Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Parable of the Lost Coin

I've been honored to call Samantha my friend.  I honestly think she has the talent be the next Malcolm Gladwell (or THE Mormon Malcolm Gladwell).  She has a way of writing things succinctly and in a way even the most hardened heart can consider.  And she pretty much always says exactly what I'm thinking but makes it sound 10,000 times more cool.  This post originally appeared on her blog "Scarlett Called Scout" (she is also currently pregnant with a girl who she may name Scarlett and actually call "Scout"--so cute!) and made me immediately think of some of the knee-jerk reactions I hear about Mormon Feminism.  I've always been perplexed that more Mormons don't feel a very personal responsibility to go and find the lost sheep, or I think in too many cases, the lost coin.  Take it away, Sam...

By Samantha Strong Murphey

I was reading “Jesus the Christ” by James E. Talmage this morning and was struck by an old parable in a new way. There are three parables Christ tells, all in the same discourse, all along the same vein. There’s the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the prodigal son. All three of them are essentially about feeling joy and gratitude when something lost has been recovered, but the second parable is distinctly different than the other two. I’ve never noticed that before. In the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the prodigal son, what is lost has become so because it has wandered off of its own free will. But in the parable of the lost coin, what is lost has become so because of the carelessness of the caretaker. Here’s what Talmage has to say about it:

“The woman who by lack of care lost the precious piece may be taken to represent the theocracy of the time, and the Church as an institution in any dispensational period; then the piece of silver, every one a genuine coin of the realm, bearing the image of the great King, are the souls committed to the care of the Church; and the lost piece symbolizes the souls that are neglected and, for a time at least, lost sight of by the authorized ministers of the Gospel of Christ.”

Sometimes I think people forget that “the Church as an institutuion in any dispensational period” is capable of neglecting the care of certain souls. Sometimes it’s easier to believe that it’s the coin’s fault that it’s lost than it is to recognize that we could have something to do with it, or what’s more, that the Church leaders we look up to could have blind spots too. But the Savior seemed to understand that even the authorized ministers of His gospel are sometimes short-sighted, that even the most faithful are vulnerable to carelessness. The Savior seemed to know that the joy to be had in recovering those souls would sometimes come only when we accept our fault and open our eyes.


Samantha Strong Murphey is a lover of greenery, glitter and goat cheese, an advocate of media literacy, human rights and karaoke for all. She earned bachelor's degree in communications from Brigham Young University. Now, she works as a full-time freelance writer and blogger based in Atlanta, Georgia.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dear Child

Dear Child,

I am mainly writing this letter out of sense of self preservation, but also some love.  SO much love.  I know there will come a point when you have become enough of an adult, that you will look back at your childhood with some degree of perspective.  I don't know how old you will be or where life will take you but I am almost certain this moment will happen, perhaps multiple times.  It may come when you are financially independent, or when you get married, or when you have children of your own, but it will come.  You will feel that because you can see the good and the bad at the same time that you can make a clear judgement on your childhood.  And you might be right.  It is in this moment, that I hope you read or remember this letter.

I write because there may be a time or times when you will assess the support we gave you as parents, with probably more clarity than we can, and you may feel more disappointment than gratitude.  You may feel that the net worth of your upbringing was negative rather than positive.  It may just be a brief moment or years of therapy but it will happen.

I believe it will happen because it has happened to me*, and it's happened to my parents, and I'm sure their parents...probably all the way back to those first parents.  It is perhaps the reason that generational superiority or the "generation gap" exists--the belief that you and your generation know better either because of social evolution or experience or both.

My father-in-law (your grandpa) has a wonderful philosophy about parenting he phrases in one sentence: "it's our job to move the ball forward."  To keep the proverbial ball of humanity in progress and getting better.  That each generation has the responsibility move forward, and not backward.  To get better, and not worse.  I like it, it's a very humble philosophy.  And since generational superiority is essentially pride falling out on both sides of the gap, I think humility is the only way we can attack this problem.  With humility, you can look back and trust they were doing the best they can with what they had AND you can look forward, knowing they probably won't do things the same way you did and that's okay, maybe even good.

At some moment in your life you will judge me and my actions against the progress humanity has made since you were a child.  All the knowledge and practice and "ball rolling forward" that has happened between your childhood and the birth of your own children.  And you will inadvertently hold that gap against me and your father.  You may recognize it and you may resist it but it will be there, a thorn in your consciousness, begging to be pulled out.

I am so certain that this is a universal coming of age because of a singular fact: parents are people and people are flawed.  The universality of human experience and the nature of fallen man.  Because of The Fall, we are all of us, mortally wounded and broken.

And while we trudge through this earthly, fallen realm we bear children.  Beautiful, perfect, flawless beings sent to our presence and stewardship, where it becomes mainly our responsibility to teach them right from wrong, good from evil.  It's a big job, and some of us shrink or fail, but most rise to the challenge and work to give you the best chance we can at a happy and successful life.  And we want so much good for you.

A parent's love for a child is undeniable and indescribable and is only limited by our own fallen natures.  The Savior understood this love and used it to teach and illustrate the love God has for us:

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.  

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:8-11, emphasis added)

God, our Heavenly Father, wants so much to bless us and give us the kind of life He enjoys because of His immense love for us.  He sent us down to this earth, a mortal collegiate experience, so that we could learn to walk by faith, not sight.  To stumble like toddlers and provide help for us when we seek and ask for it.  His ultimate goal is for our happiness (Moses 1:39).  And like any good parent, He must set conditions on us receiving that happiness, lest He spoil us, His children.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

And so child, please know that we tried our best.  We tried to set the right limits on your behavior at the right times AND give you the right freedoms at the appropriate moments so that you could learn and grow and become the person God wants you to be.  To help you use your agency to make good choices and become better.  A help to those around you more than a burden and a positive contribution to this little world of ours.

I hope above all you can forgive us, your parents.  Because the bad news is, of course, that we too are fallen.  We have most likely failed you in some small or large way.  There will be moments when you feel as though you've assessed everything and you are saddened by the conclusions you find.  It is in these moments, my dear sweet child, that I hope you remember the Savior.

The one perfect being sent by the one perfect parent to pay for all of us.  He suffered for the sins of all mankind so that we wouldn't have to.  He is the only one who can pull out the thorn of your resentment.  To give you the power to forgive.  And as long as we remember that we need the payment He offers as much as the thief, the murderer, and the rapist than we can find it in ourselves to forgive those who trespass us.  Even parents, who come to this job with every good intention.  

And so I hope you know this child.  I hope you know this because I will have tried to teach it to you as best I could, and I hope you can find it somewhere in your heart to forgive me.

Love,
Mom


*Mom and Dad if you read this, please know I really do think you're the greatest parents ever.  Love you!!!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's an Extroverts Church: Part I

By Megan Licous Speer

I'd like to welcome our first guest post blogger: Megan Licous Speer. I met Megan by being her visiting teacher. I was a recently returned missionary myself and had an almost overbearing passion for visiting teaching.  I'm glad because this girl makes you work for her friendship--and boy does it pay off. She's major cool, fiercely loyal, hugely articulate, and a mega talented writer.  And her name is Megan.  I'm more of an extrovert so the social aspect of Church has been good to me, but I think it's important to hear different perspectives so we can help everyone have a positive church experience.  This post was originally posted on her blog "rawm" on February 24, 2014 as part one. Part II is posted here

To be righteous is to be social; this is the main thing I learned at church during my college years.

After my parents moved our family to Oregon when I was six, we had the good fortune of rooting and staying in the area for a very long time. LDS congregations are determined geographically, so I knew the same people at church, at school, and in the neighborhoods from the time I could remember to the time I left for college. Because of how comfortable I was, and because I rarely--if ever--had to engage someone I hadn't known pretty much all my life, I left for college having no idea that I was an introvert or that my religion was deeply social.


Megan is on the far right, with her arms crossed.

