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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Where None shall Come to Hurt or Make Afraid

Last month, my family was in Nauvoo for a family reunion. One night we watched the Nauvoo pageant. As Joseph Smith is headed to Carthage, we are told that he goes there on “trumped up” and “false” charges. This was not entirely true; he was there for his connection to the Nauvoo Council’s decision to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor’s printing press. The few days we were in Nauvoo, we also went to Carthage and heard the story of the martyrdom multiple times at various historical sites. And I looked at my kids and thought, “Please, please, please, do not absorb the Mormon persecution complex. Please, please, pStatue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Nauvoo Illinois lease.” I know what it does and it is not good.

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To say what is truth?

27I have not been able to stop thinking about an essay I read a few months ago: “Oh Say What is Truth? Understanding Mormonism Through a Black Feminist Epistemology”  The author argues that in Mormonism truth is acquired through feeling, citing D&C 9:8, as well as through lived experience; these are the ways we “find out for ourselves.”  These methods of determining truth are part of a black feminist epistemology set forth by Patricia Hill Collins, and the essay argues that her ideas are very close to Mormon methods of determining truth.

Taking feelings and lived experience a step further, Collins argues that a collective dialogue is essential to furthering and developing the truth that each person has acquired, and that each person has a moral obligation to share her truth.  Collins wrote, “The fundamental requirement of [a collective dialogue] is the active participation of all individuals. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. To refuse to join in, especially if one really disagrees with what has been said, is seen as ‘cheating.’” The essayist concludes, “Because we all have a truth to speak, to fail to speak our truth especially when it is needed most – when it is being contradicted – is to fail the community’s efforts to build collective, experienced-based truth as a whole body.”

I try to live as though participating in collective dialogue is a moral obligation.  For years I’ve felt that speaking my truth regarding gender equality in Mormonism is one of the important purposes of my life.  For example, Mormonism is patriarchal, but I believe patriarchy is a Judeo-Christian heritage not inspired by God, passed down through many years of unchecked sexism, and now entangled so that it touches nearly every aspect of Church culture and much of Church doctrine.  How do I live as part of a religious community with strongly held traditional beliefs and while hoping for radical change?

I do it by talking.  I use inclusive language, I comment often in Sunday School and Relief Society, I get up in fast and testimony meeting a few times every year, I give carefully crafted talks that are both diplomatic and radical, and I write for a Mormon feminist blog and paper.  I speak my truth wherever I can.  This can be scary because it opens me up for criticism and judgement, but it can also create unexpected connections with people who resonate with what I’ve said.  In the context of contemporary American life it may seem tame to speak truth in one’s own small community – others have spoken up at much greater cost than I have, and to greater effect.  But to do this consistently, to remain attached to a community that has expanded my spirit but also makes me weep, this takes courage and staying power.

So, my ideas matter, even if, or especially when, they are contrary to the status quo.  And if a collective dialogue is needed to develop and advance knowledge, then I need to keep showing up for that dialogue.  I also believe that organizations need insiders working for change for that change to become possible.

But here’s the problem.  What if I’m a lone reed?  In my experience there needs to be a critical mass of people in a Sunday School discussion to get an idea afloat.  It’s great when that happens, and the discussion becomes enlightening and enlivening.  But what if comments or questions fall flat and the teacher marches on with the lesson as planned?  What if people hold your truth in contempt, or possibly worse, just ignore it?  A dialogue in which everyone participates sounds great, but in does that ever happen in real life?  What if, as happened to me earlier this month, a First Presidency letter, the bishopric’s selection of the theme for sacrament meeting, and the material in the talks and discussions form a unified block of content that I don’t resonate with?  Are comments against such a backdrop useful, or contentious even if contention is not my intent?

I’m lonely and tired, friends.  So please, give me your stories.  When you speak up, how does it go?  What do you learn?  Does it create a spark for generating sincere discussion?  Or does your spark fall to the ground, extingushed?  If it’s the latter, what does that mean?

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Moral Development

marbles I am a research psychologist by profession; I study adolescent moral development. In research, theories guide our questions and our methods. They are kind of like churches – they all have basic assumptions and ‘truths’ that you have to buy in to in order for the theory to work for you.

The theoretical perspective I use is called social domain theory. This theory proposes that there are different kinds of social knowledge that that individuals construct based on their social interactions:

  1. Personal/Psychological – This is our understanding of self and others, including motivations, emotions, perspectives, and preferences.
  2. Conventional – These are the social norms and expectations that guide our social interactions. They are generally arbitrary and can vary from culture to culture.
  3. Moral – These are issues that involve consequences for others; concepts of rights, justice, welfare, and harm (both physical and psychological), fall in this domain
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Sacred Music Sunday: Healing with Hildegard Von Bingen

Sacred Music Sunday: Healing with Hildegard Von Bingen

Guest Post by Lisi Youngberg

Lisi Youngberg is a piano teacher and vocal performance coach that loves empowering others to express themselves through music. The only human female in a male household, Lisi is raising her boys to be feminist allies. Her cat, Gigi, is naturally a feminist.


unnamed

Hildegard von Bingen (b.1098 – d. 1179) was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. She referred to herself as a member of the “weaker sex,” claimed she was unlearned and incapable of biblical exegesis.

Hildegard explained that the inspiration and intelligence behind her writings and music came from visions of the Divine. Presenting herself this way, gave her authority to speak in a time and place where few women were permitted a voice. Early feminists used Hildegard’s reputation as a medicinal writer and healer to argue for a woman’s right to attend medical school.
The intelligence, creativity and spirituality of Hildegard are beautifully captured in her music. As I listen to this recording of O Frondens Virga I feel my own primal soul yearning to transcend my body and connect with the Divine.

O Frondens Virga

O branch coming into leaf,
standing in your nobility
as the dawn breaks forth:
now rejoice and be glad
and deign to set us frail ones
free from evil habits
and stretch forth your hand
to lift us up.

I chose the Chanticleer recording because I enjoy watching a group of robust-looking men expressing themselves with a voice that is so deeply feminine. The masculine and feminine are at one in this ethereal expression of Hildegard’s divine visions.
Hildegard’s music is ideal for meditation. This longer group of recordings could be the setting for your next quiet time.

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