26 May 2010

Gems of Heaven

--originally posted on Waters of Mormon on August 30, 2007--

Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23: 34

This scripture has been the source of my strength this week because I've been dealing with people and disappointment in excess lately.

Being the book-oriented person that I am, I took to the scriptures very easily, and I love them because they are so timeless. For just about every struggle you could possibly have, there's a scripture that gives succinct pieces of advice and comfort for that struggle.

The first time I experienced this phenomenon was before I was baptized. I was looking for a scripture that I wasn't certain I had ever even read before. I knew that my Baptist youth leader had one from Jeremiah that she liked a lot, and I thought that hers was the one I was searching for. But when I read it, I knew that scripture wasn't the one I needed. I was thumbing though the Bible that her husband had given me, and I prayed to find whatever it was I was looking for.

I opened to Psalms and began to read. Eventually I came to Psalms 27:10, and I was floored. That scripture is proof that God knew there would be teenagers, and He loves them very much. That spiritual experience was by no means the strongest of my life, but it was the first that led me on my quest for gems of knowledge; the scriptures that touch your heart the second you read them.

I consider myself a treasure hunter when I read my scriptures. My gems of knowledge are color coded based on how they've touched me. If they're from/about the Savior they're yellow. When they relate to women, Zion, YW or RS (light blue); my patriarchal blessing (dark blue); the temple (green); scripture mastery, warnings, or references to Satan (brown); war and fighting, agency, or contrast (orange); and references to the offices or functions of the priesthood are in red.

It sounds really compulsive, but it works for me. Each gem has a reason why it's precious, and each color reflects a different gem. I have a treasure trove of sapphires and rubies, emeralds and amethysts, garnets, amber, and topaz, and its a special kind of treasure that I will never lose because they're written in my heart. (3 Nephi 13: 20-1)

I have always believed that you can tell a lot about someone from their favorite scriptures. When I go to another person's home, one of my favorite things to do is to search for refridgerator magnets, pictures, wall hangings, trinkets, or any other kind of knick-knacks that might have scriptures on them. Going past churches in my daily travels is fun too because their roadside signs sometimes have a scripture that I rehearse immediately in order to look up later.

To me, seeing a scripture at times like that is never a coincidence; I believe that Heavenly Father talks to us through these scriptures that are all around us, if we would just look them up and ponder them in our hearts. I had that happen with a scripture in a actor's playbill bio once.

And since I've comitted to reading the Book of Mormon cover to cover, my treasure chest is overflowing. I invite any of you who lack such treasure to begin your quest anew; to become as a child and remember all of the times you played pirates, and the buried treasure was just an adventure away. Our Father in Heaven not only believes in such adventures, He encourages you to seek them out.

To my more seasoned explorers (and even the not-so-seasoned,) what are some of your favorite scriptures? Why are they your favorites? What quests have you had that have led you to the prescious gems of Heaven? And if you have not begun your quest yet, how can we help you find what you're looking for?

23 May 2010

Zion: It starts with Me

Good morning roommate... no really! I don't mind if you wake me up! I would actually find it more offensive if you had any doubt whatsoever if it's OK to wake me up for church.


MMM. Homemade apple sauce for breakfast. I love when I can eat the things I cook. :)

Wow. Is this what being early to Church looks like at BYU? We're only 15 minutes early and the room is empty. Even the bishopric isn't here yet. Gotta love Mormon Standard Time.

I don't LIKE being released from callings! I never know whether to raise my own hand for the vote of thanks when I'm the only one being released!

Sacrament Hymn 185: Reverently and Meekly Now

I have ransomed even thee... 

I never thought of myself as being kidnapped, but in a real sense that's very true. I am as trapped by mortality as I feel sometimes... but my Lord paid the price to set me free. And not in some esoteric future either. Right here. Right now.

I am free.

Oh wow... what is this feeling?

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.

At last, heavy tears gather on my lashes. They fall slowly, clinging to my face the whole way down before landing softly in my lap.

