I know you are, but what am I?

I have two young kids, and they’re of an age when potty language and name calling happen all the time.  ”Poop” is both the funniest word in their vocabulary and the worst insult.  My daughter laughs about making piles of pretend poop at home, but complains of being called a poo-poo-head at preschool.  It feels awful to be called something you’re not, and the immediate impulse when that happens is to correct it in the strongest possible terms.  The typical playground response when I was a kid was, “I know you are, but what am I?”

The reason name calling hurts is because it touches on the most core belief we have – who we are.  My daughter does not believe she is a poo-poo-head and is indignant at being called that, but when someone uses that term I wonder if there’s a flicker of a question about who she is, if not that.  The question is troubling, and terribly insistent.  For her, a soothing word from mom, dad, or a teacher is all that’s needed to answer it until the next insult comes along.

Gradually, I hope all those soothing assurances will accumulate to form a solid self esteem for her.  She’ll know she is an inherently and irrevocably worthy human soul with great potential, loved by Heavenly and earthly parents.  Of course, a healthy self image won’t protect her from ever being hurt by a word, and she’ll be exposed to views, ideas, and experiences that may challenge her beliefs about her identity.

For me, the greatest assurances and the greatest challenges to my identity have come from the Church.  From singing “I am a Child of God” as a toddler, repeating the Young Women theme about being a daughter of God, and my own study of the scriptures and sacred music, I’ve acquired a solid self image of a person who is inherently and irrevocably worthy, with great potential, and loved by Heavenly Parents.  But sometimes things I’m taught at Church also challenge that self image.  And sometimes it’s the things I don’t hear at Church that challenge me most.

For example, I heard about the roles, responsibilities, and power of the priesthood in the last General Conference, and I also heard I’m an appendage to it.  Arms and legs are important and valuable, but they’re not what give people their identity.  In the temple men covenant to God, but the covenant I made was to a man, to hearken to him.  I pray daily and sing weekly praises to Father in Heaven, but I’m at a loss as to how to worship my Mother in Heaven.  I see how men are heirs to Father in Heaven.  I know who they are, but who am I?

I believe I’m a child of God and that Jesus suffered and died for me as much as for anyone.  But the lack of acknowledgement of Mother in Heaven, the asymmetrical temple covenants, the possibility of eternal polygamy, and the withholding of ordination could lead a woman to believe she’s a lesser creation than men.  I know that’s not true.  But I still get that flicker of a terrible, insistent question: Who am I, if not that?  I have no answer, and I can’t be consoled by a soothing word.  So instead of letting the question trouble me, I snuff it out quickly.

Tell me, why should I have to, over and over?

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Birth/Rebirth: Initiatory as re-birth

Birth stories have a strange fascination for me, but I have also found them to be a moment of exclusion.  I do not have any children, and as a Mormon woman nearing thirty virtually every woman I associate with outside of work has a birth story.  They usually come up at baby showers, play dates, or Mommy and Me.  When one woman begins to reflect the others chime in, telling their own stories and sharing (I presume) a sense of community and common experience.  Naturally, I have nothing to add to this conversation, any more than I have anything to say about potty training or tantrums or motherhood in general.  Often, trying to deflect the sense of awkwardness, a mother will jokingly ask me if all their talk is working like birth control, a sally that is kindly meant but really not my favorite joke.

For all these reasons, when the idea came up on the back list to do this series I said that I would be supportive of others but would not be contributing myself.  Not being part of the mommy club can be one of the hardest parts about being a Mormon woman.  The other bloggers encouraged me to find a different way to contribute something about rebirth in a non-literal sense to provide a different perspective.

I decided to write about initiatory as an experience of rebirth, a new beginning. 

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June 2013 Visiting Teaching Message: Joy in Family History

Let me guess: You surfed onto this site looking for a way to make this month’s Visiting Teaching message interesting.


Now, I don’t mean to be disrespectful towards family history temple work. But it is a topic that comes up rather often, (I have written about here and here , oy!). So- either I get hit with the family history thing way too often in the Lesson Plan lottery, or the spirit is trying to get me to do work. Either way, looking up my family tree is not new. And clearly the topic can be hard to address and re-address, especially because it is a topic that so often hits news headlines.

 Out of interest, Mormons are not alone in proxy work. There is evidence that the Coptic Church practiced baptisms for the dead in the 3rd Century C.E., but ended as it was decided that those who are deceased are not privy to receiving Eucharist ordinances. (1) Mandaeans also practice proxy baptism, but only on a small scale. (2) But, by and large, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the primary group that performs proxy ordinances, likely because it is taught to us so very often as a part of applied and real, church piety. There is some evidence that the LDS church members practiced proxy work for the living in the early days of the church- likely for other church members or relatives that were unable to migrate to Nauvoo (3) But because there is also evidence that not everyone enjoyed being proxy-baptised into another church, the practices was changed for the dead. It seems to me that the long lists of unrelated proxy temple work that were completed and created controversy furthered this practice to focus only on family history. Perhaps that is why there is such an emphasis in the church today; because if we do the work of our ancestors who have dead, we offend fewer of the living.  

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Sisters Speak: Do Women Hold Some Form of Priesthood?

“Holy Woman” by Brian Kershisnik

Last Sunday in Relief Society, I was privileged to witness a wonderfully brave and honest testimony. After a lesson on women and priesthood reaffirming the currently popular understanding — that women don’t hold the priesthood, but that they share in all of its blessings — this woman arose to bravely and honestly grapple with the issue of women and priesthood. She spoke of a moment that pierced her heart, a moment when her five year old granddaughter realized she would not be able to pass the sacrament like her little brother, and how that little girl turned to her grandmother and said, “But aren’t I special too?” She spoke of how women in the LDS church need to be women of supreme faith since there is no reason they should not hold priesthood. She spoke of a time when she was walking alone in the dark and knew a man was following her. Frightened, she turned, raised her hand, and said to him, “By the power of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood which I hold with my husband, I order you to leave me alone.” Which he did.

This woman in brave and raw honesty honored questions of women and priesthood, questions that are too often swept aside and dismissed. I left that Relief Society with my heart wanting to burst from my chest — it meant that much to me to see these questions honored and to witness this woman’s courage.  

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A True Story

photo (18)

It was early in the morning on a Saturday.

I sat in the baptistry of the Los Angeles Temple, waiting for sisters from my ward to finish. Four young single adults walked in and sat together in a nearby row: boy, girl, boy, girl. They were also waiting for my group, not to end their time at the temple as was my case, but to begin.

An older gentleman, dressed in white, slowly walked over until he stood in front of them, and asked in a voice loud enough for me to hear, “Which one of you wants to baptize, and which one of you wants to serve as witness?” The young woman furthest away from me was the first to answer. Clearly and confidently, she said, “I want to baptize.” The previously calm temple worker threw up his hands and shook his head emphatically as he cried, “No! No! No! I wasn’t talking to you!”

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Withholding for You, My Foremother

Dear Foremother:

As I hold this card and read your name, I think about your country, your century, your life you left long ago. Your existence in a world without antibiotics, with no choice but unmedicated child birth. Because I have this card, I know you have been baptized by proxy, released from a prison that held your spirit and welcomed into the fold of the faithful. You’ve been confirmed a member of the church, my church, a church you didn’t even know existed when you walked this earth, should you choose to accept this ordinance done for you in your name. You’ve been washed and anointed, a proxy body gently blessed with words that are specific, delicate, and surging with power.

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