To the Pastor:

You already know basic LDS doctrine–the idea of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. And that PBS special gave you glimpses into our homes and our peculiarities, and introduced you to some of the controversies and oxymorons we live with. But I still want to answer your question, What does it mean to be LDS.?

My instant answer is that the core of the LDS religion is an eternal view of everything–from before birth to long after death. It is a series of enlarging circles.

I write this from my woman’s perspective, and in 2007. Some things may change over the next fifty years, but this is what I have seen and been in my nearly 52 years of life as a Mormon.

As an infant, my parents’ firstborn, I was taken in my father’s arms and given a name and a blessing. There, I was at the center of a priesthood circle. Other men (probably my uncles, though of course I don’t remember), joined Dad as he blessed me. They each put one hand under my little body and one hand on the shoulder of the person standing next to them. They literally and symbolically supported me, and joined their faith with my dad’s. This circle–a prayer circle, if you will–is a common one in our community.

Though Dad was in his early twenties when he gave me that first blessing, he had already served a three-year mission for the Church in Finland, during which he anointed the sick and gave other blessings by the laying on of hands and by virtue of the priesthood (usually referred to as the Melchizedek Priesthood, but actually called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God). Dad was never formally trained in this priesthood, but was ordained to various offices in it from the time he was twelve, learning “line upon line, precept upon precept.”

I suspect my father was tearful at the miracle of my tiny body, and at the responsibility I introduced. He was a student, pursuing an advanced degree, and Mom was a recent college graduate. Though poor and struggling under the rigors of academia, it was nothing new for Dad to claim priesthood authority as he blessed me, and, knowing Dad, he did this with great faith. I’m sure he blessed Mom before her hard labor began (I have watched him bless her several times before childbirth), and he would continue giving priesthood blessings to me and to my siblings throughout our lives–the most difficult one being at my brother’s hospital bedside after we were told he would not survive the injuries he had sustained in an accident. That brother, Dad’s namesake (Bobby), lifted his arms as high as he could when Dad walked into the ER room. Bobby was threaded and tubed to monitors and IVs, and being transfused. He said one word: “Hug.” And that’s it–that’s the picture. Dad is maneuvering around the ganglia of wires and tubes to embrace his son, and then to bless him. It’s a godly scene. It expresses the image I have of God–a corporeal being who can reach around our mortal mischief and earthbound wiring to embrace us in the fullness of His glory, no matter how damaged we are.

Later, when Dad’s pancreas failed, it was Bobby who blessed him. That’s the Mormon circle.

Often, at the beginning of a school year or at moments of crisis, a Mormon father will place his hands on the head of his child or of his wife and say the words, “In the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood, I bless you.” He will try to open his soul to whatever words God would have him say. His faith that God can reveal things to him magnifies his sense of a divine and loving Father in Heaven, and also magnifies his love for the one he is blessing. That principle–that everyone can receive revelation, and that everyone can be a priest (and yes, a priestess)–is core to Mormonism.

By the time I was five, I learned the words to the most frequently sung Primary song: “I am a Child of God/ And He has sent me here/ Has given me an earthly home/with parents kind and dear.” I grew up understanding before I understood anything else that God was the father of my spirit, and knew who I was, that he knew me by name.

At age eight, I was baptized, and again surrounded by a circle of men and blessed by my father. This time, I was confirmed a member of the Church and instructed to “receive the Holy Ghost.”

At age twelve, I began what we now call Young Women’s. It has changed somewhat since I entered the program, and I like the changes. Each YW class starts this way: One of the girls stands and asks, “Who will stand for truth and righteousness?” The others then rise and answer, “I will stand for truth and righteousness.” Together, they recite, “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love Him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places…”

Again, that communal circle of commitment, and the individual reiteration of a real and loving God embrace a Mormon’s world.

I was still twelve when I got my Patriarchal Blessing, given (as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob blessed their sons) in the spirit of revelation. My grandfather was an ordained Patriarch, so my blessing begins, “Dear grand-daughter, Margaret Jean Blair.” Almost all Patriarchal blessings contain yet another message of God’s love. Among many other things, my blessing says that because I am the firstborn in my family, I am to “be a guide and to set an example for [my] younger brothers and sisters, even as a star sets the course for the mariner.” It also says something which became deeply important during my teenage years: “Know that your parents love you.”

When I went to the temple at age twenty-four, I was introduced to other circles and embraces. I began wearing “garments,”–underclothes which remind me daily of the promises I have made to God. I live in a world of symbols and metaphors. I wear them, and I love them. If I could, I would dance the temple rituals with uplifted arms and jubilant music. I would bless and receive blessings; I would praise and thank God with every part of my body.

I became a writer, a historian, a sometimes scholar, and a teacher. But I always understood that my most important roles would be as my husband’s wife and my children’s mother–just as Bruce’s most important roles would be as my husband and as their father.

One of the most beautiful days of my life was when Bruce and I went to the temple with our oldest daughter and watched her marry a good man. Mormon weddings don’t have long aisles and cathedral-filling organ chords. In fact, there’s no music at all, and we can’t see much of the bridal gown, because it is covered by temple robes. In a small room, furnished with a cloth-covered altar and fifty chairs or so, the temple sealer (in this case, my uncle–though it’s not usually a family member) gives counsel to the couple, and then instructs the groom to lead his bride to the altar. There, they kneel facing each other, and a sealer binds them together for “time and eternity.” It is a holy and quiet ceremony. The coordinated bridesmaid dresses and perfect cake wait until the reception.

After I die, I will be dressed in my temple robes for burial. My daughters will cover my face with my temple veil before the casket is closed. One of my sons will likely dedicate my grave–again in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood. This time, my body will be supported by pall bearers, probably my sons and grandsons. I hope many of my posterity will have served missions by then, and that my sons will have blessed their own babies. I hope I will see it all. I hope I will enjoy one living circle before I am enclosed in the earth: the circle where my husband and I hold a great-grandbaby right before she is given a name and a blessing.

So the core of my Mormon life, Pastor, is Jesus Christ. My life began by being consecrated to Him in the center of that priesthood circle, and it will end with someone dedicating my grave in His name. I hope that His name will also be engraved in the marrow of my bones and in the eternal cells of my immortal soul. I fully believe that He knows me by name, and that my name–with yours and everyone else’s–is already engraved in his hands and in his heart.


Margaret is a celebrated author, professor of English, and is also a contributor to T&S.


  1. Clap Clap

    Well done

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I was asked once what it is like to be Mormon, and I completely blanked. I wished I could have given an answer like this. A beautiful little essay, Margaret.

  3. S.P. Bailey says:

    Thank you, Margaret. Beautiful indeed. And true.

  4. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Margaret, such a beautiful post, the kind I print out and tuck away in my Things I Love box. Like Kevin, I wish I could express myself so thoughtfully and eloquently as you have. This really touched me (and not in the cheesy “this is touching” way, but in the I felt it deep in my soul way).

