A Response: “Disciples and the Defense of Marriage”

Love Makes a FamilyIn the August Ensign, we find an article called “Disciples and the Defense of Marriage” by Elder Russell Nelson, an apostle.

The message of this article feels familiar: if we consider ourselves Disciples of Christ, then we will obey. God’s will is for men and women to be in monogamous, heterosexual (traditional) marriages – and in addition to being in these relationships, we should defend them.

In delivering this message, Elder Nelson uses strong, definitive words like “the most”, “cannot yield”, “warn”, “stern judgment”. And sets up several binaries like “love means obedience”.

Elder Nelson is straightforward in his approach, rather than nuanced. To me the topics of discipleship and marriage are complex, and I would like to add some further ideas to consider.

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Book Review: Baptism & Boomerangs

baptisms and boomerangs

Oh, Baptism & Boomerangs is just so sweet, and colorful, and made me cry the good kind of tears. I hope each of you can read it, too.

For now, I will just tell you this:

It is about little girl named Amara, who just arrived in Sidney, Australia, with her mom, dad, and brother Jack, to celebrate her eighth birthday with her grandparents and delicious baptism cake(!), and of course, to get baptized.

But there is a small, but significant, problem. Amara is excited to get baptized, but is also nervous. And what’s more, she is nervous to say that she’s nervous. Thankfully, her perceptive mother thinks to ask her what she’s thinking about, and a number of really lovely, heartfelt discussions ensue. The first one happens at the kitchen table, over Amara’s special cake, but those butterfly feelings are still there!

The next one happens in a park, with Amara’s granddad, brother, and a boomerang. It is both the soul of the story and, as you can imagine, the reason for the book’s title. This is also where I tell you that I came to this book with the tiniest understanding of boomerangs’ seemingly magical property of returning, and was more than a little curious what they might have to do with baptism.

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The Church of the Nuclear Family of Latter-day Saints?

Lately I’ve felt like I’m hearing too much about “the family” at church, so I was pleased to see the topic of Sabbath observance during the 3rd hour at the ward I attended on August 9.  Something basic about living the gospel and focusing on spiritual development was just what I wanted to hear.  The lesson was part video from Salt Lake City, and part discussion facilitated by the ward’s bishop.  In the video a few apostles made brief remarks, followed by a slide with a question, which the bishop encouraged the class to discuss.

I liked that the material presented was about principles and not about specifics on what to do and not to do on the Sabbath – they seem to trust church members to use the spirit to guide their Sabbath observance.  Elder Ballard remarked that the reason for a lesson on this topic was to make the Sabbath a time when people can have spiritual experiences to strengthen their faith.  Yes!  I am on board with that.

However, Elder Bednar took the discussion in a direction I did not expect.  He said the whole point of the gospel is for a man and woman to be sealed and happy at home, using a quote from Elder Packer to support this.  He presented the following graphic:

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August 2015 Visiting Teaching: Divine Attributes of Jesus Christ—Meek and Humble

Jesus said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:26–27).

 

One of the first times I can recall that I really learned about the term, “meek,” was when I was in Young Women. I was a Mia Maid, and a Laurel gave a talk about the epistemology of the terms “meek” and “humble.” Like me, she had previously thought of the term meaning weak and quiet, maybe even a person who is frightened. But she had discovered that the term really meant more, especially in a religious sense. Sure, one of the thesaurus.com synonyms is “weak.”  But we don’t think of Christ as weak. Indeed, as Christ sweat blood and experienced all He did in His life, He was the epitome of strength as much as He was the epitome of meekness and humility. So it is a mistake to think of ourselves as weak. We are not weak when we are being humble. We are powerful when we are meek and humble, because we have the force of God with us.

 

But then I had a problem. You see, I thought *I* was meek. I thought this because I was and am, Mormon. I thought somehow because I knew that meekness meant more, that I was among the meek. But I wasn’t. Not really. Not then, and not even now. You see, although this month’s message is aimed at being meek and humble, I still felt it lacked because its attribution of these characteristics was focused on doing as God would have us, perhaps because so often, as Mormons, we think we are doing what God asks us to when we are really doing what we, or what church culture, tells us is most important.

 

For me as a youth, and well into adulthood, I attributed ‘Mormon meekness’ to myself because of my faith, my sacrifice of time inc doing church callings, my paying tithing on a pinched budget, and in a general sense, my membership in the church. I convinced myself that because testimony was strong, and because I was suffering through a number of problems (death of a parent at 18, dating woes at 20, mac-n-cheese AGAIN for dinner, etc.)– I had great meekness and humility. I began to see myself in Matthew 20:16, as chosen—and I believed I would be the first in the next life to obtain all the righteous desires of my heart. In my heart of hearts, I believed myself to be suffering, and I was. Life is not easy for anyone, and some of the obstacles in my life were and are— too complicated and personal to even think about.

