It's been about a year since I've posted regularly on this blog. After an unfortunate occurance where my words here were taken out of context and slandered in a major news outlet, I retreated both to keep my paid job out of jeopardy and to heal the hit to my inner author. However, mostly in a selfish effort to record the things that are meaningful to me in my family, professional and hobby lives, I'm taking back up this recordkeeping.
By way of a quick summary of the second half of 2011 and 2012, here are the greatest hits from that time:
I'll be back with more personal reflections soon.
A few months ago, two of my MWP volunteers and I were interviewed for a program called "Mormon Identities" for the Mormon Channel. I was particularly excited to do this interview since I spent several months last winter studying the Mormon Channel and consulting them on some brand redesign work. I was very pleased with the way the interview turned out, and I especially enjoyed meeting Eric Huntsman, whose book, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, is a staple in my teaching of Gospel Doctrine this year. Thanks Mormon Channel!
[This article was originally posted at By Common Consent on June 17, 2011.]
I had just exited the baggage claim at the airport when I saw World Trade Center survivor Victor smiling from the top of a New York City taxi. “I’m a Mormon,” his picture said. And, “Mormon.org.” My seven-year-old daughter was actually the first to spot the ad. “Look, Mommy!” she cried. “Your work!” In the bustle of making our family’s annual reverse-pilgrimage from Utah to my hometown of New York City, it had slipped my mind that my work – as a participant on the team responsible for the campaign – would be following me home.
Growing up in New York City in the 1980s and 90s, I reveled in my power to create and shape the attitudes of my peers towards Mormonism. I was the only Mormon any of my classmates knew, and although I don’t know anyone who joined the Church as a direct result of my efforts, I took seriously my role as a member missionary. For instance, my junior year in high school, my monopoly on Mormonism was briefly challenged by an errant US history textbook that mixed up details about Joseph Smith’s life, but a confident and informed presentation to my class with the blessing of my teachers quickly cleared up any misconceptions.
In 1993, my power and the power of many other member missionaries of my generation was challenged for the first time when Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America won the Pulitzer Prize. It was strangely enfeebling to recognize that a play was representing my people – complete with an exact replica set of the Visitor’s Center in the Lincoln Center meetinghouse that I had grown up playing in and loving – in a light that was outside the paradigm that I had so carefully constructed for my peers. Of course this was only the first instance over what is now two decades of Mormon attention in the media.
Since 1993, I have experienced a creeping sense of impotence as everything from weekly magazines to movies to TV shows and now to Broadway musicals have defined Mormonism’s place within our society. I know I haven’t been alone in feeling that our story is being told for us. As a marketing and public relations professional, I have historically sympathized with the Church’s reactive stance. But I’ve also cringed at how the conversation around Mormonism has slipped out of my control compared to the position of power of my youth.
When I saw that taxi at the airport last week, my heart leapt, just as it had when I was first introduced to Mormon.org and the “I’m A Mormon” video profiles last summer. My tears started the moment I landed on the homepage. Even if I can never have the same influence to form opinion that I did when standing before my junior US History class, at least the Church is giving me the tools I need to take the lead.
The campaign has exposed cultural divides among our own people that were not previously obvious, offering a blessed beckoning back into the community for some and testing the dearly held paradigms of others. It’s challenged us to define for ourselves what it means to be a Mormon and to what extent our cultural practices are determined by doctrine. Most importantly for our internationally expanding body of faith, it is daring us to confront the seeming paradox that it is by acknowledging our unique qualities as individuals that our commitment to Christ can most effectively tether us together.
I’ve seen dozens of the “I’m A Mormon” taxi toppers since I arrived in New York a week ago, and my heart leaps every time. To describe my reaction, I find strangely that Dr. Seuss the parablist comes to mind. My leaping heart feels like the joyful clatter of Dr. Seuss’ Whos from Horton Hears A Who when Horton finally figures out how to get the other animals to hear them on their seemingly invisible, insignificant speck. Desperate not just to save their homes but simply to define that their existence is as every bit as real and vital as the animals who loom over them, the Whos unite in a chorus of “We are here! We are here!” They are not content to let others decide that their speck is too little to have a voice. My own voice might be small, but I’m telling my hometown once again that I’m a Mormon, and I am here.
