A Book Review (Of Sorts): Way Below the Angels

Craig Harline

Not very long ago, I read this post, that made me want to read this book, Way Below the Angels: the pretty clearly troubled but not even close to tragic confessions of a real live Mormon missionary. Even shorter ago, I did.

While it isn’t a woman’s story, I still feel that it is worth reviewing here, in this women’s story space for two reasons. 1) The author, Craig Harline, does a fairly good job pointing out when women’s stories, voices, and presence are forgotten.

One example of this is when his Salt Lake Mission Home President tells a mixed group of Elders and Sisters that they are to dress like “local businessmen.” Another is when his going-Belgium group was moved to the Rexburg, Idaho LTM, and they held a nightly devotional with the older going-Belgium missionaries, that fully excluded the Sisters because it was in an Elder’s dorm room. The saddest examples took place in Belgium. The first question they asked women who answered the door was if they could speak to their husband. Not because they weren’t allowed to speak to women, but because they were taught that they should focus on the man. A woman named Lieve demanded focus, because she had a dream and a wish to be baptized. She also had a husband who did not share that dream or wish. He was required to sign a permission slip, which he did. But then he took it back. Lieve learned that if her husband had the dream and wish, her signature would not be needed.*

2) Harline’s ofttimes funny/ofttimes insightful words created a space for me to remember my own mission story.

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Relief Society Lesson 21: Proclaiming the Gospel to the World

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manuel coverWhat does it mean to “proclaim the gospel to the world?” Since I am only one person, I don’t know how to proclaim something to the whole world. But sharing the gospel with people I know sounds like something I can do. I would start this lesson with that simple adjustment in focus, bringing the scope down to the personal.

Here are four main points you may wish to discuss (condensed from five in the manual).

1. Gratitude for truths we’ve learned in the gospel, and opportunities to share what’s most meaningful to us

Lessons about sharing the gospel sometimes focus so much on ways to get people excited about talking about the Church, that they bypass the “why.” Invite the class to first think about the good things, the joy, that spiritual truths have brought to their lives.

• Ask the class: What gospel principles mean a lot to you right now, as in today, or in the past week?
• Invite them to silently answer this question: Is there anyone you might like to share that with, as a way of connecting with someone? Perhaps a sister, a friend, a parent, or your journal?
• Ask the class: What gospel principles have meant the most to you in the past year? Have you had conversations about that with people you know?

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International Series: Open Thread

“…And the Lord called His people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”  Moses 7:18

As our current International Series comes to a close, we have had our hearts, minds and eyes opened to the wide spectrum of experience from our sisters and brothers across the world.  Like many of you, I read with great curiosity to learn of their struggles and successes, and how they find joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At the end of nearly every post, I found myself asking, “How can I better relate to this person’s experience? What can I do? How could I help?”

Several of our guest posters and commenters touched on the following themes: the way American members and missionaries behave in foreign countries, perspectives of relative privilege, language barriers, proximity from other members, church buildings and temples, relating to the cultural history of the community as it colors their experiences with the church, emotional, physical and linguistic isolation, American/Utah Mormon superiority complex, labeling/judging others in general, missionary efforts, humanitarian efforts and variety vs. uniformity.

We now open this thread to you to share any thoughts or ideas you have, or to suggest tangible solutions to issues raised. You might also respond to this question: “How can we build a worldwide Zion and what can I do?”

“… Dear Lord, prepare my heart to stand with thee on Zion’s mount, and nevermore to part.” Hymns 41

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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.

 

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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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Fix This!

Recently the mission president of the Denver North mission came to our ward to inform us that elders would no longer be able to visit single women investigators without a priesthood holder from our congregation going with them. Our ward has many capable sisters, many who have served missions themselves, who would be excellent chaperones for these types of appointments but apparently this is unacceptable. He told us that this was standard church policy, that it is written in the handbook and that there could be no exceptions.

Unsurprisingly, this has proved to be a significant hardship for our inner city ward that struggles with a lack of priesthood holders to fill all the callings reserved for men. These are good men but they are already spread too thin. They simply do not have enough time or energy to take this on. Which means that my husband, as bishop, is the one that has to go out with the elders so that they can share the gospel with women.

Mr. Mraynes already has a demanding career which the church has now put a second, unpaid full time job on top of. The nights and/or weekends he has to go out with the elders is time away from his children–time that is already in too short supply. What does it profit the church if they potentially gain one soul but lose the souls of our four, young children because their father is never home?

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