Where is Herstory?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to read. My Mom would always read with my brother and I, and she would always encourage us to learn new words and to read challenging books. I remember loving the Magic Treehouse series when I was little; my brother and I would read them so fast and then play like we were the brother and sister in the stories.

I remember reading scripture from the time I was little, as well. If you’ve read the Bible, you know that words don’t get much harder than that! It was definitely a challenge, but I learned how to read the scriptural language when I was little, and ever since, I have loved to read the scriptures.

In Mormonism, we read several volumes of scripture. They are the Bible (King James Edition), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. I won’t go into detail here about the specifics of each volume, but if you are curious, you can go to mormon.org and look them up.

Over the years, I have completed the Bible, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price several times, and the Book of Mormon numerous times. I like to think that I have become fairly well-versed in the scriptures; I can recall lots of verses by memory. I have lots of favorite passages highlighted and can call them to memory when I am in need of a pick-me-up. A lot of my favorite scriptures come from the New Testament; I love reading the words of the Savior as He lived here on Earth. He is so loving and kind, and always reaches out to the one in need of His love.

As I have read the scriptures, I have noticed that there is a serious lack of female representation within their pages. Historically, society in general has been really patriarchal; as a result, the historical records and sacred writings we have access to were basically all written by men. If women are mentioned at all, they are usually only brought up in passing; they play no real significant role in the plot of the story.

How unfortunate is that?? It is so sad to me that the stories of strong women have been all but erased from our histories. If I could rewrite history, I would tell more of Herstory. I would make sure they are well represented and that women have a voice and a say.

In the Book of Mormon, there is one phenomenal story about a woman named Abish. She was a servant to the queen at the time, and she had very strong faith. I won’t tell the whole story here, but in a nutshell, Abish is converted unto the Lord and ends up saving the royal family from a mob. The sad part is that her name is only mentioned once and her whole story is contained in just a few sentences.

If I could rewrite history, I would tell the story from Abish’s point of view. I would ask her to give me every detail, every thought that she had. I would ask her to tell me what God told her to do, and how she was brave enough to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I hope that someday, more scripture will be revealed that will tell us about the wonderful women of history and how they influenced and guided those around them. I know that women in history have received just as much revelation and guidance from God, and I can’t wait for the day when we get the opportunity to find out more.

Truth is Universal

I apologize for the delay in my post this week; I am currently taking 19 credits in school, and I had a weekend of crazy pile-up. But, I am back to it now!

A few weeks ago, a woman in my writing class commented on my blog and asked me the following:

Would you ever consider switching religions? Have you looked at other religions? Is there a different religion that believes in Christ that might ring more true to you, or do you think Mormonism is the truth, even if the Church itself is a little behind on the times?

What a great question! I want to take the time to answer this in a post, rather than just reply to her comment because there are many reasons why I have chosen to stay affiliated with the LDS church. I will answer briefly here; I actually am in the process of writing a book about my experiences. So, in the meantime, the short answer will suffice.

The short answer is yes, I would consider switching religions and yes, I have looked at other religions. I believe that there is truth everywhere; no matter where you look, you can find truth. Truth is universal.

I was born and raised into the LDS church. From the time I was a little girl, my parents have taught me about God and Their nature and about Jesus Christ. My parents taught me that it is more important to be spiritual than to be religious, even though we attended Church regularly while I was growing up. Because of that, I have always had a very unique awareness of God’s hand in my life because I was taught to look for divine influence everyday. I could feel God in the world around me and could easily recognize when God was trying to communicate with me. This gift really allowed me to discern between true doctrine and cultural practices while at Church. I have always had questions about practices in the Church and there have always been things that make me sad; however, because I knew that God was a part of my life, I had a sense that it was okay to not have all the answers to my questions. The truth would be made known to me in due time.

When I was a missionary in Japan, I had several experiences that really allowed me to expand my horizons and my belief system. Being a Christian missionary in a place that has no Christian background was a very hard thing. To me, it was common sense to believe in God and Jesus Christ. I just KNEW that They existed, and I had a hard time articulating how I came to know and believe in God (partly because the Japanese language is REALLY hard, but mostly because it was just common sense). But, as I became accustomed to the culture and lifestyle of Japan, I learned about truth in more ways that I can even count.

