Tales of Sacrament Meeting

The T&S thread on chapel seating got me thinking about my memories of sacrament meeting over the years. I don’t recall that my family sat consistently in one place when I was a kid, though I do remember a lot of sitting in the hard folding chairs in the cultural hall. As I recall, younger sisters could be very useful for helping the time go by. When I was an early teen, I would take one of my younger sisters for a walk during the middle of the meeting, ostensibly because she needed to stretch her legs. Another sister spent sacrament meeting drawing mazes; she reminds me of the time when she left to use the restroom and was quite unhappy when she came back to find that I’d “livened up” her maze with various comments and threats. Read More

On Questioning

I’ve been reading a lot of Luther lately. He makes the point over and over that human reason is insufferably arrogant in its attempts to understand God; God’s actions may sometimes appear absurd to us, but it is not our place to judge. Faith, he says, includes believing in the goodness of God even if he decides to damn everyone; it is presumptuous of reason to question God’s mercy based on the fact that some end up in hell, even if they had no possibility of doing otherwise. Luther, like Augustine, in asserting the priority of grace over freedom (we do not have the power to opt for faith; God must work that in us), has no solution to the question of why God elects some and not others. For him, that decision is part of the hidden will of God, and it is not our place to pry into such matters. Read More

Faith and the Imagination

I’ve recently been doing work on the imagination and self-narrative, and it’s made me think a lot about the role of imagination in faith. This isn’t at all to say that I see faith as equivalent to belief in something imaginary, but simply that I think our faith is always shaped by our imagination. Our understanding of the divine is inevitably mediated by what we imagine it to be–we carry some kind of picture or image of God in our minds based not only on our life experience but also on the ways in which we’ve made sense of that experience, the connections we’ve drawn between events, the meanings we’ve constructed. And such processes are fundamentally imaginative in nature. Read More

Mood Disorders and the Spirit

I was inspired to write and make this post because of the series over at By Common Consent on Mormons and Mental Illness.

I’m a graduate student in my late 20s who’s suffered from bipolar disorder since my early 20s. I have no formal training in psychology, but one of my academic interests is psychology and emotion in 20th century American culture (one of my specializations is cultural studies). Typically I look at mood disorders and emotions as cultural and social phenomena (as was perhaps evidenced by my last post on this blog), but I thought I’d temporarily suspend that avenue of thought and explore some thoughts on mood disorders and spirituality that stem from my own experiences. Read More

Where have all the mothers gone?

The other night, I went to see the musical “Aida” (the Elton John version, not the Opera) and I have just one question. Where did all the mothers go? For those of you not versed in the Aida story, it has a love triangle between an Egyptian princess (Amneria), the head of the Egyptian army (Ramades) and a slave from the kingdom of Nubia (Aida), who turns out to be the Nubian princess. All three main characters have a father who appears in the play. Aida’s father gets captured by the Egyptian army, Ramades’ father is plotting to kill the Pharoah and the Pharoah shows up just because he’s the Pharoah and you can’t have a story about Egypt without a Pharoah. But where are their mothers? Read More

(Possibly Nonsensical) Musings on Sense

The question of whether church teachings “make sense” (and to what extent it matters whether or not they do) has come up in a couple of places lately, and I’ve been mulling over my own views on the subject. I’ve always been a bit fascinated when I’ve heard people assert that they find the LDS church appealing because it makes so much more sense than any other religious system. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but my own experience has been rather different. Read More

My Journey into Apostasy

It’s now been almost two years since I received my endowment, and these have been, without question, the least religious two years of my life.

I was not a closet feminist before my temple experience. I was quite upfront with my bishop about the fact that I think there’s no good reason for women not to hold the priesthood, and how I pray the Proclamation on the Family is uninspired. I took the temple prep class four times over the course of several years, and drove a series of teachers crazy with questions. (Why are ordinances necessary, anyway?) Read More

The Social Functions of Happiness

Because of all the other bloggernacle posts on happiness and maintaining appearances (see Dave’s Mormon Inquiry, Feminist Mormon Housewives, and Exponent II), I’ve been thinking about this subject for much of the day today. However, my thoughts have taken a slight detour through my academic interests.

