What I Learned from Fiona Givens’s AMA

Fiona with her husband, Terryl Givens (Left), and historian Richard L. Bushman (Right)

For the uninitiated, Reddit’s AMA is when a person, usually someone well known or someone very accomplished, starts a post on Reddit where anyone can ask that person anything and they will respond.

For the uninitiated, Fiona Givens is the co-author of The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (along with her husband, Terryl). She and Terryl have written another book, The Crucible of Doubt, which has just been released by Deseret Book and is sitting in my checkout cart on Deseret Book’s website (Amazon is sold out!). She has probably the most beautiful way of looking at issues of faith and Mormonism. Her style and approach to Mormonism constantly inspires me and wants me to seek out more. Honestly, I’ve yet to find anyone who approaches Mormonism like her and her husband. It also helps that she has the most wonderful British accent I have ever heard.

So, after keeping updated on her AMA on the r/latterdaysaints subreddit, I thought I would share a little of what I learned from one of Modern Mormonism’s greatest spiritual minds.

Love Doesn’t Make One Finite

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So, let’s start with my own question (yep, I’m apg92). Mormonism, unlike orthodox Christianity, believes in a very physical God, a God of “body, passion, and parts.” Not only that, as we read in Moses 7 and in The God Who Weeps, we have a God who weeps for His children when they fall. The God of Mormonism is a God of emotion. The problem is, if we can make God weep, can’t we control Him and hold him “hostage”? So I asked her, doesn’t this “limit God and make Him less powerful or supreme? Doesn’t he become a finite being and why should we as Latter-day Saints worship a finite being?”

She gave, what I consider, one of the best responses to this. “Love does not make one finite.” God weeps for His children because He loves them, because He cares. If He is finite because He weeps for us, then He is finite because of love. She is right, love does not make one finite. Instead, it lifts one up. Through His love, both He and the human family are lifted up. If we are exalted, it will only be because of His love.

Reason for Our Hope

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Fiona with her husband and co-author, Terryl Givens

This question, or at least part of the wording, made me think. The questioner mentioned Fiona as an “unorthodox Mormon”. That’s news to me. It could be that I am new and all, but I have learned so much from Fiona and Terryl. They have actually helped me embrace the “weirdness” and uniqueness of Mormonism. But the questioner is right. Fiona and Terryl aren’t your typical “orthodox Mormons” (a term I don’t thin should exist, but that’s for another day). Yes, they believe, but the way they articulate Mormonism isn’t the way the Sunday School manuals explain it. So I guess it applies.

Given that, how does she view missionary work? Well, she says her mission creed goes right along with Peter who said, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man/woman that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” If you have ever listened to Fiona, you’ll realize that she loves Christ and recognizes that the Church is a way to get closer to Him. So for her, that reason is Christ and she finds Him in the Church. I think that is something we need to realize, the purpose of missionary work isn’t to bring people to the Church, but to bring them to Christ.

The Meat of the Gospel

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This is one of my favorite questions. We always hear the phrase “Milk before meat” but sometimes it feels like we never get to the meat. So, what does Fiona think the meat of the Gospel is? That is, “What parts really feed your soul and leave you desiring to be more?”

She gives a really short answer: “Those things we articulated in The God who Weeps.

Before you think you have to go out and buy the book to find out what she considers the meat of the Gospel, here are her five points as articulated in the book:

  1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain.
  2. Men and women existed as spiritual beings in the presence of God before progressing to this mortal life.
  3. Adam and Eve were noble progenitors of the human family, and their fall made possible human life in this realm. Men and women are born pure and innocent, with no taint of original sin. (We find plenty on our own).
  4. God has the desire and the power to save, through his son Jesus Christ, the entire human family in a kingdom of heaven, and except for the most perversely unwilling, that will be our destiny.
  5. Heaven will principally consist in the eternal duration of those relationships that matter most to us now: spouses, children, and friends.

On Certainty and Hero Worship

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So this poster posed a great question: “What are the things you find in contemporary church culture and practice that make it hardest for people to stay in the church, apart from historical issues?”

Her response? “How do I count the ways?” Though she only addresses two, which I think are great.

The first is that there has been a “rhetoric of certainty that has come to dominate testimony meetings”. She has mentioned in earlier interviews of friends who have stood up in testimony meeting and said, “I don’t know.” She says that the scriptures state “to some it is given to know and to some it is given to believe as gifts of equal value.” Even more beautifully, she has said on previous occasions, “the only thing I am certain about is Christ.”

