Wednesday, 27 March 2013

2 Nephi 11: Learning Forgiveness by Reading Nephi

Nephi commands his brothers to help him build a ship. 
I can learn to forgive Nephi for his human failings, but I'm not sure that I can forgive the artist of this painting.

Jacob finishes preaching (v. 1) and Nephi goes on to bear his testimony, or to share his statement of belief (vv. 2-8). I was surprised that Nephi's testimony got to me. Instead of feeling preachy, Nephi's words seem authentic as he shows concern for his people.

As I've been critiquing Nephi, I've been conscious of the fact that I've not been kind. The correlated (go to BCC and view search results for "correlation") material on Nephi is overwhelmingly positive. In the LDS Church, there is a particular narrative that is attached to Nephi. He is a good guy. His brothers are bad. The brothers rebel against Lehi and Nephi. The brothers become badder. Nephi is forced to flee for his life. The brothers are the baddest. In a Sunday school class, if you want to identify someone as an evil rebel, you compare them to Laman and Lemuel. Nephi is nothing short of saintly and flawless. In this reading, I've seen that the situation with Nephi and his brothers is much more complicated and I've explored some of those complications in previous posts.

But what do I get from deviating from the approved narrative? At first I felt kind of bad. I was not reading the scriptures in the right way, but I was trying to approach the text honestly. I wondered if my plan to blog the Book of Mormon was doomed to spiritual failure. I was concerned that I was on a fruitless path. In the last few days, I have come to understand the value of my approach for me. My mother-in-law often says something like "Catholics are supposed believe that the pope is infallible, but they don't really believe it. Mormons are supposed to believe that the prophet is fallible, but they don't really believe it." It is easy to follow your leaders if you believe that they are perfect, but much harder when confronted with the realities of their humanity. I've come to forgive Nephi for being human, for getting into family arguments, for his sexism, for his racism. I don't have to like those things, they just are. He is a man of his time. He has terrible people skills.

In coming to a place of forgiveness, I find that there are other areas of my life where I expect people to be perfect. I think that I end up placing the ridiculous expectation of perfection on those closest to me. I have expected my husband to be perfect. I have expected my four and five year old daughters to be perfect. I'm not perfect, but every day part of me thinks that if I just try a little harder, I might actually arrive at some minor degree of perfection. And I am trying to drag my family in the same direction like a drill sergeant getting the new recruits over the wall. You can imagine how much they love that.

As I understand and forgive Nephi for his imperfections, I'm coming to terms with my own unreasonable expectations. These ideas have take hold in my mind and I'm able to enjoy my home life more. I can see that my husband and children are really wonderful people who are doing their best. And their best is pretty fabulous. All mistakes, annoyances, forgotten list items, and morning crankiness can be forgotten. Those things do not speak the truth about my family.

And whatever happens as a result of Pants, Pray, and Ordination, I can also be patient with my church leaders.

Cross-posted at

Friday, 22 March 2013

Breaking the Mormon Taboo: Women and Ordination

I was surprised to find this in my search for images related to the ordination of women. It seemed appropriate.

I've hesitated to write too much about this, but my profile is now available on Ordain Women, so here we are. I'm not sure how speaking about or believing in the ordination of women came to be a sign of Mormon feminist extremism, but people are now talking about it (fMhT&SExpoSCSZ's D's9M, and others). Hopefully this will be a long and interesting conversation on an overdue topic.

Before you think I must be an apostate and/or crazy because of my belief in the ordination of women, please hear me out. I am not asking you to agree, I'm just asking you to listen. I tried putting all of my thoughts about women and ordination in a single blog post, but it was going to be far too long. So instead, this is a post introducing the topic.

My profile on Ordain Women had to be edited down, but here is the original...

My husband and I married in the St. George Temple after meeting in graduate school. I teach art history at a state university in Utah. I’ve held a number of callings, including Relief Society pianist and music leader, cub scout leader, Primary and Early Morning Seminary teacher, and activity days leader. I like to read, write, and play music with my two daughters. I'm blogging my way through the Book of Mormon.

The language of the Temple Initiatory, scriptures, LDS history, and my patriarchal blessing hint at the ordination of women. I think of Heavenly Mother’s role as priestess and as part of God, and I think that she must hold the priesthood in her own right. She must have been ordained to be a priestess, she must have the power of God in order to be part of God. I believe that women should be ordained so that we can prepare to be like our Heavenly Parents.