Obviously, churches are institutions, and are--by definition--social. Still, as churches go, the LDS church is peculiar. Where many religions have room for or even focus on private worship, LDS religious worship is almost exclusively social. I was thinking about this one day and wanted to make a list of all religious activities that are interpersonal. The ones I came up with are:

-all three hours of weekly church (sacrament meeting [partake of ordinance and general worship], Sunday school [scripture study], third hour [sex-specific and -divided meetings])
-prayer in familial and any other groups
-family and seminary or other group scripture study
-24/7 missions of predetermined length (assigned living arrangement with a stranger)
-all temple rituals, which are essential for exaltation
-all midweek activities (all organized by group [age and sex])
-all non-formal missionary work (interaction with friend, neighbor, co-worker, etc.)
-family home evening
-visiting and home teaching
-all additional young adult activities
-viewing general conference (culturally social)
-baptism and confirmation
-charitable service (culturally social)
-all formal repentance
-bearing of testimony
-receiving or giving patriarchal blessings
-receiving or giving priesthood blessings
-virtually all callings (organized, temporary church volunteer positions)
-exaltation (gifts from God based on worthiness, most importantly: living with and as Gods in family units)
-worthiness and other interviews

For sure, the degree to which each of these is social, and with whom exactly they are done, varies quite a bit, but it is either unusual or impossible to do any of them alone. Depending on the demographics of a member's area and living situation, they may have to go to a complete stranger for any of these hopefully personal, spiritual experiences. Compare these to the list of religious activities members can do alone:

-scripture study
-prayer
-genealogical research
-small acts of kindness
-receiving revelation and spiritual promptings
-paying tithing (unless paying with a spouse)
-journal-keeping (but often done with a purpose of sharing with others)
-salvation (gifts from God that come regardless of worthiness, namely immortality)
-pondering

Members are taught to make personal worship daily habit, but this is rarely discussed at length, and it doesn't stop there. In general, the church favors teachings on family, missionary work, and group service above solitary relationship with God, meditation, or progression. In an LDS meeting, the phrase "take a moment to think to yourself" is usually followed by, "now turn to your side and share with your neighbor." The scriptures--even some of the most famous passages--talk about retiring to your closet or going into the wilderness alone to ponder, repent, and strive, but this is not emphasized in lessons. While it is mentioned that the Savior often went up into the mountains alone to think and meditate, it is always emphasized that He never turned away any who sought after Him (which they invariably did), I assume because His apostles wished to emphasize His selflessness over His personal worship style or personality traits.

Group activities are given much more emphasis than individual activities that are elevated in other religions; for example, it is generally unacceptable to skip church meetings to ponder and study alone. Even the idea of dedicating the Sabbath to personal worship after regular meetings is suspect; at times, I have asked to have auxiliary church meetings I attend held during the week, rather than on Sunday, so that I could focus on personal worship and being with my family, but it has always been very poorly received or completely side-eyed and denied. Sunday, it seems, is--rather than a day of rest--a day given to members to perform all of their religious, social duties.

Socializing is not bad and introverts enjoy socializing, mainly when their batteries are full and it's on a personal, no-nonsense, deep conversational level that is rarely reached in LDS religious group settings. In a religion with a compulsory social schedule and agenda, with heavy moral implications attached, introverts find themselves inching by and leaving meetings as soon as they end, sometimes feeling guilty or being questioned for it later. "We go even when we don't want to go" is what my mom often told me and my brothers when it came to church duties, and I wonder now if that was advice from an introvert to her replicated introverts as much as it was from a dutiful church member to her children.

In some ways, this focus on the social respects and speaks to the quiet intimacy of spiritual experience, allowing members to focus their time together on edifying one another in mind, spirit, heart, perception, and understanding. Some social aspects of the church are entirely redeeming: things are done by common consent, members serve as volunteers in different capacities, and members know they will have a ward family to support them no matter where they go. At a time, though, when psychologists believe extroversion and introversion are based in biology, culturally steering religious experience toward extroverts, rather than introverts, makes about as much sense as steering religious experiences more toward men than women.

Despite all of this, introverts can win in the ways that matter to them: by reading the lessons in advance and making personal reflection a precursor to meetings; by sharing powerful, personal insights as speakers or teachers; and, when needed, by working to find the spirit within the noise.

I arrived at college to an instant, geographically determined network of people I was supposed to automatically like, spend time with, support religiously, socially, and academically, as well as be around 24/7. It didn't take long to realize that religion and spirituality were different than what I thought they were, and the self-discovery and struggle that have followed have become invaluable to me.


Megan Nield Speer grew up in Hillsboro, Oregon, graduated in 2012 with a BA in English from Brigham Young University, and currently works for the university and as a freelance writer. Her current focuses include postmodernism, film, feminism, LDS culture, holistic living, and online outreach. She and her husband, Samuel, enjoy collaborating on artistic and social projects.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Getting My Artist On

Recently I decided to participate in a game of artist's telephone.  The event was hosted by an artist's troupe called "Satellite Collective" based in Michigan and New York City.  I'd never heard of them but I saw several friend's posting about the game on Facebook and decided to apply.  I was accepted and already had an idea for an artwork after I successfully pulled off our Family Christmas Photo.  I knew I wanted to do an image about The Fall using my Sister and her husband, exploring the dilemma in partaking of the fruit.  Sometimes I just have to get my artist on, you know?



When I got my assigned artwork that was to inspire my piece, I knew it would totally mesh with my Adam and Eve.  It was a poem by an artist from London about transcendence, personal journey, and obvious use of chiasmus:


I had a month to complete the artwork.  I spent most of the month taking a little time here and there to research and flesh out my ideas in order to communicate them.  You'll see influences of Mormon theology and cultural ideas, traditional Adam and Eve narratives, the Arnolfini Wedding, the Smithsonian George Washington Statue, and Ka Statues of Ancient Egypt.  I scheduled with my models (Sister and Brother-in-law) and photographer (my Dad).  I made lists of everything I would need to borrow or buy or collect to have in the photo.  I tried to plan out everything so the day of would go smoothly.  Art for me is a sort of problem to solve or puzzle to piece, and doing these sorts of photographs gives me a lot of satisfaction in completing and getting as close to what I have in my head as possible out in the physical world. 

Serendipitously, the lesson in Relief Society yesterday was on the fall and creation and the teacher shared this wonderful quote by Vida D. Scudder: "Creation is a better means of self-expression than possession; it is through creating, not possessing, that life is revealed."  My art and my religion have always gone very hand in hand.

It took most of the day, much like my Christmas photo, but I'm 91.7% happy with the results.  For a perfectionist, I think that's a good level of satisfaction.

I emailed the photo this morning, the day of the deadline, and the head curator emailed me back very happy with the results:

Dear Megan,

Wow! This is absolutely splendid! What a beautiful interpretation of the work that you were assigned and such a great translation of the message contained in the piece preceding your own. Bravo! Seriously, this kind of made me tear up a bit and I think you'll be blown away when you see the originating message (many messages before your own).

We'll be certain to keep you updated as Telephone continues to make progress but, for now, you have our very deepest gratitude for playing with us.


Highest regards to you,

Nathan Langston




The little artist teacher's pet inside of me was very, very happy.

Special thanks to my husband, my parents, and my models.  Here's my latest artwork, titled "Adam's Dilemma" and is an allegorical depiction of the moment after Eve decided and partook of the fruit, but before Adam did.

"Adam's Dilemma" by Megan Knobloch Geilman



"And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."  -- 2 Nephi 2:22-25





Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me: A Post on Motherhood and Perfectionism

Yesterday was my birthday.  28.  Wow.  I don't think I ever imagined being 28.  It leaves this year feeling vaguely open and mildly exhilarating.

This is also the first birthday where I am a mother.

I mean really, it doesn't get much better than that.

Now, I have been blessed with one of the sweetest, most well-tempered and easy babies I think in existence.  He takes his naps and (finally) sleeps through the night and eats with only a reasonable
amount of mess and smiles and plays and is healthy.  I love being a Mom.  Pretty much the greatest thing a parent can ask for is a healthy, happy baby. Having said all this, parenthood is it's own crazy, wild ride.  Children are largely unpredictable and irrational.  They are complex algorithms with ever changing variables.  They bring a greater range of emotion than previously known--there is so, so much more joy, but there is also the potential for so much more pain.  And you can't weight your options before you take the plunge--it is a leap of faith in the truest sense of the word.  I was trepidatious about the rigors of motherhood and becoming a mother myself because I also suffer from perfectionism.  I had always wanted to be a momma, but life's experiences had made me cautious.

