Five Ways Toward Latter-day Saint Inclusivity

To listen to this blog, click play below. To read the blog, scroll past the Soundcloud.

In Invocation

Yesterday, I published a long Twitter thread in which I was very critical of Latter-day Saint leaders, specifically a member of the Seventy and an Apostle. I believe that we sustain leadership by being critical of them; it is how we help them stay honest and true to their great responsibilities.

We entrust in our leaders, especially our religious and spiritual leaders, our protection and salvation. With that trust, our leaders gain immense power over large amounts of people. History proves that power usually corrupts a person and that all people are fallible. As such, it is our imperative and our responsibility to sustain through critical assessment because if we do not speak up, then we are not heard and the person in power continues to do things that harm.

However, I don’t like it when someone just speaks up. Speaking up is good and should always be lauded as a valiant and strong action; speaking up and providing solutions to the problems you see is more productive to improving our lives, our societies, and our religions.

In Provocation

With that preamble, I provide here five ways to be more inclusive of your queer siblings through teaching, ministering, and interacting in a Church-based setting. These aren’t all the ways; they’re only five. But we have to begin somewhere.

1. Use the term siblings rather than brothers and sisters.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is culturally accepted to use “Brothers and Sisters” as a way of addressing a group of Latter-day Saints. In doing this, though, you automatically gender the audience into a binary of male/female. Instead of saying “Brothers and Sisters,” broaden the audience. Instead of “brothers and sisters, we are gathered today to worship Christ through the Sacrament,” say, “Siblings in Christ, we are gathered today to worship our Savior through the Sacrament” or “Children of God, we are gathered today to sing hymns and send prayers to the Most High.” Broaden your use of language in order to include all those in the audience, not just those who believe and live inside a binary.

In addition, to respect those around you who might be trans, ask before calling someone “Brother” or “Sister.” A simple “May I call you Brother [Last Name]?” is a great way to respect a person—no matter their gender identity. It allows the person to use their agency to declare what they want to be called, rather than forcing on them a designation according to a M or F on a ward list.

(My personal opinion on this matter is that the whole Brother/Sister thing is weird, and we should call each other by the name we could like to be called rather than an honorific and last name. This would not only be inclusive toward trans* and nonbinary siblings, but encourage better interactions with divorced folx, single folx, and those who do not wish to be defined by their gender, sex, or marital status.)

2. Stress continuing revelation and the openness of heaven.

When teaching a general principle that could be harmful to some queer folx—like gender, chastity, marriage—teach the principles the manual wants you to, but when teaching the principle, stress the importance of continuing revelation and the openness of heaven to offer more guidance. The history of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shows that God is still revealing doctrine—or at the very least, correcting how doctrine is taught and shared in the Church. This is important for anyone questioning the Church because it is open about the fallibility of leadership and the human error that can occur when culture and gospel converge.

3. Listen.

It’s simple. It’s difficult. If, as Alma states, great things happen through small and simple things, the smallest and simplest thing you can do is listen. To each and every person that is under your jurisdiction.

It must always be stressed that listening is different than counseling or ministering. Listening requires you to receive what is being given and rarely, if ever, respond. Listening is always discussed in “how to love queer people” because, in general, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t know how to do it. Instead of quietly receiving what is being given, a Latter-day Saint, generally, wishes to respond with the “truth” or the “doctrine” or “what God wants for them in their life.”

Listening is a receptive act.

4. Encourage and celebrate the diversity of God’s creation.

Every person, no matter their sexuality, gender identity, or place in the Church, is unique. In celebrating this diversity, a teacher can show fellow members that the most important thing in their life is their individual plan of salvation, created in concert with the will of God. Focusing on this diversity and God’s personal interaction with each of Their children, instead of emphasizing that God has only one way. Emphasize the flexible and strong rather than stiff and brittle.

5. A gender-inclusive God.

One of the beautiful things about Latter-day Saint theology is that God is simply a title that beings can wear throughout their eternal life. As such, a teacher can consider God the title to be gender-inclusive. Notice I wrote Their in the previous paragraph, instead of His. To me, Their shows the transcendence of God’s gender within the profane, mortal frame of the English language; the pronoun Their for God expresses, in humility, the transcendence and exaltation that is the gender of God.