My television debut! As a volunteer with the Gifted Music School, I was asked to represent the school on KUED's Contact program to provide information about the March 29th benefit concert in Libby Gardner Hall. I have free tickets to the concert, so contact me if you want to go!
Also, this interview with me appeared in the Mormon Times online edition and print addition last week.
Lastly, but far from least, Esme won a contest at school!!
With this painting, Esme won a school science contest honoring Arbor Day. Her painting will be sent to the state to be a candidate for a state-wide poster. She was so surprised that her peers picked her painting, and since she is often so hard on herself, I was thrilled to see her reveling in her accomplishment.
Today I attended the funeral of Ruth Hardy Funk, a past general president of the Young Women's and a dear family friend. I had the privledge of interviewing her last year for the Mormon Women Project, and was pleasantly surprised that the MWP was cited as a source for her obituaries in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News. Church leadership was out in force to honor this great lady, and I got to shake President Monson's hand before the service began.I also got to see my friend Caroline, Ruth's granddaughter, participate in honoring her.
Contrasting this experience to the funeral of Mary Foulger that I attended a few months ago, I was struck by how both of these women left strong legacies of womanhood both with their families and with those they interacted with generally. I ask myself, How did these two women feel so empowered by their womanhood in a way that many women of the Church today don't? Was it there innate sense of confidence? Their understanding of and personal relationship wtih the Savior? Certainly these things contributed, but in both cases I noticed also an understanding that their membership in the Church allowed them to become what they wanted to become, to spread their wings, so to speak, and maximize their potential as women in their chosen activities. Yes, they were both mothers primarily and Ruth's journey included a complex decision not to pursue a professional performing career and focus her inestimable strengths on church leadership instead, but even so they blossomed in the sphere and time in which they were placed. Women in the Church today have the opportunity to do the same thing: to view womanhood as an opportunity for free development of the self in the time and place we live, rather than as proscriptive in its limitations. Our time is very different today than the time during which Mary and Ruth were raising their children and coming into their own, and I would suggest that this makes it even easier to develop ourselves than it was in their time. We have flexibility and resources they did not have. And yet, we can continue to look to them as women who made the absolute most of what they had and found satisfaction in pushing themselves to the extent of their capabilities. I am immensely grateful for the examples of these two women in my life.
A few things that have made me particularly happy on this frosty day:
This lovely article at Patheos.com that gives theologically-grounded reasons we have children that I think most would agree with, regardless of one's specific doctrinal creed.
And speaking of video: This riveting video of classical cellists colliding with Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal. Love the range of acoustic instruments! Would love to see more of this type of exploration from the world's best instrumentalists....
I'm excited to announce a project I've been working on for several months now: A monthly podcast discussion with several other Mormon women who lead online organizations, published at Patheos.com. The group includes Saren Eyre Loosli (PowerofMoms.com), Kathy Soper (Segullah), Lisa Butterworth (Feminist Mormon Housewives), Chelsea Strayer (Exponent and WAVE) and myself. We are moderated by Emily Jensen of the Deseret News's Mormon Times.
It's an honor to be talking monthly with these women about issues that are so close to my heart.
Here's the official vision statement for the project:
The Round Table is a conversational exploration of Mormon womanhood intended to foster understanding and cooperation among Church members with differing points of view. Produced in monthly installments via podcast, the ongoing discussion features representatives from a variety of organizations headed by Mormon women, and includes an array of influential guests who share our common purpose: to build unity and honor diversity as we further the vital work of strengthening and celebrating Mormon womanhood.
Our endeavor was inspired in part by this roundtable of women painted by Mormon artist Jeanne Leighton Lundberg Clark, which integrates an assortment of strikingly different female personas rendered in a wide range of artistic styles. The richness of this company, and of the feast they share, captures our aim to gather divergent perspectives into a lively collaborative whole. In our gatherings this year we hope to promote and exemplify inclusive sisterhood, and emphasize that there’s space at the conversational table for every Mormon woman of faith.
The timing was so lovely... Salon.com posted a terrific article with a terrific shout out to the MWP right in time for our first birthday! Check it out:
On January 13, 2010, I sent out an email to a couple hundred contacts, letting them know that I'd posted 18 lengthy interviews with LDS women at www.mormonwomen.com. I posted another interview the next week, and, with the help of a small army of volunteers who came forward during the year, an interview every week through 2010 (except Christmas). The blessings and opportunities that have come as a result now make my life look very different from the way it did one year ago. I feel like I am making real progress towards my goal of bringing confidence and a cultural pride to Mormon women. It is tremendously fulfilling.
