Shepherds and Wise Men

By Karen

With_Us_Bethlehem_Still_Shift_Worship-HDFor as long as I can remember, my grandma has hand made a Christmas ornament each year for each one of her grandkids. This is a real labor of love since, at last count, she has 46 grandkids. She has always loved making things with her hands. This little collection of ornaments has become a real treasure to me, especially since my grandma had a stroke about 4 ½ years ago and she is no longer able to make them. The ornaments I have from the earlier years are pretty, but during the last 4-5 years before her stroke, she started making each of the pieces of the nativity. These are the ones I really love.

For the past few years, we have made these nativity ornaments part of the advent activities we do with our 4 year old, Jack. Each day, at the beginning of December, we pull out a different piece of the nativity—shepherd, wise man, star, angel—and we talk about its significance and hang it on the tree. This year, as we told the stories of the shepherds and wise men to Jack, I was particularly struck by the contrasting ways that they experienced the birth of Christ.

First, the wise men. They had studied, prayed and searched. They were watching the skies. They learned, and hoped, and waited. Then they saw the star. And when they did, they recognized it and they followed it. Even though they knew what the star meant when they saw it, they still had a long journey ahead of them before they actually saw Christ.

Contrast this with the story of the shepherds. They were going about their business, “watching their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” I am sure that their shock came not just from seeing an angel, but because it was unexpected. They were just going about their lives, and they were presented with a miraculous vision. They immediately made the short journey to Bethlehem and saw the baby Jesus.

I think this is the way that Christ works in our lives too—sometimes we experience Christ’s grace after we have been waiting, watching, hoping and praying, and sometimes we are given moments of grace as we go about our everyday lives.

There are many examples of other “wise men” (and women) in the scriptures. In the Bible, we read about Simeon and Anna waiting at the temple to see the Savior. In the Book of Mormon, we read about Samuel the Lamanite prophesying of Christ years before his birth. In fact, much of the Book of Mormon is a story about people waiting and watching for Christ. In my life, these “wisemen” moments are things like:

  • Receiving an answer to a long-term prayer
  • Getting a piece of inspiration that helps answer a nagging question
  • Feeling a small measure of peace about a situation that has been hard for a long time and may not ever be fully resolved in this life
  • Feeling God’s help to make progress in overcoming a consistent weakness/sin

There are also examples of “shepherds” in the scriptures. In the Old Testament, we read about Moses and his experience with the burning bush. In the New Testament, we read about Paul on the Road to Damascus and about Mary Magdalene seeing the resurrected Christ. In the Book of Mormon, King Lamoni receives an unexpected but powerful witness. In my life, these “shepherd” moments are things like:

  • Feeling prompted to go to the hospital when something turned out to be wrong in an otherwise normal pregnancy
  • Having visiting teachers show up with dinner on a day when they could not have known that I had just found out I was miscarrying
  • Sitting in a Church meeting, even sometimes when I don’t particularly feel like being there, and receiving a revelation meant specifically for me
  • Feeling more fully the love of God when I see or hear something beautiful

Sometimes, we are like the wise men—we really seek after Christ. We work, ponder, pray, hope and anticipate. And sometimes, we are like the shepherds and Christ’s grace is instantaneous. Either way, His love is a gift. And it can change us.

So, how does the story end? We read that when the wise men saw the star, “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” and they followed it. When they found Mary and Jesus, they “fell down and worshiped him.” We read that the shepherds, when the angels left, “came with haste and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger,” and they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.”

Both the shepherds and the wise men recognized the light when it came, followed it, and received Christ into their lives. And I think it is safe to say that their lives were changed from that day forward.

One thing I want to point out is that, while there is definitely something to be said for waiting, learning and hoping these things are not prerequisites to experiencing the love of God (Christ) in our lives. God’s love for us is a constant and the miracle is that it is not tied to the amount of work we do. The waiting, learning and hoping can change us, but it doesn’t make God love us more. Our Heavenly Parents love us, and Christ atoned for us, just as we are—ordinary, human, with all our strengths and weaknesses. And that love changes us. It doesn’t just cover our sins and make us more presentable. It actually changes who we are, bit by bit.

