Book Review: First Principles and Ordinances

First Principles

Samuel Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple is not a very big book, but it took me a big time to read, and a bigger time to think about. This is in part, because I could only read in little bursts of time confetti, one page here, three pages there, on walks to the water with my daughter, or at the nearby park. But, there is a another important part: it’s pages contain multitudes. For me, this meant that it benefited from a slow read, and also that every time I turned to its pages, I felt better–not just about Mormonism, which I might have expected, but about marriage, relationships, and community, which I didn’t quite expect.

It helps to know that First Principles and Ordinances is the second book in Neal A. Maxwell Institute’s “Living Faith” series, with Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon being the first, Steven L. Peck’s Evolving Faith, being the third, and Patrick Q. Mason’s, Plantedbeing the fourth. (If you, like I, noticed that there are as of yet no female authors, take heart, and please consider submitting something. It is a matter the Maxwell Institute is very much aware of, and very much would like to change.)

In this series, each author approaches a matter of faith personally and professionally, meaning that they write both from their life of faith and their life of scholarship, making it a clear and worthwhile attempt at Anselm’s “faith seeking understanding.”

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Relief Society Lesson 17: Keeping the Law of Chastity

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 217–28

Law of chastityChastity lessons are challenging because people’s life circumstances determine the way they live chaste lives.  Giving this lesson to a group of women with varying marital status will require a lot of forethought.  I recommend reading “Two Sides of Being Single and Chaste” and acknowledging that living out your adulthood as an abstinent person is a quite different thing from being an abstinent teenager or young adult.  Chastity and singlehood deserve a serious conversation and in some wards this could be the main topic of the discussion, but I am going to focus this lesson plan on chastity for married women since this is something I can speak to from experience.



1. Attraction

“The natural desire for men and women to be together is from God. But such association is bounded by his laws. Those things properly reserved for marriage, when taken within the bonds of marriage, are right and pleasing before God and fulfil the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth.”

One of my grandmothers remarried when I was in college, and I remember her saying she didn’t think she could still feel giddy when a man called, but she did.  I was surprised, too, that someone her age could still have those feelings.  But the fact is as we age our brains remain totally capable of that dopamine surge that gives us the euphoric feeling of falling in love, and the adrenaline-driven pitter-patter we felt as teenagers when we made eye contact with a crush.

We are wired for falling in love, and a brain in love is often compared to a brain on cocaine.  As the brain becomes tolerant of those highly stimulating hormones, and love changes to secure attachment, vasopressin and oxytocin give a sense of well-being conducive to sticking together.  Finally, your hormones return to normal.  The ideal for Mormons is not to ride this hormonal roller coaster over and over, it’s to form lasting, even eternal, marriages. The main challenge for unmarried people is getting dopamine hits with your loved one without going “too far,” whereas a real challenge for married people is living in long term relationships without the hormonal roller coaster.

“Most people fall into sexual sin in a misguided attempt to fulfill basic human needs. We all have a need to feel loved and worthwhile. We all seek to have joy and happiness in our lives. Knowing this, Satan often lures people into immorality by playing on their basic needs. He promises pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment.”

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Relief Society Lesson #16: The Elderly in the Church

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

In all stages of our lifes there are joys and difficulties – and the older years are no different.

I’ve listed some of the joys here for class discussion. Some are in the lesson manual and some are my own.

  • Continued association with a spouse or other close family member.
  • Children: great nieces and nephews, grandchildren, friends and ward members.
  • Peace: there can be times of rest and peace in later years. A great blessing.
  • Time: often there is more time in later years – to be used for interesting travel, new hobbies, renewed friendships, etc.

Here I’ve listed difficulties in the same way.

