Friday, October 9, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 139


It just so happened that my post-surgical self-imposed exile-from-most-human-interaction fell over General Conference weekend. (For those unfamiliar with this event, twice annually the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather in Salt Lake City and broadcast sermons to the world-wide membership of the church: one session on a Saturday evening and then five sessions total the following Saturday and Sunday.) This allowed me a perfect opportunity to sit and listen to the messages with fewer distractions than normal (not no distractions, of course; pain meds and children were integral parts of my weekend).

On the whole, this was one of the most Christ-centered General Conferences in a while. I heard sincere love and concern, tenderness and an effort to reach out and understand. It really was a gathering of imperfect people doing their best to express the thoughts of their hearts and imperfect people doing their best to listen and understand how best to improve moving forward.

As is inevitably the case in any large conference with almost twelve hours of sessions addressed to more than 15 million people in a dizzying myriad of situations all around the world, some of the dozens of talks last weekend and this spoke directly to me and my personal challenges at this point in my life; some didn't; and some I'm not so sure about. Some were instant favorites that I look forward to re-reading again and again; some I wasn't very fond of at first hearing, have questions about, and I'll need to re-read them again and again as well. I take very seriously the charge to seek personal revelation and confirmation of the messages shared, as well as to apply the individual promptings I receive as the Spirit guides.

I have friends for whom Conference seems to have been an unadulterated uplifting and edifying bathing in the Spirit, where every word seemed to come with a golden heavenly stamp of approval joyfully and easily welcomed as it fell from the lips of the speaker. And I have friends for whom Conference was painful, triggering, and disappointing, where certain aspects made them feel alone or misunderstood or unheard. And many - including myself - for whom it was a mixed bag somewhere in between.

I guess what I'm saying is, let's be gentle with each other. None of us experiences life's challenges and joys and heartaches and lessons exactly the same as anyone else, and I firmly believe that is a strength to our community of Saints, not something to shy away from or fear. One of the repeating themes of this Conference was the infinite worth of each human soul as a daughter or son of heavenly parents, and the related pleading that we more clearly see each other as children of God and treat each other accordingly.

We can all do a little better in that regard.


I still wasn't feeling 100% Sunday evening, but I was determined to go listen to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at Gonzaga University. President Sirleaf is the current leader of Liberia and one of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureates and has been instrumental in moving her country - and especially the Liberian women - forward in educational and employment opportunities. She also recently had to manage the terrifying Ebola outbreaks in Liberia and handled the crisis decisively, with strength and grace. I admire her greatly.

So I got out of the pajamas I'd lived in for a few days and met my sister at the McCarthey Athletic Center. We arrived early enough to snag fifth row seats!

I'm so glad I made the effort. President Sirleaf's remarks were stirring and inspiring. She has withstood great trials in her life, made great sacrifices to serve her people, and is seeing the fruits of her efforts in her beloved country. Education and literacy is increasing, women fill 30-35% of the leadership positions in government, communities feel - and are - empowered to address their own issues and participate in the solutions. The economy, infrastructure, and health systems are being slowly rebuilt after the devastation of Ebola.

As Africa's first democratically elected female head of state, she recognizes, she said, that she represents the aspirations and expectations of women in Liberia, in Africa, and around the world. She is devoted to changing things for the better, but it is the resilience, the determination, the commitment, and the industry of the people of Liberia, she says, that is making the change happen.

Remarkable woman.


Last week, my friend Kim invited our family to come celebrate Sukkot with her family and friends. Sukkot is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. It's a Jewish harvest festival and also a commemoration of the Exodus, forty years of wandering in the wilderness and living in temporary booths or tabernacles.

A proper sukkah, I learned, is enclosed on three sides and has
openings in the top through which you can see the stars. Beautiful!

Delicious soups and casseroles and veggies and breads and desserts!
Wonderful food, fun conversation with interesting people, and my boys had a great time, too!


Early October is a busy one for birthdays around here.

First, Evan turned seven years old!

And then Josh broke into the double digits!

Happy birthday, my boys!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Review: Year of Plenty by Craig L. Goodwin

Two and a half years ago, during the inaugural SpokaneFaVS Faith Feast, I had the chance to glut myself on dozens of delicious desserts at Millwood Presbyterian Church. After getting stuffed on appetizers and entrees at more exotic locales (a Muslim mosque and the Sikh temple), I'll admit that I was at first rather blase' about this third location, a Christian house of worship and a faith with which I already had a passing familiarity. The impressive spread of desserts knocked my complacency right over, though, and I enjoyed myself, and the conversations I had with other guests and with our hosts, immensely.

