Sunday, June 30, 2013

Forgiveness versus Acceptance: What is the Difference?

I find forgiveness to be fascinating, as it is a two-sided principle: we are required to forgive, as well as seek forgiveness. However, in contemplating this idea, I wonder if we tend to oversimplify the notion of how Christ defined forgiveness. That leads to my question: what is the difference between forgiveness and acceptance? Or is it the same thing? I am inclined to think that Christianity has expanded the definition of forgiveness to an even greater principle: acceptance. Let me explain.

Merriam-Webster defines forgiveness as "to give up resentment of or claim to requital for" or "to grant relief from payment." However, Christ seems to have taught that forgiveness is more than an action of ceasing to resent another. Rather, I think that Christ is teaching a pattern of behavior. When he teaches Peter to forgive someone "seventy times seven," Jesus seems to be teaching not to merely forgive someone a myriad of times, but to continually accept that person for who he or she is, despite their inherent flaws. This point seems to be reiterated when Christ says that when a man asks you to walk a mile with him, "to go with him twain." Indeed, Christ pleads for us to work toward acceptance, understanding that other person to the best of our abilities.

The notion of acceptance seems to be even more apparent when Christ teaches about the Prodigal Son. The father does not merely forgive his son for his actions, but rather, "he had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." The father accepts his wayward son for who he is, showing an outpouring of love and mercy.

Finally, Christ asks us not to merely forgive our enemies, but to love them: "bless them that curse you, pray for them which despitefully use you." Indeed, Christ asks that we not merely cease resentment, as forgiveness is traditionally defined, but rather we replace that grudge with an outpouring of love and compassion.

 So when we speak of forgiveness, I wonder if simply ceasing resentment (forgiveness's traditional definition) is adequate. Rather, I think that the act of forgiveness is simply a gateway for us to develop a behavior of accepting others' flaws, leading to a better understanding of Christ's love for us. Of course in accepting others, we do not have to put ourselves in harm's way. Nor do we have to agree or condone the behavior itself. And I recognize that acquiring this pattern of thinking is much easier said than done. But I think that in developing a genuine attitude of acceptance toward others, not merely forgiveness, we acquire a heightened vision of how God views his children.  

Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffoto.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How can a singles ward on Sunday be more of a spiritual experience?

 Before I delve into this topic, allow me to say that my singles ward experience has been a positive one overall. I am grateful for having the opportunity to associate with people of a high caliber. And of course, I am acutely aware that this model is in place, partly so that I can interact with dateable Mormon men.

However, the advantages of a singles ward's structure can also be its greatest flaw as well. I want to focus on the susceptibility for single men and women to approach church meetings as more of a social gathering with ample flirting opportunities, rather than a time for them to strengthen their testimony of Jesus Christ.

I realize that Sunday meetings are an incredibly conducive environment for catching up with friends whom we haven't seen throughout the week, as well as meeting and attracting the opposite gender. But if we lose perspective on why we go to church, we reduce our capacity for spiritual progression. And over a long period of time, we miss out on a weekly opportunity to prepare ourselves to be spiritual teachers for others, including our future children. So what do we do?

While I certainly do not propose eradicating the social culture associated with singles wards on Sundays, I think that our singles ward model may force us to work a little harder to ensure that we remember our purpose in attending church. I, for one, would be hypocritical if I did not admit to falling into the wrong mindset at times. While I think that my church experience is meaningful, I am trying to figure out ways that it can be more spiritually enlarging. I am interested in hearing other thoughts as to how other singles have tried to get more out of their church experience.

Here are my ideas so far:

1. Spiritually prepare yourself for church the same amount of time that you get ready on Sunday.

I don't know what men do in the morning, but ladies, let's be honest. We spend about an hour (if not longer) to look our best and (hopefully) catch that young man's attention. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this practice, but for the most part, I find that my spiritual preparation in comparison is sadly lacking. Have I actually read the Sunday school or Relief Society lesson during the week? Do I go to church with a prayer for my heart to be receptive to what the Spirit is trying to teach me? Do I have questions in mind, hoping that they will be answered? Maybe, but not often enough.

In adopting this lackadaisical behavior, I find myself in danger of maintaining an attitude that I already know the gospel, and I don't have to study it. I forget that no matter how long I have been a member of the church, understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ is a lifelong pursuit. For me, I think that balancing my spiritual and physical preparation can lead me to have a richer church experience. So, as of this week, I have made a resolve to study the Relief Society and Sunday School lesson for 45 minutes--the same amount of time that I get ready for church on Sunday morning. Hopefully, I can avoid these pitfalls that I have just described.

