Monday, February 24, 2014

My talk

For Kyle, Jaden, Ty and Reese . . . as well as others.  But mostly for Kyle, Jaden, Ty and Reese.

            Recently there has been another push by the church hierarchy to its members to better know the Articles of Faith; first for the individual and second for the sharing of that person's beliefs.  These 13 Article's of Faith summarize important foundational beliefs in Mormonism.  And because the Articles of Faith have been a recent topic of conversation in our home among both my immediate and extended family, I have been looking forward to speaking today.  One A of F in particular that has been discussed in our home is the 11th.  “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, we allow all others the same privilege, let them worship, how, where or what they may.”  There are two distinct statements in this article, the first is a statement that we as members claim the privilege of worshiping the Almighty God according to OUR own conscience.  The second is a declaration that we allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may.  Frankly, it is my opinion that the second half of the Article of Faith is not lived well by its members.  We preach it, we memorize it and we claim it to be our doctrine, but we fail to apply it as I think it is truly meant to be applied.  Particularly inside Mormonism in situations where loved ones have expressed doubts and are questioning their faith. How we apply it to members of other faiths is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about now.  My focus today lies with how we apply it to members within our faith.  
             I find the 11th Article of Faith interesting given what we know about Joseph Smith.  Here's a boy who at the age of 14 is expressing doubts and questioning his faith.  Or rather the faiths of his childhood.  I say faiths because at that time a few of Joseph's siblings and his mother were joining the Presbyterian faith, while Joseph was partial to the Methodist's.  But it was after visiting those churches as well as the  Baptist  Church that Joseph questioned all of their validity.  So what does he do?  As we all know, he offers up a prayer seeking divine direction after reading this passage in the Bible:  If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. James 1:5
          The take home message here is that our church was founded by someone asking questions and thinking critically about truth.  Joseph is on a quest for truth.  His truth.  He was a truth seeker.  What troubles me is that although our church was founded by someone asking questions and seeking truth, when members today learn that a fellow ward member, or family member, or old roommate from BYU is questioning their faith, instead of allowing these loved ones the necessary room to explore, question, and find answers, these people are often ostracized, marginalized and even considered a threat to the faithful mass.  But this cultural phenomenon is inconsistent with the second half of article of faith 11 which states that we allow all men, without equivocation, whether members of the church or not, the right to worship how, where or what they may.  Simply put, it is our doctrine that requires us to allow others their free agency to worship how they may, yet I would venture to say, it is our religious culture that often unintentionally smothers that beautiful understanding by our often harmful reaction to those who truly question.  It's my hope that more members instead of being threatened by a loved one’s questioning of the faith, would support and embrace the sincere and earnest investigation of our doctrine.  Elder J. Reuben Clark said, "If we have truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation.  If we have nothe truth, it ought to be harmed."
          I can't tell you how thrilled I was last fall to hear President Uchtdorf's General Conference talk,  Come, Join With Us.  It was unprecedented, it was overdue and it was very welcome.  He said:
One might ask, if the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave? Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.  

Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.  In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.

Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.

Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.  And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