Millwood Presbyterian has a rather unique and special relationship with food, led in large part by their pastor Craig Goodwin and his family, that I found intriguing. Once a month, the church hosts the Second Harvest Mobile Food Bank, distributing food to those in need. And every Wednesday for four months spanning the summer, the parking lot is taken over by the Millwood Farmers' Market providing access to locally raised or produced meat, fruits and vegetables, breads, honey, flowers and more. With this background showing such long-term and ongoing commitment, I was interested to pick up Year of Plenty authored by Goodwin, and see just what he had to say about how faith, food, and family intersect.

The basic set up - a family of four commits to eschew "meaningless" purchases and consumerism for a year focusing on only homemade, homegrown, local, or used goods and products (with the notable exception of the Northwest staple not grown in the Northwest: coffee) - isn't completely unique, a fact Goodwin addresses early on in the book, and yes, it's a bit gimmicky, but I actually didn't mind. There's a real sincerity behind the impetus for the project, a thoughtful adaptation to his family's lifestyle and capabilities, and a true desire to learn and change that is authentic regardless of how many other iterations exist.

In fact, this exercise had far-reaching implications for real Christian living. In a family headed by two pastors, it's not at all surprising that spiritual lessons will be unearthed, but the continuity and inter-relatedness of daily actions and overarching beliefs showed up again and again. "Faith that doesn't touch everyday life is dead," Goodwin said, so examining exactly how faith touches and influences everyday life is vital.

What they - and by extension their readers - discovered is that relationships are key. When they purchased their food from a local farm and met not only the farmer but the whole family and learned the name of the cow that they'd be eating as beef later in the year, they made real connections and felt real impacts. "We've got faces on our veggies now," Goodwin writes, and their prayers over meals changed:
We predictably thanked God for the food, but the our prayers spontaneously went into unchartered [sic] territory, thanking God for the farmers and producers. We thanked God for Mr. Siemers and prayed for his struggles and the injustices in the marketplace that allow his crops to rot...Our prayer became an inventory not just of the food but of the people whose work had gone into producing it. Every food item on our plates was connected to a person we knew, a person who was sorting out a life of hopes and dreams and struggles. These were our neighbors, and that night, through our prayers, we were able to love them like never before.
But this reaches farther than the dinner table, into how we approach others and the Gospel itself. For example, Goodwin talks about the "unsettling integration of consumerism and Christianity" and how it sometimes seems in a culture of proselytizing and evangelizing that "Jesus is the supreme consumer product." He says:
I believe in evangelism and being prepared and equipped to tell people about the hope we have in Jesus. But it perverts the story of the church to envision people as projects to convert, or friendships to leverage. In a world prone to coerce and manipulate, the church should come offering free love, and even free hugs...The greatest gift the church has to offer its neighbors is to recognize them as something other than customers. In a world where everyone is constantly reduced to objects, the church ought to be a refreshingly humanizing force. The story of the church is to envision people as beloved children of God who are irreducible.
This humanizing force, this recognition of neighbors as people, allows relationships to develop and deepen. I love how Goodwin describes this experiment as creating "holy mischief in my life, turning the disconnected, isolated objects of my consumer life into an inseparable web of meanings and realities."

And that's the real value for me in reading about the Goodwins' year-long experience. It showed that by deliberately paying attention, by entering into interactions - even everyday economic transactions - with eyes wide open, by asking questions about the impacts of our choices, by intentionally allowing our core values and our faith to inform and transform our actions, we participate in a process of making connections and becoming more whole as individuals and as communities.

No amount of doctrinal knowledge or accuracy can substitute for the practice of daily living of the Gospel in every aspect. Likewise, the scope of global problems can be overwhelming, but simple actions of building community and relationship are not only eminently doable, they are the essence of Christian living. 

You see, Goodwin says, "God is in the midst of redeeming all things, and I'm doing my best to pay attention to and be a part of what God is doing."

Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christina Living
by Craig L. Goodwin
ISBN: 9781451400748
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book Review: Daughters of Light by Carol Lynn Pearson

In this slim but important volume, first published in 1973, the inestimable Carol Lynn Pearson gathers dozens of accounts of women in the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints using their spiritual gifts. What a powerful spiritual heritage we have!

Each chapter focuses on a single gift - the gift of tongues and the gift of interpretation of tongues, the gift of prophecy, the gift of revelation, the gift of faith to heal, the gift of faith to be healed, and the gift of power over evil spirits - some of which will be familiar to those of us in the Church today and some may seem strange because they are no longer prevalent. The perspective this provides is helpful to me; the way things are done now is not the only way they have ever been done. And by extension, the way things are done now is not, or at least should not be, a straitjacket restricting change.

