I know you are, but what am I?

I have two young kids, and they’re of an age when potty language and name calling happen all the time.  ”Poop” is both the funniest word in their vocabulary and the worst insult.  My daughter laughs about making piles of pretend poop at home, but complains of being called a poo-poo-head at preschool.  It feels awful to be called something you’re not, and the immediate impulse when that happens is to correct it in the strongest possible terms.  The typical playground response when I was a kid was, “I know you are, but what am I?”

The reason name calling hurts is because it touches on the most core belief we have – who we are.  My daughter does not believe she is a poo-poo-head and is indignant at being called that, but when someone uses that term I wonder if there’s a flicker of a question about who she is, if not that.  The question is troubling, and terribly insistent.  For her, a soothing word from mom, dad, or a teacher is all that’s needed to answer it until the next insult comes along.

Gradually, I hope all those soothing assurances will accumulate to form a solid self esteem for her.  She’ll know she is an inherently and irrevocably worthy human soul with great potential, loved by Heavenly and earthly parents.  Of course, a healthy self image won’t protect her from ever being hurt by a word, and she’ll be exposed to views, ideas, and experiences that may challenge her beliefs about her identity.

For me, the greatest assurances and the greatest challenges to my identity have come from the Church.  From singing “I am a Child of God” as a toddler, repeating the Young Women theme about being a daughter of God, and my own study of the scriptures and sacred music, I’ve acquired a solid self image of a person who is inherently and irrevocably worthy, with great potential, and loved by Heavenly Parents.  But sometimes things I’m taught at Church also challenge that self image.  And sometimes it’s the things I don’t hear at Church that challenge me most.

For example, I heard about the roles, responsibilities, and power of the priesthood in the last General Conference, and I also heard I’m an appendage to it.  Arms and legs are important and valuable, but they’re not what give people their identity.  In the temple men covenant to God, but the covenant I made was to a man, to hearken to him.  I pray daily and sing weekly praises to Father in Heaven, but I’m at a loss as to how to worship my Mother in Heaven.  I see how men are heirs to Father in Heaven.  I know who they are, but who am I?

I believe I’m a child of God and that Jesus suffered and died for me as much as for anyone.  But the lack of acknowledgement of Mother in Heaven, the asymmetrical temple covenants, the possibility of eternal polygamy, and the withholding of ordination could lead a woman to believe she’s a lesser creation than men.  I know that’s not true.  But I still get that flicker of a terrible, insistent question: Who am I, if not that?  I have no answer, and I can’t be consoled by a soothing word.  So instead of letting the question trouble me, I snuff it out quickly.

Tell me, why should I have to, over and over?

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Book Review: Mormon Women Have Their Say

Mormon WomenIt took me a long time to read this book, 1) because I actually read it one and a half times, and 2) because I read it almost entirely out loud. The first “half time” came on a long, long road trip across the United States, and was enough for me to know that I wanted every member to read it. The reason was both simple and personal: reading Mormon women’s experiences in their words facilitated the most amiable discussion on Mormon feminism that my traveling companion and I had ever had. He heard the women’s pain and joy, and he could not ignore them. Mormon Women Have Their Say birthed compassion and understanding.

The “whole time” came after my babe was born. I started again, and read a few pages at time, while I fed her. We finished just a few days ago, and it felt like a marvelous accomplishment.

The book begins with a preface from a woman at my graduate school that I do not know well, and then a longer introduction by Claudia Bushman, about the project the book stems from, and its history and impetus. One of the things she talks about is how we have few records on Mormon women, and fewer records on Mormon women that weren’t named Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline B. Wells, or so forth, and fewer records still on Mormon women in the 21st century. The Claremont Oral History Project begins to correct all three.

It offers hundreds of records on regular Mormon women. In Claudia’s words:

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Orson F. Whitney: Apostle, Writer, Advocate for Heavenly Mother (Pt 3)

by Martin Pulido


A Hymn. In honor of Orson F. Whitney, I have extracted (and reworked to some extent) lyrics from his poem “What is Life?” and created a four verse hymn. The words are set to the melody of the traditional Irish folk song, “The Mourlough Shore.” The four-part harmony written for the song is my own. This hymn is part of a mini-hymnal that will include 20 hymns mentioning, addressing, and portraying Heavenly Mother. A print copy of the mini-hymnal will be sent to all those who donate at least $20 to the contest, so if you haven’t done so yet, please do so now. PDFs of these hymns will also be posted online up until May 11, 2014.