Joseph Smith, honored the right to free worship:  He said quote:  "It is one of the first principles of my life one that I have cultivated from childhood having been taught it of my father[s], to allow every one the liberty of conscience." 
From Church History we read: During an 1843 session of Conference Joseph acted strongly against church leaders who had reprimanded a church member for teaching something unorthodox.  His objection went like this:  "I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine.  It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints.  Methodist's have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church.  I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please."  -- History of the Church 5:340
Leonard Arrington, church historian, who was considered the "Father of Mormon History," said, “That there was intellectual ferment in early Mormonism is clear; the dispersion which occurred after his death in 1844 is evidence that Joseph Smith held together persons of a wide variety of opinions and beliefs.”  Arrington then goes on to talk more specifically about the prophet’s attitude toward the dogmatic personalities that are found in every religious tradition, noting that "Joseph Smith often opposed the dogmatists within the Church who, once they got hold of a ‘truth,’ sought to discourage the creative thought of others who continued to experiment with even newer truths.”  
"For Smith, then, settling a doctrine once and for all was not nearly as important as spiritual questing, each person united around certain principles but then reaching and stretching toward God."  Frances Lee Menlove in her new book, The Challenge of Honesty: Essays for Latter-day Saints.  
I love that last part -- reaching and stretching toward God.  I think it encapsulates our Mormon belief to allow others to worship how, where or what they may.  Who are we to question someones spiritual questing or seeking of ones own truth?  Like Joseph Smith we are all truth seekers.  Mormonism, as I know it, has absolutely taught me to "quest spiritually."  I am grateful for that.  Additionally, it is that same spiritual questing that has caused a number of my loved ones to leave Mormonism.
Over the past 10 years Kyle and I have been navigating a difference in religious preference.  I'd like to share our story with you.  We met in college shortly after Kyle's mission at a time in our lives when the church was very important to us both and neither of us had any reason to believe that would ever change.  Within a couple of years Kyle began expressing some deep doctrinal concerns about the history of the church generally and Joseph Smith specifically. These concerns were troubling to us both.  My initial reaction when Kyle voiced these concerns was probably the traditional Mormon reaction when someone expresses doubts about their faith and that is, I felt threatened and scared, and my response to him was to go back and read the scriptures a little more and pray a little harder until he received the same answer that I had. I just assumed that something was a little bit off and that a little more work and prayer would bring him back into alignment.  But that didn't happen.  In the middle of Kyle's faith crisis I started asking myself if we had a future together in a world where he didn't believe in the church.  Although we were very much still in love, his faith crisis rocked me to the core.  After 4 or 5 years of struggle and fear I realized that I had been conditioning my love for Kyle upon his continued membership in the church and his belief in the restored gospel.  Looking back, there wasn't one event, but gradually, over the course of years my love evolved as I was able to remove the condition that Kyle had to believe the same way I did.  Respecting his free agency, just as I hope others would respect mine, and applying the 11th Article of faith has made all the difference.  I look at our relationship today and how it's evolved where our relationship is more authentic, real, and meaningful as we've learned to respect one another's journeys as we both reach and stretch toward God.  My love for Kyle has evolved and deepened throughout this struggle, just like my testimony has.  Kyle and I wrestled about the same issues and those same issues have taken us down different paths, so far, and that's ok.  For me, confronting these historical issues and doctrinal questions has refined my testimony.  I'm following my truth and it is beautiful.  For Kyle, the same historical and doctrinal questions proved too much for him to stay in the church.  He's following his truth and it is just as beautiful.
As parents, Kyle and I believe our religious difference of opinion will be advantageous to our children. Mom believes X, Dad believes Y, your job is to find out what you believe.  Whatever route they take we will love them without condition.  And we will teach them to quest for truth wherever their life's journey leads them.  I love this quote from Alistair Cooke:  "The best compliments to a child or a friend is the feeling you give him that he has been set free to make his own inquiries, to come to conclusions that are right for him, whether or not they coincide with your own.
In closing, I'll mention that I was hesitant to tell mine and Kyle's story today.  At first it seemed beside the point really, because without the telling of our story my message can stand on its own.  But as Kyle reminded me this week, I need to tell our story because it may be of some use to one of you.  Our church is beautiful, but it's not perfect.  I know first hand that there are a lot of people struggling. Whether it be a struggle with doctrine or with historical mistakes, or lifestyle.  I know I could have benefited greatly at the beginning of our journey knowing there was someone to talk to who was experiencing what we were.  Unfortunately, there is not a forum for that within our church, so I am speaking up about it here today.  
I wish that the doubting and questioning that undoubtedly exists in all religions but specifically in mine didn't carry with it such a negative connotation.  Because it has been my experience that the road of sincere inquiry and spiritual questing can lead to a very beautiful place.  The more I learn the more I realize just how much I don't know.  For a church that claims to have all the answers, I've found that I am most comfortable admitting that I don't know.  I don't know with absolute certainty that this is the only true church.  But what I can tell you is that I believe it is my true church, and that’s enough for me.  With the exception of Article of Faith 11, all of the Articles of Faith begin with the words, "We believe."  Somewhere along the way, belief has morphed into knowledge.  But knowledge isn't required.  The first, and most important, principle of the gospel is Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. "  I believe all religions have truth.  That concept has been very liberating.  It has revealed a more beautiful and rich Mormonism that for me hadn't existed before.  My efforts to seek truth by spiritual questing have allowed me, at present, to have emerged with a rich understanding of what I believe to be my truth.  Along the way I have felt the support and guidance of Heavenly Parents who want for me to use my free agency and critical thought to come to a conclusion that is right for me.  And it is my testimony that we will be a better people and religious institution when we openly embrace those within our faith who ask questions and seek answers.  In this way we will be living the second half of Article of Faith 11 by allowing others to worship how, where, or what they may.  In the name of  Jesus Christ, Amen.

 This sacrament meeting talk was given February 16, 2014.  My motives were/are: 1) to create a safe place for my family to worship in our new ward going forward and 2) to help put an end to the awful phenomenon that we turn our backs on our loved ones who sincerely question.  As an update, I have been overwhelmed by the positive, grateful and even emotional responses that have poured in since speaking last Sunday, both by my local leadership and the rank-and-file members.  Plenty have identified with it in ways that I hadn't necessarily considered it to be helpful.  It has been a beautiful week for Kyle and I, both individually and as a couple.