  5. Julie M. Smith says:


  6. Craig V. says:

    Thank you Margaret,

    You’ve let me see more than I could have gained from a hundred specials on the LDS church. I have one question: How much of what you know and love in your church is culture and how much is Christ? By asking this, I in no way mean to denigrate culture – culture is beautiful. The pictures you draw of your Dad and how the blessings gave concrete expression to his love of God, his sense of purpose and his love for his family are powerful and moving. I believe I’m asking a question similar to the one the early church faced when it moved from being Jewish to including the Gentiles. The Jewish culture was (and is) beautiful. The early church decided, however, that that culture should not be imposed on the Gentile churches since doing so would create a stumbling block to coming to Christ. For the sake of true dialog between our communities, it seems to me we both need to ask this question.

    Thanks again for this wonderful picture.

  7. S.P. Bailey says:

    I obviously can’t speak for Margaret. But I do not think it is fair to discount priesthood ordinances (Mormon or Jewish) as “culture.” I reject the dichotomy you seem to propose: either Christ or culture. Mormons understand the complex of rituals and beliefs Margaret captures so well as fundamental ways of coming unto Christ and worshiping him.

  8. Great way to explain what it’s like and what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. Thank you for the essay.

  9. Mark B. says:

    Wonderful, Margaret!

  10. Thanks for this.

  11. This is beautiful. Thanks for the reminder of what is truly important about the Gospel.

  12. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    A beautiful ode to the life of an active member growing up in an active family. I’m not saying that to nitpick; it is gorgeous but it represents only a part of the Mormon experience.

    I’ll have to work on a letter of my own, one that represents the experience of growing up in a part-member home. I think this would make an awesome series! Would anyone like to take on a letter from the adult convert’s point of view?

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Absolutely beautiful.

  14. Moving

  15. Craig, I felt my post was already too long, so I didn’t go into detail about another huge aspect of my life–which goes beyond American/Mormon pioneer stock culture. I am almost tempted to post another long comment, because I have so much to say. But I’ll try to keep this concise and direct instead.

    Without question, there is much as a Church we can do to accommodate and even celebrate the gifts of other cultures, and to be less hasty about imposing American-styled religion on them. But rather than focus on that, I’m going to stay very basic.

    Dad is a linguist, and works with languages spoken in the Third World. That’s a precious part of my heritage, and I’ve spent a lot of time living in adobe huts, going to a well for water, and using leaves for toilet paper out in a cornfield. (It has never occurred to me to stay in Americanized hotels; that’s not how I was raised.) I have prayed in Spanish, Cakchiquel, Russian, and will soon be doing it in French. I have received priesthood blessings from African Americans and from Mexicans. I have learned great lessons from some of the meekest people on earth. I would say that some of the most sacred moments of my life have happened in Guatemala, not America.

    Though LDS practice (what hymns we sing, how our churches look, how we dress) can look very Eurocentric and uniform, what is core to LDS beliefs transcends culture.

    When Pablo Choc, a Cakchiquel man (another of my heroes) lost his pregnant wife and two children in a devastating earthquake in 1975, his missionary son (serving right there in Guatemala) came home to mourn with him, and then reminded him of what their faith meant, and what the fact that they were sealed in the temple meant. The son (Daniel) returned to his missionary service and was working on rebuilding a small village when a wall collapsed and killed him. (I knew Daniel and Pablo before the quake, and have returned several times since.)

    This past summer, Bruce and I interviewed missionaries who took the news to Pablo that his missionary son was dead, and we interviewed Pablo, who couldn’t restrain his tears as he remembered those terrible days. “But,” he said, “I keep my promises. I always keep my promises.” Pablo and I talked in Spanish and in Cakchiquel, and we cried together as my children watched. My kids couldn’t understand what we were saying, but I remember very well watching Dad speak Cakchiquel in a church in Guatemala back in 1975, and not understanding a thing he was saying–so this was circular as well.

    Daniel Choc’s headstone is engraved with the words which express a central truth of Christianity: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.”

    I have pictures of Gringo missionaries carrying Daniel Choc’s coffin, weeping. These images–tall gringos weeping with everyone else because they too loved Daniel–go beyond culture to what is most essential in our unity.

    The fact that we send missionaries all over the world means that we get not only members from every corner, but that we get returned missionaries who have a very personal love for the people they have served for two years. Right now, Bruce and I are working to prepare missionaries headed to Paris, Ghana, Canada, and the West Indies. They are fresh from Idaho, Texas, and Utah, and really have no idea of what awaits them. But I know that they will return from their missions with an abiding love for the people they have lived among.

    The public face of the LDS Church is still pretty white and European, but that’s changing, and it will continue to change. It won’t be quick or even soon, because the truth is, we are a conservative church, and change takes some time and patience. But I fully believe it will happen.

    There’s so much more I could say, but I will restrain myself.

  16. Margaret, that was really great. I really felt the Spirit as I read it, and I’m sure others will as well.

  17. Just a thought this post brings to mind … haj and hag in Arabic and Hebrew respectively come from a semitic verb root that has something to do with being in a circle or dancing in a circle.

    So you can think of the Muslim pilgrims moving in a circle around the Ka’ba or the Jewish bride circling her husband seven times (during the wedding ceremony).

    I like that circle imagery very much – particularly when it comes up in religious discussion. It’s a pretty powerful symbol.

  18. P.S.–obviously I have a hard time being brief. Sorry.

    Proud daughter of Eve: I love your idea of a series. I was very aware as I wrote this of several things. One was that this is precisely what you described–the “born and bred” Mormon life. There is another issue I was aware of, but which I won’t bring up unless someone else does.

  19. Margaret:

    You said more in the 15 minutes it took me to read your post (and comments) than PBS said in four hours. Bravo!

  20. Merrilee says:

    Thank you so much Margaret.
    Craig – perhaps I may respond.
    When Christ was baptized, He was showing the way to return to Heavenly Father. And showed us the way to follow Him.
    When Christ healed the sick by laying His hands upon them, He showed the way. HIS way.
    When Christ called His apostles and laid His hands upon their heads, He showed the way.. His way. And showed them how to receive His power–the priesthood.
    When Christ called others — 70 — to assist in the work, again He showed others the path.
    When Christ broke the bread and served the wine, He showed the way. His way.
    As His priesthood power is used and as we follow His way through ordinances and use of that preisthood, it is ALL about our Savior. It is all about coming unto Him and becoming like Him. That is the whole purpose of the Church and the priesthood, to bring all of our brothers and sisters unto Christ and to help each of us become like Him and return to live with Him and our Heavenly Father.
    When Christ did these things, it was not just culture–it was the correct strait and narrow path to God. We all seek to follow that path.

  21. This adult convert is almost moved to tears. Thank you, Margaret, I’ll be saving and printing your essay.

  22. CS Eric says:

    Margaret, you made me cry. Beautiful.

  23. Thank you Margaret- with all my heart, thank you. I can’t see the screen through my tears.

  24. wow. good work!

  25. Amen, Margaret. Beautiful. Moving. True. Thank you.

  26. Two comments: First, as Margaret’s husband I’d have to said that her mini-essays, including the breathtaking one she just posted, have an even deeper and more concretely grounded dimension for me because I have known her for over 22 years and have experienced some of what she writes about along with her.

    Second, I think Craig V’s question may boil down to something like this: Do we need ANYTHING other than Christ? And thought through, that leads to the age-old question of faith vs. anything else.

    My response would be that Christ contains all good things–that his character, his power, his gifts, and the way of life he invites us to live include all that we may find of value in any culture or community. We must not let our attachment to anything keep us from turning our whole souls over to Christ. And so the question arises, What does it mean, concretely, to choose Christ and follow him?

