Book Review: Fresh Courage Take

Fresh Courage Take

I can’t remember when I first heard about Fresh Courage Take, but can remember when I first knew that I would read it. It was earlier this summer, sitting beside a Provo splash-pad with one of the contributors, Ashley Mae, listening to her talk about renaming her faith crisis, and watching our children play. Ashley’s is such a clear, thoughtful voice. I suspected (correctly) that if it was included, the book would be clear and thoughtful, too.

She is joined by eleven other authors–eleven other women–who wrote down their truths and handed them to us, bravely, vulnerably, and strongly. Each one tells the smallest (slash biggest) part of what it means for her to be a Mormon women, as well as some of the courageous choices she has made in claiming ownership of her actions, beliefs, and story.

As we might expect from a group of twelve women, those stories and truths do not always look the same, and sometimes look quite different. This is as it should be. This is the strength of the book.

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Anxiety in Speaking in Sacrament Meeting

Years ago, in preparing for a Young Women “Values” themed sacrament meeting, I mentioned to a member of the Young Women presidency that I was not sure what to speak about. “It doesn’t really matter,” she assured me. You know what the value is that you’ve been assigned to present, so just tell us a story about it. You’ll do great anyway. We start children giving talks in primary, so by the time you are a (14 year old) Mia Maid, you’ve been speaking in public for a decade! This is why Mormons are great public speakers. You’ll do fine!”

 

At the time, her words did calm me. I thought, “I can do this! I’ve been giving talks for 10 years!” I had not been afraid of giving speeches on the debate team or in English class, and as a rule, wasn’t nervous but for that last burst of excited anticipwoman-podiumation that strikes me just before the words came out. But church talks were and are different. To be clear, I could do them. But they made me more nervous than addressing almost every other kind of audience.

 

As the years passed, and even to this day, when I speak in public- (the thing that is listed as the greatest fear, even over death)  I remind myself that I can do this because “I learned to not be afraid of speaking when I was in primary.” I’ve presented at conferences and meetings and even been disappointed at the smallness of the audience upon occasion; I am a good public speaker and I know it. But. When church speaking assignments came…. the butterflies and anxiety started. I became cranky and argue with my family. I fret and fast and pray for calm. No matter the topic, no matter how well I know it or how many hours I spent in preparation, I became anxiety-ridden. So why is that?

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August Young Women Lesson: How can I prepare now to become a righteous wife and mother?

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

This is a very tricky lesson to teach! Be sure to be mindful of those who do not fit the cookie-cutter mould in your branch, ward and/or stake so that the lesson does not border on the offensive or appear to be making judgement of others’ lives, circumstances and choices (to so do this would only undermine the concept of marriage, making the lesson an anti-marriage lesson).

 

To start, I went and reviewed both the lesson for Young Women (YW) and Young Men (YM)girls leadIt was surprising to me how vastly different the lesson materials were. The YW lessons were in a passive voice, and even included a subsection titled, “Share Experiences,” which heavily contrasts the YM’s “Let the Young Men Lead.” Now, I think sharing experiences is a good thing, but I also think that having the Young Women lead the lesson is also important. When I was a Young Woman, my Mia Maid (MM) teacher always had the MM President begin the meeting. She had the MM President assign someone to conduct, lead, and then turn the time over to her, as the teacher. Her example in this is still one of the most important in my life, because it taught me that I was allowed to be a leader (to peers, at home, etc.). I recommend you do the same in your classes so the YW gain confidence in how to manage people (a very important skill to learn in managing a family, roommates, etc!)

 

Teacher Preparation:

By this age, (at least for any of the youth classes I have taught in the church) the students already “know” the rote answers they are “supposed to know.” I am a huge fan of digging deeper after they give me the rote answer, by asking them if they agree or disagree with the rote answer that they have been taught and have them supplement their thoughts by asking them “why do you think this is the answer?” and “why might this not be the right answer”. I suggest doing this with the Young Women in your class, thereby encouraging them to think about the answer they are giving. Then ask them if they agree or disagree, and challenge them to develop a testimony of the answer they are giving.

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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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Money and Power Within the Walls of the Church

Very early in the Book of Mormon, the Great and Abominable Church is church-budgeting-money-pastor-malphurs-group-300x300described in 1 Nephi 13; it is described in many ways, but specific to fiscal wealth as a church that positions money, the power of money and those beholden to financial overlords as “captive.” Though temporal self-reliance and independence is an important concept in Mormon culture and doctrine, I can’t help but wonder why this is so grossly different to the way the church structures its finances for women. The historiography of the church suggests that the church does not see fit to have women handle money on an institutional level, yet it encourages a degree of egalitarianism between husbands and wives when creating a family budget. For example, the principal lds.org website includes a section on temporal self-reliance and well as information on provident living and discussion resources on how to create a household budget. To the credit of the church, much of the budget and household financial materials provided at the lds.org website relay a sense that home finances are a joint decision made by “couples” (this is an example of language used to address a ‘couple’ as primary financial decision makers). However, probably as a means of not contradicting the gender-based roles consistent with church dogma, there is still the derogatory placement of men only as primary “breadwinners,” and women as “bread-spenders” (I found this church video particularly shocking). These labels are not only offensive, they are not necessarily reflective of all Mormon households.

 

Any sense of egalitarian budgeting, however, is institutionally abandoned as soon as this same couple enters the doors of a church building. If the church teaches that men and women (i.e. husbands and wives) are equals in maintaining a household budget, it stands to reason that the Relief Society President and Bishop should be equally responsible for the financing and operations of a ward, and that the Relief Society as a whole should have access and responsibility of at least 50% of the available finances of the church. Yet it is within the walls of the church building that financial disparity is reinforced with men making all of the financial decisions in regard to the ward, creating financial captives of the women who choose to serve callings that need financing in order to be effective, such as those who would organize Primary Activity Days and Girls Camp. J. Reuben Clark seems to be the most-quoted leader on the administrative structure of the church in seeking to provide for the temporal needs of church members, where the finances of the ward are dictated by the bishop:

 

“The office of bishop is in administering all temporal things … having a knowledge of them by the Spirit of truth.” In his calling he is to be endowed with the spirit of discernment to detect those “professing and yet … not of God;” he is to search “after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.” (one resource is here)

 

With a bishop in charge of the finances associated with a ward, his perspective of finances are influenced by his experience as a Mormon male, and likely as the primary income provider for his family.

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“What’s your plan when you get home?”

Girl with Books

I always ask missionaries about their schooling. Did they attend college or trade school before serving a mission? Are they planning to go back? What are they planning to study and why? I know that’s a lot of pressure for a young person who’s supposed to be 100 percent dedicated to service for 18 to 24 months, but it’s the luck of the draw, kid: I prep students for the SAT, and my husband is a college professor.

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