or six months (sorry, sunday
school teachers, I remember you said if you're not building it up, it's falling apart).  I've been trying to focus all my energy into my family and school.  I've been feeling quite lost and confused at church and now I'm in the nursery so I don't feel like much of a Mormon anymore.

I finally broke out of my funk and acknowledged reality again this past week.  I read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.   I've debated for some weeks whether or not I should read this book.  I first heard about it on npr while driving home the day before it was released.  They interviewed Aslan who admitted that his book was about the humanity of Jesus.  After discussing it with Adam, I felt very discouraged about it.  How much good could a book that disagrees with my faith do for me?

The reality is that within Mormonism, I believe in Jesus Christ and God more than anything else.  I believe in Them even if Mormonism is all false.  Conversely, if I were to come to the conclusion that They aren't real, Mormonism would not be true.  I was very worried about reading a book that could literally make my beliefs fall apart and make me into an even greater outcast than I already am.

So I put it out of my mind until the Fox News thing happened.  While watching it, I kept thinking "lady, why didn't you read the book? Or even the prologue?"  So I decided I had to read the book.  There is nothing that makes a book more compelling for me than to have it be controversial.  Sad, but true.

So I bought it and read it with in four days (while being on vacation with my family and in-laws no less).  The book is split into three parts.  1. Historical context of Jesus, 2. Life of Jesus, and 3.  What happened immediately following the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus.

The history is pretty interesting, I learned a lot about Jerusalem and the Roman Empire from the time.  He reiterates many times throughout the book that the Apostles altered the story of Jesus when they wrote the books of the New Testament to suit what they needed them to say.  Mark is the first book written in 50 CE, then Luke and Matthew around 70 CE, and John in 100 CE (ish on the dates).  He uses the change in language and stories through the Gospels as evidence for the change in the early Christians.  Particularly important, is the growing Gentile audience.  Aslan claims that Paul is so important in the New Testament because he was preaching to a Gentile audience in Rome and elsewhere.  When the Christians in Jerusalem were scattered and killed during the last Jewish Rebellion in Jerusalem (the one where the Romans destroyed the Temple and evicted most of the Jews, they even changed the name of Jerusalem), Paul's teachings became more popular.

Aslan makes some interesting points, I never realized, for example, that Paul and James, the brother of Jesus, don't see eye to eye (I clearly need to reread the New Testament).  I never knew that from Jesus, James was actually the next leader (although for reasons Aslan describes that I wont go into, the New Testament is written to sound like Peter became the leader).  After James came a cousin of Jesus.   I also never considered that the story of Jesus going to Egypt as an infant and returning to Jerusalem would be a symbol of the story of Moses and a promise of the the role of Jesus.

Aslan's general thesis of Jesus being a Jewish man rather than a Christian Messiah was not that bothersome to me.  Mostly because a lot of things he uses as evidence don't exist in the Mormon church, but also because I agree that it is very difficult for a person to think beyond the constraints of the environment in which they are born into.  For the former, Aslan uses the Trinity as evidence of the New Testament being more Greek than Jewish.  After all, a lot of the text is not written by the actual authors (except for Luke), but by others.  In Judaism,  there is no such thing as a God man or a demigod.  They are plentiful in Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology.  The trinity makes the case that God and Jesus are the same and one can interpret the life of Jesus as also being the life of God.  I'll admit, I'm not particularly familiar with that idea so I may have understood it wrong.  But in Mormonism, we believe that everyone has the potential to be a god.  So I've taken that to mean that while Jesus was perfect, He was a man and will be a god someday.  I've always sort of been confused, aren't we all children of God?

Aslan does contest the virgin birth, but as a scientist that doesn't really bother me.  I did think it was interesting that the early Christian church emphasized the virginity of Mary so much that they reduced the significance of the siblings of Jesus (this is the primary reason Aslan believes that the role of James is downplayed in the New Testament).  Surprisingly to me, Aslan seemed to miss a point in this argument.  He later argues that when Jesus is called the son of Mary (rather than the son of Joseph as was common then) is potential evidence that Jesus was born out of wedlock.  But if he referred back to his own argument that the writers of the New Testament wanted to reinforce the virgin birth, it only makes sense that they would have written out Jesus, the son of Mary.

