Author: Rachel Whipple

Why I’m glad Heavenly Mother is as yet uncorrelated

There is something creative about getting to know God: to recognize the infinite attributes of God and to express that ineffability in testimony and story, art and song. Sometimes, one person’s vision of God becomes codified, set in stone as the truth for all people. It may be a beautiful, profound view of God, one that answers the yearning of the time. But God is greater than even the most perceptive one’s capacity to behold, much less fully communicate. Man’s best description of God is still a description of man, not of God. And so I am glad that we haven’t been told as much about our Heavenly Mother as our Heavenly Father. (Honestly, I expect we know much less about Him than we assume we know, and that assumption, sadly, may hinder some from deeper seeking.) We are not limited in seeking Her, the feminine divine, by constraints set out by the visions of men. She is the dark…

Reproaching Jesus

It was the women who loved him who were willing to reproach him. First it was his mother: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48-54). She did not understand his actions, this little twelve-year old son of hers. And he didn’t seem to understand her distress. Was he preoccupied in his work, his private calling? Was he unaware of how his actions would make her feel, as emotionally obtuse as only a confident child can be? There was no apology, but his words certainly gave his mother something to think about. The text says he “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” I have to assume that along the way, he also increased in compassion. Later (John 11) he sounded so casual, talking about his friend Lazarus sleeping, that the disciples thought Lazarus was just snoozing. “No, no,” he corrected, “Lazarus is dead, and…

Forced Testimony

And so we have a tension: the imperative to share our testimony, and by so testifying to reinforce and strengthen it, opposed to the need to keep our most sacred knowledge untarnished and protected from the cheapness of overexposure.

Lenten Mormon

I’ve been observing Lent for a few years now. And every year I run into consternation from other latter day Saints. Every year I’m told “Mormons don’t observe Lent.”Last year I reflected on this at the end of Lent. I fast as a Mormon, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take advantage of the period of Lent. I pray as a Mormon, do the scripture reading and contemplative thinking that we class as meditation, but I also practice yoga for its meditative and mind-clearing effects as well as the physical benefits. I actively seek out good faith practices developed by other traditions and use them to strengthen my own lived faith. “… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or…

Fragile Sundays

It was one of those fragile, vulnerable Sundays again. I’m like that sometimes, going through church shaking like a leaf, on the edge of my composure. It’s a kind of weakness, to always be close to tears, like to be overcome at any moment. I’m not sure why some Sundays hit me that way. Perhaps I haven’t eaten enough. Or I may be experiencing some hormonal fluctuation. Or perhaps the expectation of the day is too much for me. I need to go, to work, to be spiritually uplifted, to edify others. I need to do my paperwork, contribute thoughtful comments to class discussions, to sing in a clear voice, and take the sacrament in a meaningful manner. The day of rest is a day of a different kind of work. I’ve spent the entire week living the gospel as best as I can. But when I meet at church with my fellow saints, the cognitive dissonance rears up. I…

BSA: Morally Straight

The decision may come today. Will the Boy Scouts of America allow gay leaders and youth to participate in their program? I have gay relatives, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Some of them are great. Some I love. Some I’d rather not spend much time with because I find them annoying. After all, they are real people, just like my hetero relatives, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, some of whom are great, loveable and/or annoying. Although not a scout as a child, I am part of BSA now. I even have a uniform to wear. And I desperately want to share the privilege and responsibilities of that uniform with any who desire to serve and give their time and energy to help these kids grow into strong, capable people. So I say, change “morally straight” to “morally true” and move on.   Update: The decision has been put off until May.

My missionary moment

Our stake president has challenged all members of our stake to have a “missionary moment” this year. I never served a mission and I don’t like doing overtly missionary-type activities. But his challenge did bring to mind one of the most important missionary experiences I have ever had. It was more than a decade ago. I was a young housewife living in one of the graduate and family student housing complexes at UCSD while my husband was doing his graduate work. I had a toddler and I was expecting our second baby. One day a couple of strangers knocked on our door. One man had a well-worn Bible, and both were carrying copies of the Watchtower. “Do you believe in the Bible?” he asked. “Have you read it?” I had a hard time answering. It had been a long time since I abandoned a literal belief in the Bible, which seemed to be the only way he would conceive of…

Tracy McKay fMh Scholarship

Our sisters and brothers in the bloggernacle have turned their virtual relationship into doing tangible good for those in need. Yesterday, Lisa at fMH announced the Tracy McKay fMh Scholarship. I remember last year when Tracy’s ward financial assistance was cut and the immediate action by her fellow bloggers to raise enough money to get her through her last semester. fMh is working on an endowment to make the scholarship permanent and contributions tax-deductible. (Last year, we just gave money because it was needed, it was the right thing to do, and that mattered more than a tax deduction.) In the meantime, any single Mormons mothers who are in need of financial assistance may apply for this year’s scholarship. For complete information, check out the post at fMH.  