    I believe that I must be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of Christ. But I also believe that that willingness does not ultimately devalue any good thing, ESPECIALLY not the very gifts that come through Christ. Those gifts include friends and family and the good things of every culture.

    A Christian should be willing to leave even family if truly called to do so. Yet I believe that Christ wants us to enjoy the blessings of family and friendship and community and, in the ordinary course of things, asks us to live a Christ-like life in the context of those relationships. As Luther has been paraphrased as saying, marriage and family are a “school of faith and love inasmuch as [they call] for the constant exercise of sympathy, sacrifice, and patience. It is indeed this state which offers the best opportunity to obtain in faith and love what the contemplative life strives after, a life above the world.” Much the same could be said of life within a congregation or neighborhood or any other human context.

    Above all, I believe Christ invites me to become like him, and that is what it is supposed to mean (and what, so far as I’ve observed, it almost always does mean) to bear the priesthood of the Son of God and to serve in and through the church.

    I don’t read Margaret’s essay as celebrating the value of relationships and experiences APART from Christ but rather as celebrating how they can be INFUSED with Christ’s spirit and teachings and how Christ leads us step by step, in and through these relationships and experiences, toward “the measure of the stature of [his] fullness.” Even with all that is imperfect and painful in them, they can provide a beginning, a foretaste, of the unimaginable joy and love that Christ and our Father want to bless us with.

    Perhaps what makes the Mormon view a bit different from that of other faiths is that we believe these very foretastes, embodied in particular relationships, can become, in their fulness, much of what we will enjoy in the eternal worlds. As Joseph Smith put it, “That same sociality that exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” But of course that glory comes from and is exemplified in Christ, and we can hope for it only if our hope is anchored in Christ.

  27. Adam Greenwood says:

    I did not know that about the Young Women. That’s great.

  28. Submit to Ensign?

    Probably the best Post I have ever seen in the bloggernaccle.

  29. WOW! Did Margaret ever get a smart husband!! I hear he’s really cute, too. I’ll bet he knows what she’s really like, though, and I’ll bet she’s as flawed as anyone else. I’ll bet her kitchen is a mess and that she keeps Bruce Young awake watching _Groundhog Day_ when she has insomnia.
    What a patient guy he must be! I mean I feel sorry for him in a way, but I have to say I admire him. And his post is brilliant and moving. Man, I am jealous of Margaret. I have to admit, I’m a former student of Bruce Young’s, so I do have some knowledge of him, and he is super cool. Some women just get all the luck.

  30. lamonte says:

    Margaret and Julie – Thank you for reminding me of the beautiful things that I sometimes take for granted. The gospel in our lives is such a beautiful thing.

  31. Beautiful.

  32. Wow. I’m speechless – and that is a miraculous accomplishment!

  33. Scott Gordon says:

    Thank you Margaret for so eloquently phrasing what we all experience and wish we could express.

  34. Norbert says:

    Thank you for sharing that.

  35. Melanie says:

    Thank you Margaret, I needed that.

    I also liked what Bruce wrote about celebrating how Christ’s spirit and teachings can be infused into our relationships– for me, that is something sweet I hope to be able to pass on to my non-member family when they cannot attend my sealing.

  36. In response to “Red-headed fan of Bruce Young” (and as someone who knows who she really is), I want you to know that I happen to know what Bruce Young would say about his wife. He would tell people not only about her foibles and missteps but about her powerful gifts and especially about her deep, deep goodness and her great capacity for love. And her incredibly fun and sometimes zany sense of humor. He says more on his own blog:

    He would acknowledge the challenge of having Groundhog Day on all night, many nights, but would say that he sees even that and all things like it as part of a sweet and fascinating adventure, sweet especially when viewed in retrospect. But you have to kind of live through the whole thing to be rewarded with the sweetness of the retrospect. Anyway, that’s what he told me.

  37. Jon in Austin says:

    Wow. Magnanimity redefined.

  38. Hi

    As a pastor who lives within the culture of encircling patriarchal blessings, I find your essay very interesting, Margaret.

    Very recently, I had young, vibrant Mormon missionaries on my momma’s doorstep. My momma expressed to these young men that she had everything in Christ, but they lingered, inwardly longing for her to accept more.

    So in LDS eyes, for my momma’s precious union with Christ to be complete, there must be added this concept of patriarchal blessing?

    Margaret, I confess. I have this question and many more over the topic of a beautiful, eternal circle where Christ is at the very center.

  39. Pastor Wood, I think you’re asking the same thing Craig V. was asking, and I think it’s a good question.

    A very brief answer (I’m in the midst of another project) is simply that a Patriarchal blessing is not essential. But neither is it the sort of encumberance we as Christians seek to rid ourselves of.

    My attempt in my “essay” (I notice nobody calls it a post) was to portray a Mormon’s worldview and what a Mormon life is really like (in my case, for a born-and-bred Mormon). It was not to explain what everyone else is missing in their faiths.

    I love all of the scriptures and symbols (like the Mennorah, for example) which tell us that Christ can make up for what we lack, that he can magnify our paltry offerings and feed 5,000–or more. A Patriarchal blessing is a nice thing. It provides some good touchstones. My daughter casually mentioned hers yesterday at dinner as a vehicle to some new insights she had gained. It is additive, but not essential.

    At its core, your “momma’s precious union with Christ” matters most. Anything lacking can be covered through the atonement of Jesus Christ. But of course, even Jesus accepted unnecessary (and expensive) oil on his feet, and held the Torah scroll in his hands. He likely used phyllacteries (which I would compare to garments). Certainly not essential for the Savior of mankind, yet he chose to respect these things, and specifically used the anointing of his feet to teach his disciples that anyone who comes unto Him in the spirit of love (“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much…”) can find peace and ultimately salvation. (I would save discussions of baptism and other things for another time.)

    If I had to identify a thesis of my “essay,” I’d say “Mormons have many practices to reinforce the concept of God’s presence and love in their lives.” Very reductive, but it does suggest that the center of Mormonism is not ritual or symbol, but Jesus Christ. The rituals and symbols remind us of who we are and who He is.

    And once again, a brief answer got too long.

  40. manaen says:

    Thank you. I’ll be sharing this.

  41. And it looks like I just blew my well-made cover by leaving my pseudonym on that last comment. I will now return to my true identity.

  42. Like it wasn’t obvious! (re: Margaret’s pseudonym)

  43. Now I’m dying to know who pseudo-dionysius is–somebody who fakes Bacchanalean orgies?
    (But Bruce has had a number of red-headed students, of course. I was just the most important. And I got free tuition for marrying him.)

  44. Craig V. says:


    Thanks for your response to my question. Your answer is pretty amazing given that I didn’t really ask the question very well and I think you nailed a large part of what I was trying to ask. I think my choice of the word ‘culture’ doesn’t get at the heart of the distinction I was trying to draw, but I can’t think of a better word right now. Perhaps thinking about the distinction between religious symbols and religious realities will help. My wife wears a ring and (because I’m an amputee) I wear a gold chain. These symbolize our union as husband and wife in Christ. These symbols are important to us. Every time I’m conscious of the chain, I think of my wife. My wife had an allergic reaction to something a while back and she couldn’t wear her ring for a couple of months. Even though I knew and understood the reason, it actually hurt to see her without her ring. The symbols, though meaningful, are not the reality. How does that matter? Often it doesn’t. If, however, I was in a culture where rings had a different meaning, I would have to separate the symbol from the reality. It would clearly be wrong of me to insist of another culture that they wear rings to symbolize husband and wife unions in Christ.