Perfectionism is defined as "a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially : the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness."  A lot of people could blame my Mormon upbringing as to how I contracted this disease, or religion in general but I think it's just one aspect of the human condition: everyone has it to some degree.  Perfectionism isn't about competition, it's not about being better than someone else, it's about being the best you can be.  And sometimes that pressure can lead to depression or other neurotic behaviors.  If it was just Mormons or Christians who suffer from perfectionism, we wouldn't live in a world where there is a thing called Karoshi (the Japanese term for literally working yourself to death) or The Mommy Wars.  It's a symptom of the modern age, and if you ask my parents they will tell you I just came packaged this way.

My entire life I've felt like it was my job to save the world, and any attempts to either live fully to my personal expectations or just "fuggedaboutit" have left me gasping for air, for I am no Atlas (or Donnie Brasco for that matter).  Sometimes feeling like I'm carrying the weight of the world has led me down paths of great despair and depression, and much of my late teens and early twenties were marked with bouts of varying degrees with occasional interventions of medication and counseling.  The last five years have been a wonderful reprieve, feeling I've gotten a bit of a handle on things using a combination of Vitamin D and Jesus.  Also repeating early and often: "you can't do everything, but you can do something."  A dollar to this charity, a kind word to a friend, taking care of my baby: I try to focus on what I'm doing rather than what seems to be falling outside of my grasp.

I also met a man who shares a lot of my same world views which has allowed me to feel I can share the burden.  He too is quite a perfectionist and I wonder if it's not a genetic malady since I already see traces of it in our son.  We've also had a great amount of success in helping the other keep their perfectionism in check: sharing strategies, cheering each other on, and just talking through things.

Despite all this progression, becoming a mother has given me a combination of feeling a greater responsibility to make a better world for the next generation, and a fearlessness I have never known.  This combination, the internet, and my personal belief system has led me to recently think I have the audacity to actually make the world a better place.  Ether 12:4 in the Book of Mormon:

"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God."

There are days when I love my perfectionism--it's made me a better student, a better employee, a better wife and mother, a better artist, a better Mormon, and a better person.  Being a perfectionist gives you great satisfaction with getting things done.  All the world's great movers and shakers were perfectionists--who wouldn't want to rub shoulders with those folks?  And since I'm a generally happy person with a laid back attitude, you'll only begin to notice my perfectionism up close.  Unless you happen to catch me when I'm having a bad day, or a bad year.  I am sincerely grateful to my friends and family who have stuck by me despite my myriad quirks, emotionality, and sometimes overbearing passion.

But there are days when I just wish I could not care so much.  Perfectionism means never being satisfied with yourself.  Perfectionism can be debilitating and easily mistaken for laziness--I've collectively spent many hours just spaced out trying to solve my personal problems or issues of the world.  I forget things, I'm a self proclaimed space cadet.  It makes it hard to commit to things for fear that you won't be reliable or something will fall through the cracks.  Analysis Paralysis is my middle name, but I also thrive on organization.  

Perfectionism makes it easy to judge people who don't seem to be trying as hard at life as you are.  It takes a lot of effort to maintain a consistent personality so that I can make and keep friends (people don't like it when you step out of the box that they've put you in).  It's hard to speak my mind when I see two sides to every argument.  Note: Mitt wasn't a flip-flopper, he was a perfectionist (and a moderate) but that is another post for another day.  In my world everybody is right and everybody is wrong at the same time.  I can see how every action both helps and hurts.

Perfectionism can sometimes feel like noblesse oblige on steroids.  People think you're self righteous.  In a word, it's exhausting.  The only difference between a Perfectionist and a control freak is the former tries to do so without seeming, whilst always checking their intentions and outcomes.  Sometimes I feel I must be the only person who has 17 moral dilemmas before lunch time.  Some days it's hard to tell if being a perfectionist is an aspect of the natural man or my divine nature as a child of God.  In any case, I'd love to have just a day when I could not feel like I'm carrying an angry minotaur ready to jump out and devour my whole life.  A day when I just didn't care.  A day when I don't feel I have to manage something within myself.

If you deal with perfectionism, it's easy to see why people self-medicate.  It is also why I love watching TV.

So this year I decided for my birthday I was going to give myself a day off: a day free of actual or lingering guilt.  A "mental health day" that wasn't preceded by a breakdown.  A day free of the little voice of shame saying that I'm not enough: not doing enough, not being enough, not fixing enough.  A day where I don't worry about the rest of the world.  A day with just me and my little family.  A day where I didn't berate myself for not getting things done: the laundry (I wasn't even going to DO the laundry!), the dishes cleaned (I would leave them in the sink!), my church calling, my work, or feeling a responsibility to fix the problem of sex slavery in the United States.  I'll take on the rest of the world next week.

By eleven o'clock I gave up.  The energy it took to try and not think about those things was way more energy than I wanted to spend on what now seemed like a fruitless quest.  Not to mention it was stressing me out.

I decided to get out of the house.  Walking has been therapy for me for many years, but I left the stroller in the car and the car was with my husband at work.  There's a small park near my house I often take the baby to play in the grass and get some sunlight.  I grabbed the little guy and left my phone and computer (which kept pinging with Facebook birthday notifications--oh if only my high school self could see me now!) and worries behind.

The thing about your thoughts is that they are not so easily shed as a coat, or your keys, or your phone. A great quote is from Wallace Wattles, whose only legacy to the world might just be this quote, goes as follows: “There is no labor from which most people shrink as they do from that of sustained and consecutive thought. It is the hardest work in the world.”

As my worries and thoughts and stresses crept up I started to get frustrated.  I felt the feelings of despair creep from behind the curtain.  The thoughts that can easily drag me into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety.  I tried to focus on my son: his sweet chubby hands palming at the grass.  His cute marble eyes squinting when they flipped upwards.  His "hair feathers" blowing in the wind.  I let myself feel proud for letting him eat a leaf but not a cigarette butt.  I watched him pull himself to standing and then start let go: he is figuring out how to walk!  I felt that rush of joy only a parent knows in seeing your child accomplish something new.  He was standing!  I called out: You're standing!  You're standing!  You're learning to walk!  We exchanged proud smiles and then as quickly as it began it was over.  He plopped down and started crawling again.  But while my son seemed to instantly find satisfaction and distraction in eating leaves I grew frustrated: why can't I feel that joy all the time, whenever I just look at him?  Why does it take so much work to feel like I'm loving him?

And then my years of training myself to dispute my own thoughts kicked in:  because if you felt this way all the time you wouldn't appreciate it, it's a gift more than an accomplishment.  Don't get frustrated with yourself, look how far you've come.  And it's true: learning to manage my perfectionism has meant developing the ability to walk a mental tightrope: if I do too little with my time, I feel worthlessness.  Too much and I'm overwhelmed.  I'm doing better to walk by faith, and not by fear.  I continued to cajole myself: Do your best to relax, soak in the sun.

I moved over to the other side of my baby so that I could face that great fiery ball in the sky.  I lifted my face and closed my eyes to it's warmth and power, another strategy I've developed over the years to help me cope with life.  Face the Sun, I repeated to myself.  Face the Son.  Vitamin D and Jesus.

I thought about the Sun and the Son.  The Sun is fiery miasma of incandescent plasma with the power to kill us all if the atmosphere gets too thin.  They both give light and life to the whole world.  The Savior was perfect and complete, our redeemer and exemplar.  I'm fairly certain he was filled with a deep passion (THE passion) we can't even begin to fathom (although I don't think His rampage in the temple is quite the excuse for righteous indignation I've heard people cite too often).  He is the only person for whom we can honestly say, "He has done no wrong."  His sacrifice for me is pretty much the only reason I am able to get up and out of bed in the morning.  His is the only hope I have for any happiness in my life.

