Mormonism and Embracing Other Cultures

October 29, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Personal, Religious

I gave a talk in church yesterday and wanted to share it here. It was inspired by my interactions with so many of you. Thanks for broadening my worldview in ways I never could have imagined over the past 5 years.

As Mormons there are a lot of lifestyle decisions we make which can set us apart from those outside the faith. When we lived in Dallas a few years ago my husband had a large number of coworkers who were also LDS. I looked around at the Christmas party one year and realized that though most people were clustered over in one area of the room getting something to drink, the Mormons had gravitated toward the cupcake dessert bar. I think this spoke both to our commitment to avoid alcohol as well as the sweet tooth I’ve found to be a common characteristic in all of the wards I’ve lived in.

These lifestyle commitments affect our daily choices in a number of ways. We may choose to say no to invitations on Sunday, keep our Monday evenings clear, get up extra early for seminary, drink sparkling cider on New Year Eve, and gather as a family for daily scripture study. My nonmember friends with families have often expressed to me how positive and appealing these practices are. In fact, I have a nonmember friend who has no interest in being baptized, but has adapted the concept of Family Home Evening for her own family!

Many of the talks and lessons we hear in church speak of “putting on the whole armor of God” or as a recent Relief Society lesson stated “Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line”. These messages are important to consider because we each have different weaknesses that need to be overcome. I know in my own life making good nutritional choices is one of those areas of weakness for me. The only way for me to succeed is to keep the cookies, candies, crackers, and chips completely out of the house. Otherwise I give in every time I have a craving and have to deal with the consequences!

Sometimes though, when we are seeking to avoid harmful practices, we end up excluding people who are different than us. It is critical that we differentiate between inherently sinful behavior and choices made because of commitments to God. Sinful behavior hurts other people in some way, such as attacking someone physical or verbally, taking from others what doesn’t belong to you, etc.

An excellent example of a behavior that isn’t inherently sinful is drinking alcohol. Wine and other fermented drinks were used extensively throughout history before potable drinking water was readily available. We abstain from alcohol now because Joseph Smith revealed not a commandment, but a “principle with promise”, now known as the Word of Wisdom. Members of the LDS church have faith that following these principles will lead to happier, healthier lives for them. Throughout the world there are people who do not follow this principle, often because of culture or scientific beliefs, and it would be a shame to miss out on their fellowship completely because we are unsure how to approach their alternative choices.

For several years now I’ve written a personal blog with a diverse readership base, and one of the stories emailed to me by Rachel*, a non-Mormon reader, has remained with me ever since. A new couple had moved into Rachel’s neighborhood, and they invited Rachel and her husband over for dinner. As was custom for their own specific culture, Rachel and her husband carefully selected a bottle of wine to present as a housewarming gift for the new couple. When they arrived for dinner, their gift was outright rejected because the new tenants were LDS. Although religion was cited as the reason for the refusal, Rachel was really hurt by this encounter and didn’t understand why she had been treated that way. She was trying to communicate fellowship with this new family the best way she knew how.

Some LDS families wouldn’t be comfortable accepting the bottle of wine, and I understand that. Each person needs to evaluate how they feel would comfortable approaching these situations, but keep in mind how your approach might come across to those outside of our culture and church.

We’ve been counseled to seek out everything “virtuous, lovely, and of good report”, and it would be a shame to go through life missing out on those good and lovely people and things found outside of Mormonism.

James Ferrell has written a book called “Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness”. In it he has an excellent chapter called “Superiority by Association”, which I’d like to read a quote from.

 “One of the most common phrases in any Latter-day Saint testimony meeting is the declaration that “This is the true church”. And so we believe it to be. However, we risk becoming as the Zoramites if we think that being a member of the “true church” makes us the “true people” and other the untrue. With a little reflection, it becomes obvious that one of the foundational teachings of the Church is that mere membership in it does not make one better than anyone else.”

Let’s make sure that when we’re seeking to insulate ourselves from situations that will test our areas of weakness, we aren’t isolating ourselves from the wonderful, diverse, kind, and loving people outside of our church and culture.

 *name changed

My Paper on Female Mormon Bloggers

September 14, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Religious, School

Remember when I asked you to name your favorite bloggers who were both Mormon and female? I took your suggestions, looked them up on the website Alexa to find out their traffic ranking, and then compiled a giant list of blogs written by female Mormons.