    We agree that the reality is Christ (your post makes that clear). We agree that our relationships are, by his grace, infused with his spirit and teaching. I think we even agree that our relationships here are a taste of what we will see in eternity. Eternal life is to know the Father. We know the Father through the Son. We know the Son, in part, through our relationships with one another as his church (his bride). That’s why John can say that we have eternal life now and not just as something future. Yet, with all of this agreement, our two churches remain radically different. Our relationship with each other, far from expressing the love of Christ, has often been ugly (and I am more than a little sad in heart for the arrogance and abuse that has been served to Mormons in the name of Christ). We need to talk, to really talk. If we can clarify from each of our traditions what is the reality and what is symbol or culture (again, I can’t find the right word) we may be able to find a place for that conversation. This doesn’t make the symbols less meaningful. We need symbols (and this is where my ring analogy falls short); we need Christ more.

    Red-headed fan of Bruce Young,

    I think Bruce did pretty well himself.

  45. To Craig: Beautifully stated. I’m theoretically trying to do some other things today, so I’ll ponder your words and perhaps have something more to say tomorrow.

    To Margaret: I bet Craig might catch the “Pseudo-Dionysian” allusion. It’s something from the history of medieval Christendom and has a tangential connection with the book of Acts. Unless I’m confused, which is entirely possible.

  46. Craig–don’t tell Bruce you got it, or he’s going to expect me to learn all about it too and I’ll have to take a test on medieval Christendom next Friday. That’s what I get for marrying my professor. We’re almost finished with the Levinas unit (I got a B+), and I had hoped for a little break while he goes to England to work on his Shakespeare book.

  47. Very nice. I would have preferred if PBS had followed your life through for a broadcast.

  48. Craig V. says:


    As per Margaret’s instructions, that went totally over my head.

  49. Amen, Amen and Amen!!

  50. I don’t mean to sound like the ornery woman here, because reading your post made me feel again all those wonderful priesthood circles I’ve had in my life, but where are the women? It sounds like our participation in a Mormon life is to have the Priesthood happen to us women.
    Judging on what I’ve read of yours Margaret (and a class I had from you at BYU) this surprised me.
    Did you mean something by this or is it just that you can’t always talk about women (I recognize this is true, but I’m having trouble coming to grips that I am not the center of the universe)

  51. (. . . Margaret, my favorite favorite blogger, several circles but no mention of Relief Society? How Mormon women seek to spiritual encircle each other through each stage of life? I suppose I’m struck by this because the promise of Relief Society is so essential to my practical and theological Mormon identity. But I still loved your essay.)

  52. make the “spiritually”

  53. Deborah and Amri–note comment #19. THIS was the issue I was referring to. I knew someone would find it eventually. Good job. And my rather subtle comment in the original post that “things may change over the next fifty years” refers to women’s presence. Will we be blessing our daughters as they approach childbirth, as our female pioneer ancestors did? I believe there will be change.

    I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m afraid RS doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to you, Deborah, but I acknowledge that there is a gap in the post. I’m afraid it reflects the gender gap I am so aware of. It would take another post to address that one. For now, the post as written reflects my life.

  54. It would be a dream to bless my children, to lay my hands on someone to heal them, but even without that I have been rounded up by lots of women. My mom. Forever encircles me. I remember being called to a Beehive presidency when I was 13 and we were sitting in a circle, popular and nerdy girls (I was the latter) trying to figure out how to love each other and the girls in our class. And we did. That happened periodically through the torturous teenage years. Mormon girls gathered together trying to love each other. There have been circles in Relief Society (though not always and it usually turns out to be with other fringe women) in visiting teaching, in lessons. I remember one lesson all these beautiful single women together doing a mandatory lesson about marriage and one girl just started crying about how badly she wanted it, how it was hard for her to believe it would ever happen to her and she felt like it was her fault. The semi-clueless bishop said single women have the grass is always greener syndrome and I have never seen women circle the wagons faster in my life. I was in female circles on my mission, and the most potent experience for me in the temple was the initiatory surrounded by women. My parents divorced when I was young and I didn’t have regular priesthood interaction except the benchmarks. Women have always been the circlers for me.

    Look at me defending the female experience in the Church. It surprises even me.

  55. Thank you, Margaret. I teared up and felt the spirit of love through your words as I read them. It’s a great way to start my work day; thinking of Christ and the blessings we can receive from him. Thanks.

  56. “Women have always been the circlers for me.”

    My experience is similar, Amri (even more-so now that I’m in an interfaith marriage). From my earliest memories, Mormon women have encircled me, and I have found opportunity to embrace other sisters in turn. If I tried to catalog these moments, I’d certainly fall to tears. LDS life is full of circles (I love the metaphor, Margaret), and I know what my circumference looks like.

  57. Thank you, Meems.
    Deborah and Amri–I think your experiences are beautiful. I haven’t had what you have, but one or both of you should really write about the women circlers.

    I wonder if things have changed since I was in YW. I was the odd girl out, very much a loner, and there were no circles (except on one redemptive evening when some of my fellow YM asked forgiveness for not accepting me into their group. One said, “I hated your red hair, but now I see that it’s really beautiful.”) I wonder if leaders recognized that this isolation was happening in many places and started some “encircling” conversations.

    The first image in my mind as I started writing the original post was of a woman reaching for her child as she gives birth–but I found I couldn’t pursue that circle. My dear mother was up against June Cleaver, and it must have been so hard. She still doesn’t know how spectacular she is.

    But I am considerably older than either of you. Is it possible that the change I alluded to has already begun, and I just haven’t known all of its dimensions? I would love to think so.

  58. “. . .one or both of you should really write about the women circlers.”

    Look for it on my blog sometime soon (ExII is one one of my circles these days . . .).

    And about that lack of enthusiasm for RS . . . :) It’s not always RS in practice that inspires me — it’s RS in promise (which, in turn,instructs my actions and attitude in practice). I read “Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society” in college, and it changed my spiritual life.

  59. Lupita says:

    Very moving essay. Thanks for making me think….

  60. Margaret, is not childbirth the compliment to the first circle you described? A childs blessing can only be counted as pale next to the vibrant contribution to life given by you amazing women.

    And do not each of the beautifully described circles have corresponding foundational circles created by the woman?

    I love the contributions to this topic of Traditional Chinese Theory as contained in their traditional medicine. YIn and Yang, Earth and Heaven, feminine and masculine, etc.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  61. anonon says:

    amri and deborah. yeah for you.

    women are a key part of family circles as well.

  62. Margaret, I don’t think the Church has changed. Women are just awful sometimes. Sometimes they’re just plain mean.My mom, a generally nerdy woman was called as YW pres some years back and even she was shunned by the cool girls. She rallied around the loner YW but the cool ones didn’t care for her at all.
    I feel lucky to have been taken care of by so many women in my Church experience, but you’re not alone. Men in the Church don’t get circled by the women either. Not in the circles I’m talking about.