Their is also, in general, an inclusive word in the English language. It can be used to refer to a person, to an unknown person, and to a multitude of people. It is truly versatile. They/them/their can thereby be used to refer to God’s godly person and gender (to a person); to the idea that God cannot be fully known (to an unknown person); or to the doctrine that God as a word is symbolic and represents a multitude of beings, including but not limited to, Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, Heavenly Son, and Heavenly Spirit.

While it might sound odd on the tongue, their is a way to be inclusive of gender when considering God, and in having a gender-inclusive God, you allow all people to see themselves with God.

In Benediction

To conclude this blog I turn to a scripture that I’ve been thinking about while writing this up:

2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

4 Nephi 1:2–3

After Christ visits the Nephites and the Lamanites that survive the cataclysm of the Savior’s death, they grow and develop their lives and society in order to have peace in the land. It takes time—thirty and six years plus—but they work together toward a place of “no contentions and disputations.” Note that this does not say there is no argument within their ranks or polite discussion; there are simply no contentions (note that the third definition in Merriam-Webster is “rivalry, competition”) or disputations (note that this word connotes and denotes an action). In other words, notice that they do not have rivalry or competition and they do not act on that. This means, I assume, that they had fruitful debate and conversation without it ever turning into tribalism or physical reinforcement of belief.

The second verse is interesting in the idea of building up Zion, which is one of the goals of the Church. It says “they had all things common among them.” What could common mean? Were they all similar and there was no diversity among them? No—the verse explains it in the words therefore there were and then explains that class and slavery (things that today could be eschewed as capitalism without social safety nets or ways that encourage equity [class] and racism [slavery]). It’s not that the Zionistic people on the American continent years after Christ’s visit were similar; on the contrary, I assume a group of people who have developed justice and peace in their land are a diverse and respectful people.

So, what I understand from these verses, if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to achieve this Zionistic union, it must embrace, encourage, and exalt diversity. Which is a good a way as any to be inclusive of all of God’s children.

Picture of 4 Nephi from the Book of Mormon
4 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

A Twitter Thread on Latter-day Saint Theology and Queerness

I decided, as I sometimes do, to go on a long Twitter thread to talk about Latter-day Saint theology and its intersection with queerness. Here is it in its entirety.

The Long Thread

Long thread here. For Mr. Kevin Hathaway and Mr. Dallin Oaks and all the leaders/teachers in the Church. Re: This article: https://www.idahostatejournal.com/news/local/lds-president-oaks-speaks-to-parents-about-being-united-in/article_f476dd3b-5d09-5cff-8bb4-5c58c004193f.html?fbclid=IwAR2qgIn_dc9UUpDBTq1okK-03T5_xaop8ShfrL5eHvl_Ewz7XfYxfuVd5JA

First: “While we recognize what LGBT means, we do not use those labels when we talk about people. We don’t say, for example, that person is gay. We say that person struggles with same gender attraction.”

1) You do not recognize—nor can you recognize—what LGBT means when you completely disregard what an identity is and what it means to people and to a community. They are “labels” as you say, sure, but they’re also biological. Communal. Psychological. Emotional. Spiritual…

as much as saying someone “is Latter-day Saint” or “is a child of God” or, prophet forbid, “is Mormon” or “is American” or “is human.” These are complex, and by simply calling LGBT just a “label” you lose all ethical, moral & intellectual foundation upon which to make an argument

If you don’t do the research and show that you know all sides of the argument, you cannot make a strong argument—if any argument at all. I learned that at BYU. You should have learned that at least in college too. If not in your illustrious career that has led to being tasked as a pastor to a large flock.

2) Attraction is complicated. Just by calling it same gender attraction, you show your ineptitude for even attempting to understand anything when it comes to the complexities of gender, sexuality, and sex.

Here’s a reminder:

Sex — An assignment to someone according to the shape of their genitalia.

Sexuality — How someone’s genitalia react to other things.

Gender — How someone expresses themselves to the world, in general based on the sex of the person.