In particular, I love reading about the gifts of prophecy and healing demonstrated by women in these early days. Both Lucy Mack Smith and Mary Fielding Smith are highlighted as examples of modern prophetesses. The story about Mary Fielding Smith is, once again, the one where my illustrious ancestor Cornelius Peter Lott as the captain of the company encourages Widow Smith to remain behind in Winter Quarters until she has sufficient oxen to not be a burden on those traveling with her to the Salt Lake Valley. She rebuffs him, prophesying, "I will beat you to the valley, and will ask no help from you, either!" Seemingly "nettle[d]" by this response, he "lost no opportunity to vent his spleen on the widow and her family." On the final day before reaching the valley, Widow Smith's cows were lost and Captain Lott ordered the company to start earlier than usual, knowing it would leave her behind. And then the heavens opened with a torrential downpour and the company was delayed taking shelter. In the mean time, the cattle found and hitched up, Widow Smith traveled into the valley arriving 20 hours ahead of the company. "And thus was her prophecy fulfilled." Now, there are more charitable interpretations of the series of events that don't cast poor Cornelius in quite as bad a light, but I do have to shake my head at his hubris which may very well have been passed down through a few generations of descendants.

The specific accounts of women healing are numerous and powerful. I loved the stories of Emma Smith and the great midwife Patty Sessions. The eighth General Relief Society President Amy Brown Lyman recalls Eliza R. Snow and Zina D.H. Young administering to her "semi-invalid mother" and her subsequent return to health. Mothers called on the powers of heaven to heal their children, fellow Saints, and others under their charge frequently.

I appreciate the balance of well-known women like Lucy Mack Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and Jane Elizabeth Manning James with near anonymous figures in the "rank and file" of the early Church, including global pioneers such as native Hawaiians and New Zealanders. Many of the stories are told in the women's own words, or through the lens of other women who witnessed the miracles performed by faith and through spiritual gifts.

Daughters of Light is a simple and powerful testament to the truth that "It is, in fact, not only the privilege, but the solemn duty of every Latter-day Saint woman, married or unmarried, to cultivate the spiritual powers that lie within her own soul."

Daughters of Light
by Carol Lynn Pearson
ISBN: 9780884944454
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 138


Image description: nine portraits side by side of LDS women leaders smiling at the camera. From left to right, they are Neill F. Marriot; Vicki F. Matsumori; Cheryl A. Esplin; Margaret Dyreng Nadauld; Cheryl C. Lant; Chieko N. Okazaki; Bonnie Dansie Parkin; Sylvia Allred; Carole M. Stephens.

For the past several months, my friend Lauren Ard and I have been working on a project called General Conference Sisters. With the help of a few other volunteers, we read through every single talk given by a woman in LDS General Conference (more than 300 since 1975 when Barbara B. Smith, the Relief Society General President at the time, started speaking in the General Welfare Session - read more about the history here), pulled out quotes and categorized them by topic.

We'd both been frustrated in our efforts to include women's voices in our callings (she as an Activity Days leader and I as Young Women president) and wanted to create a resource to make it easier to find relevant quotes for lessons, talks, and personal edification. I think we've done that.

Every six months we'll cull through the five or so talks given by women (including those in the General Women's Session) and add more quotes to the database.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback, and especially how you've been able to use General Conference Sisters to increase women's voices.

(If you'd like to read more about our experiences during this process, check out our guest post, cross-posted at both Feminist Mormon Housewives and Young Mormon Feminists.)


This is the best General Conference prep video I've seen since "How General Authorities Eat Their Reese's" one a few years back. Enjoy!!


Lots of cool stuff has happened recently: FaVS covered the Pope's visit to Philadelphia; the "blood moon"; the lack of the end-of-the-world apocalypse; the AH-MA-ZING food at the 80th annual Greek Festival at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (even if they were sold out of the incredible cabbage rolls on the first day); my very first Sukkot celebration with friends; and yet another oral surgery for me (whee!).


And there's lots of cool stuff coming up: LDS General Conference this weekend with possibly three new apostles called (I have my favorites I'm pulling for, but we'll see who gets tapped); Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia speaking Sunday evening at Gonzaga; another awesome Coffee Talk with SpokaneFaVS (and it's gonna be packed!); my trip with SpokaneFaVS to present at the Parliament of the World's Religions (though I'm devastated that the Dalai Lama had to cancel due to illness).

And all that's just in the next three weeks! I'm tired just reading that list! Can't wait to tell y'all all about this cool stuff!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 137


My friend, Tracy Simmons, the editor and executive director of SpokaneFaVS, is the ONLY professional journalist from the Inland Northwest traveling to Philadelphia to cover Pope Francis's first visit to the United States.