I wipe them away as I take my piece of bread, the largest I can see, and wonder with a faint smile if that's how I get myself into these situations.

Drip. Drop. Drip.

I have needed these tears. I could do nothing to give my grief to them--Lord knows I've tried--and I could not bring myself to drink the gall of my own struggle. I simply watched the cup fill to brim, then overflowing... 

When, at last, my soul is touched.

And as I looked again, the weight of waiting appeared as a tiny plastic cup before my eyes! How I rejoiced, just as silently as I had suffered! 

Dear God, I thank thee! I thank thee...

Subject for talks: Testimony

Notes:
"No one has a testimony so strong that if they stopped working on it, it would continue to grow." Speaker

"Life is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience," Speaker likening Elder Holland's statement on missionary work to cultivating a testimony.

Bishop then tells us we're combining for Sunday school and Relief Society and asks us not to leave. They have a special message for us.

Joshua 1: 9. Isn't that the Mutual Theme?.... YUP! Oh boy, I called it! High five roommate! Yeah!

Bishop didn't know that was the Mutual Theme? That's funny.

Bishopric takes turn addressing us. They're basically giving us step by step instructions on how to build Zion, but they Just. Aren't. Saying. That!

I raise my hand and point out the reference to the promised land in the chapter heading.

Bishop asks "And what is the promised land?" Someone say Zion!  "Eternal life." Well, that answer is so good I'm not going to argue with it. They'll figure it out eventually.


For now, I can be content knowing that I see what's coming. I am Zion, and my contribution to Zion begins with me. I should do more reading on the subject. I suspect that the timing of the Savior's coming is unknown because the time has not been set; rather, it depends on how long it will take us all to build Zion so we can present the Church of the Lamb to the Lamb. But that's just my working theory for now.

Until then, Zion starts with me, and I start here:
"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." Luke 6: 38

19 May 2010

Understanding Polygamy: A Brief History

In 1882, Congress passed the Edmunds Act--legislation that made polygamy a felony. This act was solely in response to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' practice of plural marriage.

However, to make polygamy illegal would have been ineffective because evidence to prove polygamous marriage wasn't easy to obtain. To prosecute fairly would require testimony and evidence only the Church and its members could give, which obviously wasn't going to happen.

So the U.S. government tried to be clever and pass legislation that would make "bigmous" and "unlawful cohabitation" a felony, which would allow for circumstantial evidence to be enough to prove that polygamy had taken place.

Further disregarding the rule of law, the Edmunds Act provided a cover for arresting people who said they believed in plural marriage, but did not practice it themselves. Men were also arrested ex post facto, or for polygamous marriages that were performed before the law was passed in 1882.

Due process was simply ignored as more than 1300 men were arrested, including many prominent leaders in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency of the Church. Included among these is George Q. Cannon (center) who would serve as First Counselor under 4 Church presidents before the end of his life, including when this picture was taken in 1888.

The mentality behind this legislation was that no woman of her own accord would ever participate in polygamy. Female members of the early church needed to be liberated from their husbands and the pressures of the Church to conform, and the opponents were willing to come at the Mormons with everything in their arsenal.

Yes, including cheesy political cartoons.


These pressures and prejudices inspired what, to me, has always been one of the most powerful pieces of Mormon literature ever published.

And, to no one's surprise, it was written by a woman.

Is it Ignorance?

This is the question that Emmeline B. Wells posed in an article published in The Women's Exponent on July 1, 1883. Speaking to the federal legislators and civilian critics, Wells writes:

It seems a very common thing with people unaquainted with the facts to say, it is the ignorance of "Mormon" women "that keeps them in bondage," that "makes them submit to plural marriage," when in truth the very contrary is the case. It is because of the intelligence they possess on subjects connected with their existence here and hereafter, as well as that of their posterity and kindred, the hopes entertained, and the actual knowledge concerning the future that causes them to embrace a doctrine so unpopular and so objectionable in the eyes of the world. Such paragraphs as the following and similar ones abound in the newspapers and journals of the day: "It was hoped by giving the women of Utah the ballot they would use it for the destruction of the monster, which keeps them under its iron heel, in hopeless misery." These people may be well meaning, but they talk nonsense and folly in the extreme...

