Sacrament Meeting Talk on Faith . . . Crises

One of my local feminist friends was asked to speak on Faith in church a few weeks ago. She turned it into a talk about faith crises and used her own experiences as well as those of her friends to help illustrate the points. To support her, I attended the meeting and was so proud to see her deliver this talk to a group of fairly wealthy, white, suburban Mormons. While it seemed like some of them (particularly the man grumbling behind me) were not in agreement, Christine has since received much positive feedback, including having her talk quoted by someone else the next week! Our local AZ WAVE group met and discussed the impact of speaking our truth in church meetings and it was a really positive experience. We even thought about joining each other in wards to provide back up and support.  I’ve considered sending it to my bishop and telling him that I’d be willing to give a talk if I could give THIS talk. I hope you enjoy this talk as much as I do.  -JessawhyIMG_4337

Guest Post by Christine Leavitt

Our Journey for the Fruits of Faith – January 26, 2014

I was asked to speak about the topic of faith.  When contemplating this topic, the following three thoughts came to my mind concerning faith which I would like to discuss:

  1. Faith is a journey, and everyone has a unique faith journey in which their faith will change and develop throughout their lifetime

  2. Faith is a principle of action and loyalty to that which one chooses to have faith in

  3. Faith is hope, not knowledge

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An Invitation to Celebrate Mormon Women in Sacrament Meeting

This year, the 171st anniversary of the establishment of the first Relief Society falls on Sunday, 17 March 2013. With this, an opportunity is created for branches and wards throughout the world to have sacrament meeting on this day devoted to Mormon women and the Relief Society. What’s that you say? Mother’s Day is all about women? No. It is not. Mother’s Day is about mothers. Although all mothers are women, not all women are mothers. This is a chance for all church members to gather, teach and learn about the contribution of women who are devoted to Christ.

True to my conscience, I emailed my Relief Society president with this suggestion. She responded by asking my for listed talks and special musical numbers that I thought would be fitting. I was happily surprised that my email had been noticed so quickly, so spent a day asking what others thought about topics for talks about women. My response is included below, and although it is specific to my ward, the same topics can be adapted to any ward or branch in the church.

Please join us in encouraging leaders at a local level to enlist Sunday, 17 March 2013 with a Sacrament Meeting program dedicated to Mormon women of the Relief Society.

 

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“That’s Just Like Me…”

“That’s Just Like Me…”

The theme for our Mothers’ Day service was to reflect on the blessings and struggles of being a Mormon Mom. Because my husband is in the bishopric and conducts in May, when the main speaker got sick I was the last minute substitute. So late Saturday night, I found myself pondering the highs and lows of raising kids and wondering what on earth I could share. 

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When the Bishop Stops by and You Look Like a Deer in the Headlights

When the Bishop Stops by and You Look Like a Deer in the Headlights

It’s been two months now since the Bishop stopped by my house and asked me to serve as Relief Society President.  It was completely unexpected.  I think I’m still in shock!  Well, the shock was followed by fear, and now peace, but you get the idea.  I still picture this as something my mother would do.  Also,  I think  I was under the impression that there was some sort of “hierarchy of holiness” in the ward with the most spiritual people being asked to do these sorts of callings.  That left me feeling pretty safe.  Well, at this point, I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works!

I’ve learned that the Lord doesn’t necessarily wait until we are prepared, feel up for the task, and have our lives all together. He doesn’t always choose the person who is the most experienced, or the most gifted. He pretty much takes us as we are, with all our flaws and inadequacies. I suppose that’s the beauty of grace. We are all inadequate and flawed and he will love us anyway.

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Women of Righteousness: A Mother's Day Talk

For Mother’s Day, I was asked to speak, as a surprise for my mother, in my parents’ home ward. The bishopric asked me to address Elder M. Russell Ballard’s talk entitled “Women of Righteousness.” I took the opportunity to expand on his talk’s treatment of what it means to be righteous women. In my talk, I try to illustrate that righteousness has very little to do with what work we are asked to do (whether the work of mother- or fatherhood, community service, career, or church service) and everything to do with the manner in which we accomplish the work we are given. In my opinion, that truth means that gender, marriage, and mother- or fatherhood are unnecessary categories for understanding what it means to be a “righteous woman” or a “righteous man.” Caroline asked me to share my talk here.

In his talk, “Women of Righteousness,” Elder M. Russell Ballard addresses a concern voiced by a faithful sister in the church. In a letter sent to church headquarters, this sister wrote the following:

“I have a wonderful husband and children, whom I love deeply. I love the Lord and His Church more than I can say. I know the Church is true! I realize I shouldn’t feel discouraged about who I am. Yet I have been going through an identity crisis most of my life. I have never dared utter these feelings out loud but have hidden them behind the huge, confident smile I wear to church every week. For years I have doubted if I had any value beyond my roles as a wife and mother. I have feared that men are that they might have joy, but that women are that they might be overlooked. I long to feel that I, as a woman, matter to the Lord.”