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10)

I too have this fire in me I can't seem to squelch.  Attempts to do so have led me easily and quickly to a melt-down and an inevitable "bad day."  On good days I figure I'm not supposed to root this out of my being--that it was given to me for a reason and I should use it for good.  I'm learning to embrace my perfectionism and channel it for betterment.  Over the years and through many, many experiences of trial and error I've gotten better at honing that fire into a blow torch full of utility rather than the destructive potential of a forest fire.  I'm slowly getting better.  I hope someday I can feel like it's not so much work to be happy, especially since I've been blessed with a truly fantastic life.  The guilt that so many in the world do not have the blessings and resources that I do is part of that daily, crushing burden.

Back at the park, I scoop up my son and wrap him in my arms.  As we turn to head back home and face the rest of the day I look up one final time.  Soaking up the last drops of optimism I can glean from it's rays, I think to myself: Yes, I am learning to walk too.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Update and Some Thoughts on Post-Correlation Mormonism

An update, and some thinking thoughts...

Since I started this blog my life has had a personal renaissance.  Not that I've been doing anything different or that anything major has changed, there has just been more and better of everything in my life.  The fruits have been good.  More than anything I feel I've had an immensely easier time of articulating myself...and for someone who has spent most of her life practicing her first language of "artist" this is mighty grand.  I know that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away and at any moment all of the good things in my life could be swept away and that trials will inevitably come into our little family as time marches on...but for the right here and right now, it feels like Zion.  Our own little acre flowing with milk and honey...and I am so, so grateful.

This has been nice because to me, it confirms that I did what God wanted me to do in writing the first post of this Blog.  Mormons are passionate, and Mormons are passionate about their doctrine and that first post messes with a lot of mainstream Mormon beliefs.  It flirts dangerously close to apostasy.  And if anyone has told me six months ago that I would do something that could potentially qualify me for church disciplinary action I would have laughed at their face.  I think sometimes God gets a laugh at letting His children eat their words sometimes.  That post was singularly the most difficult and socially disruptive thing God has ever asked of me.  Even talking about current events makes me nervous lest things get out of hand.

In this Church you are allowed to believe whatever you want, but you aren't allowed to preach whatever you want.  Doing so is heresy and is grounds for Church disciplinary action, which I take mighty seriously.  So when I go from saying and thinking that God won't ever ordain gay marriage to saying and believing that He could but NOT saying that He WILL and not saying WHAT new revelation would be on sexuality, I am walking a very straight and a very narrow path.  One little word can indeed make a big difference.

And I very well may have been deceived.  I'm completely and honestly and openly aware of that and both my husband and I have had experiences in the past where we have been deceived.  It can happen, and it can happen easily.  Pretty much at some point you learn that any and all learning in the Church can be the philosophies of men mingled with scripture.  Falling prey to deception hurts and it is no walk in the park but it does make you careful.  And I was mighty careful on that post and SO FAR all signs still point to God.  I've learned to check everything by the scriptures and the Spirit but at some point you still have to go on faith.  But I'm still careful--deception can be unsurprisingly...deceptive.

I was aware of all of this and realized the potential consequences of creating and posting that document and prayed fervently that if this was NOT what God wanted me to do, that he would please, please put a stop to it.  Free spirit, not rebel, remember.  I don't like contention, or debates, or stirring the pot.  I've always been passionate but I'm no revolutionary.  Not only did God not stop me, but I felt the most intense spiritual pressure to release that document into the world.  Writing it and publishing it was a very interesting spiritual experience that I will perhaps write about at a later time.  P.S.  I've added an addendum to the first post about Prop 8 and The Proclamation on the Family since I neglected to mention either when I first wrote it.  Blogs are great because they are a bit of a living document: I've been able to alter words or add a sentence when I feel it would reach closer to what exactly it is I'm trying to say.  For someone who has always struggled to articulate exactly what is in my head, this is nice (note: artist).

Anyway, since I've been able to reconcile these two huge, very at odds, sectors of my life and identified just one little thing that could change because we have a Prophet of God and believe in new revelation and that change could make a lot of people very, very happy I've felt so much more confident about myself and my beliefs.  And because I feel so confident about my beliefs I feel much more confident talking about my religion.  Not that I was unconfident before, I just feel like I can talk to ANYONE about Mormonism without any sort of side-stepping or diplomatic vocabulary.  And since I value authenticity above almost any other trait this makes me very happy.  And because I've put in way more than 10,000 hours being an active, seeking Mormon I feel fairly authorized to talk about Mormonism. (As a side note: in a perfect world the amount of time you spend BEING a Mormon would automatically translate into being a BETTER Mormon but sadly that isn't the case (at lease with me).  Hence why I have the utmost respect and admiration for converts--they will always, always have a special place in my heart.  And I believe in repentance as the 2nd principle of the Gospel.  Rant over.)

Anyway, because I published that first post in a very public forum on Facebook where I have a LOT of friends (a natural bi-product of being a friendly person and living a lot of places) and a lot of my friends are NOT Mormon I've had some opportunity lately to talk about my Church.  Turns out Mormons aren't the only ones who have been wrestling with the whole gay marriage issue with what the Bible says on homosexuality, go figure.  This also makes me happy because I'm passionate about missionary work and preaching the Gospel because I think the Gospel can make a bad life good and a good life better.  Gospel + Everybody = World Peace to Megan.  And I want world peace.

Cue hand waving and blowing kisses and the crowds going wild.

So, as I was talking with a friend the other day about Mormonism and about the post, I made the observation of how if (and that's a BIG if) God ordains gay marriage then Blacks and the Priesthood and Polygamy (along with a bunch of weird stuff in the Old Testament) would make complete sense.  It isn't that God is racist, or sexist, or homophobic--it's that we are.  This is a big deal because those two issues have been the red-headed step children of Mormonism for a long, long time.  They are only spoken about in hushed tones at appropriate times when no one who has a tender, growing testimony might be listening.  They have tested the faith of many.

I struggled with these two issues but they never made me doubt my testimony.  I just knew in my heart that God wasn't racist so Blacks not getting the Priesthood was something beyond my understanding for now.  Concerning polygamy I knew that God wouldn't make me do anything for eternity that wouldn't make me sublimely happy.  Ether 12:4: "Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God..." He will ask us to sacrifice many, many things--even for our whole lifetimes, but our eternal happiness is always the hope we have in Christ.  Always.  There is a lot of debate for Mormons if polygamy will be practiced in heaven.  Well, I don't know about the Lord asking ME to share my husband (the thought does not make me excited in the least) but if I believe in Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as Prophets of God and that Polygamy was a true practice, then there will be at least some people in heaven practicing polygamy.  In any case, I knew I could trust my Heavenly Father and I knew this Church made me a better person so I kept going.  I kept going until I have gained a sure testimony of all the core aspects of Mormonism.  There are a lot of things I don't know about, but the truthfulness of this Church and the bright hope of Jesus through following his living Gospel today are not one of them.  And as long as I keep doing the basics, I don't see my knowledge of those things changing.  And the great thing is the blessings keep coming!

What I realized later that day in talking with my friend was that I had been preaching the gospel--I talked about Prophets and Apostasy and Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Gospel happening because a little boy asked a single question: "Which Church should I join?"  AND I had been talking about really messy aspects of Mormonism that missionaries don't generally talk about (but that always come up after the excited investigator does a google search) and are in the news all. the. time.  I was always operating in a "milk before meat" (1 Corinthians 3:2) sort of understanding of missionary work up until now.  It seems basic logic that you don't want to lead out with our messy history, but I was in effect USING the messy parts TO preach the gospel.  It was so nice to realize I could preach the gospel and not have to hold anything back until someone was "ready" (which always made me feel uncomfortable as a missionary, since most of the people I taught were older and more experienced than me.)  And really, people appreciate when you're being real with them.  Could there be a world where missionaries didn't have to feel apologetic for our dirty laundry?  (Everybody knows it anyway).  Yes we didn't give blacks the Priesthood until 1978 and that was kind of racist of us.  Yes, we practiced and sort of still maybe believe in polygamy...let's move on to the important stuff!  In any case, all this was a bit of a mind bomb for this little stay-at-home Mom.