2. When getting ready for church, ask, "Am I wearing this to maintain a worshipful attitude? Or am I wearing it to attract attention?"

It's an interesting conundrum at times getting ready for church on Sundays. We are told to dress nicely in order to maintain a worshipful attitude. Yet that same environment also includes a myriad of attractive men as well--and it is so easy to dress beautifully for them, rather than God. Yet in doing so, we risk reducing ourselves to merely a body that is meant to attract men (you can read my post on modesty for my expanded thoughts on this). That's hardly empowering. A friend of mine told me that she asked herself the question posed above while getting ready for church, and I have tried to adopt this practice.

3. Before making a comment in Sunday School ask, "Am I making this comment to get noticed? Or am I saying it because the Spirit directed me to?"

A friend gave me this advice, and it has been really helpful for me when debating whether or not to raise my hand. Sunday School can be such an ideal platform for us to overtly display our knowledge, or our capacity to have rich spiritual experiences. I have found that the best Sunday School discussions are those where people go with the intent to learn from others and contribute to the conversation as the Spirit directs them.

4. When speaking to others in church, give them your full undivided attention.
A friend of mine told me that when speaking to people, she strives to listen to them like they are the most important person in the world at that moment. I have been trying to incorporate this perspective, as I am often guilty of having the "wandering eye" when I speak to others. I get so interested in trying to find those whom I visit-teach and catch up with other friends, that I can get distracted when speaking to another son or daughter of God. I think that the more we strive to treat everyone like someone of infinite worth with something important to say, we help create a more Zion-like environment.

These four points are all things I am trying to work on. What else can we do to have a more spiritual experience in singles wards on Sundays?

Photo credit by mbush_utah.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why "modest is hottest" is problematic

With Jessica Rey's swimsuit video spurring vibrant discussions on modesty on Facebook and elsewhere, I would like to offer my concerns behind an oft-hackneyed phrase reiterated among Mormon and other Christian youth: "Modest is Hottest."

This may be surprising for some: "modest is hottest" is a seemingly innocuous (and catchy) phrase that can drive women to cover their bodies properly. Moreover, I recognize that most who say it do so with good intentions behind it. So what are the underlying problems?

1. It is still reducing women to simply a body. As I explore in a previous post, women have primarily been judged by their level of attractiveness. Today's women are generally in a much better position to be judged by their intellect, rather than their physique, than ever before. Yet phrases like this one reverts to this historical problem, forcing women to largely define themselves by how they look and what they do (and don't) wear .

2. Women should dress modestly only to gain male attention. Equating modesty with "hotness" reinforces the notion that women are only a societal relation to men (a historical problem that I explain in an earlier post). I enjoyed this post from "Beauty Redefined," explaining that women should dress modestly primarily as a means for empowerment and benefit to themselves. As I have stated before, I view the body as a divine stewardship, and I seek to show my respect and love for God through covering myself appropriately.

3. The phrase restricts modesty's definition to refer to the body alone. I've come to realize that modesty is much more than hemlines, necklines, and the degree of tightness. It means demonstrating a sense of propriety in my manner of speech and behavior. It is showing a sense of humility, rather than pretentiousness, when experiencing achievement. Modesty is about acquiring a sense of refinement, as well as an unassuming nature. Covering the body appropriately, while important, does not capture the overall essence of what modesty really means.

4. It teaches women to perceive their body in a negative way. Teaching women that it is "hot" to cover themselves propels a sense of shame about their body. We don't cover our bodies because we are ashamed of this God-given gift. As Mormons, we teach the body as being a temple, or a sacred space where the Holy Spirit can dwell. Women can be taught that seeking to dress modestly can strengthen their relationship with God, as they are seeking to view it as God views it.

I don't know another cutesy catchphrase that succinctly captures my thoughts on this subject. But I hope that we can reconsider how modesty is taught.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Problem of Reducing Covenants to Contracts

Lately, I have been thinking about the pitfalls of reducing a covenant (promises with God) to merely a contract. We are taught numerous times that if we do our part in keeping the commandments, God will let us prosper. In other words, if we do our part, God will do his part. This teaching is doctrinally correct; it is ostensibly the "thesis statement" of the Book of Mormon. However, if we only teach that keeping the commandments is merely to receive God's blessings, I believe two problems arise:

1. Our perception of "blessed" versus God's perception of "blessed." We may believe that keeping God's commandments entitles us to certain blessings, which may be delayed or never even come into fruition. We also may equate a "blessed" person with having an easier life, while overlooking the ancient prophets who were forsaken, persecuted, and often alone. Even without taking Christ's Atonement in consideration, His life was one of supreme hardship. So why on earth do we believe that being a disciple of Christ entitles us to an easy life?