There is a lot of nuance in this—nuance that, clearly, you have given absolutely no time to discuss with someone who actually understands. If you wish to, my phone number and email, which you can access via LDS Tools, is always open.

  • Actually, I want to point out some of the nuance for those reading this … bare with me, please.
  • Nuance 1: Sex, sexuality, and gender are words that describe bodily/societal/psychological/emotional etc. functions. They cannot, and will never, encapsulate the entirety of someone’s identity. The words are used so we can converse about things and find community around them.
  • Nuance 1a: Identity is a complicated mess, as each person can attest to. That’s why I am hesitant and always attempt to describe and use the terms “in general”—everything cannot, and will never, be set in stone for humanity.
  • Nuance 2: Let me explain why sexuality is complex in a heterosexual frame. Heterosexual refers to someone who is attracted to the gender performance AND/OR genitalia AND/OR sex that has been historically considered opposite to the gender performance AND/OR genitalia AND/OR sex of the one being attracted.
  • N2a: A heterosexual is not attracted to every single being who fits those parameters. Nor do they enjoy ever sexual or romantic act with that person. For example, some couples only like missionary position, others spruce it up a little.
  • N2b: Just as heterosexuality is complex and experienced differently for each person, so is homosexuality/asexuality/bisexuality/all the other sexualities. That’s the point I’m attempting to make here: IT IS COMPLEX.
  • Nuance 3: Identity and using identity “labels” becomes even more complex. For example, let’s take Fictitious Bobby, a trans man who is attracted to women. By trans man, I mean that Fictitious Bobby was born with female genitalia but has come out as a man, throwing off the boundaries that the genitalia of birth assigned to FB’s body.
  • N3a: Fictitious Bobby, before coming out, was still attracted to women. So, how do we describe Fictious Bobby’s sexuality? Lesbian? Heterosexual? A new term entirely? This is why nuance is the most important thing when discussing gender, sexuality, and sex.
  • N3b: Some would say that Fictitious Bobby’s sexuality is based on the genitalia—or even from the epigenetic happenings in the womb. Others would state that it’s how Fictitious Bobby wants to identify, while others would place it on Fictitious Bobby’s gender.
  • N3c: The point of the matter is, it’s 1) very intrusive for us to want to categorize Fictitious Bobby and know all things about his “private parts”; 2) it’s complicated; 3) terms don’t apply to everyone; and 4) NUANCE.
  • N3d: I swear, I’m going to become like Mad-Eye Moody and perseverance. “Class, IT’S NUANCE.”

Back to the point: In declaring that you only use same gender attraction to explain gay, you mock gender, sex, and sexuality. You mock it and the complexity of God’s creation.

In mocking it, you mock yourself. Because the study of sex, sexuality, and gender helps not only those labeled, as you say, “LGBT”—it helps ALL of us understand the beautiful things that are our individual sexes, genders, and sexualities. And you also mock God, the Creator.

3) Since you say that we struggle with same gender attraction, can I say you struggle with opposite gender attraction? That’s the amazing and terrifying thing about attraction—we all struggle with it.

Whether you’re attracted to the same sex, the opposite sex, multiple sexes, or if sex doesn’t matter in the equation—you struggle. So, saying “we don’t say gay, we say struggle,” you should begin to use that for all discussions on sexualities. Which you don’t.

4) In wanting to police gender and sexuality into the boxes of male/female, masculine/feminine, and heterosexual-only, you propagate and reinforce what Satan wanted to do. Define the terms. Determine the way. Force people to follow the way.

You would think that for a theology that believes so much in agency and God’s creation, you would spend some time actually seeing how God’s creation acts. Not everyone can be placed into the boxes of male/female, masculine/feminine, and heterosexual. And I don’t think God wanted it that way.

Sure, God started out with a male and a female. But that’s because God and Goddess probably couldn’t handle more than two kids in that Garden and so they didn’t spend the time to make all the other various sexualities and genders into human beings.

Alternatively, maybe some patriarchal asshole from 3rd century removed that from the Bible.