So, to me, that's some good news.  Now for the bad news and the other thing I realized in talking with my friend:  all the forces and influences that became the downfall of Judaism and Christianity are facing Mormonism right now.  I have every faith that we will pull through, but it's going to be a bit of a bumpy ride.  Anyone that's been paying any attention to Mormonism lately knows it has already been happening for a little bit.

Here's the rundown:

Some of the things that led previously true faiths into apostasy are as follows.

1) We are big.  And by big I mean getting too big to "handle."  Judaism was pretty small when Jesus came but was still a force to be reckoned with even though the Romans were in power.  Christianity got a little bit bigger before it started breaking apart.  Mormonism has grown big enough to have a moment named after it.  We will always be small in terms of human population but since the beginning, we have grown at an alarming rate.  What are we up to now?  15 million?  I'd like to know how many of that number are active but the point is there are a lot of us.  We are not fledgling, and we are still growing.  All this growth means that there is a lot of diversity within Mormonism, which brings me to my next point...

2) The emergence of factions.  At the time of Christ there were lots of different Jews: there were Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes and Essenes, etc.  Now there's like Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, and Messianic Jews just to name a few.  Christians had Catholics and Nazarenes and others and then the Reformation happened and now they have Evangelicals and 7th Day Adventists and First Baptist and Second Baptist and Methodist and Episcopalian and...you get the picture.  There used to just be Mormons.  There's been a couple break offs in the FLDS and RLDS (now Community of Christ) but for a long time that was it.  Now (and with the help of the internet) there are liberal Mormons and gay Mormons and conservative Mormons and feminist Mormons.  It's not the factions that are the problem as long as we all keep following the Prophet and believing in continuing revelation from God through Him at the end of the day while having charity and getting along with each other as much as humanly possible.  Which brings me to my next point:

3) People stopped believing in New Revelation.  It's such a simple concept but it will sneak up on you.  Humans like to get comfortable and on a primal level we don't like change.  We like to know what we know and we don't always want to know new things because it might mean we have to change what we've been doing or how we've been thinking or acting.  The Jews got really really mad when Jesus came and said they weren't doing things the right way.  Christians really don't like Mormon's having any scripture besides the Bible and saying we have a Prophet and that maybe God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost AREN'T all one person in some weird amalgamous spiritual protoplasmic thing.  Mormon women saying they want the Priesthood and that maybe that could happen and wearing pants to Church?  What??  I know, the possibility of change is a scary thing.



We aren't supposed to say what change IS going to happen but we certainly shouldn't try to stop others from saying what change COULD happen.  If you don't like it, don't listen.  But listen with the Spirit?  Maybe, you decide.  Getting angry?  Probably not good--remember those 2 great commandments?  It's okay, I've failed at those myself.  A lot-- but that's why we need Jesus!

Elder Holland in a talk titled: "Prophets, Seers, and Revelators" recounts the American history leading up to the Restoration with the words of Emerson: "...Emerson rocked the very foundations of New England ecclesiastical orthodoxy when he said to the Divinity School at Harvard: “It is my duty to say to you that the need was never greater [for] new revelation than now.” “The doctrine of inspiration is lost. … Miracles, prophecy, … the holy life, exist as ancient history [only]. … Men have come to speak of … revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. … It is the office of a true teacher,” he warned, “to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.” In essence, Mr. Emerson was saying, “If you persist in handing out stones when people ask for bread, they will eventually stop coming to the bakery.”  Fun fact: In this talk I learned that Roger Williams is Elder Holland's 10th Great Grandfather (if the Baptists only knew!!)

We need a Prophet and continuing revelation through them...and we HAVE a Prophet.  It is glorious news to know that Jesus Christ is still running His program through Prophets.  Now the bad news: this does not in any way negate our responsibility to confirm that what the Prophet is saying is true through God's Holy Spirit is in fact true...I'm here to inform you that finding and listening to the Prophet is only half the battle.

4) Prophecy.  Apostasy with previous dispensations was always prophesied.  See here for Jews and here for Christians.  Now part of prophecy is that we won't fall into apostasy again but it is also prophesied that in the last days men's hearts will grow cold (D&C 45:27).  With all these factions people are getting mighty opinionated and pretty angry.  Watch your feelings, watch your words, follow the Spirit.  I mean, the gift of the Holy Ghost was given to you after you were baptized for reason, right?  Use it.

5) A symptom of the last days.  As stated above, it is prophesied that God's true Church in the final dispensation will NOT fall into Apostasy--but that doesn't mean that Satan (yes, Satan is real) won't try to stop the work from progressing.  I am convinced that he will nip and bite and thrash and wail from every angle possible.  Essentially, this is not the time to be a lazy mormon.  But really, has there ever been a time when you can be a lazy Mormon?  I think of Pioneers and Pies and Priesthood duties and Primary and Polygamy and Preaching and Praying and Peculiarity and Purification and I think that there has never been a time when it's a good idea to be a lazy Mormon.  And then I think of Paul and Passover and Patmos and Pentecost and Potiphar and it has never been easy to be God's chosen people.  As Elder Eyring has said: "Great faith has a short shelf life."  The scriptures are chock full of ordinary people just doing what God tells them to do and people usually getting mad about it.  Okay, alliterary rant now over.

So what should we do?

Stay put.  Be faithful.  Don't leave the Church, don't break away.  We need you.  We have always needed you.  If you've left, please come back.  As Elder Uchtdorf beautifully said this last conference "there is room for you in this Church."  If you're looking for greater spirituality in your life, come join with us.

Keep doing the basics.  The three answers to any question that will get you through Primary are: come to Church, read your scriptures, and say your prayers.  Don't stop doing that.  Don't ever stop doing that.  Keep the faith and be a keeper of the faith.  Do your calling.  Do your home teaching and visiting teaching.  Like, really do them.

If you're having trouble with the basics, just stick with what you can do.  If you're feeling on top of things, ramp it up.  Work on really listening and applying the things you learn at Church.  Go to the temple or go to the temple more, do your family history work, work with the missionaries (I PROMISE they have something for you to do).  Pray to know how you should spend your time.  Work on your food storage, whatever--there is no finish line in Mormonism, even after death.  Mormonism is all about Progression.  Progression is happiness.  Fun fact: Mormonism = Happiness (in the long run).

Post Correlation Mormonism

I think we are entering into a new phase of Mormon history.  And I think the "I Am a Mormon" Campaign is a huge indicator of this era.  Mormonism is full of people just like you and me, Mormonism (and by default, the Gospel) is for everyone.

A lot of people point to the Pants to Church campaign as the beginning of the whole Mormon feminist thing but I see it stemming from the unexpected and incredible lowering of the age change for missionaries.  This was the beginning of active Mormon feminism for me.  New revelation is powerful.  I remember thinking about the age change for days and what it meant for sister missionaries and for the Church at large.  I remember reflecting on how I had given the reason of why God had girls go later was because he cared about women getting married.  I told this to so. many. people.  Do you think God cares any less about when his daughters get married or about marriage?  I don't.

I had created a hierarchy (if you had a choice you should choose marriage over a mission) in my mind and projected that on God.  Suddenly that hierarchy was gone.  What did that mean?  And if God is unchangeable, does that mean it possibly never existed?

It made me ponder every aspect of being a mormon woman in this Church--what have I assumed so long was what God wanted and it was just cultural ideas at the time?  It made me take ownership of my own faith.  I also had just gotten pregnant and was thinking a lot about how I wanted to teach my children, how I only wanted them to have truth and not have to deal with some of the false teachings that have hindered my own progression.

