The Thinking Mormon’s Reading List

Unfortunately, we’ve raised a generation of non-thinking, ever-feeling sheep. It’s lead to quite a few crises of faith, and rightly so. Human beings were never meant to simply obey for obedience sake, else why would we have an inherent ability to act and choose for ourselves from before the world was created?

So, here are some things I’ve read that I’ve found instructive for better understanding the anthropological reason for religion, the universality of truth, and ignited an intellectual study of the doctrine which balances out the often crazy Mormon culture. “Reading,” for our purposes, is code for close reading, critical analyses, and comparative to our currently held beliefs and practices. The thrust of our questioning should be: Why do we need religion? What is the societal function of a belief system? Then, why this system and where do I fit in?

It should be noted there are quite a few good works written by former or anti-Mormons. The research is generally sound, but the attitude is a little difficult to stomach sometimes. If you’re interested, though, let me know.

Presence on this list does not equal whole-hearted endorsement. It does equate with “things that will make you think.” It’s not an end-all be-all, but rather a starting point.* Please comment with any volumes you’ve found useful and think I should read!

  • The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade
  • The Savage Mind, Claude Levi Strauss
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell
  • The Wentworth Letters, The King Follett Sermon, and Lectures on Faith, attributed to Joseph Smith
  • A Mother There, David L. Paulsen
  • Women and the Priesthood, Sheri Dew
  • The Life and Confessions of John D. Lee, written by himself
  • Mormon Doctrine, Bruce R. McConkie (aka the bulk of the Bible Dictionary)
  • World Religions, Palmer (this is a text book for Rel C 351)
  • Original versions of the Book of Commandments, The Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (see RLDS church), varying accounts of the First Vision
  • The History of the Church — all volumes (it’s a slog, but you can do it!)
  • Journal of Discourses — all volumes (again, quite hefty at 24 volumes…. but provides excellent insight into the personality and humanity of those we’ve made into demi-gods; much easier to separate when the prophet of the time is functioning as a prophet and when he’s speaking for himself when you read an entire set of one person’s speeches)
  • The Qu’ran, The Bhagavad Gita, The Confucian Analects, The Torah and Talmud, attended worship services of various religions
  • The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity, CS Lewis
  • The LDS Canon: KJV Old and New Testaments, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price
  • Anything and everything ever written, spoken by, or even thought about from Hugh Nibley (and by extension, C. Wilfred Griggs)
  • The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley (strangely, taught me more about the importance of fasting than anything else)
  • The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien (the most revelatory description of a Creation Myth involving councils of gods, a fallen god, and the origins of the good/evil dichotomy)

*I purposefully disregard any and all blogs, no matter how well written. They are no substitute for true academic work or primary sources. I also apply stricter scrutiny to books or articles written after 2000, as they tend to be brimming with revisionist history and a pathological need to please (not offend) everyone. 

So…. how are you still a Mormon?

A LITTLE FAMILY HISTORY

In 8th grade, I became aware of a shelf of books I’d not previously encountered in our library masquerading as a house in Houston, Texas. One particularly large tome by Juanita Brooks entitled The Mountain Meadows Massacre caught my attention. I started into it and a few days later, my mom saw me lounging around the house reading. “You know you’re related to him, right?” I was stunned. She went back upstairs to grab a red volume, simply titled “Fullmer Genealogy.” We took the next few hours connecting John Doyle Lee to Howard Clay Fullmer, my great-grandfather whose viewing I attended five years prior. Several inches thick, the genealogy was an OG version of FamilySearch.org, with life stories, photos, journal entries, census records, etc.

While interesting to see ancestors of mine come to life, I was more than a little disturbed by such a direct connection to someone responsible for so much death. Even more so, as I waded through Lee’s last confession and other histories written about the massacre. Denied officially, the connections and communications with church headquarters (including Prophet Brigham Young) about how to deal with the incoming settlers from Missouri seemed more than tenuous to me. Add to that Lee’s 19 wives, I wasn’t sure how this new historical information would impact my budding testimony. This was the subject of more than a few family discussions before I shelved the whole issue and resolved to deal with it later.