  63. Very parenthetically–for anyone interested in pseudo-Dionysius (see #43, 44, 47, & 49): Acts 17:34 mentions a Dionysius the Areopagite. A much later writer, in the 400s, was identified with this Dionysius (that is, through much of the Middle Ages was thought to be the Areopagite) and is now called pseudo-Dionysius. His writings are mystical and neo-Platonist in bent, and he is best known for discussing the nine orders of angels. I probably picked this up from reading the notes in Ciardi’s translation of Dante’s Commedia. Anyway, sorry for getting off track. This is certainly not essential to anyone’s salvation.

  64. Just amazing. I’m so glad you took the time to write this out for our benefit. What a beautiful thing this will be for all your children, grandchildren,…

  65. Craig V. says:


    That solves part of the mystery, but leaves us in suspense as to why you chose this pseudonym. Here are some possibilities:

    1. You are much younger than you are thought to be (just as the real writer was much younger than the Dionysius in Acts).

    2. You have a secret mystical neo-Platonist bent.

    3. The posts from Red headed fan of Bruce Young moved you to contemplate the nine orders of angels.

  66. Getting back to Craig’s question (see comments #7, 45, and others), I think another way to put it would be to ask not just what is GOOD but what is ESSENTIAL. (We could also ask, essential for what? The traditional answer for Christians has been: “To avoid hell and attain heaven.” Latter-day Saints would generally add, beyond that: “To enjoy the fullest of God’s blessings.”)

    The question of what is essential is a crucial one. Besides its importance to each of us individually, Christians have fought to the death over it for centuries. The English Civil War of the 1640s started in part because high churchmen in the 1630s had tried to enforce ceremonial details that Puritans considered inessential–and sometimes called relics of Judaism or “popery.” (I pick this example because I’m writing a book on Shakespeare and know his period better than others.) Though baptism was less a point of contention, it also illustrates the problem. Strict Calvinists believed baptism, though a God-given ordinance, was not essential for salvation. But attitudes in the English Church were complicated. To quote the book I’m working on: “Since opinions varied concerning the status of unbaptized children, most parents were understandably anxious that their children not die without baptism.”

    So what is essential? Most Christians would agree that coming to know Christ is the great essential (“This is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”). But what of those who don’t know of Christ? Christians have traditionally excluded from salvation any who don’t know of or accept Christ in this life, even if they are otherwise godly in character. Attitudes have softened on that subject over the past century or two. But most Christians, I think, would still agree that everyone, at some point, must come to know and love Christ to enjoy the fullest of God’s blessings.

    Is anything else essential? I would say that, at a minimum, as we come to know Christ, it is essential that we follow him and try to do what he asks us to do. As a Latter-day Saint, I believe Christ asks us to do certain things: have faith, repent, be baptized, be obedient, love one another, endure to the end. The Church provides lots of helps toward living a Christlike life and enjoying the journey. But much of what enriches life for Latter-day Saints is clearly not an essential prerequisite for eternal life: many of the great ones from scripture lived in times or circumstances that did not allow all the blessings of life in the Church. Moroni, during decades of solitude, didn’t have access to an earthly congregation of believers, let alone to family history libraries or the Scouting program.

    But the gospel plan, as I understand it, does include some essential ordinances: baptism, confirmation, and, for the fullest of eternal opportunities, temple ordinances. Because those are essential (because Christ has identified them as such), they must in fairness be made available to all. Hence the Latter-day Saint emphasis on work for the dead.

    Since each of us is on a journey, what is essential for us at any given moment may change with the stage of the journey we’re on. As I’ve been pondering how to answer the question in the broadest of terms, applying to Christians and non-Christians, it’s occurred to me that one way to answer it would be this: it is essential that each of us be obedient to the light we have at any given moment and that we keep seeking for greater light. (We clearly can’t force this essential on anybody.) I believe that the covenants and ordinances of the gospel, along with everything else God has provided (essential or not), including membership in a body of believers, is intended to help us in that process of growing in light.

  67. Craig, I didn’t mean to ignore your latest comment (#66). It’s just that you posted it while I was in the midst of composing and posting mine.

    Actually, I’m not sure why I called myself “pseudo-Dionysius” except that the name popped into my mind when Margaret referred to her pseudonym cover being blown. (And I have been doing some stuff with New Testament textual studies–see “The text of the New Testament.”)

    But as for your speculations: no, I’m not much younger than I’m thought to be (as far as I know); in fact, I probably look and act younger than I actually am. I’m not a neo-Platonist mystic; mysticism and neo-Platonism fascinate me, but I am also very wary of them, for reasons I could explain . . . And thinking of Margaret did not specifically make me think of the nine orders of angels, though it probably propelled me to an angelic plane.

  68. Craig V. says:

    Bruce (#67, I’ll let #68 stand on its own),

    The question what is essential is a great way to focus our discussion. I’ll have to think on this for a while. The only qualification I would add is that specifics of how we live what’s essential, though necessary for us individually and in communities, may not translate well to other communities. So labeling a practice as not essential doesn’t discount the practice since the practice might be an expression of an essential truth.

  69. Comment, Part I: Craig, you blew it. You revealed that you actually DO know about neo-platonism, medieval Christianity, etc., so now I’m sure Bruce will require further reading from me, and yes, a test next Friday. And the test he gave on Levinas was not really fair. He used some kind of polygraph thing to see which of ten faces (two-dimensional) called me to responsibility. Only nine did, so I got just a B+. But I’m pretty sure the one that didn’t make the polygraph needle react was not actually a human face but some kind of alien.

  70. Comment Part II (more serious):
    In pondering what we as Christians share, recognize that some in the Christian world do not include Mormons in their numbers, I come to one thing: Outreach. Regardless of who we are or what rituals we consider sacred and what practices we include in our religious manifestations, we share our humanity. It is rather obvious, but even if an Evangelical pastor wouldn’t want to walk into a building which contained a picture of Joseph Smith, he would certainly walk into a neighborhood which held victims of a hurricane or an flood. In that setting, he (and his congregation) would have no problem working next to Mormon missionaries to relieve suffering. We all work under the mandate to “Feed my sheep.” We all are pastors in that sense.

    I wonder if the talk of Pseudo-dionysius reflects a danger: the possiblity that we can let our learning, our particular understanding (supported by our choice of theologians) create barriers rather than bridges. (I need to hastily add that I know Bruce Young very well, and know him to be a man without guile and open to people of all faiths. He has developed friendships with self-proclaimed anti-Mormons. From what I know of Craig V., he is similar to Bruce in many ways. He is always seeking greater understanding and always examining himself for any lurking prejudices.)

    Craig V. and Bruce Y. both love C.S. Lewis. I’m guessing they could go to town trading Lewis quotes. Lewis was extremely well-educated, and had followed philosophers and interpreters right out of the realms of faith. He was a greater expert on medieval Christianity than either Craig or Bruce. He loved myths, but they were only myths to him. It was Tolkein who suggested to him, on a beautiful path beside an English meadow, that Lewis might want to consider a question: What if the myths were real? What if everything Lewis had learned pointed to an essential and palpable truth: the actual body of Jesus Christ?

