A Book Review: Girls Who Choose God

GWCG

Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women from the Bible by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, Illustrated by Kathleen Peterson

Girls Who Choose God is a book I wish I’d had as a child, and am thrilled to have for my children. Featuring 11 women from the Bible, this lovely book was conceived when my dear friend Bethany’s three-year-old daughter asked her, “Mom, where are the girls?” when looking through her cartoon book of scripture stories. Bethany wanted her daughter to know not only were girls there, but they have stories that are stirring in their boldness, unconventionality, morality, and dedication to changing the world for good. The women featured are,

Eve
Miriam
Mahlah and her Sisters
Deborah
Esther
Mary the Mother of Jesus
Samaritan Woman at the Well
Mary and Martha
A Generous Widow
A Healed Woman
Mary Magdalene

Each of their stories framed as a choice. For example, when Miriam sees Pharaoh’s daughter approach the basket in the river, the authors write, “Miriam had a choice to make. She could stay hidden to avoid getting in trouble, or she could speak to Pharaoh’s daughter in hopes of saving her brother.” The stories conclude with the choice the girl or woman made, and then provide a question for the reader. From Miriam’s story: “What choices have you made to bring your family closer together?”

I like that the women featured run the gamut from sister to prophetess, and I like that the questions are far-reaching, not at all pointing girls toward deferential female roles. There is Miriam’s question that may seem at first to point toward a role type-cast for women (nurturing families). But there is also Deborah’s question: “When have you chosen to be a leader?” And Esther’s question, “When have you chosen to stand up for others?” When I read this book with my kids they are enthusiastic about answering those questions, they see themselves as leaders, peacemakers, and helpers.

I love that the book uses inclusive language. Male names are not always first (“Eve and Adam” instead of “Adam and Eve”). The authors use the word God instead of Heavenly Father throughout the book. I notice a great effort they’ve made to use language to shine light on women playing the key role in stories that make up our spiritual heritage.

The women are described as people children can aspire to be, with qualities they might see in themselves. “Miriam was a quick thinker. [Her] boldness rescued her brother and reunited her family.” I am used to stories of prophets and heroes from the scriptures being almost always men, and it surprised me how I felt reading about the widow who gave her two mites: “Jesus admired her noble deed. He called his disciples over to learn from her actions.” To learn from her. Our girls need stories told in this way to help them see themselves as full agents in the gospel.  The words “bold” and “courageous” appear several times in this book, words usually used to describe people like David and Nephi, but now used to describe Mary and Mahlah.

I love that the authors included the Daughters of Zelophehad (Mahlah and her Sisters), because this is one of my favorite Bible stories. To me this story has delicious subversive potential, but the question that follows is so perfectly relevant to children (and adults): “When have you chosen to solve a problem peacefully?” I didn’t know of this story until I was an adult. I hope it becomes more well known through this book.

Girls Who Choose God is unique. I don’t know of another illustrated book on women in the Bible, and it’s definitely a first for an LDS audience. The illustrations are striking and accessible, and match the text perfectly in their portrayal of bold women. Excitingly, the Church has acquired the paintings and will install them in the Conference Center this year.  Finally, the authors are donating 100% of the profits to a charity called Interweave Solutions that supports educational and entrepreneurial endeavors for women.

I think this an important book for two reasons: it’s the first of it’s kind, and it’s providing something we have far too little of — examples of strong, godly women.  Stories matter.  They don’t determine what girls can dream of becoming, but they absolutely inform it, and these are stories I want my daughter to know.  It’s also a beautiful book, in prose and in the artwork.  I hope you have a chance to own it.

 

*If you’ll be at the Exponent Retreat this year, you can buy a copy from Bethany there.

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Compartmentalization

compartmentWhen I started my faith journey away from Mormonism, I was often met with one request: just ignore the parts of the doctrine that were bothering me. More specifically, I was told to separate my beliefs about social issues like feminism, homosexuality and race in secular matters from my church beliefs. It was fine to apply a feminist lens to the world I was living in, just not the  church. I was asked to compartmentalize.

I found I was incapable of doing that. I was unable to say “I’m not okay with this kind of behavior outside of the church, but I’m fine with it inside of the church.” My bishop said to me, “If you put aside the feminist stuff, how do you feel about the rest of the church.” He didn’t understand that I saw the church as a whole and was not able to just put aside the parts I did not like. My mother is a feminist, but remains active in the church. When I asked her how, she said she doesn’t apply the same criteria to the church as she does to other things. I’ve had Facebook arguments where someone has said in the same post that separate but equal laws are not okay, but it is fine for the church to teach separate but equal ideas. In all of these instances I find myself reeling. How does one compartmentalize like that?

I’ve started to wonder if that ability is the key for some people to stay religious. As I hear people’s stories about Mormonism, I see people in very similar circumstances choose to leave and choose to stay. Of course there are millions of reasons people leave and stay in religions, but is the ability to compartmentalize one of them?

I can’t divide the church from my “secular” beliefs. I can’t divide the church into bits and ignore the ones I don’t like. That inability is really the core of why I left. I wonder if I had that skill if I would still be Mormon.