I really enjoyed this book largely because I felt a challenge to my beliefs so I needed to actively think.  The book itself is very well written, not too academic.  Aslan, with his four degrees, is actually a professor of creative writing and it shows.  He ends by saying,

"..the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should hopefully reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth--Jesus the man--is every bit as compelling, charismatic, and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ.  He is, in short, someone worth believing in."

I'm still thinking it all through, but it was a great read.  If you'd like a more academic review, here is one from the New York Times written by a Yale professor of religion.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The dreaded post on gender roles...

Women and traditional gender roles seemed to occupy the thoughts of many of the general authorities as they prepared talks for this general conference (April 2013).  In reality, I'm fairly certain it is always like this and that I noticed it more because of the Ordain Women movement and my current preoccupation with my own life.

This blog, as I've said before, is more for me to work out my feelings and thoughts than for people reading to glean insights (it is definitely not a place I will rant).  I do, at the end, talk to all the people who have been saying awful things on Trib's comment section for the article on saturday's meeting of the Ordain Women movement. With that in mind, I'll plunge in...

Men and women are obviously different, but that doesn't mean they can't both share leadership roles in the church and simultaneously share child rearing responsibilities.  My husband is perfectly capable of taking care of our little son all by himself for as long as I am.  Our relationship is much like this, we both work and take care of our child (up until now he has not attended daycare but may in the future).  We both have our own separate hobbies and interests, exercise, and spend lots of times with our baby.  If one of us were called to leadership (which, let's not lie, probably will never happen given our bishop's inability to remember who we are) the other would be perfectly capable of making up for it.  But it wouldn't matter if it were him or me.

So when listening to all the talks about men and priesthood and women and motherhood I am torn between gagging and rolling my eyes.  It seems to me that over the last fifty to seventy-five years, men have become much more involved in their children's lives.  As this has occurred, men have become considerably better nurturers.  It seems like we're capable of what we think we are or what we expect of ourselves.

Despite that, Adam is much more fun than I am and I am the one who consciously thinks a lot about how much our baby has slept or ate.  But I still spend lots of time playing with the baby and Adam still feeds him and makes sure he naps.  So, yes, we are all better at different things, but that shouldn't limit us in any way.

I read a story about how a woman with four very young children had such a difficult time each Sunday because her husband was in the bishopric.  So, there is a pretty major issue here.  Mormons have lots of kids all close in age that require a lot of work and responsibility.  Obviously, both parents in such a situation cannot be in major leadership roles--someone has to take care of the kids during Sacrament meeting and what not.  But that doesn't mean it has to be the man in the leadership calling and the women running after children through all the halls of the church, not getting anything out of the meeting.  (In fact, in my ward it's usually the men that take the kids out during sacrament)

I think some presidencies should be co-ed.  Sunday school, for example, is full of men and women and the presidency doesn't need the priesthood anymore than the relief society presidency does.  Primary could also be co-ed.  They have lots of men teachers, men could help in organizing as well.  If the bishopric wants to be all men, that's fine.  But there are lots of roles women would be great at and should have the opportunity to take a more active role in.


The priesthood is a whole separate issue.  Not because it's actually a separate issue, but because it is such a huge concept.  Women holding the priesthood.  Savor it for a minute.  I had to, my first reaction was "why would I want the priesthood?"  There is NO doctrine that says women can't hold the priesthood.  Don't lie to yourself, it's not there.  It's only controversial because we are already so behind the rest of the developed world in our gender roles.  Actually, the Temple was the place I really realized it wasn't such a controversial thing.  We kinda already have the priesthood.  So why not?  What does it really hurt?  Who does it hurt?  Is it necessary for women: no.  But if we're supposed to have it in the eternities, why not now?

