Author: Rachel Whipple

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…

A Song of Embodiment

Anything I’m able to think is because of everything I feel. And everything I feel is this wonderful embodiment, this solid physicality. Everything begins as physical sensations that are then co-opted, abstracted, and re-appropriated by the mind. Love in the abstract began as a warm feeling of security and comfort and a belly full of milk. It grows into trust and affection. From our instinctive feelings of approval and disapprobation we develop judgment, ethics, and morality. Everything we call virtuous began with some action that met our approval, that felt good, was beautiful or useful to ourselves or others and thus became codified by our society as morally worthy. [fn1] Our emotions are derived from our bodies and emotions drive our decisions and our actions. Reason is only used to justify ourselves after the fact. So how could we make any decision before embodiment? Before we felt, how could we know? We are here for an embodied experience: to feel,…

O Pioneer! Book Review of Villages on Wheels

Kimball__Villages

The 4th of July is a week of intense patriotic celebration in Provo.  Freedom Festival is the biggest party of the year here. People go all out with block parties, fireworks, parades, races, and art contests. We end the week exhausted. As a relative newcomer to Utah Valley, I’ve wondered why is Independence Day is such a big deal here. It turns out that Provo is simply upholding pioneer tradition: “Both Mormons and American travelers commemorated July 4th with elaborate patriotic observances. They generally stated at daybreak with gun and cannon salutes, and continued with cheers, speeches, toasts, feasts, parades, dancing, and drinking whatever spirits were available” (Kimball 82). As we come up on the 24th, it is the perfect time to return to a few books about pioneers. My favorite has for years has been Wallace Stegner’s The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail (1964), which I never have in my home because my copy is…

The Threat of New Order Mormons

I’ve been struggling to articulate to myself the difficulties that true blue Mormons have with new order Mormons. I’m not satisfied with what I’ve been able to come up with, and I hope you will be able to help me work through this. The struggles of Mormons going through a faith transition to become new order Mormons or ex-Mormons is well documented within the bloggernacle. Through online communities they are able to find support and understanding that they may even be afraid to ask for in their families and congregations. My concern in this post is the true blue Mormon. Are new order Mormons justified in being hesitant to come out to them? While some saints will be welcoming and loving of all people who want to be affiliated with the church in any capacity, I think a great deal of regular saints feel threatened by new order Mormons, and as a result have less than charitable reactions. I can…

Gendered Unity

Every ward or branch I’ve lived as an adult has struggled with the dilemma of how to increase a sense of unity among the Relief Society sisters. In some places, demographics have dictated a natural split between the transient (a few months to a few years) young college and graduate age students, wives, and mothers and those who live in the ward on a more permanent basis: more established families, families with grown children, and retirees. We’ve also lived in a branch split by language differences in which about half of the members spoke English as a native language, about half spoke some form of Spanish, and a few spoke other languages like Portuguese and Tagalog. In all cases, there was an obligation felt by the Relief Society presidencies to increase unity among the sisters. We tried planning enrichment meetings that would encourage cross-generational and cross-cultural interaction. Some things, like potluck dinners with recipe exchanges worked pretty well. But we…

Church Centers: Multi-use Buildings?

Yes, we were a poster family for our YMCA.

When we lived in La Jolla, the kids and I were members of the La Jolla YMCA. There was a child care center that would watch my little preschoolers for a couple of hours while I exercised and showered. I worked with a trainer and learned to use machines and free weights. I took aerobics, tai chi, yoga and pilates classes. My kids took swim, dance and gymnastics lessons. They went to preschool. I volunteered at the preschool, got trained and taught kids and adult yoga classes, and helped in the annual fundraising efforts that provided reduced membership and class fees for low income families like ours. That Y was great because there was a true sense of community. The early morning aerobics class had a core group of women who had been working out together for 20 years. On Thursday afternoons, the ballet class parents held a potluck dinner in the courtyard, while the children danced and played. We…

O My Father

“My father, thou art the guide of my youth” (Jeremiah 3:4). We turn to him for guidance, for help and counsel as we age and learn our own fallibilities. It is Father’s Day. Today, we recognize the important role that men play in loving and caring for children. Too often, I get caught up on a few words in the Proclamation on the Family and the idea that “fathers are to preside over their families.” It sounds distancing to me; that the father is somehow uninvolved in the day to day work of family and home life; he is, at best, a benevolent administrator. It makes me think of my paternal grandfather’s generation, who were not allowed to be in the hospital at the birth of their children, who were shaped by the culture of their time to not be overly affectionate; to be the authority figure in the home. There was no “My daddy is my fav’rite pal” type…

