International Series: Seeking Out and Relieving the Distressed

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from people who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Dave Dixon. Dave is the co-founder of No Poor Among Them, a podcast/blog devoted to exploring ways in which we as Latter-day Saints can eliminate poverty in the Church and in the world. He is also a board member for the Liahona Children’s Foundation, the happy husband of Jana, and happy father of two sons.

As the sun shines brightly over the city of Lugazi, Uganda, around 21 women are busily making hand-crafted jewelry for Musana Jewelry. All told, these artisans support themselves and 108 children. Melissa Sevy, Rebecca Burgon, and Kristen Wade are pleased with the progress the organization has made. Musana (which means “sunlight” in the local language of Luganda) was formed by these after seeing the difficulties of these women on a humanitarian trip to the area in 2009. The organization has since blossomed, and has helped many local women to flourish. I spoke with two of them: Tina and Harriet. The business is run locally by Tina, a local LDS primary president. Harriet, a hard-working artisan told me that working for Musana has enabled her to better provide for her children and allows her to receive proper medical care for issues resulting from HIV. Many of the local artisans are single mothers who have had a very difficult time in their lives. Musana not only provides employment for these women, but also trains them with classes in literacy, English, finance, business, and health. These women have ambitions to start their own businesses when they feel they are on solid enough footing, thus allowing other women to enter Musana’s business training program. Melissa told me in an interview that focusing on women is the key to economic development. When you pay a woman or a girl, they reinvest 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to 30-40 percent for men. Musana does a great job of connecting women all around the world. My wife Jana hosted a Musana market in her home, in which friends and neighbors bought some of the hand-crafted jewelry, watched a specialized thank-you video from the artisans of Musana, listened to Ugandan music, and ate some awesome Ugandan food (the peanut butter stew was really good).

(Right to left) Melissa Sevy, Harriet Ochieng, and Tina Kyambadde of Musana Jewelry

(Right to left) Melissa Sevy, Harriet Ochieng, and Tina Kyambadde of Musana Jewelry

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Relief Society Lesson 20: Love and Concern For All of Our Father’s Children

Relief Society Lesson  20: Love and Concern For All of Our Father’s Children

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Lesson 20: Love and Concern For All Our Father’s Children

rosegardenstatue  “I believe it is our solemn duty to love one another, to believe in each other, to have faith in each other, that it is our duty to overlook the faults and the failings of each other, and not to magnify them in our own eyes nor before the eyes of the world.  There should be no faultfinding, no back-biting, no evil speaking, one against another, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  We should be true to each other and to every principle of our religion and not be envious one of another.  We should not be jealous one of another, nor angry with each other, and there should not arise in our hearts a feeling that we will not forgive one another our trespasses.  There should be no feeling in the hearts of the children of God of unforgiveness against any man, no matter who he may be.” (Joseph Fielding Smith – lesson manual)

When I read this lesson, this quote alone spoke to me as being the message I would share with my sisters in Relief Society.  I have chosen to break it down into the many bits of counsel that Joseph Fielding Smith offered, supplemented by other quotes from sisters in leadership callings.  A good companion talk for this lesson is Sister Oscarson’s April 2014 address “Sisterhood: Oh how we need each other.”

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The Goodness in Others; the Goodness in Me

Suzette and EliTwo years ago this month I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer – and started on a dark journey of hospitals, needles, chemotherapy, nausea, and pain.  I have been reflecting on this time as I pass the anniversary. The thing that stands out the most is how much goodness I saw in others as I struggled through.  It was remarkable to me at the time and continues to be a source of inspiration.

The people I knew well (close friends and family) banded together to form a shelter, so that I rarely worried about my next meal, a ride to the hospital, being alone, or even doing laundry.  My people were beyond generous with their time and resources – and I feel grateful for that every day.

But even outside of my own clan, goodness came to me from all kinds of strangers.  Because I was bald and walking slowly, most people could tell that I was going through some sort of treatment.  I noticed that people smiled at me more and this seemed a sign of solidarity against the great enemy of humankind:  cancer.  Many people approached me to wish me well and give me their prayers.  Waiters and store clerks often discounted items; others (strangers to me) picked up my tab.  Women let me go ahead of them in bathroom lines, teenagers carried my bags, and taxi drivers dismissed charges.  It was astonishing – and wonderful.  I can only imagine that they did these things because they saw “one among them” who was obviously struggling and going through a difficult time.  It was heartening.  I will forever believe in the goodness of humankind because of this experience.

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Meet Me at the Tree

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Tree of Life by Lukey

 

 

I pressed forward in line heading for the sacred grounds of the temple while angry anti-Mormon protesters shouted hateful words, and church members fresh out of the Saturday afternoon session of conference honked and shouted hateful things.  It was like something out of a dream.  In fact, it felt much like a dream I had spent my whole youth learning about, never fully understanding.

I used to understand Lehi’s dream of the tree of life to be about the church vs. the world.  We as members of the church hold onto the word of God and press forward toward the tree of life and its delicious fruit, the love of God, while people outside the church mock us from the great and spacious building.  Never did I think that as I pressed forward, holding onto what I feel very strongly is the word of God, that I would be mocked by members of my own church.  Like Lehi, I have tasted a fruit “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.”  It is a fruit that represents our Heavenly Parent’s love for all their children, and their desire for us to truly be equal.  But when I turned back to tell others about this fruit, they did not want to join me in partaking of it.  Some, instead of coming to the tree with me have mocked and ridiculed me for doing so.  This pointing fingers and derisive mocking has become intolerable over the last few months.