To the trib commenters (who were pretty vicious) : the Ordain Women movement isn't asking for the priesthood.  They're asking the general authorities to pray about it and see if women should have it.   Similar agitation of the general authorities lead to blacks getting the priesthood and the elimination of plural marriage.  It's not a new or heretic concept in anyway.  They have a right to ask.  Don't judge them (or me) for being open minded about something new and potentially good.

And for those of you who are so content with the church as it is (more trib commenters):  stay out of all of this.  Not everyone feels so happy and fluffy at church.  Lots of people feel isolated.  You don't know what that is so don't judge those of us who struggle with some of the basic cultural issues at church (notice they're not doctrinal issues).

I really loved how at the end of conference Monson talked about being tolerant and loving others.  I think it's important to be as tolerant and loving of people we may not agree with within the church as much as people of other faiths.  I did really enjoy conference, some of the talks were amazing and very touching.  I'm looking forward to hearing the new Young Women's presidency next conference.

I'm not being disrespectful of the Mormon church.  I still love the doctrine, the real stuff.  I'm grateful that I get to go each week to feel the spirit and that twice a year I get to listen to the apostles and the prophet.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The New Era

The New Era is an lds magazine that has church articles geared towards the youth.  When I used to read it I felt like a lot of the stories were superficial, they were all about how blessed you'd be if you didn't play sports on sunday or if you dressed modestly. Yesterday I decided to see what the focus and tone was in the 70s when the magazine started, assuming  the worst.  

The first article I pulled up was called What about pop music? from the 1971 January edition.  I expected the author to say that it was bad and why.  But he actually started with an interesting and surprisingly insightful history of how music had been innocent in the 50's and become politically charged in the 60's.  He calls it the "age of the 'message lyric.'"  Then he just talks about how to discern for yourself what music uplifts you.  He ends by saying that music you listen helps define you.  For some reason, the whole thing lacks judgement--It's not even cautionary.  It seems to be informative, like the author just wants people to know that music has messages and you should think about them and if they uplift you.

It was pointed out to me that I am reading out of the context of the time, but more of that later.

I next read an article called A Testimony of My Conversion from the 1971 February edition.  It was about a 60 year old guy who had been a convert for four years.  He talks about how he grew up a Quaker, what made him happy and what ultimately dissatisfied him.  Arthur talks about how Quakerism lacked vigor.  He talks about William Butler Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot and how their writings and opinions on religion affected him.  He has such an intellectual perspective on religion, it's fascinating.  He looked at so many religions and somehow settled on Mormonism.  He ends with a beautiful testimony.  It kind of made me feel proud of being Mormon.  Something I need more now living outside of Utah than I ever did before.

For perspective, I wanted to read a new article in a recent article.  First I downloaded the April 2013 edition and didn't find any title that really spoke to me.  So I pulled up the March 2013 magazine.  I read The (CM)2 Project because I didn't know what (CM)2 could possibly mean.  It was kind of what I remember--short and sweet about how the author wanted a clean mouth and mind.

So I wanted something more, so I pulled up I have a Testimony of the Family written by the second counselor in the Young Women General Presidency.  Instead of a cool article like the 1971, it was a 10 step plan to getting your own testimony.   Step 1: pray.  Step 2: read The Proclamation to the World. Step 3: Read the words of the prophets. etc.  The 1971 article was so rich in words like 'dogma' and philosophy and literature.  Why did it change?  I pulled up almost every article from the March 2013 issue.  There are many more articles, but all are a lot shorter.  So, while I had intentionally avoided the main General Authority article that is associated with each edition of The New Era, I resorted to it.  This month Elder Quentin L. Cook talked about being yourself, essentially not giving in to peer pressure and becoming someone others want you to be.  I was a little more impressed with this article.  Elder Cook talks about church history and how specifically his words apply to modern day.  My biggest complaint was that he felt the need to talk about pornography, which is a relatively minor issue to me (I'm just a little tired of hearing it is all).  It still lacked the depth and intellectualism of the earlier articles, but it was interesting to read.