It is hard to describe exactly how this change takes place—I’m not sure I really understand it. What I do know is that when I have these moments of grace, I feel inspired to do and be better. And my capacity to do and be better is expanded. Sometimes I feel like Nephi, who was shown a vision of the birth of Christ by an angel. The angel asks, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (Or, “Do you know how God will be manifest on earth?”) Nephi’s response is a favorite of mine. He says, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” Like Nephi, we may not know the meaning of all things right now, but we can know and experience the love of God right now, individually and personally.

This Christmas season, as we strive to put Christ at the center of our celebration, it is my hope that we can look for, recognize, and appreciate these moments of grace—whether they come after we have been waiting, hoping, and praying or unexpectedly, as we go about our everyday lives. Either way, I know that God meets us where we are—wherever we are—and that Christ’s grace is sufficient. I am grateful for the ways I have experienced it in my life. At this time of year, I am especially grateful for the birth of the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, him who is mighty to save.

Read More

Church Ends Discriminatory Employment Practice: How Mormon Feminists Made a Difference

The New York Times invited Mormon women to post their feedback about the status of women in the LDS Church in April 2014.  We are still waiting for Mormon church leaders to show equal interest in the feedback of Mormon women as the Times.

The New York Times invited Mormon women to post their feedback about the status of women in the LDS Church in March 2014. Do Mormon church leaders show as much interest in the feedback of Mormon women as the Times?

The Church announced yesterday that it will no longer refuse to hire women with children under 18 or fire female seminary and institute teachers when they become mothers. “This change makes it possible for families to decide what best meets their needs as it relates to mothers working while raising children,” said the announcement. Reference A

Amen to that.

I am thrilled about this change because it will make a real difference in Mormon lives (unlike renaming Women’s Meeting to Women’s Session, which is a nominal change only, especially considering that men will continue to preside and give the keynote speech at the women’s session). I look forward to a future with more  female scriptorian role models for our youth. Even for women without children, the knowledge  that they would be fired if they ever had children was a big deterrent from seeking a seminary or institute job.  It was also an obstacle preventing local managers from hiring women, even without children; who wants to hire someone they would most likely have to fire later? As a parent, I am relieved that I will not have to make a difficult decision to either enroll my children in a program that blatantly discriminates against female employees or forego the benefits of seminary instruction for my children. And as I mentioned in a recent Exponent post, the discriminatory seminary and institute policy was actually undermining teachings by current apostles who encourage more friendly attitudes toward working mothers. Reference B

In December 2011, I posted here at the Exponent about some life events that had helped me realize that I needed to seek gender equality within the Mormon faith, including how I learned about the church’s policy banning mothers with minor children from employment as seminary teachers.

Insignificant Events That Make A Mormon Feminist | The Exponent, December 2011

In the online conversation surrounding the post, I noticed that people who defended the church’s seminary program did not argue that firing women for having children was okay; they said that the Church has no such policy.  It occurred to me that even more traditional church members would disapprove of this policy if they were made aware that it really exists.

I searched the Internet for documentation of the policy and found nothing.

Finally, I called my local Seminary and Institute Preservice Training Office and asked about the policy. They confirmed it, clarified it (although the clarification did not make it sound any less reprehensible) and admitted that they intentionally avoided disclosing the policy publicly. I suspect that they preferred to hide the policy because its discriminatory nature would bother church members and the general public. I documented the conversation, posted it here at the Exponent, and at last, the policy was available for others to read.  I hoped that shining a light on the policy would lead to change.

LDS Church Educational System Employment Policies For Mothers | The Exponent, January 2012

There was a strong reaction to the posted interview. A healthy debate ensued about how to change the policy. In April 2012, a major media outlet

Read More

“There is Room for You” / “Il y a une place pour vous”

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

This was the theme of the regional YSA conference here in the northeast. Hosted in New York City, it was a two-day conference, however I was only able to attend the Sunday session, which is just as well.

While the Sacrament meeting service was lackluster and disappointing, the evening fireside (presented by the always fabulous, Sistas in Zion) was spectacular and uplifting.  They talked extensively on the conference’s theme and reiterated how “there is room for you”.

Unsurprisingly, as a feminist young single black Mormon convert from New York, the number of times I felt that there hasn’t been room for me is too many to count. Even now, I recently made the decision to stop attending church services on a regular basis. However, my testimony of the Gospel is still strong. I read the Book of Mormon, I pray when I feel inspired or prompted, I believe in the Plan of Happiness, etc. I can even believe the idea that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri! It is my testimony of the Church that is weak and failing (that is a post for another time).