I remember around the same time that Randy Bott made some comments in a Washington Post article on race and the Priesthood and the Church immediately responded with a statement that was a totally new sentiment to me.  Grown up in the Church, went to Seminary, went to BYU, returned missionary me.  I had always been taught the folk doctrines about blacks and the priesthood and had gone along, half-believing them because that's what everyone said.  And here was my Church publicly stating that none of that was true?  Yay!  But what did that mean?  What other folk doctrines had I been carrying around?  Pregnant and perfectionist me wanted to know, because I care about my children knowing truth.  I care very much.  Since then the Church has published similar sentiments in the new edition of the scriptures and in a widely circulated article on the Church's website.  These are good things in my book.  Some people are upset or bitter that they didn't know about it or that the Church doesn't do more to change perceptions.  As much as I know the Church is run by mortals I also trust in their intentions 100 percent and know it's true.  It's the true Church.  Done.  No unhallowed (or hallowed I would add) hand will stop the work from progressing.  The work of God cannot be frustrated, only the work of men.  So if you're frustrated, figure out why, because I guarantee it's not from God.

And if you're ever feeling cynical about Mormonism, do something to change it.  Follow the Spirit, you may be surprised where it leads.  We are a Church that embraces innovative disruption and congregations are largely governed on a local level and have quite a bit of creative freedom.  This is what I mean when I say "Post-Correlation Mormonism."  Correlation was all about building a framework.  We needed that.  But now we have an opportunity to have infinite variety within the law.  This is how God works--did you know every snowflake is different but ALL of them, every single one conforms to the golden ratio?  Think about how many snowflakes there are--and each one of them are different.  DNA is a simple program that governs every living organism on this earth.  Think about how many different living organisms there are.  We are NOT that different from an elephant or a ape or a puddle of green goo.  Just a couple chromosomes, just a couple letters, just a couple enzymes different and your not a human anymore, you're a giraffe.  This Church asks of our obedience but we are still allowed our individual personalities.  Think about the following quotes:

The first one from Joseph Smith:

“A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”

And this one from C.S. Lewis:

"Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in."

and this one:

"To become new men means losing what we now call "ourselves." Out of ourselves, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to "have the mind of Christ" [1 Corinthians 2:16]. . . . The more we get what we now call "ourselves" out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become."

and this one:

"Our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and natural desires . . . . It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own."

and one of my favorites:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”


We need the framework, but we also need to improve our Church experience for ourselves and anyone investigating the Church and we have the Spirit, we have the opportunity to do that. The Spirit and revelation in our callings allow us infinite variety within the law.

We also need diversity.  Lack of diversity always leads to problems: just look at symptoms and results of incestual bloodlines or crop failure due to engineering or animal extinction when population numbers get too low to reproduce.  Then there's problems like group think and mob mentality.  Diversity is always important.

The days of the Mormon stereotype are over--today is the day you describe all the interesting unique things about yourself and then cap it off with: "And I'm a Mormon."  Today is the day we embrace everyone in our big eternal, Mormon hug.  So embrace your Mormonism.  Let it grow and flourish and spread it's wings. Think of your testimony as a leaky bucket always needing to be filled with living waters.  Go out into the world (or the world wide web) and speak it!  Shout it from the rooftops!  Always be nice and kind of course, but don't be afraid, and don't be ashamed.  Know it, live it, and by all means, please love it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dear Struggling Missionary

To anyone who has ever winced when hearing the words "The Best 2 Years."

Recently I was talking with a woman at Church about her son who is serving a stateside LDS mission.  He has been struggling and she explained a bit exasperatedly how "no one ever tells them how hard it really is!"  After I commiserated and described briefly some of the struggles on my own mission she asked if I wouldn't mind writing to him.  I agreed and later realized that other missionaries, returned missionaries, or friends or parents of either might benefit from my words and decided to turn it into a blog post.  It has taken 5 years to finally come to full and complete peace about my mission experience.  As I've leaned on the Savior I've been able to stumble onward, contemplating his great sacrifice and using my experience to help others along the way.  I can testify of the words of Elder Holland: "It is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive."  It is only since he gave that talk have I felt comfortable talking about my mission publicly.



Dear Struggling Missionary,

Mormon missions are seen as a seminal moment between youth and adulthood--a transition and a rite of passage, and rightly so.  The rigors of a mission alone can incur the phrase "they leave boys and they come home men."  But not all missions go as expected, and this can be an added burden to an already intense experience.  So, to those who may be struggling or did struggle, it is to you--my comrades in the gospel--that I address my remarks.

I know what you're thinking: How did I get here?  What is wrong with me?  How did this happen?

Nothing is wrong with you.  You are right where you are supposed to be, but I'll try to explain a bit how it happened.  I'll begin with a brief history of Missionary Work.

Once upon a time there was no missionary work as we now call it.  There was a time where there were no missionary badges, or ties, or skirts, or white handbooks.  God spoke to Prophets and they spoke to their families and that was about it.  The Priesthood was passed down through bloodlines from Father to Son through the Levitical order.  Fun fact: apparently this is still going on if you are a Jew and your last name happens to be Cohen.  Don't ask me any more on that, that's all I know.  I assume this is a big reason why it was important to marry in the covenant (see Deuteronomy 7:1-6).  Eventually you could be adopted into the House of Israel and the Priesthood was passed down through the laying on of hands, to be "called of God, as was Aaron" (see Hebrews 5:4). About the same time, Peter (the Prophet at the time) and the Apostles were commanded by Jesus to "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:18-19).  Missionary work had begun.

First stop: the Gentiles.  That was a major change from the way things had been done--the Jews were the chosen people, remember?  But kind of important if God is supposed to love ALL of his children and Jesus is a big part of that love (see John 3:16).  Luckily Peter got the message about going to the Gentiles and then things started to pick up, spreading the gospel to the surrounding regions.

At first it was just some guys in robes and sandals, repeating what Jesus had said and collecting followers along the way.  This created lots of little congregations all over the place who sometimes had their own ideas about how things should be run, hence why we have the 2nd half of the New Testament (mostly Paul writing to them trying to keep things in order). Eventually things kinda fell apart (don't worry, it was prophesied--see Isaiah 24:5, Amos 8:11-12, Matthew 24:4-14, Acts 20:28-30, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 14-15; 4:3-4) and the Apostles were all killed and the Priesthood was lost to the earth for a time.

Don't worry, this had happened before, that's why we have lots of different religions--without a Prophet, people start interpreting scripture in their own way...kind of chaotic, I know.  Nice people I'm sure but it's caused a lot of confusion over the years.  If you're an LDS missionary I'm guessing you already understand this, just wanted to elaborate for anyone else listening in.

Skip ahead to Joseph Smith.  New Prophet called.  Priesthood restored through heavenly messengers.  Missionary work back on!

The Lord starts sending out people alone or in pairs to go preach the gospel (see a bunch of sections in the Doctrine and Covenants).  At first they don't take money or script and traveled on foot like the New Testament missionaries but that probably only worked for a bit until people stopped being so nice to missionaries and cars and airplanes were invented.  117,456 (just a guesstimate here) revelations of differing significance later we have straight laced young men (and now lots of women!) in white shirts and ties with name tags and MTCs and area books and a whole (mostly) well-oiled machine of streamlined missionary work.  To study (or experience) the whole process is a fascinating endeavor.

Somewhere along the line (and this is not hard to figure out with most of the workforce being 19 year old hormonally charged boys living on their own for possibly the first time) there came mission rules.  Mission rules (aka "The White Handbook") are a product of Correlation--a period in the Church's history when things were organized in a business-like fashion so that it was ACTUALLY possible to bring the gospel to the ENTIRE world.  It's a big job and the best framework we had available was multi-national corporations.  God works with what he has: people--us bumbling mortals, this is not new.  Revelation is a complex process so out of any decision we can usually see how things are both divinely inspired but also based on man-made constructs.  Inspiration is based on information, we believe in things being organized from previous matter--not something from nothing.  This has no bearing on the divinity of the work.

Anyway, an unfortunate by-product of this is that there has to be a TON of rules.  There are rules that govern and dictate pretty much every aspect of your existence as a missionary.  This can get a wee bit stifling.  You have virtually no coping mechanisms available except the scriptures--which can sometimes be a good thing, but personally (and what I understand about agency) I think it's not the best way.  Right now our missionary program is sub-optimal.  As Elder Tom Perry iterated in the special conference, "Hastening the Work" that up until now we have been working hard, but now we need to work smart.  To me, this means the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental well being of our missionary work force.  To continue, an unfortunate by-product of so many rules and a culture which HEAVILY encourages obedience to said rules is sort of a Pre-New Testament existence.  Missions can very easily operate in a Mosaic law sort of sphere.

