Forms of Grace

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And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

Poor Joseph. Birth order and his father’s feelings were not his fault. He was only 17. But still, you’d think common sense or modesty would have warned him off of telling his brothers about his dreams. They weren’t terribly nice guys, for instance Simeon and Levi had murdered all the men in Shechem’s household as they lay recovering from circumcisions. Clearly Joseph underestimated his brothers’ hatred for him, and would have been murdered himself if Reuben hadn’t stepped in and gotten him sold into slavery instead. (Reuben, who may have felt he owed their father some form of apology after he’d slept with Mama Bilhah). Joseph was apparently still peeved at his brothers many years later, because when they showed up in Egypt he “spake roughly unto them” and put the fear of God into them by framing Benjamin for theft before revealing his identity and insisting that they all move to Egypt, reuniting the happy family. All this is of course a prelude to the enslavement of the Israelites and their dramatic exodus back to Caanan (a land flowing with milk and honey–no going back to Egypt to buy corn [1]).

This story is about forging a covenant people. It’s such good drama that Hollywood, Broadway, and Disney have all had turns at telling it, and like all good drama, the story involves flawed characters whose motives aren’t always admirable. Here we have a cast of sinners motivated by jealousy, retribution, and the will to survive, whose lives turn out to form an enduring story of faith. God works in mysterious ways.

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September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Jean A. Stevens

September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Jean A. Stevens

Jean A. StevensIt seems that the theme for this women’s meeting is covenants and the temple. Sister Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary Presidency focused on the covenants, starting with the baptismal covenant and leading up to the temple. She used her own mother as the central example saying she had a “remarkable connection to heaven” and later used quotes from many women of differing ages and their examples of looking to the temple. I loved that she used regular Church members and especially women as examples and multiple times emphasized that we all have different paths. We have so few in the scriptures and often go through whole Sunday School or RS lessons without any quotes from women. I also liked her story of her parents getting married before her father’s mission- it’s a great example of how our current practices aren’t doctrine and that there is a lot of leeway in how we practice the gospel. I really enjoyed her talk and I don’t have much to add to it, so I will share some of my favorite quotes from her talk.

“We are known and loved individually by Him.”

“As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple.”

“Tonight we gather as covenant women of God. Our ages, circumstances & personalities cannot separate us. ”

“Temples are an expression of God’s love”

“Every mighty change of heart matters to the Lord and it will make all the difference to you, for as we go to his holy house, we can be armed with his power, his name upon us, his glory round about us, and his angels have charge over us.”

I am really looking forward to re-reading the talks from this meeting when they become available. I hope you all can find something for yourselves in at least one of these talks.

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“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.

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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.

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Relief Society Lesson 13: Baptism

Guest Post by KMeldauc

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

The last couple of weeks The Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith manual has hit the topic of priesthood HARD. Honoring Priesthood Keys. Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. With priesthood being such a hot topic within the Church right now, I hope we all feel a little more familiar with what it is and how it works. Lets be optimistic and say that we did.

So now that we recognize all this great priesthood power and authority in our midst, what are we going to do with it?

Give Birth.

Wait. What?

Did you think I was going to say baptism? Baptism is the beginning of our new spiritual life. In that way, baptism is a birth.

Baptism is the third principle and first ordinance of the gospel, performed by immersion using the authority of the priesthood. Baptism is a richly symbolic ordinances with beautiful layers of meanings. It is symbolic of not only birth but also death and resurrection. So lets talk about these symbols.

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Birthing My Feminine Soul

I lay in the hospital bed with my legs in the stirrups.  I had given birth four times already, but this time I was both the birther and the birthed.  I was done having babies so I was having a simple procedure done to eliminate the monthly struggle that comes with being a woman.  Everything was going fine until my body suddenly reacted negatively to the pain medication.  It started with numb lips.  I asked if that was normal and the next thing I knew I couldn’t talk.  I knew the words and I could move my mouth, but I couldn’t say what I wanted to say.  Soon my consciousness seemed completely disconnected from my body.  I could think rationally and nod my head in response to questions, but I couldn’t speak.  I could only use my body when the function required one step.  I could move my hand, but I couldn’t do anything with it.