I grew up in a difficult family. My belief in God's love for me has been an important anchor throughout my life. Mormonism continues to shape my belief in God, forms a significant component of my sense of community, and offers me hope for a life of eternal learning and progression. I'm a Mormon, and I believe that women should be ordained.
Cross-posted at 

Friday, 15 March 2013

2 Nephi 9: Arguing Se(wo)mantics

Jacob is still prophesying and teaching. He says that he is reading Isaiah so that the people will know about the covenants that God made with the house of Israel (v. 1). He speaks of the gathering of the Jews and their reconciliation with God (v. 2), Jesus coming to Jerusalem (v. 5),  and the resurrection and atonement (vv.4-8). In verse 9, Jacob references Satan, Adam, and Eve. He references The Fall, which happened when "that being ... beguiled our first parents". I am surprised that Jacob doesn't place all of the blame on Eve. I wonder how the account of The Fall in the brass plates differs from the account in the KJV.

The following verses continue to discuss what happens to the soul after death, referencing paradisespirit prison, and judgment, which are all central to the Plan of Salvation. Jacob then goes on to talk about the wonderfulness of God, but instead of referencing the Heavenly Parents, he is actually referencing Jesus (vv 20 ff).
"And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature*, both men, women and children, who belong to the family of Adam" (v. 21).
Just now when I read this and now as I write about it, I was drawn to the specific reference to women. Hurray! Jesus understands women! But as I reread it, there are problematic elements in the language.

When I was in high school, I chose Latin as my foreign language option. My teacher repeatedly emphasized that if you have a large group of women together and there is one man included in that group, you use the masculine plural to describe that group. One man changes the gender of the group from feminine to masculine. I appreciate that the Bible wasn't originally written in Latin, but I've always assumed that Hebrew and Greek were more or less the same when it came to rules of gender. (Biblical scholars, tell me if I'm wrong.) In the scriptures, you can read the word "men" and know that the author could have meant "men only" but also "men and women".

In the past, I've consciously read the word "men" as "mankind", which I understood to including men and women. I probably got the idea from General Conference, lesson manuals, and church magazines that reference "mankind" far more often than the scriptures.  In this particular reading of the Book of Mormon, I'm not applying my former mankind rule and because of the misogyny that I've discussed in previous posts, I now feel that Book of Mormon authors mostly just mean men when they use that word. In the verse above, Jacob explains his inclusive use of "men" in this instance and I'm glad that he clarifies. And the very fact that he feels he has to clarify his meaning here suggests that he doesn't generally mean "mankind" when he uses the word "men". This definition comes at the end of a longer explanation of what happens to the soul after death, where he used the word "men" repeatedly. So Jacob, what happens to the souls of women when they die? (Sorry for the drama, it feels appropriate.)

Cross-posted at

* I have to say that the use of the word "creature" to describe women and children is more than a little off-putting. I looked the term up on Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, which indicated that "creature" could simply refer to something that has been created, as opposed to the negative connotations that the English word carries. So I'm going to let "creature" go. And yes, I know that I had to look up a Greek word to try and explain a Hebrew-word-written in-"reformed-Egyptian"-and-translated-by-divine-inspiration-into-English. Linguists, please forgive me.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

2 Nephi 8: Heavenly Father and Heavenly She That Bare You

Jacob is still preaching from the brass plates (Isaiah 51 and the beginning of 52). I have to say that the opening of this chapter is comforting to me. God is speaking here: "Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged" (v. 1). As I read this, I'm not entirely sure of what Jacob and Isaiah are referring to. I'm not sure if God is referred to as rock for quarrying anywhere else. I like the idea that I'm made of the same stuff as my Heavenly Parents, though I'm disappointed that the church doesn't explicitly teach that women are made in the image of Heavenly Mother. (If I am wrong about this, please correct me in the comments and post an appropriate link).

Jacob/Isaiah goes on to say "Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him" (v. 2). This verse is kind of a double-edged sword, because it mentions the righteous as descending from Abraham and Sarah, though I wonder why the text calls Sarah "she that bare you" instead of "mother".