So… is there room for me? For us?

President Uchtdorf says there is. In his October General Conference address, he speaks, “If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”

I’d still like to think that when I am ready to return, there will be room for me. If not, I’ll make room. I know it’s there. I just have to find it and carve it out. There wasn’t room for Christ while he went about His ministry–– He was rejected and despised and considered a radical. But nonetheless, He went about His Father’s business and He made room. And his disciples  and friends followed and supported Him, while gaining new supporters and friends. Heck, there wasn’t even room for Mary at the inn, but that didn’t stop the Savior from being born! Mary made room for Him! Now, not only is there room for Christ, there are mansions dedicated to His name! And He tells us today there is room for us. And I believe it.

Now, I’m not trying to compare myself to Christ in any way shape or form. Nor am I about to start my own denomination in the name of making room. I’m simply noting the example He sets in creating a place for those who felt there was no place for them before. And His story proves that there are always friends to be found and be there for you. And that they will hold your place in the room for when you return.

IMG_3901

That’s what I’m hoping for. As I take this much needed step away from the institutional Church, I am counting on dear friends to save a seat for me. I am counting on friends to tell me they are there for me on my journey. If there is to be room, not only I, but others must make room as well. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. For many, once they leave, others shut the door and claim the seat they once had is gone. Nothing is farther from the truth. I echo the theme of the regional conference and of President Uchtdorf: There is room for you.

Regardless of whether or not you return, there is room for you. Either in the church building or in the hearts of your fellow Saints. At the very least, there is room for you with me.

 

“Il y a une place pour vous”

Voilà le thème de la conférence régionale des JA du nord-est des Etats-Unis qui a eu lieu à New York City pendant deux jours. Je n’ai assisté qu’à la session du dimanche.

Même si le service de Sainte-Cène a été décevant, le coin de feu de la soirée (présenté par le groupe Sistas in Zion) était spectaculaire et édifiant. On a beaucoup parlé du thème en insistant qu’il y a bien « une place pour vous. »

En tant que convertie jeune, célibataire, féministe et noire, je ne peux pas compter le nombre de fois où j’ai senti qu’il n’y avait aucune place pour moi. Récemment, j’ai décidé d’arrêter de venir à l’Eglise régulièrement. J’ai pourtant un témoignage fort de l’Evangile. Je lis le Livre de Mormon, je prie quand je me sens inspirée, je crois au Plan de Salut. J’arrive même à croire que le Jardin d’Eden se trouvait en Missouri ! Mais j’ai aussi un témoignage que l’Eglise est faible et est en train d’échouer (ce qui est tout un billet pour un autre moment).

Alors…y a-t-il une place pour moi? Pour nous ?

Président Uchtdorf dit que oui. Dans son discours de la conférence générale d’octobre 2013, il dit, « Si c’est ce que vous désirez, alors, quelles que soient votre situation, votre histoire personnelle ou la force de votre témoignage, il y a de la place pour vous dans l’Église. Venez nous rejoindre ! »

J’aimerais croire que quand je serai prête à revenir, il y aura une place pour moi. Sinon j’en créerai une. Je sais qu’elle est là, je dois la trouver. Il n’y avait pas de place pour le Christ : on l’a rejeté et l’a haï et l’a traité de radical. Mais malgré tout il faisait l’œuvre de son Père et il faisait de la place pour lui. Et ses disciples et ses amis le suivaient, ce qui attirait d’autres disciples et amis. Il n’y avait même pas de place pour Marie à l’auberge, mais cela n’a pas empêché au Christ de venir au monde. Marie a fait une place pour lui. Maintenant, non seulement il y a de la place pour le Christ, il y a même des châteaux dédiés à son nom! Il nous dit qu’il y a une place pour nous, et je le crois.

Je ne me compare pas du tout au Christ. Je ne vais pas non plus créer ma propre réligion. Je note l’exemple qu’il nous donne de créer une place pour ceux qui n’en avaient pas une avant. Son histoire prouve qu’il y aura toujours des amis à trouver, et qu’il garderont votre place pour quand vous reviendrez.

Voilà ce que j’espère. Pendant cette pause de l’Eglise institutionnelle, je compte sur mes amis de garder une place pour moi. Malheureusement, ce n’est pas le cas pour tout le monde. Pour beaucoup d’entre nous, une fois partis, d’autres ferment la porte sur eux et prennent la place que nous avons quittée. Rien ne peut être plus loin de la vérité. Comme le dit Président Uchtdorf : il y a de la place pour vous, qu’elle soit dans l’Eglise ou dans les cœurs des saints. Au moins, il y a de la place pour vous avec moi.

