Heeding the Muse (Feeling the Spirit)

Muse reading Louvre CA2220.jpg

Muse reading Louvre CA2220” by Klügmann Painter – Jastrow (2006). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Writer’s block is possibly one of the few universal experiences for those schooled in the written word. Which of us has not sat at a keyboard or with pencil in hand, unable to compose a coherent sentence?

I finished my series on A Faithful Joseph this past summer, knowing that a next step would be writing up an article for peer review – review by peers who aren’t positively inclined towards my views of the topic, but who have indicated that they would not reject an article out of hand.

It’s a relatively high-pressure situation. And I’ve had significant competing priorities the past two months. Even so, I have attempted to write an article about Dr. John C. Bennett a couple of times now, without success. Continue reading

General Women’s Meeting: Covenants, Temples & Living the Gospel More Fully

Can you stand one more post about General Women’s Meeting? Ok, here we go. I promise I’m not going to re-summarize the meeting; Meg and Rameumptom have already done that. But I wanted to share some thoughts had about the talks and my over all impressions.

First, there was a nice and very welcome international element to the meeting. The opening prayer was given by Sister Dorah Mkhabela from South Africa. Her prayer was heartfelt, sincere and full of love for the women of the Church. The Young Women’s Board, the members of which come from all over the world, were on the stand as well. I cannot wait until the Relief Society and Primary Boards also have international members as well. I was reminded that the Church is worldwide and as such, is working to include and incorporate different people, cultures, and needs into the organization.

I know the inner and outer critics of the Church are quick to jump on the Church because it seemingly does not respond to needs of its members in a timely manner, or that is seen as a North American church, which only caters to the needs of Wasatch Front Utah. But a thought occurred to me, this Lord’s Church – and it is an international Church. We have to get it right. When policies and changes are being made, there is a very careful process that occurs, which checks and double checks that things turn out right, or as right as possible. It has to be this way, we’re God’s children and He does not want us to make mistakes with His children. Perhaps we need to be more patient with the people and the process.

Provo Temple night

The second thing which impressed me was the principle of covenants, which are made individually, point us to the temple, which, in turn, points us to Christ. That is where our power is. To endow means to freely give, and when we go to the temple and participate there, we are endowed with God’s power. The Lord, our Father in Heaven, FREELY gives us His power. Think about that for a minute. I hope we each take some time to reflect on our endowment a bit more, and what it really is. Continue reading

Crafting a Narrative

On Saturday, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed the women of the Church. Apparently, how he did so was unprecedented: he referred to them as disciples. Here’s the headline at the Huffington Post: “Mormon Feminists Surprised By New Wording Referring To Women As ‘Blessed Disciples Of Jesus.'” Here’s a quote from the article:

Mormon feminists may have been surprised by some subtle changes in vocabulary and approach Saturday (Sept. 27) at the church’s general women’s meeting.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed the audience — sitting in the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City or watching via satellite in chapels of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across the globe — not just as “sisters” but also as “blessed disciples of Jesus Christ.”

In a speech about living out one’s faith joyfully, Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, referred twice to women as “daughters of heavenly parents,” alluding to the Mormon belief in male and female deities.

Apparently, it is unprecedented to mention “Heavenly Parents,” and unprecedented to refer to women as disciples of Christ. Except for the fact that the term “Heavenly Parents” is used in the Proclamation on the Family, and leaders of the Church have been including women as “disciples” for ages (the linked post lists just a few examples of what I’m sure is many).

But that’s how you craft a narrative: anytime the leaders of the Church talk about the divine role of women, act as if its something that’s never been done before. That’s how you spin the tale so that people — both within and outside of the Church — come to believe that, until now, the Church has been demeaning towards women. But now, due to the vocal efforts of Mormon feminists, things are changing, and women can be disciples too!

I’m with Kathryn Skaggs on this one: sometimes it feels like some people belong to a different Church. Not that I want them to. I want them to be a part of the Church I’ve been a member of all along: The Church I grew up in always treated women as fellow disciples of Christ, and there was never a doubt in my mind of that. I see that the leaders of the Church tried for decades to communicate to women how much God values them, how important and central they are to the Creator’s plan for His children. And now Mormon feminists are taking the credit, by pretending it’s only now happening (presumably due to their vocal efforts).

I don’t think the Church is perfect. There may be practices and traditions that need to change. But I’m going to make a bold claim: If a sister in the Church just now realizes that she’s valued as a disciple of Christ, it’s not because the Church hasn’t taught it, frequently and often. What President Uchtdorf said this past weekend is nothing new. It’s not a change of rhetoric. Rather, perhaps our ears are opening enough to hear for the first time what they’ve been saying all along?

I think it’s dishonest to claim that this is some unprecedented shift in rhetoric on the part of the Church, and I think this twisting of the facts is designed to ultimately make the Church look bad and feminist agitators look like the protagonists of the story. It’s also designed set up a false crisis later on: If the Church has always been true, why is it only now treating women as disciples of Christ?