A couple years later, I attended Youth Conference for the first time. In the history of our Stake, it is still the most memorable Youth Conference. We went camping in Sam Houston Stake Park, divided into “tribes” and had a weekend packed full of team and faith building activities. That weekend I had my first emotional experience with The Book of Mormon, reading it organically by moonlight at 3 am outside my tent. I felt the presence of God in that moment in such a personal way as I’d never done before. That feeling– indescribable and defying all logic –drove my intellectual study of the scriptures deeper.

It was time to take John D. Lee off the shelf and decide how his history would impact mine*. I reread his personal history, Juanita Brooks’ books, and other commentaries. I dug into polygamy — the supposed doctrine and subsequent culture. I found personal journals of wives left at Lee’s Ferry with vials of oil and instructions on healing and blessing while Lee was not at home. Our dinner table conversations — the stuff of legends for anyone who’s been around my family — attempted to reconcile history with religion with doctrine. The next several years were formative, to say the least. Looking back, this is when the foundation for my current world view was mapped, lain, and fortified.

Recently, more than a few friends and acquaintances have asked me the title question of this post. In one form or another, I’ve recounted the above story and the information below. After a text this morning from an incredibly stalwart friend and a Provo YSA testimony meeting, I’ve decided to “go public” with my own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives on the Gospel, Mormonism, and the interplay between agency and faith. These things are incredibly personal and meant to edify the reader, nothing more nothing less. Take it or leave it. I will probably not respond publicly to comments, but if you have my number and would like to chat about this feel free to call anytime.

SEPARATION DOCTRINE

Before I set off to attend BYU, my dad gave me the most useful piece of advice (after “don’t get married freshman year!” of course): learn to separate your testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Church, the School, and the Culture. For our purposes today, we’ll lump The School in with The Culture.

What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

All religions, schools of thought, philosophies, etc. start off with a set of facts that believers or followers deem to be true. Closely related are principles, when applied to these facts impact the believer’s life in some positive or negative way. It’s important that we tease out the difference between the two here, as identical principles are found across all religions. Those of you who’ve read this blog in its entirety will be familiar with a story from Taiwan, where a Tibetan Buddhist and I team taught an Atheist about faith. Faith, said the Tibetan, is the principle where by emulating someone better than you can bring good into your life. The facts (doctrine) is what differs between the Tibetan and the Mormon: the Tibetan believes the perfect example is the Dalai Lama, the Mormon believes the perfect example is Jesus Christ. That doesn’t change the nature of faith — just the object to which the principle is applied.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, then, becomes a series of facts (doctrine) that includes Christ as center of a plan where redemption (principle) is possible. This includes but is not limited to the fact that God is a creative being of the same type as human, engaged in a paternal/maternal relationship with us. Communication with this deity is possible through prayer and scripture (words of prophets written down over the ages). A set of defined ordinances is necessary to officially claim and maintain our redeemed status. While deity gives us rules to follow, our ability to choose is paramount to this plan, and speaks to our origins as co-eternal intelligence.

Now, hang on tight. I propose not much outside the above paragraph really constitutes doctrine. Sure, there are details within each of those sentences we are not taking time to discuss (like how do we perform these ordinances and how to do we guarantee authoritative chain of custody, what happens to those who don’t choose redemption, what is the nature of God, what is the role of the Holy Ghost, etc), but the big picture is just that simple. In fact, I might even argue those details are completely subject to geography and time. Take the Word of Wisdom, for example. Doctrine at the heart of it is just that God created your physical body, knows what it needs to function at a level capable of receiving clear revelation. Each dispensation has had its own version of the Word of Wisdom, varying with meat slaughtering and curing practices of the time or region. That makes our current revelation an application, not doctrine:

 Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.

This is where The Church comes in….

What is and why do we need a Church organization?

The Church is a body of fallible, human beings. Period. The doctrine we agreed on above states JESUS CHRIST as the only perfect being to ever walk the earth, the only being worthy of and capable of making our faith productive for salvation. For this reason, in my family, the phrases “I believe in the Church” “the Church is true” “I have faith in my Bishop” etc. are never uttered. This is why a Preach My Gospel, Lesson Three section title says “Faith in Jesus Christ” not just faith is what should be taught to investigators.

