Book Review Series: Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt

Book Review Series: Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt


Planted-smallIn Planted, author Patrick Mason represents what I love most of the LDS faith: a focus on community and Christ with flexible boundaries that stretch to include everyone. His journey through topics many find troublesome will give those in the LDS faith who feel certainty, greater certainty. But, Planted also offers lessons for enhancing the capacity of LDS Church members to hold space for those who doubt.


In the spirit of Eugene England or Chieko Okazaki, Planted teaches empathy and the gift of mourning with those that mourn. It is a must-read for the faithful and doubting alike (with a caveat that it might not be the best fit for those that no longer entertain the possibility that central LDS truth claims have any validity).


Mason argues for an inclusive body of Christ that is stronger and more redemptive through the diversity of faith among the members. He relates examples from his own lived experience as to how he has connected to others through unifying applications of the teachings of Jesus Christ that cherish diversity. Mason also balances his male perspective to some extent with experiences of women. My favorite was the treatment of Mother Teresa and her struggles for connection to God. I was shocked to learn how a woman so fully devoted to the work of God, anguished throughout her life in seeking a spiritual witness that never came.

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So You Have to Teach YW the Sunday After a Major Policy Change that Hurts Your Heart

I’m sorry, I got nothing.

No, I owe you more than that. I owe my YW more than that. I don’t know if it’d be ok to share everything I want to share with my YW this Sunday, so I’ll post it here and the tech-savvy ones can read it. I owe the girls a scavenger hunt on the temple grounds where we go to church. Maybe we’ll do that. I don’t know.

There was only one other girl my age at church when I was a teenager. There was a group of girls a couple of years older than me and a group a couple of years younger than me. The other girl was my best friend at church. The very first Sunday I met her, I was 9 years old; I learned we were born just days apart and my middle name was her first name. In the course of our growing up years, our ward boundaries changed and our ward was split and then brought together again a few years later. We were lucky to stay with each other the whole time. I went to her homecoming dance when were were sophomores. We hung out at mutual and in Sunday School and YW.

By the time we were seniors in high school, though, I knew she was doing things that didn’t align with the standards set by the Church and she eventually stopped coming. When I turned 18, I was still in high school (my birthday is in December), but I had no friends in YW, so I moved up to Relief Society. I didn’t know why my friend stopped coming; I never asked. I do remember judgmentally remarking to my mom that my friend was doing things she should see the bishop about. That was the first time a friend of mine went “inactive.”

There was a time in my senior year when my mom stopped coming to church. She had anxiety attacks at church around certain people. At the time, I was very judgmental of my mom for not coming to church like you’re “supposed to.” She comes to church now that they’ve moved far away from that ward, but that was the first time someone in my family had to take a break from church for their health.

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Ordination and Excommunication Sunday

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation

Ordination of Clare Julian Carbone

Ordination of Clare Julian Carbone

As the procession of women entered the church I swallowed a gasp. I knew I was attending the ordination of Clare Julian Carbone to the Roman Catholic priesthood (unsanctioned by the Vatican). I knew that those ordaining the first female Catholic priest in Salt Lake City would be women, previously ordained through a priesthood lineage they trace back to Jesus Christ. But I didn’t know. I only imagined what it would be like to have women presiding and officiating in ordination rite. The surprise of women dressed in robes of service and devotion, leading in a holy space overwhelmed me with joy.  Tears spilled out as I looked up at a stand and podium presided over by women (with a talented man playing the piano).  

I marveled at how different the scene before me was compared to the LDS Sacrament service I attended a few hours earlier. In my LDS ward I looked up at a stand full of men in suits with a woman leading the music and a woman at the organ. The LDS scene communicated to me that women are the accompaniment. Men are the main story. The opening hymn for my LDS Sacrament meeting was Hymn 59, Come O Thou King if Kings. I choked as I sang verse four:

Hail! Prince of life and peace!

Thrice  welcome to thy throne!

While all the chosen race

Their Lord and Savior own,

The heathen nations bow the knee,

And ev’ry tongue sounds praise to thee.

Was I the chosen race that owns their Lord and Savior? Or am I of the heathen nation bowing the knee? I felt keenly, “I do not belong here. This is a space for white men. Not me.” No more sound came out of me after the word “race.” I could not sing the words, “Heathen nation.”