    Surely we all can meet at Jesus’ feet. How tragic it would be to let our religious training somehow keep us from the reality of the wounds in those feet, and the universal, all-inclusive truth of the atonement.

  71. FYI, I love associating with peculiar, intelligent, spiritual, complex people. (Not necessarily those who only are one, but those who are all.) Maybe that’s my view of the Church and its members – an incredibly diverse membership within a tightly structured hierarchy – or a globally preached ideal surrounded by locally practiced lunacy. However it would be phrased best, it certainly is my view of those who frequent this space. Thanks for your company; it’s never boring.

  72. I am glad when my LDS friends interact with C.S. Lewis. Even more so, when going beyond Shakespeare, I love it when my neighbors have shown an interest in William Tyndale. He has got to be the “man of the past millennium”. I wish this godly, humble man was being studied in every English class. :) Concerning Medieval, neo-platonic philosophy, I am adverse to seeing the connections with the Triune God. But I read what I can on the subject. Open to recommendations.

    Margaret, please call me Todd. Some of the children call me Pastor Wood, but I prefer not the formality in my church. To really give me a bad time, some of the brothers and sisters in my church family call me “reverend” just to see me wince. Lots of fun teasing, indeed.

    First, I thank you for your time and consideration in the midst of the work, for I realize that you were merely responding to an initial question and seeking to vividly portray a Mormon worldview and to nourish the LDS hearts of your particular readership. Probably, the last thing on your mind is to be entangled in any lengthy thread discussion with a Southeastern Idaho preacher. But here in unforeseen ways (and as a catchy title reels in the passerby) I am at your internet doorstep. Bloggernacle has been patient with me. I understand this.

    For you to sense my heart: in considering that Christ can make up for where “paltry offerings” lack—I use to think that, Margaret. I was reared in a devout home; prayers of dedication saturated my head. Multiple sets of godly hands nurtured and loved me. The church pew was my second home while my attendance, prayers, scripture study, missionary works, tracting, and testimonial sharing increased year by year. Though imperfect, I really thought I was in the circle because of my striving. But I was wrong. The more I reached for perfection, the more the good law of God handed down to Moses (and Christ’s law) condemned me, leaving me naked even in the midst of all my religious culture and external symbols for clothing.

    The prophets and apostles testified that I was completely outside the circle, actually contributing nothing at all with my works—my supposed righteousness in actuality spiritual bankruptcy (Rom. 2). I wanted to run from the Scriptures. This couldn’t be true to my religious logic. But thankfully, the Spirit caught me, sweating in all my hard work but nonetheless still in darkness (John 3:19). Instead of moving upward to celestial light, in my zeal for Jesus, I had been digging a whole in the wrong direction. So while down in the hole crying out for help, the tender Dove led me, a shaking heart, to the Incarnate One who died for me His enemy (Rom. 5:10), to the Savior who sufficiently did everything for me the one destitute with no righteous merit. I didn’t climb the ladder upward to my eternal salvation until no longer able to go higher on my own Jesus rescued and lent me His hand. No, God had to break through to my stubborn heart that there is no ladder for justification before God that combines together rungs of personal work and Christ’s atonement to the helpless (Gal. 5).

    Margaret, now my interjection as an outside pastor (but hopefully expressed sincerely from the heart on this thread) has become too long. But could I quickly add after sharing some of the window into my past ways in Southeastern Idaho that I love Scriptural symbols today, too? As I study John 4 here on Friday before the Lord’s Day, (the patriarch) Jacob’s well is no match for Jesus’ well (not even a close comparison). And the impoverished and sinful Aaronic priesthood of the Torah points the way to the infinite splendor and job description of the Melchizedec High Priest, suited and accomplished only by Deity (Hebrews). It is this Melchizedec High Priest who covers me in His righteousness, the most brilliant, white bridal garments. And being a part of the bride, my biggescomfort is that I will not be buried without my dress. The garments that Jesus offered to me as His bride are everything.

    I dance today in the warm, penetrating light of the Menorah, fueled by the Spirit who is my wedding seal. I will be forever thanking Jesus that He came down from heaven out of His circle to reach me.

    Make sense?

    And one more question? (I am sorry. Sometimes I am an excited little kid when I start talking about Jesus.)

    Would you say that priesthood (little “p”) authority is not “essential” to salvation and exaltation?

  73. Todd, I know you addressed your comment to Margaret, but I feel like butting in with just two or three things: (1) I love Paul and how he puts things–but I also love Luke and Peter and James and (above all) Jesus, who sometimes put things quite differently, though I believe there’s no ultimate contradiction. (2) Priesthood (to me) can mean (a) ministry (i.e., service, love, blessing) and (b) God’s power and authority, working through humans (among others) for the salvation of the human family. So of course it’s essential, in both senses. But of course those of different faiths (as we say) will differ on the particulars of how it operates. (3) C. S. Lewis responded to the question of why God would use material things (e.g., in baptism and the Lord’s Supper) as part of his plan to bless his children by saying, “God like matter” (plus we human beings have, after all, a physical dimension). So material clothing with spiritual significance shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Yet ultimately the robe that protects us–and justifies us–is Christ’s. As Nephi pleaded, “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!” (2 Nephi 4:33; emphasis added).

  74. Just so you know that Lewis used standard English, I should have quoted him as saying, “God likes matter” (not “God like matter”). Why don’t I see these things until AFTER I’ve hit the “Add my comment” button?

  75. Bruce, you don’t want to even look up all the English in my last posts on Bloggernacle. :)

    Lewis’ portrayals of a new earth paradise taking me upward and inward are fantastic. I agree that God likes matter. He created it all for pure enjoyment to His glory, contra to Gnostic error.

  76. Todd–I would love to hear you preach someday. You move so beautifully through symbols which I love, and you are truly eloquent.

    The argument of grace v. works (which sounds like a court case) has been going on for a long time. I understand the use of a ladder-climber as a metaphor for those of us who believe that devotion calls for outward symbols of our inner commitment. (Actually, Joseph Smith used the ladder metaphor in the King Follett Discourse.)

    But the metaphor I think of most frequently as I contemplate the scriptures (and you alluded to it) is a wedding feast, where all are invited, and where the Anointed One can mercifully fill the vessels of those who have not brought enough oil.
    (Yes, I know that’s not quite how the parable goes.)

    Priesthood authority essential to salvation? I’m not going to distinguish between big “P” and little “p” and simply state that I believe it is. But understand that I am referring to God’s priesthood, which we might also call His power, His authority–the power to speak and create a world, or to calm the seas. I believe God’s priesthood is a real but incomprehensible thing, woven with strong threads of abstract principles like faith and love.

    My question to you is this (and I hope it’s not offensive; I don’t intend it to be): I am a Mormon woman who loves Jesus Christ. Would you, as a pastor of another faith, deny me entrance to the feast because you felt I was overdressed?

  77. Craig V. says:

    Margaret (#71),

    I think that theology (our learning and understanding), or attachment to a theologian, can get in the way. Jesus, as far as I can see, nowhere calls his followers to forsake all and become good at theology. On the other hand, I think theology gets blamed for too much. In the church splits that I’ve seen in my life, theology is used as a weapon of arrogance and pride. It’s not really theology that divides, it’s the pride. Note that when Paul addresses the division and strife in the Corinthian church, he doesn’t spend time trying to determine which group has the right theology. When used rightly, theology enriches the church. Of course, I have to confess, that I’m one of those idealistic people that actually believes that if we can be humble about what we don’t know and work hard at listening to one another, a lot of divisions would vanish. This vanishing act would be amongst humans but not a human work.