Even the organization of the Church is subject to time and geography. Adam and Eve’s posterity were in family groups. Jacob saw the advent of 12 tribes, with specialized tasks and responsibilities. In Moses time, people were first divided into groups of 50. Christ organized 12 Apostles on two different continents. Now we have Area 70s, Stakes, Wards, etc…. This makes the Church organization a principle, not doctrine. The doctrine (fact) is that God needs his people to be organized and keep records for ordinances performed. That’s it. What this organization looks like from dispensation to dispensation has and can vary widely.

That being said, let’s reiterate a point: this organization is populated with imperfect, less than all-knowing, struggling human beings. God even knows He’s dealing with human beings, and often chastises them for not keeping records as He instructed. If this is something God knows and points out to us repeatedly through scripture, why do we have such a hard time accepting it?

A friend of mine pointed out a few months ago this strange juxtaposition: The Catholics teach the Infallibility Doctrine, but no one believes it. Mormons don’t teach it, but everyone believes it.

Bookmark this point. We’ll return to it at the end of this post*. As for why we need a Church…. it’s a vehicle. A method by which God can reach all of His children, teach them the facts they need to know in order to claim redemption, and receive the ordinances necessary. Originally, families were the organization of choice. Oral and written tradition would carry the knowledge Adam and Eve gained in the Garden of Eden to their children, etc. But agency stepped in and whole generations grew up devoid of this knowledge. Another vehicle was made available — covenants with the efficacy of familial bonds.

Now, the Prophet sits at the head of his particular dispensation as a key holder. This does not mean he sits at the head of the Church, nor that he’s better than anybody else. He holds an office with specific responsibilities for directing ordinances across the world. That includes what someone needs to know before entering a covenant, and how to keep from breaking it. As we’ve seen, time and geography are constantly impacting us and a Prophet can help provide clarity on application of doctrine (principles). He cannot change the facts of the Gospel, however. Prophets ancient and modern have been able to see visions, or glean more detail about the logistics behind elements of doctrine. Unfortunately, in their exuberance these fallible human beings have declared some things as doctrine that weren’t actually, and vice versa.

At the end of the day, God provides a system of checks and balances between The Holy Ghost, scripture (words of ancient prophets), and the living prophet. When these three things agree, you can move forward with confidence. If one disagrees, it’s time to reexamine all three. Is this a true prompting from The Holy Ghost? Are the scriptures being understood in their original context or are we proof texting? Is man holding the office of Prophet speaking prophetically or personally? Some of these answers may not come immediately, maybe even decades later. This is where emulation of Christ becomes key in maintaining even sanity, honestly. But before we dig into that*, let’s take a look at The Culture.

Mormonism, Platitudes, and Other Fallacies 

Sorry if this is a shock to anyone’s system… but there is nothing doctrinal about green jello, funeral potatoes, knee-length skirts, white shirts and ties, calling hierarchy, marital status as a litmus test for righteousness, anti-intellectualism, endless Sunday meetings, councils and committees for every decision, women not being in the Sunday School presidency, men not being in the Primary Presidency, missionaries not swimming because Satan controls the water, top hats…… the list goes on. Some cultural quirks are, in fact, anti-doctrine and more than a few forefathers are rolling in their graves over our perpetuation of these fallacies.

I took a bit of an extremist view these last few years and declared there was no doctrinal need to study the life of a prophet. Absolutely, the words God instructed him to write down to document God’s dealings with the people of the time should be treated as scripture. Everything else, though? Throw it out. Personal choices like running for president or opening a bank, warm-fuzzy stories from his childhood, home teaching war stories (President Monson! :D), are immaterial. They  have absolutely  no bearing on the carrying out of saving ordinances. While they might serve as a modern allegory or faith promoting story… they aren’t doctrine and should NOT be treated as such. Certainly wrapped up in this category are publications, speeches, opinions, etc. held prior to or given outside his prophetic calling and prophetic duties (ETB….. lookin’ at you!).

I would even argue the number of wives falls into this category. Joseph gave us a pattern by which polygamous marriages could be entered into, which seems to pass all the checks and balances laid out in other areas of scripture:

61 And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified;

This one line preserves the agency of all parties involved. If any coercion was involved, that’s between the man and God… and heaven help that man! >.< But I digress….

