Apr 19

Will It Play in Papua?

In another life I was a linguist, interested particularly in linguistic typology, the field of searching for true language universals—and thus some of the deepest building blocks of human language—through description and classification of existing languages into broad types and comparative features. Functionally, and a little flippantly, this means typologists write papers proposing models of how languages work, and then, almost invariably, other typologists familiar with the languages of Papua New Guinea write a response saying, “No they don’t,” with copious counterexamples. Think that all languages have a word for “blue”? Look at Dani. Think that there’s no language with doubly articulated stops? Look at Yeli Dnye. Think that the verb for ‘give’ always takes three arguments? Look at Saliba.  Think that all languages count on their fingers or therefore bias towards base-10 numeral systems? Look at Oksapmin.

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Mar 29

On Being Lukewarm

Some things I proselytize for:

Reading.

To say I love books is to understate it somehow; reading’s influence in my life has been second only to my family. When I read, I learn, I enter new worlds, I bask in the beauty of words in the hands of masters (or, occasionally, wince at the stilted prose of amateurs). Most of all, I get a view into the hearts and minds of others. I’m naturally an intellectual person, prone to abstract away from emotions, even my own, and it’s easy to imagine myself, raised in a world without the windows of fiction, as cold, standoffish, and a little heartless. Books have trained me in the paths of compassion, offering me a chance to use my mind to connect, paring and shaping the natural woman with an effectiveness that ordinary social interaction could never have achieved. Everyone should read.

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Jan 19

Mormon Feminism: Essential Reading

I think I ought to say here that I received a copy of Mormon Feminism from Oxford University Press in exchange for a fair review.

When I was in graduate school, far from the heart of Mormonism, one of my favorite pick-me-up-after-a-long-day-of-thinking hobbies was to swing by one of the many used bookstores near the university and hunt for treasures. One day, to my surprise, I found Brigham Young: American Moses on the Religion shelf. On another visit a few weeks later I found Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, and then during yet another visit Sisters in Spirit—somewhere in my secular liberal town, someone was reading and discarding Mormon history, and I was the lucky beneficiary. Continue reading

Oct 08

A Plea To My Leaders

I’m currently the second counselor in my ward’s YW presidency, and so when we recently had a temple baptisms night and the temple staff asked for us to provide 6 adult volunteers—3 men and 3 women—to accompany the youth, I agreed to go. I find the initiatory and endowment difficult, but I usually enjoy baptisms for the dead, and I always enjoy spending time with the young women of my ward, who are bright, inquisitive, funny, kind, and exploring their lives with faith and verve.

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Apr 06

Spiritual Nardoo

A few months ago I went to a Unitarian Universalist church for a singalong Messiah performance. As I pulled into the parking lot of the church, I found myself overwhelmed by a feeling I couldn’t identify or articulate; I was suddenly shivering and in tears, feeling buoyant and light. Nothing dramatic happened that evening—I sang along with the Messiah, frequently failing to reach the highest soprano notes—but as I dissect my feelings later, wondering what had happened in the parking lot, it came to me: I was happily anticipating entering a church. I was about to do something religious, and all I felt was pure uncomplicated excitement.

That evening at the UU church made me realize that I brace myself each Sunday, and I have been for years. I rarely, if ever, feel the Spirit at church, but I often drive away crying, grieving dogmatism or sexism or boredom or disconnection or my own simple inability to fight my anger or cynicism, and at this point I’ve trained myself to expect this. Sunday is a day I am vulnerable to grief and fear and pain, with little expected joy in return, so Sunday is a day I put up walls. On Sundays I am not the person I hope to be.

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Dec 03

More On Modesty

By all appearances, I was a modesty success story as a teenager. For whatever reason, I was naturally inclined to cover up, squeamish even about changing in front of friends, and by 16 I was, without much prodding, essentially dressing for BYU and, later, garments. I owned no skirts above the knee, nothing too tight, nothing sleeveless, and, through the throes of the 90s midriff craze I layered colorful tank tops under my shirts to ensure no one saw a flash of my stomach.

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Sep 13

I Loved to See the Temple

Encouraged by Primary, I grew up imagining God like my father: brilliant and impressive, but with a lively sense of humor and a deep affection for me; he could alternate easily between interviews with distinguished newspapers and a chatty phone conversation with me about whatever was on my mind. I felt close to my dad, growing up, in part because he was a loving father who dedicated time to his children and in part because we are so similar in personality—we make the same jokes, have the same competitive streak, and geek out about some of the same topics. I’m lucky in this, but I was comfortable and happy with the idea of a heavenly father, thanks to the example of my own. “Divine nature” made sense to me, and it was easy for me to take my concerns to God in prayer, in the same way I’d take my thoughts about an interesting math problem to my earthly father.

