Sunday, December 21, 2014

Raising My Daughter in the Church


My daughter just turned two. She has irrevocably changed our family. Like most parents, we want nothing but the best for our children, but we have some concerns about raising our daughter in the Church.

I have been told that questions are good; there is nothing wrong with asking sincere, heartfelt questions. So I have some I’d like to address.  They are as follows:

1. Heavenly Mother

Where is She? Why don’t we know anything about Her? Why don’t we talk about Her? I don’t believe that the motive to “protect Her” is sufficient. Our Father is a product of His glory, so shouldn’t that be the same of our Mother? Her absence makes it difficult for women to have an eventual destination to aspire to. If we are to become Gods and Goddesses through deification, men have a very clear example of what they will become. Women do not. Her presence in gospel rhetoric would give women a better trajectory. Some say that women will become Gods too and should just follow the example of our Father. If that’s the case, why are the practices and policies in our churches and temples different for men and women? If women are to follow the example of a male deity, shouldn’t we be given the same tools as men, i.e. the Priesthood? The Church puts a very strong emphasis on gender and I don’t think that will dissipate when we die or become Gods. If we are to keep our gender, it would be beneficial to have a prominent Heavenly Mother that women can relate to. Why is She absent when Her role as Spirit Mother is essential to all life?

Might I suggest including our Heavenly Mother in lesson manuals, rhetoric, art, music, and dialogue. Even the lyrics of our Primary song could easily be adapted from “Heavenly Father” to “Heavenly Parents” or “He” to “They”. For example, “I am a child of God, and They have sent me here…Teach me all that I must do to live with Them some day.” This could introduce children to a collective, unified mind set of the female being an equitable part of their parentage. Might I suggest more depictions of Her in gospel artwork so from an early age people can have a visual representation of Her divinity? I think it would be appropriate to broaden our understanding of God as more than a singular male figure. As Erastus Snow (LDS Apostle, 1849-1888) avowed: “If I believe anything God has ever said about himself…I must believe that deity consists of man and woman.” (Historical Teaching About Mother in Heaven, 79)

2. Women in the Scriptures

Where are women in the scriptures? Raising children? Cooking? Cleaning? Scriptures are a male dominated text and I would love to hear more stories of women. What were their lives like? How can I learn from their examples and be more like them? If child-rearing, cooking, cleaning, and caretaking (historically women’s responsibilities) are as equally important as the tasks of prophesying, providing, and protecting (historically men’s duties), why are they not mentioned equitably in the scriptures? How are women supposed to relate to the scriptures when they are so neglected in our ancient texts? What is my daughter supposed to learn about her divine role when it is underrepresented in scripture? That she is a supportive character in stories where men are protagonists? How is she expected to continue to emerse herself in literature that is written in the male superlative? Or are her duties simply not worth mentioning or appreciated equitably?

Might I suggest putting more emphasis on the few female characters written in the scriptures? There are some lovely women in the Bible that are sorely underrepresented. It could also be valuable to not put so much emphasis on gender when discussing scriptural archetypes. If women were granted the same tools as men it would be far easier for them to relate the scriptures to their lives. Without the Priesthood, many women encounter great difficulty infusing themselves in a male dominated text.

3. Pornography and Sex


Why would Elder Oaks make this comment to vulnerable teenage girls who are already struggling with their self-worth and body image? For the sake of helping boys control their sexual impulses? Why are we not more concerned about how this affects the youth’s sexual identity and self-esteem?

It is extremely damaging for young women to hear these things, because they can begin to think, “Pornography is bad. Pornography is sexually attractive. My body is sexually attractive. My body is pornography. Therefore my body is bad.” Men and women are often sexually attracted to each other for the procreation of our species. Why is sexuality demonized when it is an essential and beautiful part of our human experience?

Please don’t mistake this as me advocating pornography. I don’t like pornography and it contributes to body shaming. But the emphasis placed on shaming the youth into a behavioral change is damaging our children. How am I supposed to teach my daughter to love her body and sexuality when her religion is sending her mixed and often negative messages concerning the female form?