How a concussion made me think of Stephenie Meyer and Francis Hutcheson

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Last semester, my first semester studying Greek, I sustained a mild concussion. I have mostly recovered now. I still have problems with bright lights that makes nighttime driving intolerable, but for the most part, I’m functioning normally. But for a few weeks there, I couldn’t think straight. It hurt to concentrate. Reading even a light novel was difficult, and translating Greek was nigh impossible. Just looking at Greek letters caused me pain. But my handwriting was spectacular. Any notes I took about lectures I attended during that time are the most clearly written, beautifully precise notes I have ever taken. Sketching was fine too, so the concentration required to look and draw was painlessly available to me. It was strange to experience this involuntary shift in my capacities. I tend to think that what I think, how I think, is what I am. But if my cognitive functions are subject to physical manipulations, some of which are outside of my…

Resolved:

I generally hate New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because experience has taught me that I will fail to carry through. I don’t like failing. It seems that we usually pick for resolutions something about which we are conflicted. The resolution may be about losing weight, which is the conflict of habit and genetics against a health or aesthetic ideal. Or it may be about exercising, or getting enough sleep, or devoting time for personal scripture study and meditation, or it may be about losing weight. Most Mormons are able to avoid the common resolutions about drinking and smoking less, but we still want to spend more time with our families, get out of debt, and volunteer more. But this year, in a moment of inspiration, I hit upon a resolution for this year, one that I believe I can actually keep. Here’s the rub though: I can’t tell you what it is. This isn’t like blowing out the candles on your…

A Prayer of Sorrow and Hope

On this day, on every day, let us mourn with those who mourn. For our hearts are broken, and all the sorrow and pain and suffering of the world has fallen in the shattered shells of ourselves. Let us take us these fragile broken pieces and lay them on Thine altar. Let us make our broken hearts an offering unto Thee. O, God, we hurt. O God, let us find some comfort, some peace, in doing Thy work, in mourning with those who mourn, and comforting those who stand in need of comfort. Lord, forgive us our sins, on this day, on every day.

School Prayer

I’m not a fan of public prayers in public places other than churches. It makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Some of this may be my contrarian reaction to prayers in classes at BYU and to the often earnest but uncomfortable prayers offered up before dramatic performances. I don’t suppose visiting theatrical companies mind much; it goes with the venue. But I feel for the students who pray these prayers, whether they are a jumble of stock phrases or an earnest, but incoherent mush of sentiments that are slightly inappropriate for the situation at hand. As an adult, I can experience different forms of worship and find inspiration. I can see common elements that speak to our shared faith, and I can enjoy the way a different emphasis can let me see the familiar with new eyes. And while I find pluralism comforting as an adult, it’s not always a viable worldview for children. As a child, I was…

Every Sunday

Our Sunday of recovery from food poisoning was delightful because it was a one time surprise. But missing a couple of Sundays with our new ward family only made me feel less inclined to get back in the saddle.

Still Outside

As a Mormon, I’m saddened that Mitt Romney lost his bid for the presidency. He tried so hard, for so long, but just couldn’t quite pull it off. I have many friends, neighbors and relatives who have fasted and prayed for Romney, and I am sure they are hurt and disappointed. We don’t have a Mormon president now. But I honestly think that’s just as well. Part of our cultural narrative is that we are outsiders. We converted to the truth and were rejected by everyone else less spiritually enlightened. We were driven out of the United States and built our own kingdom of God in Deseret under Brigham Young. We were comfortable in the state of mutual rejection. We became used to being despised and rejected, even making it a point of pride, a sign of our sacrifice and commitment to the truth. But cold comfort of being the exclusive excluded wears thin, especially in face of the temptation…

Halloween!