My. Point. Is. That. You. Are. Not. Taking. The. Time. To. Understand. And. Grasp. How. Actual. Children. Of. God. Live. And. Have. Lived. On. Earth. Since. Adam. And. Eve.

Second: “…whenever we place a label or allow a label to be placed upon us. Then we also – a lot of times – by default, accept that lifestyle that comes with that.”

1) I am not allowing the label of “gay” to be just placed on me. How DARE you take away my agency to identify. How DARE you take away my God-given ability to determine how I am called by simply explaining it away as if it is being “placed upon” me.

I proudly use that identification to find community with others who experience life in a similar fashion to me.

I proudly use the term “gay” to explain to others what I’m looking for in life. Do NOT say I am placing that label. I am claiming it and all the greatness that comes with it.

For being a Latter-day Saint, you seem to not completely understand the importance of projecting identity onto the world in order to stand up for who and what you are. I refer you, dear sir, to the words of your prophet and what he has taught about the Latter-day Saint identity.

2) Let’s follow your logic here, if we may. You state that labels are placed upon people—by people or by a community. The Latter-day Saint label is, then, placed upon children who are raised in the Church.

So, by default, they accept that lifestyle that comes with the label “Latter-day Saint.”

What you’re saying here is that your own flock, the members of your church, aren’t utilizing their God-given agency to be members of the Church. They are simply accepting the lifestyle that comes with the label that was placed on them since birth.

Does that work into your cosmology and theology? Wasn’t there a big war in heaven over whether people would be given the ability to choose and thus improve themselves, or have to follow Lucifer’s every command, thus rendering agency null and void?

You cannot, on the one hand, have agency and herald that as one of God’s gifts and then, on the other hand, mock people’s agency when it comes to identifying with others. That’s just sad. And shows that you have no respect for your own doctrine. You just want to control people.

I don’t say that lightly. Because I believe that the ability to choose is a powerful and wonderful thing, and I want to hope that a church that has agency so entwined into its theology would protect that for everyone.

But, as it stands here, you, Mr. Hathaway, are teaching apostate things by denying agency when it comes to labels and sexuality.

I hope the leaders of the Church pay attention to your apostasy, like they paid attention to those who just wanted to actually help the church, like Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and Sam Young.

Also, a few more thoughts from the article, not just the words of Mr. Hathaway.

The article states that “The Mormon church has been unbudging about its opposition to gay marriage and same-sex intimacy, making the LGBTQ community feel unwelcome.”

Let me STRESS here that it is more than the “unbudging…opposition to gay marraige and same-sex intimacy” that makes folx in the LGBTQ community feel unwelcome.

It is that, but it’s also other things. Like . . .

Not using people’s pronouns in a respectful manner.

Not supporting asexual and aromantic lives.

Not encouraging people to be themselves—children of God—in whatever capacity that is.

Threatening excommunication (or kicking someone out of BYU) when a trans person wants to get top surgery.

Not discussing full heartedly the complexity of gender and sexuality that is present THROUGHOUT human history.

Forcing people to conform to a heteropatriarchy.

Not helping out the marginalized within the Latter-day Saint community.

Encouraging love on one hand and then encouraging hate on the other.

Not apologizing for the harm caused to minority groups throughout Mormon history.

Encouraging people for part of its history to bottle up their sexuality.

Not protecting children from sexually explicitly questioning.

Being part of a cause for the high suicide rates in Utah, especially among LGBT teens.

Controlling the Utah government and not listening to the will of the people there.

Legally engaging with a political process on human rights when they consider it a “moral” issue.

Need I go on? There is a LOT in the Church that causes those in the LGBTQ+ community to feel VERY unwelcome.

Secondly, they go into Ed Smart’s personal coming out letter that was unethically and immorally shared with the news. They quote his letter that states that “it is not my responsibility to tell the Church, its members or its leadership what to believe about the rightness or wrongness of being LGBTQ.”

Yes, it’s not Ed Smart’s responsibility. Wanna know whose responsibility it is? The members who are active. The members who can make a difference. The men in power who are married faithfully in a temple and have callings with authority in the organizational structure in the church. If you are an active member of the Church, it is your responsibility to reform the Church.