Point being… 

12 Angry Men teaches us the importance of self-awareness and a level of honesty about our inherent bias that is often painful. However, the freedom this strict scrutiny provides is priceless. It allows me to maintain a healthy relationship with my Heavenly Father, faith in Jesus Christ, hope for the future, and peace about the past even though I’m the great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of a polygamous murderer. I sorted that out in high school through an incredible amount of study, discussion, and prayer. This is a journey I recommend to anyone and everyone — separate the bare bones doctrine of Jesus Christ from everything else and solidify your testimony of that first:

Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?

Take everything else with a huge bucket of salt and ask: this this cultural in nature or stemming from some organizational quirk? Is this a person holding an office of some authority acting according to his or her office or “reading into” the situation some personal interpretation? Does this actually impact my ability to communicate with God? Does it impact my personal salvation?

WHAT IF IT’S NOT ACTUALLY TRUE?

I posed this question to my Seminary students last year. To my delight and relief, they arrived at the same conclusion I did. If I die tomorrow and it turns out the Atheists were right…. there’s nothing but a huge void and complete nothingness, my life is not wasted. My application of a universal principle to something good (faith in Jesus Christ) motivated me to be kind, inclusive, self-less, charitable, and constantly seeking improvement for myself and society. Further, if you decide The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not for you, that’s okay. As someone who believes wholeheartedly in personal revelation and agency, I have to respect your decision. But please respect my decision to be here, to believe this, and to share it with others.

*ONE MORE THING

My conclusions about John D. Lee serve for me (and by extension, a suggestion to anyone reading this) as a model for reconciling what is with what should be. Lee lived long before I did. I wasn’t there to witness the facts. I only have individual accounts and hindsight analysis to base an opinion on, which is inherently incorrect. There’s no way to divine the intentions of his superiors or his intentions towards his subordinates. Furthermore, that’s not my job. It’s God’s.

I’ve encountered people, cultural traditions, school policies, and even highly publicized and divisive church policies that I don’t agree with. Even daily human actions are so counter-gospel they make me cringe (what other culture do you know of that says we should be serious about marriage because it’s for ETERNITY then encourages people to marry WITHIN six months of knowing each other?!). So how do I stomach remaining a member of a church with such a sordid past and questionable current practices?

The answer? Forgive them. Move on. Give the final judgement back to God, to whom it truly belongs. This is the only way to maintain even a base level of sanity within any organization, especially a religious one where feelings and deep seated traditions are often the center point of worship. This is where the rubber meets the road — where you can immediately sort between those living their religion and those who aren’t. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still practicing this myself. And I thank God every day I have Christ as an example to gravitate to when even the apparently most solid foundations around me begin to waver. Matthew 18 is a prime example — Christ tells us exactly how to deal with people who offend us. How often do we practice it? It’s certainly much easier to sound off on social media and completely lose the opportunity to “gain a brother.”

That being said… Christ was no push over. If he saw something wrong, he pointed it out, no matter what authority the wrong do-ers claimed. There is plenty of room for questions, agitation, and full reversal of opinions in this church. Just be honest with yourself and God about your research, study, prayer, and intentions. Be prepared to wait it out, and trust Christ when he said the Atonement covers everything… even blessings denied you because of the ignorance of others. Blacks joining the church through the Jim Crow era are my personal heroes. They didn’t leave the church. They didn’t kick against the pricks. They were faithful in capacities allowed and held on until the fallible, human leaders were made aware of their wrongs.

I took a Pearl of Great Price class this last Summer and learned something new. There is a unifying theme to the Pearl of Great Price… from Moses, through Abraham, even across Joseph Smith Matthew. Each and every story within those books addresses two things: 1) the way things really are vs. the way things seem 2) being offended is a choice. It was humbling and instructive. And proved to me that I’m still here because I have things to work on. Prayer, earnest scripture study, participation in saving ordinances are all tools God has given me in order to help me. To lose focus on the doctrine will be detrimental to me and my eternal status.

#Back2School

At the behest of Sister Pack, I’m picking up blogging again. In my driveway the day before I drove across the country, I asked her what she would possibly want to hear about. She said something to the tune of: “Well, you’re 28 and going back to BYU to take classes with Freshmen. There’s got to be SOMETHING in there you can blog about!”

We’re a month into this new chapter of life and there’s already a mountain of fun topics. For ease and entertainment value, the #hashtag title will be indicative of the general theme. And consider this your only warning: posts will have a sarcastic, jesting nature. If you’re easily offended, you can quit reading now. 😀

V.