Read More

Representing Christ

The Good Shepherd by Waiting for the World

The Good Shepherd
by Waiting for the World

 

 

 

By Jenny

I looked out the window of the bus at the dreary grey sky, as we winded down the long road from Hitler’s Tea House on the top of the mountain.  It had been another dismal workday and I was ready to crash.  I was nineteen and living alone in a mountain village in Southern Bavaria, doing an internship that I had gotten through BYU.  Up until the point that I boarded the airplane for this secluded place, I had barely left my own mountains of Utah.  I was sheltered to say the least.  Now I was the lone Mormon kid, an hour away from the nearest LDS church in Salzburg.  In my immature and naïve mind, I was also surrounded by heathens who might be contagious.  I would come to love the people I was surrounded by and lose most of my self- righteous attitude toward them, but at this point I was spending too much energy trying to keep myself unstained from the sins of the world.  That left me with little capacity for love.

This day had been a particularly hard one.  When I finally arrived at my apartment, depression seized me and I threw myself on the bed and pulled the covers over my head.  I was ready to give up.  I lay there crying and praying.  In my loneliness that summer, God had become my  one constant companion.  I knew that if I got up and ran in the hills behind my apartment I  would feel better, but I couldn’t pull myself out of my bed.  I lay there in misery until I saw  something curious on my back door.  I got out of bed to see what it was and found that it was a note from the Sister Missionaries.

Liebe Jenny, We had a crazy desire to visit you today—unfortunately the budget didn’t take us to the top of the mountain. Na, ja—we picked the second best thing and hiked up here to your house.  Above all, we have been thinking about you—it’s tough being the only Mormon kid in a foreign country but buck up trooper—we know your example will have many lasting effects—the Lord even gives us pep talks when we need them, here’s Sister Nuttall and I’s favorite. D&C 6:34-37. The Lord knows each one of us very personally—even those of us wandering around Salzburg or sitting atop a mountain in Germany!  The Lord is also most pleased in how strong you are growing in this experience—spiritual muscles!  We are sorry that we didn’t plan this adventure to Berchtesgaden well enough—don’t worry, we will get together another time. Wir haben Sie Lieb Schwester Jensen and Schwester Nuttalls

 

That note was everything to me at that moment, and it got me out of bed.  I put on my running shoes and ran through the lush forested hills.  I wondered why the missionaries would take so much time and energy to travel an hour by train and then hike all the way up to my apartment just to leave me a note.  They could have been searching for converts, but they spent the greater part of their day just to make my day better.  That day was not a successful one for them by any outward appearance.  They didn’t find a golden contact, they didn’t convert anyone to the gospel, they didn’t even get to see the one person they spent their day travelling to see.  As a missionary it could have been considered a wasted day.  But their efforts meant everything to me, one lonely nineteen-year-old girl far from the comfort of her tribe.  That day, my missionaries chose to represent Christ.

That was the loneliest time of my life because I was in an unfamiliar culture with people who weren’t like me.  I have felt a similar loneliness over the last few years.  This time I am not alone in a foreign country where I struggle to use the language to express myself.  I am not different from everyone around me because I grew up with different beliefs and values than they did.  This time I am in the culture of my birth.  I should fit in.  But after a life-changing faith transition and feminist awakening, I am different.  I believe differently.  I speak differently and I do struggle to find a common language with which I can fully express myself.  Now I am the heathen whom others are struggling to be around for fear that what I have is contagious.  In the very culture of my birth I don’t fit in.  I am different.

So naturally I am thinking about those missionaries so many years ago and the effort they made to help me feel like I was okay in a culture that I didn’t belong to.  And I am thinking about the ideal we set in the church for every member to be a missionary.  What does that mean?  The typical Sunday School answers are to pray for missionary experiences, give Book of Mormons away, and talk to our friends and neighbors about the church.  But my wise sister missionaries knew that it wasn’t just about getting converts.  What good does it do us to convert people to our church if our church is not a place for many people with differing beliefs and levels of orthodoxy to feel welcome.  If our church is not a church of love and inclusion, then converts will profit us nothing.

