Monday, April 28, 2008

Loving the FLDS

Recent media coverage of the government raid on the FLDS compound in Texas has sparked a lot of discussion of the LDS Church. Some of it has been evenhanded, and some writers seem to be gleefully falling all over themselves in their attempts to ridicule Mormons at all costs, even at the expense of the truth. All this was to be expected.

But what has shocked and saddened me recently is the response from the LDS world. While I did not expect Mormons to be pleased at the attention drawn to a socially unsavory part of our history that most of us don't understand and would like to forget, I have been surprised by the violence of the attempts that some of our number have made to distinguish themselves from these people. I hear them called "weirdos," "backwards," and "child molesters." I hear their character maligned by those who should know better. While I cannot support their doctrine, I cannot stand to see them mocked by those whose ancestors were tormented and mobbed for the crime of being different.

Let's do better. Let's not make fun of the FLDS people. They've been raised in their faith and in their culture, and teenage girls becoming plural wives is just as normal to them as soap operas and TV dinners are to us. Most of them are just honest, good people trying to live their religion. Many of them don't know any better. While some of their leaders may be dishonest or poorly motivated, their followers are mostly honest and sincere--and they are our brothers and sisters.

The prophet Jacob spoke to his people about their tendency to believe that because they had the true gospel, they were better than their Lamanite brethren. But he made it clear that how we live the gospel is more important than which tribe we belong to or which traditions we have been taught, "Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief... is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your
great Creator?" (Jacob 3:7)

The FLDS people have had their children taken from them. They have been subjected to public ridicule and government persecution, much as the early Mormon Saints were. Though we may not agree with their doctrine or their lifestyle, they deserve our love, not our scorn.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Seeing Through a Glass Darkly

I have always had a hard time understanding the Fall of Adam. When I was young, I studied it a lot, with commentaries and scriptures and many, many questions, trying to wrap my mind around principles that appeared to contradict each other. A few months ago, I almost thought I understood that particular doctrine. Then I took a Pearl of Great Price class, where we discussed the Fall in great detail.

When we talked about the Fall in class, though, I realized that there was still much that I didn’t understand. The simpler things that had seemed to make sense to me before no longer did in light of some of the principles we discussed in class. If Adam and Eve really chose to fall, with an understanding of the consequences, then why were they punished for it? Why didn’t they defend their decision when God asked them what they had done? Why do the scriptures say they were “beguiled” and “deceived” if God had commanded them to fall? What was Satan’s role in the whole business? Suddenly I had to deal with issues I thought I had put to rest.

I was talking to my sweetheart about it one day, frustrated because there were so many things I didn’t understand, even after so much study. I knew that the records we have of the event are spotty at best, and leave a lot out, and that I was operating on insufficient knowledge, but I still felt like it was a doctrine I ought to be able to grasp, since it was so fundamental to the gospel (Elder McConkie even called it one of the “three pillars of eternity”). He and I talked about the lessons taught using the rich symbolism so common in the gospel. He told me that he used to think that there was a one-to-one correspondence between a symbol given in the temple and the thing it represented, but he realized that there were so many levels of symbolism, and so many lessons being taught, that he couldn’t just assume that he understood everything after he had figured out one lesson or the meaning of one symbol.

What he taught me that night, and what I have since learned, is that some things are not made to be understood immediately. The gospel is somewhat paradoxical in that it is so simple that even a child can understand it, but so complex that great scholars can dedicate their lives to its study and still not comprehend it in totality. Sometimes the struggling and pondering involved in trying to understand a principle bring us closer to God than we would be if the answers to all our questions were self-evident. I know that the Lord will lead and guide us in our efforts to understand the gospel, but I have also learned that sometimes it is in the seeking that we not only find, but are also made ready to receive the answer that will come—but only after much study and prayer.