The Comfort Zone

“How are you doing?”

“Bishop, can I tell you? Being fired was the BEST thing to ever happen to me.”

“Vanessa….. of all the things I’ve ever heard confessed in this office, that has never been one of them!”

And until it came out of my mouth, I never thought I could feel that way about my former employer. Ever. The day I was asked to leave my job, I was devastated. So many conflicting thoughts and emotions swirled around what, to me, was a completely illogical and irrational business decision.

How could they just throw me away like that? They need me! They won’t survive without me! …. Maybe I was doing something wrong? Was my work not good enough? What if they replace me and that person is better…? Who cares! Good riddance! …. But what am I supposed to do now….?

For a few weeks, I was in a slump. Thank heaven it was Christmastime and I had all kinds of service projects and holiday parties to get wrapped up in. Then everyone went back to work… and I was still chillin’ at home, by myself. No direction. No purpose.

Somehow, even after all my pontificating about being a completely independent and emotionally self-sufficient person, I’d come to measure my value against my employer’s every whim. A little red flag should have popped up just then, reading: “Unhealthy Behavior.” Because it was…. but how did I get there?

When I first started at my former job, it was new and challenging. Something I’d never done before and a position that had never existed in their company before. I put in long, focused hours. I became a subject matter expert in the field. I saved the company on multiple occasions, just by the skin of my teeth. Nothing was ever for sure, everything was an experiment. And it worked! I was as in awe as anyone else, and I thanked God every night for guiding me to the right words, decisions, documents, etc.

But then I got comfortable.

I became a big fish in a little pond, the big man on campus, and worst of all…. a “manager.” Everything was easy, I had the regulations memorized and could provide new policy on command without any research. My work lost its challenge and I lost my humility, my ability to be awestruck by what I was making happen. The hours time-on-task got shorter, lunches got longer, and I started poking my nose into other people’s projects. Naturally, the office drama skyrocketed.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out it was time to go. But I couldn’t do it. More than a few times, my CEO sat me down and said, “I know you committed to X years here, but if you need to go I won’t be offended. You need to move on in your life — for you. While I appreciate everything you’ve done for us, I’ve always known I couldn’t keep you forever.” Most people would take that offer and run with it. In fact, I was offered several positions at larger companies, in different states, making more money, etc. etc. etc. But I just couldn’t do it.

Because I was comfortable.

I didn’t want to go back to long, focused hours. I didn’t want to NOT know the answers again. I didn’t want to…. work. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? You put in your time, your due diligence and you get rewarded by relaxing, coasting, gliding? Right? Right!?

A month after walking out the door of my former employer, I found myself sitting in a booth at Olive Garden waiting for a friend to join me for lunch. The phone rang. I saw a familiar name and answered it. It was the Compliance Director at a company I’d recently been talking to — they gave me an offer over a year ago that I refused and I let them know my situation had changed, asking if the offer was still available. This Director and I had a good professional rapport, and (even better) he reminded me of my Grandpa. We talked about his company, what would  be expected, etc. All the usual pre-interview facts. Once we got through that, he said the most profound thing:

Vanessa. This is such a good time for you. Take advantage of it. Think about what you really want to do with your life. You young kids always bounce back so quickly from unemployment, and you really have the rest of your life to work. You won’t always have time to just sit and dream. 

There it was. The question I was avoiding: what do you WANT to do with your life? As a point of clarification, it is not what SHOULD you do with your life, not what do OTHERS want you to do with your life, not what’s the most CONVENIENT path for your life, not what will make the MOST MONEY for your life… it’s what do you WANT to do?

This question of his rocked me for a few weeks, and then the answer hit me like a ton of bricks: I want to be challenged again. So I made a list of all the things I’d ever tried and failed at. It was a humbling, almost painful exercise. But when I put my pen down I felt relief and as my eyes scanned the list, I got excited.  A little like that deep breath right before hiking a mountain — it’s going to be a steep climb, you’re going to get hurt, but the view is worth it. I echoed President Eyring’s sentiments: bring me that mountain!