*The reference for the Arrington quotation is: Lenard Arrington, "The Intellectual Tradition of Latter-day Saints, "Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4, no. 1 (Spring 1969): 17-18

Friday, January 24, 2014

Our Year of Travel 2013

It is definitely worth noting our travels in 2013.  We drove and flew from sea to shining sea, twice.  The excess travel was uncharacteristic for our family.  It seemed that just as we unpacked from a trip, we were packing for the next.  We consider ourselves lucky to travel wherever it is that family may be.  In fact, our first trip of the year involved Kyle and I sitting down at the Marriott in Florida with a vacation specialist who, after an hour or so of his best efforts, couldn't convince us to purchase a time share.  How boring to spend your vacations visiting family.  You guys should go somewhere exotic already, said he, more or less.  This is our reality when, until the last few months, we've lived a good 14/24 hours drive from family.  My best reality is visiting and being with family.  This year is proof of that.  I'd have it no other way.

Anyway here's a look at our year of travel, boring as it may be to some.  And basically it's my last ditch effort to update a years worth of our lives since I have been so awful at it lately.  It might feel like it takes a year to get through it.

Orlando, Florida
Spring Break
We drove to Orlando to meet Lynn and Tricia and her boys for a fun-filled week.  There we celebrated Reese's 5th birthday and first UTI.  Extended travel hours mixed with exciting daily agendas proved to be just the right combination to spur that.  We loved our time with Tricia's family and Lynn.  Her boys are so sweet and we adore each of them.  

A quote from Ty popping up from his horizontal position in the car as I announced our crossing into Alabama from Mississippi along this trip: "Awe, I didn't get to treasure Mississippi."  Yes, 'tis a quick ride through the bottom of those states when you're used to say, Texas.

Young Women's Conference 
Jaden and I flew in early to spend time with family in Provo.  After which, we took the front runner from Provo to Salt Lake with my sister Miriam and her daughter Lexee to meet up with our Southern besties, Reagan and Sabrina Owens, in Salt Lake for the conference weekend.  While in Provo, Principle Grandma Patsy arranged for Jaden to read aloud to Lexee's 1st grade class.  It was darling. Also, we got a good laugh from the class trying to make the connection of relation between Principle Anderson, Jaden, Lexee, Miriam and myself.  Next time we'll just let individual introductions suffice.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
An entirely way too short stay at, my sister, Deborah's place along the way to our month long travels in Utah, California and everything in between.  Much to my dismay, I did not get my fill of her or of her half-dressed babies -- as Deborah's babies always are!  Also, I'd like to note here that I am sporting my go-to traveling outfit in the pic below. Apparently, as I learned at the end of our month's travels, it's Kyle's least favorite outfit of mine.  I don't know if that speaks to the outfit itself or just it's overuse, either way he chose a good time to make we aware of it, I think.   

Moab, Utah
Arches National Park
Lucky for us that Ryan and his family just happened to be vacationing in Moab as we drove through the area.  We randomly rang him 30 minutes outside of Moab where we conjured up the idea to hit up the Park.  Which provided us with our very own tour guides for this trip, none better than the Ryan and Marshall duo.  I have to mention Reese's deep concern for her safety as we made our way through this part of Earth.  Coming from the flat plains of Texas she truly felt claustrophobic driving between these monstrous rocks.  Her first thought was that they were dinosaurs.   Oh, am I ever so glad we made this trip exposing our children to, you know . . . rocks, hills, mountains and the like.    

Provo, Utah
Provo deserves a shout out.  It rarely gets one when we visit.  And really it's where we spend the duration of our time hopping from home to home.   Those homes being Miriam and Scott's and Pat and Kirk's.  Thank you for always bending over backwards to house us, entertain us, feed us and make memories with us. 
Gorgeous Bridal Veil Falls

Another breakfast at Miriam's and a fairy dance production in Pat's backyard. 

Salt Lake City, Utah

The front runner to SLC, again.

Here we (Miriam, Scott, Lexee, the Chris and Brandi family, Ty and Reese) are with my Mom's brother, Glenn Rowe.  He is a Historian for the Mormon church.   One who happened to retire this past Fall, but before that happened we snuck up for one last tour of the church's archives.  I've visited as a child but enjoyed taking my kids this time, minus Jaden.  Hindsight, I wish I'd have pulled Jaden from her soccer camp as I think it would have been most interesting to her.  After a walking tour we convened in a conference room for an hour with historical items on display complete with Glenn's personal and professional opinion.  He was generous with his time.  Of course, the visit made me want to better keep my own family history.  And, well, we've seen how that's gone . . . 