I have, at times, had serious questions about spiritual topics, and have found that the Lord will answer my prayers for understanding, but that He will also try me so that I can be prepared to receive His answer when it comes. Some of my questions have reduced me to tears, and when my friends and loved ones are unable to satisfy my soul's hunger, I have turned and pled with the Lord for an answer. Sometimes He answers right away. Other times, it seems He looks at me lovingly and asks, "You say you want to know, Amy...but how badly do you really want to know? Are you willing to pay the price to know Me?" That price is steep--it involves a test of my willingness to walk by faith when I cannot see my path ahead. It involves trust in the Lord and in His plan for me. And it involves work, since it is only by sincere seeking and working that I find the answers to my questions. And in the work, a change takes place in my heart, and it becomes prepared to receive the answer.

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Monday, April 21, 2008

How to Be a Perfect Parent (A Handbook For Beginners)

I just read this article from the New York Sun, "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone." I think it's brilliant. A mom gives her kid some money and a map and lets him find his way home in New York. No cell phone, no bodyguard, no hovering parent. He makes it home safely, and learns a powerful lesson in the process.

Parents today protect their children too much. News broadcasts filled with stories of freakish accidents and heinous crimes convince us that the bizarre tragedies are common. In fact, they are quite rare. As this mom said, "Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them."

She's right. When we have independence, we grow. We learn confidence and problem-solving skills. If the most strenuous thing your kids have to learn is to clean their rooms, they won't know what to do when the toilet is clogged or the dog is sick or the front steps crumble. If you teach them to hold tightly to your hand whenever you're in the grocery store, how will they interact with strangers when they're the ones doing the shopping? Who will teach them how to manage money wisely if you hush them every time they ask for something in the store? Who will teach them to be adults if you're so eager to protect them that you manage every aspect of their lives so as to shield them from every danger?

I'm not advocating letting small children experiment with explosives or play William Tell with Daddy's crossbow. Obviously you shouldn't let your kids play kickball on the freeway. But you should give them as much room as possible to grow and live life. Let them solve problems. Give them experience struggling with difficult challenges, instead of giving them all the answers immediately. That's how we grow and learn. And, after all, isn't that the point of life?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Philosophies of Women, Mingled With Scripture*


I've been called a lot of funny things in my time. Some people say I'm a feminist. But "feminist" is rarely used as a compliment. Rather, it's an epithet spat out in derision, or, at best, uttered condescendingly and with a touch of amusement at the strength of my opinions. That always leaves me scratching my head. If by "feminist," they mean, "someone who thinks that women are people, too," then count me in! "Feminism," after all, is simply "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men." It seems unfortunate that such an innocuous--nay, laudatory--idea should be a dirty word in our "enlightened" day.

"Feminism" (if you could call it that) began with noble women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who both campaigned for the temperance and abolition movements, as well as for women's suffrage. As women, they saw problems with the structure and functioning of our society and sought to correct them. They, and others like them, did great things with nobility and courage.

"Feminism" (if you can call it that anymore) has come a long way since then. What began as a noble social reform movement has ended as a shrill political and sexual movement whose proposals are laughably absurd and often downright vulgar. It has come to be associated with loose morals, misandry, lesbianism, and male-directed anger. Feminism today no longer embraces that which is most "feminine" in the female nature. In teaching us to be equal to men, its proponents forgot that "equal" means equally bad as well as equally good.** In a Harrison Bergeron-style fashion, they attacked men, hoping that painting all men with the black brush of patriarchy would make women seem better by comparison. Simultaneously, they attacked the most womanly things about women, degrading and devaluing marriage, motherhood, nurturing, gentleness, meekness, and loyalty. Feminism got twisted up in the casual-sex revolution and the mainstreaming of pornography (there are two camps in feminism regarding pornography: one finds it degrading to women, and the other claims to find it liberating and empowering for women to express their sexuality in this fashion. I bet you can guess where I stand).

The title of Carol Hanisch's essay, "The Personal Is Political," became a sort of rallying cry for the likes of Betty Friedan, who asserted in "The Feminine Mystique" that the whole culture was based on subjugating women's identities into those of their husbands and families. Naomi Wolf, many years later, argued in "The Beauty Myth" that our culture's idea of beauty is a political weapon used by the patriarchy to keep women in subjection and control their entrance into the workforce. And even more recently, Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" argues, rather graphically, that, at the core, a woman is defined by her sexuality, often presupposing that "loving" heterosexual relationships are simply another tool of male subjugation.