2. The problem of motivation. Parents hope that their children are obedient as a result of their love, not because they are trying to reap a kind of reward. Similarly, God also hopes that we will obey His teachings as a result of our love for Him, not merely to receive the blessings that arise with it.

Ultimately, when we talk about our covenants, we need to view God as a loving father who seeks to obtain a relationship with us, rather than someone who is willing to uphold his end of the contract.  I absolutely loved reading Terryl and Fiona Givens' book The God Who Weeps, as it reminded me that God is a vulnerable God. He is grieved when we willfully choose to break our covenants with Him. And in contrast, when we choose to follow Him, God has a fullness of joy that cannot be described.

I recognize that using "contract-like" language when speaking about covenants can be useful for those with a rudimentary understanding of Mormon doctrine. But I hope that we can look at a covenant being beyond a contract; it is an invitation for us to strengthen and maintain our relationship with an omnipotent Father who loves us infinitely and unconditionally. In entering this relationship, we can come to love God more fully, which increases our desire to follow Him. So what does it mean to be blessed? In the end, I think that the definition of a "blessed" person is one who is developing and maintaining this kind of relationship with God and confident of his or her ability to return to His presence.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to Be A Happy Single Mormon Woman

Now that I have explicated my views on women's issues in the Church, I will now proceed with another question I have been asked frequently: How can single Mormon women maintain a sense of peace and contentment about their lives? As a single 26-year-old who has mingled with single women in Boston, Washington DC, England, Hong Kong, and St. Louis, I have observed patterns of living that make some single Mormon women happier than others. I have been richly blessed to observe and associate with incredibly happy single women--not because they choose to be single--but because their way of living gives them a certain perspective  that enhances their contentment. They also realize that one of the gift of time is one of a single's greatest blessings, and they know how to use their time meaningfully. Here are general trends I have found. This list is certainly not news for many, nor is it meant to be exhaustive.

1. Happy Mormon single women stay faithful to the Church's teachings, no matter what. They are steadfast in their testimony of Jesus Christ and look to Him as the ultimate source of peace and joy. They maintain patterns of scripture study, prayer, church worship, visiting teaching, and uphold their callings.

2. Happy Mormon single women are curious about the world about them. This pattern of living can come in a variety of ways.  For me personally, this has involved becoming familiar with cultural attractions in every city I have lived in, staying tuned with current events, discussing ideas with others, and reading widely. Single women should be aware of their places as citizens of the world.

3. Happy Mormon single women exercise and maintain a healthy diet. They understand that the soul and body are inextricably connected. I have personally found that physically taking care of my body has made me lead a more disciplined life, experience less stress, and most of all, be more receptive to the Spirit.

4. Happy Mormon single women travel. I have seen traveling as one of the most enriching and rewarding ways to use one's time, create lasting memories, as well as broaden one's perspective. Traveling should be conducted within one's means: it can range from a simple day trip to going abroad.

5. Happy Mormon single women serve others. Whether they are serving roommates or part of a volunteer organization, these women understand the value of utilizing their means and skills to contribute meaningfully to their sphere of influence.

6.  Happy Mormon single women go to the temple as often, and, if possible, are temple workers. Understanding the temple in all of its depth can be one of the most meaningful ways women can spend their time while single. As a former temple worker who experienced this blessing, I think single Mormon women should consider being a temple worker, if possible. If not, attending the temple should nonetheless be part of a pattern of living.

7. Happy Mormon single women perceive first dates as an invitation and nothing more. I think that women should understand that men may ask them out for a variety of reasons. Certainly, the man may be greatly interested. However, men may ask a woman out because a trusted friend recommended her to him. Or perhaps the man may be new in the area and is simply trying to get to know people. Whatever the reasons behind men asking women out, happy single women do not read too much into a first date. They view it as an invitation to get to know someone else better, put their best foot forward, and, if interested, show it in an appropriate manner.

8. Happy Mormon single women have (or striving to have) marketable skills to contribute  to society and provide for themselves. These women value education, and they strive to use the intellect God has given them to benefit themselves and others. Stimulating their minds gives them a greater sense of their potential, heightening their sense of peace and satisfaction about themselves.

