The Shelf

448px-PreservedFood1 Friday, 1 July 2000

At dinner today we listened to the radio, and in particular to a story about homosexual marriage.  I have to say, I’m a little confused about what to think.  The LDS church is not in favor of homosexuality, but I feel that that’s only because they [gay people] have extra-marital sex.  But how can it be anything but extra-marital?! Marriage is not allowed in such cases.  Yet I’m fairly sure the church isn’t in favor of gay marriage either.  What a pickle.  Makes me glad I’m straigt!!!! [sic]

I wrote that journal entry when I was sixteen.  I was on vacation with my family and I remember thinking a lot about gay marriage and homosexuality more generally, trying to figure out how the pieces fit together with what I understood of the Gospel.  Reading the entry now, I am struck by several things.  First, I seem hopelessly naive and unclear about the church’s stance in a way I am sure the youth of today could not be.  Having firmly understood that I was not to have sex outside of marriage, I naively assumed that was the main objection that the church had to homosexuality.  Gay marriage would, in that understanding, be the perfect solution.  So why was the church against gay marriage? Or was it? Seemingly I was unsure even of that.

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Girl Scouts Sans Troop

Girl Scouts Sans Troop

I was never a girl scout but I wanted my daughter to be one.  American Mormon boys enroll in church-sponsored Boy Scouts troops. However, the LDS church does not sponsor Girl Scout troops. To be fair to my children and give them equal opportunities, I wanted to find a way for my daughter to access the Girl Scout experience outside of church.

When I went to the Utah Girl Scouts website and tried to sign up, I received a notice saying that because of the high demand for Girl Scouts in my local area, my daughter would not be able to join a troop.  All troops were full. The Girl Scouts website recommended that I volunteer as a Girl Scout leader, find another adult who is not related to me to be my partner, and recruit at least four other girls my daughter’s age in order to establish a brand new troop.

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Resurrection Eggs

eggs open jesus

Right now my church job is doing Activity Days for the 8-year-old girls. As Easter is coming up, I decided to do a craft that would double as a FHE that the girls could do themselves: Resurrection Eggs. If you’ve never heard of these, I’m pretty sure the Evangelicals came up with them. You take 12 plastic eggs, and each one has a scripture in it along with an item that reflects part of the last days of Christ’s life on earth. My Southern Baptist friend had a set that I borrowed—and quickly gave back.  Most of the eggs were filled with implements of torture: a thorn, a nail, the cross, a whip. The rest were almost as depressing: three dimes/pieces of silver, dice to show how the soldiers wagered on his robe, a sponge with vinegar. I half expected there to be a tiny ear inside to represent Peter pulling a van Gogh on the dude who came to arrest Jesus. Maybe these eggs are suitable for Mel Gibson, but as a Mormon who sees Easter as a time of life, I just couldn’t foist these sadistic symbols on my little gals. Not that those events didn’t happen, but I think to tell the story only in terms of pain and sorrow is to rob Easter of its fuller meaning.  There’s a reason we associate bunnies and lilies and Cadbury chocolate with this holiday; it’s a time of rebirth and promise.  Yes there was pain and death but there was also hope. 

So I searched online for less morbid versions and found some good ideas, but none of them, not even the obviously Mormon ones, addressed the Atonement. I get it. It’s a hard concept, not one easily represented by something that can fit into a plastic egg.  And even as Mormons, I think when we teach kids about the Garden of Gethsemane we tend to shortchange what happened.  Just as Mormons feel the cross reduces the Savior to the crucifixion as opposed to the resurrection, we tend to make the Atonement all about sin when that is just a piece of it.  In Alma 7:11-12 it reads:  And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. If we only think of the Atonement in terms of Jesus suffering and dying for our sins, then we run the risk of thinking that if we can just keep from sinning then we don’t need the Atonement, as if it’s some insurance policy we are glad to have but would really prefer to never use lest our rates go up.  Maybe it’s age (or arrogance), but I feel like I SUFFER more than I SIN and have come to heavily rely on the Lord for the balm that the Atonement supplies.  I find great solace that Jesus experienced “pains, afflictions, temptations, sickness” and uses this knowledge to “succor” us. I want my children to know they can find comfort and peace no matter what the cause.

I settled on a plastic sacrament cup to put in egg #2 along with Luke 22:41-44 where Christ asks that the cup be removed.  It’s a bit abstract but it’ll do. The girls are delighted by the whole project, and we go through the scripture and importance of each object as we put them in our numbered eggs. It touched me to see them reenact the Last Supper and pass a loaf of bread around and each tear off a small piece for their own egg like sweet little deacons in pigtails.  Then comes the cup, representing the Garden and the Atonement. Third are the 3 dimes to show Judas’s betrayal. Fourth, a piece of twine as Jesus was bound by rope and taken to Pilate.  Fifth, a chunk of soap as Pilate “washes his hands” of it all. Sixth, a square of purple fabric to represent the mock royal robe Jesus was made to wear. Seventh, a nail to represent being placed on the cross. Eighth, tiny rocks to show that the earth shook and broke apart at the sadness of the Lord’s death. Ninth, a strip of white linen symbolizing the shroud the Savior was wrapped in by his friend Joseph. Tenth, a good size smooth stone indicating the rock that was placed in front of the tomb. Eleventh, cloves and bay leaves to show what Mary Magdalene and friends brought to anoint the body on Easter morning. And finally, the last egg is empty to represent the empty tomb. I made sure that final egg was the prettiest one. You can’t really overstate the importance of Life Eternal. One needs glitter for that.

