The Soapbox Pulpit and Sacrament Meeting

Yesterday, I had the privilege of watching a confirmation for four beautiful new members of the Church. I was present in the lesson with the Sister missionaries when the whole family was invited to be baptized together. Everyone has received them with open arms, and they're making tons of new friends. You can hardly get close to them because of how often people come up to them to express their love and appreciation for their decision.

This family just happens to be African American.

Their confirmation was beautiful. The bishop offered blessings to the mother, whose warmth and radiance is already such an example to me of everything I have always wanted to be. She was promised choice blessings by our Father in Heaven. She then watched, with tears in her eyes, as each of her children were similarly blessed. Each of them were promised they would be sealed in the temple. I rejoiced with them, and I was privileged to feast in the Spirit together with them.

Now to contrast, I want to comment on something that happened in that same Sacrament Meeting.

The closing speaker stood up, and opened her remarks by confessing that in college she had been a Mormon Feminist. She talked about that experience in some detail; how she gradually came to the recognition that she was being alienated from the Spirit and her leaders, how she didn't like the person she was becoming, and eventually separated herself from that association. Then she mentioned that yesterday was Wear Pants to Church day, and I didn't tune in again until she was talking about blacks and the priesthood restriction.

The point of her talk was about the importance of respecting priesthood leaders, which made me think of this.

I tried to concentrate on the Spirit, then finally gave up and doodled hearts all over the paper on which I'd previously been taking notes.

I will mention that she was wearing a lovely skirt.

Why do I tell you this story today? 

To compare these two events from Sacrament Meeting, and ask some simple questions.

Whose actions had a greater spiritual impact on the meeting? Whose example brought people closer to Christ? Whose devotion helped to deepen the lasting conversion of the congregation? Who was truly in harmony with the purpose of Sacrament Meeting?

Then consider this observation from Preach My Gospel:

“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”  
President Boyd K. Packer

I understand that there is a faction of very vocal people who consider themselves activists, or I suppose reformed activists in this instance. They've been deeply impacted by the Church's past, and they feel an obligation to present the members of the Church their experiences with those issues. They want to make their cause visible to others, and many of them believe that Sacrament Meeting is the venue in which to do this.

They see the pulpit as a soapbox from which they can voice their views, even to twenty minutes past the actual end of the meeting.

What is most ironic to me about their attempts is that if they would only teach the gospel of Jesus Christ with sincerity, then bear a fervent testimony from their hearts, this would change behavior in the Church faster than anything else they could do. If they want to end racism, sexism, or any other -ism not in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ, they need to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Nothing else they can do will ever have the same impact.

I fear many of these well-intentioned "activists" have no idea how their actions actually impact the  people who have come to worship there.

I can think of another investigator who is currently attending services in our ward. He's a wonderful single father who is discovering the beauties of the restored gospel. I have loved talking to him and watching him as he cares for his new baby throughout the meetings. Surely he came to the meeting searching for the Spirit.

I think of the ill and ailing members of our ward. It is not easy for them to come to Church, and they only do so because they have sincere desires to find strength to continue facing their illnesses.

I think of my dear friend, whose mother recently passed away. She is still hurting intensely. I've been up with her past 1 in the morning twice already this week. My heart longs to know how I can help her, even though I already know that I can't. She's walking a hard road where no one can truly go with her except our Savior.

When I think of these and other good people, and how their spiritual growth was interrupted in this small way by the Mormon Feminist agenda, it upsets me. I recognize that the sister in my ward was speaking out against this agenda, but even that endeavor will never invite the Spirit.

Why? Because it's contentious, and the Spirit does not like contention.

The Mormon Feminist agenda was an unnecessary interruption to the Spirit which should have been ours in that meeting. And it wasn't just in our Sacrament Meeting, it was in Sacrament Meetings all across the Church. What some call, "shaking things up," or "making people uncomfortable with the way things are" is really just someone successfully chasing the Spirit away.

Considering the Mormon Feminists have frequently chosen to interrupt the spirit of some of the most important meetings in the Church, I have seen all I need to see of their position. Their behavior speaks for itself.

Sacrament Meeting is not the place for political agendas, current events, trending topics, or pet causes. Sacrament Meeting is the place designated by the Savior for His people to renew their covenants with Him. It's the place where disciples are helped and healed by the Savior in reverent peace. It's a meeting which should be totally dedicated to worshiping Jesus Christ--not the Tea Party, not the Mormon Feminists, not ObamaCare, or any other ordinary crusade in which our members take part.

As I once heard Queen Latifah say in a movie, "I don't want want to hear you. I want to hear God through you."

The members of my ward are especially distracting in this regard. And I admit, it has made me angry more than once. For that, I know I should repent. Which is why the last note I wrote on my paper was something I've heard the bishop's wife say many times in the few months we've lived here. It's something I can't be reminded of too often.

There is something I can love about everyone.

And more than anything else, I think back to the wonderful baptism and confirmation we just had in our ward, how strong these new members are and how much I already love them. I've asked myself whether or not I should try to mention the priesthood restriction to them at all. But my experience on Sunday shows me I don't need to do that.

Explanations and discourses on history won't change the Church, or the past, or the hearts and feelings of those who feel hurt by the past. And it certainly won't encourage the members of my ward to let it go. Only love can do that. Out of all the things I can do, the best thing would be to love them unconditionally and be their friend.