If anyone supposes these same women citizens to be ignorant of the rights the ballot gives them, then they know very little about the women of this Territory, and our advice to them is, let the matter rest until you have an opportunity of solving the problem by thorough investigation, and not from one side, and remember the words of the Savior, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." (Source: PBS.org)

For someone on a leash and horribly repressed, she sure does seem to know what she's about.

The first time I read Is it Ignorance? I was in high school. I don't remember if I was baptized yet or not, but Wells' testimony of polygamy impressed me. Her conviction was sincere, and her answer was consistent and full of doctrinal substance. Her question was compelling.

Polygamy--even faith itself--was it ignorance?

I had my faith and my witness from the Holy Ghost. In these I had my answer, my certainty. No, it wasn't ignorance. It was God.

But because polygamy was the only thing the people around me knew about the Mormons, it was the subject that was raised the most to me both before and after I became a member. The issue became an irritant, not to my testimony but to my patience, because the matter seemed so entirely irrelevant to the question they were really asking:

Is the Church true, despite polygamy? Or even simpler than that, is the Church true?

I wasn't the sort of person who could look at Joseph Smith and think, Oh my gosh, he was a polygamist and he kept it a secret, the Church must not be true!

Pardon my French, but that's nonsense.

Unless someone out there has a flux capacitor and a Delorian, the future still has no logical impact on the past. The First Vision had already happened and the Restoration was underway by the time polygamy ever became an issue. That Joseph revealed polygamy in 1831 has no logical impact on whether or not the First Vision took place in 1820. Or the restoration of the priesthood in 1829. Or the formal organization of the Church in 1830.

Unless of course the critics saying Joseph wasn't the prophet of the Restoration want to base that claim on something that hadn't even happened yet. In which case I should probably ask, Does God deny you blessings or punish you for sins that you haven't committed yet?

I hope not. That would suck.

Beyond chronology, it made perfect sense to me that Joseph would be commanded to implement polygamy, and then hesitate to widely publicize the practice.

No one need look any further than the Old Testament to see whether polygamy is allowable to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--considering Abraham and Jacob practiced polygamy. Polygamy is as eternal as the gospel itself, seeing as its the gospel that binds it. Its ancient origins are evidence enough of that.

But I can see two simple reasons why Joseph would hesitate to be too public with polygamy. On a personal level, Joseph was well aware that plural marriage would make his enemies want to kill him, not to mention break his wife's heart and cause many of his friends to abandon him. Those prospects are not pleasant to anyone, but especially not to someone who knew the loneliness that Joseph felt from having been mocked and hated from a young age for the destiny God had given him--what he could not deny or escape.

No one who hasn't felt that pain should never discredit it. It is not an easy burden to bear.

What critics must also remember is that Saints past and present, even though we no longer practice polygamy, still view it as a sacred marriage ordinance. We view polygamy with the same respect we view for our standard, monogamous marriage ceremony because we believe both are bound by the same God. To make certain details public would be extremely blasphemous to God and deeply offensive in our eyes. Being too open about polygamy would invite conversations with others about something that is not ours to discuss--something too sacred to profane even with well-intended words.

The Church's reserved approach to polygamy today reflects much of this same caution and reverence.

Is it Choice?

In short, you can look at Joseph Smith and the Church in regards to polygamy (or anything else, for that matter) and see secrecy, or questionable activities of a surreal nature that are too strange to believe. Or you can see a man and an organization that were destined to become much greater than they had the ability to become on their own--requiring transformation and struggle, a deep and abiding reliance on Jesus Christ and obedience to His commandments.

That's the choice. You can make it with God through prayer, with the faith that the Holy Ghost will reveal the answer unto you with clarity you cannot deny. Or you can do what a fair number of members are trying to do right now by trying to find conviction through history. Evidence. "Objectivity."