Might I suggest a more rational approach to pornography that is not emphasized from a male perspective? Pornography is damaging to all genders so it seems fitting to address them equitably. I think it’s important for individuals to forge a positive sexual identity with themselves before they learn to control themselves—not the reverse. Might I suggest explaining the harmful biological and psychological effects to constant exposure to pornography so we can put less emphasis on attaining perfectionism or covering up women’s bodies? I believe this could help the youth learn how to better govern themselves into adulthood without so much fear, guilt, and shame. This could also help with overall sexual satisfaction in their future relationships.

4. Modesty

Too often I hear “girls should dress modestly so boys don’t have bad thoughts”. People need to govern their own bodies and thoughts and girls should not be held responsible for others’ actions and thoughts—even implicitly.  Another common approach is “modest is the hottest”, which is even worse. Again, this implies that women should be dressing for sexual appeal—dressing attractively, but not too sexy. Shouldn’t women be dressing for themselves and not for others? I understand this is cultural, however, how am I supposed to send my daughter into Young Women when this is what she’s hearing about her clothing, body, and gender? Why does there seem to be so much fear surrounding women’s bodies?

Might I suggest physical modesty being taught as an aesthetic that should exemplify a discipleship of Christ with a motive and love and respect for one’s self? It could also be effective to broaden our understanding of modesty to include humility in regards to our actions, manners, and aesthetics, not simply hemlines and clothing that needs to be micromanaged by authority figures.

5. Polygamy

I can’t even begin to address the complex and sometimes horrible nature of polygamy. I thought I had made amends with the practice, but when the Church released the latest Polygamy essays it rekindled my past negative feelings when it tried to defend the questionable actions of Joseph Smith. Why must the Church continue to subdue the voices of the wives of Joseph Smith? Did they not give up their lives for the Church too? Did their work not matter? If a women’s work of child-rearing and housekeeping is so important than why not acknowledge their history as wives of the Prophet? These women gave up more to the Church than I could possibly imagine. Why aren’t they mentioned in our correlated lesson manuals? They also righteously exercised the Priesthood in capacities (ie healing blessings, maternal blessings) that are refused to women today, why? Why is the policy different now? I know I would have greatly benefitted from hearing their personal narratives. Must we really ignore the women’s stories because Joseph Smith was less than honest with Emma? My heart aches for these women who lived and died for their religion then got brushed aside because of the controversial nature of their marriages. Some of these women were amazing feminists working to secure the vote with the support of their husbands. Shouldn’t my daughter hear their stories, too?

Might I suggest including their authentic narratives in our lesson manuals so we can all be educated and inspired by their stories? All genders could benefit from researching and contextualizing the practice of polygamy in relation to Church history. There’s no need to fear the consequences of admitting Joseph Smith was an imperfect human being—all of us are. Being imperfect doesn’t mean he’s not a prophet. It means he’s human. There’s no need to create an illusion of perfectionism when our humanity is as equally compelling and beautiful.

6. Inequitable Sealing Practices

Men may be sealed to multiple women. Women can only be sealed to one while living. Why is this policy still in place? This sends a strong and haunting message to women and I’m not sure how I am supposed to explain this to my daughter. This sends a strong message to women concerning the afterlife. Why would Joseph sanction polyandry and polygyny, but then the Church has seen fit to take polyandry away from women?

Might I suggest a simple change in policy that could allow all loving, committed couples to be sealed in the temple?

7. Disciplinary Councils

Why aren’t women a part of the council? When disciplining a woman, especially for sexual sins, shouldn’t there be another woman in the room who could offer a valuable perspective on the situation? Even if a man is counseled for adultery, the court will interview/question his wife. Shouldn’t a female authority figure be present to share a diverse perspective and be a part of the decision process? Wouldn’t her insight be valuable? Also, when discussing sexual sins with teenage girls isn’t it strange that she is discussing it with her bishop, an older man?