  78. Craig V. says:


    As per Margaret’s instructions (#70) I know nothing about medieval Christianity or mystic neo Platonist tendencies. Further more, I believe that to be tested on such subjects is cruel and unusual punishment.

  79. God bless Craig V!
    Signing off now to go be a mom.

  80. About my supposed instruction and testing of Margaret (imagine her listening quietly to my lectures), remember that she’s a fiction writer.

  81. Simply beautiful–and inspiring. Thank you, Margaret!

  82. Julie Young says:

    That was absolutely beautiful. I suspect you don’t trust my reading capabilities, since you were afraid this would be “too long” for me to want to read. I was quite surprised to see that it wasn’t as long as you were making it out to be, and if it were another 50 pages, I would read every single word. First off, I am so grateful that you wrote this, because knowing you for as long as my memory takes me back to, I can see your strengths and life more currently, and I always love learning more about everything you’ve done and experiences you’ve had in your life. In this case, your testimony, and yes, it brought tears to my eyes–thank you for the emotional gift by the way, it’s lovely. Just kidding, it just means our estrogen is aware of what we’re really feeling, right?

    Anyway, this essay caught me awestruck. I think your Patriarchal Blessing must have been referring to your siblings as children as well, because you have been such a guide and example to me, more than you probably know. It amazes me watching you stand so strong as you bear whitness of the gospel through your love. Sometimes I will just watch you smile and hug someone at Genesis or look at how radiant you are when talking about something that means a lot to you by way of phone, and those moments will always stay in my memory, and remain a constant example in my life. I love you, and thank you for writing this! I wish every person in our church could read this.

  83. Julie Young is my daughter, I am proud to say. And she just made me cry big time.
    I love you, Sweetie.

  84. I have a difficult time understanding how a woman in the church could possibly think she is somehow slighted, or less of a person because she does not hold the priesthood. How can the very vessel whom God himself designated the conduit through which souls enter this life and the most powerful force in the lives of not only her own chhildren but the lives of all children she influences, feel less significant just because she cannot lay her hands on someones head and give them a blessing?

    To me the far greater, the far more important, the far more reaching, and long lasting influence is the role of a loving mother. I received many blessings under the hands of my father. That being said, however, the things that get me through difficult times were taught to me by my loving Mother. The things that sustain me are the words of my Mother. The lessons demonstrating the example of our Savior were taught by my mother. Dad taught us too, we were just around mom more.

    When thinking conceptually about blessings, the person giving the blessing is not important. It doesn’t matter if the person giving it is a bishop, Stake Pres, Seventy, Apostle, etc. The words given are given of God, the authority is God’s. He decides where that authority resides.

    I think it would be neat to experience child birth as a woman does. What a miracle to behold and experience! Do I feel slighted because I can’t? No. It is just not my place to bare children. Would it be cool if I could? Sure. But, I won’t lose sleep over it, nor will I question God as to why it is not different.

    Many things in this life require faith and an eye single to the glory of God. The administration of the priesthood and its ordinances is just one of those things.

  85. Thank you so much for putting so beautifully into words exactly what drew me to the Gospel, and what, after 18 years as a member, still centers my faith and my life.

  86. Kevin Merrell says:


    Thank you for your essay. As I read through the entire blog I felt a growing desire to add my thanks. My first reaction was, “Wouldn’t another ‘thanks’ be redundant?” My second reaction was, “Is another ray of sunshine redundant?” And so here I am. The whole interchange about the red-haired fan of Bruce was the most delightful, unexpected sparkle in a conversation already suffused with light.

    To the image of circles I would add the Lord’s mystical, but inviting statement, “My course is one eternal round.” God surrounded by expanding circles of gods, perhaps? The notion of gods delighting in the sociality of kin and friends and good humor gives me great peace and hope.

    I loved your second major post as well. I’ve come to believe that the members in the developed world are increasingly being blessed by the example of those in the developing world. Every story I hear about folks in humble circumstances choosing well reminds me of my pioneer ancestors in humble circumstances who chose well. Thank you for inviting the spirit into my morning through your post.

    Todd: Thank you for making southeastern Idaho a better place. My ancestors were among the first white settlers in that part of the world. Your posts suggests you are continuing their tradition of relying on God and each other—and having a great time in the process.

  87. It might be good to remember that those of us who live in the U.S. are functioning in a society and culture that, by and large, denies miracles and the miraculous – or, at the very least, defines these terms to exclude almost everything. That isn’t so in many of the countries where the Church is spreading – and the “signs that follow those who believe” play a major role in hos quickly it is spreading.

    I served my mission in Japan, and I agree wholeheartedly with Margaret when I say that those two years showed me and taught me MUCH that I probably would not have learned in the more cynical, “intellectual” environment to which I returned. The Church only can be blessed as it spreads to other lands and recognizes more clearly the distinction between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the cultural doctrines and practices developed and influenced by the country of its restoration.

  88. #77
    Margaret, your question at the end . . . thankyou.

    It is real. It is a question we all should be asking are own hearts. Are we underdressed (for you to ask me), overdressed or not even dressed properly at all? Most people in church circles are too busy to even ask this central question that explores the core of heart issues for LDS and evangelical communities in southeastern Idaho and Utah.

    May I ponder this question over the night? I will get back with you tomorrow.

    After the snow yesterday in Idaho Falls, I am enjoying the full warmth of the sun on this clear Lord’s Day afternoon. The Lord Jesus is so good.

  89. Todd–I have major Idaho Falls connections. And the work I do in researching the lives of African American pioneers often leads me straight to Idaho Falls. Many are buried in the Rose Hill cemetery, and others in the tiny Milo Cemetery. My grandparents, Delbert and Jennie Groberg, were early settlers of IF, and Grandpa was the Temple president. My uncle, John Groberg, is now the Temple president.

    I do get to IF at least annually, so maybe I could actually hear you preach.

  90. Oops–I didn’t check to see whose name was on the comment space. I’m using the home computer, which Bruce also uses, but that last comment was from me (Margaret), not Bruce. Bruce’s ancestors went to Payson, Utah, not IF.

  91. Bruce, Sorry to use this space to ask this, but were you raised in Payson – or do you have relatives there? I was raised in Santaquin – back when it was just a tiny mapdot of 3 wards, not 3 stakes.

  92. This is the real Bruce Young, straightening out Margaret’s and my respective ancestries–though it turns out, as I recently discovered, Margaret and I are 13th cousins. Before you get concerned, that’s probably close to the average for how closely lots of Americans are related to each other.

    My immediate ancestors go back to Ogden (and then beyond that to Franklin, Idaho) on my father’s side and to Payson on my mother’s side. (Father: Daren Young; Mother: Ruth Wilson Young.) I grew up in Spanish Fork, but have lived in Provo since I started teaching at BYU in 1983. I have relatives in Payson–historically, quite a number of the Wilsons there, but more recently my sister and her family (Lynda and Joe Tuckett and children) and our oldest daughter’s parents-in-law (the Lifferths). Oh, and I’m related to one of my wife’s aunts, who has Payson roots too.