I'm wondering about the different Hebrew meanings of "father", "mother" and "she that bare you", but Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and new Testament Words is no help. And so I turn to Wikipedia for an explanation of the word father. Now I have to say that this Wikipedia article doesn't specifically discuss fatherhood in Judaism during the time of Isaiah, but it does discuss fatherhood in Ancient Greece. (Yes, I know that scholars of Ancient Greece and/or Ancient Judaism are rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at an art historian trying to explain that info from one culture might explain the other, but just hear me out for a minute. And if Vine's had an explanation of these terms, I wouldn't be employing bad comparisons from Wikipedia.)
"We find an enlightening example of this social development in Aeschylus's tragedy The Eumenides. The Coryphaeus of the Erinyes blames matricidal Orestes for having shed his own blood, but God Apollo replies that this is absolutely untrue because the mother is only a wet-nurse and not a progenitor of the child, whose blood derives from his/her unique parent: the father." (emphasis added) 
I realize that I could be completely wrong here, I'm guessing that the ancient Jewish idea of fatherhood wasn't all that different. Having read the Old Testament a bunch of times, the OT prophets have no great affection or reverence for mothers. Really, the article's explanation of motherhood vs. fatherhood sheds a lot of light on Jacob/Isaiah's words. The father is the true ancestor of a child and the mother is just the vehicle through which the child is given life. This is explained somewhat in the statement "I [God] called him [Abraham] alone, and blessed him" (v. 2). "She that bare you" is not called or blessed in the same way.

While I was initially excited to see Sarah's name mentioned, the balloon of my enthusiasm has been popped. I appreciate that the text is Jacob's version of Isaiah's recording of what God said, and perhaps not word-for-word what God said, but it hurts that God doesn't call Sarah "mother". But I don't believe that God is the misogynist here. We don't often refer to Heavenly Mother in the church, we certainly don't refer to her as Heavenly She That Bare You. That just sounds insulting. Deep breath. Prophets are men of their time. Prophets are men of their time...

If you are a scholar of Hebrew, please tell me that I'm wrong.

Cross-posted at

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Meta Mormon: On Hearing God

I'm no stranger to the Book of Mormon, but this 23rd read is proving to be very difficult. I'm used to reading my scriptures quickly, covering four or more chapters in a day. This kind of reading gives me a great big-picture view of the scriptures. I was really enjoying this big-picture view until it suddenly felt too monotonous last year.

But reading the scriptures daily, spending 20-30 minutes on each reading session, was about a lot more than the scriptures. During those reads, I reflected on my day, my actions, and the direction of my life, but mostly I used that time to hear God. And some of you are going to think "Wow - Nancy thinks she is hearing God. That is just crazy." I have no counter argument for that. Chances are, if you embraced spirituality at some point in your life, sometimes you think that God is trying to tell you something.

Its not that I heard God every day, but there were many instances when I felt that God was trying to teach me, through impressions and feelings, things I could not learn on my own. These moments helped me to feel that God loved me and was aware of the details of my life. God knew what I was struggling with at that moment. There is nothing like a little divine empathy and guidance to make you feel that you can tackle the challenges of life. And reading the scriptures in that fast-paced way created the necessary space in my life for me to hear God.

Blogging the Book of Mormon slowly, as I'm doing now, does not always create this same kind of space. Instead, I find that I am searching for God in the text instead of waiting for God to just show up. Mostly I feel that I am not finding God in the ways that I had expected. I am hearing Nephi, and now Jacob, wrestle with their own spiritual paths. I am watching them try to hear God in their own lives. I previously saw prophets as having a buddy-buddy relationship with God, but it turns out that things aren't that simple. Being a prophet doesn't fix all of your problems and it certainly complicates your relationships with others.

When I created the goal of blogging the Book of Mormon, this was not what I had intended to learn. Learning about being a prophet but still retaining many human flaws is not a fun kind of thing to learn. In fact, it is uncomfortable and a little painful. It is easier to believe that God's prophets are just mini versions of God walking around on earth, with all of God's knowledge and power. As it turns out, prophets are regular people with all of the prejudices of their time. They confuse culture with doctrine on occasion, just like the rest of us. I suppose that this is a timely lesson to learn as I wrestle with Mormonism and Feminism and think about the future of both.

Cross-posted at

Monday, 4 March 2013

Today I Wore Pants to Church | Stories - Some LDS Women Skip Dresses, Wear Pants To Church

Last Sunday I wore dressy trousers to church, but it was Stake Conference and we ended up sitting in a nearly-empty overflow room. I was nervous, but no one really saw me. Having an easy first time helped me to get over my nerves about wearing pants to church and I did it again today in my ward.