The religious background of Japan is fairly simple: the indigenous religion of the country is Shintoism, a polytheistic religion that is based on the belief that God is nature, and that there is a God dwelling inside of everything. The main deity of the religion is the Goddess of the Sun. Japan is also heavily influenced by Buddhism, which was introduced into Japan in about the 6th century. If you were to ask a normal Japanese person if they considered themselves to be religious, they would adamantly say they are not, even though they pray at shrines, attend Buddhist temples, and practice religious ceremonies and rites on a very regular basis.

As I learned more about these religions and participated in prayer ceremonies at shrines and temples, I felt something that I had not felt in a long time: I felt that these religions were full of truth. I still knew in my heart that Jesus was my Savior, but it was as if learning about Shintoism and Buddhism was just adding to my knowledge of Jesus, that they all went together and complimented each other perfectly. It was a very deeply spiritual moment for me, and since then, I have taken it upon myself to study these religions in more detail, especially the bit about the Sun Goddess. I feel like I have a special connection to Her. I think that She is the Japanese interpretation of Heavenly Mother.

Shintoism and the concept of God dwelling in nature resonates deep within my soul. This is truth. Jesus Christ is also truth. And if you take the time to study extensively, it is remarkable the similarities you can find in both religions. I believe that we all believe in the same God.

So, while I have lots of doubts about the organization of the Mormon Church, I have been able to let those go, because in the grand scheme of things, the only thing that matters is my personal relationship with deity. God is perfect, but people are not. The Church is organized and run by imperfect people, so naturally there are going to be flaws in the system. But, it is up to me to not allow those faults to get in the way of my personal faith.

I have found truth in Mormonism and Christianity. I have found truth in Shintoism. I have found truth in Judaism and Islam. I have found truth in philosophies like Buddhism and Confucianism. I have found truth in indigenous customs and religious practices. There is truth everywhere, and I think it’s important to recognize it.

There are many reasons why I have stayed with the Mormon Church, and to be quite honest, I’m there right now because it is comfortable. It is familiar. I have gained a sure knowledge of my Savior Jesus Christ through the Mormon Church. This doesn’t stop me from believing in and recognizing the truth and beauty in other practices. My goal is to enhance the knowledge I have by finding the truth in everything. Truth is the way of God, and the way of God can be found all around us.

My Thoughts on Modesty

One of the most largely discussed topics among Mormon women is the concept of modesty, and what it means to be modest. What does this mean to you? It most likely means that you need to wear appropriate clothes, which in my opinion, is NOT what modesty is about at all.

From the time we are little girls, we are taught that to be modest means to cover yourself up. No shoulders, no short shorts, no skirts shorter than your knees, no low-cut necklines, you know, the works. The purpose of this, we are taught, is to help the young men around us have pure and virtuous thoughts. We are taught that it is our responsibility to help the young men remain clean in their thoughts. I can remember COUNTLESS times as a young woman sitting in class on Sunday listening to a man MUCH older than me come in and tell me how I am to dress myself so that I wouldn’t be tempting to the boys around me or be tempted to do something that would get me into trouble.

Let’s count how many things are just wrong about this picture, shall we? First of all, I am in NO WAY responsible for the thoughts of the men around me. They are in control of their own minds! This teaching is wrong on so many levels because not only are we teaching young girls that they are the only ones responsible for virtuous men, but we are teaching our young men that they are not humanly capable of controlling their own thoughts!! Of COURSE they are capable of this!! I can learn to control my own thoughts, so why can’t a boy? I can’t control what he is thinking! Even if I wear a knapsack that covers me from head to toe, he could still have a dirty image in his mind about my body. And I will tell you what, a suit on a man covers him from head to toe, yes. However, a man in a suit is DANG FINE. I have to be careful not to think some impure things when I see a man in a nice, slim-fitting suit. So, as we can see, this concept works both ways. I AM IN CHARGE OF WHAT GOES ON IN MY OWN HEAD.

Second, I find it really very strange that a man that I usually didn’t know very well, who was MUCH older than me, a teenager at the time, came to speak to me about what clothes are appropriate. These men were usually in their 50s and were part of the leadership of the congregation I attended. These are the men that taught me I had to be modest so the boys could have pure thoughts. Why did these men have to come in the first place?? Why didn’t they send a woman?? Why did we have to have this conversation in the first place?? I look back on this practice, and I will be honest, it makes me very VERY uncomfortable.