In his talk, Elder Ballard replies to this sister’s concern with a “resounding yes”—women do matter to the Lord.

This sister’s concern may seem misguided and even ungrateful. It may seem absolutely obvious to us that of course women matter to the Lord. Of course they are of equal value to and deserve joy as much as men. Of course God loves his daughters and would never have them be overlooked.

But no matter how obvious this may seem to us, my experience and friendships with LDS women tells me that this concern is very real—that many women in the church wonder whether they have worth in the eyes of the Lord.

In response to the problem of what value this sister has outside marriage and motherhood, Elder Ballard says that while the doctrine of marriage and family “sometimes causes women to ask: ‘Is a woman’s value dependent exclusively upon her role as a wife and mother?’ The answer is simple: No.” When we hear women voice this concern, we far too often glibly dismiss it by asserting that being a wife and a mother is the most important thing a woman can do. This is certainly true—marriage and parenting—creating families—is the most important thing either a woman or a man can do. But that does not change the fact that many women find themselves wondering what other contributions they can make—how they can make contributions as themselves, not only through others, even when those others are as dear to them as their husbands and their children are. It is a heartbreaking and very real problem for many of our sisters.

And then there are women in my position. Women who are not wives or mothers. Again as faithful Latter-day Saints, we often too easily dismiss this situation by assuring single women or women who are not mothers that all women are by nature mothers. That they will be given this blessing sometime. That they can nurture and love children around them, whether nieces and nephews or children in the primary. It is true that all of us, whether women or men, can and should reach out in love to the children in our lives whether they are our own children or not. But believe me, when faced by loneliness and depression, these assurances are very cold comfort. Even when I am happy and trust that, in his goodness, God will bless me with the opportunities of marriage and motherhood whether in this life or the next, the fact remains that I am here on earth with a life to live now—a life I thought would be full every single day with teaching and loving children together with my eternal companion, but which is not.

So, if motherhood is not always enough and if it is not even an option, what does it mean to be a righteous woman? In a church which places so very much emphasis on family in general and, for women specifically, on being a wife and mother, the answer to this question is not always apparent. Too often we use “wife and mother” as a kind of shorthand for righteousness in women. But I don’t think it’s that simple. After all, there are many wives and many mothers who are anything but righteous. I would like to present the examples of three righteous women whose righteousness is not entirely rooted in their roles as wife and mother: Eliza R. Snow, Deborah, and Esther. Each of these women were wives, but Eliza R. Snow never had children and the Bible leaves it unclear whether either Deborah or Esther bore children. Each of them teaches us a great deal about what it means to be righteous regardless of gender.

When the Relief Society was first organized in 1842 in Nauvoo, Eliza R. Snow served as its first secretary. 25 years later, Brigham Young called Sister Snow to help establish Relief Societies in the wards of Zion. Serving as president of the Relief Society for twenty years, she pioneered a variety of programs meant to educate the women of the church and promote the church’s self-sufficiency. For instance, she asserted that “We want sister physicians that can officiate in any capacity that gentlemen are called upon to officiate . . . Women can occupy precisely the same footing that men occupy as physicians and surgeons.” She proceeded to establish, with President Young’s support, programs to send LDS women to medical school to become doctors and to train LDS women as nurses. Under her leadership, the Relief Society established a hospital where a woman served as head surgeon.

In many ways, President Snow’s efforts epitomized the spirit of President Hinckley’s recent advice to the young women of the church. At the spring 2007 General Young Women Meeting, he said: “You may plan on marriage, and hope for it, but you are not certain that it will come. And even though you marry, education will be of great benefit to you. Don’t just drift along, letting the days come and go without improvement in your lives. The Lord will bless you as you make the effort. Your lives will be enriched and your outlook broadened as your minds are opened to new vistas and knowledge.” Eliza R. Snow’s efforts as the president of the Relief Society encouraged women to gain knowledge and valuable skills, allowing them to establish successful silk manufactures, mercantile commission exchanges, grain storage systems (which outstripped the system run by the church’s bishops), publications, and educational institutions.

As a result of her dedication and diligent work to establish the kingdom of God on earth, Eliza R. Snow was frequently referred to as both a prophetess and a “mother in Israel.” The last seems a rather strange title to be given to a woman who, though married to first Joseph Smith and then Brigham Young, never bore children. But that title’s meaning is illuminated through the story of another prophetess, the Old Testament judge in Israel Deborah, who is the first woman to have been called a “mother in Israel.”