But expecting history to give you impartial, neutral certainty about anyone or anything is impossible. Relying on a secular approach to history when you're in search of religious conviction, is madness--the equivalent of relying on the understanding of stupid people who have studied the deeds of other stupid people in an attempt to find God.

If there's anything I learned from being a history major, it's that people are stupid. They've been stupid for a very long time. I include myself in this gladly. I'm one of the stupidest people I know, and I can say that with a smile for one reason.

I'm stupid because I'm human. Mortal. Fallible. It means that all of the glorious experiences I've had exist despite me. They have nothing to do with any capability I have. And to my great joy, studying history has revealed something quite amazing to me.

People all over the world are stupid, just like me. And somehow, we all go on living. We live despite our frailties, we endure despite our penchants for things that are self destructive, and we go on experiencing what we can't understand--only to discover there was a design to them all along.

I don't take that as a sign that people somehow manage all of that without God. On the contrary--I think the existence of God is the most self-evident, inescapable reality there is. I don't think our humanity could exist without Him, and in that way it's a gift. Learning relies on that frailty because that frailty allows for change.

So reader. After all this, the choice is yours. What's it going to be?

08 May 2010

Women of Faith and Priesthood Power

Some women in the Church believe that men are superior in authority to women because women do not hold the priesthood. Believing this opens the door for women to feel alienated and ostracized from the Church because they do not act in the offices of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood.

What these women do not understand is that the priesthood has much more to it than these two offices. The priesthood is the very power of God Himself. It's the power by which He does everything. It's the power by which the planets are fixed in their orbits. The priesthood, by very definition, is one thing: the power of God. And while that power attends the offices of the priesthood, acting in those offices is not the only way to access the authority to use that power.

Women’s access to the priesthood is different because her calling is different. Her calling is to motherhood, and many women have looked at this as a slap in the face, as if that calling limits her in comparison to the men of the Church. But I would argue that Motherhood--the covenant motherhood we talk about in the Church--is a sacred office closely tied to the power of God, in which He gives His daughters the authority to act in His name to do His work. Her inherent virtue, combined with the Holy Ghost and her covenants, give her power and authority in her own right to minister to God's children.

A Noble Birthright
I know that I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father—a literal daughter of Almighty God. This means, in the words of Relief Society President Julie B. Beck, that I have a “noble birthright.” I have power and authority through my influence as a daughter divine. I know I have power and authority to act in God’s name according to my virtue, talents, blessings, and covenants. This divinity is seamlessly associated with my sacred role as a mother, but exists as my inherent virtue, compassion, and goodness that I can strengthen even if I never have any of my own children.

I have learned from experience that motherhood has so much more to it than bearing children and taking care of their temporal needs. A calling to motherhood is a call to be selfless and powerful, connected to God in a way that no other relationship can ever begin to match or imitate.

I learned much of this from my mother, who is not a member of the Church and knows very little about what we teach. She did not teach me the gospel, or the doctrines of salvation. She did not teach me to know Jesus Christ. But she did teach me to be a strong woman, to know what I want, and to work hard for it in the face of poverty and desperation. She taught me to dig deeper and climb higher towards worthy goals, and to reach beyond myself and what my life would give me. She wanted me to have a life that was worth something because of the things I could do with it, and she has never let me lose sight of how much she knows my life is worth.

She knows these things about me, even though she does not have the gospel, because she is a mother. She has been my mother all my life and the love she has for me helps her to teach me those things which are even greater than she is, and yet are so much a part of who she is. She is not a perfect mother, but she has shown me so much of what it means to be a good mother. Her love for me, despite all opposition and all odds, helps me to understand the infinite love of God. Her unfailing example helps me to understand the relationship between women and the priesthood—beautifully ironic by the fact that she does not even know what the priesthood is.

