On Yom Kippur

With today being Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Hebrew calendar, I would like to reflect on a very sacred experience that I had, and one that is very unique within Mormonism, although I was actually not yet a member of the Church when I had this experience. That said, this experience restored my faith in Christ and led to my belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet. My Jewish husband and I shared this sacred experience a year before we were married and a couple years prior to me joining the LDS church in 2010. Please forgive me if the details are sketchy, as it is never easy- and deeply personal- to recount spiritual experiences. This sacred experience would mark the beginning of my journey into the Sacred Feminine and my love for Heavenly Mother. I share these stories as I experienced them. I believe they happened because of my need at that particular time in my life – and God’s love.  Whether you believe me or not, please respect them as my sacred stories. Nevertheless, I do testify these sacred experiences are true. On this particular day in 2007, my husband and I were in the mountains of North Carolina. We were not yet married, and my husband later admitted he was about to break off the relationship since we have a significant age difference and there were just too many complications. That same day, he made it clear he had no intentions of getting married. Frustrated, I went off by myself and “yelled” at God – “You have GOT to fix this!” We drove on, and came to this beautiful waterfall called Hooker Falls in Pisgah National Forest. Shortly after we arrived, three mysterious women appeared. One was middle aged, one was a younger mother and the other a child. They all looked Hispanic. As the child splashed around in the water, middle-aged woman spoke with my husband at length, while the young mother kept me occupied....

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An Argument for “Mormon Universalism”

The following is an argument for Mormon Universalism. I present this argument not as a personal endorsement in every particular, but rather as a prompt for constructive discussion and critical self-reflection. What is “Mormon Universalism”? It is the belief that every single person who has ever lived will eventually return to and be reconciled with God, and that this is perfectly compatible with a reasonable interpretation of Mormon theology. The argument is based on two key ideas: 1) the “Piano Model” of grace, and 2) eternity is a very long time.[1] THE “PIANO MODEL” OF GRACE The first key idea is from an article by Brad Wilcox in the September 2013 Ensign entitled “His Grace is Sufficient.” Wilcox has become popular the last few years by challenging the Stephen Robinson “Parable of the Bicycle” model of grace that was popular in the 1990s. In brief, the Robinson “Bicycle Model” argues that the Atonement is like a parent who purchases a bicycle for his or her child after the child expends his or her own “best efforts” to save up the money, even though this might only be a few pennies. The Atonement, in effect, makes up the huge difference in the “purchase price” of salvation between what we can earn for ourselves and what is required. Enter Brad Wilcox in 2013 who challenged this popular model by arguing instead that our “best efforts” are not needed to “pay off a debt” or “make deposits” toward a desired salvation. Rather, the Atonement has already paid the entire price in full and God asks us for our best efforts not because it helps earn our way into his presence, but so we’ll get a lot of practice becoming the type of person who will be comfortable in his presence. Instead of a bicycle, he uses the analogy of a piano. Our parents purchase piano lessons for us and give them to us as a gift. We practice the piano not to pay back the purchase price...

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How Shall We Continue in The Silencing?

Imagine how Mary Magdalene must have felt on the morning of the Resurrection, being the first person to see the risen Christ. Imagine too how she must have felt later on when she would be forever silenced for her testimony: “I have seen the Lord: such is the story of the Resurrection as told in the Gospel of John. With it begins the history of Christianity, and with it ends the New Testament history of Mary Magdalene.”(1)  And still the Church rests on a special commission given to her by Christ himself, “but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20: 17). Tradition says Mary Magdalene did continue her earthly mission, but so much of that has been the stuff of legend. According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Mary Magdalene finished out her years in Ephesus, a city devoted to the goddess Artemis, while the Western medieval tradition maintains that she died in France and is laid to rest at Sainte Baume. (2)  In both traditions, she remained celibate and chaste following the Resurrection. The Gnostic Gospels, more specifically the Gospel of Philip, paint Mary Magdalene in a very different light, as Jesus’ chosen successor and most intimate companion, or perhaps even his wife. Still the question remains, “If Mary were so important to Jesus, why is there no mention of her in Acts, or in the Epistles?” (3) And with that, the Mormon belief in Heavenly Mother faces the same set of challenges, except this time on a much grander scale; for in this case we are dealing with Deity. The problem here is not so much that She exists – as Latter-Day Saints we historically acknowledge as such – the problem is we operate on a stifled belief in Her that is used to perpetuate the status quo, when a doctrine of Her really should be used to promote an elevated view of women reflecting...