  93. I wasn’t sure where to post this, since I really am trying to spend less time blogging, but I thought some might enjoy our daughter’s you-tube about learning French. The missionaries we’re working with in the MTC are struggling with it privately, but Julie is quite bold and funny about the experience of trying to learn a foreign language FAST. This is very Mormon, a post script to the pastor. Mormon missionaries go through this intensively, with the goal of obeying the mandate to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Here’s the link:

  94. Ok, Bruce and Margaret, back again today. Margaret, you’re family – the Grobergs? You are famous? :)

    [edited for length]

  95. Todd, you have your own site at which you may post three-page-long comments. Sorry.

  96. I respect that Steve and heed your policy. Didn’t realize the rule.

  97. Latter-day guy says:

    Well, I certainly could not presume to anwer for Margaret or Bruce, but your questions have really made me think. (Your sad story about the temple tour did as well.)

    If I might share just a couple of thoughts:

    The purpose of the Temple is to bring us more perfectly to Christ. I remember being amazed the second time I went through the Temple (the first time I didn’t understand enough to even be confused) how often Christ was represented symbolically. My understanding, appreciation, and awe of Him and His sacrifice bloomed. I knew more clearly what He had done for me, and how His atonement applied to my life here and now and at the end of things. The Temple is not the Lord, the Temple is not the Savior, but the Temple did help me come to know Him and love Him.

    And no, no spouse could fill His role. But Christ died, I think, to make us worth dying for. Everyone will disappoint, but not the Lord. What of us then when we become perfectly united to Him? When our wills are aligned through the at-one-ment? We won’t disappoint either. CS Lewis said He was a pioneer, that we were all to become little christs. The Temple helped me see that and take steps in that direction–climbing up and up toward the mountain (I love “The Great Divorce).

    And so we seek Him–in the words of scripture, in the waters of baptism, hiding behind the emblems of the eucharist, within the walls of the Temple. Many lovers remember important locations fondly; the porch swing of a first kiss, the tree with carved initials, the park where there was kneeling and a ring. Isn’t it understandable to love the place I began to understand His love, and love Him back?

  98. Latter-day guy says:

    I fear my answer is rather pointless now as the comment I was responding to is gone. :-(

  99. Todd–This will be the first of other responses. I’ve looked up your church website, so I know right where you are, and I’ve passed your church many times. (Grandma and Grandpa lived on 12th Street for years. And yes, you betcha, I’m one of the famous Grobergs.)

    You give much to ponder. For now, I’m going to find common ground and simply say that I share your concern with “overdress” in regards to physical attachments. I’m not talking about someone’s wedding band or another’s cross, or even a temple, but our attachment to THINGS, things which do burden us and which must ultimately be shed. My concern with this issue was so real to me that I took my children to Guatemala last summer so that they could experience what I did many years ago: the unencumbered life and the joy of those who aren’t constantly comparing cars and houses; the sociality that I found there, the openness. Indeed, it was transformative for them, and for me (and Bruce also joined us for awhile and felt the spirit of the place).

    But of course, we returned to Utah, to our carpeted home, our sofa, piano, furnished bedrooms. We were temporary visitors in Guatemala, but we were always a plane ride away from our familiar luxury.

    When Bruce and I read _The End of the Spear_ and then bought the documentary made by Steven Saint and others about evangelical missionaries who were killed in the jungles of Ecuador, and whose families chose to stay and live among the people who had killed their loved ones and bring them to Jesus Christ, it made me long to return to that other world I know and love. It was actually hard for me to read the book because it awoke such yearning in me to be stripped of everything but the most essential–and yes, our most important “clothing” is our relationship to our Savior, who provides the ultimate priesthood robe and mercifully covers us.

    Let me say that I have been troubled when some of my Mormon friends have spoken ill of Evangelical Christians. I have heard fellow Mormons say things like, “Evangelicals believe that all they have to do is confess Christ and it doesn’t matter what else they do in life.” My reaction has been, “You must know different Evangelicals than I do, because every devoted Born-Again Christian I have known has worn their religion beautifully. Their conversion was not a one-day event, but a life change, which informs everything they do.”

    All of us in different faiths are very capable of reducing others to quick and cheap summaries. I was glad to see that your website sought not to do that with the LDS faith, that there was even a post titled “We need to apologize.” I’m not playing the victimized Mormon here, because obviously we are capable of some awful behavior–such as you experienced at Temple Square.

    I would hope we would stand up for each other and be willing to kneel beside one another. I’ll use a friend’s experience to express this.

    This friend became very ill while visiting his in-laws in California, and was hospitalized for months. Nurses attended him daily, and they became very close. When he was about to be released, one of the nurses said, “I feel like I need to confess one thing. I’m the enemy. I’m a Seventh-Day Adventist.” My friend said, “Oh no, you’re not the enemy. We’re on the same team. Satan is the enemy.”

    And that’s all I have time for right now. I’ll continue pondering and respond further later.

  100. Steve–what’s your recommendation? Perhaps this is not the sort of conversation which belongs at BCC. Should it be continued on Todd’s website?

  101. Before this thread of conversation comes to a close (at least at this location–it has, interestingly, become something of a mini-universe, with its share of apparently random tangents), I thought I’d add a couple of things:
    (1) The references to Lewis and The Great Divorce encourage me to add a link to some posts I wrote on that book:
    (2) Margaret has suggested that I add another link (with arguable relevance to this conversation?), to an essay I wrote about faith:
    (3) Back on the topic of what’s essential, it occurred to me that one reason God has put in place certain ordinances and covenants is that these are part of the means he uses to save, heal, transform, and exalt his children (in other words, he uses specific, concrete means rather than simply [metaphorically] waving a magic wand). That would help explain why, even for those who have died without those ordinances, a means is provided for them to (vicariously) experience them. The words and actions and material means involved in these ordinances may be part of the process of instruction and change designed for them to experience, as they too are given the opportunity to make covenants. These may, that is, be the very words and actions and material means that God, in his wisdom, has designed to help his children engage in a process of profound learning and transformation. Not to mention the fact (with which temple-going Latter-day Saints are very familiar) that taking part in ordinances on behalf of the dead is also transformative for the living, not only as this experience reminds us of ordinances and covenants we have taken part in but as it binds us to those we are serving and deepens our connection with Christ as we engage, in our own way, in his work on vicarious service and atonement (at-one-ment).


  1. […] This may be the best thing you ever read in the Bloggernacle. Permanent Link : Comments (0) […]

  2. […] 6th, 2007 by Todd Wood First, I appreciate Bruce and Margaret Young in risking conversation with the likes of me.  Because of Margaret’s recent post, To The Pastor:, I wouldn’t […]

  3. […] of the PBS special last week, an article about Mormon life written by Margaret Young. Find it here. It isn’t very long so I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read […]

  4. […] Spirit has born to the truth of what I have seen and heard. Nor do I know what would become of the ordinances I take to be so significant to being a Mormon: baptism, confirmation, blessings, the endowment and […]

  5. […] Margaret Young at By Common Consent has written to you before about life in the LDS church. In moving terms and with beautiful metaphor she described her experience with the gospel as a born and bred member of an active family. The picture I have to share with you is different but is an equally important part of what it means to be Mormon. […]

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