We worry about our image, we worry about our numbers, we worry about our rules.  We don’t want to get too close because what that person has looks like apostasy.  We bear our testimonies in an attempt to convert them back to our way of thinking and believing.  We live in a cold and delusional world of Sunday school answers.  It’s time to shed our rules, shed our agendas, and shed the self righteousness that makes us believe that we have all the right answers for everyone.   If we truly want to be representatives of Christ in our member missionary work, then it’s time for us to climb the mountains to find the one.  To find the one who is lonely and feels out of place.  To find the one who is giving up on the church because the church has given up on her.  To find the one who needs to know that she is loved no matter what she believes or how she lives her life.  We can spend our energy worrying about apostasy and trying to keep ourselves unstained from the sins of the world.  Or we can give ourselves fully to loving the way Christ did.

 

Read More

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Some bike-themed Exponent posts, a poll and a video.

(Click on the titles of some of these wonderful, classic posts to enjoy some bike-related reading. When you’re done, get off the computer and go for a bike ride.)


The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

National Bike Month

“But a year later after we moved from rural Indiana to the suburban sprawl of Chicago, bicycling became my morning meditation.”

tricycle bike

Photo by Jana Remy

 

Biking In A Skirt

Modesty was a problem for me during my missionary days. Skirts flap around Marilyn Monroe-style on a bike.”

Don’t Come Cryin’ To Me!

I have to admit part of me was SAD that the bikes were patiently waiting for them after the movie.”

Read More

Leaving Eden

 

"Two Souls" by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

“Two Souls” by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

I have a secret to tell: I mourn not being able to be the Mormon woman I was always taught to be, that I was always told I would be, that I was always patted on the head for my righteous desires to be as a young woman. I wanted to have the lovely home, the quiver full of children, homeschooling, every meal homemade with love. I would lie awake at night when I was engaged to my husband, envisioning a life of fresh muffins in the morning and a constantly clean bathroom (admittedly, this one is still on my wish list).

I know the dream is idyllic and was completely unattainable from the start, but I still mourn the possibility. I never asked for my faith to take a dramatic shift, held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope rather than anchored in certainty. I never asked for my mind to be so thirsty for more knowledge and information that the easy answers stopped working. I never asked for the postpartum depression that followed my births, making motherhood an excruciating tumble into the abyss of despair rather than a joyous journey in those first months and years. These are not the things we simply pick out of a lineup of potential experiments like cans on supermarket shelves. These experiences choose us and we learn how to stumble our way through as gracefully as possible.

But every day as I work to reason and share my heart with others about the experiences that have brought me to Mormon feminism, I am confronted with the woman that I once thought I would be: the woman who believes so easily, who finds joy and fulfillment where she’s told she would, the woman who is that Mormon woman. I mourn her despite the fact that my life experiences have caused me to cry out, “Please stop defining me by a biological process that, while bringing light and life, also brought utter darkness! Please stop telling me that I ‘just don’t understand,’ when my mind spends countless hours of every.single.day mulling over, praying over, writing over, and pondering over these things! Please stop telling me that I just need to have more faith when I’ve exercised all that I have in me and still, somehow, try to keep my faith together.

I mourn her because her life had a well-laid path and straight-forward answers. When belief was easy, she didn’t have to spend so much of her energy finding footholds. I mourn her because her life was not conflicted: read, pray, follow the prophet, endure to the end. Check, check, check, check.

One night as I shared the profound sadness in my loss of innocence with a friend, the picture became clear. Much of the time when we speak of the story of Adam and Eve, we forget how radical the underlying message is–in order to truly live and progress, we must choose knowledge. We must choose a life of paradox and pain. We must choose to have our eyes opened. We must leave the Garden. We must leave what we thought was the ideal, the simple and well-laid path, in favour of life.

I wonder if Eve, in those moments of toil in the lone and dreary world, ever looked back on Eden in the way that I look back on the woman I was always told I should want to be. I wonder if she thought, “what if my eyes had never been opened? What if I could have continued on peacefully without having to struggle, without being removed from the certainty of God’s presence? What if I had just done what I was supposed to do? Why did I seek out this knowledge?”

But like Eve, we go forward. This is the work of women. Forward, ever forward, eyes constantly lifted to heaven for more understanding, a space in our hearts for that piece of us that could have been continuously content but chose choice, uncertainty, and the height and depth of human emotions.

Forward, ever forward, with faith held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope.

Read More