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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The World Already Ended…or Didn’t You Notice?

So there’s been some talk amidst the “end of days” crowds that this September is supposed to be the beginning of the end. Or the beginning of an end. Or the seventh year in the cycle of Jewish numbers of Old Testament things and 9/11 and the recession and UN troops cross over an earthquake while Seattle is underwater and China is selling back our debt and making the stock market crash while we live in tent-cities under a blood moon, Obama something bad. As you can tell, I’m pretty much all caught up. Now there are several sources for this info; the most famous LDS one being a woman named Julie Rowe. She has stated that she had visions during a near-death experience and written some books about what she saw. While my intro is pretty flippant of the mass hysteria around these predictions, I am not one to deny that strange spiritual experiences can and do happen to reveal things to us. But I am very wary of those experiences being taken too definitively or too literally, because they are experiences filtered through the mortal minds, hearts, and biases we posses, and we may not really understand it.  How many times in the scriptures were prophetic visions 100% literal and easily explained? Even after hearing his father’s vision, Nephi had to really parse out what it meant with the help of the Holy Ghost because he couldn’t figure it out on his own. Pharaoh knew he had had a really significant dream, but he also knew it wasn’t literal or he would have told everyone to kill any skinny cow they saw. He needed someone to translate it for him, which Joseph was able to do. So in light of that, incredibly specific predictions that get right down to the date and location sound a bit suspect to me. The other part that always disturbs me, is that some people seem weirdly excited about these disasters. And if they don’t come to pass, I sense there...

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A Response to John Dominic Crossan, ‘How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian’

I was invited to respond to John Dominic Crossan a few weeks ago at a book event at Writ & Vision in Provo, Utah. I was honored to spend the time getting to know Dom, and greatly respect his honesty, scholarship, and kindness in allowing me to share a few of my thoughts with him and the audience about his book. The following were my remarks that night in response to his book. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– The first session that I attended at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature was titled “Use, Misuse, and Impact of the Bible,” and its theme was “Biblical Genocide in Biblical Scholarship.” The session experienced a lively debate, especially between two of the four panelists, Eric Seibert and Hector Avalos on the topic of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. Dr. Seibert is a Professor of Old Testament at Messiah College and identifies as a believing Evangelical Christian. Dr. Avalos is a Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and is no longer an Evangelical Christian, and identifies as an atheist. Seibert wanted to make clear that the genocide of the Canaanites and the conquest of Israel/Palestine in the Book of Joshua were morally reprehensible events, and something that the God of the Bible would not have commanded. Avalos agreed that this was not something a god would command, but for very different reasons. While Seibert walks the line of calling into question the authority of the Bible and being a traditional believing Christian, Avalos concluded that god does not exist and that we should discard texts that teach divine violence like the Book of Joshua. Although I use the example of these two scholars I do not mean to portray that there are only two paths in approaching how to understand divine violence in the Bible, or that either of those two paths is a better one over the other. John Dominic Crossan’s new book is an example of creating a different path, that I...

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Following The Prophet (When The Prophet Hasn’t Always Been Right)

Aug 05, 15 Following The Prophet (When The Prophet Hasn’t Always Been Right)

Posted by in Faith, Featured, Mormonism, Racism

Sitting in the pew, they sing: Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, Follow the prophet; don’t go astray. Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, Follow the prophet; he knows the way. Verse after verse goes by. I look around at all the people singing the words, each voice pronouncing each word with a profound reverence. But I can’t. Line by line, the God within cannot allow those words to leave my lips. Ultimately, the lessons I learned through working with missionaries were God is good and a prophet radiates all that is good and glorious about God. But the prophet hasn’t always been good for all of us. For some, the words of the prophet have brought spiritual exclusion and exhaustion. Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: there has never been a curse on black people. Just some very racist white people who wanted to justify how blacks were being treated. So there is bound to be some hesitancy in singing “he knows the way” with an unquestioning countenance. There are certainly those who would question my decision to stay or somehow sustain a prophet despite my convictions, however, in living my life as a Latter-day Saint, in all my interactions and frustrations with members and policies, Mormonism has revealed itself to be a journey not a destination. For me, it is an unfinished house. Stepping into the Church, I believed this journey would unfold in a straight line. However, it’s been anything but. How do I survive as a black woman in the LDS Church and a culture that is not mine? Around faces that do not look like mine. Even further, how do I thrive? As a black woman, I’ve never found comfort in a white Jesus and Heavenly Parents. Whiteness defined not only in skin color but in attitudes towards people of color. I’m somehow to believe God is a divine racist? In the years since I’ve joined, I’ve found that I cannot survive in believing that. I’ve found that I...

