The Mormon Stained Glass Masquerade

Growing up if you wanted to go to church all you had to do was put on a polo shirt and a pair of nice jeans. In the parish I went to while in high school shorts and a t-shirt were acceptable. Sure, it wasn’t always that way. If you look at pictures from the pre-Vatican II Church, the faithful were always dressed up. Even the priest dressed up nicer back then!

But I’m digressing….

The point I was trying to make was that up until a year ago, I never had to worry about what I’d wear when I go to church. Now, as a Latter-day Saint, I spend the week trying to decide on a tie to wear next Sunday (I’m thinking pink).

There are some benefits to this: I’m finally learning how to tie a tie, I am getting used to having to dress professionally for once I graduate.

But there are some downsides, like if I forget to do laundry and I’m out of clean shirts, I rather not go at all than go dressed in jeans and a nice yet not professional shirt.

Can anyone see the problem with this?

Now is when you say, “But, Andy, you can come in jeans and whatever you like as long as you come!” Can I? Maybe if I come a couple times like that because of oversleeping, but if I show up in a casual button down shirt and jeans every week, there will be problems. Maybe it won’t be confrontational, but there is this understanding in LDS culture that if you’re part of the Church long enough that is how it is done.

“But, Andy, we’re supposed to come in our best possible. After all, if we go dressed up nicely for work or a date night downtown, why dress-down for Jesus?” Look, I get that. I really do. I’m a Catholic (and possibly Eastern Orthodox) at heart so I get it. And gathering together for worship before God in liturgy deserves to go nicely dressed. That’s why I think the garments and clothing for the temple ceremonies are so important. That is our high liturgy. Sacrament meeting doesn’t serve that purpose.

Icon of the pharisee and the tax collector

I have no problem with being well dressed for church, but the problem comes when the culture makes it so that it is semi-required and makes it seem as if you are somehow less faithful or less of a good Mormon if you don’t go dressed up. The Book of Mormon gives a harsh warning about this in 1 Nephi (my reading of the text suggests the great and abominable church is not the Catholic Church, but materialism).

This leads me to the video below (and the title of this post). Do we put on our own stained glass masquerade?

Every Sunday we come in our Sunday best and well groomed (well, that part may not apply to me), we try to put up this appearance as if we’re good perfect Mormons. But inside, we know we aren’t perfect. We fail. We have our struggles. But in our classes, in our sacrament meetings, do we reveal that side of us or do we put up a front? Can we, individually, one by one, start removing our own masks as a way to tell others, it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to not be perfect, it’s OK to just try?

How often do we realize that when we pass each other the sacrament in our pews that we are assisting our neighbor, our family member (isn’t that what a ward is?), be healed and work towards our goal of communion (personally, I prefer the Latin, communio) with the One who gave us life? When we pass the sacrament to each other (one of my favorite things about Mormonism), what we are really saying is, “Let me help you, let me walk with you on this journey.”

So in our classes, in our ward families, let’s remember that we are there to strengthen and walk with one another as we make our way to building Zion. It’s only by being our authentic selves and accepting others in our family that we can become that body of Christ we see in the Book of Mormon and Acts. It is only when we put aside our stained glass masquerade that we can be the body Christ wants needs us to be.

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



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…

View original 402 more words

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!”