A good mother—one who sees all of God’s children as her children--and a Saintly woman of faith are one in the same to our Church in its teachings. And with good reason, because a good mother is everything a good woman could ever hope to be. She is a homemaker, a mechanic, a doctor, a teacher, a scientist, a ruler, and a friend to all who know her—especially to her children. Else, how could she nurture them in all the directions their lives will take together? How can she guide them to an infinite God if she herself is not closely connected to Him, and near to all that is infinite? That connection to God will require all of her skills, talents, hopes, intelligence, dreams—literally all she has to offer. When she does this, a woman of faith nurtures her children in the ways of the Lord.

A Sacred Partnership
In his most recent General Conference address, Elder Bradley D. Foster quoted President Joseph F. Smith when he taught “The love of a true mother comes nearer [to] being like the love of God than any other kind of love.” To nurture God’s children in the gospel is a calling for women to come nearer to God than in any other capacity, to partake of His loving presence, and to bring their children into that presence. Little wonder Elder Richard G. Scott taught in that same General Conference “The most important callings in time and eternity are those of father and mother.” (emphasis added)

To be a woman of faith, then, is to be and do everything that makes life rich and abundant—to learn, to grow, to nurture, and to have sacred experiences of her own. The only things she has ever needed to accomplish this work is to be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, to make covenants with God, and to pray. Those prayers—in which she calls down the powers of heaven to assist her in the work of building our Heavenly Father’s kingdom—do not require her to hold an office in the priesthood. It does not matter if she is rich or poor, educated or ignorant, strong or weak. The companionship of the Holy Ghost that ultimately follows such prayers and seals her covenants to her is all the power and authority she needs to perform her calling as a mother.
Line of authority template for men

So where does the priesthood fit into this image of a woman of faith? The priesthood is the power behind her prayers and covenants, the sealing power of the Holy Ghost. Through the Holy Ghost, her power and authority are connected back to God Himself. When men are ordained to the offices of the priesthood by other men in the Church, those men place hands upon their heads and ordain them. These new priesthood holders are then given a line of authority that traces their newly given priesthood through their priesthood leaders, through Peter, James, and John, and finally back to Jesus Christ. This priesthood line of authority is crucial, and is what separates us from every other church on the earth.



Line of authority template for women
However, the righteous women of the Church do not need such an ordination because they do not act in the offices connected to those ordinances. Instead, they make covenants with Christ, approach Him in prayer such as they are—with an inherent virtue and goodness that is their power, authority, influence, and destiny. These women of faith promise “to mourn with those that mourn… comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places… even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life.” (Mosiah 18: 9) And it has been my experience that they will be given great power from Almighty God to keep that promise.

While we celebrate the ordination of our men to the holy priesthood order—the ordained hands that crown our fathers, brothers, and sons with the glory of God—we as women should never doubt the reality and glory of our own crowns just because we have had them since our birth. If she is so inclined, a Latter-day Saint woman can then think of her priesthood line of authority in motherhood as tracing through the Holy Ghost, then to Jesus Christ, then to the Father of us all. Because her calling is different, her line of authority in motherhood and womanhood is different, but never diminished.

In a season of my life when I had no access to the priesthood—no father, no home teachers, no callings—it meant everything to me to have the gift of the Holy Ghost attend to my needs and spiritual upbringing. Through His influence, Heavenly Father gave me opportunities to minister to others that permanently changed the way I see everyone, including Him. That experience remains a firm testimony to me of the good my Heavenly Father intends for me to do in this world, and the power He has promised to give me to do it all in His name.

This is not to suggest that women can achieve their fullest glory on their own. In order for women to access the gift of the Holy Ghost, they must be baptized and confirmed through the offices of the priesthood. To then receive the highest ordinances necessary to reach the Celestial kingdom, men and women must grow and advance together. By magnifying their respective callings that rely on the priesthood, men and women obtain eternal life in families—which are the lifeblood of this Church. Healthy homes and covenant families build healthy communities that allow generations to thrive. Men and women both are individually talented and divine because of their noble and godly heritage, but “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Exaltation requires men and women in equality and harmony to work together in building the kingdom of God. Therefore, the image of the silent, passive Mormon woman has no place in the true Church of God.