Let’s talk about what modesty REALLY means. According to Merriam-Webster Online, modesty is “the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities.” “Freedom from conceit or vanity.” “Propriety in speech or conduct.”

Interesting.

The very last definition listed there was this: ” the quality of behaving and especially dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention.” So yes, while modesty can be interpreted in this way, IT IS SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT! I think that we as participants in Mormon culture take this definition and then disregard all the other ones!

Modesty means being humble. It means not bragging about ourselves or placing ourselves above others. It means having confidence in our own abilities without being arrogant. Modesty means we recognize the talents of others and accept them for who they are. Being modest means living like the Savior, Jesus Christ. The life of the Savior was full of service and humility. I can only imagine that He had thousands of opportunities to display His power; after all, He IS the Son of God. But, instead of boasting of His abilities, He chose to use His power on a deeply personal level, always seeking out the one that was in the most need of His help. The miracles He performed were solely for the service of those around Him.

Let’s be modest like the Savior. Let’s live our lives so that we can be humble and teachable. Never once did the Savior mention anything about clothes. So, what does that tell you?

Own your body. Wear what you want. Own your mind. Treat others kindly. Live like the Savior. Live modestly.

My Experience at the Mormon Mecca

For those of you that don’t know, the headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in Salt Lake City, Utah. Twice a year, the Church holds an event called General Conference, in which the general leadership of the Church addresses all its members worldwide. The conference is held in April and in October, spanning one weekend, with five sessions of two hours each. Basically, it’s all the old guys that run the Church talking at you for a long time (that’s what it feels like, at least. I always fall asleep…).

General Conference is broadcast via BYU TV, and so usually I will sit at home in my pajamas and watch it; however, this weekend, I had the opportunity to attend General Conference for the first time in Utah, or as I like to call it, the “Mormon Mecca.”

(Click images to make them bigger! Yay!)

I like to call it that because of the sheer amount of people that flock to Salt Lake. I have never seen so many Mormons in my life. They were EVERYWHERE. The Conference Center itself can seat 21,000 people! The thing that I loved about it though was that there were members of the Church from ALL over the world. I saw people from Africa, Europe, Japan (YAY!), China, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, South America… Quite literally, people from all over the world attended the conference. I was in a Mormon bookstore with my friend, and we heard four different languages being spoken, just inside the bookstore! It was so wonderful to see the world diversity of the Church. It was a nice reminder to me that there are people all over the world that believe in Jesus, just like I do.

Like I said earlier, the conference consists of a lot of old men talking at you. There are hardly any women involved. There is a General Women’s Meeting held the Saturday before General Conference happens, but as far as the main sessions are concerned, women are very much underrepresented. I attended the Sunday morning session, and there were nine people total to approach the pulpit: two people to pray, and seven people to speak. Only TWO of those people were women. Just two! A woman said the opening prayer, and then a woman named Rosemary Wixom gave a sermon. I absolutely LOVED what she had to say. She talked about how it’s okay to have questions and that faith in Jesus Christ is something that needs to grow everyday. You can’t have perfect faith instantaneously. Her address was beautiful, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to hear it.

It makes me very sad that women do not have a larger place in the leadership of the Church. Women have unique experiences and perspectives, ideas that aren’t necessarily addressed by the men. I do realize that this is true for men as well; they are unique. However, if the balance were to be equal, I really feel that ALL people would benefit greatly.

Lately, I have been toying with the idea that the Church needs to modernize; being here in Utah has really solidified my belief that the Church needs to do some changing. The Church feels very old-fashioned to me, and this old-fashioned-ness feels really un-Christlike. I will be honest, Conference is always very hard for me. There are always speeches about things like “traditional families,” and gender roles that are “ordained by God.” When I hear about “the traditional family,” it means that a family = husband + wife + children. This is the ideal; the perfect family must consist of all three parts. But it has been my experience that this “traditional family” is not the norm; in fact, this is the exception. Some families don’t have a Dad. Some families don’t have a Mom. Some families don’t have any children. Some families have two Dads or two Moms. Some families don’t have parents at all. I believe that a family can consist of whoever you want it to, and I believe that this is beautiful. If there is love, it is a family. It doesn’t matter who is there. So, it’s hard for me to hear that it is only acceptable to have a “traditional family.” When I hear about gender roles that are “ordained of God,” it means that the man presides over the family as Husband and Father. He is the head of the household. The Mother stays at home and watches over the children, and takes counsel from her husband. But it has been my experience that women just don’t stay at home anymore. In many cases, the Mother/Wife/Woman needs to work in order to support the family; she is needed to help provide for her husband and children. Most women do not have the luxury of being able to stay home and take care of their children. I feel like this belief of set gender roles is really patriarchal, and that it really doesn’t make sense anymore in today’s society.