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Through the Valley: Theodicy and Black Suffering in America

Jul 01, 15 Through the Valley: Theodicy and Black Suffering in America

Posted by in Featured, Racism, Theology

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23, 1 – 6   “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God,” uttered organizer Bree Newsome, as she removed the Confederate battle flag from its place on the grounds of the South Carolina state house. A few moments later, as she was led away by the police, she began to recite Psalm 23 and 27. While there’s nothing particularly new about the use of Christian theology along with acts of civil disobedience, the calling upon the words and works of God hold a profound significance for black people in the United States; in the midst of mis-recognition, suffering and death by way of oppression. As black churches burn across the South coupled with the lack of reporting by mainstream news outlets, I can’t help but think  about the greatest trick the devil ever played: convincing us that he didn’t exist. During a lecture about theodicy, or the problem of evil, my philosophy professor once posited to the class that the devil did not exist. Now, perhaps you can imagine the reaction to a claim such as that in a room full of mostly first year, some post-first year, seminary students, many of whom were Christian theists. But the discussion that followed, a brief...

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Fumbling Through Fowler’s Phases.

Jun 23, 15 Fumbling Through Fowler’s Phases.

Posted by in Agency, Featured, Theology, Uncategorized

I don’t think anyone can avoid searching for spirituality at some point in life. Religion may turn many people off the path and they may spend much of their lives and energy avoiding further contact, but there seems to be something built in that compels the quest. For those of us who are familiar with the pursuit, Fowler’s Stages of Faith offers a valuable insight into the psychology behind the drive. James Fowler is an American professor of theology. He was born in Reidsville North Carolina in 1940, to a Methodist minister. Fowler has since followed in his fathers footsteps in this regard. He graduated from Duke University with a BA in Psychology, then went on to earn a Masters from Drew Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Harvard in Religion and Society. He pursued post-doctoral studies at the Center for Moral Development at the Harvard Graduate School for Education. He is a prolific author, contributing to many research projects as well as publishing several books of his own. He has taught at Harvard Divinity School, Boston College and Emory’s Candler School of Theology. His best known work is the book “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Development and the Quest for Meaning” In the book, Fowler suggests six (seven, including stage 0) developmental stages that most humans will begin to move through as their faith develops. Not everyone will make it all the way through, many stall out in the early stages, but for those intent on pursuing the development of faith, Fowler’s stages provide a way to see the path. He doesn’t seek to instruct the faithful but, simply, illuminate the pursuit. Movement through the first two stages tends to happen naturally, stage three happens with help, but movement between the last three will require conscientious choices and intent. So here they are: Stage 0 – “Primal or Undifferentiated”faith (birth to 2 years) Characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect...

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On being chosen

1 Peter 2:9 9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: We have been taught that we are a chosen people.  What does that really mean?  As Mormons we are rather proud of our peculiarity, our royality, our priesthood.  We claim the blood and birthright of the children of Israel.  We claim a tradition as God’s chosen people.  But that tradition, that idea is fraught with peril.  I think a look at the history of the Children of Israel can be very instructive. The rabbi Abraham Heschel described Israel as a great experiment in which God takes a group of people no better and no worse than any other and sees what happens when he tries to develop a relationship with them.  In other words, being chosen does not signify a preference for a people based upon discrimination and favoritism but a people chosen and approached by God. It is not a quality inherent in the people but a relationship between the people and God.  He described Judaism as “God’s quest for Man.” As we read in the Old Testament, we find that these chosen people are typically not keeping up their end of the relationship. We are all familiar with how Israel built a Golden Calf the moment Moses left them to get the law on Mount Sinai.  We all know about how they groused and complained and spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.  We all know about how they stoned and killed and rejected the prophets.  What we don’t seem to realize is that as “the Lord’s chosen people” all these stories are instructive to us.  They are a warning for us. Being a people in relationship with God involves boundary maintenance.  It involves receiving the law.  It involves covenant.  It involves distinctive practices to set you apart.  These are important.  Boundaries keep the people distinct but the problem is they...

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Voices Unto the Lord: The Autobiography of Jane Elizabeth Manning James and Spiritual Narratives of African-American Women in the Nineteenth Century

Jun 03, 15 Voices Unto the Lord: The Autobiography of Jane Elizabeth Manning James and Spiritual Narratives of African-American Women in the Nineteenth Century

Posted by in Faith, Featured, History, Racism, Theology

 I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.  I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.  I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.  Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I.  Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me. – Psalm 142, 1 – 7 For holy women, the personal is political and spiritual.- Dr. Joycelyn K. Moody, Sentimental Confessions: Spiritual Narratives of Nineteenth-Century African American Women In the narratives of Julia A. J. Foote, Jarena Lee and Maria Stewart (as well as other religious contemporaries of their time), we can see a formulation of a theology that examined, explained and expressed their experiences as not only black people living in the context of a white supremacist nation but as women seeking to be a discursive might in male-centric 19th century evangelism. Similar figures can be found within Latter-day Saint history, namely Jane Elizabeth Manning James. Though James was no theologian in the academic sense, the conceptualization of who and how God was, was revealed through both her correspondence with Church leaders and her dictated autobiography. Through these exchanges emerged a theology not unlike that of Foote, Lee and Stewart. With the backdrop of 19th century narratives of African-American “holy women” as a guide, we can examine Jane Elizabeth Manning James’s autobiography/interview and letters to Church leaders as more than a fixed set of points in Mormon...