Might I suggest having a Relief Society President included in disciplinary councils? It could also be helpful to have the Young Women President be granted permission to discuss sexual matters with the young women and only notify the Bishop when necessary. Or if women were granted the Priesthood, women could naturally be incorporated into the process.

8. Family Proclamation and Gender Roles

Why does the proclamation so beautifully state, “…fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” but contradicts itself when also stating, “by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families”? How is presiding over her equitable? What is this saying to my daughter?

Why is the Church so focused on putting men and women into predetermined gender roles? Are we not capable of governing our families ourselves? Isn’t the purpose to unite families, not put them into restrictive silos? How am I supposed to tell my daughter to follow her dreams and reach for the stars, but then put limitations on her capabilities? Can’t she choose to be a scientist, doctor, firefighter, dancer, baker, mother, artist, or any combination of occupations? Why isn’t there a stronger emphasis on the role of fatherhood? Shouldn’t men be held to the same parental expectations as women?

Might I suggest supporting families regardless of their structure? Family dynamics are unique, just as every person is. Instead of promoting a correlated family structure, why not take a universalist approach to supporting all families in their endeavors to create a loving and caring environment regardless of their structure, governances, or dynamics?

9. Diversity

How do I teach my daughter to be respectful of other races when their presence in leadership positions is so limited? Diversity is an effective and beautiful way we can learn and grow from each other. As a white woman, I can only imagine the layers of oppression my sisters of color have experienced. I cannot even begin to understand what they have endured by studying racist Church practices and policies. I don’t have all the answers, but how can I show my daughter limitless potential for all races and genders when the far majority of Church leadership is white men? Shouldn’t we embrace and celebrate our diversity even into the highest governances of Mormonism so we can better ourselves from within our organization? I’d love for my daughter to grow up hearing more from these strong, capable women and men.

Might I suggest a continued and rigorous effort to include various races and ethnicities into all forms of Church leadership? Integration is beautiful and essential to our development, after all, are we not a global church?

10. Preservation of the Family

The central focus of the family is one of the aspects of Mormonism that I love most. However, there is very little diversity in the portrayal of families. Families come in all shapes, sizes, races, and orientations. How can I teach her about unconditional love and compassion when many of our loved ones are still rejected on account of their sexual orientation and diverse family relationships? Isn’t the rejection of loving, committed homosexual relationships just another form of gender discrimination? Shouldn’t we embrace all loving and committed families? I would love for my daughter to be accepted by her religion despite her family’s dynamics. Shouldn’t unconditional love be at the center of the family?

Might I suggest a continued effort in the acceptance of our LGBT+ brothers and sisters? Even in my short lifetime I have seen progress within the Church, but there is still more that should be done. We have a wonderful opportunity to exemplify an all consuming love for humanity just as Jesus Christ did. I support and accept all my brothers and sisters in their loving commitments to the family unit; after all, shouldn’t we put all families first?

11. Women and the Priesthood

The Brethren have counseled members to be self-reliant, yet refuse to give women the tools to do it. Women’s access to the Priesthood is limited in ways that are not for men. Women cannot exercise the Priesthood authority like men based completely on gender. How am I supposed to teach my sons to righteously desire to hold the Priesthood and in the same breath tell my daughter her desire for the Priesthood is apostasy? Shouldn’t she want to serve equally with her brothers and father? Shouldn’t she want to baptize, bless, and serve with Priesthood authority? Isn’t her love and devotion for her religion equitable to her brothers? Why is her desire to serve God and religion, like her brothers, so unrighteous? Why make unnecessary enemies when we share a common goal to bring more souls unto the body of Christ?

Might I suggest a continued earnest endeavor on prayerfully evaluating the value and benefits of granting the Priesthood authority to women? There are so many women ready and willing to bless people in the name of God. Why resist giving women the Priesthood when we could be working together and rejoicing in our love and devotion to building up the Kingdom of God on Earth. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful sight to behold?

If the Brethren are listening, I genuinely want to raise my daughter in the Church and preserve the traditions of her ancestry, but these are the questions that keep me up at night.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Names

(A Light Descended, by Jon Adams)

I had a positive experience in the temple that has stayed with me over the years and even if I never return to the temple again I imagine I will never forget it.