I heard a lot of that this weekend, and it was hard. But there was also a lot of good. There was a lot of Christ. There were many beautiful sermons spoken of the Savior, and of our celebration of Easter. I felt His love through the words of women and men that have pure and simple testimonies of Him as Savior of the world. I felt His love through heavenly music; the Mormon Tabernacle Choir bore their sweet testimonies of His Divinity.

Christ is why. He is why I go to Church. Quite honestly, He is why I haven’t left yet. Christ is what all of this is all about. I know He lives, and I anxiously await the day when the Church will modernize to reflect more of His love.

Happy Easter!

Hello all! Happy Easter to you. In the land of Christendom, the Easter holiday is the most celebrated time of year, next to Christmas. Easter is celebrated to commemorate the Atonement, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Resurrection means that He physically died, but then came back to life three days later! What a feat!

As a Mormon, I very much believe in Jesus Christ. I accept Jesus as my personal Savior. There have been many times when I ask myself what that means to me: why do I believe in Jesus? How do I know that He is my Savior?

Well, there isn’t just one answer. But, I believe in Him because I have felt His healing power at work in my life. At times when I could not handle hard times on my own, I was able to cast my worries on Him, and He carried me. I’m not really sure how to explain it. But, I do. I believe in Jesus Christ.

I have had a lot of questions and doubts in my mind as of late, as I have studied the place of women in the Mormon Church. I have felt a lot of hurt and pain, and there are so many questions I have that remain unanswered. Even though I have felt all those things, I have continued to feel the love of my Savior. He knows that I am having these conflicts, and I know that He approves. He needs more people asking questions.

I love Jesus. I am grateful for this time of year to remember and celebrate Him. I hope you all have a nice holiday. :)

On Ordain Women: developing thoughts

Happy Spring everyone! I don’t know about you, but the time change, the glorious sunshine, and the much-warmer weather has helped my spirits lift. Spring is a time of natural creation, of fresh starts, and of new life. For me, it is a time of reflection and analysis, and a season of goal-setting and hard working.

This last week, I had the opportunity to interview a friend of mine, Meghan Raynes. She is a woman with some very unique insight into what it means to be a Mormon feminist. We talked about a lot of things that really made me think. I will publish the full interview with Meghan on this blog in the near future; however, I would like to mention some things on this blog post that impressed me.

Meghan and I talked a lot about Ordain Women. For those of you that don’t know, Ordain Women is a movement advocating for the ordination of Mormon women to the Priesthood (for more information, visitΒ ordainwomen.org). In the Mormon church, we believe that the Priesthood is the power of God given to man (keyword MAN) to act in His name. This power and authority allows men to perform religious rites, ceremonies, and to give blessings of healing and of comfort. It is also through this power that the Church is presided over and organized. We believe that this Priesthood has been held by all the Prophets starting with Adam, all the way down to the current Prophet of the Church, Thomas S. Monson. Not only Prophets hold this authority, however; all worthy male members of the church may be ordained to an office of the Priesthood. It is the mission of Ordain Women to extend this ordination to ALL members of the church, regardless of sex. The Ordain Women mission statement is as follows:

“The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday.Β Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process. Β Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.”

In our interview, Meghan and I discussed the gender-based inequality that exists in the Church. Meghan feels that there is no immediate solution. Yes, ordaining women to the Priesthood would be a start, but it would not make men and women equal. The Priesthood is hierarchical; it is based on rank. Meghan believes that even if women are allowed to receive the Priesthood, they still would not be allowed to serve in the same leadership positions as men.

