Ritual Inclusion

My body has born four children. And I have watched as the men I love have taken each of these little bodies in their arms–bodies that I have grown, birthed and bled for–and conferred upon them a name and a blessing. I deeply love this Mormon ritual. I love watching as my husband, fathers and brothers encircle and cradle my babies in their love.

This time, however, I wanted more than to just passively watch from the side. Perhaps because this is my last child, I found myself grieving my exclusion from the ritual where I never had previously. A dear friend in charge of our ward’s music graciously allowed me to choose the hymns and because it was Fast and Testimony meeting I was able to bear my testimony and give my baby a mother’s blessing of sorts.

It was mr. mraynes who came up with the idea of holding the microphone. I was resistant–balking at the symbolism of being the instrument to give voice to my husband while being silenced myself. But I have sisters who have asked for this small thing and been denied. In the end I could not let the opportunity pass. An opportunity I knew I had only because my husband is in a position to ensure I had it.

So yesterday I found myself in a circle of men. A space reserved for masculine authority.

For the first time I was witness to the incredible beauty and power that resides within the blessing circle. As I held the microphone to my husbands lips, I could see the overwhelming emotion and love he has for our son. For the first time I saw my son watch his father intently and smile because of the security and happiness he undoubtedly felt. And I was able to feel the love these men had for each other and this sweet little baby. I could feel their hope in the possibility of his life and their desire to give him every gift they could.

This is a powerful ritual and in arguing that women’s participation is unimportant we sell ourselves short.  Baby blessings are the literal expression of our joy in the creation of life. When we try to make this blessing, and any blessing, less than what they can be we loose half of the creative possibility and power that God intends us to have.

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Random thoughts on Pioneer Day

Patty Bartlett Session’s Cross Stitch Sampler

I was sitting in a Women and Music class at BYU when the most preposterous statement I have ever heard about pioneers was made. We were discussing Mormon music when a fellow classmate argued that those without “pioneer stock” could not truly sing Come, Come Ye Saints like somebody with pioneer ancestry can.

“Just like a white woman can’t sing Summertime like a black woman can.” she argued

My response: ummmm…what?

I think there is a fundamental difference in experience here that makes this argument specious at best but every July 24th I find myself wondering if there is some psychic wound that those with pioneer heritage carry with them.

I wouldn’t know about this as I am the offspring of two converts to the church. While I always enjoyed the Pioneer Day celebrations that my midwestern wards put on and the pioneer bonnets were in constant rotation when I played dress-ups as a girl, I never felt personally connected to the pioneers.

Until I had children. mr. mraynes comes from a rather prominent pioneer family and knowing the above story, he joked that bearing pioneer stock allowed me to tap into that psychic wound and appropriately sing Come, Come Ye Saints. Once again, I doubt the veracity of this wry observation. But I do feel strangely connected Patty Bartlett Sessions, who would be my children’s great great great great great-grandmother. Indeed, I feel her presence and her grit and determination in my own daughter. Though I am a little apathetic about pioneers in general, I like to take a moment on this day to honor this grandmother and the other pioneers who make my children who they are.

So what say you? Do you share a strong connection with the pioneers, whether in your ancestry or not? How do you feel about Pioneer Day?

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Our Heritage, or My Heritage?

Oregon Trail II


This time of year the church tends to really get into the pioneer spirit, at least where I live.  This is peculiar, since I live in Oregon and am not the descendant of a Mormon Pioneer.  If we were going to celebrate pioneers, surely it would make a lot more sense to honor those who went 1000 miles farther than Brigham Young and settled the valley we call home.  Instead we rehash the same stories about people we never knew settling a place in which I personally have no desire to live.


I struggle with the pioneer fixation for two reasons.  The first is boredom.  I audibly groan when I hear the words “Willie-Martin” because I am just plain tired of hearing the same story over and over and I no longer find anything remotely inspirational in it.  The other reason I get annoyed is something my family calls “familyolatry.”  It isn’t enough to tell a story of a pioneer.  Ideally you want to casually bring up that you are personally descended from some famous pioneer, and that really, really helps your faith.  It feels to me as if there is some secret upper crust of Mormons who are descended from the Utah pioneers that makes their faith just a little more special.  As I am the daughter of a convert and an atheist, I do not get to engage in this fun name-dropping activity.