My quest into the history of Mormonism through the magazines has just begun, but so far I'm feeling like the older format of fewer, longer articles invited more stimulating articles. 

Now, to address the most major issue: I do not live in the 70's and I never did.  From what I know, the whole world was politically charged and everyone was changing.  Maybe the church was writing to their audience: kids then wanted the intellectual part of the church and now people are apathetic.  Ultimately, I am not offended by the particularities of what was being said because I have no emotional attachment to the advice.  I can't control for that in any way, sorry.

I'm feeling like if such intellectual articles have been published in the past, maybe someday in the future they will be too.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


It has to be here. As a Mormon biologist, I cannot ignore both the existence and perception of evolution.

First of all, I find it somewhat annoying that Biologists almost literally worship Darwin for his contribution of evolution.  I also find it annoying that very few non scientists have taken the time or thought to realize that evolution is much bigger than human evolution and the long existing controversies associated with it.

At Cornell, in every biology class we talked about evolution at some point in addition to taking a 3 credit evolution class.  In my high school in Utah we'd barely addressed the concept so I was surprised when I was told evolution is fact.  As in, has been completely proven.  In science, we hesitate long and hard before labeling any theory as 'fact' because we know that there is still more we don't know that could disprove that theory.  Evolution has been labeled a fact, as have most of Charles Darwin's ideas from On the Origin of Species.  Now, for those of you who were not inundated with biological knowledge, On the Origin of Species does not address human evolution specifically.  It talks about the nature of populations, the variation between individuals for example as well as stable population size and available resources.  The variation is the key--he hypothesized it would be heritable and the best suited variations to the environment would be the most likely to carry on.  Natural Selection, Darwin said, was the driving force.  Now, all his theories have been rigorously studied.  Species have variation and change over time: fact.  I've seen it myself in flies over a period of months.  It happens.

Now, how to fit that into my previous framework that "God created man in His own image."  I'd already come to accept that the Big Bang probably happened and I'd never had a problem with that being potentially the way God had created the universe.  I don't know enough about astrophysics to argue it either way.  But since we don't believe in The Bible being completely literal, I don't see a problem with acknowledging the popular scientific theory.  Likewise why not have evolution be the hand of God guiding the formation of man.  I mean, is it really less believable than that He gathered dirt in His hands and blew life into it? And then proceeded to take a rib from Adam to create woman?  In the 1909 statement, which the church has paraphrased over the years and even reprinted in 2002, all it says is that man is created in the image of God.  Truthfully, the origin of man from apes (which is actually incorrect--the correct wording would be that apes and man share a common primate ancestor) is less controversial to me than the concept of evolution itself.  As we evolve (and people evolve over time, there has been a noticeable change in height for example) we would be changing the image of God, albeit only slightly.   Eventually, man will be quite different from what we are today.  I used to try and cop out with the concept that the 2nd Coming will happen long before those changes occur, but now I'm just accepting that whether or not that is the case, it's okay.  I cannot deny the changes in humans over known history.

For those of you to whom these ideas make you uncomfortable:  feel comfortable knowing that scientists have yet to identify the common ancestor of apes and man.  If you want to believe God magically created us, there is no proof to deny that.  But it might eventually happen and what then?  Your choices are 1. don't believe science because you're afraid or 2. have a crisis of your faith because The Bible and religious cultures around the world have told you it could not be and it is.  All I can say for sure is that I believe God created man and that evolution is a fact.  Put it together however you want.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lifelong conversion

The topic of lifelong conversion was broached yesterday with an attitude of flippancy.  Just do it.  Be converted. Read the scriptures and pray and you will have no issues.  (Okay, am I the only one noticing we say virtually the same thing every week as part of every lesson).  I have issues.