In two days– TWO days — and several phone calls I got the ball rolling on ALL items on my list. Stuff fell into place like magic (Thanks, God!) as I finished my application to be readmitted at University, put a deposit on an apartment in that college town, accepted the offer to do a full day interview with the Director’s company, filed LLC paperwork on a start up, finished government paperwork necessary for that particular kind of start up, hired a logo designer and approved the budget, sorted out some unresolved issues with my current landlord, cut and dyed my hair, and called my grandma (:D).

Every day. Every single day since then has been the same: a challenge. That’s put a smile on my face, a spring in my step, a prayerful bend in my knee, and hope on the horizon. Talking to my best friend this morning, the only question left is: how do you replicate this?

Get uncomfortable.

That’s it. That’s the answer. Look around at your life. Is your mind being challenged? Pushed to its limits? Are you learning? Is your body being challenged? Exercised? Are you developing and toning? Is your spirit being nourished? Are you feeding it with interesting, eternal truths? What about your relationships? Do they encourage you? Fortify you? If that answer is NO to any of the above, it’s time for a change. A dramatic one. Time to kick yourself out of that comfort zone and go find a mountain to climb!

What is Temple Worship?

In high school, I came across a concept that fascinated me: the archetype. Digging into Joseph Campbell’s works led me eventually to a man named Mircea Eliade and my dad’s copy of The Sacred and the Profane. No other book prepared me better for receiving the Temple Endowment and having continually productive Temple worship sessions. Why is that? Eliade encouraged me to consider my religious life on purpose — as an intellectual pursuit and a anthropological study of sorts.

Eliade took all cultures across the world and compared the lives of those living a religious life to those leading a secular life. He found ritual worship at the center of the discrepancy between these two lifestyles and proposed that actively participating in ritual transported the believer back to actual sacred space and time. This accomplished two things: it connected the believer to the original creation myth, helping him/her understand his/her place in the universe on a very personal level; it also allowed the fundamental sacred self to remove itself from the profane world around it for a moment, to rejuvenate the spirit, and give renewed perspective to life.

The hearer of myth, regardless of his level of culture, when he is listening to a myth, forgets, as it were, his particular situation and is projected into another world, into another universe which is no longer his poor little universe of every day. . . . The myths are truebecause they are sacred, because they tell him about sacred beings and events. Consequently, in reciting or listening to a myth, one resumes contact with the sacred and with reality, and in so doing one transcends the profane condition, the “historical situation.” In other words one goes beyond the temporal condition and the dull self-sufficiency which is the lot of every human being simply because every human being is “ignorant” — in the sense that he is identifying himself, and Reality, with his own particular situation. And ignorance is, first of all, this false identification of Reality with what each one of us appears to be or to possess.

Images and Symbols (1952)

“Living” a myth, then, implies a genuinely “religious” experience, since it differs from the ordinary experience of everyday life. The “religiousness” of this experience is due to the fact that one re-enacts fabulous, exalting, significant events, one again witnesses the creative deeds of the Supernaturals; one ceases to exist in the everyday world and enters a transfigured, auroral world impregnated with the Supernaturals’ presence. What is involved is not a commemoration of mythical events but a reiteration of them. The protagonists of the myth are made present; one becomes their contemporary. This also implies that one is no longer living in chronological time, but in the primordial Time, the Time when the event first took place. This is why we can use the term the “strong time” of myth; it is the prodigious, “sacred” time when something newstrong, and significant was manifested. To re-experience that time, to re-enact it as often as possible, to witness again the spectacle of the divine works, to meet with the Supernaturals and relearn their creative lesson is the desire that runs like a pattern through all the ritual reiterations of myths. In short, myths reveal that the World, man, and life have a supernatural origin and history, and that this history is significant, precious, and exemplary.

Myth and Reality (1963)

As an Endowed Latter-day Saint this should ring true. In the Temple, we are reconnected with original Creation. We learn the Plan of Salvation, but in a symbolic and individualized style that allows this phenomenon Eliade describes to take place within each of us. Have you ever wondered why you feel so good when you come out of the Temple? Ever thought “what, exactly makes this the most sacred place on Earth?” It is — I propose — because the ritual worship performed inside, under the direction of God’s Priesthood Authority, actually connects the worshiper with ancient and original sacred space and time. We transcend the profaneness of the outside world, don white clothing, and allow our Spirit to reconnect with the world from whence it came.