I know our Heavenly Father loves all of his children. I know that His love casts out all fear. All of the pain we experience in life is swallowed up in the love and sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He is our perfect example, the source of our salvation. I love them. I worship them. And I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is their church on the earth today.

Even in all of our weaknesses and imperfections, there's no other church I'd rather be a part of, because I know God has the power to bring us all into perfect unity with Him. I know that reverence in our church meetings is essential to our salvation and to the salvation of those around us. When we seek this together in our congregations, God's Spirit will be among us, and bind up the broken hearted.

I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

More than a Shadow: Black Saints and the Priesthood Restriction

Recently the Church posted a statement on its website in the Topics section, a statement I was pleasantly surprised to see. It is called Race and the Priesthood, and it's the most direct official statement I've ever seen from the Church on this topic. But that could also be because it's the only statement I've ever seen, aside from Official Declaration 2.

To succinctly state the reality I want to address today, I'll borrow from the newly-published statement:
"Church members of different races and ethnicities regularly minister in one another’s homes and serve alongside one another as teachers, as youth leaders, and in myriad other assignments in their local congregations. Such practices make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a thoroughly integrated faith. 
Despite this modern reality, for much of its history—from the mid-1800s until 1978—the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances."

If you're unfamiliar with the history of this issue, I highly recommend you read their statement first. It provides a foundation for the rest of my post. Also realize that having read it, you will have received more information in regards to the priesthood restriction than I did in my 6 years as a member of the Church.

My Experience: A Gradual Discovery

The issue of the priesthood restriction didn't catch my attention until my mission to Brazil. My Brazilian companions asked me about it. People we spoke to in the streets, many of them from other churches, would ask us about it. I spoke to active members who remember when the ban was lifted and they received the priesthood. We found someone who was baptized as a young woman in the 70's, fell away when she discovered the restriction, and hadn't been back to Church in more than 30 years.
Jane Manning James
First African American to settle
in the Utah Territory

All I could say to them is racism existed all throughout the world, not just in the Church, and 1978 was the time appointed for the entire world to change. Extending the priesthood to all worthy males was an invitation for the world to change, not just the Church. Many false things were taught as doctrine--the curse of Cain, the "less valiant" in the pre-existence--and we maintain today that these theories are false.

But it's hard to convince someone (in a foreign language) that you're telling the truth when those same theories are still being parroted around as doctrine by active native members of the Church.

Theories as to why the ban existed, including many views full of false doctrine, continue to be circulated throughout the Church in Brazil. The more I saw of the restriction's impact, and genuinely grew to love the Brazilian people, the more I wanted to help them understand one undeniable reality:

The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church
-Public Church statement, 2012

But it wasn't until I came home and discovered my grandmother's heritage that the priesthood ban took on a personal meaning to me.

The Priesthood Ban Affects All of Us

Whether you realize it or not, the priesthood ban affects all of us. The wonderful children of God who won't join the Church because they're black and they see no or few black faces in our congregations. The members who are inactive because they witnessed all of this history, or learned about it after the fact. You may even be closer to it than you think: you may have family members or ancestors that were directly impacted by the priesthood ban because they were black.

And you may not even know it.

That munchkin in the baby picture is me, but I'm a lot darker than that today.
The older couple to my left are my grandparents.

My grandmother's heritage has always been a mystery to us. Looking at her, you can tell she isn't white... but you can't tell what she is. Growing up, her ethnicity was never discussed. And it wasn't until I came home from my mission that I knew for sure that she is black. She comes from a long line of black Canadians from Halifax, Nova Scotia, as well as sailors from Barbados and Jamaica.

I have loved discovering my black heritage. I feel like a missing part of who I am has been filled in at last. And it was only once I was preparing their names for the temple that I finally clued into what was really taking place there. Race just isn't something that I immediately notice about people.

My black family members were alive when the priesthood ban was still in force. Even though all races were still allowed to join the Church and be baptized, they never would have received the priesthood or ordinances of the temple during their lifetime. I'd be surprised if missionaries ever set foot in that part of Halifax because the area surrounding the harbor where they lived was predominantly black.

By extension, whether I would have been allowed to enter the temple would have been in question because of my heritage. I learned while I was in Brazil that I would have had to submit a genealogy to show if the restriction applied to me or not. I don't know how far removed that heritage had to be. But for all intents and purposes my husband and I could have been considered a biracial couple in the eyes of the restriction, and I may not have been allowed to be sealed to him.

That, more than anything else, is what disturbs me about trying to imagine myself in that position.

So What Does all of this mean to Me?

Now that I can imagine how it feels to be excluded from what means so much to me, what insight does that give me into why this history matters? And how does this change my perception of the issue, and my relationship with the Church?

First, it doesn't change my relationship with the Church at all. I don't blame my Church or its leaders today for the shortcomings and weaknesses of previous generations. I decided a long time ago I would never do that. I don't think it's Christ-like. I have no right to judge others, or to read malice into their motives. But I have a responsibility to forgive, and to strive to see the hand of God even when it appears invisible. I trust God enough to allow Him to correct the failures of mankind in His own time.