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Of Prophets and Porn

Jul 02, 15 Of Prophets and Porn

Posted by in Featured, Honesty, Pornography, Sexuality

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled this week that gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states. You would have had to have been living under said rock for a very, very long time to be unaware of what church leaders think about gay marriage (spoiler: they aren’t big fans). But just in case there are any 20-year rock under-dwellers, the church is having a very special sharing time this Sunday, to re-hash what we already all know. My wife pointed out how shallow this re-emphasis feels when more black churches are burning every day, and yet our church leaders (self-styled stalwarts of religious freedom) are utterly and astonishingly silent. Rather than decry the most horrific bigotry imaginable, they are spending part of our Sabbath worship schedule asking people to stop calling them bigots for well, perpetuating a culture of bigotry.   Which brings me to the subject of porn. (I’ll get to the relevance of my abrupt sanguine in a bit.) I guess I should start by explaining that I don’t actually know much about porn. The lessons I was taught in Sunday School, Seminary, and Young Men’s about the evils of pornography actually sunk in more or less. Other than one particularly awkward peer-pressure moment between several of my friends, I have not willingly engaged with pornography with any regularity. It was not until my mission that I realized just how many of my peers struggled with porn and masturbation. Of my 11 companions, 8 had what could only be characterized as significant challenges with pornography. The church has adopted the premise of addiction in addressing pornography more frequently in recent years. This increased focus on pornography as an addiction coincides with a similar focus prevalent in American evangelical churches, and it emerged at the same time. While it might be helpful for a few people to engage a problematic relationship with pornography by thinking of it as an...

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Movie Review: ‘The Cokeville Miracle’

Most Latter-day Saint (LDS) movie goers are familiar with the work of T.C. Christensen from his past films 17 Miracles and Ephraim’s Rescue (among others). These movies have earned Christensen a place in LDS cinema that will probably not be filled for some time, which is likely due to their stories being near and dear to the history of the faith of these movie goers: the films were each about the pioneer trek. Although Christensen’s new film, The Cokeville Miracle, is on a strikingly different topic, LDS viewers will find the powerful storytelling Christensen has come to be known for all throughout the film. The Cokeville Miracle tells the story of a hostage crisis in 1986 at the elementary school in Cokeville, Wyoming. The movie begins by following the story of Ron Hartley (Jasen Wade), a local police officer in Cokeville. Hartley had been struggling with a belief in God primarily due to the horrible things he would see in the field from day to day. He questions whether or not an all powerful being would allow suffering of innocent victims in the world to the extent that he has seen. This causes tensions between himself and his wife, and his young son and daughter are aware of the struggles he is going through. During this struggle Hartley asks for a sign of whether or not God is there, and asks for help to regain his former faith. Hartley’s answer will culminate in the way that the hostage crisis pans out and his investigation into how it exactly happened. David Young (Nathan Stevens) and his wife Doris (Kymberly Mellen) decide to take the entire school hostage in one room (including Hartley’s two children) and demand to be paid $200 million for the safe return of the students and teachers. David, who was formerly the town marshall and has now become his own brand of religious fanatic, has created a large homemade gasoline bomb on wheels and has strapped the trigger to his wrist. Any move by the elementary school teachers or students and he need only to lift his...

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I’m Not Struggling. I’m Just Different.

Apr 22, 15 I’m Not Struggling. I’m Just Different.

Posted by in Featured, Individuality

It’s great to have people around you who care about you enough to “check in” on you in the midst of a faith crisis. I’ve been lucky enough to have people like that in my life. At first I really needed it. It was important to me. But there comes a point where you want to stop being labeled as the guy who’s struggling. I haven’t been for a while now. I feel like I’m in a decent place. It’s one that’s much more ambiguous and subject to a roller coaster of emotions, but I’m okay with that. But I still get the occasional check-in. Mostly because I’m no longer bound by the belief that my eternal salvation is dependent on strict weekly church attendance, holding a calling and going home teaching. That kind of approach to Mormonism kind of automatically puts you in the “we’re concerned about him” zone. I’m starting to wish there was some sign I could hang around my neck that says “Really, I’m okay.” So, this my new faith manifesto: I’ve will no longer self-identify, either in my own head or to others, as “struggling” or in any sort of a “faith crisis.” I’m not struggling, and I’m not in a crisis. I’m just on a new path. It may not be the same path you’re on. And you know what? That’s okay. I’ll still put my arm around you at church on Sunday (if I’m not off camping or sleeping in because really? 8:30 a.m. sacrament meeting?) My “testimony” (whatever that really means) is as valid and strong as anyone else in my ward, stake, or the church. That it is different and unique from many others does not make it inferior. That it is malleable and changes over time does not make it better or worse than your written-in-stone, unshakable testimony. I will stop apologizing or feeling skittish or like I’m walking on eggshells when talking about difficult aspects of my religion. I embrace my religion, warts...