I think all of this is way over the top. Have women been hurt, subjugated, and mistreated for millennia? Undoubtedly so. Is this evidence of a wide-scale conspiracy of all men (or, better yet, of "the patriarchy") to grind upon their faces, personally and politically? Hardly.
Though the attitude that women should leave the thinking to their husbands, and should simply be mindless, compliant, barefoot and pregnant, in the kitchen constantly, and subservient to men is repugnant to me, so is the attitude that in all material respects (save for inconsequential differences in their sexual organs) men and women are exactly the same, and that they should behave in the same ways and adopt the same roles, or the attitude that women should reject motherhood and femininity in an expression of female empowerment.

In this case, as in so many others, the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes. It is true that a woman can have a great impact on her home and on her children. It is also true that this is not the only impact she can have. It is true that men and women are different. It is also true that they are both children of God with equal claim upon His love, approbation, and blessings. It is true that men and women have different roles to play in their families and in building up the kingdom of God. It is also true that "neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11). It is true that, in the patriarchal order, the husband presides over his family in righteousness. It is also true that he does so in love and righteousness, and that he stands accountable for his leadership before God. Abuse, unkindness, mistreatment, or domineering behavior is not justified by priesthood authority; it is expressly condemned (Doc. & Cov. 121:36-38).

It is true, as the Family Proclamation states, that "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." It is also true that " All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny," and that "in these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners." In the Gospel, there is no place for self-aggrandizement or gender superiority in marriage. Husbands and wives, joined eternally in a quorum of the priesthood, are jointly responsible for the care of each other, their children, and their communities.

So, am I a feminist? I love women. I believe in femininity. I believe that righteous women can wield great power and influence in their homes and communities. I believe that women deserve to be treated with the respect due to children of God, despite the traditions of the ages. And I love men. I believe in masculinity. I believe that righteous men can wield great power and influence in their homes and communities. I believe that men deserve to be treated with the respect due to children of God, despite the injustices of the ages.

I believe that men and women are different in fundamental ways. I celebrate those differences. I also believe that men and women are the same in fundamental ways. I celebrate that equality.
Does that make me a feminist? Or do I simply believe the gospel over the philosophies of men?

I think the latter. Your mileage may vary.


*The title comes from a post by Zelophehad's Daughters.
** This is a line from Margaret Atwood, quoted by Wendy Shalit in "Girls Gone Mild." Thanks to Chris for finding the source.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Essence of Crushed Violets: The Challenge To Forgive

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."

--Mark Twain

This last month, I had the chance to talk with someone who once hurt me very deeply. For the sake of this essay, I'll call "him" "John." (But John's name, gender, and several identifying details have been changed to protect the innocent.) I had worked on forgiving John for some time, but often felt like, though I wanted to let go of the pain, it was always still there, lurking around my mind and heart, and I was just deciding to ignore it so that I could move on with my life. In many ways, I still felt like he owed me an apology, like I had been wronged and he ought to be made to pay for it. I still harbored resentment, hurt, and bad feelings, even when the anger was gone.

John called me last month, and told me about some things that are happening in his life. As we talked, I realized that all the pain was truly gone. For the first time, I could honestly say that I had no hard feelings towards John, and that I was truly thrilled to hear the good things that are happening to him. From the bottom of my heart I wanted only the best for him. I was happy that I had known him, happy that I had had the chance to stand at a crossroads in his life. I no longer blamed him for what he had done. I no longer felt wronged. There was a deep sense of peace, joy, and love for another child of God.

I do not say this to toot my own horn, because I know that the power to forgive did not come from within me. In this situation, as in so many others, Ammon's words resounded in me, for, "I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things...therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?" (Alma 26:12-13).