I'm grateful I can be the change for the members of my family. I feel more than ever how much my ancestors depend on me to do their temple ordinances. I feel their eagerness to be received into the kingdom of God, and that eliminates all doubts I might have had on this issue. If they can find it within themselves to let go of past hurts and wrongs, so can I. And I feel privileged to be the one to offer the temple blessings to them. I feel responsible to know their stories, and to take learning black history more seriously because it's also my history.

First black Elder and Seventy
Ordained in 1836 by Joseph Smith

I have a more intense interest to learn the history of black pioneers in my church. I want to learn their stories, and share them more in my lessons and in my talks at church. I never realized how much I was ignoring the black history of my Church, for fear that it would lead to explaining the priesthood ban. But now I see we lose so many valuable stories by doing that. Hiding from our past doesn't allow many members to heal.

Our white church history comes with all sorts of baggage, but we sing praises to it all day long. It never occurred to me that the black history of the Church should be no different. To see them publishing this statement makes me feel like they're owning this part of our history. I pray this will lead to greater knowledge of the black Saints of our past; stories of their valiant faith and sacrifices to build Zion.

More than anything else however, I feel the great love of my ancestors, and their gratitude that I'm not ashamed of them. Some in my family have been ashamed that they exist, as if being black was something to be embarrassed about. But I'm not embarrassed. And no matter how messy their stories become, I know I can hold onto two irrefutable facts:

  1. All the unfair things in life are healed and made right by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
  2. The wisdom and strength we gain by surviving terrible things is worth more than any innocence we had before.
I'm using this new section of the Church's website to build up my testimony of the Church stronger than it was before. I know I have the responsibility to do this. All that will come after this now will be better than anything else before it--which is not only the definition of true learning, but also of continuing revelation.

I know that God lives. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's restored Church. It was brought back to the earth through a living prophet, Joseph Smith. The power and authority he received continued to his successors throughout the history of the Church. They were men called of God, and even in their imperfections God was able to use them to do His work. We have a prophet today, Thomas S. Monson. The priesthood power he holds is exactly the same as it was in Christ's day.

The priesthood is available to all worthy men who will receive it, and women are free partakers of those blessings, regardless of the color of their skin. We enjoy blessings for which we did not work, and we must all remember that we drink from wells we did not build. Jesus Christ has established true order and equality in His Church today. Let us go on rejoicing, inviting everyone to come and see his miracles and partake of His restored gospel.

This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hastening the Work of Salvation in My Ward

Last week in Church, one of the Sisters serving in our ward made an observation that stuck with me all week. She pointed out how the Church's emphasis on Hastening the Work of Salvation is the Lord raising the bar for us as members. It isn't enough for us to "be good examples," and not open our mouths anymore. We have to actively participate in missionary work by inviting others to come unto Christ.

I've thought about what she said all week long. And it made me ask myself a question that has really opened my eyes to how to be a better member missionary. What relationship does baptism play in the Lord hastening the work of salvation?

As I pondered the answer, I felt inspired to teach my Relief Society lesson today on baptism. That was the most amazing lesson I've ever given. I taught the basic doctrine of baptism, we reviewed the details of the baptism of Jesus Christ from Matthew 3, people shared a few experiences they had with baptism, and I told part of my conversion story to emphasize how member missionaries are the only reason I'm a member of the Church. It was really powerful because the Spirit was so strong.

But that doesn't begin to compare how strong the Spirit was once I invited the Sisters to share their thoughts on the role baptism plays in hastening the work of salvation. They each shared their testimony and their heartfelt commitment to do whatever it took to earn the trust that would inspire members to work together with them. It was a heartfelt declaration.

The investigator who is marked for baptism on December 8th with her three children then shared how her niece's baptism is what has inspired their family to be baptized. She expressed her love and gratitude for how the Lord is saving her family, and how baptism is bringing such wonderful changes into their family.

By the time they finished, our whole Relief Society was filled with tender feelings from the Spirit on the subject of baptism and missionary work. It was the greatest outpouring of the Spirit that I have felt in my ward in a long time.

I then invited the sisters to ponder on how they could each individually help more people to be baptized, and encouraged them to make their own lists of what they had to offer. This was the list I came up with:
  • Praying to find someone for the elders and sisters to teach
  • Inviting friends and neighbors to come to Church, especially to Sacrament Meeting
  • Inviting friends and neighbors to baptismal service
    • If we each invited someone to the baptism on the 8th, and some of them decided to be baptized as well, imagine how much we would grow!
  • Sharing our testimonies of the Book of Mormon with our friends, family, and neighbors
  • Offer our homes as places for the missionaries to teach their investigators
    • How would it be if, when we sign up for a date on the dinner calendar, we make a goal to invite someone else to dinner that the missionaries could teach?
  • Attending lessons with the Sisters and Elders
  • Giving rides to the missionaries’ investigators to come to Church
    • Know their names. Offer to sit by them. Ask them about what they’re learning from the missionaries. Invite them to your home. We are a family here at Church, and when we are warm, friendly, and inviting, people will want to come and they will want to STAY here with us. It takes each of us to do our part in being welcoming and kind, not just the Elders and Sisters.
  • Showing our support to new converts, so they always have a friend
    • Visiting Teaching
It was great to see how their understanding was really being enlarged, and they could see how being a member missionary isn't hard--it's doing simple things in effective ways. But the step we all have to take is to open our mouths and let them be filled!