I propose that we keep July as a month to honor heritage, biological or otherwise, but that we actively seek out other stories to honor than just the pioneers.  If you are a descendant of the pioneers, keep enjoying that.  But let’s go further.  I am an Oregonian, born and bred.  My goal for the month is to see a Western Meadowlark, our state bird.  One of my ancestral lines is French.  This Sunday we are celebrating Bastille Day as a family and trying our hands at making some French food.  I have benefited greatly from the feminists who have gone before me and made my road smoother.  I have been reading old issues of Dialogue as a way to try to understand the intellectuals who came before me and made my foundation without me even realizing it.  I have also been reading old family diaries and learning more about my biological ancestors through that.


I think it is great to spend one month of the year thinking about heritage and the gifts we have been given by our ancestors, and focusing on our family identity.  I think it is absurd, however, that we all have to pretend to have the same heritage and the same ancestors, or to imagine that someone else’s family history will some how resonate equally for everyone.


What are you going to do in July to celebrate your heritage? Is the 24th of July a meaningful day for you, or something you experience as painful?

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Sixty days in the life of a Mormon feminist

After being inspired by a TED talk and a mock film festival at my ad agency, I decided to record a second a day out of my life for a limited time. I began on March 20th, 2013, and decided to end after recording sixty days, or sixty seconds worth of film. These are mostly just random moments, but I believe personal history is valid, and this became a kind of video journal project. So much had happened in the previous year: a new job for my husband, followed by a new job for me, a new house for our family, our son starting therapeutic school, and the passing of my father. I began to realize that our lives are made up of these big milestones that sometimes sneak up on us without our realizing how one thing leads to another and suddenly you’re dealing with nearly a whole new life for your family. But that life is also made up of tiny moments of simple beauty and the mundane.

It may or may not be apparent, but this project includes film some milestone events, including:

  • A clean MRI for my son with epilepsy, followed by a clean EEG, allowing us to begin to taper medication he’s had since infancy
  • A sisterhood ceremony after the unexpected death of a friend I knew through Mormon feminist circles
  • Meeting my newborn niece for the first time
  • The last days of my time at my ad agency job, as I begin a new job next week with more work-from-home flexibility
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Sunday Christmas and MoTab Singing

I am one of those lucky people who, along with 60,000 of my fellow fans, will be attending one of the three nights of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert next week. This is a family tradition, starting from when I was old enough (8 years old) to attend the concerts with my father. My mom sang in the ‘MoTab’ for twenty years, from the time I was six until I was twenty-six, and this 15-20 hour week commitment on her part has my dad saying he was a “bishop’s wife” for twenty years. In fact, my mother’s singing in the choir was one of the best feminist examples I could have had growing up in my very traditional family, an example where my stay-at-home mother shared her non-maternal talents outside the home, and where my sole-provider father cared for all the children, tucking us into bed on weekly rehearsal nights (every Thursday, many Tuesdays, and more when they were planning for an event, tour, or recording a CD), and getting us up and ready for Church early on Sunday mornings. Annual choir tours were three weeks long, with my mom, and sometimes my father, leaving for Australia, Hawaii, Eastern (then-communist) Europe, Western Europe, the Southern US states, and many more places to be missionaries for the Church through music.

I love the Choir. I love each director and what he brought to the Choir. How I used to thrill when the men of the choir would file into the Tabernacle, singing in unison, “Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel.” The Christmas concert has changed a lot over the years. The Orchestra at Temple Square has been added, much to my delight. Having the Christmas concert at the Conference Center has allowed it to become more pageant-like, with dancers and special guest singers and narrators, generating DVD sales and bringing tens of thousands to the concerts, although with over 1 million ticket requests, most who register in the free online ticket lottery come away disappointed.

As proud as I am to have watched my mother participate and give service in this way, there is one part of her career that I don’t remember fondly.

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