A Divine Destiny
Throughout my Church experience, I have seen rhetoric that has asserted the sacred role of womanhood to women by way of calling them queens. The Relief Society does, in fact, offer the women of the Church the opportunity to obtain the fullness of their stature as queens in Zion. Apostle M. Russell Ballard has expressed a “deep desire is to clarify how we in the presiding councils of the Church feel about the sisters of this Church… we believe that God’s plan is for you to become queens and to receive the highest blessings any woman can receive in time or eternity.” This message is not new, nor is it some product of the Church trying to be more politically correct due to public censure, as some critics might suggest.

Since the days of Joseph Smith, the Relief Society has been urged to live up to its potential. Joseph Smith himself taught that “if this Society [will] listen to the counsel of the Almighty, through the heads of the Church, they shall have power to command queens in their midst.” (History of the Church, 4:605-606) This respect and confidence in the divinity of woman’s mission and the importance of the Relief Society find their echo in the statement of former President Gordon B. Hinckley more than a century later when he testifies that Relief Society “gives [women] status as queens in their own households.

And still, the misunderstanding persists in the minds and hearts of women everywhere that somehow this stately role must be one as a figurehead only in the Church—one where we as divine daughters sit beside our husbands as bejeweled bearers of children, to be seen and not heard.


I take this as a compliment from the Quorum of the Twelve’s senior-most apostle—his all-too-prophetic warning to women of how they see themselves, and how they think the Church sees them. We are, in fact, queens through covenant. While all of God’s power is priesthood, and women do not act in the offices of that priesthood, we have access to power and authority of that priesthood. We have all the scepters, swords, and banners of a queen. With all of God’s children as “our greatest jewels,” we find our worth in Zion. In the latter-day mission of Jesus Christ, in opposing evil and preaching the gospel, we find our swords and banners. In the Holy Ghost and the covenants of Jesus Christ, we have our scepter of power and authority in Zion.

As President Julie B. Beck, our Relief Society leader in this latter day battle, has taught us—we are no ordinary queens. We do not sit upon our thrones playing patty-cake with our children, hardly more than children ourselves. We have a mission, a work to do, a fight to win against evil in the name of God. That fight will take us many places—opportunities for employment, traveling in foreign lands, and educational training of all kinds. These opportunities for women are blessings from God that have never been as prevalent on the earth as they are today. But these blessings become distractions when we seek them against the will of the Lord and His timetable for our individual lives, and the lives of our families. It is the responsibility of each individual sister to council with the Lord and to understand His will for her life.

We would do well to remember that not every sister will bear her own children, not every sister will marry, and not every sister will have opportunities for a career. Just because the Lord has made opportunities for many blessings does not mean every sister will receive them all in this life. This does not, however, excuse her from the responsibility of cultivating that goodness that is inherent in her being, or the benevolence that is her mission at all times.

I did not always understand these truths. I had to struggle to find my place in Church like any other young woman who must try to make a future for herself. I wanted to be a missionary, and then maybe an English teacher. The Lord had other plans for me, and He brought a wonderful young man into my life—ahead of schedule, I might add—that turned my world upside down forever.
Instead of fearing and skirting around being a wife and mother, I’ve come to embrace those opportunities and I’m excited to grow into those roles. I’m grateful for my leaders and their inspired council on how I can magnify these most sacred of all callings. I’m grateful for the Relief Society and all it has taught me about being a woman of faith. In the absence of a covenant family of my own, the best thing I ever did for myself and my testimony was to firmly root myself to the Relief Society. As long as I am there, I will not be led astray from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church of Jesus Christ on the earth today. I know that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration, and that Thomas S. Monson is the modern-day prophet that leads the Church in these latter days. I testify of Jesus Christ, of His Atonement and sacrifice that have provided us all with this mortal probation, this time to discover for ourselves what is most important in life, and to exercise our agency in choosing it. I deliver this message in His holy name, which delivers us from every bondage and lifts us where we stand—even Jesus Christ. Amen.

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