My body shook uncontrollably.  “Are you cold?”

I nodded my head.  I didn’t feel cold, but I knew I probably was.

They moved a heater over to me.  “Can you feel that?”

I shook my head.  All of a sudden I started crying uncontrollably.  Then I was laughing.  Worst of all was my inability to speak.  I wanted to shout and scream and let the doctor know that I was fine and I understood what was going on and I felt nothing, and yes, it was okay if they continued on with the procedure.  But I couldn’t say anything and the doctor and nurse had no idea what to do.  Like a newborn baby, my body was not under my control.  I was simply a consciousness in a body that I didn’t feel fully attached to.  I felt that symbolically I had become a baby, much the way I have spiritually become a baby in the last several months.  Once the effects of the medication wore off and I regained control over my body again, I realized how powerless a newborn baby must feel.  No wonder I see sheer delight on the face of my two year old because she just learned to jump.  That ability to master something that we previously had no power over is amazing.

Giving birth can be an empowering experience, but being birthed feels powerless.  Being the birther of my own feminine soul has been empowering, at the same time that it has made me feel powerless.  When we give birth, we take something precious within us, something we have created, nurtured, and hidden inside, and we send it out into the world.  The life we have brought into existence needs a lot of care, patience, and nurturing at first, but once it grows in its ability to control itself, it has the power to change the world.  This is what happens when we give birth to our feminine souls.  This precious life and power that is hidden in us can awaken through birth.  After a time of nurturing, we send it out into the world to awaken the feminine soul of the world.  It is through our individual births and awakenings that we awaken the collective female consciousness and change the world.

Two years earlier I began the labor pains that would bring about the birth of my feminine soul.  I was in labor with my last child.  It was 1am the night before she was born and I couldn’t sleep because the pain was too great.  I went downstairs and turned on the tv, a dangerous prospect at that time of night.  After flipping through half a dozen infomercials, I came to a documentary on health care for women in Afghanistan.  As the pain swelled in my abdomen I watched women giving birth in dirty run down hospitals, most of them having no hope for their baby’s life.  One woman was asked if she was worried, as the doctor tried to resuscitate her premature baby.  Her eyes bore into mine as she said, “No, she will live or she will die.  That’s the way it is.”   I thought about the life within me and the joy that I felt in between contractions, knowing I would soon meet this new little human who would change me.  I wept for the mothers who were bereft of the hope I felt.  I wept for the women who suffered from fistulas, acid burned faces, and painful infections.

These weren’t just some women on the other side of the earth. They were me and I was them.  For a moment we shared the pain and burden of being a woman on this planet, and I was forever transformed by that moment.  I attribute this power of connection to the Divine Feminine, Heavenly Mother in all her glory.  She is the midwife who patiently, lovingly guides us through our labor pains and helps us to birth our own divine feminine souls.  This experience changed my consciousness, but I felt powerless to do anything for my sisters in developing countries.  The next day I went to a brand new hospital and gave birth to a healthy baby girl.  As I looked into her eyes, I saw the beauty and value that existed in her precious gift of life.  Though she was powerless to do anything for herself at that moment, her birth alone had changed the world around her.  Likewise, though I felt powerless to help my sisters who were suffering in other parts of the world, my birth and awakening to a consciousness in which they resided was one small part of changing the world.   As I nurture my feminine voice and power, it will grow into a precious life that I can send into the world to change the feminine soul of the world and empower women everywhere.

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Young Women Lesson: How do I receive the power and blessings of the priesthood in my life?

The title of this lesson is taken from Carole M. Stephens’ talk, Do We Know What We Have?

Daughters of God, do we know who we are? Do we know what we have? Are we worthy to receive the power and blessings of the priesthood? Do we receive the gifts given to us with gratitude, grace, and dignity? 

I think you could take this lesson into 2 different directions: How do I receive the power of the priesthood in my life? and How do I receive the blessings of the priesthood in my life? I’m going to give some ideas for both.

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