9. Happy Mormon single women realize that life is hard. It can be really hard. Yet they remember that disciples of Jesus Christ are not entitled to a life void of trial and affliction. They know that as long as they are faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are entitled to God's blessings.

10. Happy Mormon women forge meaningful friendships with both women and men. While being single, I have been greatly enriched and uplifted by other women, both single and married. We all have a lot to learn from each other.  Sadly, I have seen that the the paucity of males in singles wards sometimes makes women view other women in their ward as only romantic competition, rather than enriching companions. I believe single women can find greater happiness by avoiding this kind of perspective, no matter how dismal the female and male ratio. In addition, I have been greatly blessed by my friendships with other men, many of which never became romantic. Sometimes as single women we focus so much on viewing men as potential (and not potential) romantic prospects that we lose the opportunity for important male friendships. Not every friendship with men will (and should) lead to romance, but that doesn't mean that male friendships aren't meaningful.

11. Happy Mormon single women maintain their talents, as well as develop new ones. Maintaining skills and discovering new talents is one of the most rewarding way to spend one's time. I can't express the excitement that women have in their eyes when they learn a new instrument, perfect a language, or develop a new hobby. Self-education, as well as formal education, is another way to celebrate our God-given intellects.

12. Happy Mormon single women stay connected to their families. No matter how far from home they live, they strive to maintain contact with and visit both immediate and extended family members. They recognize their important roles as sisters, aunts, nieces, cousins, etc. They support their families in times of joy and trial.

13.  Last of all: Happy Mormon single women are flexible. They plan their lives in pencil, realizing that life paths are amendable to change. They realize that God's intentions may not be what they anticipated, and they strive to keep their lives aligned with what He wants.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Responding to others' thoughts on the Mormon "women's movement"

From the flood of facebook posts, messages, as well as comments responding to my latest post about my opinion on the current "women's rights" movement, I can attest that men and women are trying to sort out these issues as well. Here were some interesting trends I saw:

1. Many especially were excited about my point #3 about women receiving constructive criticism from male priesthood leaders. I strongly believe that women deserve both praise as well as points for improvement. And I also think that men also deserve more praise for the good that they are doing.

2. Lots of interesting discussion about the YW program and the Recognition Award. Some believe that YW do not yet have equal funding with the YM, and many expressed content with the modifications that the YW Program has done. I personally am very grateful for the award's changes, though I wonder if more experiences from Girls' Camp could be incorporated into the award, similar to that of an Eagle. Since budget-making and considering careers are optional and not required, I would ensure that all young women have exposure to these two areas through other activities. Bottom line: I just want the YW to feel a sense of pride and meaningful accomplishment for this award, as well as a sense of spiritual fortification for the rest of their lives. I hope they don't feel like they could have been challenged more (like I did as a teenager).

3. Interesting debates about whether women should serve two-year missions. I realize that I projected my mission and many other fellow sisters' experiences, and I did not mean to offend those women who believe they were capable of serving for two years. I am very interested in seeing how missionary work continues to change with the age limit being lowered for women. With that change in mind, the eighteen-month limit could very well change as well. We'll just have to stay tuned.

4. People asked me whether my thoughts on education and modesty could be applied to chastity. Absolutely. I think chastity should be also taught independently of our relationship to men. We can teach women that our bodies and sexual desires are gifts from God, and should be used at the proper time. I think that staying chaste shows that we understand the magnitude of bringing God's children into the world. Thus, keeping the law of chastity is respecting another means of divine stewardship that God has entrusted to us.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Where I stand on the Mormon "women's rights" movement

As more women are seeking to exert greater prominence in the Mormon faith, I have been asked many times how I personally feel about my place as a woman in this church. Do I feel partially excluded because my gender prevents me from being an ordained priesthood holder? Should women have more of a prominent profile in the church? Can women obtain their highest potential through being a member of this church? And the ultimate question: should women be ordained to to the priesthood as men?

First, I am grateful that women are speaking up and being heard. I believe that part of being a worthy priesthood holder is carefully listening to and respecting a woman's opinion, especially when she is expressing how women could potentially feel more valued in the church. In return, I believe that after women have made their point, they need to respect the priesthood holder's decision on whether the proposed change should be implemented.

Women also need to be circumspect with these matters as well. While I believe that it is appropriate to consider and discuss how the church's institution could improve with regards to women's issues, we should not be tied to our opinions to the point that it affects our testimony of the gospel. We also need to ensure that we do not pass judgment on others who have differing opinions on these issues--or do not care to have an opinion at all.