My ward really surprised me. No one commented on my gray pants, though I did get one dirty look and a primary leader was visibly startled when she saw my pants. But no one commented. I'm sure there will be some gossip about it, but I'm hoping it will quickly become a non-issue. I plan to continue wearing pants to church.

As I've thought about it these last few months, there are lots of reasons why I want to wear pants to church. Here are some of those reasons, in no particular order.

Reason: I teach a class in junior primary (currently the 5 year olds) and we do a lot of activities on the floor. Wearing a skirt or dress is impractical. There is a reason that you never see preschool, kindergarten, or first grade teachers wearing skirts or dresses in this day and age. It just doesn't work.

Reason: I don't actually like wearing skirts or dresses, unless it is too hot to wear anything else comfortably. I only ever wear skirts or dresses for church. I really dislike tights/pantyhose and so when I wear skirts or dresses, my legs are bare and then I freeze in the winter. I'm an adult and I can make my own clothing choices.

Reason: The purpose of Wear Pants to Church last December was to raise awareness about the pain that some women and men feel over gender inequality in the LDS church. I know that not all LDS women feel pain over this issue and that is fine. I feel this pain and I want to raise awareness about gender inequality. I didn't wear pants last December. I didn't yet have nice dress pants and I had the flu on the actual day, but I am wearing them now.

Reason: In 2013, women can dress up and still be wearing pants. I'm not quite sure when or how this cultural shift happened during the last century, but it did. I googled "when did women start wearing pants" and got a poorly cited wikipedia article and a bunch of websites addressing whether or not the Bible says its ok for women to wear pants. I think this is a little ridiculous, because I get the impression that just about everyone in the Bible wore a long tunic or dress. If Western society dealt with men wearing pants to church hundreds of years ago, we can cope with women wearing pants in the twenty-first century.

Reason: In wearing pants to church, I am not breaking any church rules. If my pants offend anyone, I am offending their sense of cultural propriety, but not church policy or doctrine. I've seen Scottish men and boys wear kilts to church and I've seen Polynesian men and boys wear lava-lava to church. If Mormons can find a way to cope with skirted men, surely we can do the same with trousered women.

Cross-posted at

Saturday, 2 March 2013

2 Nephi 7: The Importance of Asking Questions

Jacob continues to preach from Isaiah 50. It is a short chapter that that starts off by using the voice of God to condemn the people for turning away from him (v. 1-3). The rest of the chapter is in Isaiah's voice, spoken through Jacob, who identifies with Isaiah.

Isaiah/Jacob talks about the things that he has received from God to help him be a prophet. "The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season unto thee, O house of Israel" (v. 4). "The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back" (v. 5). "For the Lord God will help me, therefore I shall not be confounded" (v. 7). "And the Lord is near, and he justifieth me" (v. 8). "For the Lord God will help me" (v. 9).

I find it a little strange that Jacob is preaching about how much God is helping him and justifying him. I understand these statements in the context is journal writing and record keeping, but when these things are part of a sermon, I'm a little confused. "I was not rebellious" models the behavior that Jacob wants others to follow, but the other statements are included to justify the speaker's power over others. I am uncomfortable with this kind of persuasion because it is too forceful. It is as if Jacob is saying "God is watching me/us right now, and he approves this message". It would be the kind of sermon an experienced or overbearing leader would give. It is not hard to see that Jacob takes some of his cues from Nephi, who never seemed to realize when he was being overbearing.

The reason that this makes me uncomfortable is that there isn't much room for personal growth or spiritual development when a leader insists on being followed or their language is too manipulative. I believe in following my church leaders, but I also believe that I can draw a line and think for myself. I'm allowed to ask questions. Yesterday I read this article over at Modern Mormon Men about this very issue. The whole of Mormonism is founded on the question of a teenage boy, and I really love that. Joseph Smith earnestly sought an answer and he got one, but not the one he expected. I wish that we had a culture of encouraging questions in our church, instead of seeing them as faithless.

When I think of good questions that have been asked in the church and their positive results, I think about the lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978, the lowering of the missionary age in 2012, and the new edition of the scriptures that was announced yesterday. Some of the changes in the new edition are discussed in this article over at BCC, but they boil down to placing scriptural statements in a clearer historical framework. As an (art) historian, I think that this is a big positive change. I'm looking forward to comparing the chapter headings of some of the racism Book of Mormon chapters in the old and new versions. The church is moving in the direction of more openness with regard to our (often difficult) history and I applaud these efforts. Keep asking those questions!

Cross-posted at