The power to forgive is a gift from the Lord, made possible through the Atonement, and accessed through our faith in Him. Alexander Pope's aphorism, "To err is human, to forgive divine" is quite literally true. Because Christ has suffered for the sins of all men, when we turn to Him in anger and hurt because of the wrongdoings of another, He can speak peace to our hearts, for He has taken upon Himself those wrongs, for "chastisement of our peace (or, better rendered, "the punishment that brought us peace") was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

The Savior, in teaching about forgiveness, commanded: "If thy brother...trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4). Is it any wonder that the apostles' immediate reply was, "Lord, Increase our faith" (Luke 17:5)? They rightly realized that what He was asking them to do would require a great deal of faith.

Forgiveness is an act of faith in the Atonement and in the Lord's power to heal our hearts. When we forgive, we let go of the right to hold an offender to the law of justice, because we understand that the Lord has satisfied the law of justice, and that His atoning blood will restore everything to its proper order. The Lord has commanded, "Ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds" (Doc. & Cov. 64:11). This attitude is only possible when we trust our own souls and those of our brothers and sisters to the perfectly just and merciful judgment of the Lord. It isn't an easy thing to do. But I can testify of the power and peace that come from accepting the Lord's supernal gift of forgiveness, and of the efficacy of the Savior's Atonement in bringing about the mighty change in our hearts that will free us from the pain caused by the actions of others. I think that one of life's greatest challenges is the challenge to forgive--which may be why the blessings that flow from it are so overwhelmingly great.

"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45).

Picture from http://www.theflowerexpert.com

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Of Perpetual Hollyhocks and Train Wrecks

I don't like chick flicks.
I know, you're all shocked. After all, all women are supposed to love watching the six-hour version of Pride and Prejudice. I don't. My mind turns to jelly long before the halfway point of the film.
Maybe I should see a doctor. Maybe I was born with a genetic mutation. Maybe, as Val thinks, I'm just "terminally rational." Maybe all the eye-rolling that chick flicks induce prevents me from watching most of the film. Whatever the case, when I see a film in which an Independent Woman who has Had Her Heart Broken Before falls for a man who is a Complete Jerk...But In A Cute Way, and then Reforms Him, Kissing Him Passionately as the camera rotates around the blissful couple and Violins Swell because, after all, even though they Just Met, they were Meant To Be Together and Kiss Passionately on a Mountaintop in the Sunset for Forever...I don't sigh, I gag.
It makes me mad when the girl falls for the creep/misogynist/boy who seriously needs to grow up. I don't believe in destiny or soul mates. I don't think you're going to get a guy to fall madly in love with you and fill your house with rose petals by playing hard-to-get or always talking about your "feelings."
Life and love don't come with stirring orchestral accompaniment. First kisses are awkward, not transcendentally moving. Men who aren't suave and debonair make better sweethearts than Mr. Darcy. Love doesn't happen after two dates, terribly romantic though they may be. And you're better off not sleeping with a guy who doesn't know your mother's first name.
In the spirit of my traditionally hopeful but thoroughly pragmatic realism (I promise it's not the same as cynicism), I'd like to share a favorite saying, written by Jenkin Lloyd Jones, whose words, written dozens of years ago, were never more applicable than they are today:

"There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.
"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration...
"Life is like an old-time rail journey–delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."
(quoted by Gordon B. Hinckley in a BYU Devotional address, 25 September 1973)

I do not mean to be an unromantic party pooper. I believe in romance. I believe in eternal love. I even believe in violins =). But I know that successful marriages are built on love, respect, and dedication, not on chemistry or destiny or kissing on mountaintops. I know that love means having to say you're sorry again and again. I know that love is a choice, not a feeling, and that it grows as two people share all the joys and sorrows and triumphs and challenges of life together, as equal covenant partners, with their eyes on their ultimate shared goal. Mutual attraction is pleasurable, and staring deep into the eyes of your significant other can be romantic, but mutual dedication is so much more fulfilling, and looking into the eyes of the person to whom you are bound, not by destiny, but by covenant and by shared struggles and shared joys--that, I think, is heaven.