Church reform happens from the ground up. Look into Mormon history. If you want to make your church more open to LGBTQ+ people, observe, then serve. Learn. Love. Do your part, like you did your part in the war in heaven.

In My Queer Time and Place — Some Reflections on Religion, Sexuality, and Temporality on My Birthday

As I enter my late twenties, I’m reflecting on time and place—specifically my own time and my own place. When you’re raised in a hegemonic religion that articulates there is only a “strait and narrow” way to joy and happiness, you hold within you a lot of anxiety about where you are in mortal time (following the commandments? living the gospel? being a good disciple of Jesus Christ?) and earthly place (going to the temple? standing in holy places? attending church weekly?). Just yesterday on my bus ride home, I spoke with some sister missionaries who testified of the comfort the plan of salvation and commandments bring them. There is a lot of comfort in having a plan and rules laid out for how to do things. For many years of my life, I felt that comfort that comes from absolute surety of knowing the trail up the mountain is right before you and being able to step firmly in order to summit the peak.

That surety does not exist in my life any more. When a part of who you are fundamentally creates tension with the doctrine of the religion you were raised in, you have to make a few decisions. I’ve made some of those decisions. But in making those decisions, I find I have lost my time and my place.

No longer do I hold a surety of where I’m going, why I am here, or where I came from. No longer can I rely on a god or a plan or a spirit to guide me. And, to be frank, it’s difficult to deal with.

I’ve been told God loves me. I’ve been told I should and can always pray to him. I’ve been told he’ll always be there for me, even if I don’t believe in him or trust him. Think about how those words feel, though, to someone who feels that the god who is meant to love them actually abused them through their childhood and youth. Your abuser (God) loves you. You can always talk to (pray to) your abuser (God). Your abuser (God) will always be there for you, even you don’t trust (believe in) him.

Perhaps I’m being dramatic by comparing God to an abuser; maybe I’m hurting some of my readers by stating that a part of me believes the god they believe in is an abuser. Perhaps. Maybe. However, when you’re told growing up that God will never allow the prophet to lead the Church astray, and then that God does absolutely nothing as prophets and apostles declare that your sexual orientation will bring about the downfall of society and queer individuals still consider suicide daily because of what is preached over pulpits, taught in classrooms, and discussed behind closed doors, and that God does absolutely nothing to step in and end that—I consider that at the very least heavenly parental neglect, even abuse of spiritual children.

So, I find myself in my own queer time and place, one that lacks heavenly direction or divine guidance. I’m at one of the greatest scholarly institutions in the world, but I can’t seem to find a purpose to what I’m doing here. Eventually we all die, and none of us can be sure about what will be or what we might leave behind for future generations of our species. As I sift through archives, handle texts that have survived the test of time, and consider what people of old wrote and thought, I can’t help but wonder about all the human history we don’t have and the stories we will never have. And that leads me to wonder—will my own contribution to humanity be lost in the annals of time? Or will I be able to make my mark—take my shot, if you will—and have it last longer than a viral video before it is swept away in the 1s and 0s that make up our digitally integrated world?

Twenty-seven is honestly not that old. There’s a lot for me still to do and say, and like my girl Liz, I have plans for this year and the next and the next and the next, and so on. It is difficult to fully express the unified anxiety and hope I have about my life, my and place—the two emotions commingle in me to create an amalgamated storm of optimism and pessimism . . . pragmatism.

I am in my own queer time and place because I no longer have that powerful deity I can humbly go to. I no longer have that strict plan that shows me a trail in life to walk. I no longer have commandments that can lead me and guide me, show me the way. All because I can’t be humble and bow my head to celibacy for my entire earthly life; or, in other words, all because I have used my agency and made a choice that strips me of those parameters so I can live my life in a way that is true to who I am. The loss of direction is frightening; the loss of guideposts is terrifying; but, honestly, is a hike better when you’re on a neatly laid out trail or when you have the chance to trail-blaze your own path?