So what role does baptism play in Hastening the Work of Salvation?

Answer: Everything!

Unbeknownst to me, we had a visitor in our ward, who was an emeritus mission president who served in Houston, Texas. I was thrilled to hear his comments in Sunday School, where the lesson incidentally was also on missionary work. And my husband and I have yet another dose of preparing member missionaries this evening with the Bishop's Youth Discussion. We've been asked to come and speak about preparing to serve a mission. So after that discussion, I will have spoken to most of the ward today about how to be a missionary.

Then to top off the day, I did a long overdue visiting teaching visit, only to discover that a very wonderful young father is looking to take the discussions there because he wants to be baptized. I couldn't be more excited to get to know this family and help them in any way that I can to build their gospel foundation. It's what most brings me joy in life.

I love missionary work, and I love helping others to love it too. I'm contemplating using my teaching calling in Relief Society to focus more on missionary work and implementing more material from Preach My Gospel. I would be excited to see the impact of that guidance and encouragement. Our ward has amazing potential to grow, we just need to catch the vision of it before the Lord can use us to make it happen. And being a big dreamer and helping people catch the vision of the work has always been my greatest strength.

I know that the work in which we're engaged is essential to our own happiness. The experiences I've had today have been the strongest spiritual experiences I've had in months. I feel so happy to be a part of hastening the work of salvation. I know I'm in my ward for this very purpose, and the joy I feel because of that I something I have really needed to find.

I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. He set the example that we all must follow as missionaries--he was always inviting others to come closer to Him, regardless of whether they would reject Him or not. He baptized thousands, and helped his disciples to baptize thousands more. May we always strive to stand within our place as member missionaries, "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

A More Intelligent Modesty

Modesty can be a pretty divisive issue in the Church, and a lot of that has to do with the quality of the conversation. I see a lot of people using statistics and correlation arguments, as if we can prove that modesty is better. Those who are immodest are more likely to be attacked and bear children out of wedlock. Those who dress immodestly are more likely to break the law of chastity or other commandments. 

These arguments are not only bogus, they have no power to convert others to Christ because they have no connection to Him or His doctrine whatsoever.

At the same time, there are two arguments I have seen to defend greater lenience on immodesty: that standards of modesty are modern teachings set forth by current prophets, but are not to be found in the scriptures. I've even seen it said that standards of modesty were never taught by Jesus himself. These are only two of some ridiculous claims I've heard, and these are the types of false doctrine that inspired me to write this post.

I'm going to write the talk on modesty that I wish someone would have given me when I was in Young Women--a more intelligent discourse on modesty. If we're going to help teenagers resist against all that is immodest around them today, the true doctrine of modesty is something they're going to need to understand.

What is modesty?

The best guide on modesty is the For Strength of Youth pamphlet--which now has a website. If you have any doubt of what God expects of you on any issue, more likely than not the answer is here.

Modesty is a very important, personal decision to dress according to the high moral standards of the Savior. It is one of the important decisions of discipleship that applies to all of us--old and young, male and female.

Much of what we understand of modesty only encompasses a few scriptures, usually in relation to the modesty of women. But throughout the scriptures, the standards for dignified clothing and appearance applied to men and women alike. While Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 2: 9-10 are indispensable to the conversation on modest dress and demeanor, the doctrine of modesty is all encompassing throughout the scriptures.

Modesty, however, can be a very loose term. It applies as much to clothing and appearance as it does to a simple and refined character. I want to talk intelligently about the dress standards of the Church, and I've chose to define these modesty standards in two ways: the Lord’s teachings on clothing, and His teachings on nakedness.

Clothing and nakedness have both a literal and symbolic place in scripture. Before we can understand the doctrine of modesty, we need to be familiar with the teachings of ancient prophets, as well as Christ himself, on the significance of clothing and nakedness.

What can we learn from ancient scripture on God’s standards for clothing? How does this relate to our standards of modesty today?

Clothing has always been a literal representation of piety. To receive clothing, or standards for clothing from God is a symbol of our covenant with him. To be covered by this clothing means to be covered and protected by him and His law. And on one of the most fundamental Christian levels, to give clothing to the naked consistently represents the highest form of charity.

Beginning with the coats of skin that God made with Adam and Eve, there is a robust history on God's dealings with the clothing of his people. The Hebrew word used for Atonement is כפרת, or Kaparah, which also means "to cover." While the language suggests a loving God covering us with his protection against all sin and destruction, it also suggests the coverings He has provided for His children since the beginning of their mortal probation.

The high priest's attire set Aaron and the Levites apart as the priestly classes. Under the Law of Moses, strict laws relating to clothing were put into place which set the entire Jewish population apart. One perfect example of these many customs, traditions, and laws is the robe without seam: a long white robe which would be woven without seam, and was not to be made of mixed fibers (see Leviticus 19: 19.) We can safely assume that Lehi and his family carried these same Jewish traditions with them over to the new world, because we see them talking about cleansing their garments of blood/sin, and rending their garments to show humility and repentance.

We must also keep in mind that their standards of clothing were stricter than ours. To keep the private, sacred parts of their bodies covered simply went without saying to the culture of Ancient Israel. The fact that weaves, fabrics, ornaments, and other aspects of fashion dominate the Old Testament conversation on clothing doesn't mean that God didn't care about hemlines and cleavage back then. It simply reflects that it was a matter that didn't need to be explained to them in obvious detail.