The Lyrics for the hymn are as follows:

1. There are, who deem life’s ling’ring durance
Designed for freedom and delight,
Its clanking fetters claim as music,
Its darkness workship as ’twere light.
Nor mindful still of loftier purpose,
Vain pleasure’s winged flight pursue,
Their dream: “Today; there comes no morrow,”
That tinkling lie with sound so true.

2. Was such the charm whose soft alluring
Drew spirits bright from heav’nly bliss?
Did morning stars hymn loud hosannas
O’er false and fatal theme like this?
Speak thou, my soul, that once did mingle
Where souls were never doomed to die;
where Father, Mother, friends, did love thee
And bid thee seize the prize of life.

3. Be this their bourn that seek no brighter,
Whom naught save worldly pleasures please;
Graves are the goal of earthly glory,
But man was meant for none of these.
Call earth thy home, clasp thou its shadows,
Till here thy little day be done.
My home is where the starry kingdoms
Roll round the Kingdom of the Sun.

4. I came not forth in quest of freedom
To shrink from peril or from pain;
To learn from death life’s deepest lessons,
I sank to rise, God’s wisdom gain.
Souls to whom life unfolds its meaning,
Ne’er hope full happiness on earth,
But patient bide that brighter morrow,
which brings again celestial birth.


I have provided both a music and sheet music files for you to download in common formats. [Download PDF] [Download MIDI]

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Orson F. Whitney: Apostle, Writer, Advocate for Heavenly Mother (Pt 2)

by Martin Pulido


The “A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest” is looking for 2-dimensional visual arts pieces and poems that portray Heavenly Mother. The contest will accept entries up until March 4, 2014, and $2200 in prizes will be awarded when the best entries are announced on May 11, 2014. For more details, visit www.amotherhere.com. The contest is being sponsored by Exponent II, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, Peculiar Pages, LDS WAVE, and Segullah.

Whitney’s Heavenly Mother Writings.There are roughly 40 published instances where Orson F. Whitney discussed or mentioned Heavenly Mother. She was touched upon only briefly in his literary works (only addressed in Elias and his early poem “What is Life?”), but found Her way throughout his sermons, lectures, addresses during General Conference, and other writings. Below, I will attempt to portray Whitney’s thoughts on Heavenly Mother thematically, and to only a meager extent chronologically.

The first recorded instances were in 1882, when Whitney served as editor of the Millennial Star in England during his second mission. Whitney was just getting to the point where his voice was being heard from frequently in the LDS press. In the June and July 1882 issues of the Mormon periodical The Contributor, Whitney wrote two articles that consecutively discussed the common celestial parentage of human beings.1 That same year he wrote a poem, “What is Life?” dedicated to President Joseph F. Smith, which playfully explored the opposites portrayed in Mormon religious themes, including the “plan of salvation”:

“Son of a God! ‘mid scenes celestial,
Fellst thou from freedom to be free?
Or, hoping rise of endless raptures,
For time renounced Eternity?”2

In the fifth stanza, Whitney notes that the glorious, celestial realms are:

“Where Father, Mother, friends, forsaken–
Till time their “hundred fold” restore–
Await the welcome of thy coming
When time and trial are no more?”3

Life was a period of existence where one was isolated from one’s heavenly kindred, including one’s Heavenly Mother and Father. President Joseph F. Smith wrote to Whitney regarding his poem and heartily endorsed what he had written there. He told Whitney that in life, men and women are “weighed in the balance, in the exercise of the divine attributes, godlike powers and free agency with which we are endowed; whereby, after descending below all things, Christ-like, we might ascend above all things, and become like our Father, Mother, and Elder Brother, Almighty and Eternal!”4

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Orson F. Whitney: Apostle, Writer, Advocate for Heavenly Mother (Pt 1)

by Martin Pulido

The “A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest” is looking for 2-dimensional visual arts pieces and poems that portray Heavenly Mother. The contest will accept entries up until March 4, 2014, and $2200 in prizes will be awarded when the best entries are announced on May 11, 2014. For more details, visit www.amotherhere.com. The contest is being sponsored by Exponent II, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, Peculiar Pages, LDS WAVE, and Segullah.