Yesterday, I published our 68th interview, a real groundbreaker: an interview with Bethany whose husband is addicted to pornography. My personal reflections on this interview were published yesterday at By Common Consent. I wrote another personal reflection piece about Lyn Greenwood's interview a couple of months ago, with the help of Shelah, an interview producer, but it never got published on BCC due to scheduling. To honor Lyn and Shelah, I'm posting that intended BCC piece here:
Lyn Greenwood was nervous to be interviewed for the Mormon Women Project.
She felt, as a working mother, she would be vulnerable to judgment and censure for
choosing to work with three children at home. I understand her fear all too well:
Because my own mother had one child and has worked consistently now for 40
years as an opera singer, she often felt the bitter sting of our culture’s quickness
to judge the working women within our community. My mother had to endure the
upturned noses of those who questioned her decision to have “only” one child, when
the truth was that she endured miscarriage after miscarriage during the 1980s in
an effort to grow her family. Instead, she celebrated the Lord through her voice
rather than through her children. She took pride in her opportunity to represent
His church in circles that today – with the miracles of in vitro and other birth-aiding
treatments – would not have known her because she’d be home with multiple
We so rarely understand the motivations that prompt women to choose lifestyles
that run contrary to what is most readily accepted and promoted within our church:
stay-at-home motherhood. The Mormon Women Project has been criticized for
featuring too many women who work, who are accomplished students, who have
pursuits outside the home, but in my mind, featuring these women gives them a
voice in a culture where they too rarely have one. Understanding our doctrinal
emphasis on motherhood and prioritizing motherhood, we must also understand
that the realities of modern life don’t always follow that merry path.
More than any other demographic group, it is stay-at-home mothers that decline our
invitations to be interviewed for the MWP. Perhaps they are fearful of seeming dull,
judging themselves to be uninteresting in their routines. Equally distressing to me
is the fact that some see the MWP as an effort to promote worldly accomplishment
among our women at the price of motherhood. Neither sentiment, in my opinion,
magnifies the counsel given recently by our prophet at the most recent General
Relief Society Meeting:
“My dear sisters, each of you is unique. You are different from each other in many
ways…. Such differences are almost endless. Do these differences tempt us to judge
In a hundred small ways, all of you wear the mantle of charity. Life is perfect for
none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have
the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we
recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come her
way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.”
From Shelah Miner, interview producer:
“Several years ago, my family was living in Pearland, Texas, in a ward where most
of the families, like ours, had come to the Houston suburbs so the husband could
pursue medical training or graduate school. It was the kind of ward where most of
the women had college degrees, but stayed home with their growing broods of small
children and got together frequently for walks, playgroups, book clubs and Bunco
Lyn and her husband Virgil moved to Pearland about a year after my family did,
and they were assigned to be our home teachers (well, I guess Virgil was, but Lyn
came along). I was immediately drawn to Lyn-- she's smart and no-nonsense and
wonderfully sarcastic, and I kept thinking, "If I weren't so frumpy, so bogged down
by all of these babies hanging off me, then maybe we could be friends." She worked
at a great job, with real adults, during the day, and never looked like she came to
Enrichment with half a bottle of baby food all over her sweatshirt, so I figured that
she probably didn't need me as a friend.
About a year later, Lyn gave birth to her daughter, Kate, and announced that she
was going to take an indefinite leave of absence from work. I called her about a
week after the baby arrived, to see how things were going, and when she was
wearing jeans instead of suits, we quickly became friends. I watched and listened
as Lyn went through a year of struggling to reconcile the fulfillment she got from
motherhood with the fulfillment she got from her profession and the feelings of
being "different" from the other women in our very homogeneous ward.
For the next year, we talked several times a week and hung out together whenever
we could manage it around naps and preschool. My family left sweltering Houston
a little more than a year ago, and Lyn is what I miss most about Texas. I hope you
appreciate her story. If she were telling it in person, it would undoubtedly be over
a fabulous flourless chocolate cake, and punctuated by her trademark laughs and