Her second point that she would like to do away with is hero worship. This goes with her first point and points I have already discussed. The center of the Church, and of our lives, is Christ. He should be our focal point. Therefore, our eyes and attention should be on Him and not spent giving too much praise to men. She mentioned the story of Gideon. God made sure that Gideon’s army was outnumbered so that when Gideon won the battle, the glory would be given to God, not Gideon. However, that’s not how human nature works. When Gideon’s small army defeated their enemies, the people began to praise Gideon. It’s natural to do that, though we would do well to remember the One behind the scenes.

No One (Institution) is Perfect

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One of my favorite questions, and one I was anxiously waiting a reply for when I first read it, “Is there any evidence that could come to light about LDS history or actions of the LDS Church or its leadership that would ever make you decide to leave it?”

While some may think she evaded the question, I think she did a spot on job. She mentioned how much she admires Winston Churchill and all the good he did, however, he wasn’t perfect. He authorized the firebombing of Dresdon, he wasn’t easy to get along with. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good leader. “Every person, nation, church is mired in the clay of this earth,” she said.

And probably the best line from this entire AMA, Fiona said, “My testimony is of Christ. My allegiance is to Him. He has cautioned me not to rely on the arm of flesh, so I do not.”

Honorable Mention: The fruit of the gospel of Christ is good. It’s fighting through the brambles to get to it that is the problem:)

For more of the wonderful Fiona Givens, may I recommend a Mormon Stories podcast interview she did with her husband Terryl. Part One is her life story and Part Two is a discussion on The God Who Weeps. Mormon Stories: Fiona and Terryl Givens and “The God Who Weeps”

For the complete AMA, I am Fiona Givens AMA



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how our modesty rhetoric distracts from modesty

Originally posted on Young Mormon Feminists:

It’s gotten to the point where all I have to do is read the word modesty and I cringe, and that disappoints me.

Modesty, at its core, is a beautiful virtue and something that, as Jesus Christ exemplified, I would love to be better at. The problem is that whenever I hear it in an LDS context it seems to be about policing the length of a woman’s skirt, and modesty is so much more than that. I hate doing this because it makes me feel like I’m writing a sacrament talk, but the Webster’s Dictionary defines modesty as freedom from conceit or vanity. When I am able to push aside all my preconceptions about modesty I see it as it is: a synonym to humility and moderation. Those who are modest are not boastful, arrogant, or flashy…which is actually kind of the opposite of how I see modesty being…

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My Patron “Saints”

So, I haven’t posted in a while and figured I should, so here’s a short post I’ve been putting off writing.

Coming from a Catholic background, I love patron saints, those people in heaven who you identify with, who you strive to be like as you try to live the Gospel. So I ask myself, who are my Mormon patron saints, or better stated, who are my patron “Saints”. After much thought, I decided on two patron “Saints” that I love and identify with.

George Albert Smith

We all hate to admit it, but there is a President of the Church that each of us gravitates to. I’m not sure if I’d call it a favorite prophet, but one who we identify with or stands out to us more than the others. For me, George Albert Smith is one of those.

My first encounter with the Prophet George Albert Smith was at the Temple Square Visitor’s Center. There is a quote on display from President Smith that reads: “It is not what we receive that enriches our lives, it is what we give.” From that moment I knew I loved George Albert Smith.

Then came the moment of Elder Holland’s October General Conference talk where he said that President Smith battled depression. As someone who has battled depression, and sometimes still, that really touched me. A prophet of God, a leader of God’s Church on earth, struggled with depression. I mean, that says something right there. You can have that struggle and yet find solace and strength in the gospel. Can you imagine the strength our Heavenly Father must have given him to fulfill that vocation? It really did make me realize that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. What a merciful God.

It makes me pray daily for the same strength and comfort given to President Smith. And you know what, if a prophet of God had this same cross, I am in good company and can overcome it too!

Leonard Arrington

OK, I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about this patron, but from what I do know about Leonard Arrington makes me believe that he was a great Latter-day Saint. But why pick him? Arrington was a lover of history, especially Church history, and had made it a personal mission to open up Church records and be honest about Church history. For me personally, history is important and it is important to be honest about Church history. You know, I know a decent amount of Church history for somebody who has only been a member for a year, and you know what? I’m still here. It is possible to know Church history, love Church history and still be a believing Latter-day Saint. Leonard Arrington makes me want to do what he did, research our history, be honest about it, and have it help our faith. If the Church is true, which I believe it is, then nothing can stop it, including its history, skeletons and all.

So, these are my Latter-day Patron Saints! Believe it or not, I’m leaving out quite a few honorable and admirable people we can add to this list.

Avoid the Temple?