Photo credit
As I wrote in this piece yesterday, I really admire the pontiff for his unwavering devotion to living the gospel of Christ and reaching out to those who may feel marginalized. I'll be hanging on Tracy's every post over the weekend, and you can too! Just check back in on this page at where we're collecting all of our Pope coverage.


And while I'm singing the praises of SpokaneFaVS, here's another thing:

SpokaneFaVS was recently awarded "Best Local Community Initiative" by the Local Media Association! This is the third national award in three years to recognize the amazing work SpokaneFaVS is doing. I'm so proud to be a part of this organization!


Common Core is a touchy subject for many, but it seems like there's as much - if not more - misinformation out there about Common Core as there is accurate information. And stuff like this annoys me. (I love the responses here and here.)

First of all, Common Core is a set of standards for each grade level meant to standardize the expectations of what students should learn by the end of a given year of schooling. Ideally, mastery of the Common Core concepts in one grade will help prepare students to naturally progress to the next. Now, not all educators agree that all of the standards are age-appropriate, especially in the youngest grades, so there's definitely room for disagreement here.

But, secondly, please note that Common Core is NOT a curriculum. Many private companies have published curriculums - some pretty good and some really not - based on the standards and are working hard to sell their curriculum to your school district. But a lousy curriculum based on the standards doesn't necessarily mean that the standards themselves are bad or wrong. By all means, go to your school district and complain about the curriculum if you don't like it, or write to your congressional representatives and complain about the standards if you disagree with them, but be clear on what you're complaining about and complain to the right person(s) about it.

Thirdly, yes, many subjects are now taught differently than they were when we were going through grade school. And yes, it's incredibly frustrating - and embarrassing - when your third grader wants help with her math homework and you're confronted with an unfamiliar methodology that you don't understand. So let go of how it used to be and how you think it should be, and spend a few minutes on google, contact your child's teacher, or ask your child to describe it the way the teacher taught it in school and I'm confident you and your child can figure it out.


Lisa Butterworth of Feminist Mormon Housewives published this beautifully humble and vulnerable piece about the relationship between faith and certainty:
...for me, certainty left no room for curiosity. My certainty was not humble, nor kind, nor was it terribly interested in truly understanding other points of view. Certainty did not allow me to hold space for the experiences of others if their beliefs did not fortify my own beliefs.
And ‘fortify’ is the exact right word come to think of it, because my belief had to live in a fortress. I had Truth, and yet Truth was so fragile that it felt like it was always under attack from anything and anyone who did not agree.
A faith that allows for uncertainty can be beautiful and empowering, even if the transition from a "certain" faith is scary at first:
This faith, this ambiguous choice to believe–fully knowing that I could be wrong– it encourages all the curiosity, all the kindness, I don’t have all the answers, I can’t possibly know the Truth, so I no longer have to defend it against anyone who disagrees or feel like it’s always under attack. This faith could not care less if you agree with my belief or not. It just is what it is. And it could look very different tomorrow because I will have new experiences and learn new things tomorrow.
And this about the paradoxes of Mormonism:
I love Mormonism because we are full of paradox up to our eyeballs. We are a peculiar people of plenteous paradox. (The paradoxes are not generally the favorite parts of the folks with certain-faith because paradox laughs in the face of certainty braw ha ha ha ha!) My favorite is obedience vs. personal revelation. The mind boggles as you try to be obedient while always trusting your own relationship with God. Eve herself had to choose between knowledge and disobedience. We celebrate her choice, we do, but . . . but . . . obedience!! The last shall be first and the first shall be last. Weakness is strength. Leaders are Servants. We must die in Christ to truly live. Finding our individual salvation only when we focus on our community. Faith vs. Works. Grace vs. Sin.
She concludes:
The point being, that we all can and do believe six impossible things before breakfast. And while there is a time and place for ruthless logic (the lab)(but even that is all about probabilities, never ever certainty). There is also time and place to take an uncomfortable leap into the unknown and to just revel in the endless curious joy to be found in the unknowable. Our brains are so tiny and limited, there are only so many things that we can know, and so vastly many more that will remain a deep mystery...I choose faith.
The whole thing is somewhat long, but worth the read.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train starts off as find-myself chick lit, but quickly morphs into a mystery thriller as well as a textbook example of the unreliable narrator technique.

