Sunday, May 26, 2013

And the latest interview producer for the Mormon Women Project is...

ME!! For those of you who are unaware of the Mormon Women Project, it is an expanding database that features interviews with Mormon women who come from an array of cultural backgrounds and nationalities. Basically, it seeks to disabuse the notion that all Mormon women can be pigeon-holed into one kind of life experience. Most important, it shows that while not all women may follow the same path, any life journey can (and should be) compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. My faith has definitely been strengthened while perusing women's stories on this database, and I am looking forward to contributing to the project!

As an interview producer, I will be interviewing Mormon women who fit one or more of the following categories:

1. Have had unique career paths.
2. Represent a unique cultural or national background.
3. Are involved in their communities.
4. Have overcome personal trials.
5. Magnify their callings at home.

You can check out the Mormon Women Project at

If you know of a woman who fit one or more of these categories, please let me know! While I have quite a few women in mind, any input is welcome. :)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

JK Rowling's Dabbling with 17th-Century Alchemy

Perhaps JK Rowling should credit her first book's success to her knowledge of 17th century alchemy. Her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (called "The Philosopher's Stone in Britain) is rooted in what used to be considered fact, rather than fiction, for centuries. Nicholas Flamel was an 14th-century alchemist (one who searches for the process of transforming base metals into gold), and he was widely credited for producing "the philosopher's stone": the stone that could transmute metals to turn to gold, as well as produce the "elixir" of eternal life.

Flamel's reputation was greatly revived in the 17th century with a recrudescent fascination of the alchemical process. Almost a century earlier, Paracelsus had ushered in the idea of chemical mixtures restoring physical health, giving way to a new search for a mixture that could produce immortality.

I was so giddy when I found this out. At the time, I had been slaving away in the Boston College library trying to understand the alchemical references in Donne's "Devotion 11," probably mirroring Hermione's experience of combing through page after page in Hogwart's restricted library section. I think I may have been just as excited as her when I found out for myself just who Nicolas Flamel really was.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Abercrombie's marketing from a 19th-century feminist position

Many of you are aware that Abercrombie 's CEO recently affirmed that his market clothing was "exclusionary," as it is supposed to only appeal (and fit) the "cool" kids. In fact, Abercrombie's clothing is so exclusive that it does not include a woman's size above a size 10--sparking outcry and vitriolic criticism worldwide.

Obviously, I do not condone Abercrombie's philosophy. But I think that the CEO's choice to exclude overweight women from their clothing is important to consider in a post-modern world. Society has come a long way in valuing women other than their fertility and physical attractiveness. In fact, it was long held that children inherited their physical body from their mother and their soul from their father. From this belief, women became associated more with beauty and men for their wisdom and knowledge.

Margaret Fuller, one of the most seminal 19th-century feminists, lambasted these views in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, as she recognized that these beliefs reduced women solely to a body, rather than a body with a soul. Moreover, she asserted that when men viewed women as simply a body meant for physical pleasure, they subsequently reduced themselves to the bodily sphere as well, as they were solely focusing on their carnal appetite. Rather, Fuller argued, both men and women had to be aware of the the need for the soul's nourishment, which came as a result of intellectual activity and an earnest search for truth. That is not to say that the body was inferior to the soul; physical exercise in her mind was vital in assisting the soul. But in focusing more on activities intended to fuel their vanity, women, in her mind, became a "blighted half-being."

Today, an unprecedented amount of women have more opportunity than ever to engage and enlarge their intellects, and, in many ways, Fuller's dream has been realized. But when we read comments such as those by the Abercrombie CEO, we are reminded that there are still threads of societal regression. We are still showing signs of valuing women to the extent that they are aligned with an ideal physical form. The outcry of Abercrombie's marketing brings me hope that society is moving in the direction of valuing the woman's souls over their bodies. And I hope that it continues.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

John Donne, A Plurality of Worlds, and Mormonism's Take

As you can see from the last post, I am very interested in looking at Mormon theology's connection with previous thought. In fact, I believe that even the most audacious parts of Mormon theology can be found in much earlier sources. One such source is John Donne's Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, published in 1631. Just to provide some historical context: John Donne is one of the most prominent metaphysical and cavalier poets of the 17th century. Because of his wit in public speaking, he was also the Dean of St. Paul's until his death. Several years before his passing, he found himself gravely ill (probably with typhus), leading him to produce a series of devotions that reflected on the illness of his body, as well as his soul.

This excerpt comes from Donne's Devotion 5. Here, he laments on the solitude of illness and then muses how loneliness is against God's methodologies. Rather, God works to propagate the human race, as in the Garden of Eden, he said that "it was not good for man to be alone." Donne then makes an even bolder statement:

"Men that inhere upon nature only, are so far from thinking that there is any thing singular in this world, as that they will scarce think that this world itself is singular, but that every planet, and every star, is another world like this; they find reason to conceive not only a plurality in every species in the world, but a plurality of worlds; so that the abhorrers of solitude are not solitary, for God, and Nature, and Reason concur against it."