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Adam and Eve: Humans or Homo sapiens?

Last General Conference, Elder Jeffery R. Holland stated, “there was an actual Adam and Eve who fell from an actual Eden, with all the consequences that fall carried with it.” And he continued, “I do not know the details of what happened on this planet before that, but I do know these two were created under the divine hand of God, that for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family.” As I listened to this these statements I had mixed feelings, and I would like to examine these statements in the light of current scientific thinking on the issue of human evolution. I was quite encouraged with the recognition that Mormon theology lacks knowledge of the details about what happened prior to Adam and Eve. It was refreshing to hear an apostle state that he does “not know the details” about creation and hominid evolution. I would argue that Elder Holland’s position is in line with the Church’s most authoritative statements on the subject of evolution, even though these may be less known for the majority of church members. The BYU Evolution Packet, perhaps the most authoritative document on the subject, leads one to also conclude that the best summary of the Church’s current position of evolution, is that there is no official position; the Church is neutral as to how the diversity of life was created on this planet, including the origin of the physical body of Homo sapiens. Latter-day-saints, in general, believe that Adam and Eve, “were created under the divine hand of God, ” although the specifics of how (the exact methods) God might have brought about Adam and Eve are not understood. In 1910, the First Presidency delivered instructions to priesthood quorums (not the general membership and thus was not considered “official” enough to be included in the BYU Evolution packet) essentially outlining three acceptable possibilities for the origin of the physical body: 1) “the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction...

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The Temptation of Jesus the Christ in the Gospel of Luke

Embodied in flesh, Jesus was not completely exempt from the temptations of corporeal existence as highlighted in Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. In this text, I will examine the temptation story found in Luke (4:1-13). My exegesis is shaped by my social location. I am an African-American, middle-class, college-educated, Latter-day Saint woman. I use the Bible to examine the character of God, Jesus and the Spirit as well as the scriptures themselves, in an effort to combat social injustice and to promote wellness and understanding among oppressed populations. Using the themes found in Lucan theology, the temptation story suggests that not even the most powerful are free from temptation. This is revealed through highlighting the character of Jesus and the nature of disobedience and disbelief, as manifested through the devil, in relation to the human condition. The beginning of Luke begins with an introduction containing the purpose of this particular gospel. However, in a closer examination of the text by paralleling the aforementioned passages to the latter passages, a discrepancy in theological themes is revealed. As noted by Joseph Fitzmeyer, the Lucan author focuses on the key points of Jerusalem as the center for salvation, the appearance of salvation in history through Jesus the Christ (aptly titled “salvation history”) and the depiction of Jesus’s mission as a course or way.[1] We see the latter in the predestination of John the Baptist to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (1:17) and is further expounded upon in 7:27 when he is said to have been sent to prepare your way. Fitzmeyer designates this “way” as eisodos, “entrance” and exodos, “departure” of Jesus the Christ, highlighting its significance in the history contained in the biblical narrative.[2] Using the Lucan theme of Jesus the Christ’s mission as a journey, an initial analysis of the Gospel of Luke proposes the transition of a student growing into the role of a teacher. This is suggested by the unfolding of events in relation to Jesus the Christ’s...

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Religious Freedom (The Remix)

May 11, 15 Religious Freedom (The Remix)

Posted by in Featured, Feminism, harmony, Racism, Theology, unity

The church is currently taking a cue from One Direction by touring the world and sending two of its fifteen most popular band members priesthood holders to visit various countries for their 2015 world tour “Religious Freedom: We Still Hate LGBT Folks”. This fan (Team Uchtdorf!) wondered- what are other ways we can champion religious freedom that might actually improve religious freedom? In an act of true fandom, here are 5 suggestions that might take freedom of religion from the narrow, lets-hate-other-grown-ups-who-decide-differently and more towards making sure other people are free to worship as they see fit. Suggestion #1: Protect Muslims. And Sikhs. And Hindus. If we could build solidarity with any religious group in history, it could very easily be Muslims. You know that Missouri episode that hurt us Mormons so bad? They are experiencing that today! Crimes against Muslims have increased dramatically in the years following 9/11 thanks to Fox News and Republicans who can’t differentiate between brown folks. Sikh’s and Hindus have been at the receiving end of this violence as well, because some people only allow for religious cloth that looks like theirs (i.e. not a turban). Remember how we didn’t like it when people vandalized the temples after that really horrible and embarrassing Prop 8 episode? Muslims (and Sihks) get their places of worship vandalized all the time! They also get beat, and shoved onto the subway rails, shot over parking spaces, and well, you get the picture. They are arrested and put in high security jails to be tortured with protocols devised by other Mormons. They are degraded, and they are forbidden from praying as their level of belief dictatess, or to speak of their religion openly for fear of violence. Unlike Christians, they don’t get federal holidays that give them time off from their duties (business or scholastic) to focus on personal and communal worship with their religious groups. The multiple murders in the last few years with extreme Islamophobic undertones point towards increased violence, and we could make a...

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