I do a lot of work on thinking about the ways in which emotions are not only signals of internal states or biological processes, but have social functions. In Catherine Lutz’ Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenge to Western Theory, she argues that emotional concepts cannot be thought of as independent of the culture and society from which they originate, and that the discourses and structures to which emotions belong determine their very nature. She explains that “the concepts of emotion can more profitably be viewed as serving complex communicative, moral, and cultural purposes rather than simply as labels for internal states whose nature or essence is presumed to be universal” (5). Read More

Gender-Inclusive Language

In writing papers for school, I continually find myself confronted with questions about language and gender. Like most of the academic world, I pretty much take it for granted that saying “man” and “he” simply isn’t going to cut it if I’m talking about the entire human race. The lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular is awkward at times– my own preference is usually to alternate between “she” and “he”– but I’m very much a believer in the importance of not writing as if all humans were male. Read More

Glimmers of Grace

From the beginning of my studies in theology, I’ve been fascinated by the doctrine of grace. As with many questions in this field, I’m particularly interested in what it actually means for lived experience. If grace is something real, I keep asking, what concrete difference does that make in how I live? What does it mean to wake up in the morning to a world of grace? Read More

Searching for Honesty and Wholeness in Teaching Women’s Studies

I’ve been a teaching assistant for an introductory Women’s Studies class the past few semesters. Last semester I had a rewarding and thought-provoking experience (I’ve actually had many, but I’m going to talk about one in particular) with one of my sections. We were talking one week about art and activism and the ways in which women have used art to represent their lives and make feminist statements. I think the reading prompted the students to consider how to negotiate feminism in their own lives because one student expressed frustration with translating the ideas from class into her lived experience. She was trying to deal with friends dismissing her by saying things like “Oh, there she goes again with her feminist complaints about patriarchy,” and she wanted to know what to say in these situations; basically, she wanted to know how to communicate the ideas she learned in class and have people actually listen. We talked in class some about that frustration, and ended up bringing the conversation back to the art we were discussing–how the women artists used humor, creativity, and personal experiences to reach their audience (rather than just angry ranting). Read More

“You’re Studying What?” How I Ended Up in Theology

I’m currently in my third year of a PhD program in theology, in the area of systematic theology. When asked for a quick definition of what exactly that is, I usually find myself at a bit of a loss. Perhaps I should simply confess that we’re those awful “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” types. (And despite the name of the field, we’re not even all that systematic about it.) I work a lot with 20th century Protestant and Catholic thought, and my interests include the relationship between grace and human freedom, the challenges posed by religious pluralism, and narrative theology. Read More

Confessions of a Visiting Teaching Drop-out

For the past two years or so, I’ve requested to not have anything to do with visiting teaching. I have a kind of meta-guilt about this, in that I feel like I ought to feel guilty for it. (I certainly hear plenty of exhortations on the subject calculated to prick one’s conscience.) But the truth is that I don’t actually feel all that bad. Not being involved in visiting teaching has been such an immense relief for me that it’s hard to summon up much regret for having made such a choice. Read More

Life as a Test

I actually attended Gospel Doctrine yesterday (don’t fall over in shock, anyone), and there was much discussion of this scripture:

“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25)

I’ve heard all my life that life is a test. But I’m not entirely comfortable with that way of talking about it, and I’ve been thinking about why that is. Maybe it’s that a “test” sounds to me like something being given by a neutral, disinterested party– as if God were a scientist running us through mazes and observing whether we or not we succeed. It strikes me as rather similar to the notion that God is responsible for all the trials in our lives, an idea which I’ve always found tremendously disturbing. (To clarify, I do believe that God can bring good out of even awful situations, but I don’t think that’s the same as saying that God is the one responsible for such situations.) Read More