While it is not clear whether or not Donne theologically adhered to a "plurality of worlds," his belief that God's working to propagate the species certainly made him consider this idea. Certainly Mormonism's statement is more bold, as we speak of "worlds without number." But worlds beyond ours is hardly an idea that we can solely claim to our own theology.

Why Mormons Should Care About Emanuel Swedenborg

Someone asked me recently whom I would wish to meet someday. I answered Emanuel Swedenborg, because I think he played an intrinsic role in establishing the intellectual and cultural environment of Joseph Smith. Let me explain.

In studying the Transcendentalists, I was intrigued by Emerson's numerous references to Emanuel Swedenborg. By the almost reverential veneration that Emerson gives him (no small feat!), I assumed that Swedenborg had to be an important person--and I set out on a research hunt. It turns out that Swedenborg is one of the intellectual and spiritual giants of the 18th century that no one really talks about anymore. That's a shame, because he was the first man to discover atomic theory (several centuries before Einstein) and was known as one of the most brilliant scientists of his time.

But Swedenborg's life takes an interesting turn when he is 57. He claims to have had heavenly visions, where he was able to view heaven, speak to angels, and even describe the Last Judgement. He faithfully wrote down these visions, which allegedly happened for 27 years, instigating both fascination and contempt. One of the most interesting visions that Swedenborg explains is marriage in heaven, a goal that was possible for men and women who had the appropriate spiritual language or "conjugial love." As Mormons believe in marriage being able to continue on after this life, Swedenborg's view of marriage in heaven is perhaps the most obvious link to Mormon theology. His story may also sound familiar to Mormons as well, since his heavenly manifestations made him believe that the true church of Christ was not on the earth, leading his followers to establish "The New Church" (still in existence today).

But I think that Swedenborg left an even greater impact on Mormonism than we might think.

Joseph Smith's theology has already been connected with both Romanticism and Transcendentalism, as both movements divorced from the classic view of man's fallen state and considered how knowledge could be acquired by means other than rationality: experience, intuition, and human imagination. Both emphasized the obtaining of a relationship with the divine, often achieved through a oneness with nature. 

 Swedenborg, however, was an important precedent to these beliefs outlines above. His series of visions defied what was considered "rational"; he was acquiring knowledge of heaven through a means that no one else had. Moreover, it was Swedenborg, not Emerson, who first taught of the intrinsic link between nature and man's soul. Robert Sampson, a Harvard theology student and Swedenborgian, gave a sermon in Boston that included the need for men to understand nature, where Emerson happened to be in attendance. Little wonder that his first treatise, Nature, was published several years later.

I would argue that Swedenborg was a perpetrator of the Romantic and Transcendentalist air that Joseph Smith was a part of. When Joseph is 14, he certainly uses a sense of rationality in believing that James 1:5 applied to his situation, as he sought knowledge for himself. But in believing that God would give him an answer, as well as going into nature to acquire knowledge, he also shows himself as adhering to more recent, burgeoning intellectual traditions. Moreover, in claiming to have a divine manifestation, Joseph was also showing an adherence to Swedenborgian thought, as he also believed to be heaven's spokesman.

As a Mormon, I believe that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I also believe that God works on a macro-level, as He helps work to propel certain intellectual movements, such as Romanticism and Transcendentalism, to accomplish his purposes. I also believe that Swedenborg was an important progenitor of the Restoration--and he deserves more credit than history has given him.

Mother Eve and Her Legacy of Wisdom

This blog post is my Mother's Day talk delivered on May 12th. I believe that Eve's motherly legacy needs to be reconsidered. She is not merely the first biological mother, but also a woman who is an earnest truth seeker and seeks to share it with others. I then trace how other women follow Eve's legacy in becoming effective spiritual teachers for those around them. This is important to note, as not all women will have the blessing of being a biological mother in this life. But every woman is bestowed with the capability of being a part of Eve's motherly legacy by learning and sharing spiritual truths. 

Good morning, brothers and sisters. When I was asked to give this talk, I immediately thought of a time in 3rd grade, where I was supposed to list three things that I would request if I were given three wishes. I can’t remember what two of my wishes were, but I distinctly remember writing down my wish to have six children someday. I did not think that my wish was out of the ordinary, but from my 3rd grade classmates’ incredulity and laughter, I immediately became conscious that motherhood for many was not considered important, even ridiculed.

Today in our world, motherhood is a role that continues to be frequently underminded and misunderstood, and I think it has been only amplified in recent years. As we live in this kind of society, it is often inevitable that we as members of the Church, including myself, wonder about how we should perceive this role. Since I have thought and pondered frequently about this subject for a long time, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you about my thoughts on motherhood’s role in the plan of salvation.

To answer this momentous question, let’s go back to the garden of Eden. Have you ever wondered why it was Eve, and not Adam, who decided to partake of the fruit?

Eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil would ensure two things for Eve: 1: a mortal body, and 2: the opportunity to learn the difference between good and evil, or the opportunity to gain wisdom. In choosing to eat of this fruit, Eve set the precedent for her and her daughters to become the literal vessel for all of humankind to obtain these two necessary points for one’s eternal progression. In short, in eating of the fruit, I would argue that Eve had consented to become a mother.