There is a quote attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald that says: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Does the ability to compartmentalize make one more intelligent?

Can you compartmentalize? How has it effected you?

 

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We have to tell our stories

retreat_

Just over a year ago, I sat in a cabin with some of my dearest friends.  They were women that I had gotten to know over the years when we had all lived near each other, but most of us had since moved away to different locations.  We had kept in touch via email – we had actually spent most of a year discussing various issues in Mormonism (particularly women’s issues), and we had enjoyed such a rich conversation that we decided to meet up for a weekend retreat.  We left 47 of our 50 combined children at home, packed our favorite treats and games, and met up in the mountains – away from the routine demands of life.  After a day of playing games, gorging on cupcakes, and catching up, we broke into small groups.

And we started to tell our stories.

As a background, I had heard about the Mormon Women’s Oral History Project through a podcast I had listened to – Caroline Kline and Claudia Bushman spoke with Dan Wotherspoon about their book “Mormon Women Have Their Say” (reviewed here by Rachel), and they talked about the project.  As my friend Melissa Mason and I planned our informal friends’ retreat, we talked about it and thought that we could use the Oral History Project as the central activity of the weekend – we thought it would be neat to hear everybody talk about their lives and hear some more background.  So we got some basic information from Claudia, included some USB recording sticks in our packing gear, and sat down to listen to one another.

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Guest Post: No More Fear-Driven Faith for Me!

Judy profileWe’re delighted to showcase some of Exponent II’s founding mothers and long-time contributors in the upcoming days and weeks. We look to them, those who have seen and weathered periods of apostasy accusations and members facing Church discipline, for their thoughts on the events that are taking place as a new generation of progressive Mormons search for our place in the Church.

No More Fear-Driven Faith for Me!
by Judy Dushku

After Sonia Johnson was excommunicated from my church in 1979, the women in Exponent II invited her to meet with us and discuss her views. Since we were also Mormon feminists and supported the ERA as she did, we thought it appropriate and indicative of our solidarity with many of her ideas. She came to Boston for a media event, and then came to my home for a warm and lively discussion. Laurel Ulrich later commented that Sonia seemed brittle and fearful; we were sympathetic and felt compassion.

As was the practice with Exponent II, our Board decided that we would publish an issue about Sonia Johnson’s ordeal and her views where we would invite a number of women to write their thoughts concerning this pivotal and highly volatile event. We were long-committed to that approach to controversial subjects: identify the issue, then invite many LDS women to share their points of view in our paper. We solicited opinions and soon had a paper ready to paste up for publication. On the night before we went to press, four (as best I can recall) of our number decided to have their names taken off our masthead. They did not want to be associated with an issue of Exponent II that might appear to endorse Sonia’s positions or behavior, lest we get excommunicated, too. They did not resign in protest, they said, but in fear.

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Book Review: Letters to a Young Mormon

Letters

I read Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon a bit ago, to the youngest Mormon I know well. (I think that she was six months, then.) I have been meaning to write a review since that time, but it is difficult to write well (or really, at all) about something so small that means something so big.

Because it is a personal book, perhaps I can begin personally: my Mormon heart has felt broken lately–by PR letter after PR letter, and the poor welcoming of women and men who should not have to fight to belong to the body of Christ. Miller’s words are some of the first to help unbreak it, because they are a reminder of everything good and beautiful in Mormonism. I am sincerely glad that my daughter has heard them, as I sincerely hope that she will hear them again, when she is young and old enough to take them in.

As the title suggests, the book is at least loosely inspired by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It is made up of twelve letters: Agency, Work, Sin, Faith, Scripture, Prayer, History, Science, Hunger, Sex, Temples, and Eternal Life. Each one begins, “Dear S.,” and ends, “Love, A.” Each is written to his daughter.

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Herstory

Abuela is 2nd from the right

Abuela is 2nd from the right.

Abuela was raised in a small pueblo just after the Mexican Revolution of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Grandpa Angel, 16 years older than Abuela, fought in the revolution. The illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, he killed a man for the first time at the age of 15 in a dispute over the ownership of some pigs. The revolution was good for him as murdering men frequently thrive in violent times. By the close of the war he co-owned a banana plantation and was quite wealthy. His fortunes changed when a drunken bar incident escalated to violence that culminated in a large gun battle in the center of town. Grandpa Angel and his men killed people including some important government officials and had to go on the run. A former general in the revolutionary war helped my grandfather to hide and convert his resources into land and cattle in the pueblo where Abuela lived.

Although raised in humble circumstances, Abuela loved to read and declaim. She first memorized patriotic poems as a three-year-old, declaiming at community events or simple family gatherings. An aunt who married into the family taught school and provided a free education to Abuela, who was reading by age four. Although much of her time was devoted to the typical farm and household chores expected of young girls, in her free time Abuela read every book she could acquire. It was well known in the community that no gift would please her so much as a book (although she also loved to play with dolls). When Abuela was 15 years old, Angel came to the house to visit with her parents. It didn’t matter that Grandpa Angel already had a family in the pueblo with another woman out of wedlock. He settled on a price of cattle and land with Abuela’s parents that greatly improved the resources of the family. Abuela put her books and dolls away and was married.

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