Meet the Mormons: Inspiring and Uplifting

My wife, daughter and I were able to about a month ago attend the first sneak preview of Meet the Mormons during Education Week. In fact, it was my three month old daughters first movie ever! I meant to post about my experience at the time, but for some reason never got around to it. Since the buzz for the film has really been intensifying as a result of the theatrical release in two weeks, I figured it was about time to rectify my delay and to write about the film.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Meet the Mormons is the new First Presidency approved film which will be released in theaters nationwide Oct. 10. It focuses on the stories of 6 members all across the world. For the uninitiated, Elder Holland did a fantastic introductory video for the film which I highly recommend watching

I was pretty excited when I heard about the film, though a bit apprehensive as well. I wasn’t really sure if the right balance could be struck between proselytizing tool and uplifting film. On the whole, I think the film struck the balance really well. If anything I think the film might have gone slightly too far in the direction of entertainment. My only criticism is that I don’t think someone watching the film would come away knowing what specifically makes our church unique. I think they would come away knowing that we are good people that attempt to follow our savior Jesus Christ. I hope that they would come away with a desire to gain that purpose and meaning that other members. I am less sure, however, that they would have a glimpse of what makes our Church special (prophets, Book of Mormon, knowledge of Plan of Salvation etc.).

Outside of that critique, I thought Meet the Mormons was a highly entertaining and worthwhile film.

There is an introductory section as well as six stories. I will share a few thoughts about each. (Note, since I saw the movie more than a month ago, my order may be slightly off).

Introduction- The introduction features man on the street interviews with New Yorkers in Times Square asking them questions about our church. The answers are interspersed with video from popular culture including South Park. It was pretty amusing to see the Church using a clip from South Park in its film, but it totally fits the way the Church responded to the Book of Mormon the musical. I thought this segment was overall a good way to set up the need to let me members tell their own stories. It felt a bit stiff at times, but was a successful way to get started.

The Bishop- Jermaine Sullivan : Sullivan is an African-American Bishop in Atlanta. He is an academic counselor by profession and has a really beautiful family. My favorite thing about this segment was the focus on the diversity found in Sullivan’s ward. I really liked how the members interacted. Atlanta is a very diverse city and this segment really showcased that members come from all walks of life.

The Fighter – Carolina Muñoz Marin : Marin and her husband both live in Costa Rica. She is actively involved in kickboxing competitions with the help and support of her husband. I loved that their family situation was non-traditional and yet both are shown as devoted parents as well as actively involved in charitable work. Marin and her husband have a really dynamic marriage and are really energetic and fun to watch.

The Coach – Ken Niumatalolo : This was a really entertaining segment focusing on Niumatalolo who is the coach of the football team at the Naval Academy. My favorite part of this segment was hearing those on the team and those that work with Niumatalolo talk about how much they respect his decision not to hold official practices on Sunday. Because he respects his players, he tells them that they are allowed to practice as much as they want on Sunday, only informally. Even though his job his high stakes and high pressure, it is clear that the Gospel deeply influences him and that he is a shining light to those around him.

The Humanitarian- Bishnu Adhikari : Adhikari is an individual who has really allow his faith to transform his life. He is a convert living in Nepal and lives a pretty extraordinary life. I like his discussions of the challenges he faced in converting to a new faith in a very traditional society. I also love that Adhikari dedicates his life to charitable works and to giving impoverished individuals a leg up. This story was slightly weaker only because Adhikari is a bit too difficult to relate to. So few people can dedicate their whole life to humanitarian work. I admired Adhikari, but also felt that he was a bit unrealistic (even though he is a real person).

The Candy Bomber – Col. Gail Halvorsen (Ret.): Halvorsen has an amazing story that I think will resonate with some audiences deeply. Certainly, his example of charity and faith during WWII is inspirational. I loved hearing him talk about how his faith influences his choice. It was also nice to see an older member of the church talk about how the Gospel has been a large influence on his whole life. On the other hand, just as with Adhikari’s story, I felt like Halvorsen was a bit too idealized or larger than life.

The Missionary Mom – Dawn Armstrong : This is by far my favorite segment and it is definitely the one that I have seen getting the most buzz. Armstrong was a convert to the Church when she hit rock bottom. She details her conversion powerfully and explains the joy that the Gospel has brought to her life. Her conversion is powerful in and of itself. What makes her story even more powerful however, is that Armstrong has now become a mother ready to send her own son off on a mission. We see her joy and agony as she prepares to let her son go off for two years. I really loved absolutely everything about this story. Armstrong and her son were both at the screening that we attended (he returned after serving a faithful full time mission), and it was really great to see them united and happy. This story was a perfect choice to finish the movie and it is the one that emotionally resonated with me most deeply. I think more than any other story, this one shows the power of the Gospel to truly transform lives.

Overall, despite some mild criticism, I loved the movie. If you were skeptical or on the fence, go and see it. Share the videos with your friends and bring them to see it. It’s definitely one of the best films that the Church has produced. It has amazing production values, a great soundtrack and technically shines. Emotionally, some of the stories were especially strong. The members featured are highly diverse, and yet all are united in their devotion to the Gospel. This film is highly highly recommended.

Fall 2014 General Conference Opens with Great Women’s Broadcast

imageOur ward young women decided to meet at the home of our patriarch and listen to the Women’s Broadcast together. The hour before the broadcast involved socializing in the back yard, eating popcorn, cake, pizza, and other goodies. Then we gathered inside to watch on the projector-screen system our patriarch has in his basement.

Summary I thought the meeting was a spiritual delight in the strong tradition initiated with the first Women’s Broadcast last spring. I was also excited to hear President Uchtdorf refer to the Women’s meeting as the first meeting of the General Conference.

I thought having the young women and friends meet in a home setting to enjoy the Women’s Broadcast was also a brilliant move, one which is enabled by the vast range of media options available to allow people to participate in the conference.

Below are my real-time notes (complete with typos…). Continue reading