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.

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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.

It’s been said that well-behaved women seldom make history…

Happy March! This month is, what, you ask? Why yes, it’s Women’s History Month! 31 whole days to celebrate awesome women who have lived on this beautiful planet! (Although, I must add that I think we should celebrate awesome women EVERYDAY. I know I’m not that the only one that thinks that way.)

It’s amazing how many incredible women there are in my life. My Momma, grandmothers, friends, loved-ones. I think we can all agree that we have been influenced by really wonderful women right from the get-go, whether they be loving mothers, concerned grandmothers, influential family friends, or otherwise. We are so blessed to have women that are so strong, so passionate, so full of love, and have something precious to offer the world.

When I was a missionary living in Japan, I received a letter from my Dad that really changed the way I thought about women in history. He prompted me to make a list of all the visionary people that I could think of. Names like Jesus, Paul, Peter, Moses, Noah, and Adam came to my head. I made quite a long list actually; it took me the better part of an hour to think about who had the gift of vision. My Dad’s letter then read, “Look at your list. Not surprisingly, the list is mostly male.” I took a gander and sure enough, he was right. The vast majority of my list were men in history, men called prophets, seers, revelators. “Look again,” the letter prompted. “Look again! Look, and you will see more of the real story, more of herstory.” I tried to really zero-in on women who were within recorded history that have the gift of vision. Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene. Anna, the Prophetess. Esther. Ruth. Mother Eve. I then thought about the women who have directly influenced my life because of their great spiritual connection with Deity. Through them, I have learned what it means to develop a relationship with God, and what it means to be in tune.

Arguably, one of the most important women of all time was Mother Eve. You may be familiar with the story:

God creates Adam and Eve, places them in a garden called Eden, and gives them several things to think about, including reproduction, taking care of the garden, and “DO NOT EAT THE FRUIT OF THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL. Because if you do, you’ll die.” That definitely is not a direct quote; however, they got the message. Don’t eat the fruit. Or we’ll die. The story continues; Adam and Eve enjoying living in the Garden, often receiving visits from the Big Man Himself. He taught them how to live and how to love; however, in their innocence, Adam and Eve didn’t know the difference between sorrow and happiness, pain and pleasure, (spiritual) light and darkness. Fundamentally, they knew it was good to follow the guidelines God had given them, but they didn’t really understand why. They knew no evil, so they couldn’t truly understand righteousness. The story continues; one day, Eve is in the Garden doing whatever it was that she did there, and Lucifer (or Satan, or the serpent, or snake, whatever you prefer to call him) appears and tries to convince her to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Legend has it that she falls for the serpent’s temptation, convinces Adam to eat some too, God finds out, and they get expelled from the Garden, where they become subject to pain, hurt, ailments, and death.

How morbid. Most of Christianity view the Fall of Adam and Eve to be the worst thing to happen in human history. If they (*cough* EVE) had not partaken of the fruit, life would be all happy, just sunshine and smiles all day long. However, in the Mormon church, it is a common belief that the Fall was an integral part of God’s plan for us, His plan that would allow us to come to this earth, receive a body, and learn right from wrong. It wouldn’t have been possible if Adam and Eve had remained in their innocence.

I don’t know about you, but I think that there is MUCH more to this story than meets the eye. According to the King James account, God asks Adam, “Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? and the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Adam completely blames Eve for everything that happened. This doesn’t seem right to me, somehow.

I think that when Adam and Eve were in the Garden, they counseled together on many things, including the obedience of God’s instructions. He told them to “multiply and replenish the earth,” which nowadays means “get busy making a family.” He also instructed them to not eat of the Tree. The way that I understand it is those two commandments were mutually exclusive; in order to start a family, they had to KNOW how to do that, and because they lived in a state of innocence, they didn’t know, so they would have to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in order to learn. I believe that the decision to partake of the fruit came after much counsel, discussion, prayer, and contemplation. I believe, even though it isn’t mentioned anywhere, that Eve received guidance from her Mother in Heaven. Eve was to become the Mother of All Living. How could she have done that without guidance from the feminine divine? I believe that Heavenly Mother played a vital and essential part in Eve and Adam’s decision to partake of the fruit. They had knowledge of the plan, and they were willing to make the choice to learn to start a family.

I will admit, it is REALLY REALLY hard for me to buy the whole Adam and Eve story 100%. Why did there have to be a tree? Why did they eat some fruit and then magically know the difference between right and wrong? There are so, SO many questions I have about their lives, and quite frankly, while I was a missionary, this part was SO HARD for me to teach people.

But, what I do know is that there is reason in all things, and I feel a very deep connection to my Mother Eve. She truly is the Mother of All Living. She is divine, and she knew that. She embraced the femininity inside herself and because of that, was able to pave the way for her posterity. I know that she had a special connection to God, and that They loved her very, very much. They trusted her to do what They asked, and in return, she has become a blessing to all those that wish to learn from her example.

Happy Women’s History Month, everyone. Take a minute to celebrate the wonderful women around you. :)