After much thought on this subject, I will now share what I think should change and what should not. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.

Changes I am in favor of:

1. I would like to see more women speak at General Conference. I would personally enjoy hearing talks from the Apostles' wives as well as women from the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society Boards. I believe that men and women in the church would greatly benefit from the counsel of these wise and accomplished women. I would be willing to listen to a longer General Conference if this change was made. *

2. Ensure that women understand the real reasons behind education and modesty.  Too often, I believe that women are only taught the reasoning behind gospel precepts in terms of their relations to men. While a teenager, I was frequently taught the following precepts in church:

1. Women should obtain an education because they could provide for their family in case they were unmarried or if their husbands could suddenly no longer provide for them.
2. Women should be modest in order to attract a worthy priesthood holder.

This reasoning can be taught, but ultimately, women need to understand that dressing modestly and obtaining an education are showing appreciation for God's gifts to us. God has given us a soul that needs intellectual nourishment, and we show our gratitude for it through educating ourselves. The human body is another divine gift that we must cherish, and we demonstrate our respect for it through covering it appropriately. I believe that dressing modestly and obtaining an education are some of the most important things women can do to show a love toward God, as well as further develop a relationship with Him. 

3.  Male church leaders should feel comfortable offering constructive criticism for women's improvement. Too often, I believe that male leaders seek to praise women in their talks at the cost of telling how we can improve. Of course, we deserve some accolades for our spiritual efforts, but we don't have to be set on a pedestal for long. I also cringe when men imply that women are more inherently more "spiritual" than men; God created both genders to be capable of reaching their divine potential. Rather, I think that male leaders should take the example of President Monson's talk to the Relief Society who lovingly called us to become more charitable women. Mormon women need to learn to gracefully accept praise, as well as constructive criticism.

4.  The Young Women program should be continually evaluated for its ability to help women develop a relationship with God and prepare them to contribute to society. Youth leaders need to keep in mind that young Mormon women can now serve a mission at age 19. They also need to remember that all women's paths will widely vary with regards to when they will marry, how long they will work, and what trials they will inevitably face. For these reasons, young women need to be given activities and worthwhile challenges that can help them more fully develop their spiritual and intellectual selves. If the current Young Womanhood Recognition Award does not take the same stamina and effort that young men put forth to earn their Eagle, I think the award should be modified to meet that standard.

5. I wonder whether more callings that are traditionally male but not priesthood-based could be extended to women. While I am grateful that women can teach, I have contemplated on why the Sunday School President could not be a woman, rather than a man. This proposal is not as important to me as what I have already mentioned, but I think that change is possible here.

Changes I am not in favor of:

1. I don't believe that priesthood ordination for women is necessary. You can see my post "Mother Eve and Her Legacy of Wisdom" for my thoughts on women's and men's roles in the church.

2. I don't think that women should serve two-year missions. It is no secret that women are physically weaker than their male counterparts, and I believe that women are generally more emotionally sensitive than men. I think that a year-and-a-half missions is sufficient for a woman, considering the potentially physical and emotional exhaustion that she will experience. When I began my mission in Hong Kong, I lamented that I could not serve for two years. Eighteen months later, I was sad to leave, but grateful for the wisdom behind women serving six months shorter than men**

In closing: I would like to say that being a member of this church is the single greatest blessing I have in my life. Whatever changes for women do (or do not) take place, I still believe that being a member of this church is the best way for me to understand my female potential because I am learning what Jesus Christ expects me to become.

*Author's note: After some more thought, I am now less inclined to hear Apostles' wives speak, as they do not have stewardship over us as members of the Church. However, I still hold to my view that more women leaders should speak, even if that results in a longer General Conference.

** I realize that I projected my experience when expressing their opinion. From hearing missionary experiences from other women, I am less inclined toward this opinion.

And the newest missionary in Melbourne Australia is....

My brother, Elder Jonathan Keith Bjorn Shumway!
I was home for three weeks and got to spend some quality time with him before he left. His departure date was actually a special time for our family, since he left exactly 100 years (to the day!) that our great-grandfather, Charles Nephi Shumway, left for his mission to Melbourne. I think it is an auspicious sign that he is definitely going where God wants him to be.

I am very proud of his desire to go and serve, though I will miss him terribly. But as one who has served a mission myself, I know that he is about to embark on one of the most exciting adventures of his life. If you would like to learn more about what he is teaching, please visit