I like Eliade’s above quoted statement about myth and ritual worship applying to everyone — regardless of level of culture or education, etc. This follows Jesus Christ’s own reasoning for teaching in Parables:  “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” We — each and every one of us — are spiritual beings having a mortal experience. Those experiences are all different and how we choose to react to them is hyper-individualized. While Temple worship is the same across the globe — the same words, motions, and rituals — the experiences we take with us to the Temple and the impressions we leave with are uniquely ours. Indeed, the closest anyone can come to a shared experience in the Temple is making covenants with another individual (sealing of husband and wife). Even then, as a woman and a man come from different sides of the Temple to the altar, we should expect some differing views on even that sacred act of bringing a man and a women together as one. 

This. This is where any discussion of the Priesthood has to start: with Adam and Eve. We see The Gods create the Earth and Adam. Upon completion of Adam, they counsel together and realize it’s not good for man to be alone. Eve is created as a help meet. They (and you, every time you attend a Temple Endowment session) are placed in the Garden of Eden with conflicting commandments. You have a choice before you, but you’re not operating with all the information you need to make a truly informed decision. This is why eating the fruit is classified as a transgression, not an open and flagrant sin against God. Because of how those events played out then (and play out now, in every Temple across the Earth), we arrive on Earth with a built-in set of consequences around us. Absolutely, we are punished for our own sin and not Adam/Eve’s transgression, but you have to recognize that you are still subject to ripple effects of the Fall. For instance — fruits and flowers and not just spontaneously produced, but rely on a complex pollination system and schedule in conjunction with insects and birds. Other animals do not live in utmost harmony — they get hungry or threatened and preserve or defend themselves at the cost of another animal’s life. Humans get sick, we die, we too rely on a complex system in order to reproduce that involves quite a lot of pain.

Where does that leave the Priesthood?

At only two points in scripture were Adam and Eve ever separated — before Eve was created, and while Satan tempted Eve. Everything after that we read and/or see and/or participate in, Adam and Eve are both standing before God. Both are asked about the fruit, both provide an answer. Both are given instructions and  make covenants prior to leaving the Garden. Both are given further instruction on how to return to God’s presence. Both participate in ordinances, in procreating, in teaching their children, in grieving over Cane, in passing away. They are the icon of unity and oneness in marriage.

Why, then, do men today receive ordination to a Priesthood office and women do not? Do you think if Adam had eaten the fruit first, maybe Eve would have the Priesthood and Adam bearing children? What exactly is the enmity God places between Satan and the seed of the woman? Perhaps this is Adam, holding Keys to Priesthood authority which casts out evil spirits, binds families for eternity, and generally thwarts the designs of Satan on this Earth?

We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.” 

Dallin H. Oaks, April 2014 General Conference

Now that we’ve reached this point, I’d like to answer the question at the top of this post for all LDS women: what is temple worship? Temple worship is your divine right as a daughter of Heavenly Parents, as the posterity of a woman who made the ultimate decision. Nothing but your faithful covenant keeping is required of you to enter the most sacred place on Earth, to transport you back to sacred space and time, to place you before God, to covenant with Him, to learn of His mysteries (including but not limited to how you access the Priesthood power He has endowed you with). In short, purposeful, informed, and inquiring temple worship is the answer you’ve been seeking to whether or not you need to be ordained to a Priesthood office outside the Temple.

As you read of Pioneer women placing their hands on others, healing and working miracles, do not sit in awe and complain about why then and not now. Realize, rather, you have this same power already within you. The only difference between those women and yourself is just this: those women communed with God, they asked questions, understood and respected the organization God gave to use of His power on earth, and they accessed it hourly as directed in the Temple. They placed no limitations on their faith nor their ability to receive revelation nor the power that comes from it. They took God at face value when James said: “He giveth to all men (read: mankind) liberally, and upbraideth not.”

So, the take away from all this? I can’t and I won’t support Ordain Women. But, ladies, it IS high time you stopped limiting yourself. Instead of marching outside the Tabernacle, I would rather have seen you all at home furiously scribbling notes on Elder Oaks’ talk about how there are keys to the Priesthood not restored in this dispensation! (What!?) My mind was thoroughly expanded after he said Amen and I realized there was so much more to learn. I rushed to the Temple, and saw The Creation in an entirely new light. It was empowering and wonderful. And I wish you’d been there in sacred space and time with me to celebrate.

V.