Park City, Utah
The Harris/Anderson family reunion.  It's always impressive to me that this group is able to get together as often as we do.   There are quite a lot of moving parts for a mixed family to gather.  So props to the group for continuing the tradition.  

A visit to Ryan's court room for a mock trial that the Harris/Anderson family members put on.  Kyle was on trial for, allegedly, stealing Grandma Patsy's iPad.  He left a free man.  Even though his own daughter, Reese, voted against him.  You wouldn't guess it, what with that innocent smile on her face (below) following her act of betrayal.  Jaden and Kate were awesome prosecutors but the jury had been compromised, with softies.  What a memorable and educational experience for this group. 

High Tea at the Grand America.  Indeed, it was grand.

St. George, Utah

Grand Canyon National Park

That's a big, big world for this little 5 year-old to take in.  

San Juan Capistrano, California

When you can't get any closer to your cousin.  I love this shot.  These boys are two peas in a pod who thoroughly enjoy one another's company.

Returned home to
The Woodlands, Texas
And not Pearland, Texas.  Alone Kyle painstakingly moved us with little help over the 4th of July holiday, while we did celebrate and relax with family -- mostly his.  Isn't that awful.  
We love you, Kyle! 

Parades and cake!

Boston, Massachusetts
York, Maine
North Conway, New Hampshire
I can't get enough of the East Coast or these ladies.  Both the ladies and the East are beautiful to me.  Here's hoping our tradition will live a long life.  This year we swapped Maine for Rhode Island and it did not disappoint as is evident in the oceanfront pictures below.  
What I won't do for a good picture.  And how we got the shot above.  Thanks for snapping this shot of me in action, Kamiko.

A little mountain top PiYo.  I can now cross that off of my bucket list.  

Driving around New Hampshire we came upon a field with about 8 of these beautiful horses.

Laguna Beach, California
We've been here before and it's always a good place to be.  Not just because it's unbelievably gorgeous but because it's where we first talked of marriage almost 15 years ago.  And I'm so glad we made that a topic of conversation all those years ago.  We'll never say no to an all-expenses-paid trip.  Even when the children have been motherless, due to that mother's fair share of Fall travel.   

Denver, Colorado
This trip was very last minute.   It all started when one sister conjured up the idea to convene followed by another sister jumping on the band wagon, followed by another, by another . . .  until they're all in for except you.  That's when you get creative.  When the stars align and all 6 of your sisters will be in one city -- you get your tail.  And the fact that they're gathering over your birthday weekend can only help your cause when swinging the idea to your husband and kids, what with all of your recent escapades.

It was a delight to get a glimpse of Sarah's life -- meet her peers, walk her campus, update her wardrobe, stuff her fridge and force her to sleep in.  She has a year and half left in the PA program after which we'll all expect her to pay it forward in the form of easy-access-to-antibiotics on a moments notice, right?  Good on you, Sarah.  You are kicking butt and taking names.  We're proud of you.

Thanks for the sweaters, Mom.  We dubbed ourselves the polka dottie hotties.   

New Braunfels, Texas
We had a lovely Thanksgiving with Pat and Kirk, Nick and Katy, Jasmine and Shane and all the cousins.  Nick and Katy allowed us to bombarde their beautiful new home for the feast.  And we did feast.  We are thrilled to have Jas and Shane back in the states and specifically in the state of Texas.  Here's to many more Thanksgivings together -- especially if Jas is going to be in charge of pies.

St. Louis, Missouri
The day after Christmas we drove to Mom and Bob's home.  Matthew left, what he calls, his bachelor pad for a couple nights sleepover with us.  He is still Ty's favorite and it is obvious that Ty is still a favorite of Matthew's.  We also got to spend time with Elle and Alfonso.  We got to see Elle's newly purchased condo that is so quaint and Alfonso made us a yummy dinner.

  Mom showing off the (her) new organ that, apparently, they were in desperate need of.
Matthew tickling the ivories while demanding the other two play their invisible trumpets.  They did oblige.  And Matthew totally looks the part! We were cracking up.  I believe he was singing too.  Love him.

A visit to Old Charles Town.  Here we learned the origin of the saying "mad as a hatter" and "sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite."  I will explain upon demand.  I've got too much to blog right now.  
I'm kicking myself for not having taken any pics with just me and my Mom on this trip! 

And lastly, this is what traveling does to and looks like on our family: 

This why my phone has no room for pictures to be taken on it -- Reese's selfies.  

But oh how we love forcing our kids to hangout with us for hours on end.  They really are great travelers.   So that's it.   Until the next trip then.