How a Book About Heavenly Mother was Written (and illustrated).

Rachel on writing Mother’s Milk:

back coverHow did I write 246 poems on a divine being we ostensibly know little about? In short, I prayed, I listened, I looked, I read, I lived, and sometimes I found Her. In long, I prayed to God the Father, to know more of God the Mother, to be close to Her, to feel Her love, and to be guided as I thought and wrote. I listened to my daughter, Cora, and my son, Søren–their words and their cries. I looked to children’s games–Peek-A-Boo and Marco Polo. I looked to the important women in my life–my grandmothers, mother, sisters, mentors, friends, nieces, and again, my daughter. I looked at the natural world around me–the trees, wind, stars, sea, mountains, birds, everything. I believe the Mother, like the Father, is a designer and creator. I read children’s books, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Peter Pan, The Little Prince, Where the Wild Things Are, and Are You My Mother? I read philosophy books, including by my son’s namesake, Søren Kierkegaard. I read poetry books, including by Amiri Baraka, Li-Young Lee, and Mary Oliver. I read passages from church leaders, including Chieko Okazaki, Erastus Snow, Joseph Smith, Jeffrey R. Holland, and Harold B. Lee. I read scriptures. Lots and lots of scriptures. [Read more…]

Failure and God’s Love

“All religions start with the cry, help.” I’ve looked for the original source of this quote since I heard it on a podcast and can’t locate it, but regardless, it is a line that spoke to me this week.

Today after I’d dropped my two older children at preschool for the afternoon and my six-week old baby slept in the back of the car, I said aloud the word, “help.” Nothing in particular was or is wrong, in fact, most is right, most is perfectly right, but I was overwhelmed, tired, full of doubt about my own abilities. I’ve learned to validate the difficulties that accompany parenthood, particularly motherhood, because for far too long I glossed over them as if they weren’t real (a topic for another post). My “cry” today was one of deep humility stemmed from my own insufficiencies, “please help,” spoken aloud and with a hope that someone might be listening.  That “cry” often seems to be the beginning of something useful in my life.one019 [Read more…]

One Thing Missing: Beautiful Conference, but Where Were the Women?

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Conference this past weekend was peaceful and calming in the way I remember it being as a kid. The lilts and accents of certain voices felt familiar and a lot like home. Elder Holland’s talk was a sermon to anchor my mormonism in, as so many others have also noted. Many of the talks reminded me of what it is to step away from all other things and find a place where the spirit dictates my thoughts and actions. It made me want to be better. It was a good conference.

Still, I couldn’t help but notice that only one talk out of twenty-seven in the course of eight hours this weekend was given by a woman. [Read more…]

On Silence

I haven’t written here for some time.  In a strange way, I think my own personal book, 100 Birds Taught Me to Fly, about my life experience as a Mormon, has quieted me since its coming painting030out.  I’ve wondered a lot about this unexpected feeling of inadequacy since the book release and why silence would be the option.  I don’t think, however, that this experience is unique to me.  I don’t think it is because my book was good, or bad, well-reviewed or not well-reviewed.  I think at the root of things, I feel a pressure that so many of us in the church often feel to be good, to be more than good, to have things figured out, and have them figured out declaratively and now.

 

 

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For Many Years My Voice Shook

I wrote a book for the Maxwell Institute.  It came out on November 1st.  In the last three weeks I have traveled and spoken at fifteen different events.  Up until November 1st, even when I practiced reading for my husband in our living room, my voice would shake so badly that the words would get caught up in my throat and finally stumble out in a bundle of nervousness.  I was quite serious in my consideration of hiring actors to read my work for me at the events I knew I was going to be speaking at.  I did not want to take up people’s time.  I did not want to be in the spotlight, I felt so much nervousness about what I wasn’t,  or at least the part of me that had spent a lifetime overdosing on what I thought humility meant.

On the opening night of the book, I stood in front of about 150 people and looked down aUtah Photographert the words on the page, unsure if my voice would shake and render me incapable, or if it would carry steady.  I believe by an act of pure grace, and genuine love from the people in these audiences, my voice, for literally the first time in my life, read the words I had written without a crack or waver.  Something kind and believing has carried them each night as I’ve read the pieces about my own life, which are intensely personal and nakedly honest.

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Interview: J. Kirk Richards and the Gospel Vision of the Arts

The following is an interview with J. Kirk Richards, LDS Artist and board member of THE VISION OF THE ARTS FUND, which was established in 2015 as a home for the Gospel Vision of the Arts Auction, which provides scholarships and opportunities for LDS artists.  As I’ve learned and talked personally with the people working behind the scenes to make this happen, I am both touched and so grateful for their optimism, enthusiasm and patronage of the arts within Mormonism.  Recently I visited one of their homes, which is brimming with intelligent, well-crafted, beautiful and spiritually engaging art by Mormons and I left feeling such a strong desire to be a part.  I’m excited about this work and the opportunity it will give many people to pursue their own work in the arts.  You probably want to take a moment to check out the auction, there are really beautiful pieces up for bid http://visionofthearts.org/auction.html

Q:   Tell us about the current state of LDS visual arts.

A:   I’m hugely optimistic about the future of Mormon art.  I think pessimists focus on a very small segment: the few pieces of artwork that meet the rigorously dogmatic requirements of correlation.  But there is a much larger art community outside of correlation—from new classical revivalist schools along the Wasatch front to New York artists showing in the MoMA; from traditional to conceptual and everything in between.  There are energetic and supportive networks of LDS artists, encouraging and lifting each other to new heights.    

Auction piece “Believe” by David Linn.

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This Morning

This morning my daughter wanted me to make her an owl.  I cut out the body and two wings, setting them on the paper tucked up against the paper body.  Immediately she took them and set them outwards and said, “No, she is flying mom.”

I fell asleep late last night and like so many of us woke in the early hours of the morning to the shock of a reality I did not believe would or could happen.  I rose with a pit in my stomach.  I woke with deep disappointment in the state I grew up in, the Mormon state, the one who could have proved to me that they value my body, my voice, my daughter, over possible economic advantage, but they did not.

I also woke to something I did not entirely expect, as I read through my emails, texts and social media, I found words that did not spell defeat.  I saw words about love over hate, about bravery and action.  I read the words of friends who, although heartbroken, did not miss a beat in going to one another to ask, what now?  What do we do? We will do it.  If no one else will usher in our voices, we will do it ourselves. [Read more…]

What Mormon Books Do You Love?

Recently I read When Mormons Doubt, a new book by Jon Ogden. The book is a mix of philosophy on reverence and practical ideas for scenarios that Mormons increasingly find themselves in: What do you do when belief is no longer concrete, either for you, or for bookssomeone close to you? How do you move forward meaningfully in familial relationships that seem to be taking different paths? Jon writes optimistically about the possibility for both peace and reconciliation both for the people who step out of the church and for those who stay in. The book is a worthy read. Jon pulls the reader gently through a series of thought experiments that nudge in a direction of deeper thought, reverence and respect for the countless spiritual paths that personal Mormonism can offer if we allow it, even once a person has “left” the church.

I’ve written at least three separate pieces working through my ideas after reading When Mormons Doubt and while the book itself got me thinking, it is also the idea of the book that is interesting to me. I don’t have a comprehensive knowledge of the history of Mormon literature, but I am an avid reader of non-fiction. The literary landscape available to me as a young BYU student was not encouraging of the type of brazen exploration and questioning my evolving faith asked of me. I realize now that in part this was because I did not know where to look and that devotional literature is not a new genre by any means. To quote a BCC writer and historian, J. Stapley,

Scholars of all sorts have been dealing with historiographical and epistemological concerns over Mormonism for much longer then 10 years. Richard Bushman’s  Rough Stone Rolling is over ten years old, but his JS and the Beginnings of Mormonism was  published in 1988.  Even BH Roberts was writing for Americana magazine at the beginning of the century.

I suppose then, in part, my being exposed to what feels like new Mormon non-fiction is because I am young— accumulation takes time—in part because I haven’t invested the time I hope to in knowing the larger timeline. I don’t think my experience of not knowing which Mormon writing to turn to is uncommon. I think many people feel lost and hopeless within their Mormonism precisely because they do not know or haven’t been exposed to writing that might help them. [Read more…]

Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families: Interview with the Author

One morning as I drove my kids to their swim lessons I overheard Remy, who is five, tell Thea, who is three, “I know four people: Heavenly Father, the Holy Ghost, Jesus and Heavenly Mother.”  I think they both must have nodded in agreement because I didn’t hear much else on the topic, but those few words Remy said so confidently have stayed with me.  I didn’t speak the words Heavenly Mother aloud until I was in college, and even then it felt subversive and a little rebellious.  I remember saying it in my testimony  and I’m sure it didn’t sound entirely natural as I still stumbled and paused at the words. Our_Heavenly_Family_Our_Earthly_Families.jpg

For me, much has changed since those college years, and I have so many brave people to attribute that to. Conversations, books, poems, lessons, artwork, encouragement all set me up to explore my own personal relationship with Her in my late 20’s and forward.   I love that my children have no need to feel subversive in speaking about Heavenly Parents.  They are being raised up by a community that is better becoming acquainted with Her.  I love many things about the new book Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spaulding with artwork by Caitlin Connolly but the invaluable space they offer to children to think about a Heavenly Mother in conjunction with a Heavenly Father, along with the books inclusivity of different types of families, makes me so happy to have it on my bookshelf. [Read more…]

Your Letters are Expected Though

Five years ago, in a new ward, our tiny son took immediately to a man on the front row of the gospel principles class–a wide-armed, rugby player of a man who shook our hand and nearly lifted us off the ground.  He was big and bright and new.  Baptized just a few months before, though schooled in Mormonism for many years.  There was something about Jack’s sincerity and insistence in speaking often about social justice that endeared us to him without reservation.

A couple of years ago Jack started to bring his friend, Vince, to church. Every Sunday Vince wears a black shirt and pants nearly as dark as his skin.  The grandchildren that hold his hands as he walks into sacrament meeting run to hug Jack. Another family has saved them a spot on the bench with them. Vince doesn’t often speak out, but it is clear that he is both gentle and wise with experience as he accepts these offerings with grace.

At Vince’s baptism he spoke about his time in prison and how at a low point he knew he wanted to find God, his sweet family peppering the baptismal room chairs calling out “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” [Read more…]

Narratives Beyond Conference Talks

Too often in my own life I have looked for the one right story to live by. The older I get, the more I am aware that there is not one ‘best’ narrative, or even a few ‘best’ narratives. I need a quantity, a gigantic sum of narratives to survive and thrive in Mormonism.bird for bcc

The other day while driving in a hot car with my two children as they handed out requests faster and more outlandish than I could possibly ever deliver on, I got to thinking about  conference talks about motherhood that I’ve heard my whole life.  The remembrance of them, however,  did not feel like an act of solidarity in the moment.

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Body Matters

The morning a doctor cut into the soft white flesh of my belly while I slept, the world was awake with hurt. Surgeons moving past my uterus–cocoon where my babies once grew their wings. The small ovaries like little glittering potatoes hidden beneath the surface. Fallopian tubes so small but a mountain ridge my brave babies once traveled.   And a cyst, large and lolling. An unwelcome guest.  The doctors cut it away, and like that, the part of my body that hurt me was no longer there.

I woke up sobbing for no reason in the recovery room and begged the doctor to hold my hand at the side of the bed with his gloved hand.

Later, sitting with the pain, I thought of dusk when my children held their fishing poles out into the lake, garlic cheese on a hook in the green, mossy water. Visible trout darting into the deep dark then rising  on the glinting surface with with surprising ripples. How badly they wanted a fish, but maybe not the fish so much as the moment when the fish pulls with all its fish bones and fish muscles to get away, jolting us into remembrance of how much we love these bodies we’re given, how we’d struggle against everything to keep them.

The news flashed in a corner of my hospital room. I touched the cuts on my stomach and mourned bodies who died too soon and without reason, their families crying out on the screen.

#blacklivesmatter

 

 

How Loving My Body has Changed Me Spiritually

This afternoon my son, Remy, got to missing his dad who is in Japan doing field work.  I found him in the backyard sitting on a rock crying tears that were so sincere and alone that I immediately cried right along with him–both out of sadness for him, and also a sense of joy that he, after a mere five years on this earth, was able to feel so deeply for someone else.

We Brave Women Button 3Because I was crying, I was short on words, and really didn’t have anything that great to say anyway, but I sat on an overstuffed chair and let his little heaving body fill in every space on my stomach and chest.  We stayed there for a long time without words while he calmed and seemed to want to melt right into me until any hurt he felt was gone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies and the spirit lately and have come to a few abstract ideas and conclusions, but that moment for me was made of clarity.  My body is home to my children.  I lay between them each night while they fall asleep and they reach out in the dark and stroke my face or reach for my hand. It’s like the reaffirmation of both their place in the world, and their place in a larger plan, as they run their tiny hands across the familiar and tangible landscape of my body.  My body for them is a manifestation of home, and home is what the spirit has always felt like for me. [Read more…]

Both On the Roof and In the Crowd

I want to go right to the well known story in the beginning of the book of Mark where a paralytic man is lowered into a home by four of his friends who had broken a hole into the roof above the crowd.  They know Jesus is teaching there and the crowd was too pressing to enter in by the door, so in hopes that Jesus will heal this friend, they climb up above and do something that I imagine was most unexpected and unconventional. I have read or heard that story so many times in my life, but it wasn’t until recently when I stopped to really consider the scene that I was a bit taken back.

Think again of the image: think of these people climbing on top of the roof while carrying their friend on his sick bed, about to dig a hole and interrupt a large crowd, and not least, the most important and sought after man in the city.  I wonder if they hesitated, I wonder if they thought they should turn back, that it was just a silly idea.  But then, I marvel at their bravery as they do the thing they must have felt they should.  They broke a hole in that roof and sent their friend right in to land at the feet of Jesus.  The reaction of Christ to this act is stunning to me.  He does not question, he does not tell the men they should have just waited outside the door for later, he does not lecture, He simply accepts their offering of faith without question.  He heals the man, first from his sins, then in his body and the man rises, picks up his bed and stands.  [Read more…]

#TexturesofMormonism

I am truly pleased to present to you one of the best kept secrets of the Mormon Instagram world.  Jon Bryner and Tallia Feltis are the mastermind couple behind the account @texturesofmormonism.   While very funny, they are equally thoughtful and deliberate.  They speak of both the humor and strange tenderness in this idea of shared nostalgia that Mormons literally all over the world can relate to.  My husband and I have spent more than one evening chuckling before bed as we scroll through the account.  Ah Mormons.  Something so strange and so funny about our collective aesthetic that somehow hasn’t changed in decades.

This is just a sampling of some of my favorites from the account.

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It’s Wednesday night! Hit like if you need a ride home from mutual. #foyerphone #texturesofmormonism

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I Sang She

Tonight with my two tiny children before bed, one clutching my hand, the other flying wordlessly into sleep, I sang them the same primary songs I have sung them every night for the past five years.  My son sang some of the words with me and I had the
distinct feeling that these songs will be theirs forever, the melodies and words will be make up the threads of their spiritual lives long after I am singing them to sleep.maxwell bird

As I sang, I did something that I hadn’t done before, not because the idea hadn’t occurred to me, but more because my religious experience has been as much one of rules as it has been of freedom to move beyond those rules.  Even as a grown woman very comfortable with speaking, thinking, figuring out and experimenting with spirituality for myself, I had never out loud sang the words to those familiar primary songs with a female pronoun.  As I sang, I am a child of God, and She has sent me here, my children did not balk at the change.  If they noticed, they did not say, but it felt right to give it to them.  It felt warm, it felt calm singing those words out into the dark.  I sang the repertoire replacing the singular pronoun for the word “Parents” in some cases, and going back and forth between “She” and “He” in other cases. [Read more…]

They need not depart; give them to eat.

From the time I was a kid, I knew the story of the five loaves and two fishes. However, it wasn’t until recently as I re-read Matthew 14 that I really took note of the context in which Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  The first half of Matthew 14 tells the horrifying story of John the Baptist’s murder, and how the disciples took his body and buried it and then brought the news to Jesus.

In response to the news, Jesus leaves by a ship into a desert place. But as he goes, the people follow him on foot out of their cities.

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick./And when it was evening,  his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals./ But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.

For all my life, when I have eaten so eagerly of the parable, I had never stopped to consider that the miracle was born of what must have been one of Jesus’ most lonely and sad mortal hours.  The loss of his cousin could not have been slight, could not have been anything less than devastating.  Jesus’ initial reaction to jump on a ship and get to a place where he might mourn and pray alone seems appropriate, but there is always a yet.  

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Disrupting the patterns of our storytelling

A few weeks ago at a writing conference I went to a panel about writing the LGBTQ narrative.  While I am not LGBTQ myself, I wanted to know what the panelists felt about writing their stories, often for the first time, and often to audiences they fear do not understand them.  Those 90 minutes were some of the most useful and enlightening minutes of the conference for me.  My empathy and love for the LGBTQ story grew, but also, an empathy and gratitude for my own story felt very real.  In some ways, I felt like the five panelists could have been replaced by any particular group of people who are concerned with the idea of telling stories that are bursting at the seams of the box they have long been kept in. My Mormon self, my female self, my mothering self, connected with what they said.
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Elder Kearon On Service To Refugees

I remember so distinctly last summer when the Pope made the call for every parish across Europe to take in a refugee family and help them in the ways that they needed.  I remember this because I longed for the same explicit message in regards to specific service we can and should give in the world.  [Read more…]

Sister Durham

“How do we as parents increase the spiritual capacity of our little ones?”  I love that Sister Durham posed this question.  As a mother with children who are still so young, but also so capable of entering that space where they see, hear, feel and know through the spirit, I’ve thought a lot about how I can nourish their curiosity and help them develop a love for the spiritual exploration. [Read more…]

Tell your story that you are listening and you’d like to hear what it is saying.

Nearly a decade ago I spent a summer in the Special Collections section of the BYU library.  I wasn’t particularly sure of what I would find there,  but I was hungry to know something of the women in my mormon history.  I read lots of journals, including Emmeline B. Wells, Louisa Barnes Pratt, Minerva Teichert and the first young sister missionary to ever serve on her own instead of as a married couple or family. [Read more…]

The Adam and Eve Series: An Interview about Creativity and Spirituality

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I’ve spent a lot of my recent spiritual wandering thinking about the idea of creativity and what role it can play in a spiritual life, and how I can better implicate it into my everyday practices.  It’s a not a quandary with a quick answer, but one that is answered in endless and varied ways.   After watching a recently released series of short films, The Adam and Eve Series, I was inspired by the quality of the production, moved by the humor and realness of the characters, and reaffirmed in my notion that creativity within spirituality is most definitely worth pursuing.  I could say a lot about what I love about the Adam and Eve Series, but I would rather you spend your time reading through the well-articulated and thoughtful responses of its creators, Davey and Bianca Morrison Dillard.  This is the first in a series of spotlights and interviews with people who are pursuing creativity within their mormonhood.  The interview questions are in italics and I’ve bolded some of my favorite lines from Davey and Bianca, but the entire interview is most definitely worth your time.    [Read more…]

My sisters, please speak.

For my birthday we went to the beach, not a sandy beach, but a secret rocky beach down a path rife with poison oak that we jumped over. The day was a little bit foggy, a little bit colorless, a little bit cold. I walked along behind my husband and two children, stopping to pick up a fossil of a shell, a piece of abalone, a memory of my son looking out into the vast ocean. We had been collecting quietly, sliding over wet rocks, filling our pockets with treasure for almost an hour when my two and a half year old daughter came and sat next to me. I noticed her little palm was tightly shut and when I asked her what she had, she opened her hand to reveal a dozen carefully selected round pebbles. She has a propensity for small round things, and I welled up with intense pride and love as I went back over in my memory that devout little girl searching, examining, holding on to the very best things without even the intention to show me unless I had asked.

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Teaching My Son About Joseph Smith

By the time my son, Remy, was four, I had not told him the story of Joseph Smith, despite all his friends having the ability to recount the story with aptitude. My guilt at seeing him on the outside when the conversation about Joseph and his story occurred among tiny mouths on more than one occasion, drove me to want to tell the story before I was sure the words to say. I tried a few times, fumbling through the lines I’d said a hundred times over on my mission, the memorized pieces engrained deeply in my memory. But the words felt foreign and did not rise from my heart as they once did, and my son, so sensitive to his mother’s vibrations, was slightly off-put and confused by my recounting. [Read more…]

A Compass for the Season

Driving home through the light fog and traffic from the park this morning, my four-year old son said to me, “Mom, I was down by the trees and I thought to pray, it was so quiet.”

This was not a reference to Joseph Smith. I asked him if he knew who Joseph was, he didn’t. This was just my tiny boy navigating this world with something greater than knowledge or reason as his compass. [Read more…]

It May Take a While

Over the summer I read Charlotte’s Web to my four-year old son, Remy. After we finished, we rented the movie and watched together. Near the end I got a call and had to leave the room for a moment. I didn’t know it was the part where Charlotte would die, even though I knew it would happen, it still seem sudden, surprising. From the back room I heard my son sobbing and I quickly hung up the call and ran down the hallway. For the rest of my life, I imagine I will regret that I wasn’t sitting right beside him when the wave of sadness came. I am indebted to his strong spirit for allowing me to be privy to one of the most real displays of human emotion I have ever witnessed. His sadness was not attached to anything at all except human empathy, from one creature to another. [Read more…]

Staying, Again.

Every so often, in this life, we are privy to miracles that are as ordinary as the little sparrows that build a nest every spring in a wide pipe that connects my kitchen wall to the outside. For a few blessed weeks every year, I hear them chirping, as I cook the pasta and chop the vegetables right along side them. Every so often my children put their ear to the wall and I see, not surprise, but re-affirmation that the world really is full of magic. It’s strange that we never see the nest because the pipe is covered in such a way, and we can never pinpoint the exact day the birds become strong enough to wriggle through the little hole and fly away, but we know it happens because by June the bird voices are gone.   We know then that the miracle is the flight, the willingness to venture beyond the pipe and into a different space.

In my own life, in the midst of sorrow and chaos surrounding the haven I’ve so long called my spiritual home, I was not only privy to quiet, almost imperceptible miracles that rippled across the landscape of my own heart, but I am, like those tiny birds, testing my wings cautiously, and then, with growing confidence, jumping into a new paradigm which is playing out differently than I had planned on Thursday.

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Some Words For Today

It feels strangely familiar to come to this place yet again. A blank page. A hope that some words might write me back to a place where communion of mind and spirit is possible.

My first week as a missionary in the missionary training center, the teacher asked us to make a timeline from Adam as a prophet to our current prophet. I sat there in my long skirt, pencil poised and looked around the room at my missionary classmates scribbling away, only to realize that I had no idea what to write. I grew up in Provo, Utah, I went to seminary through high school, my parents had been baptized when I was young, but still, when it came to words like apostacy, I didn’t quite know the facts or timelines. I’d somehow missed the details. [Read more…]

Reverent to Reverence

Being reverent is a phrase we grew up knowing, but mostly as the tattle-tale outcast, not as a close friend. Being reverent, for me, meant a behavior, a set of folded arms, a quiet mouth, a bum in a pew. As I’ve grown older, and now have my own kids to teach, that definition isn’t quite cutting it. Of course I believe in teaching my children respect, and of course I don’t let them run wild during meetings, there is value in learning to sit calmly, but nothing else  I am teaching them in their lives lends itself to equating their value in the eyes of God with being silent.

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We need a Mother.

This piece is in response to this essay that the church put out today.

I need a mother.  I don’t need the notion of a mother, or even the appreciation for a mother.  I need a mother that comes with me in the middle of the night to take care of a child.  I need a mother who nurtures my intellect and challenges me to do more. I need a mother who believes in social justice and rages with me when I don’t know where else to go.   I need a mother who validates my wildness and urges my ideas to take root.  I need a mother in heaven, not merely an appreciation at the idea of one. [Read more…]