Alcoholic divorcee Rachel takes the same train into London every day to conceal from her roommate the fact that she was fired months ago. Everyday she passes the same scenery, the same stops, the same homes, including the home where she used to live with her ex-husband Tom. Just a few houses down from the home now sheltering her ex, his new wife and their baby, a young married couple catches Rachel's eye. She creates a fantasy life for them in her head complete with names - Jason and Jess - jobs, vacations, and a fun, flirty and loving relationship, until the day she sees Jess kissing someone other than Jason. Outraged by the betrayal, Rachel debates confronting Jess or telling Jason until she sees Jess's face on the front page of the newspaper. She's gone missing and now Rachel worries that the unknown lover could be at fault and Jess could be in danger.

Narrating duties alternate between Rachel and Anna (Tom's new wife) in the present, and Megan (Jess's real name) in the past leading up to her disappearance. All three of the women are unreliable narrators in their own way, whether because of self-deception, willful ignorance, or substance abuse. But somehow, clarity comes through the combination of the unreliability of all three. Hawkins deftly weaves the story through the unreliability so that each narrator is absolutely true to herself and what she thinks, feels, understands, and sees, but at the same plants the elements of doubt and questioning in their narration.

Loneliness and depression are also common threads that run between the three women. All three are seeking happiness and resolution and are stymied by their own self-doubt and the men in their lives. Feelings of inadequacy and ambivalence regarding motherhood, pregnancy, and infertility complicate their quests to move forward from "playing at real life instead of actually living it."

While I personally found the ultimate resolution and "bad guy" revelation a bit predictable, it was still a creepy joy ride for a day or two, if you like that kind of thing, and I appreciate Hawkins drawing three very different and interesting female characters. I'm intrigued to see how it comes to life on the big screen.

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
ISBN: 9781594633669
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, audiobook, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Early last year, along with all the rest of America, I was excited, dumbfounded, and a little nervous when Harper Lee announced she was publishing another novel - more than 50 years after her iconic To Kill a Mockingbird. There were rumors that the reclusive 89-year-old Lee, nearly blind and deaf and in poor health, was getting bullied into publishing an earlier draft of what, after much editing and many revisions, eventually became Mockingbird. The recent death of her sister and longtime protector, Alice, and the fortuitous "discovery" of the manuscript by a lawyer at the firm where Alice worked, added to the concerns that this wasn't necessarily in line with Harper's intents or best interests. But I tried to give the situation the benefit of the doubt and looked forward to seeing what Lee's "sophomore" effort would be.

Unfortunately, I have to say, I was not particularly impressed with Go Set a Watchman as a stand-alone novel. It raises some interesting questions, however, as an extension of and reflection on Mockingbird, Scout and Atticus.

First of all, while there are moments in Go Set a Watchman that pulled me in, I didn't feel connected to Scout - sorry, Jean Louise - or Atticus or any of the characters I knew from To Kill a Mockingbird, though I was sad about Jem's absence. Of the new characters, Henry Clinton, Jean Louise's longtime friend and sometime beau, intrigued me most with his endearingly constant pursuit of Jean Louise and his struggle to overcome his "white trash" roots.

As its own story, Watchman lacks the depth and polish that came to Mockingbird through the extensive editing process. Especially toward the end of the novel, the dialogue in Watchman turned into speeches, the action seemed rushed, life-changing epiphanies dropped left and right with little time or effort to process them between the swings of extreme emotions, and then it just ended. I wanted more. More nuance and more growth. More of Jean Louise fighting to reconcile the men she loved with their beliefs she found abhorrent, more of her internal struggle to determine how best to move forward and how their relationships should change, more of a sense of direction from her for the future.

The character development and emotional investment all happened in Mockingbird. Watchman was just kind of riding Mockingbird's coat tails. It simply doesn't work as its own story, despite having been written first.

Watchman was better as a commentary of sorts on Mockingbird. Scout's idealism and "colorblindness" runs up against her father's and Henry's resigned pragmatism and casual racism, sparking her true adulthood, her first real separation from the father she worshiped. Like Scout realizing that the father she had built up in her mind as the epitome of perfection - in a way denying both him and herself their true, nuanced humanity - was actually only human after all, we readers were faced with the unpleasant rounding of a character we had learned to idolize from our middle school English classes. It's valuable to be reminded that no one is either all good or all bad and that every single person we meet is more complicated and real than we often give them credit for, though that is also often a painful realization.

I'm all for complex characters and had little difficulty accepting the characterization of Atticus that included some of the more benign-seeming but insidious racist attitudes of the time, cloaked in a mantle of respectability and reasonableness (though I found her Uncle Jack's method of "attract[ing] her attention" and his complaint that "it takes it out of you" incredibly distasteful). But Watchman preached where Mockingbird simply showed. And Mockingbird, not Watchman, is rightfully Lee's landmark novel on race relations.

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
ISBN: 9780062409850
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, audiobook, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).