Then I went to the temple. Continue reading

Sep 01

The Commenting Olympics

The Bloggernacle has always been a competitive place—witness the fiercely contested Niblets—so it’s about time we added some formality to our favorite way of proving we’re better than everyone else: the comments section.

Want to compete, but specialize in a particular style of obnoxious commenting? Never fear; with multiple events, the Comment Olympics offer a way for everyone to win gold! You can try:

  • Wrestling with your trials (which are so much larger than everyone else’s)
  • Shooting down others’ attempts to talk about their problems
  • Boxing someone else into a corner
  • Sailing through conversations without really listening
  • Cycling through the same old arguments again
  • Swimming in your tears over other people’s unrighteous choices
  • Skating on thin ice of people’s limited tolerance
  • Curling your lip in disdain, then rapidly trying to turn it into a fake-nice smile
  • Mental gymnastics
  • And, of course, the passive-aggressive triathlon: sulk, blame, run.

Start training today!

Mar 02

Charity on the Rocks

This is a talk I gave in my ward at the end of January.

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My husband grew up backpacking, and it was one of the conditions of our marriage that I would learn to backpack too. I do it now, and occasionally even enjoy it, but it’s definitely a stretch to say that I’m good at it or love it as wholeheartedly as Mike.

I say this by way of prefacing a personal story, so that you understand the context when I tell you that once, last summer in Yosemite, I was nearly defeated by a large boulder field at the end of a long day climbing mountains with a heavy backpack.

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Feb 16

Answering the Temple Recommend Interview Questions, Part 2

This the second part of a series in which my friend ajbc gives her personal, long-winded, and rambling answers to each LDS temple question, since the actual interviews do not allow for elaborate discussion. The first post is here.

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It’s taken me a while to get to this second post, in part because I didn’t like part of my answer to the last one.  I wrote that I was most comfortable praying to a male or joint-gender god due to my upbringing, and I’m happy to report that I am now equally comfortable praying to Heavenly Mother as I am to Heavenly Father.  I’ve even had one of my Teyve-style (out loud, casual) prayers to/with her in the celestial room, which, by the way, is my all-time favorite part of serving in the temple–getting the room completely to yourself.

The other reason I’ve been putting this off is because I wrote an answer to the second question a while ago, and was thoroughly unsatisfied with it.  It wasn’t that I was inarticulate (nothing can help me there, save an editor), but that I didn’t like what I had to say.  I’ve been so focused on God in general and also with particular issues with the LDS Church that I had neglected the more middle-ground of Christianity.  Thus, I did some soul-searching, found some peace, and am now ready to answer #2.

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Oct 09

Answering the Temple Recommend Interview Questions, Part 1

My friend ajbc is writing a series of posts on how she would answer the temple recommend interview questions given unlimited nuance, honesty, reflection, and time. I thought these would be interesting to cross-post on ZD to start the conversation: how would you answer the questions if you were being fully transparent beyond your yes/no answer?

*****

The LDS temple interview is an interesting process to me.  We’re expected to give relatively short answers to fifteen questions, but I feel like some of them require more elaborate answers.  For the sake of the interviewers, I spare them the ten-hour monologue that would be required to give them the full picture of my faith.  While I’ve thought through each of the fifteen questions, I’ve wanted to record a written answer to each of them.  This is the first post in a series in which I will answer each with varying degrees of verbosity.

Question 1: Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?

I have faith in God; my most honest prayers are Teyve-style. I do not know if God is male, female, both, or neither, but I’ve prayed to each one. Because of my upbringing, praying to a male or joint-gender god (Heavenly Mother and Father) is most comfortable for me. More fundamentally, I do not know that God exists, but I have had experiences that feel like they come from a divine source. I have prayed particularly about the existence and nature of deity, and received ambiguous (but comforting) experiences that allow my otherwise hyper-rational self to have faith in God, without firm knowledge of his/her/its existence or nature.  I don’t know if God is embodied, but I find that perfectly reasonable, given that I hope for an embodied afterlife. I am comfortable talking about my faith in God and its complexities (as made obvious by this post), and consider that to qualify as a testimony.

My faith in Jesus Christ is inherently tied to my understanding of the Atonement, so I’ll leave most of my discussion of that for the next post.  I believe that Jesus lived as a real person, and taught the principles, if not the same parables, that are recorded in the gospels.  I believe that it’s possible that he is the son of God as we are all children of God, but that he played the role of Savior, advocating on our behalves and acting in some sort of pre- and post-mortal leadership role.  While my faith in God is stronger than my faith in a divine Jesus Christ (the former is intrinsically more general), I would be comfortable explaining the gospel of Christ and testifying of the role it has played in my life.