In 2009, my husband and I made an earnest effort to attend the temple on a regular basis. We went at least once a month, if not more, for the entire year. This was substantial for us considering we had a young child and the closest temple was an hour away.

I don’t know why this particular session seemed different than all the others, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman I was standing proxy for. I imagined what her life was like being a woman in England the late 1800’s. Did she have a happy life? Did she ever feel oppressed? What kind of trials did she face? During the session I looked down at the small pink card in my hand unable to focus on anything but her.

Her name was fixed in my mind. Was her last name her father’s or her husband’s? Did she have a good father like mine? Did she marry a kind man like my husband? Did they love her and treat her well? What last name did her children bear, because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t hers? Our names and identification are dictated by the men in our lives. Did she have anything in her life that was actually hers? Did she have an identity beyond the men and children in her life?

I felt connected to this woman. I sympathized with her, or perhaps that day sitting in the temple she was the one sympathizing with me. Her first name was the only thing I knew about her that was actually hers, and it saddened me to think that it died with her. She deserved more than that.

She had such a lovely name, Elizabeth.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Windy Days

(Painting by Josephine Wall, Breath of Gaia)

I love windy days. They remind me to have faith in the beauty of things I can’t see. Though the wind is intangible I can feel it all around me, and though I can’t see it I can see continual evidence of its presence. I believe the same is true of God.

The wind can easily be explained using a basic knowledge of temperature, geography and air pressure, but that wasn’t always the case. There was once a time in history when stories, mythologies and theories arose trying to explain the mystical force of wind. Today, with modern science, the numinous nature of the wind has subsided, but it hasn’t taken away its beauty. Is the wind any more or less real because our understanding of it has changed? Is the wind still not governed by the same laws of physics even though our explanations are more sophisticated?

I don’t think we are much different than our ancestors. We still use mythologies, theories, religion and a narrow understanding of science to explain what we don’t know. We scramble around trying to make sense of our world and quickly come to definitive conclusions based on our imperfect data. Why do we pretend to “know” science or God when our knowledge of both is so incomplete?

Perhaps there will be a time when religion catches up to science, or rather science catches up with God. Maybe there will be a time when we could live in a post-theist and postsecular world, and our understanding of all things mystical, spiritual, secular, and scientific will seamlessly merge into a single comprehensive understanding of our existence.

I don’t “know” when or if that day will occur, but for now, I choose faith—faith in all the things I do not know, but bring joy and beauty to my life. I have faith in science, religion, history, theories, technology, mythology, ideas, the future and God.

I won’t pretend to know what I clearly do not, but I won’t lose faith in what I hope to know either.

*Published at The Transfigurist on Saturday July 11, 2015 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Work of God

(Painting by Karen Woods, 02)

I love my father. He’s a good man.

One of my most favorite memories with him took place during a windstorm. I was about 13 years old. The media called it one of the worst storms of the decade.

We went to church on Sunday, but there was no power, just dark hallways lit by dim emergency lights. Hardly anyone was there. As members trickled into the dark chapel the bishopric announced church was canceled and that they needed able-bodied men and young men to help with disaster relief. They were instructed to go home and change, get their shovels and chainsaws, and report to designated areas.

My father, having no sons, took me and my older sister home to change. I remember complaining in the car about how my sister and I, technically, weren’t required to go, but he insisted that were we equally capable of using a shovel.

We drove on the side of the road to avoid the flooded highway. There was mud and debris all around the shoreline of the swollen river as we crossed the bridge. There was a huge pine tree uprooted lying on its side in the river. Homes were damaged and people were suffering. The raining had finally stopped but there was a lot of work to be done.

We shoveled. I remember shoveling knee deep in mud until my back and hands hurt. I wore my dad’s yellow leather work gloves that were drastically oversized compared to my small hands, but I was still grateful I had them. I knew my sister and I couldn’t physically do all that my father did. His loads always seemed twice as big as ours, but I knew that my service was seen equally to God as we shoveled side-by-side.