  • Unresolved past problems: relational, spiritual, or temporal – these problems can weigh on the mind and heart.
  • Financial difficulties. Financial problems can come in many forms and are not always the result of poor planning. These can be difficult to resolve in later years.
  • Health Concerns – Illness and Pain. As we age, our bodies break down and the elderly can be plagued with many illnesses and also chronic pain. Poor vision and hearing loss can also create frustration.
  • Losing loved ones – including spouses. Many close friends and family members pass away as we age. This can be emotionally painful and lonely.
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Anxiety in Speaking in Sacrament Meeting

Years ago, in preparing for a Young Women “Values” themed sacrament meeting, I mentioned to a member of the Young Women presidency that I was not sure what to speak about. “It doesn’t really matter,” she assured me. You know what the value is that you’ve been assigned to present, so just tell us a story about it. You’ll do great anyway. We start children giving talks in primary, so by the time you are a (14 year old) Mia Maid, you’ve been speaking in public for a decade! This is why Mormons are great public speakers. You’ll do fine!”


At the time, her words did calm me. I thought, “I can do this! I’ve been giving talks for 10 years!” I had not been afraid of giving speeches on the debate team or in English class, and as a rule, wasn’t nervous but for that last burst of excited anticipwoman-podiumation that strikes me just before the words came out. But church talks were and are different. To be clear, I could do them. But they made me more nervous than addressing almost every other kind of audience.


As the years passed, and even to this day, when I speak in public- (the thing that is listed as the greatest fear, even over death)  I remind myself that I can do this because “I learned to not be afraid of speaking when I was in primary.” I’ve presented at conferences and meetings and even been disappointed at the smallness of the audience upon occasion; I am a good public speaker and I know it. But. When church speaking assignments came…. the butterflies and anxiety started. I became cranky and argue with my family. I fret and fast and pray for calm. No matter the topic, no matter how well I know it or how many hours I spent in preparation, I became anxiety-ridden. So why is that?

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Finding God in Community

"Lightning on Columbus River" by Ian Boggs

“Lightning on Columbus River”
by Ian Boggs

By Jenny

The spring thunderstorms have set my mind back to my youth.  I watch the misty greyness creep in as the rolling thunder awakens in me a sense that a powerful universal force exists.  Lightning pierces the melancholy clouds and lacerates the sky with its fierce power.  It’s as if God is raging in the heavens above, until the clouds open and the fierceness turns to a cleansing grace which flows freely to earth allowing life and beauty to thrive.

My teenage years also flowed with grace that allowed life and beauty to thrive in me.  I was nurtured by community and by dedicated leaders.  I lived in a world filled with scripture stories, faith, and miracles.  On a Book of Mormon Trek the summer after I turned sixteen, these scripture stories surrounded me in the form of handcarts and liahonas helping my youth group through the wilderness like Lehi’s family.  Prophets appeared to tell their stories and miracles surrounded us at every bend.  My leaders had put their heart and souls into planning a three-day trek that they hoped would be life-changing for those in their charge.  And it was.

I sat in the forest alone after the prophet Enos had appeared.  He sent us to pray and meditate on our own in the woods as he had done.  My scriptures lay open on my lap as the thunder began to roll in.  I looked up at the sky and smiled.  I could feel raindrops slowly kissing my face.  The smell of newness filled the air.  Thunder crept closer to me, as if warning me of what was coming.  Suddenly a boom shook the earth and the forest was consumed with fire.  A sharp pain shot through my back and I fell to the ground.  Through the chaos of people running down the mountain, I stumbled and was carried to a tent.  The doctor came quickly and looked at my back.  When he decided I was fine (just experiencing acute shock), he couldn’t hide his excitement over seeing an actual mark left by a lightning strike.  He took a picture.

The Stake President and Bishop came in then to give me a blessing.  Everyone in the tent could feel the power at that moment.  I don’t remember exactly what my bishop said.  It wasn’t so much a power of words, as it was a power of love and belief shared among humans.  When they left the doctor checked my back, but the mark was gone.  As a community, we felt the miracle in this event.  No one else on that mountain was hurt.  Through the storm, God had showed us power and grace.  I spent my teenage years feeling wrapped in that blanket of grace, safe and secure.