The Joy of Unity: 1 Thessalonians 3:9–10, 12

Tonight, I’m reading 1 Thessalonians for my Introduction to the New Testament course. As we read through the New Testament as a class, we’re focusing on two angles: first, the historical-critical view of the text, meaning its historical context among early “Christianity”; second, a “minority” criticism, where we return to the text by looking at it through minority viewpoints (something akin to viewing a text through multiple lenses).

In 1 Thessalonians 3:9–10, 12, the author of the epistle writes the following (KJV, emphasis mine):

9 For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;

10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you

Reading this in relation to the early Christians, I consider how much joy they must have felt when they encountered others like themselves. Early Christians were a minority within the “religion” they were coming from (Judaism) and the secular polity they lived in (Roman Empire). This epistle shows that when they interacted, they found joy in the companionship with others who believed as they did. They thought of each other often and cared deeply for each other because they knew they might never see each other again (or ever, for that matter).

It makes me think of grassroots political activists of our days, especially those that form Twitter groups or online connections. In the written word, people feel connection to those they may never see and feel in union with them a desire for something greater, better, or, at least, a form of connection and camaraderie. It’s a joy of being unified with others, the joy the author of the epistle feels in writing to those who might be never seen.

In writing, the author hopes to “increase and abound in love one toward another.” Through unity, we can grow our love one toward another.

To view this with a minority view, I turn to queerness, as I oft do. Queer communities find unity with each other knowing they are with those who feel like they are. LGBTQ+ communities are like early Christians in that they feel strongly about something (in their case, their personal identity; in the case of early Christian communities, the identity of their deity) and come together to grow their love for each other and for the world around them that ridicules, martyrs, and destroys their lives.

Specifically within queer communities are activists. Queer activists, attempting to change the world, might never meet each other, yet they, night and day, work exceedingly to “see your face” and “perfect that which is lacking”—perhaps not in spirituality and faith, but rather in social justice and human legal protections. In this sense, queer activists work to make the society around them a place where all LGBTQ+ faces can be seen and to perfect the legal system that still harms queer humans. Queer activists are akin, in some lights, to the epistle writers—the work they do, the words they say, the tweets they write.

In 1 Thessalonians, we see a minority group rejoicing in a unity of belief and desire; in queer and activist communities, we see the same joy of unity.

Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Veiled in the comfort of a child’s tale, Kelly Barnhill spins a story of gender and life, power and knowledge, memory and perception, and most importantly, family, both given and found.

***

Discussion with spoilers.

Gender and Life

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is an empowering story that centers around four women and one man. It delves into concepts of gendered roles of parenthood and caretaker that take them in ways that I did not expect.

One of the core narratives is the relationship between the town craftsman and the woman he falls in love with. Their love is dynamic and their relationship is one of true love, meaning here that they care for and take care of each other. Instead of a story of a princess in a tower, we are given the tale of a husband and wife who work together with a desire to protect and serve the other. This selflessness made me think and consider how I want my personal relationships to be. Do I go out on my own to care for that person, just as that person does the same for me? This one of the many examples of Barnhill questing after what gender roles mean for people and how they fulfill and overcome them.

Power and Knowledge

The knowledge within the Protectorate, the main geographical town in the story, is hidden and stowed away in a tower. In keeping this knowledge in a tower, Barnhill provides us with a strong lesson for how knowledge can be kept from people in order to grant power over them. Many of her positions on power made me (re)consider Foucauldian ideas of power and knowledge.

Memory and Perception

Memory is lost in this story, and then it is restored. Barnhill plays with how we perceive each other by casting a spell over her main character, Luna, who forgets all about magic. In juxtaposed scenes, we move between Luna and her grandmother, Xan, with Luna unable to see the magic and Xan able to see it. This disjointed perception of each action and scene allows us to muse on how perception affects memory and memory changes perception.

Family, Given and Found

The core narrative is that of a town who gives up their children in order to appease the evil witch in the woods. When the witch in the woods finds these children, she takes them to another land and gives them up for adoption. One child, though, she takes as her own grandchild, Luna, our protagonist. What I find so complex in this story is that family is both given and found. Family is found in the relationship Luna has with the family she believes to be her true family—a witch, a bog god, and a dragon—but family is given in the devotion her mother who is forced to give her up holds for her for thirteen years. We see that family is not simply a mother, a father, and children; family is complex and nuanced.