Does conversion mean just believing in basic principles or everything?  Can I have a lifelong conversion even though I had a boyfriend when I was 15 and still today at 24 don't see anything wrong with that? Because that sort of makes me a "buffet Mormon."  I chose not believe some teachings in For the Strength of Youth.  

We are supposed to be "converted unto the Lord".  The church website describes it as a process to becoming a better person.  A change of heart.  What about when you were raised to be this way?  When did this process start and what am I changing from?  And really, does drinking beer or coffee constitute you as a bad person?  Most people are inherently good and will make good decisions provided they don't have a serious conflict with the decision and their own best interests.  So, how does a convert change?  My mother is a convert and the only change she made in her life besides gaining a testimony was to move to Utah and give up her partially completed law degree in favor of having kids.  

That same link discusses the 4th Article of Faith.  The ordinances of baptism and confirmation are important to eternal salvation, but faith and repentance contributed far more to my conversion because it all happened in my mind and heart.  I barely remember my baptism.  I do remember that at around that age I could easily distinguish between making 'right' and 'wrong' choices so I understand that age of accountability aspect of baptism.  But the choice to get baptized did not necessarily indicate I was converted.  With the cultural pressure and expectations it wasn't even a choice.  

In science, an experiment showing any type of change must have a control experiment that parallels the actual experiment in every way but without what you think is causing a change.  For example, if you are administering a drug that you think will have a desired effect, you must have people/mice that take a placebo pill/water instead.  In this type of set up, you can easily see the change wrought by the drug.  I wish I could have one of those It's a Wonderful Life moments where you see how different your world could be.  A contrast difference really shows change.

Am I converted?  I have faith, I try to repent of my bad decisions and change my bad habits.  I want to follow Jesus Christ's example.  That is what conversion means to me, to be as good as I can and not apologize for the rest.  I don't think I have to focus on every tiny thing any general authority has ever said.  I want to be a good person, a person who stands up for herself and opens herself to others.  I want to reach out to those who are struggling and be a comfort to anyone who needs it.  While I am unable to focus every day on how I need to be the 'perfect Mormon girl,' I can focus on being a solid person who cares for others.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


After the first two posts, I suppose it might sound surprising but I love my beliefs.  I never feel more peaceful and happy than when I'm in one of our beautiful temples or at church (although I'm often more in my own head than listening to people).  In thinking very seriously about what I like about Mormonism and my testimony, I concluded that maybe it is about the after life.  I see lots of perfectly happy people every day who are not Mormons and so I have no illusion that Mormonism is the only way that a person can be happy.  So it really is about the temple and how that connects with death and post death.

I really appreciate that I don't have to believe in a black and white heaven and hell with an awful gray purgatory in between.  I love the idea that there are three levels of heaven and if you're the best you can live with God in the celestial kingdom.  No one really goes to hell, or outer darkness as we call it.  I, personally, would be happy to live in the telestial kingdom that is supposed to be a beautiful idyllic Earth.  I also really love that I'm not going alone, that Adam goes with me.  And that I'm connected to my parents and my kids somehow.

The temple is very open and white inside and when I'm there I feel light and unburdened.  It seems like we're super secretive about what happens there, but I think a lot of that is because its a long explanation about somewhat foreign sounding things and there is one thing we're not supposed to talk about that people are afraid they'll come to close to. Once your twelve you can go and do ordinances for the dead: baptism and confirmation.  When you're an adult you can go and receive the next couple levels of ordinances  including the sealing ordinance that seals you to your spouse (our version of marriage) and then do them for the dead.  The others are difficult to explain and so I wont try it here.  I know it seems like we're obsessed with the dead, but there is something logical to me that everyone should get an opportunity to go to heaven.  If we didn't provide those services for everyone ever the whole concept of needing ordinances to go to heaven wouldn't work for me.

I'm happy here on Earth and I don't need to have this knowledge to be happy.  But, the whole idea of the three degrees of glory (as we call them) really resonates with me.  I believe.