And yet, for their day to day lives, I really pray the girls remember the power of egg #2. I took care to explain that the pain He suffered covered all of our sins—but so much more. I asked them to tell me about things that caused them pain. I got great answers: being teased, stubbing a toe, your best friend not liking you anymore, strep throat, pets dying, your dad getting mad at your when it’s not really your fault and on and on. After each answer I said, “Jesus understands that” or “He knows how bad that feels.” I want these girls to know that they have Heavenly Parents who get it.  They have access to divine comfort and healing. That is the heart of Easter.  Whether we are 8 or 80, we all need to feel like someone understands our pain and mistakes and loves us not just in spite of these weaknesses, but maybe even loves us a little more because of them.

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Guest Post: Heeding the Invitation of the Savior to ‘Come Unto Me’

by Laura

(In her post from earlier today, Laura gave us the back story and aftermath of her Sacrament Meeting talk in which she spoke of her personal beliefs that women should be ordained and included in the governing structure of the Mormon Church. Below is the actual talk she gave.)

COME UNTO ME is the invitation of the Savior to us. It is found in the New Testament, the Book of Mormon and reiterated in our modern scriptures in Section 88 verse 63 of Doctrine and Covenants. “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask and ye shall receive; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

How do we draw near unto the Savior? He has shown us by His words and his example what He values and how we are to be numbered among His people. Alma, in Mosiah 18:91 sets out our responsibilities if we are to be called the people of God: “Ye are willing to bear on another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those who mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” And in Matthew 25:40 we are counseled, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” King Benjamin told his people and us in Mosiah 2:1: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” Jesus spent His life among those who were marginalized, who were unacceptable to and within the mainstream culture of His day.

I have been informed by an incident that happened to me many years ago while I was in college. I regularly stopped by a 7-11 near my home for a snack or a drink. I often saw a homeless man at this 7-11.

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Guest Post: Sacrament Meeting Talk on Ordaining Women

by Laura

(A couple of weeks ago, Laura spoke openly in Sacrament Meeting about her desire for the ordination of women, for better treatment of gays and lesbians, and for women to have more visibility and leadership within the church. Here is the back story to her talk, which has caused quite a stir. The talk itself will be posted later today or tomorrow on The Exponent.)

I told my bishop way back when I submitted a profile to Ordain Women in a spirit of full disclosure. He was fine with it. He said he didn’t agree with everything I said, but whatever. So he knew I supported women’s ordination. My daughter was asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting after the new year and she said she would if I would give one as well. So we got our assignments at the end of February for Sacrament meeting on March 30. I was given a talk by Elder Eyring called “Come Unto Me.” It is a lengthy talk and I looked it over and took a couple of quotes as my inspiration and ran with it. I knew that I was going to tell the ward that I was in favor or ordaining women and it was only a matter of how to do it within the context of the talk. I ended up talking about strangers among us and how we as members of the church so often failed those who didn’t fit into the little boxes provided for each of us. Of course, as a supporter of ordaining women, it was essential to give some background to illustrate how our roles as women have constricted over the course of the 20th century.

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Poetry Sundays: Mary Oliver

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

~Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, 2003

One of my most vivid memories from childhood is witnessing a starling murmuration. I remember standing in a field with my father, watching as the black cloud rose, expanded, and spun into amorphous shapes in the sky. I can still recall that delicious feeling of wonder and exhilaration, of my breath catching in my throat and pure joy reverberating throughout my little body. It is this memory that sprang to my mind as I read Mary Oliver’s poem. Her description of dancing starlings in the sky spoke to my childhood experience and for a moment I recaptured that tingling feeling of joy.

I have been in the midst of a literal and figurative winter–life has been hard and I have been grieving that reality. But as spring approaches, I find myself longing to shed the heaviness and darkness of sadness. Oliver’s last stanza speaks to me, I want to think again of noble things, to be frolicsome and afraid of nothing. I want to fly through the world and feel all the joy and beauty it has to offer. I want to carry with me the wonder of starlings.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments!

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No estás sola (You are not alone)

No estás sola (You are not alone)

By Anya Tinajero Vega

Co-founder of Mormonas Feministas. Convert of 19 years. Inquisitor, eternal student and daughter and granddaughter of exceptional women. To question is to live. (English translation included below the Spanish text.)

Por Anya Tinajero Vega

Co-fundadora del Grupo Mormonas Feministas. Conversa a los 19 años. Preguntona, eterna estudiante e hija y nieta de mujeres excepcionales. Cuestionar es vivir.

164646_10101358201580119_8038971004578141439_n“No estás sola hermana”, fue lo que me dijo Joanna Brooks cuando terminé de contarle mi experiencia mientras mi rostro estaba lleno de lágrimas. Hoy, desde México les digo a mis hermanas y hermanos de Ordain Women que no están (estamos) solas ni solos. Caminar con ustedes el sábado a la reunión del Sacerdocio hizo que mi corazón reviviera y creciera una fe inmensa en que las cosas pueden cambiar. No estén tristes, el que nos hayan negado la entrada no debe significar que debemos bajar los brazos y olvidar lo que creemos es justo.

Debo confesarles que me tomó mucho tiempo y romper muchos miedos el decidir ir a caminar junto a ustedes. Tenía mucho miedo y eso es raro en mí. Estoy acostumbrada a marchar en manifestaciones, escuchar críticas hacia mí y mis causas, enfrentar a mis detractores, pero nunca en mi Iglesia. Por eso no me gusta leer y escuchar que lo que hicimos el sábado fue una “manifestación”. Siempre fuimos respetuosas, reverentes y amorosas con todos. Nunca gritamos, no teníamos carteles en contra de la Iglesia, no fuimos groseras, no fuimos irreverentes. Abrazamos con infinita tristeza a la hermana que nos negó la entrada a la reunión de Sacerdocio. Estoy muy orgullosa de todas ustedes y de los hermanos que con mucho amor caminaron y esperaron en la línea con nosotras.

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