Christ abides by these very same teachings and standards, showing their validity as sacred law. His seamless robe demonstrates that these were not just traditions invented by priests out of chauvinism; the symbolic nature of clothing was so important to the Lord that prophecies of Christ’s death include his seamless robe being torn (John 19:23.) 

And who could forget the beautiful story of Christ healing the woman who reached out to touch his garment? (Matt5: 28-30) While our Catholic and Orthodox neighbors attribute the power of this miracle to the garment itself, we know to attribute the power of Christ to Christ himself--not to his possessions.

It was because of his virtue, his modesty, his total moral perfection before God that even touching the raiment of Christ allowed someone to be healed. Christ may never have addressed modesty by name in his teachings. But in this account we see the power of modesty, chastity, and virtue modeled perfectly by the master teacher. 

Clothing is also consistently associated with the language of salvation. (see Isaiah 61: 10, Revelations 3: 5) If our clothing is truly unimportant to God, why is it inseparable to His covenants throughout history, and finally inseparable from exaltation itself? Why does Christ himself abide by those principles if they are simply false traditions taught by men?

Here I address the accusation that Jesus never cared about modesty because He never addressed it by name. We have no proof that he never addressed it, we only assume this to be the case because such an account is not included in our scriptures. But why should we expect Christ to command us in all things before we are willing to follow His example? It should simply be enough to live as he lived without the expectation for compulsion.

As we can see, the Lord has always used clothing to express His love to His children, to signify His covenant with them, to set them apart from all that was immoral and iniquitous in the world. As we follow that same example, we receive His divine protection.

Today, our standards of modesty are different. In fact, we enjoy some of the greatest freedoms in terms of what to wear that the world has ever known. It is true that knee length skirts, one piece bathing suits, covered backs and chests, and sleeves on everything from t-shirts to wedding dresses can present challenges to us. But we enjoy freedoms for styles, fabrics, weaves, colors, and designs that reflect our cultures from all over the world. For that we must be truly grateful, and rejoice in our diversity.

Modesty has been a part of man’s relationship with God since the beginning. And just as Christ said that Solomon in all his wealth was never arrayed so finely as simple lily, we must be willing to receive reality checks on our clothing choices when they come. Otherwise, we miss the lessons of loveliness from the Creator of all that is truly and timelessly beautiful.

What can we learn from ancient scripture about nakedness? What are the teachings of Christ on it specifically? How does this knowledge relate to standards of modesty in our day?

Nakedness has three connotations in the scriptures: poverty, sin and rebellion. In the teachings of Christ, we see references to all three. In the same way that clothing had both temporal and spiritual significance, so too does nakedness.

In Matthew 25: 35-40, we see Jesus speaking in relation to the nakedness of poverty. The Lord and His prophets alike hardly refer to the poor without expressing it in such plain terms of “clothing the naked.” His mandate is to clothe nakedness wherever we find it, for to do so is to love Him. To fail in this duty is no different to God than if we were to leave Him naked and destitute. He leaves no room for argument or interpretation. (See also James 2: 16; Jacob 2: 19; Mosiah 18: 28.)

But in Matthew 22: 11-12, we see Christ speaking against a spiritual nakedness, a rebellion which in this parable hearkens back to Satan himself. To be without the wedding garment means to be a stranger to the Bridegroom, in this case to God himself. As God has offered his covering, His Atonement, freely to all--some will yet return to His presence in their mortal nakedness. They have stubbornly remained attached the world in all its trends and sensual pleasures. They are the natural men, enemies to God. In verse 13, we read about what He intends to do in this situation.

In the language of the scriptures, Satan is naked (Job 26: 6.) He has been since the beginning of the world because he did not receive a body, nor the coats of skin Adam and Eve received to clothe their bodies. This clothing demonstrates how Satan was cast out, and is not covered by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. 

That image of being naked and separated from God repeats throughout the Book of Mormon. After the Lamanites separate from the Nephites, Nephi records that they began wearing very little clothing, hunting wild beasts in the forest, and living in ever growing depravity (Alma 3: 5; 43: 20; 44: 18.) The Book of Mormon testifies repeatedly that nakedness is a representation of apostasy.

Much of the feeling the Lord communicates in regards to immodesty is written in very symbolic language. Isaiah by far provides the most vivid descriptions—but any member who habitually skips over the Isaiah in their scripture reading will be unfamiliar with it.

Isaiah 3 details the depraved state of Zion during his day—the poverty and social breakdown which surround them on all sides. All that is praiseworthy in their society, including the worship of God Himself, has been abandoned and consumed in sin. Isaiah records that, “the shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not.”

But when you read the chapter in full, much of the description of their sin is expressed in the imagery of clothing. In fact, he spends nearly half of the chapter comparing Zion to a harlot, dressed in the clothing which has become typical to their time period (see verses 16-24.) Their immodesty has become synonymous with their immorality and their rejection of the Lord.

Isaiah states that “Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory.”

Immodesty is a provocation to the Lord. It is offensive to Him. And when we interpret Isaiah to be speaking of his own time and experience, that interpretation is not accurate. In addition to speaking prophetically of/to his contemporaries, he is also speaking of/to us about the days in which we live.