This discussion with Meghan really got me thinking about where I stand on this issue. I believe that Ordain Women is a beautiful concept; it brings to light a lot of the injustices that Mormon women experience on a regular basis. Women cannot hold significant leadership positions within the Church; if they do happen to be serving in leadership roles, they are only responsible for other women, and they are presided over by Priesthood-holding men. Women cannot participate in religious ceremonies or rites unless accompanied by a man holding the Priesthood (this is in reference to the ceremonies performed in Mormon temples). It has been my experience that woman cannot really do anything substantial in the church without a man “supervising.” This statement is fairly controversial, and many Mormon women would disagree with me. But like I said, this has just been my experience.

With that in mind, I feel that if women were to be formally ordained to the Priesthood, it would definitely be a big step in the right direction for the sake of solving the gender problems within the Church. But I, like Meghan, believe that it is not the solution to the problem, just a treatment of its symptoms, if you will. As I have mentioned in all my previous blogs, I believe that women are inherently divine, meaning that there is a part of God in ALL of us. I believe in a divine Priestesshood that is just as important as the Priesthood, yet very much different. I also believe that women are already blessed with this divine power, and that we have the ability to use it to bless the lives of those around us. I have seen this power in action in my life. I have felt it as my Mother cradled me in her soft embrace. I have felt it as I knelt in prayer, seeking revelation from God. I have felt it as I served as a missionary, and I was able to use this divine love and power to reach out and fulfill the needs of others around me. I believe in this feminine divinity. We do not have all the answers, and to be quite honest, I don’t believe we ever will while I am still around. But I do know that my Heavenly Mother lives and that Her power resides within me.

So, overall, I think that Ordain Women is a great way to bring awareness to larger issues at hand, but I don’t believe it is the solution to all of the problems. All I can do right now is use the power and love that I have been blessed with to uplift those around me.

I am divine. You are divine. All of humanity is divine. In this I believe with all my heart.

International Women’s Day!

Well, I just spent the last hour writing about my experience serving as a missionary for the Mormon church! But, I had written over five pages SINGLE spaced when I realized that I wasn’t even to the part where I go to Japan yet! Wow! So, I will save that for another time and place.

Instead, let’s talk about women! Yay! Yesterday was International Women’s Day! What a great opportunity we have to celebrate women from all over the world! A day to celebrate the diversity of women and how AMAZING THEY ARE!

Who are some of your favorite women? Why have they had such a big impact on your life? How did they shape you into who you are today? How did they inspire you to be the best that you can be?

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One of my favorite women is, of course, my Momma. Michelle Johnson is an incredible woman. She is full of bright-red-haired fire and passion. She is filled to the brim with love that is enveloping and completely all-encompassing. She is a woman powerhouse. She radiates light and strength and knowledge. She knows who she is. She has experienced some of the hardest trials human beings can possibly go through, and she has come out on top. My Momma is so wise, enriching those around her through her example of real love and compassion. She is one of the women in my life who has never failed to inspire me, even in times of weakness or hardship. My Momma and I have a very special bond. We are connected not only by blood, or by an average mother/daughter relationship. We have found in each other a divine sisterhood. We are blessed to have come to understand that we were placed in each other’s lives for an abundance of reasons, some of which still remain unknown to us. However, because we have found this bond of sisterhood, my Momma and I have been able to connect in ways that most Mommas and daughters can’t do. We have mutual respect for each other. We have deep love that resonates throughout our bones. My Momma has taught me about the feminine divine. She has taught me about Heavenly Mother, and Her presence in my life. She has given me the inspiration and encouragement to seek my own relationship with my Heavenly Mother, and has been a guide every step of the way. Through my Momma, I have come to know feminine divinity more deeply. Through my Momma, I know that women are inherently divine. The impact my Momma has had on my life is indescribable. She has inspired me to become whomever I desire to be. She has given me the wings to fly to the moon, and has supported me every step of the way. My Momma has given me blessings and calmed me in times of grief, sorrow, and heartache. She has fought for me and defended me like the most fierce of Momma-bears. She has counseled with me and helped direct me towards greater light and knowledge. I hope that one day, I can become half the woman that she is.

I hope that you all had a little time to thank the women in your life for what they have done for you. If you have a moment, leave in the comments a little blurb about a woman that has impacted your life for the better.

Remember, we are all in this together. Let’s get out there and LOVE! Happy International Women’s Day. :)