March 2015 General Women’s Session: Bonnie L. Oscarson

Bonnie L. Oscarson, General President of the Young Women’s Organization.

It is no small task to prepare an address for a worldwide sisterhood with varying experiences and privileges, let alone one tasked with defending the Church’s doctrine and teachings on the Family. There were some powerful moments in this talk where long past due truths were acknowledged and new possibilities were presented to women. But there were also times when President Oscarson fell back into the tired rhetoric so often present in Church discourse on the Family.

President Oscarson started her talk by telling the story of  Marie Madeline Cardon, an early Italian convert to the Latter-day Church. This is a remarkable story of a young woman who bravely stared down an angry mob of men and powerfully rebuked them. She claimed power from God and protected the missionaries and fellow believers in her family’s home. I am thankful that this story has been added to our record and that there is now one more example of a woman assertively standing up for herself and her beliefs. These are the role models our young women need.

I was also immensely grateful that President Oscarson openly acknowledged that life often presents unforeseen challenges and that many women do not live the “ideal” that the Proclamation on the Family puts forward. While I personally find the statement that we must “teach to the Lord’s pattern” reductive, I know there are many who are comforted when their individual experience is honestly recognized and not disappeared into a sanitized ideal. And amen to Oscarson’s admonition to plan for contingencies. While I hate to lump education and a satisfying career into the “Plan B” category, too many women have and continue to be hurt by the seemingly official sanctioning of only one life path.

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A People to Love

The Sunday my oldest child was blessed, I stood up in our ward’s fast and testimony meeting and gave my own blessing of sorts to this little boy who had come barreling into the world. In that blessing I quoted the first part of the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

By any measure, my George is a quirky little boy–prone to anxiety and rigidity of thinking. But I also have never seen a boy his age take so much interest in the people around him. He remembers intricate details and facts about the people he comes into contact with, even those he is only tangentially connected to. When I gave him that blessing all those years ago, I had visions of him being a lone warrior for justice and love. And, indeed, that is a romantic notion but one that as I have grown over the years, I have come to understand is really besides the point. Especially for George.

George is eight now and last month he was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I know for many people this rite of passage can be complicated, but knowing my little boy as I do, I am profoundly grateful that, if he chooses, he will have a community that will surround him and embrace him. As I sat there watching my little boy take this step, I thought about the community he was joining. I had been struggling that week to balance George’s birthday, our extended family who were in town and the baptism. During the times I felt I was dropping all of the pieces I was supposed to juggle, people from our ward would call or stop by and ask what they could do to help. From picking up white underwear for George to be baptized in to talking me off the ledge of quitting my job because the pressure was too much, these members of my community were there to support me in my hour of need.

I was given the opportunity to conduct the service which, I must note, I was only allowed to do because of the benevolence of my husband who serves as bishop. As I was closing the baptism I felt the overwhelming need to tell George this story. To tell him of all the people who loved him and our family so much that they lifted us over the gaps that we couldn’t navigate. I told him of my blessing for him as a baby–that I hoped he would be an instrument of God’s love. And then I read him the second half of St. Francis’ prayer:

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

I had never noticed before how close it is to our own baptismal covenant where we promise to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. George now gets to be a part of this community where he will seek to console, to be understood and to love. And hopefully those same virtues will be rewarded to him when he needs it. Being a member of this community is complicated, especially for those of us who don’t entirely fit. But on that day and because of my boy whose soul craves human connection, I was reminded how wonderful it is to have a people to love.

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Who Are We Missing

“You want to know what my real charge to people is? My real charge to people is look around and see who’s missing. And try to invite that person…Look around. Who’s not here? So there’s all this, like, I’m sad that this is this way. OK. What is the one thing you could do to fix it? Go do that thing. Just go do that thing, you know?” ~Michel Martin, On Being Interview

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to canvas my neighborhood on behalf of the Mark Udall campaign. Udall is a Democratic senator in the state of Colorado and is currently in an impossibly tight race to keep his seat. As I think his opponent is a nightmare, I was happy to try and help where I could. I also had the luxury of a free Saturday and a partner at home that could watch our children while I participated in the American democracy.

There was nothing particularly eventful about my time as a canvasser. I mostly adorned my neighbors’ doors with those flyers that most of us immediately put in the trash recycling bin. A few days later, however, I received a phone call from one of the campaign field organizers asking if I could volunteer another Saturday. This time, however, my circumstances had changed. mr. mraynes began teaching an all-day Saturday class and I no longer had anybody to watch my children. I explained this to the staffer and then was treated to a lengthy lecture about women like me who were not doing enough to help Mark Udall win re-election and that I needed to get my priorities straight.

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Sacred Music: Simple Song

I had the opportunity to sing in the chorus for a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS when I was a senior in high school. As a young person I had no idea what a big deal this was–Bernstein’s MASS is hugely controversial and rarely performed because of its enormity. And while this was all lost on me, I found that the music spoke to a part of me that I could not articulate. This piece of music and theater is joyful in its celebration of life and God. But MASS does not shy away from the cognitive dissonance of an ostensibly loving God and the reality human anguish. Indeed, one of the more controversial aspects of MASS is its unapologetic confrontation of God.

As a good Mormon girl, both the music and text were mind blowing to me, I had no idea that you could approach God with such dissonance. But MASS also spoke truth to my soul. Somehow I knew that any god worth worshipping was also vital enough to withstand my questions and sometimes anger.

The piece which I have highlighted here, Simple Song, is at the very beginning of the MASS. It is sung by the celebrant who begins the piece with a simple and pure faith but struggles to maintain his faith as he becomes more aware of the suffering, corruption and evil around him. I feel like my own testimony has taken a similar journey. When I performed the MASS as a young woman my faith was also simple but since that time I have gone through a long dark night of the soul. It has been difficult to reconcile my early faith and spiritual experiences with the perceived absence of God from my life. I have spent years being angry that despite my efforts, God was silent.

I have found recently, however, that my simple faith is returning. I am not blind to the hardships of mortality but I also feel as though my decade long  struggle with God has softened, not scarred, my heart. In that place of rawness a feeling of gratitude has sprouted. I may never have the powerful faith that we as Mormons are expected to have but I am finding joy in lifting up my eyes to the God.

For the Lord is my shade.

All of my days.

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September 2014 General Women’s Meeting: President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I know I am not alone in loving President Uchtdorf. Today I was grateful for his heartfelt, genuine talk. I appreciate how hard he tried to articulate his love for the sisters of the church and how important he thinks we are. I thought it was important that he specified that this, the General Women’s Meeting, is the opening session of conference and should be counted as such. I think this counts as a change in the way we discuss this meeting. I also thought it was important that President Uchtdorf repeatedly mentioned the existence of Heavenly Parents.

It was obvious from his address that President Uchtdorf wants to help us return to our Heavenly Parents. He believes that the best way to do this is to walk the path of discipleship and obedience. President Uchtdorf acknowledged that obedience isn’t always joyful but that we need to have trust that God’s vision is larger than ours. Heavenly Father is eternally loving and focused on getting us home. Uchtdorf encouraged each us to cherish the light posts of obedience that will help us return to him.

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