Nephi had the same opportunity to see our day, and he remarked in 1 Nephi 13: 7, “I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots.”

How would Nephi know a harlot in our day if he saw one? The same way we recognize one. It’s not from the clothing they’re wearing, it’s from the clothing… well, that they aren’t wearing. To be immodest is to be wearing the trademark of a harlot. But what harm does that really do? Does a tank top and booty shorts really make that much of a difference in someone's salvation?

Verse 9 in the same chapter with Nephi is where we find our answer.

“And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.”

We bring too much of our own wisdom and rationalizing into the teaching and discussion of modesty. Immodesty is not wrong because it could cause others to view us sensually, although that does happen. It's not because it somehow diminishes our worth in the eyes of God. It isn't because immodesty leads us to break other commandments, or the law of chastity itself. It isn't because in one fell swooping neckline, all society is led to moral ruin.

The question of hemlines and necklines, the sleeves, skin-tight and see-through, backs, breasts and bathing suit--all stem from one reality; one issue that leaves all justification speechless before it.

Revealing ourselves and our nakedness is offensive to God.

To be most effective, the reasoning should end HERE. We need not make up secular or logical reasons to convince people of virtue's virtue. No one will be converted or persuaded by anything less than true principle, and the desire to do God's will anyway.

The question then, becomes one of desire. Those who disobey the standards of modesty seek to be sensual, which our culture can no longer distinguish from being desirable. But to be sensual is a sin well laid out in the scriptures. To be sensual is to be carnal--and to be carnal and sensual is to be devilish. It is to trade the Spirit of God, which attends us when we are meek and submissive, for the spirit of rebellion.

This is the sin of immodesty. It is not a sin of secular, statistical, or logical indiscretion. It is a sin of rebellion. And it is that spirit of rebellion, not the behavior of any sin in and of itself, which destroys individuals, families, and nations.

The Consequences of Immodesty

To add some additional observation from personal experience, I have known several women who refuse to enter the temple and make covenants with our Father in Heaven. Their reasoning? Because they know their manner of dress will not cover the garments they receive as part of those covenants.

Rather than repent, they seek to cover their sin by saying they aren't ready to lose their youth (one may only presume they mean their sexuality) to the garment. When I think of their husbands and children, whose prayers to be sealed together are thwarted because of a wife/mother’s vanity—I admit, it makes me angry. And I wouldn't be bringing this up if it wasn't something I have seen over and over again in various places I have lived.

In the choice between all God has to offer you—your family, your eternal progression, your divine inheritance, the ability to live in God’s presence, the fullest expression of Christ’s love for you—and a mini-skirt… there are women out there who would still choose the mini-skirt.

That may be the most expensive mini-skirt they ever own—because it could end up costing them everything that matters to them. All I can say is, I hope it was worth it.

Those who forfeit their relationship with God long enough because of immodesty soon find themselves in a spirit of mocking that which is sacred. They criticize others for living or promoting high standards of modesty. In their guilt, they resist against all correction. In their pride, they view themselves as being morally superior because anyone who attempts to correct them must be doing so sanctimoniously. It soon becomes impossible for God to reach them in their hardened state. They find fault in God’s laws, then in his people, in their leaders, and at last with the Church itself.

"...and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit." 1 Nephi 8: 27

But the most tragic part of that situation is, no matter how much they lash out against God or His people, they’ll never leave a mark. The only person they are truly hurting is themselves.

Modest clothing is not a burden. It is an expectation of the Lord, one that shows the Lord how much we respect ourselves and Him. It is a respect we cannot show in any other way. It is what the Lord has asked for and taught continually--the standard he has set throughout the history of the world. In short, modesty is a simple standard with eternal consequences.

When we seek after God with all of our hearts, one of the standards we will inevitably run into, regardless of our religion, is modesty. When we allow that standard to mold us and shape us into a fit reflection of God’s grace, we become holy as He is holy.

I know that God is our loving Father in Heaven. I know that Jesus is the Christ. Our Savior gave all He had in order to pay the price for our sins. In exchange for our salvation, He has asked for our obedience. I know that when we offer that which He has asked of us, nothing will ever be found wanting in our lives. No sin we leave behind will ever bring the sweetness of joy, which only following Christ can bring us. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints truly is Christ's church restored to the earth. The Book of Mormon is true. Joseph Smith was a prophet, and we have living prophets and apostles on the earth today.

I leave my witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Ten Scriptures that Can Get Me Through Anything

Whenever I get a new set of scriptures, there are a few places I go to first to mark them. Even though I could make my way back to these verses from memory, my scriptures don't really feel like mine until I've been to them.

1. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

These first two were on my wall when I was a teenager. I don't even remember when I found them. My scripture reading method at the time was to just flip around randomly in the Bible until I found something that spoke to me.

2. Romans 8:35-39

Because my family and friends didn't accept my decision to be baptized and were constantly undermining my beliefs and life decisions, reading these verses reassured me that nothing they were trying to do would ultimately succeed.

3. Psalm 27

Everyone needs a psalm that speaks to them in their suffering, and this one is mine. Everything about it speaks directly to my heart, especially verse 10. This psalm teaches me what it looks like to hold my head above water. It couldn't speak any better to my heart if I had written it myself.