It is important to note that there was an opposing tree in the Garden of Eden, the tree of life, which is supposed to represent eternal life. We know that a cherub and a flaming sword prevented Adam and Eve from partaking of this fruit, which made sense, since, without those obstructions, they would have been able to partake of eternal life without going through mortality first. Rather, just as Eve became a mother through partaking the knowledge of the tree of Good and Evil, Adam and his sons help those who are worthy to partake of the Tree of Life, through their stewardship of priesthood ordinances.

So, there you have it: mothers assist us by giving us a chance to have a mortal body so that we can have the opportunity to gain wisdom. Fathers assist us through administering priesthood ordinances. Both roles are not only complementary but necessary. For that reason, Sheri L. Dew stated: “Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate.” I like the idea of motherhood being a literal endowment—a divine gift of power—give by God to us women.
But as I have stated before, in partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve distinguishes herself by desiring wisdom. After she partakes of this tree, she then desires for Adam to partake of the tree, so that he will gain the same knowledge as well. 
I would also argue that Eve is continuing to teach Adam her wisdom, as seen through Moses 5: 10-11.
Here, Adam states 3 blessings from transgression, as he states: "My eyes have been opened, I shall have joy, and I will see God again." Eve, however, clarifies and builds upon what Adam has just said. When Adam says, my eyes were opened, Eve explains this to mean that “we shall have never had seed and have never known good from evil.” When Adam says, "I shall have joy and see God again", Eve talks about the joy of redemption given to all those who are obedient. 

I would say that Eve could be teaching and explaining to Adam why the things he had just said are true. Only after Eve speaks, both she and Adam “made all things known unto their sons and daughters.” From this chapter, and from the encounter in the Garden of Eden, I would say, then that Eve set a precedent for the women’s need to acquire wisdom for themselves and becoming spiritual teachers. And I think that this is important to tune into, because while there are many women in the church who do not or who will never have their own children, I believe that all women in the church can nonetheless partake of an important aspect of motherhood that Eve set: the need to learn and teach wisdom to others.

Think of all the women in the scriptures who served as spiritual teachers for those around them, both with children, and without. Think of the women at the well, who desired to know of and partake of the water where she would never thirst, and when she learned who Christ was, she “left her waterpot and went her way into the city and saith to the men, “Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did: is this not the Christ?” This woman was so joyful in imparting her wisdom to others that she leaves behind the object needed for her physical livelihood in a desert, the water pot, to share the joyous wisdom that she has just learned. Sisters, we can be enthusiastic partakers and sharers of wisdom to help others in their path toward salvation.
Let’s talk about another amazing partaker and sharer of wisdom: Abish in the Book of Mormon. She gained a testimony through a vision of her father, but kept those things in her heart. At the opportune time, however, she realized that she could be an instrument of conversion to those around her. Because of her efforts in rounding up as many Lamanites as possible to view the prostrate Alma, King Lamoni and the queen, she was able to help those around her witness a miraculous, faith-converting experience to the degree that “as many as heard his [King Lamoni’s] words believed, and were converted to the Lord.”

 But Abish’s influence does not end here. It would make sense that some of the men who were converted in that audience became the righteous Anti-Nephi Lehies, who covenanted to never again take up arms, and became the fathers of the righteous 2,000 stripling warriors we hear about. Perhaps when the sons said, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it,” they were not only paying tribute to their own mothers but also to Mother Abish, who helped their fathers become converted to the Lord. Yes, Abish, despite a scant mention in the scriptures, was nonetheless a great spiritual teacher who brought others into salvation. Sisters, let us follow the example of our mother Eve, and become desirous to partake of and share our acquired wisdom. Let us become spiritual connoisseurs, gospel theologians, if you will, through taking advantage of scripture study, prayer, temple worship, and immersing ourselves fully into the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in doing so, we can emulate and share our acquired wisdom, just like Eve, just like the women at the well, and just like Abish.

In doing so, we are mothering those around us, as we are assisting others in path towards salvation. Even a singles ward can be a laboratory for single women to take on a motherly role, as we share lessons to those we visit teach, serve others in our church callings, and seek to uplift those around us. I can honestly say that I have been mothered both in this singles ward and others that I have been in. 

I know that God has entrusted us with an intrinsic role in saving his children, and he is relying on us. I know that motherhood is a divine calling and a holy title that demands reverence, awe, and respect. I know, sisters, that the more we study this topic fully with a prayer in our hearts, we will better understand our role. We can understand what God intends us to become, as mothers on Mt. Zion.

Photo credit by Snappa2006. 

Well, I finally did it!

After years of persuasion, I have done what I never thought I would: set up a blog. Being someone who is interested in topics ranging from current politics to seventeenth-century British literature, I plan to use this blog to express and reflect my thoughts on myriad subjects. Plus, you can expect to keep tabs on my Boston adventures.

I now enter the blogosphere....