The Mosaic law or "lower law" was what the Lord had to give to the children of Israel in order to prepare them for Christ's coming. He wanted to give the higher law (see Exodus 32:19-20) but we just weren't ready for it.  Humans were barely ready for it when Christ came--a big reason they killed Jesus is because they didn't like what he was saying.  Anyway, the religious world up until the meridian of time was operating under this complex structure of rules and hierarchies that created a lot of different sects within Judaism--the Pharisees, the Sadducees, etc.  They had interpreted the words of the prophets in different ways and felt very strongly about what they had read.  The Pharisees were the ones that believed in being saved by the law--they had LOTS of rules: rules for sabbath day observance, rules for what you could and couldn't eat, rules for dealing with sinners.  Jesus came and spoke and taught and didn't seem to care what they thought about those rules.  He was a man of perfect principle.

This upset the Jews because they were very proud of how good they were at following the rules.  They were harsh on those that didn't seem to keep up with their righteousness, they could be cruel to them who didn't fit in with their way of thinking.  This can very, very easily happen on a mission.

When you leave on your mission EVERYONE has advice which they heap down on you in glorious abundance.  It can be overwhelming but generally people mean well.  One of my friends though, all she said was "don't judge your trainer."  She said it several times.  "Don't judge your trainer."  For some reason it stuck with me.

When I got out into the field I had a wonderful trainer whom I adored.  We were both artists and we bonded quickly, serving in a collection of small farm towns in Illinois.  She showed me the ropes: we knocked on doors, we planned every night, we called people, we taught lessons and asked people to keep commitments.  I was working hard and doing missionary work and loving it.  My trainer however had been out seven months and would sometimes get stomach aches.  We would have to stop our work and come home so she could rest.  This was hard.

I was a new greenie, an exuberant missionary who was a ball of impetuous energy with the most exciting message in the world to tell.  I was on "fire" as they say.  And we had to come home?  And do nothing?  I was patient but I struggled.  Every time I wanted to get frustrated with my trainer, whose stomach aches sometimes came at convenient times or they would magically clear up when something interesting was happening, I would remember the words of my friend: "Don't judge your trainer."  Even when we went to the Doctor and her tests would come back inconclusive on suggested maladies I decided out of sheer will to give her the benefit of the doubt.  To this day I never regret my decision--and I still choose to believe her (note: missions are hard, your body breaks down and there's not much room for rejuvenation, it happens).  The work never seemed to suffer and our companionship thrived in unity.  The words of Doctrine and Covenants 3:3 ring true: "Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men."

Fast forward several months and my mission reality as compared to the expectations I had when I came out were of vast difference and painted two, very different, pictures.

My expectation was filled with the stories of missionaries who had gone before: great spiritual strength and triumph, intense bonding with companions over helping the people of your mission (who you loved with all your heart) as they come to know their Savior more.  Wonderful testimony building and faith promoting and friendship making of the highest quality and caliber--stories to fill a lifetime.  I imagined coming home a better, stronger, more faithful, more graceful, and of course more marriageable me.  Going on my mission was an act of great sacrifice for me in all aspects and I had faith that the blessings would far outweigh the things I had to give up.  I was subverting my will for the will of the Lord and I humbly expected that great things would come of it, as they had in times before.  They have (oh boy they have), but not in the way I expected.

The only trials I expected as a missionary were those of tough companions (every one has a story of a hard companion), moments of defeat when an investigator doesn't keep their commitments, and the rigors of mission life:  strange food, homesickness, and hard work.  I had had some bouts of insomnia and a single case of depression before I left but both I felt had been cleared up and had faith that the Lord would carry me through if things turned out otherwise.

The first few months of my mission fit this script and nothing got me down.  I forged onward, I made errors along the way, but my missionary heart burned with a fervor I had never felt in my life.  I was willing to spread the gospel as much as possible, without regard to other people (truly a mistake), come hell or high water.  Well, hell and high water did come and I have learned, to say the least, a lot.

About halfway through my mission the picture my mission reality painted was thus:  I was a tired, stressed out, maxed out, sick, over weight and depressed missionary.  For all intents and purposes I should have gone home.  I had major insomnia problems (I would go DAYS without sleeping), I was on medication and seeing a counselor for severe seasonal depression, and my diet was all out of sorts since historically the mid-west is not known for it's healthy eating habits and I was at the mercy of members for meals.  I never felt "on top of things" with P-day being the only day available to take care of personal matters, and there were little to no coping mechanisms available: I couldn't call my mom, I couldn't go to the movies, I couldn't read a book or watch TV or even go for a run or a walk by myself just to clear my head.  I understood why all these rules were in place and I respected them and had I not been a missionary there wouldn't be issue, but as they say I was "not in Kansas anymore."  I was a missionary and I wanted ever so badly to be a good one.

Also, within a 2 week period at around the middle of my mission I had four, you could even say a series of, unfortunate events happen.  I found out in a most shocking and unexpected way during an interview that my mission president thought I was being rebellious during the entire first half of my mission, citing things I had said or done completely out of context or had not even happened.  My dear companion (it seems the only thing that didn't go wrong on my mission was thankfully, the quality of my companions) was being transferred.  I had been suffering from and attempting to treat maladies for the past 8 months on an embarrassing part of my body which now required surgery.  And my most dear investigator, a sweet and sincere older woman who lived alone and also suffered from depression, had committed suicide.  I was devastated to say the least.  Oh and the family threatened to blame us legally since we were the only ones visiting her on a regular basis and talked to her about her deceased husband, whom she missed greatly.  Thankfully, no charges were filed.

To make matters worse I was in a mission that suffered from serious issues with gossip.  To this day (despite many hours worth of rumination) I have wondered where it started, where it went wrong, and what I could have done to prevent it--but I somehow got a reputation for being a "bad missionary."  A rebel, an apostate, a rule-breaker.  Now to be clear, I am most definitely a free spirit, but I am no rebel.  This girl is and has always been "a teacher's pet" even and often to a fault.  I never skipped curfew or snuck out or broke rules.  I got good grades and read books and went to summer school to get ahead.  I was "a good girl" as they say.  So to be branded as anything else was a completely new experience and one that I was completely unprepared for, especially within my dear community of Mormonism.  And to illustrate the extent of this branding I once overheard a Stake leader visiting our ward say to his counselor: "She doesn't look like a troublemaker."

The thing about people having a certain idea about you is that even if you try to correct it, it will only affirm what they have already decided.  The more I tried to correct people's assumptions about me the more it was seen as a defensive strategy.  It was frustrating and hard to say the least and to this day I have to work very hard at not caring what I think others are thinking about me and use the Spirit and people I trust as my metric for life.  Throughout the ordeal and the five years after I returned from my mission I've had to fight the feelings of bitterness and resentment that can come through painful experiences where people did not act the way they should have (myself included).  I fight those feelings no more.  I don't know if it's that I've slowly and finally gained perspective or that I'm just better equipped to only care what God thinks of my actions.  Regardless, I feel that now my job is to use my experience to help other's who may have struggled or are currently struggling within my community.

In the midst of my struggles I turned to the scriptures since that's where I had been taught (and was teaching others) to find answers. I was searching for knowledge on how to be a more obedient (and by mission logic a more effective) missionary. I went to the New Testament since we are raised with the understanding that part of Christ's mission was to be our greatest exemplar in a addition to His Atoning sacrifice. What I found was unexpected but not unsurprising: Jesus was a rebel. He was completely obedient to the Godhood (Luke 2:49 and John 5:19) but didn't give a lick if anyone thought he was somehow acting contrary.

The mosaic law was meant as a way to point people towards the Savior, simply because it was impossible to follow all the commandments all the time.  Mission rules, I argue, should be viewed the same way.  They should be seen as important to follow, but as much as they are preached to be followed, we should always add important messages about the Atonement. As Paul said: "for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Corinthians 3:6).