There were many people working together, mostly men, but that didn’t matter. We were a part of something far greater. We transcended our gender, age, positions, titles, callings, and differences to become equal human beings shoveling mud.

It was beautiful. It was the work of God.

Today, there is still work to be done. We have many strong, intelligent, capable, sincere, and worthy women, yet our gender excludes us from the power and authority to serve equally with men.

I am told my desire to serve like my father is unrighteous and improper. I am told to raise my sons with an earnest desire to righteously exercise the Priesthood and then in the same breath tell my daughter that those desires for her are blasphemy.

It’s disheartening to put so much faith into a religion that puts so little faith in me.

I hold on to that day of shoveling mud with my father, because it gives me hope. I am grateful he gave me a shovel. I imagine the beauty of that single day could be outshone by the glorious vista of all God’s children working together, with equal authority, as partners, without inhibition, and with complete compassion and immersive love of humanity.

Perhaps I’m too optimistic or imaginative, but I choose to continue to stand by my husband while he shovels mud until my church sees fit to hand me a shovel, too.

*
Published at Feminist Mormon Housewives on Monday, May 18, 2015

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Soldiers' Wives

In our mid-twenties my husband, Drew, and I lived near a military base. Our ward was predominately composed of army families. We were but a minor fraction of the membership that was not associated with the military.

Drew served as Elders Quorum President for the majority of our time there, roughly 3 years. He was then called to be the Ward Executive Secretary for just under a year until we moved. I served in the Young Women’s Presidency up until I was pregnant with our second son, and then served in the Primary.

The husbands of the military families were strong, hard working, faithful men. Certainly not perfect, but good men nonetheless. They were gone quite frequently for days, months, or even years at a time due to their military obligations. There was a heavy wave of deployment during our time there and many men left for the Middle East. Some returned broken, and a few did not return at all. In their absence, many women and children were left behind to fill the rows of pews in the chapel.

There were so many women and children and so few Priesthood holders that the weight of the various Priesthood responsibilities fell onto the backs of a select group of men that offered stability to the ward membership. Drew was among them. Over the four years we served there, I watched my husband work rigorously, tirelessly serving in three or four Priesthood callings at a time. Home teaching was extremely time-consuming as he visited up to 8 families a month—most of them husbandless or having severe family issues relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There was also a rampant amount of pornography addictions that needed to be addressed as pornography and sexual violence seemed prevalent in the military. As Elder’s Quorum President, Drew was responsible for maintaining a Priesthood relationship with the fathers and husbands that were deployed overseas, while still tending to the Priesthood needs of the soldiers wives and children that were left behind.

I remember one night in particular he received an urgent phone call to help a returned soldier and his family who was having a dangerous outburst of PTSD. Drew offered countless blessings of comfort and many hours of love and devotion, but there was only so much he could do. He is only one man.

I had the honor of serving with some of the most strong, valiant, faithful women I had ever met. Their devotion to their faith and husbands was unwavering as they brought their children to church alone each Sunday, some of whom struggled greatly with depression or mourning the loss of their husband. Every Sunday it was the same story: loyal, worthy women unable to serve in Priesthood positions, men (my husband included) worked raw with the weight of multiple Priesthood callings, and me, powerless to serve equivalently with my husband when there was so much more I could give.

This was not the first time I had observed a group of worthy, capable women left the in the wake of an imperfect system. We were all worthy with the same common goal, but powerless to execute due to gender policies.

We have been counseled repeatedly to practice self-reliance and yet the soldiers’ wives were not given the necessary tools to be self-reliant in our church.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

He is Science


Preston: Mom, why does ice float?

Me: Honey, eat your lunch, please. Floating is about buoyancy and density. I have a Bill Nye video about it if you want to watch it after lunch? But you have to eat your lunch, ok?

Preston: Yeah, let’s do that. (pause) Mom, where is God in the universe?

Me: You know, I really don’t know.

Preston: Does Bill Nye know? Does he have a video about where God is?

Me: No, buddy. He doesn’t have videos about God and religion. Just science.