Spinning and Veiling

The final thing I want to note is Barnhill’s beautiful prose. I reacted emotionally not only to the actions of the characters but also to the words that brought them to life. Christina Moore’s voice was part of that with her wonderful narration; however, the physical words, the choices made by Barnhill, gave the entire story a lilt and airiness that invited you to nestle your mind into the world of words and never come out. The words were the mother’s breast a child lays its head on, the warm cave a bear hibernates in, and the fuzzy blanket that surrounds one on a crisp winter morning.

THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON
By Kelly Barnhill  
388 pp. / 9 hrs. 31 mins. Algonquin.
IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble

This book was listened to in its audiobook format, narrated by Christina Moore.

Review: Forever Elle, by Heather Chapman

With daring charm and grit, Heather Chapman weaves a tale of many forms of love—familial and romantic—in this tender story about Elle’s growth into a lady—even as the text itself questions what exactly a “lady” is and can be.

***

“In this early 1900s historical romance and coming of age novel, we meet Elizabeth (Elle) Pratt, who hasn’t grown into herself just yet. Caught between her father s high expectations, the farm she grew up on, and the wealthy airs she learned at school, Elle is at a loss when tragedy strikes and she must head back home. There she must reconcile her two worlds, as well as the scrawny neighbor-boy turned handsome farmhand who always turns up when she least expects it.” (Book Description)

***

Forever Elle by Heather Chapman

From the first lines of Forever Elle, the voice shines through. It is not a shy voice, but a daring one—a voice fit for a mountain valley: “It was a relief I wasn’t scared of heights. But then again, if I had been, I’d never have climbed that oak in the first place.” Chapman’s word choice allows us to inhabit the wild Teton Valley, with its attitudes, aromas, and actors becoming vivid and real to us.

Chapman handles the realities of the early 1900s with deft skill. She navigates them in a way that doesn’t excuse what happened during that time but gives them the reason for the time. For example, when handling a whipping from her father, Elle says,

Daddy acted like I’d made him do it, like he was forced into pulling off his belt and pelting me. Maybe it was easier for him to blame me, or maybe he truly hated it as much as I hated it.

Forever Elle, Heather Chapman, page 6

Chapman’s character recognizes the absurdity of the action, the pain it causes, the harm it does, but Chapman writes in a way that we grasp how a thirteen-year-old and her father would both view the beating in the time period. That type of writing requires skill and a focus on words that Chapman clearly manifests.

This focus is seen throughout the novel. As Chapman returns to this core relationship between Elle and her father, we realize that it is because of these childhood moments that her entire life is forced to happen in a very certain way. Does Elle blame her father? Of course. But does Elle also make her own way in her life? Yes, she does.

That’s the power of this book. Elle is a character reacting to her childhood but also paving her own path to adulthood.

Additionally, the family dynamic that exists between the entire Pratt family strengthens the entire arch of the novel. This is not a simple, quick romance novel; instead, it is a slow burn that allows us to see Elle grow and develop. Particularly, we see the relationships between Elle and her father, mother, brother, and sister are rich, complex, and pliable.

The core to this novel is Elle’s approach to being a woman and a lady. Early in the novel, she is told by her father that

the country ain’t the place to raise a lady

Forever Elle, Heather Chapman, page 47

which causes the entire next act to occur in Virginia at the house of Elle’s aunt and uncle. Within these conflicting worlds—the “civilized” East Coast and the “uncivilized” mountainous West—Elle discovers what being a lady means to her and not what is forced upon her by those in society and culture.

The little things in the book made me care. For example, I felt instantly connected to the moment when Elle’s mother gives her a map in chapter nine. That moment encapsulates the character she and her mother have become through the last eight chapters. It’s only a paragraph long, but Chapman allows us to gain a dividend for the investment of eight chapters up to this point:

Mama had given the map to me before kissing me goodbye. “It always helps to know where you are and how much farther you have to go,” she had said.