4. 1 Nephi 21:15-16

Similar to Psalm 27:10, these verses remind me that even though my relationships with my parents are full of painful memories I wish I didn't have, I have a Savior who has been with me through all of it. There is someone who loves me and sees me for who I am, even when my parents cannot.

5. Isaiah 62:1

This is the scripture I would've put on my mission plaque if I'd had one. It speaks to the part of me that truly never wants to give up on anybody, the tenacity of holiness, and the refusal to quit.

6. Mosiah 11-17

Abinadi. Enough said.

7. Alma 32

This was the first chapter in the Book of Mormon I ever read. It was the reason I got baptized. It's also the chapter in the Book of Mormon I've come back to the most throughout my life, especially when I struggle with my relationships with other members of the Church. The Church is not the focus of my worship. Jesus Christ is. Every time I've needed that reminder, I've ended up spending time in this chapter.

8. Alma 36

There is no better description than this chapter of what it feels like to be redeemed by Jesus Christ. It perfectly captures the joy of repentance. It gets me every time.

9. 3 Nephi 22

This was the chapter I ended up reading after I sent my father a copy of the Book of Mormon, shortly before he ended up passing away. It was a difficult thing for me to do because we were estranged. This was the message I got from God letting me know that he was proud of me, that he would bless me for doing the best I could with a really difficult situation, and the blessings in this chapter were the ones he was saving especially for me.

10. 2 Nephi 26:23-33

This is the chapter I have probably quoted the most when I'm teaching other members of the Church. I love it because it teaches the universal love of God for all of his children, with specificity about the issues most prevalent in our day.

Annotating Patriarchal Blessings: OneNote

Several years ago, I did a series of posts on how to use Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader to study your patriarchal blessing. Many people never realized they could use those programs in that way, and I was satisfied that I had found what would be my lasting solution to study my blessing.

What inspired me to begin using OneNote was the fact that I couldn't use the attachment function in Adobe Reader. Attachments were a great way of attaching talks, images, charts--anything I wanted directly into the PDF of my blessing. I really liked this feature, but once my free trial of Adobe Acrobat Pro expired, I couldn't use attachments anymore.

I set about to find a workaround with a different PDF program, and couldn't find one. I grew dissatisfied with Adobe and I had the interesting prompting to explore OneNote.

I fell in love instantly with the massive amounts of features I found. I can't believe I never imagined using it much sooner. I've been using it for less than a week, so I've only begun to discover all the features it has, and all the ways I can use it to study my patriarchal blessing.

How do I set it up?

I admit, transferring all of my annotations out of Adobe Reader took me a while. It was a project I worked on for several days. But now that I've finished with the Copy and Paste phase, using the program will go much faster for me. It really won't be nearly as complicated for someone else just starting out, however.

Open OneNote, and you can either use the Notebook it opens up for you, or create a new one. I didn't want to create a new one, so I'm actually going to show you everything in the Quick Notes section today.

Either type or copy the text of your blessing into a page in OneNote. Once you have that finished, you can begin adding comments and annotations. So let's say I want to study more on the subject of blessings. I create a section for that from the blue menu on the right. I call the new page "Blessings," and I start to work.

On this page, my study can include anything and everything.

  • I can add scriptures, questions, journal entries, lists, or ideas. I can write using a tablet or I can type it out. 
  • I can choose a word from my blessing, right click, choose Link, and add links to talks on the internet. 
  • I can attach all kinds of file formats. Simply go to INSERT menu at the top, click on File Attachment, and add whatever you want. You can download transcripts of talks and attach them as Word or PDF files. You can attach audio or video copies of talks you have studied. If you want suggestions of where you can study or download new talks, has conference talks, magazine articles and manuals. Also check out their Media LibraryBYU Speeches has BYU talks and devotionals in various formats, I highly recommend them. BYU Broadcasting has archives for BYU Women's Conference, the Sperry Symposium, and Education Week; you can't download these, but they have some amazing talks in there. When you attach audio files, you can actually play them from OneNote instead of having to open them up in separate programs. 
  • If you go to the INSERT menu at the top, you also see options for Record Audio and Record Video. You can record yourself talking about your blessing and do an audio or video journal of your studying if you don't like to write or sit at a computer. Just make sure you use this feature privately, because it isn't appropriate for anyone outside of immediate family to hear your patriarchal blessing.

Once you have studied to your heart's content, you can link the page you just created to the topic in your patriarchal blessing. The example I showed you above was on blessings, so I'm actually going to attach that to the word "blessings" in the text.

Highlight the word you want to connect to your page, in this case, "blessings." Choose Link. A new small window will appear.

Click the plus sign next to the name of the Notebook you're working out of. Then it will give you a list of Sections. Click the plus sign next to the Section where your blessing is. Your blessing will appear at the top, and all the pages underneath it should be pages you created while you studied. Find the one for "blessings," or whatever the topic was that you were studying, and click on it. Select OK.

The word "blessings" is now a link to the page on blessings. I can continue to do this for every subject in my blessing I want to study. As I'm readying, I can click on the word and it will take me to the page I have created on that subject.

If you like to write when you study instead of typing, and you have a tablet, OneNote is very compatible with what works best for you. You can scan a copy of your blessing, insert it into OneNote, and annotate on it using a tablet to your heart's content. I personally don't have a tablet yet, so I can't show you. But there are plenty of tutorials on the web than can.