In contrast, the sight of male and female congregants smiling in fellowship as we looked up to female presiding leaders astonished me with feelings of peace and well being. As I looked at female bodies, dressed in white robes that remind me of my temple clothes, I felt like I belonged. Then we sang an opening hymn:

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To say what is truth?

27I have not been able to stop thinking about an essay I read a few months ago: “Oh Say What is Truth? Understanding Mormonism Through a Black Feminist Epistemology”  The author argues that in Mormonism truth is acquired through feeling, citing D&C 9:8, as well as through lived experience; these are the ways we “find out for ourselves.”  These methods of determining truth are part of a black feminist epistemology set forth by Patricia Hill Collins, and the essay argues that her ideas are very close to Mormon methods of determining truth.

Taking feelings and lived experience a step further, Collins argues that a collective dialogue is essential to furthering and developing the truth that each person has acquired, and that each person has a moral obligation to share her truth.  Collins wrote, “The fundamental requirement of [a collective dialogue] is the active participation of all individuals. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. To refuse to join in, especially if one really disagrees with what has been said, is seen as ‘cheating.’” The essayist concludes, “Because we all have a truth to speak, to fail to speak our truth especially when it is needed most – when it is being contradicted – is to fail the community’s efforts to build collective, experienced-based truth as a whole body.”

I try to live as though participating in collective dialogue is a moral obligation.  For years I’ve felt that speaking my truth regarding gender equality in Mormonism is one of the important purposes of my life.  For example, Mormonism is patriarchal, but I believe patriarchy is a Judeo-Christian heritage not inspired by God, passed down through many years of unchecked sexism, and now entangled so that it touches nearly every aspect of Church culture and much of Church doctrine.  How do I live as part of a religious community with strongly held traditional beliefs and while hoping for radical change?

I do it by talking.  I use inclusive language, I comment often in Sunday School and Relief Society, I get up in fast and testimony meeting a few times every year, I give carefully crafted talks that are both diplomatic and radical, and I write for a Mormon feminist blog and paper.  I speak my truth wherever I can.  This can be scary because it opens me up for criticism and judgement, but it can also create unexpected connections with people who resonate with what I’ve said.  In the context of contemporary American life it may seem tame to speak truth in one’s own small community – others have spoken up at much greater cost than I have, and to greater effect.  But to do this consistently, to remain attached to a community that has expanded my spirit but also makes me weep, this takes courage and staying power.

So, my ideas matter, even if, or especially when, they are contrary to the status quo.  And if a collective dialogue is needed to develop and advance knowledge, then I need to keep showing up for that dialogue.  I also believe that organizations need insiders working for change for that change to become possible.

But here’s the problem.  What if I’m a lone reed?  In my experience there needs to be a critical mass of people in a Sunday School discussion to get an idea afloat.  It’s great when that happens, and the discussion becomes enlightening and enlivening.  But what if comments or questions fall flat and the teacher marches on with the lesson as planned?  What if people hold your truth in contempt, or possibly worse, just ignore it?  A dialogue in which everyone participates sounds great, but in does that ever happen in real life?  What if, as happened to me earlier this month, a First Presidency letter, the bishopric’s selection of the theme for sacrament meeting, and the material in the talks and discussions form a unified block of content that I don’t resonate with?  Are comments against such a backdrop useful, or contentious even if contention is not my intent?

I’m lonely and tired, friends.  So please, give me your stories.  When you speak up, how does it go?  What do you learn?  Does it create a spark for generating sincere discussion?  Or does your spark fall to the ground, extingushed?  If it’s the latter, what does that mean?

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Introducing our Heavenly Mother’s Day Series

CW: Suicidal thoughts

I moved to Oakland five years ago. One of my first outings in the Bay Area was a gathering at Carol Lynn Pearson’s house where she gave each of us copies of her play, Mother Wove the Morning. It sat on my shelf for months because I didn’t want to open up Heavenly Mother-less wound I had.

When I finally read it, half a year later, I discovered that I was right in that it was an intense experience. I loved reading it and yet I ached. I wanted a relationship with Heavenly Mother, but I didn’t know how. Unfortunately the bigger question for me was “why.” Why should I have a relationship with Her?

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