I really enjoy Halloween. I’ve always liked dressing up and making costumes. Over the years, I’ve learned that the trick to costumes is not complete accuracy, but suggestion. Like a good suspense movie, an audience needs only to be directed. Then they create the full costume in their minds. So my pioneer costume, which I only wear in July, is a regular dress, late 90s cut, but paired with a bonnet and apron that I whipped up out of scrap fabric and a shawl, and it is surprisingly convincing. Pumpkin carving, too, is another ‘less is more’ type of enterprise. Although there are examples of truly spectacular and detailed carving, the classic jack-o-lantern is simple with easily carved triangle eyes. And that very simplicity is both effective and evocative of all Halloween. Right now, the best part of Halloween is trick-or-treating. We have grade-school aged children. I don’t care so much about the candy (they may disagree). We don’t go…

Performative Religion

To throw another idea in the faith vs. works debate: “Faith is not equivalent to belief or certainty. Faith has more to do with commitment. Faith is fidelity.” Times and Seasons is a place that respects the faith of Latter-day Saints. As someone who often struggles with the faith of belief, I cling to the faith of fidelity. I want to keep the faith in this church that I love. Some things I don’t know, and some I only hope to believe, but I am committed by covenant and the strength of my faith to act as though the teachings and doctrines of the Church are true.   My thanks to Paul Toscano and David Allred for the excellent articulation of faith as fidelity that they shared at the recent Counterpoint Conference. It’s a concept I’d been struggling to articulate for some time.  

Book of Mormon Comics

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I love stories. A narrative strikes me as the most fundamental way of ideas with other people. And by ideas, I mean not only the bare events of the narrative, but also abstract concepts, morals, and emotional truths. It makes sense to me that our basic scriptural texts have strong narratives. The Old Testament is a collection of stories, with the consequences of one generation’s choices setting the stage for the actions of the next. The Book of Mormon also has very strong narratives. Other classic stories that we are familiar with, we feel free to reimagine. We update fairy tales, retell myths in modern settings. Even the stories of Genesis are recognized as archetypes that we re-present and reinterpret. But too often Mormons tend to shy away from this type of creative engagement with the text and narratives of the Book of Mormon, perhaps from a kind of self-censorship that fears corrupting in some way the most true book…

If she wants to…

Women can go on missions, if they want to.  Now that they can go at 19, some will go who may not have wanted it quite enough to wait until they turned 21. But it is still not the same as for men, who have a clear expectation and strong social pressure to serve missions sometime after they turn 18. Girls in the church hit this idea, “they can do it if they want to” quite often. Starting at age 8, when American boys enter the officially sanctioned Church version of Cub Scouts, the segregation begins. The boys meet weekly, with a well-developed program and the mandatory 2-deep leadership to do projects, play games and earn little trinkets of awards. The girls are given the Activity Days program, sometimes called Achievement Days, where they meet twice a month with a generally much lower ratio of adults to children. They are not given a well developed program with a full curriculum…

Forget Caffeine: Where’s the Ironport?

The recent hubbub on BYU’s campus about the selling of caffeinated drinks misses the mark. Sure, there is some demand for caffeine; this is a college campus. It’s not about the flavor. It’s about sleeping too little and needing a boost to remain conscious through early morning or afternoon classes. (Is there any class harder to stay awake through than the one after lunch when they turn down the lights and start showing slides?) Or it’s about living up to your personal standards, which may or may not align with those of other Honor Code compliant students, faculty, and staff. (I almost wrote Honor Code complaint; that is clearly not the purpose of this post.) As for it being too difficult for BYU food services to change the syrups and labels on their on tap offerings, or stocking a different selection of beverages in their machines, to that I say pfui. That can’t be harder than stocking caffeine-free diet Mountain…

Caught

I’ve been reading news stories about people dealing with addiction and depression, people who have committed secret transgressions that finally broke out of their control and caused public ruin and shame for the sufferers and their families. There is so much pain and heartbreak, both for those innocents who must bear the consequences and for the troubled secret-keeper. Which is worse? To learn that the one you love has kept their struggle and pain secret from you, or to be the one striving, but failing, to make it right so you don’t hurt those you love? One of the most fundamental of human needs is to be known, recognized, accepted, loved. But this runs up against our need to hold part of ourselves secret and the ultimate unknowability of others. Occasionally my spouse of fourteen years and I still surprise each other with revelations, some pleasant (my husband is good at karoke, really?!?) and some more uncomfortable (my blogging has…