As part of the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest, I have been giving attention to historical figures who wrote about or visually portrayed Heavenly Mother. In this multi-part series, I will highlight the work of Mormon apostle and poet Orson F. Whitney. While Whitney only mentions Heavenly Mother in two of his literary works, the apostle was an adamant advocate of Heavenly Mother throughout his public life. In fact, there has been no general authority before or since Whitney who has spoken or written on more occasions about Heavenly Mother than he. In the first post, I will sketch a quick biography of Whitney, the second will focus on his writings discussing Heavenly Mother, and a third will offer a hymn in honor of his work.

His Life. Apostle Orson F. Whitney (1855 – 1931) was something of an oddity to the Mormon community. In an era where male church leadership and membership largely consisted of self-made craftsmen and pioneers, Whitney was not a frontiersman. His bread was not earned through the labor of his hands, besides a short stint as a railroad worker at the age of 13. He had no taste for it. He was among a new generation of latter-day saints who knew not the Prophet, nor the eastern states from which the Saints came: he was a child of Deseret. Whitney lusted for culture largely absent in his surroundings. He longed to be an actor, a musician, and later on a writer, poet, and scholar. He wasn’t going to merely consume culture, he was going to create it.

As a youth, spirituality and religion mattered little to him. He was baptized at 11, and held no priesthood office at all until being ordained an elder at 18. At age 21 he was called to serve a mission, a calling he accepted despite his lack of preparation and the way it intervened with his theatrical aspirations. He admitted to being initially a lackluster missionary, more interested in newspaper correspondence than the labors of ministry. It was an intense religious experience where he witnessed the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane, and spoke with the resurrected Christ in a dream, that proved the catalyst for his change in attitude. Whitney blossomed into a successful missionary when sent to work alone in Ohio, where his talents as a writer and orator were markably enhanced.


Upon returning from his mission, he found a job at the Deseret News. Many of his acquaintances doubted he would remain committed to gospel principles, but he proved them wrong. To his great surprise during a church meeting, he was called and sustained to be a bishop of the Salt Lake Eighteenth ward. The surprise wasn’t just because he was young and no one had informed him of the calling; Whitney wasn’t married, so being called to be a Bishop wasn’t supposed to be possible. While he resolved that problem the following year in 1879, marrying Zina Beal Smoot, Whitney didn’t serve for long before being called to work for the editorial department of the Millennial Star in London. While away from from his wife, his second child was born and died. He returned to his duties in 1884 — both familial and pastoral as bishop — and left the Deseret News to work as a treasurer in the local government.

From there on out, his career oscillated between political and academic positions, while trying to find time for his families (Whitney practiced polygamy, marrying May Wells) and his congregation, and his desire to publish. He managed to write some successful biographical, historical (such as his History of Utah), and literary (poetry) works, of which his epic Elias is perhaps the most recognized today. Whitney was caught up in the issues of his day that affected his community. During the heat of the crusade against polygamy, Whitney was the Mormon appointed to hold LDS services at the penitentiary, visiting and preaching to the Mormon apostles and members of the First Presidency. Few know this, but Whitney was actually the person selected to read aloud the manifesto written by Wilford Woodruff officially ending the practice of polygamy in the LDS church. After the end of the practice, Whitney sought for the protection of aged polygamists from persecution. He took a leading part in the great woman suffrage debate, his speeches published in pamphlets, and he successfully worked to secure women’s right to vote, arguing against opponents such as prominent LDS intellectual B. H. Roberts. Women had always voted in the church, Whitney observed, so why shouldn’t they be able to vote in their nation?

At the turn of the century, Whitney served in the Church Historian’s office, before being called to be an Apostle by President Joseph F. Smith. The Quorum of the Twelve had recently had three vacancies, due to two apostles resigning over a dispute regarding the manifesto forbidding plural marriage and the death of another. His oratory and writing skills were put to good use, as he preached across the stakes of Zion, published pastoral articles in church periodicals, and delivered spiritual lectures broadcast over the KSL radio station.

In the next post, I will explore some of Whitney’s writings regarding Heavenly Mother.

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An (Out)Burst

Three Sundays ago in Relief Society we had lesson 1 in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. It was the lesson on Heavenly Father. I had  ended up on the front row with my knitting and my baby. The first discussion in the class included listing the traits of God on the board. I sat there wondering if I had something to add while everyone else put up all the phrases  I was already thinking about: all the omni-stuff, loving, merciful, etc. And then,


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