In Memoriam

I spend the morning with my children at the cemetery. The high school band played, the mayor placed a wreath at the war memorial, and servicemen, including a veteran of Pearl Harbor, spoke to us. We bought red paper poppies to pin to our shirts. We didn’t talk about Memorial Day in sacrament meeting yesterday. The only mention was that the scouts would be placing flags on lawns. It seems that we should want to remember and honor those who have fought and fallen in our worship services. How many times in the Book of Mormon are the people exhorted to remember and always retain a remembrance of the the faith of their forefathers and the mercies God has shown to them? I am not a huge fan of the war chapters of the Book of Mormon; I’m not terribly interested in battles and strategy in general. But I do love the passion of Captain Moroni and his bold and…

Post-structuralist Mormon?

I played with deconstruction a little bit this semester. It probably wasn’t a good idea; I didn’t feel I had a firm grasp on Derrida; his ideas squirmed away from me like slippery little fish. But it seemed like so much fun, like such a powerful tool; how could I resist? It was like fire beckoning, or the primitive call to throw rocks off a cliff, or the closed box full of some unknown something. It was seductive to be sure; that didn’t stop it from being a bad idea. One paper I wrote shortly after attempting to read Derrida was about conversion and the binary between internal and external reasons. Internal reasons are one for which an agent has something in his or her subjective motivational set, some desire or inclination, that gives him or her motivation to act. An external reason has no such component in the agent’s subjective motivational set, so while the agent may recognize the…

The Same 10 Families

With the exception of student wards, every ward or branch I’ve attended seems to rely on a few families to fill all of the major callings. We’ll call them “the same ten families.” In our Long Island branch, there were about six families that carried the load. The branch president was married to the young women’s president. The young men’s president was married to the Relief Society president. The Elder’s quorum president was married to the primary president. We weren’t president level material there: my husband was a counselor in the young men’s presidency and the gospel doctrine teacher while I was a Relief Society counselor. Even so, we were exhausted by church and looked forward to moving away just to get a break on Sundays. (It was hard to leave, and we still miss the people of our branch.) So we moved to Provo. We thought that here, in the middle of happy valley, we would be extraneous and…

Lent

Rock Canyon

We are now in Holy Week, and Lent is ending. I’ve been fasting. It’s nothing onerous; just giving up sweets and meats. I’m not a huge fan of penance and self-flagellation, but to be honest, I probably eat too much of both categories for both my conscience and my health. But even if a little guilt is in order, I don’t see any profit in wallowing or groveling. Lent is the perfect time to reset my habits. It is a well-defined period of fasting that, if not observed, is at least recognized throughout Christendom. And it is that very definition, the fact that it is so widely recognized, makes the fast easier and more bearable. I know Mormons don’t generally observe Lent; I was raised Mormon. But I am surprised by how many derisive reactions I receive from my fellow Mormons during my fast. I’ve already mentioned the practical reasons for fasting through Lent. But the primary reason to fast…

Snow, Citizens, and Stewards

It has recently been announced that Steven E. Snow will replace Marlin K. Jensen as the new Church historian. Elder Jensen has been a wonderful historian for our church, bringing both compassion and honesty to the work.I expect this good work will continue under Elder Snow’s direction. I am curious to see what his areas of emphasis will be. I wonder if one of those areas might deal with the pioneers’ settling of West and environmental issues because in the past, Elder Snow has written on this particular stewardship topic.Elder Snow wrote an essay published in New Genesis entitled “Skipping the Grand Canyon.” In it, he reflected on the struggle to survive his grandfather Erastus faced when colonizing the St. George Valley under the direction of Brigham Young. He wrote that although those “early settlers didn’t appreciate the beauty of southern Utah, they preserved it” (243). That preservation was done out of necessity, not out of an aesthetic appreciation. Without careful…

Post Holiday Reflections

I enjoyed the holidays this year, but I am glad they are over. The tree is no longer shedding needles in our living room, and the few lights and garlands we hung have been taken down. We celebrated a simple Christmas here, with very few decorations other than the nativities and the tree.  We exchanged few gifts. We are trying to teach our children to be thoughtful and discriminating in what they choose to give each other rather than buying every single thing they think (rightly) that their siblings would enjoy. I remember a Christmas ten years ago. We were staying in our graduate student apartment for the holidays because I was too pregnant to travel. It would be our first Christmas alone with our little toddler, and I was so excited. We made origami and crocheted ornaments for our little tree and I sewed and stuffed a nativity set for our son to play with. We picked out two…