Prudence, Altruism, and Curses

Prudence requires that we recognize the reality of times other than the present, specifically, future times. Altruism requires that we recognize the reality of people other than ourselves. Prudence allows us to delay gratification for our own future benefit. We budget, we plan ahead, we save for a rainy day. Altruism allows us to do things unselfishly, for the good of others. If you accept Thomas Nagel’s structuralist case for altruism, you recognize that there is rational justification for doing good for others that is not dependent on ulterior motives. We are able to help others, even if it doesn’t make us feel good or benefit us in any way. Altruism runs the gamut from small things like holding a door open for someone or large ones, like risking our lives to save another from danger. If we combine these two characteristics, we will find ourselves able to delay immediate personal gratification or even make sacrifices for the benefit of future…

How do we say goodbye?

How do we say goodbye to those who choose to leave the Church? We who stay are torn, pulled on the one hand by our faith and hope for salvation, ours and theirs, and on the other hand by respect for their agency and personal revelation. Do we feel better about people who make a clean break and have their names removed from the rolls of the Church or do we worry that they have renounced saving ordinances? Do we compare them favorably or unfavorably to those who take a more passive aggressive approach, the ones who drop out of activity and refuse to commit to living the gospel as we think it ought to be lived? The question has a sacred component–the matter of ordinances–and a mundane component–dealing with the numbers in the church: home and visiting teaching statistics and attendance percentages [fn1]. Somewhere in there money and labor enter the equation as well, in the form of lost…

Object Lessons!

I am pretty much exhausted by the discussion of modesty and chastity in both LDS and feminist circles. This is unfortunate timing because my daughter has not yet started in Young Women’s, so I know we’ll be subjected to several more years of these lessons in the near future. Instead of dreading these earnest discussions with their carefully planned object lessons, I’ve decided to prepare for them. I don’t want my daughter to be discouraged and shamed because as normal teenager she feels she is not as perfect as a fresh rosebud or as chocolately as a warm brownie (or whatever it is a girl is supposed to be in the brownie modesty analogy) or is an apple clinging tightly to the most inaccessible branch of the tree. The next time I’m in a YW object lesson that involves passing around a rose or brownie and having everyone manhandle it and then asking who wants it now, I want to…

Not a Legitimate Rape

I’ve been listening to the radio this morning about the Republican Party platform and abortion and rape. I’ve never had an abortion; thankfully I’ve never been in a situation where that seemed like a viable option. I am thankful that the Church handbook allows for abortion, but even there the wording is “forcible rape or incest” [fn1]. And apparently Representative and would-be Senator Akin meant to say “forcible rape” rather than the terribly unfortunate “legitimate rape.” But what does “forcible” mean in terms of rape? That a woman or girl [fn2] is held down and raped against her vain struggles? That she is forced to comply on imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm? That she is threatened overtly or implicitly with harm to herself or her family if she does not comply with the rapist’s demands? Does a woman have to fight back? How firmly must she say “NO” for any subsequent action to be considered a rape?…

The Rifts of Rime

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Finally, a book by Steve Peck that I can read with my children! At first my husband thought that would be A Short Stay in Hell; it is only 70 pages, but I had to disabuse him of that notion. As much as children enjoy thinking about infinity (How can anything go on forever? But if there is a limit, what is on the other side?), I thought the main character was brutally murdered far too many times to be appropriate bedtime reading material for small children. And I would like to save that little volume for them to read later on, as adults, when they can be well and truly terrified by that particular contemplation of the afterlife. And The Scholar of Moab would be a bit tricky to read aloud. I think too much of the novel would pass over their heads. As much as they would like the story of Hyrum Thayne stealing the dictionary from the…

Changes

We talk about our Heavenly Father loving us, and our leaders say they love us, but sometimes it feels like they mean “us” in general, and not “me” in particular. We are told that almost any righteous man and woman can have a successful marriage if they are both committed, if both of them have enough faith to do everything right. [fn1] The particulars of the individuals, the quirks and preferences that make up our personalities, don’t much matter. And many couples in contented arranged marriages can testify to the viability of this idea. In the same way, any given community of saints within any arbitrarily drawn ward boundary has the potential to foster Zion within it. We don’t choose our wards, not really. We serve and worship where we are assigned. We learn to love each other in our particularity as we serve together through years. We are not just numbers, we are fellow saints who struggle and celebrate…