Stupor of Thought….? #ldsWomen

Three weeks ago I got spun up again over Ordain Women. I took over someone else’s Facebook feed with a ridiculously long and thorough opinion… that did not answer the original question posed. Ha! As is usual with hotly debated topics on Facebook. At that point, I dis-embargoed myself from relgious/political blogging and began sketching out a 10-part series on the Priesthood in relation to LDS women.

Two and a half weeks ago, I finished Sheri Dew’s book “Women and the Priesthood.” Chapter Six. Then Chapter Five. Read them.

Two weeks ago, I attended the General Women’s Meeting and was starkly reminded that “the Priesthood” has become a cultural catch-all phrase for about six widely ranging concepts, powers, and groups of people. It dawned on me the root of the recent issues in the church could be solved with a good reading from Webster.

A week and a half ago, I boarded plane to Utah for the first time in four years. I met with a friend of mine from BYU and after successfully skirting the issue all day, I finally asked her thoughts. I’m so grateful that she trusted my ability to listen enough to really open up and share with me her feelings, even though she knew they countered my own.

Last weekend, I scrapped all plans I had for blogging about the Priesthood. There was simply nothing left to say after Sheri Dew and Dallin H. Oaks. I told a reporter outside the Conference Center: “Any woman not sure of her position in the church needs to take those feelings to God. He will — through revelation and the Scriptures — show her how much He loves her and how important she is to Him. There is nothing a woman can’t do in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

This week, it’s still on my mind. No matter how I try, I can’t shake the need to discuss this entire issue. However, I’ve come to a realization: this is not about me proving Ordain Women wrong. Quite the opposite — it’s about studying and discussing the doctrine. This is an aspect of our Mormon culture that has been lost over time. Women and men, as covenant-making children of God need to be always asking questions. And seeking answers. [Let’s be clear — marching around the Tabernacle  like it’s the walls of Jericho is NOT the way to ask a question nor get an answer. Lookin’ at you, Kate. ]

Today, we’ve come full circle….. and I’m back to blogging about religion. And we’re going to start at the beginning, with Adam and Eve…..

On Ordain Women

Let’s clear the air on a few things straight away:

1) I am an active, temple-recommend-carrying member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m also a Returned Missionary, a Reformed Sinner, a Seminary Teacher, and a Mission Prep Teacher. I throw myself into Singles Ward every once in a while, but mostly I try to avoid awkward situations…. so I attend my family ward.

2) I’m a Texan. I’m blunt. Recently, I was called “loud and irritating.” This is not news to me. Unfortunately, that rubs lots of people the wrong way. I’m working on it, I promise. So if I come off as prideful, abrasive, crass, or rude, don’t waste your time telling me. Throw your opinion and your research down, I promise to give everything a fair shot.

3) I make clear distinctions between The Gospel (which is true), The Church (which is imperfect), and The Culture (which is an abomination). Never confuse the three. 99% of people’s so called doctrinal squabbles are actually thinly disguised issues with The Church and it’s imperfect people or The Culture which should never have been allowed to develop (green jello…. really? I rest my case).

4) I support a healthy line of questions, doubts, concerns, even fears and anxieties about doctrine and policy. It is only by asking  questions that we receive answers. Look at Joseph Smith — we wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t gotten on his knees and asked. What I do not support are undocumented answers. If you think a prophet said it, go figure that out before you quote it at me. And, of course, I will do the same. I also promise to clearly label my opinion, speculation, or conclusion drawn from personal revelation as such.

5) That being said, I do NOT support the organization Ordain Women. I believe Margaret Toscano is at the heart of it and not to be trusted. I do believe there are many wonderful, faithful women who want, need, even long for a forum where questions about their roles in The Gospel, The Church, and The Culture can be asked, discussed, and answered without repercussion. To those women, I say, I support you. Please, please, please be careful with anything Toscano says, writes, encourages you to do. You are blessed with the gift of discernment and are an agent unto yourself. I will not tell you what to do, but I make my stance on her clear in hopes that you will be able to make well-informed decisions.

6) I don’t know everything nor will I ever profess to. These next several posts are designed as an insight into my “personal study” as I delve into The Priesthood. If you think I’ve overlooked something, please chime in! This is an open forum, where all can be Twice Fed.

Okay…. let’s get started.

V.