 

But that all changed for me in India.

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Back to the Hive

wasatchI am in Utah. On vacation. Or visiting. Or doing time. It’s complicated.

I have only lived in Utah as a resident for five and then two years – as a college student, and then as a fiance and newlywed. But I have been connected to the state my entire life. My grandparents lived here when I was growing up and now both extended families and many friends dot the Wasatch Front. It should be easy, one-stop shopping for home and nostalgia.

I remember as a kid, living in the Midwest and driving west on Interstate 80 every summer, from Michigan, Illinois, Iowa. And then for a time from California over the Sierra Nevada mountains. The pull to Utah felt epic, as though we were following a path behind a long line of pilgrims, drawn to the mecca, the center of our ethno-religious gravity. I would watch the changing landscape, through endless Nebraska, until the subtle coloring and slopes told me it was Wyoming and I began to get excited. My mother would distract us, pointing out the antelope, encouraging us to keep looking for the mysterious jackalope, but we knew this was just to save her sanity. We were now in proximity to ask the question we had been waiting for: “are we there yet?” Driving in another car years later, going east instead of west, I cried to my new husband: “how can I leave when I have only just settled in?” It did not seem right to move from our families and the place I perceived was home to a deeply held identity.

And yet these are romantic memories. Utah is also a place where I have always been the Other. We were the grandchildren who lived away, showing up to a world of established routines and relationships, always the new kids. I arrived at BYU from “the Mission Field” with frizzy black hair, owlish glasses, and intellectually some (un)holy mix between young Oliver Cowdery and Joan of Arc. Most of my fellow classmates were sporting pink Izod shirts, skirts with tiny whales, and perfect blond bobs. They liked their religion tidy and their education fun. No one wanted to engage in textual discourse with the intense weirdo who made her own clothes and wore Vans shoes with gingham skirts. I was a cultural outsider and profoundly undatable.

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A Testimony: Jesus Loves Gay Marriage

A Testimony: Jesus Loves Gay Marriage

Jesus_w_childrenLike many Mormons, I was raised to believe that sexual attraction was a choice. Anything other than heterosexual desire expressed through a Mormon temple marriage was inferior and possibly deviant. But I lacked fervor when it came to defending marriage. My testimony of California’s Proposition 8 was weak. It seemed like every young single adult in my stake was phone-banking or bearing a testimony of heterosexual marriage in a campaign commercial. But as I studied the issue of marriage equality I could find no legal, social, or moral basis to support limiting marriage to only heterosexual couples. It became a test of faith for me.

I loved President Monson and believed a prophet of God could never lead me astray. I attempted to put my faith in action with a Facebook post and bumper sticker in support of CA Proposition 8. I waited for the warm outpouring of Spirit to confirm my faith that I was standing for God. But, instead I accidentally overheard a conversation between those wounded by LDS support of Proposition 8 that helped me to realize I could not be an activist in support on this issue. I recognized I was contributing to the harm of people I cared about and took no further public action. But I still wanted to sustain President Monson and voted yes on Proposition 8, waiting for a testimony to confirm that my act of faith was the right choice.

Eventually a testimony came. But it was not the testimony I had sought out. Instead, I gained a testimony that marriage equality is essential to the plan of salvation; gay marriage strengthens families and heals and protects children.

This is my conversion story:

As an adoption social worker in Los Angeles, specializing in older teen adoption; my caseload was predominantly older children of color. The one exception was Joshua. A toothy pumpkin grinned boy living in a predominantly black neighborhood with an elderly black couple in their eighties. His foster parents were ready to retire from fostering and anxiously awaited the day Joshua could be placed with a permanent family for adoption. The lone white boy in his neighborhood, Joshua was frequently bullied for his socially awkward behavior.

Joshua was popular at adoption recruitment events with white parents looking to adopt a child that bore some family resemblance to them. At 10-years-old, he was still on the cute side of puberty. Joshua desperately wanted to belong to a family. His birthday wish each year in foster care was to be adopted.

Joshua was matched for adoption with a wealthy couple. Devoutly religious and empty nesters they had an abundance of time, experience, religious motivation, and wealth to pour into parenting Joshua. I was thrilled with the parenting assets they brought to the match.  After an extensive screening, they began to visit with Joshua in a process of increasing contact with initial short visits progressing to longer overnight weekend visits.

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