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Spoken of for a Memorial of Her

“Symbolic language conceals certain doctrinal truths from the wicked and thereby protects sacred things from possible ridicule. At the same time, symbols reveal truth to the spiritually alert.” (1) Women are not allowed to preside over the Sacrament; yet the Sacred Feminine is ever-present in the Sacrament itself. You just have to know where to look to find it. One of the most popular symbols for Mary Magdalene is the rose. This is also a well-known symbol for Mary the mother of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition (consider the Rosary). One Sunday morning after Sacrament meeting, I glanced over briefly at the Sacrament table and noticed the Sacrament Cloth was overlaid with rose embroidery. For me, the symbolism was unmistakable. However, as with all sacred symbolism, there is much more to the story than meets the eye. Considering the Sacrament is symbolic of the Atonement and a renewal of our sacred covenants, I find it interesting the cloth that would be used to cover the elements would represent Mary Magdalene, who I firmly believe to be the wife of Jesus. It is her sacred symbol that shrouds the Sacrament cloth just as the burial shroud covered Jesus’ body as he was laid in the tomb. The symbolism behind the cloth itself is also significant, for it was the women historically who wove the tapestries for the statue of Asherah, the Mother Goddess housed in the King Solomon’s Temple. According to Patai, “How Asherah was served by the Hebrews we do not know, apart from the one obscure and tantalizing detail of the women weaving ‘houses,’ perhaps clothes, for her in the Jerusalem Temple” (2) – in the women’s court, perhaps? Sadly the reforms of King Josiah would bring a bitter end to those days. Maxine Hanks suggests that it was the women of the Relief Society who would revive this ancient practice. She notes that early on, the women sewed clothing, draperies, carpets and other furnishings for the inside of the Kirtland Temple....

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I Don’t Want to Be On your Team

I wrote a post not that long ago titled Why I Left. You can read it if you want but essentially I put the Church on blast for pretty much everything I think is wrong with it. I meant every word of it. Right away I received more than a few supportive messages which gave me both strength comfort. Then there were a few messages that seem to imply that I had been drafted into the 2014 cool kids club. To be clear, I don’t want to be on anyone’s team. Relationships are important to me but I don’t want to be in a clique. I just want to work through these issues with the support of faithful members and those who are a little critical. I still love the Church very much. I don’t think that is so weird or uncommon. Navigating a faith crisis for me has at times created so much cognitive dissonance I have, just like the wine press, let more than a few tears under the crushing pressure of it all. I think as time moves on the amount of venom I spit will lessen. With time comes maturity, which may lessen the frequency of my Internet tantrums. I may respond to these overwhelming and heart wrenching experiences with more sensitivity and love. I love the gospel but loathe the patriarchal hierarchy. I love the Saints and hope one day to be able to attend meetings with them again. I thought I’d take a break from my normal polemics and share a few reasons out why I still love the Church. The Book of Mormon– I have a very intimate and meaningful relationship with the Book of Mormon. My wife and kids know it’s my favorite book but not many others would. I still read from it regularly. I honestly don’t give a damn about horses, swords, or cement. I’m not interested in discussions involving evidences for or against historicity. Navel gazing is not my thing. Instead, I prefer to focus on the book’s...

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American Temples

Feb 25, 15 American Temples

Posted by in art, Book Reviews, Featured, Mormonism, Reviews, Temple

American Temples by Scott Jarvie is a beautiful tribute to LDS Temples built in the United States. Scott spent more than a year living on the road out of an Airstream, traveling more than 40,000 miles from the west coast to the east and back again five times, photographing each LDS temple as he went. Some people might him crazy at worse and ambitious at best; both might apply to Scott, though. He’s spent the past 10 years photographing mainly weddings. He’s not only traveled the United States extensively as a wedding photographer, but also Europe. His inspiration to travel the U.S. and photograph every temple was, in fact, inspiration. In the introduction to the book, he explains: In March of 2013, I went on a road trip to photograph the American Southwest, and somewhere between the Grand Canyon and the Utah border I had “one of those days.” The kind of day that takes a crazy turn. The kind of day where one minute everything is peachy, you haven’t got a care in the world, and you’re content with life – and the next minute something has changed. It’s as if God says, “I see you’re satisfied… don’t be!” I didn’t take off on that two-week road trip for the purpose of self reflection or to figure things out, but simply to fulfill the itch of photography and see new places. I was happy, my career was going well, but inside my heart was placed a seed of desire to do more, and I suddenly sensed a big hole in my life… when a little idea began to creep in… Something that had even been suggested by a friend previously but that I had rejected as an impossibility: What about making a temple book? Each temple features an “Interesting Facts” section, which talks about things like square footage, announcement date, completion date, dedication, and short stories or facts about it.  For example, did you know that the Portland temple sits on land originally purchased in the...

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