Based on what I found, the 10 blogs I chose to study for my paper (because Alexa told me they were the most highly trafficked) were: Our Best Bites (http://www.ourbestbites.com/), Two Peas & Their Pod (http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/), Oh Happy Day, (http://www.ohhappyday.com/), Design Mom (http://www.designmom.com/), Rockstar Diaries (http://taza-and-husband.blogspot.com/), The House of Smiths (http://www.thehouseofsmiths.com/), Little Green Notebook (http://littlegreennotebook.blogspot.com/), The Daybook (http://www.thedaybookblog.com/), Little Miss Momma (http://www.littlemissmomma.com/), and Say Yes to Hoboken (http://sayyestohoboken.com/)

The first draft of my paper was 18 pages double-spaced, but my professor wasn’t thrilled with the length and made me cut it down to ten. I prefer the longer one because I really liked some of the things I had to cut out, so I’m showing you the long version here. I figure if you actually click over to read it you’re interested enough to make it through the whole thing? Maybe I’m wrong. :)

Female Mormon Bloggers – Long Version

This is still a bit rough, because I cut out 8 pages and then polished it up to hand it in, but you get the idea. I’d love to know what you think about my conclusions!

Modesty and the Middle Class

April 12, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Personal

(and the upper class as well, but I liked the alliteration)


I have only very recently come to loathe the word modesty. Previously I considered it a badge of honor, and felt proud that I was doing it “right”. I thought a little bit about my intentions, but mostly I kept my shoulders covered and constantly tugged my pencil skirts down toward my knees (which was difficult to do while simultaneously patting myself on the back).

Blogging opened me up to a world of alternative viewpoints, and I realized that my friends wearing strapless dresses didn’t seem so bad, and my perception of modesty was altered. Modesty for me might be about cap sleeves and kept promises, but the goal for everyone should be self-respect. A modest woman dresses with self-respect, and self-respect looks different on everyone.

I am in the midst of yet another shift in my thinking that takes the idea of self-respect and expands on it. Read more →

A Favorite Hymn

April 07, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Religious

Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy has long been a favorite hymn of mine, but I couldn’t find an arrangement that really does it justice. It’s not as powerful to me when a large group sings it. I was listening to the newest podcast at Mormon Transition and heard what I’ve been looking for all this time!

You can listen to a live amateur recording on YouTube.

But I think the version you can buy on iTunes is much better (the song is called Let the Lower Lights Be Burning). I just bought the whole album, and look forward to working it into my Sunday listening rotation.

After reading the suggestions found in the comments on my post on LDS Hymns, I started listening to It Is Well With My Soul and Palmetto. Thank you for introducing me to these beautiful pieces of music, they bring me a lot of peace.

The Awakening: Where I Am Now and Why I’m Staying

March 01, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Religious

My baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1993

Overall, my Awakening series has been a wonderful experience. Writing about media choices, motherhood, the Priestesshood, and homosexuality has largely brought peace and happiness into my life. I felt good as I was writing them. I feel good knowing that I can be myself without accusations of hypocrisy, and that I continue to develop relationships with kind people like Kari.  I like questioning things. Questioning everything actually. I have several boxes on a shelf in my mind, and I want to sort all the issues out . A box for the things I know, a box for the things I’m puzzling through, a box of ideas that others accept which I’ve rejected, and a box for things I will never understand no matter how I search, ponder, and pray.

This idea of a “box on the shelf” is not a concept of my own invention, it’s a pretty common idea passed around within Mormonism. We are encouraged to build up our faith like a house, laying the bricks that form the foundation, and then moving on to the pillars and windows and shelves, fortifying along the way. If we don’t have a strong testimony*of something, we put that idea in a box on the shelf and come back to it again later.

There are two small differences between my approach now and the approach I used to have. First, I am building my own house from the ground up. No one else gets to lay a single brick, no matter their age or status within the Church hierarchy. I have no way of knowing if certain ideas or beliefs are the result of personal history, cultural background or God, and so I must puzzle it through on my own. Second, I added another level to my sorting, a box titled “Commonly Held Beliefs I’ve Rejected“. Sometimes, ideas preached from the pulpit are not what God would say. They are the product of man’s thinking, and I believe this to be true because of the things our own Church history demonstrates to us. We’re all down here on earth trying to puzzle through as best we can. We all make mistakes, and I want my mistakes to be made because of my own thinking, not because I oversimplified my analysis of another person’s views.

There are the parts of Mormonism that I find really beautiful and fulfilling. These are 10 of the (many) reasons why I stay, and why I will continue to encourage others in an exploration of the faith I love.

Read more →

      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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