From that environment of communal nurturing and growth came a strong and powerful faith.  Over the years my faith has become more complex.  I have gained a deeper understanding of experiences beyond my own.  I have found knowledge that extends beyond my cultural conditioning.  I see now that things aren’t as they always seemed to me when I was younger.  Some might call the complexities of my faith “doubt,” but that word doesn’t describe it.

I have frequently been asked over the last few years, “So what do you believe?”  I don’t have the words, or maybe the words are meaningless to someone who hasn’t experienced my journey.  How do you describe what lightning feels like to someone who has never been hit by lightning?  If I could just show you my faith.  If you could see it, feel it, hear it, taste it…like running out into a thunderstorm, arms out, feeling energy flashing in the sky, the rain streaming down your face.  If you could only know my faith the way I do.  But you are in your safe shelter, watching the storm from a distance.  All it is to you is a disturbance to your plans, a tempest when you want sunshine.

I don’t claim to know the form of God.  Male, female, an old man with a beard, a king, a spirit, energy, embodied being, the evolutionary perfection of the human race, Elohim, Allah, Krishna…it doesn’t matter to me.  God is perfect love.  God is brightest light which opens the mind and fills it with knowledge and wisdom.  God is energy to move in a positive and powerful way.  God is grace.

I felt that grace as a young girl.  I felt it through family, friends, and leaders.  It kept me in the light.  It moved me in a positive direction.  It surrounded me with the power of love.  I don’t feel like I am wrapped in a blanket of grace anymore.  So I must generate grace within my own soul.  God is in me.  God is in the way I love, forgive, and connect with other people.  God is in the way I accept my imperfect faith and move forward.  God is in the way my heart tries to understand those who don’t understand me.  I believe God’s power and grace can be found in lightning and miracles.  God’s power and grace are in communities that nurture, build, and support each other.  God’s power and grace are in a heart that is open to love.     As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

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Heavenly Mother’s Day: God the Mother Revisited

Guest Post by Janice Allred


I first began thinking seriously about God the Mother around 1987. My sister, Margaret Toscano, was already doing work in this area, and reading her work and godtalking with her helped me to realize how important this topic is. I had always been interested in philosophical questions, which led me into theology. My first theological essay, which dealt with forgiveness, was published in 1978 in Sunstone. Several years before this I had already started developing an understanding of the Godhead that differs from the current Mormon teachings. It is based on the Book of Mormon teaching that Jesus Christ is the Eternal Father; there are not two (or three) separate male members of the Godhead. When I started thinking seriously about God the Mother, I realized that she had a place in this interpretation of the Godhead.  My first essay on God the Mother, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother,” was based on this reinterpretation of the Godhead. In this paper I proposed that the Godhead consists of two persons, the Eternal Father, who as the Son redeems us, and the Eternal Mother, who is the Holy Spirit. Since writing this paper, I have continued to develop this understanding of the Godhead. I now see God the Mother and God the Father as both fully involved in Creation, Redemption, and the work of the Holy Spirit.


A viable interpretation of a fundamental concept sheds new light on difficult questions, opens up new areas to explore, and reveals embedded structures. I have been working on the theology of God the Mother for almost thirty years and I have found abundant material in the scriptures that supports and expands my understanding. Although I have refined and expanded the ideas in “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother, I still believe and continue to build on the ideas presented in it.

My work on the theology of God the Mother was originally motivated by my belief in equality and justice and my desire to incorporate these ideals into my understanding of the Godhead. My emotional connection to her and my longing to know her personally came many years later. Here I share two pieces with you that give this aspect of my quest for knowledge of the Heavenly Mother. The first is a poem I wrote for this occasion. It is inspired by Eliza R. Snow’s “O My Father.” The second is an excerpt from a presentation I gave in a 2012 Sunstone panel, “Heavenly Mother and the Letter of the Law.” Since the Church forbids us to pray to Heavenly Mother, the panelists presented letters to her. I was asked to end the session with a letter of blessing from her. The blessing is based on my study of the scriptures. I take the liberty of putting it in the voice of the Mother.

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