Preston: But Mom, God is science. His mind is science.

Me: So if God is science, is that why you love science so much?

Preston: Yes, because God created everything. Even science, because He IS science. Well, they’re not congruent, but they are very, very similar. It’s because God exists that we exist. Nothing would exist without God, even anti-matter.

Me: But if God created everything how did he do it?

Preston: Well, I’m not exactly sure, but God created all the matter in the universe and the universe created us…so I guess that’s how he did it. Pure energy can make particles too so I think he did it that way also. (pause) Mom, what’s beyond the universe? Is that where God lives?

Me: Honestly, I don’t know, but I’d like to learn more about it.

Preston: Mom, what’s after the universe? You know, there’s our solar system, our galaxy and our universe…what’s after that?

Me: Well, maybe the cosmos just extend out to forever and never end.

Preston: That’s impossible in my mind.

Me: Yeah, trying to imagine infinity is a really tricky thing to do.

Preston: No. It’s impossible. You told me the universe is UNIMAGINABLY big. And if the cosmos go on forever then I can’t imagine it. It’s unimaginable in my mind. It’s impossible.

Me: I see what you mean. I didn’t mean “unimaginably” literally, I just meant it’s really, really big. Maybe after lunch would you and I could learn more about the universe together.

Preston: Maybe I could use some math to make an equation to figure out what’s beyond the cosmos…easy-peasy.

Me: Sounds good. Can you at least finish your lunch first?

Preston: Yep! I’m almost done.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I Am a Feminist


I’m a feminist. And some may think it’s extremely, but when it comes down to it, gender equality isn’t such a crazy notion after all.

I think sometimes within our faith, particularly as women, we can mistake silence for peace—being submissive in order to be non-confrontational. I have been a victim of this mentality from time to time and thought that if I didn’t agree with everything that was said on Sunday then it was better to be quietly agreeable in my seat (or even worse, that something was wrong with me).

About two years ago, I came to the conclusion that a black &white, dogmatic approach to my religion would consume me. There were too many unanswered questions about my religion, its origins and temple practices that couldn’t be explained away as I sat there silently in a pew each Sunday. I was faithful, yet unsatisfied. I served, yet incomplete. After the birth of our daughter I was forever changed. I wanted something better for her—something I didn’t have—gender equality.

I decided to try something new. I spoke. I questioned. I engaged. I researched. I challenged. I prayed. I studied. The more I did the more I came to realize I was a woman whom God had given a voice, talents, and intelligence. God wanted me to speak and ask questions. God also gave me the gift of personal revelation, divine inspiration to guide me in my search for truth. Questions are the building blocks of a greater testimony, and the more questions I asked the more knowledge I attained.

Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and y shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”

So I knocked.

Have all my questions been answer? No. Am I satisfied with all the practices, policies, and doctrines of my religion? No. Do I feel completely satisfied with my role dictated by my gender as a woman? No.

But I am hopeful. I am progressing. And though my religion moves at a glacial pace toward gender equality, I am taking each day in faith believing that even at times when my religion fails me, God will not fail me.

As a fellow woman of the LDS faith I invite you to use your voice. Engage regularly in dialog, research, pray and meditation about your questions and ideas. Confront them with strength and transparency even though it may leave you vulnerable. Never be afraid to ask “WHY?” I know that your voice is equally important. Your opinions are warranted. Your needs should be addressed. Your ideas not only matter, THEY ARE ESSENTIAL!

This Church is founded, built and upheld upon the backs of strong, faithful, amazing women! I am one of them and so are you. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hello


Blaire Ostler is one of the leading voices on the intersections of Mormonism, feminism, and transhumanism. As CEO and board member of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, she presents and writes on many forums, and speaks at conferences promoting Mormon Transhumanist ideals. Blaire holds a BFA in Design from the International Academy of Design and Technology-Seattle. She is pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in philosophy with an emphasis in gender studies. She is passionate about esthetics, religion, human sexuality, queer theory, social philosophy, and art. She and husband Drew reside in Utah with their three children.