As a member of Ordain Women I can’t say that I have always remained at the tree of life either during this journey.  I came to Ordain Women because of some powerful spiritual experiences that left me with a greater capacity to love and to understand God’s love.  But, just like the people in Lehi’s dream, I have had moments when I cast my eyes about and wandered away from that love to a great and spacious building where I didn’t intend to understand the person I was contending with. We are all prone to have moments when we are partaking of the love of God and other moments when we are the ones in the great and spacious building, mocking others who are partaking of the love of God in their way.  It’s not black and white.  It’s not church members vs. the world.  As a church, we do not hold a monopoly on the tree of life and we are not immune from the great and spacious building.

The thing I find most tragic is those who wander the pathways lost and alone, all because the mocking of others caused them to doubt that the fruit they were tasting was really good.  Instead of judging others and causing them to second-guess and lose their way, I think we need to carefully consider at all times, where we are on the spectrum of Lehi’s dream.  Are we partaking of the love of God, or are we being critical of someone we disagree with because we can’t see things from her perspective?  As a member of Ordain Women, I have experienced a lot of loss and pain from those who chose to remain above me and criticize, mock, shun, call me to repentance and judge me from a place where they couldn’t see or understand my heart.  But I have also been blessed with friends and family who have met me at the tree of life and said, I don’t fully understand, but I love you and I am trying to understand.  It is the love and support from these friends that keeps me rooted at the tree of life instead of falling away into dark paths or joining the critics in the great and spacious building with negativity and angry words.

The reason the great and spacious building is up in the air, far from the tree of life, is that misunderstanding is easier to achieve from a distance.  It is easy to criticize and point fingers when we can’t even see the fruit that someone is tasting.  That’s when it is time to come down and share in God’s love with those we don’t understand.  Nephi was told by the angel that the tree of life represented the condescension of God.  Christ came down among us.  He descended below everything and experienced everything so that he could understand us perfectly and love us perfectly.  He had to come to where we are at and experience what we experience before he could gain that perfect love.  That is the condescension of God and that is the love represented by the tree of life.  If we follow his example, then we must also come down from our floating buildings that make us think we are above others.  We have to come down to a level where we can fully understand others, just as Christ did.  I don’t think this means that we all have to agree on everything.  But we do have to do our best to fully understand each other without judgment.  We have to let go of our need to be right or to be better, in order to love.

So to my fellow Mormon feminists who have tasted of the same precious fruit I have, I know that the last few months have been rough.  I don’t know about you, but it has been hard for me to remain at the tree.  I have found myself wandering up to the great and spacious building or becoming lost in the dark paths.  Let’s meet back at the tree and partake of that great love that once consumed us.  And to my fellow Mormon sisters and brothers, please meet us there.  Even if we disagree, it’s better to do so together at the tree of life. I still have a great desire to share with other members of the church, the precious fruit of divine love that I have found in the concept of female ordination and in agitating for it through Ordain Women.  At the very least, I hope we can stand together at the tree of life and share in the fruits of love, instead of pointing fingers from a place where understanding isn’t possible.  In choosing to meet at the tree of life, we are choosing to love, even if we disagree.

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“I do not know the meaning of all things.”

I am meant to write a poll today; an interesting question that will gauge the opinions and feelings of Exponent II readers today.  But what question can I pose of the many questions being asked today?  What feeling can I draw forth of the many emotions that are flooding our Mormon world today?

Kate Kelly’s disciplinary council will be held tonight and it impacts us all.  Whatever you think and feel about Ordain Women or church leadership or revelation from heaven or the disciplinary process – this impacts us all.

As I think and feel today, I sing songs to myself as a way to bring order and calm.

“He gave me my eyes that I might see …..”

I see my brothers and sisters.  I see hate and love.  I see miracles and troubles.

“He gave me my ears that I might hear …”

I hear comfort and division. I hear scripture and the temple endowment. I hear hymns.

“He gave me my life, my mind, my heart …”

I think of Jesus and Joseph and Thomas.  I think of patterns. I puzzle over the lines these patterns create:  parallel lines, perpendicular lines.

I feel the Holy Ghost. I feel the love of friends and family. I feel pain around me. I feel compassion.

Today, I will not understand.  I will not be able to connect the dots and make a straight line.  All I know to do today is feel.

“For all his creations, of which I’m a part. Yes, I know Heav’nly Father loves me.”

 

And from Nephi, a prophet:

“I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” 1 Nephi 11:17

 

What are you thinking and feeling today?

 

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From the Backlist: Comforting Those that Stand in Need of Comfort

Michaelangelo's 4th PietaA couple of weeks ago, I was having a down day between my relationship with the Church and Mormon feminism. I vague-booked out to my “Rogue Mormon” Facebook list and quickly after, my bishop and fellow ward members who are on that list messaged me back, letting me know I am always welcome and they want me in the ward, in the Church.

When the New York Times article about Kate Kelly and John Dehlin came out yesterday, my tech-savvy bishop messaged me again to make sure I was ok. This morning I got an email from a fellow ward member telling me, “Don’t leave!” and that she believes there is room for everyone in the Church. I wasn’t going to leave and I’m surprisingly handling this newer news better than I was handling things a couple of weeks ago. I think the responses I got a couple of weeks ago were helpful in grounding me. When the NYT article came out, I knew already that my ward wanted to keep me and I didn’t need to worry about whether or not I’d be welcome on Sunday.

I’m so grateful for a ward that really does believe in taking care of everyone and making sure we are all doing well, no matter where our talents and interests fall. I am honored to go to church every Sunday with people who take their promise to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” seriously.

Yesterday we mourned with you, so today, from our backlist, we will share comfort with you all.

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