When I was in the seventh grade, my English teacher lent me a copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. While the book is critically acclaimed and while I remember enjoying it at the time, years later there is only one thing from the book I remember. In one scene the protagonist is talking to an old man about visiting Mecca. The old man says that all Muslims must make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. However, the man said, he will most likely never go to Mecca. Why? The one thing he wants to do, the one thing he looks forward to, is this pilgrimage. If he does make the pilgrimage, this one thing he has been looking forward to would have been completed and he would have nothing else to look forward to.

This scene came to mind while reading part of President Boyd K. Packer’s The Holy Temple. The first chapter of the book describes why we should come to the temple and he often repeats the phrase: “Come to the temple.” He then goes on to discuss how the temple is a place of learning, how we are educated in the temple when we go, especially for own own endowments.

My mind immediately went to the old man in The Alchemist who wanted to see Mecca but decided to have that as something to look forward to. I thought of how much I really want to go to the temple, to receive my endowments. But I kept going back to how President Packer stresses the education aspect of the temple, how special going to the temple is, and how wonderful your first time there is. And I thought: Could I ever go? Would I ever be able to fully realize how special the temple is? What if I miss something? What if I don’t get much out of it the first time? What if I miss something?

What if…

What if…

What if…

So many What ifs passed by me that I thought it’s probably best to postpone my temple attendance until I can fully understand everything. But can I? Can I ever know enough so that I can enter the temple and learn everything the first time? Or is it one of those line upon line, precept upon precept type things? Is it one of those things where I go now, learn a little now and when I return next time I will learn and take away even more from the experience?

That would easily prevent boredom. And it’s a how we learn. We don’t read the scriptures in one go and put them on the shelf. We’re asked to go through them often because no matter how familiar we are with them, we will always keep on learning from them.

Is it the same with the temple?

If it is, I don’t think I’d have to worry about not getting everything the first time. Maybe then all I’ll need to worry about is letting go of preconceived notions and just think “This is where I am supposed to be. Relax.”

I hope so. I want my first temple experience to be positive. I want it to be a holy experience for me. I also don’t want to blow it. I don’t want to ruin it.

And honestly, now that I’ve worked it out in this post, I am starting to echo the words of President Packer, “Come to the Temple!”

Our Search for Truth

I am obliged, as a Latter-day Saint, to believe whatever is true, regardless of the source.” -Henry Eyring

http://www.the-exponent.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/260-Joseph-F-Smith-cover.jpgLast Sunday our Elder’s Quorum went through chapter 10 of the Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith manual called Our Search for Truth. And during the discussion, someone brought up the false dichotomy between religious truth and scientific truth making it seem as if the latter can’t be trusted. The only truth that mattered, after all, is religious truth.

Here’s the thing, to God, to the creator of the Earth, there is no distinction between religious truth and scientific truth. As a friend of mine once told me, “All truth is God’s truth.” I don’t think God differentiates and says, “This truth is religious truth, this one is scientific truth, this is philosophically truth.” Yes, these are valid categories, but I think they apply for humans, not God.

If we want to learn about how the human body works, we go to a biologist. If we want to learn about what is reality, we go to a metaphysicist. If we go to a metaphysicist and ask about how cells work, he’ll tell us to go to a biologist. Why? Because that is the expert for that information. We classify all these areas of knowledge for our own benefit.

God doesn’t need this classification. To Him, Truth is Truth whether is is part of the sciences or part of theology.


Chemist and Latter-day Saint, Henry Eyring

I heard recently that when Henry Eyring (President Eyring’s father) went to school his mother would tell him, “Remember that anything you learn that is true is part of the Gospel.” Why is that? Because the Gospel is about Truth. The Gospel encompasses all that is True and of God.

So instead of saying “The sciences or religion” why don’t we take a both/and approach. That is, both the sciences and religion. Why does there have to be a divide? After all, God created that which scientists are studying. Through the sciences are are discovering how God’s creation works. It’s a totally different question than what religion tries to answer. Where science asks how, religion seeks to answer why. Why were we created, why are we here? The sciences are complimentary to religion because it points to that which God has created.

The celebrity astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson has a quote I found recently that said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” There are a few problems with this quote. First, science is a method of gaining knowledge and you know what, science has been wrong sometimes (as this clip from It’s Always Sunny proves, science is a liar…sometimes). Also, replace the word science with anything that is true. The statement “The good thing about Christianity is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it” is a true statement and not believing in Christianity doesn’t make it less true. Anything that is true is true whether or not a person believes in it. That includes the sciences and religion and anything else that’s true.

My favorite Article of Faith is the twelfth: “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” We, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, must search for all things that are True. The Prophet Joseph said we seek after these things. We must seek after Beauty. We must seek after Truth.

After all, Truth leads us to Truth and there is no greater Truth than God Himself and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.