What are some suggestions on how to make use of Sections?
The pages are in a colored list on the right side of the page. The sections are tabs which you can create across the top of a Notebook. I have created two sections. One I called Em Português, where I have my blessing that I translated into Portuguese, with annotations I made in my study journal on my mission that are all in Portuguese.

The other section is my catch-all Attachments section. Whenever I find talks or books or information about Patriarchal Blessings in general, this section exists to record them. For now, I have that section organized by the author of the information. I have pages for President Thomas S. Monson, James E. Faust, etc. I can make a book list, or talks I need to look up. I can also have a research list going with questions for which I want to find answers.

Other bits and bobs, odds and ends...

I personally don't like the blank white background. You can add images and colors to the background should you so desire. I'm more of a pragmatist myself, so I like the background to serve a function. I go to VIEW, click Rule Lines, and I choose Narrow Ruled. Because the default font is Calibri, size 11, it fits perfectly between the Narrow Ruled lines. I like my stuff to be uniform and lined up evenly, so the ruled lines help me to keep my stuff looking organized. You can decorate it or add wider lines according to your tastes or how large you want your font to be.

Under the REVIEW menu, you'll also find dictionaries and references you can use while you study. And in one of the screenshots above, you'll see I have one of the Bible maps from the scriptures attached. There really is no limit to the material you can include in your study entries. I love the versatility, and I know a lot of others out there will as well.

One last thing...

Patriarchal blessings are extremely private documents. They aren't meant to be shared with other people outside of family--especially since nothing in your blessing applies to anyone outside of your family anyway. Your blessing is for YOU, and the blessings in it only apply to you. You want to make sure that other people--nosy siblings, laptop thieves, crazy girlfriends who want to know if their name really IS in your patriarchal blessing, etc ad nauseam, don't get access to it.

Under the REVIEW section, you will find a Password function. You will see options to set password by Section (sections are the colored tabs at the top of your Notebook, not the whole Notebook.) You will also see options to Lock All, which means to lock the entire Notebook. Choose which one you think applies best to your situation, use a password you won't forget, and rest easy knowing that your blessing is protected.

The whole purpose of this project is to help me study my blessing in greater detail, and to preserve what I study in one centralized location--as opposed to scattered insights in the margins of my scriptures, in various study journals, or stuck inside my head. When I record my insight and protect them appropriately, the Lord can deepen my understanding and bring me closer to Him.

I know that patriarchal blessings are evidence of how much Heavenly Father loves and knows each one of His children. If you haven't received your patriarchal blessing, prepare yourself to receive it. There could be no greater insight into His purpose for your life.

I know that God lives, and that Jesus is the Christ. They have provided for our salvation. They want us to return and live with them again. I leave you my witness that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church of God here on the earth. Joseph Smith was a prophet, and the Book of Mormon is true. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Eve's Tears, Changes, and Paradoxical Observation

Yesterday my husband and I had the opportunity to go to the temple for the first time since the new endowment film was released. And even though the script for the ceremony was exactly the same, I was able to take away so many things I never noticed before.

The most significant change for me to the ceremony was the scene of Eve being tempted. The two films could not have BEEN more different on the subject.

First of all, Eve in the new film is very thoughtful. She pauses, she thinks before she responds, she comprehends her choice, and its impact. And before she partakes of the fruit and asks what has always seemed to me a brilliant question--she sheds a tear. She mourns. She feels pain, and not just any pain. Something very significant--a recognition that she is about to leave her God, her home, and possibly even her husband. Even in her innocent state, she feels this, comprehends this reality.

Let me be the voice of reason here for a second and remind everyone that Adam and Eve are innocent at this point. They can't comprehend good and evil, virtue and vice, health and sickness, pleasure and pain... can they? Or is that a half truth as well? Consider the source of that information.

Do you really believe him?

And with that question, so much opens up for our consideration.

If Eve can't feel pain, why is she crying before she even partakes of the fruit?

If Adam can't comprehend moral choices, why is he so adamant about keeping all of the commandments?

Being innocent is not the same thing as being stupid--and Adam and Eve certainly were not stupid. The heart is eternal, and in their hearts was a great wealth of knowledge and understand which shows through them, even in their state of innocence. Although they were not capable of full moral agency, or much of the experiences which they would gain through being mortal, they were certainly capable of more than I realized, even in the state of being innocent.

I have long believed that Eve was much more aware, much wiser in her choice to Fall than I was ever able to prove in words. But the new presentation of the endowment gives voice to that understanding in a way that I never imagined before. It is yet another gift which worshiping in the temple has afforded, a gift I could not have received in any other way.

I know that God has a plan for all of us here on earth. He is very aware of us, hasn't forgotten us at all. From the very beginning, He planned our education and salvation. He planned our return to Him, and sent His Son to be our Savior so we could return home to His presence. But more importantly, because of Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, we are able to have so much joy and connection to God, here and now, that wouldn't be possible without Him. And when we worship in the temple, I feel like I come closer to God than in any other place I could be. I know it is the house of God, the place where I can know Him and all He has done for me.

I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that he restored the true organization and worship of the temple here on earth. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Jesus Christ here on the earth, and I leave you my witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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