During those dark hours at the meridian of my mission I was humbled enough to get a blessing from one of my Zone Leaders.  A blessing is a Mormon practice where a Priesthood holder lays his hands on your head and speaks words of inspiration from God.  They can be faith filled experiences where the man pronouncing the blessing says things that are only known to you and God or a healing miracle is performed.  I have had many spiritual experiences with blessings.  In that blessing I needed to know from God if I was supposed to go home, if these trials beyond the normal rigors of missionary work were meant to humble me into another path God had for me, if it was simply my pride that was keeping me on my mission.  I don't remember the exact words of the blessing but in it He said that I was to stay on my mission.  I knew in my heart it was true.

Somehow, and I am convinced it was only in and through the grace of God, I was able to continue working as a missionary--doing my personal and companion studies, getting out the door, knocking on the doors of others, planning and teaching lessons, counting numbers, and strengthening the members.  I don't think a single day of the rest of my mission I looked or acted like a tip-top missionary and a single moment when I didn't feel like I was living up to my potential, but I kept working.  Did I always (or ever) actually get up at 6:30am and do my exercises and get ready on time to do my studies at the appointed time?  No.  But I kept working.  Did I spend all day teaching a ton of well-planned, well-executed lessons and share testimony whenever possible?  No.  But I kept working.  Was I rewarded with lots of baptisms?  No.  But I kept working.  Did I come to truly love the people of my mission?  Mostly, but not perfectly.  But despite my shortcomings and regardless of wanting dearly to be doing anything other than traditional missionary work in that whole 2nd half of my mission, I kept working.  Was everything fine and dandy when I got home and blessings were instantly rained down upon my head?  No.  But I kept working.  Did I get married and live happily ever after within 6 months of getting home?  No.  But I kept working.  I am still working.

Now you may ask yourself, especially if you're not a Mormon or person of conviction, why I decided to believe that blessing.  It is because I truly and sincerely know the Church is true.  I know Joseph Smith was and is a Prophet of God.  I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being lead by Jesus Christ.  It is His Church on the earth today.  The Bible and the Book of Mormon are the word of God.  I know God loves all of His children.  I know the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement have the ability to change lives.  These are non-negotiables in my book.  And whenever I have sided with my testimony, or the things I know to be true, things have always worked out for the better.  Always.

I shared briefly the travails of my mission simply to let you know that as much as I know the Church is true, I know that missions are hard.  I also know that missions are harder for those who are struggling.  And I know that missions are even harder still for those who are struggling who many people believe are struggling because of disobedience or unfaithfulness on their part.  And since I know this, to all who may do anything to hinder the work of a missionary, whether member or missionary or otherwise, I say with all the love of Elder Uchtdorf: "Stop it."

We need to trust that our missionaries are doing the best they can.  We need to all help keep mission rules (and I would add commandments) in proper perspective.  And perhaps most importantly, we need to trust that Missionaries need the Atonement as much as the rest of us.  May the work continue forward and fill the whole earth, every nook and cranny of as many hearts willing to listen to our message.

God speed Elders and Sisters.



Sincerely,

Sister Knobloch


Here are some suggestions if you or someone you know is struggling on a mission or if you just want to be a better missionary or missionary helper yourself.

- Acknowledge the pain and the hardship.  Don't swipe it away or see them (or yourself) as weak.  This situation leads easily to despair and doubt about abilities.  And please don't say "forget yourself and go to work" unless you know the entire story behind that quote and the letter it came from.  It is a much more encouraging tale than simply the above statement.  Just because I'm at peace about my mission experience, does not mean I do not still bear physical and emotional scars from the experience.  Someone trying to trivialize my experience does not make those scars easier to bear.

- Missionaries--make sure you really are doing the best you can (and seek feedback from the Lord) and try to be patient with those who are helping you.  Listen and obey the Spirit.  Pace yourself, you're running a marathon not sprinting a lap.  An 18-24 month marathon with no vacation or holidays.

- Forgive, forgive, forgive.  In my missionary scriptures I had written in one of the beginning blank pages the phrase: "Should I not spare Ninevah?"  This comes from the story of Jonah and the Whale.  We all hear about the whale part of the story but that's it.  Jonah is a powerful story about repentance and forgiveness.  As a struggling missionary you may feel like Jonah--a young person sent on a mission by God to preach repentance and God's message.  At any time your investigators or the members or other missionaries may seem to (or actually) be thwarting you in that effort.  Jonah was sent to preach to the people of Ninevah but the people are wicked and refuse to listen.  He runs away, has the ordeal with the whale, and then is humbled but doesn't completely repent: he doesn't want to forgive and preach to the people of Ninevah.  The people had repented and were ready to listen but Jonah was angry and bitter and didn't want to continue on his journey.  In the 4th chapter of Jonah, the young prophet is sitting angrily on a hill overlooking the city, waiting and expecting God to destroy it--perhaps in some epic Noah-like fashion.  When the Lord refuses to comply, Jonah is angry with God.  The Lord then uses a gourd to illustrate his love to Jonah for all his creations and then with the what I imagine the love only a (heavenly) father could muster, God says "And should I not spare Ninevah?"  (Jonah 4:11).  That phrase helped me remember that just as I hoped to receive forgiveness of my mistakes as a missionary and as a human, I needed to grant that to everyone else I came in contact with.  At times this was, and still is, a difficult endeavor--but it is well worth it.

- Companions and fellow missionaries.  Be patient and have faith that the Lord's work will not be stopped.  I came out expecting to have hard companions and ended up being the hard companion.  No one wants to be a burden.  Listen closely and remember ALL the words of that great missionary section, Doctrine and Covenants 4: "And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patiencebrotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence." (Verses 5 and 6).  Do your best darndest not to judge, I promise you won't regret it.

- A return to principle based missionary work.  Joseph Smith, when asked why his followers were so obedient said: "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."  If we don't start allowing our missionaries more freedom to govern themselves they won't learn self mastery on the mission or in the hereafter.  They will struggle, they will falter but we must let them work it out.  I'm happy to say that the New Youth Program does a better job of teaching empowerment and accountability than the one I was raised in.  Our missionary program needs to be revamped to teach this as well.

- Keep working (even if and when you go home). I echo Elder Holland's words: "Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have occasion to ask, Why is this so hard? Why doesn’t it go better? Why can’t our success be more rapid? Why aren’t there more people joining the Church? It is the truth. We believe in angels. We trust in miracles. Why don’t people just flock to the font? Why isn’t the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?  You will have occasion to ask those questions. I have thought about this a great deal. I offer this as my personal feeling. I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience."

- Non Mormons:  You don't have to listen to their message, but please be nice to missionaries.  They are out in the world doing something they believe in and at best deserve respect and kindness.  At worst they deserve being politely ignored.  I would suggest though if you are looking for more spirituality in life, give listening to the message and the missionaries a try...it might just change your life.

- Members: it is not your job to make sure the missionaries are doing their job.  It is your job to be a missionary yourself.  If you have time to see how missionaries are less than stellar than you are obviously lacking faith and failing at missionary work yourself.  I am still so grateful to many members on my mission who were patient, charitable, and kind to me.

- Familiarize yourself with The Purple Heart RMs project.  It is a much needed project on awareness of struggling missionaries.  Even though I didn't come home early, I participated in the initial survey because my experiences qualified me and I believed I had something to offer.

- Leaders:  Do a better job of preparing missionaries by encouraging members to share ALL the experiences of their missions, not just the funny or faith-promoting.  I remember clinging to the half-hinted words and strings of somethings from returned missionaries who dared to mention just how hard the work is so that I could tell myself it wasn't just me.  I do my best to share what I feel would help, even if it's gruesome or could be heard as critical and will usually add sincerely my testimony: "but I'm glad I did it.  I'm glad I'm home but I am still glad I served a mission."

-  Mission Presidents:  If a missionary is truly struggling, even if it looks like outright rebellion, there is probably an underlying reason.  The more I study about sin the more I see that sinfulness is more about the intents of the heart than anything else.  Perceived (or actual) sinfulness, I argue, is often a symptom of something else.  Identify and address the symptom (even if it is actually transgression) and you will likely resolve the struggle or rebellion. In Elder Packer's words: "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel."