Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Laman and Lemuel's Motivation

In our family scripture study we just stated re-reading the Book of Mormon again. A few days ago we read the story of when Lehi commands his son's to go back to Jerusalem and get the brass plates (1 Nephi 3). Laman and Lemuel, the older brothers, murmur about going and the whole trip wanted to turn back at the first sign of hardship. When things didn't go as planned and they loose all their wealth they beat their younger brothers with rods until an angel has to come and intervene. Even after the angel tells them they will succeed in their mission they still murmur and refuse to accomplish what their father had sent them to do. In the end Nephi is courageous enough to follow the spirit and single handily retrieves the plates (1 Nephi 4).

Lets contrast this experience with the next time that Lehi tells his sons to go back to Jerusalem. This time Lehi asks them not to go back for plates but for... girls. In 1 Nephi 7 The Lord tells Lehi that he shouldn't take his family out into the wilderness alone but that he should send his sons back to Jerusalem and bring the family of Ishmael, who happens to have five daughters, to journey in the wilderness with their family. This time, when their mission is to bring back wives and not just stack of rusty old plates, Laman and Lemuel didn't murmur at all.

It just sort of makes me laugh that these two brothers didn't murmured or hesitated at all to do the Lord's bidding when it was something they wanted... wives. I can't help but see myself in them. I know that when the Lord tells me to do something that I want to do, and that I understand, I am willing to do whatever he asks no matter how hard it is. Yet when he tells me to do something I don't want to do, or that I don't understand, I often murmur at Him and am angry.

It also makes me laugh to see that even back in the Book of Mormon days young men were still motivated by pretty faces.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Call for Guest Posters

So it has been almost six months since I issued my "Women in the Scriptures Challenge" and I'm curious to know how it is going. In July I'd like to host some post written by some of my readers who are taking the Women in Scriptures Challenge and how it has affected them. I don't care if you just barely started the challenge, if you've been doing it "on and off", or if you've been diligent about it... I would just love to hear what you've learned and what your experience has been.

So PLEASE if you've started the challenge (even if it has only been for a week) please send me a post. It could be about a specific woman you've learned about, a specific insight you've had, how your perspective on the scriptures has changed... really just about anything you have learned. When you submit your post please put your text the body of your email instead of a file-- that makes it easier to re-post it. Also include a little "blip" about yourself with links to your blog or website (if you have one). If you choose to include pictures please attach them as files and make sure you include captions and the source of the picture if it doesn't belong to you.

My email is heatherlady at gmail.com

I'm so excited to hear from you all!

Monday, June 21, 2010

When is it Art? When is it Pornography?

Awhile back a good friend gave me a beautiful book called "Great Women of the Bible in Art and Literature" by Dorothee Soelle and Joe H. Kirchberger. It is a beautiful collection of insights on about a dozen women from the Bible complete with paintings of how these women have been portrayed in art throughout the centuries. I've really enjoyed it. Yet as I was flipping through it with my husband he pointed about that we would probably have to hide this book from our son when he got older because it had some naked women in it.

One of the pictures that he was concerned with is Jan Massys, "Judith" painted in the 14th century. It portrays Judith, a woman mentioned in the apocrypha, totally bare chested, wrapped in a scarlet cloth and holding the severed head of the general Holofernes (if you want to read the whole story it is fantastic). There is also Theodore Chasseriau's Esther which depicts a very bare chested and beautiful Esther getting ready for her night with the King.

Now my question is, "Are these appropriate pictures to have in my home?" It isn't like I'm hanging them on the wall, but if my son ever wanted to he could pick this book up and stare at these painting all he wanted. Will a naked woman, even if it is a 400 year-old painting, just be a naked woman to a 10 year-old boy and should I be concerned about having pictures like this around where one day he can find them? (Keep in mind he is 2 and half right now so I'm not super worried about it... yet).

Personally I think these paintings are beautiful and I don't think that the intent of the artists were at all pornographic. I believe their intent in showing these women bare chested was to emphasize their femininity and their power. Up until the last century it was very common for women to bare their chests while breastfeeding and breasts back then would have equated femininity and maternity whereas today they equate sex. Still, if this was a photograph instead of a painting there would be NO way I would tolerate it in my home. I would consider it pornography.

So where do we draw the line between art and pornography? Is there a difference or it is all relative?

I'd really love to hear what you think or what has been your experience.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Fear Not": Phinehas' Wife's Birth Story

1 Samuel 4: 19-22

Phineas and his brother Hophni were the sons of Eli the High Priest over Israel. They served as priests in the temple but were cursed by God because they were abusing their responsibilities and were engaging in illicit behavior, such as appropriating the best portion of sacrifices for themselves and having sexual relations with the sanctuary's serving women (1 Samuel 3-4). As a result of their wickedness they were both killed in battle on the same day and the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines and carried out of Israel (1 Samuel 4: 10-11). This news caused Eli, who was very old, to fall off his chair and die (1 Samuel 4: 17-18).

Eli Receiving the Evil Tidings (image source)

Also at this time Eli's daughter-in-law, Phineas' wife, was "...near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it. And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband. And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken" (1 Samuel 4: 19-22).

This is really one of the saddest birth stories in the the whole scriptures. One can only imagine this poor woman bowed down under her sorrow, her grief, and her heartache trying bravely to cope with the added pain of childbirth. What a hard birth that would have been for her, and for the "women that stood by her", because she was completely overcome by her grief and refused to be comforted. Even after her travail was over and the women standing by her told her to "fear not" because she had born a beautiful son and had a new reason to live, she still refused to be comforted. In the end she was completely overcome by her physical, emotional and spiritual pain and instead of looking to the future and the hope that lie in it... she chose to die.

I think there are so many important lessons to be learned from this woman's story, not only for labor and birth but also for life in general. I really loved what Jim Laffoon at "Every Nation" said her learned from this story. He said:
"First, even as the news of her husband’s death began this young woman’s labor pains, so many times God "births" new things out of the most painful moments of our lives. It may be a couple who makes a renewed commitment to their marriage after almost destroying it, or perhaps a child from a Christian family whose newfound passion for God is born out of the pain of backsliding. Time after time, I have watched God bring "life" out of "death."

Second, the young wife of Phinehas was so overwhelmed by her pain, she lost sight of the hope promised by the birth of a new child. This well may be the most dangerous part of the whole process. When God is birthing something new--in you--out of some crisis or tragedy, your life will either be defined by your pain or your promises. Therefore, it is critical that you hold on to God’s promises in these painful moments.

Third, Phinehas’s wife was so overwhelmed with her pain that she cursed the very child she was bringing to birth. The word Ichabod means “no glory.” As far as she was concerned, the death of Eli and his sons, as well as the capture of the Ark, was the end of the very nation she loved.
In reality however, their deaths would usher in the age of Samuel and David, who would lead Israel into her greatest years of glory.

Do you see it yet? Many times when you are in crisis, you feel as if all your hopes and dreams are gone.
Like the wife of Phinehas, everything in you simply wants to quit. Some of you have even been tempted to curse the precious new thing God is doing in your life. If this is where you are today, this is no time for you to give into despair.

The great pain you are experiencing is a sign of the even greater promise that will follow it."
I think that experiencing pain is an important way for us to grow and to learn. Women in childbirth are stretched and pulled to the end of their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual limits but in the end they receive the greatest gift that God can bestow on this earth... new life. The same is true when we allow God to test us and to try us; he stretches and pulls our souls to the ends of their limits and just when we can't think we can a handle it any more we become reborn... a new creature... stronger, different, and better than before. Pain, whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual, isn't something to be feared but rather to be embraced as the catalyst for growth and new life. Just like sweetness is enhanced after you've tasted something salty, so is joy enhanced after you've experienced sorrow. The greater the sorrow and the pain ... the greater the pleasure and the joy.

So to all those of you who are facing trials in your life, of the soul or of the body, I want to reiterate what the women who stood next to Phinehas' wife told her during her travail, "fear not" because from great pain comes new life... and that is always worth living for.

How has "enduring to the end" and overcoming pain helped transform your life?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Talented Family

Awhile ago our church had a talent show and, in a moment of craziness, I signed my family up to be in it. I had no idea what we were going to do because we really aren't all that talented. I tried to convince my husband that he should play his nose flute... but he wouldn't. Then I tried to convince him to do the "Confessions of Tooth Fairy" skit with me... but he said he wouldn't be able to show his face again in church if I made him do that. So as the day of the show got closer I was a bit panicked. Then in a stroke of brilliance one of my friends suggested we do this skit. It turned out really, really well and my two little ones stole the show.

Unfortunately we didn't get the first performance filmed, but it was such a hit they asked us to do it again at another talent show a few weeks later. My baby girl was fussy right before she "went on" but as soon as she was on stage she was perfect. I think she might have a little bit of Diva in her somewhere! The first performance my little boy did great but this time he was really shy. I think it is because he didn't know very many people and it was a bigger audience than the first time. Still, it turned out really cute even with him being shy. They had people laughing so hard they were crying.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Inspired, once again, by Sister Beck

I didn't get to go to Women's Conference at BYU this year but Shantel gave a review about the talk Sister Julie Beck, the President of the Relief Society, gave at the opening meeting and her post got me interested in what was said... so I found a copy of the talk online.

I think I am in danger of becoming a Sister Beck "groupie" because every time she opens her mouth I feel like the heavens have opened and poured out exactly what I needed to hear. This talk was no exception. There were several things that impressed me (which I will probably share later) but I especially loved the part where she talked about her own personal scripture study of Rebekah and how she spent weeks and months studying her story. As much as I've studied women in the scriptures I can't say that I've ever spent months studying one woman. I am so impressed by what she learned through her study and am inspired, not only to study the story of Rebekah, but also to spend more time on each woman in the scriptures... maybe even weeks, or months, if needed.

Really... I LOVE Sister Beck. Here is what she said:

"I spent quite a few months this last winter studying about Rebekah from the Old Testament. I have been taken by her mission and what she had to do... I have loved studying her characteristics, her circumstances, her blessings, her journeys, her family, her experiences, and her challenges. She had a very full mortal experience. It had its highs and its lows. I have learned that she was one of the most pivotal and important people in the history of mankind, certainly in the house of Israel. Without a Rebekah, the house of Israel would not have been brought forth. Without a Rebekah who knew who she was, the house of Israel would not have been brought forth. Without a Rebekah who knew her responsibilities in the house of Israel, that house would not have come to pass. Without a Rebekah who knew how to receive revelation, the house of Israel would not have been brought forth. Without a Rebekah who understood the blessings of the priesthood, the house of Israel would not have been brought forth.

The lesson for me in all the hours and months of studying Rebekah and her family is that each of us in our day is as important to our generation and to our time as Rebekah was in her time. We each are pivotal in our families, and the success of the house of Israel is now dependent on millions of Rebekah’s who understand what their place and mission is on the earth. Each of us is a daughter of heavenly parents, and as part of the house of Israel, we come from royal blood. When we choose our mission, we have power and influence in that royal house and in the Lord’s work. He is depending on us.

...If that one woman, that one Rebekah had failed in any part of her responsibility, how would the house of Israel have come forth? She understood and knew her importance, and she never lived to see the outcome of her commitment. Those blessings are just now beginning to unfold after these many thousands of generations, but her blessings are happening in the world. I can see the house of Israel being gathered up, the temples being built. That is what she invested her life for.

... I have a little exercise for those of you who want something specific to do in your scripture study. Get a new little copy of the Book of Mormon. In the front of it, open to a blank page and write three questions: Who am I? What are my responsibilities in the house of Israel? How do I fulfill my responsibilities? As you read and study, you will find some blank pages in the back. You can add Post-it notes if you like. Start writing your answers in the back as you read, and you will have a journey of discovery about who you are. It doesn’t matter how long this study takes. Take one month, take ten years, and discover who you are. When you finish studying those questions in the Book of Mormon, study them in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Old Testament. The Lord knows who you are. He knows what your responsibilities are and how you can fulfill them. Power and strength will come to you as you understand who you are in the Lord’s kingdom."

I think I am going to take her her challenge.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Bible Says Women Can Propose To Their Husbands

In church on Sunday we talked about the story Ruth and Boaz and about half way through the discussion I found myself laughing softly to my friend who was sitting next to me.

We had just read the part in the story when, after washing and dressing herself as her mother-in-law instructed her to, Ruth went and laid herself down at Boaz's feet to sleep. At midnight he woke up and was afraid to find a woman at his feet. He asked her, "... Who art thou?". And this is the part that made me laugh because Ruth answered, "... I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman." (Ruth 3:9)

I'd never realized it before but Ruth PROPOSES marriage to Boaz!

What Ruth is saying here is that because Boaz is the nearest living kinsman of her dead husband it is his duty, under the Levitical law, to marry her. She asks him to "spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid" which was an ancient phrase meaning to take a woman to marriage (see Ezekiel 16:8; Deuteronomy 22:30). She, very boldly and bravely, asked Boaz (who barely even knew her) to guard her, protect her, care for her and to make her his wife.

I don't know how I missed this part of the story every other time I've read Ruth's story! It sure made me smile to think of Ruth being brave and faithful enough to propose marriage to a man, who probably knew that he should marry her, but wasn't willing to for some reason. I don't know if I would have had the guts to do that! Really, what a woman.

Ruth's story made me realize that while people often think of the scriptures as being a tool for justifying traditional cultural roles for men and women, that in reality there are many stories in the scriptures that demonstrate reversed traditional gender roles. For example:

In the story of Ruth we see that women can propose to men and not be considered "fast" or "pushy" but rather "virtuous" as Boaz tells Ruth all the city knows her to be;

In the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad we see that women can inherit land and are entitled to choose their own husbands;

The story of Deborah shows a woman acting as the head judge in Israel and leading an army into battle. Not to mention having a man who asks for her guidance before he makes major decisions;

The story of the Daughter of Barzillai the Gileadite shows that men can take their wives last names when they marry;

And the story of Huldah shows that women can be prophetesses and can be great scholars;

I'm sure there are many, many more but these are the ones I could think of off the top of my head.

I can't help but wonder how different our societies would be, especially those that profess faith and belief in the scriptures, if we really paid attention to these stories of women in the scriptures. I think we'd start to see that gender roles for men and women are pretty much culturally defined. The scriptures teach us that while men and women have different divine stewardship's on this earth there aren't very many jobs, roles, or practices that are strictly for men or strictly for women. God hasn't ever said that only men can propose marriage, that women have to take their husbands name when they marry, that women are suppose to be weak and subservient, or that women can't work outside of their homes. What He has said is that, "... fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners." (from the The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

I think sometimes we get to hung up worrying about what things are culturally appropriate for men and women that we forget to focus on what things really matter. I think that what Ruth's s story teaches us is that we can't let culturally defined gender stereotypes stop us from doing what the Lord wants us to do. Even if that means asking that man, who is unrighteously dragging his feet at the thought of matrimony, to marry you! Just like Ruth, sometimes when we pray for direction we get instructions from the Lord that require us to do things that aren't part of our culture's traditional gender roles or we may be asked to do something that, because of our gender, we never envisioned ourselves doing. In those cases women (and men) really have to learn to rely on the guidance of the holy spirit, be courageous, break culturally defined gender stereotypes if needed, and do the Lord's work... and hopefully in the end things turned will turn out how God intends. Things worked out pretty wonderful for Ruth!