Deborah had many roles. Poet. Prophetess. Judge. Leader of military action. As a prophetess and judge, she received instruction from God that Barak should raise an Israelite army and move against the Canaanites who held them captive. Even after Deborah assured Barak that God would deliver the leader of the opposing army into their hands, Barak insisted that he would not go to war unless Deborah accompanied h
im. Barak lead the army; Deborah, in her role as prophetess and judge, lead Barak, making possible through revelation his military victory.

While Barak’s army, with God’s divine assistance, defeated the much more powerful Canaanite army, Deborah advised him that “the Lord shall sell Sisera [the leader of the Canaanite army] into the hand of a woman.” True to this prophecy, Sisera fled sure destruction on the battle field and took refuge in the tent of Jael, the wife of an Arab chief allied with the Israelites. Having made Sisera comfortable and promised to hide him, Jael waited for him to sleep and then killed him.

Both Deborah and Jael righteously performed the work of God, but they did so by performing actions that fall outside what we would think of as women’s typical roles. In doing so, these women demonstrated that what matters is not necessarily fitting ourselves to preconceived notions of what it means to be a woman (can you imagine what would have happened had Deborah refused to go into battle with the Israelite army because it would be dirty and difficult and dangerous? or had Jael hesitated to kill Sisera because such a deed did not conform to notions of femininity?); Deborah and Jael help us understand that it’s more important to do the work God gives us to do, and to do it well, than it is to try to force ourselves into being what we think it means to be a woman, or for that matter a man, and therefore failing to do what needs to be done.

After the Israelites’ victory over the Canaanites, Deborah sings in praise of God that “the inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.” How is it that she arose “a mother in Israel” as she first revealed God’s plan and then accompanied the army into battle as it fulfilled God’s plan? At the end of her song of praise, Deborah sings: “So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.” Deborah’s efforts, Jael’s actions, and the Israelites’ obedience to God’s commands resulted in forty years of peace. The number forty represents the gestation period—forty weeks to bring forth new human life. This symbol is repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments: forty years of peace, forty years wandering in the desert, forty days fasting in the wilderness. In each instance, this period of time functions as an incubator to foster new spiritual life. While we do not know if Deborah actually had children, her righteousness fostered the spiritual life of her community just as Eliza R. Snow’s dedication and hard work fostered the physical and spiritual strength of the early church as it settled in the west.

Esther, like both Eliza R. Snow and Deborah, dedicated herself to preserving her community and did so at great risk to herself. We all know that in entering the presence of the king in order to seek protection for her people, Esther risked her own life. The extent of that danger becomes more clear when we understand what went before. When Esther took this risk, she had not been queen for very long. The previous queen, Vashti, had been put aside by the king, Ahasuerus, because she disobeyed his command. As a result, all of the king’s provinces were instructed that women must obey their husbands and all of the young women of his kingdom were brought to the court so Ahasuerus could choose a new queen. When Esther chose to disobey the king’d command that no one enter his presence without his having summoned them, she did so knowing that her predecessor had lost her position because of disobedience. She further knew that her people were threatened because her uncle, Mordecai, had disobeyed another of the king’s commands when he refused to bow to the king’s first in command, Hamar. In spite of these two powerful examples of how disobedience to the king could result in a loss of status, home, and position at best and life at worst, Esther risked entering the king’s presence in order to save her people from death. Her uncle Mordecai first suggested this course of action; Esther in turn suggested that she and her attendants, her uncle, and all of the Jews in the king’s provinces fast and pray for three days prior to her entering the king’s presence and making her request. Esther’s selfless sacrifice and her recognition of the power of fasting and prayer saved her people from destruction.

Each of these women, with their obedience and dedication, helps us understand that righteousness is not a factor of the role we fill in this life. Instead righteousness is about how we do the work we have been given to do, whether it is the work of mother- or fatherhood, of our careers, of public service, or of church service.

In his ministries in both Jerusalem and the Americas, the Savior said: “Therefore what manner of men (and women!) ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” He is our ultimate example of what it means to be righteous. If we will worry less about making ourselves the perfect woman, or man, and instead embrace the example of the Savior, we will live lives of righteousness and meaning. As we become loving, compassionate, strong women and men of Christ, we will change our selves, our families, our communities, and ultimately our world and help build Zion.

I have been richly blessed with parents who set an example of such righteousness. Today I would like to honor my mother. I know no more perfect example of Christlike love and service. Her love and compassion have taught me to reach out to others. It is her example of righteous living and her belief in me that makes it possible for me to find happiness in my life.

I know that as we strive to live as Christ did, we will lead lives of righteousness that will allow us to bless our families and communities. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

{I’d like to thank our Deborah and those who commented on her lovely post about being the namesake of the Old Testament prophetess Deborah. I used their thoughts in preparing my own thoughts about Deborah.}

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