While the Holy Ghost is arguable the member of the Godhead with whom we are in most direct contact, I feel that I know the least about him/her/it.  The Holy Ghost could have some connection to Heavenly Mother, but my hunch is that she is too important to play spiritual courier and instead conveys her love and messages to us through the Holy Ghost, as does Heavenly Father.  I’ve never prayed about the Holy Ghost–I think of it more as a medium for spiritual communication than something I need to ask God about.  It’s a little like calling your folks up and asking, “Can you tell me that this phone is working?” after you’ve asked “Are you there?”  Thus, my faith in and testimony of the Holy Ghost is very much wrapped up in my faith in God, as I think it’s supposed to be.

For doctrine relating to the Godhead or anything else, I strongly prefer to keep any of my now rare proclamations of spiritual witness or testimony (of this or any doctrine) to audiences eager to hear such affirmations.  On the other hand, I am much more comfortable talking about my pragmatic involvement in the LDS church.

In the end, my simple answer to this question is “Yes,” sparing the poor interviewers my long-windedness every two years–they probably would rather be home with their kids.

Oct 06

They (Don’t) Need Me Every Hour

Hi, my name is Petra and I’m not needed in the Church.

No, seriously: I don’t have any special skills that no one else in my ward could provide; I’m not building the kingdom by bearing children; and I don’t contribute to the basic functions of the ward by performing ordinances or conducting or organizing meetings, or even activities. I serve in a calling, and I try to be helpful, but since anyone else could do what I do, I’m not needed. If I stopped going to church it would pretty much be business as usual.

I’m not really needed in my family, either. My parents love me but they have other children, and my husband loves me but could have married someone else or been happy single. (He was pretty happy for 26 years before I came along, after all.)

Does this sound like a giant pity party I’m throwing in this post? I hope not. I don’t need to be needed, in my family or in the church. Even if they could function without me, my ward wants me (I hope!) because I’m willing to serve, because I positively contribute, and because they like me. And even if they could function without me, my family wants me (I hope!) because I’m willing to serve, because I positively contribute, and because they love me.

My contributions to my church and family aren’t unique or exclusive to me, but I still like to think they matter, and I matter because I do them. If I woke up one morning and suddenly announced that I was leaving the church because someone else could be a Sunday School teacher, or that I was leaving my husband because he could do the laundry himself without my help, I’d be decried as selfish and short-sighted. I’d be sacrificing good things that make me happy–my church and family relationships–simply for the sake of feeling uniquely needed, and I’d be overlooking the many places I’m wanted, and the many places I can contribute, in favor of the one special role only I can fill.

That isn’t my attitude to my ward or family, though, luckily. I know that just because I’m not needed doesn’t mean I’m not wanted.  I may not be needed, but that doesn’t mean I can’t serve. Anyone else can teach my Sunday School class, but that doesn’t diminish the service I offer. My husband can do the laundry himself, but it still shows my love when I do it. The fact that someone else could take over the vast majority of my service doesn’t mean that it’s not valuable when I do it, and doesn’t mean that I should quit showing up and offering it.

So tell me: why are we making that argument for male-only priesthood?

Sep 29

The Sermon On the Stand

Matthew 5:28-30 for our time:

But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

And if her right thigh offend thee, police her hemlines and cast her from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of your sisters should kneel down to check her skirt length before entering a stake dance, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

And if her right shoulder offend thee, teach her from age four to cover herself: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy sisters should spend her life uncomfortably conscious of her potential for becoming walking pornography, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

 

Jul 18

What I wish I could tell the Young Women about careers

First of all: that it’s fine to have them, that they don’t just have to be a backup plan, that work and motherhood can be compatible, and that there’s nothing wrong for a teenager to dream of having it all.

(That’s a lot of things for a “first of all,” I know, but those have all been covered a million times in a million other places. Bear with me.)

Second of all: you don’t have to become a teacher or nurse just to get flexibility. My YW program growing up did an excellent job telling me I could work outside the home, which I appreciate–and which I know is unusual for a YW program–but the examples they always showed me, whether through their own jobs or career nights, were teaching, nursing, and other traditionally female jobs. Recently, wondering if that was unique to my YW program, I read through the old manuals looking for specific examples of women with jobs. The results? Teacher, nurse, babysitter, and seamstress. (I haven’t read all of the new manuals yet, but from what I’ve seen I doubt they repeat this trend, if only because they’re so much less specific.)

Let me be very clear: there is nothing wrong with those jobs. Continue reading