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Monday, July 22, 2013

Heavenly Mother, Are You Really There?

I can’t remember when exactly I learned that I had a Heavenly Mother, but ever since I was a little kid I remember just knowing I did. That’s not a surprise given the history of the Mormon Church and Heavenly Mother. In early church history Eliza R Snow wrote in a hymn, “Truth is Reason/Truth Eternal/Tells me I’ve a Mother There”. Now while this isn’t enough to be classified as doctrine, the story continues, as Joseph doesn’t correct Snow but rather confirm it and expounds on it, securing in LDS canon that we do have a Mother in Heaven.

Since that time Heavenly Mother has become sort of a doctrinal folklore in LDS culture. We are always taught that She is there, but we don’t talk about her much, if at all We are taught that we don’t talk about Her because in order to keep her name sacred. That idea led me to not think about my Heavenly Mother for many years and even cringe while on my mission when someone would bring Her up during a discussion with an investigator. I felt as if She was brought up that I would have to spend hours discussing Her and that it would scare potential investigators off.

Heavenly Mother and Female OrdinationSince what can be called my “feminist awakening” I’ve learned a lot about Heavenly Mother. I’ve realized that it’s okay to talk about Her in the same reverence as we do our Heavenly Father. I’ve learned that women are not created in His image, but rather in Her image. I’ve felt the power behind that knowledge.

The Hebrew word for God, Elohim, sheds a lot of light on our Heavenly Mother. Quite often we refer to this as the name of our Heavenly Father and the rest of the Godhead, but I think it is more expansive that even that. The word Elohim is a plural noun. In the strictest Hebrew meaning it represents duality and completeness. No other duality is more complete than that of Man and Woman. This, it can be argued that Elohim is not the Godhead, but rather our Heavenly Parents. They complement each other perfectly.

For me, I see Heavenly Mother as the ultimate feminist. She is the not only a perfect woman, but a perfect person with endless knowledge and power. She shares the same traits as our Heavenly Father in that she is also omnipotent and omniscient. She understands Her divine place in a way that we cannot because we just don’t know enough about her. She both embraces her femininity while ruling and creating side by side with our Heavenly Father.

We talk often about the idea that as Adam was God once was and as God is Man may become. We honestly get a lot of flack about it in the Church (I mean Church as in a general system of religiosity, not in a LDS centric sense). Doesn’t it make sense, that if women are to become Divine and become part of the Great Duality that they will somehow receive a perfect match to the priesthood?

Many people would argue that they already have the perfect match to the priesthood in the form of motherhood. However, there are holes in that theory. In a very real sense it seems to me that the perfect counter to motherhood is actually fatherhood. I know that mothers have a much more involved process in the birthing process, but it still begs the question, if priesthood and are true complements, of why motherhood can happen without an earthly ordination while priesthood requires ordination to become valid.

We talk about foreordination to the priesthood, but this still requires an earthly action to make that priesthood official. Then why not for motherhood?

Because the earthly action that causes motherhood also causes fatherhood.

Motherhood and Fatherhood are the real complements here. Not motherhood and priesthood.

Because the way that I see if is there are two ways to look at the priesthood. First you can look at it as the governing power of the church. No person, male or female, can hold lead a ward, stake, or the church as a whole without holding the priesthood first. Sure, there are Relief Society, Young Women’s, or Primary precedencies, but the leadership handbook states that they are to report to the Bishop about their activities.

The other way to look at the priesthood is a little more abstract: “the power of God unto the sanctification of man (and woman)”. The priesthood power gives men the ability to heal the sick, the lame to walk, to perform ordinances associated with our salvation and a host of other blessings related to the power of Deity.

This is where it all comes together for me. If we really believe that we have a Mother in Heaven and we believe that She rules with our Heavenly Father with omnipotence and omniscience then the Priesthood power at least in part, comes directly from Her as well.

Then, if it does come from Her as well, why can Priesthood power not be extended to the wonderful women in the Church?

I’m not sure, but I do know that “[they] will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 9).

And that makes me excited.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Depression and the Gospel

Today I taught a Sunday School lesson on Joseph Smith’s experiences in the Liberty Jail. He spent almost five months in an approximately 5’6″ tall room (he was 6′ tall) with 6 other men in the middle of a harsh Missouri winter. While there he proclaimed,

O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

Given the circumstances of his time in Liberty Jail and the despair that he expresses in letters and even in scripture I realized that I could make a legitimate claim that Joseph had either mild depression or seasonal affective disorder. While I hesitate in providing an armchair diagnosis to someone who has been dead for nearly 200 years, this idea felt right to me. Who wouldn’t suffer from a chemical imbalance when he or she was locked in a small room, unable to stand up straight with no bedding, little food, and exposure to the harsh Missouri winter?

I know I would.

Perhaps that’s because while I was on my mission I was diagnosed with clinical depression triggered by stress and anxiety. I remember thinking, like Joseph, “O God, where are you? Why did you abandon me am I not doing enough? What is wrong with me?”

I couldn’t work for weeks and when I did I do something I half assed it. I felt like the walls were closing in on me and I had no energy. I spent 2 months like that. Then I got transferred and things got a bit better, but it was hard the rest of my mission. Even now I have my days and weeks.

My experience is not unique. I know that thousands of missionaries and members of the church feel the exact same way.

LDS Depression Former President of the Church George Albert Smith has become a wonderful example of someone who suffered from severe anxiety and depression. It was so bad that between 1909 and 1912 he would not give any public addresses or travel because his “nervous condition” was so severe (Woodger 113).

I don’t entirely know why depression has gained such a stigma in modern culture, especially in the church. I’ve had first hand experience with people telling me that if I would only pray harder or study the scriptures that my depression would go away.

It doesn’t work that way.

You can’t wish depression away. It takes work and support and counseling and treatment.

God has provided resources that give hope to the hopeless. Why would we not use them?

God has provided resources that give hope to the hopeless. Why would we not use them? #depression

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In my experience there are many well intended people who do a lot of harm to those with depression. They tell people to cheer up and they tell people that they have the power to conquer their depression. To those people I offer a few concrete suggestions on what to do or say to help people with depression.

  • Listen – Don’t try to fix their situation, just listen. They need to know that someone is listening and not judging them.

  • Let them know that they’re not a burden – Most victims of depression feel like they’re life is a trial for everyone else. They have horrible feelings of inadequacies that are crippling. Provide them with sincere, specific examples of what they do that helps you.

  • Don’t lie – Usually people can tell that you’re lying. It always made me feel even worse when I could tell that people were just making stuff up to try to make me feel better.

  • Assume they’re already doing everything they can – Some well intended people have offered me suggestions about what I can do to help with my depression. These people are well intended, but if I have the courage to confide about my depression with you then I have already come a long way. Recognize that.

  • Don’t push too much – If a friend confides in you and says that they’re not ready to see a counselor then don’t push them too much. In my experience the more someone pushed me to do something that I wasn’t ready for the more I resisted. If you really want to help, then help them take steps when they are ready.

  • Be a friend – Let them know that they’re loved, but not in a “sad smile” sort of way. Don’t feel sorry for them, but really care about them. Listen to promptings to text or email them just to say that you’re thinking of them. Trust your gut.

  • Don’t judge them – Watch what you say about depression around people. You don’t want to spread stereotypes that will be damaging to someone’s future treatment.

Depression is a serious issue that hurts thousands of people. We live in a society that has serious issues with accepting depression. Please me more conscious about the way that you talk about depression around everyone. You never know who will have a period of their life where he or she needs counseling and treatment.

While my list is a good start, it is far from complete.

What are some ways that you suggest that people can give support to people with depression?

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