O Come, All Ye Faithful

“O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” My eyes started welling up as we sang in church this morning. I want to answer the call to come, but I don’t know that I can call myself faithful. So often, I feel my lack of faith, my doubt, my cynicism. And I work all the harder for it. I cling to my covenants, for that is keeping the faith, even when I cannot rationally affirm articles or propositions expressing the faith of my fellow saints. I serve in good faith, with all my might, mind, and strength, even when I am without the faith, the belief, that gives assurance that these efforts are an acceptable offering to God. So come, all ye faithful, and come all ye faithless. Come all ye who struggle to hope, you who hope through great struggles. Come and adore Him. Bring your gifts of devotion, work, service, belief. What you have is what you can…

If Jesus came for dinner…

What would you serve the Savior if he came to your house for dinner? Would you give him beans and rice? Or would you buy a good steak and make a nice meal?” I sat there, thinking about this. My conclusion was that, yes, I actually would serve the Savior beans and rice if he came to my house. Especially if He came unannounced.

Meditation

This world is not conducive to contemplation, to meditation. We are encouraged to read the scriptures, fast, pray and meditate. But how do we meditate? There are some simple steps we can take on a regular basis to clear our minds. Some of these meditation techniques are borrowed from other traditions.

Thrift as a Principle of Stewardship

In my post last month, I wrote about fundamental scripture based doctrine that lead us to value the earth. Now I would like to demonstrate that Mormons care for the earth through their stewardship, primarily in the management of our own homes and families. The first principle of stewardship is thrift. If we as a people live by the principle of thrift, we will as a natural result consume less and be in a position to serve more. Using our resources, financial and otherwise, wisely is the first step in becoming the stewards that God expects us to be. If we all are economical about the use of our time, money, and resources, then we will be, in practice, a very green people.

Chicken Little Eating Crickets: When a mindset turns a windfall into a catastrophe

The panic prone little bird concluded the sky was falling, heralding the end of all creation when a nut fell from the tree above him, bonking him on the head. Something had indeed fallen, giving him a slight injury, but it was not the sky. It was actually lunch–vital sustenance handed to him, a grace independent of all merit on Chicken Little’s part.

Daily Bread

“Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This is the prayer in my heart, the words my mind speaks each time I cut a slice of bread. I don’t bake bread every day, but all of the bread my family eats, I have baked. This is cause for gratitude. I am able to make bread, good bread, to feed my family. I am home enough to wait through the rises. I am strong enough to knead the dough. I have a reliable oven in which to bake, sunny warm spots free of drafts for rising. I have a grinder for my wheat and a carefully stored up abundant supply of ingredients. I have a dozen recipes I use regularly, switching breads as whim, weather or ingredients on hand dictate. Some of my slow rising breads I only make in summer when my house is warm. Made in winter, those end…

Charity Unbidden

Saturday night, several talks of the General Relief Society Broadcast addressed charity. I was left with the general impression that we should want to cultivate feelings of charity towards others, and that as we desire to have charity, we will gain it. I carry a sketch book and pencils with me. An adult only church meeting like the Relief Society broadcast  is the perfect place for me to sit quietly and sketch portraits of the people around me. I like to study faces and postures, to see the effects of life written on the body. I like to look beyond the damage and wrinkles to the child who was, unblemished and innocent, full of hope and potential. To see other people in this way is to mourn the troubles that have shaped them and recognize the strength of character that has allowed them to triumph. It is to see others charitably. I agree that we should desire to feel charitable,…

Consumerism vs. Stewardship

The following is a modified excerpt from my presentation at Sunstone this summer. We live, not only in a capitalist, but a consumerist, society. Our society is all about spending, acquiring, cluttering, and replacing, not about maintaining, restoring, renewing, and protecting. It is cheaper to buy new than to repair old.  We live in a disposable country, where everything is trash, if not now, then soon. How did we get here? One of the best explanations I’ve found is in the work of the social theorist Max Weber (1). He examined the correlation between the Protestant religious belief and its accompanying work ethic and the accumulation of capital and the subsequent rise of capitalism. One aspect [of the concept of calling that arose during the Reformation] was unequivocally new: the fulfillment of duty in vocational callings became viewed as the highest expression that moral activity could assume. Precisely this new notion of the moral worth of devoting oneself to a…