Forever Elle, Heather Chapman, page 62

My complaints for the novel were few and trivial. The characters laugh and cry a lot, as though it is the only human reaction one can take in the Teton Valley. I hope for her next book that Chapman reaches out for a greater range of emotional reactions that her characters make in intense situations. Additionally, some characters were not given enough page time for us to fully care about them before they left us forever. Particularly, William Caldwell enters the story relatively late and quickly bows out. We are left to wonder about how he came so close to Elle within the time gap that is represented within the time gap that is the three blank pages between Part One and Part Two.

Despite these complaints, I found the novel to have a strength that was pleasantly surprising. I was grounded within the familial relationships, which allowed me to see how Elle loved. I particularly enjoyed the integration of the letters from Elle’s siblings that kept this book fulfilling the promises given in the beginning chapters. We were not disappointed as Elle navigated these relationships and the twists that time (and our author) put into them.

Ultimately, I viewed the narrative as one against essentializing gender and gendered experience. Yes, the country ain’t a good place for a lady, as her father tells her, but Elle isn’t just a lady trained in a finishing school. She’s a fully formed woman with mistakes and triumphs, affected by her environment and victorious against it—instead of being Elle the mountain girl or Elizabeth the lady or Lizzy the loving niece, she is forever and always herself, Elle.

FOREVER ELLE
By Heather Chapman
Illustrated by David Polonsky 
224 pp. Sweetwater Books.
IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Target

At the request of the author, the reviewer provided a review of the novel. This book was read in its PDF print book format.

Syllabus: An American Literary Canon

I promised it, so here it is. This is my reading syllabus for this year when it comes to my choices for an American literary canon.

American: authored in the United States of America or by someone born or connected to the United States (roughly)

Literary: Considered literature in the eyes of the “academy”

Canon: a collection

The Reasons Behind the Syllabus

I created this syllabus for this year for two reasons. The first reason is I plan on being a professor of literature, and I realized that I haven’t read a lot of the literary “classics” that are in the “canon.”

The second reason is I need to take the Literature in English GRE subject test. This test is a really long test that asks questions on literature from the early-early years (Beowulf, Aristotle, etc.) to the present. The questions range from “What literary theory is presented in this passage?” to “Who wrote this passage?” So, one must be well-read when approaching this test. Hence, this year is for the American literary canon. Next year will be for British and World literature, along with philosophy and literary theory. The following syllabus is created with the end goal of being well prepared for that test.

I’m also creating this syllabus in connection to the Great Courses course, “Classics of American Literature,” which provides lectures that I can listen to while reading. I’ve also relied heavily on Google and the ninth edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature.

The list is rather exhaustive, clocking in at 16 pages in Word. So, I skimmed it down a little bit for this blog post to just look at the major works I will be reading. If it says “Selected” on it, it means I’m reading the selections found in the ninth edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature.

The other authors I will be doing various activities with, including reading the introductions that the Norton editors so expertly put together and utilizing the wonderful sources we know as Wonderful Wikipedia and the Google God to gather some basic info on them. If you want that exhaustive list, email me and I’ll send you the Word doc.

If you have any thoughts or ideas on what I should add to this list, please feel free to share 🙂

The Syllabus

Beginnings to 1820

Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity

Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Thomas Paine, Common Sense

The Federalist Papers

Phillis Wheatley, Selected Works

1820–1865

Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

James Fenimore Cooper, The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans

Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney, Selected Poems

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selected Essays

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Selected Poems

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Edgar Allan Poe, Selected Works

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter and Selected Works

Abraham Lincoln, Selected Speeches

Margaret Fuller, The Great Lawsuit

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick and “Bartleby, the Scrivener”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass and Selected Poems

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Rebecca Hardin Davis, Life in the Iron Mills

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Emily Dickinson, Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems

1865–1914

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Pudd’nhead Wilson

Henry James, A Portrait of a Lady, The Ambassadors, The Turn of the Screw, The Golden Bowl, The Wings of the Dove, Selected Works

Kate Chopin, Selected Works

Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, The Red Badge of Courage, Selected Works

Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome, Selected Works

Sui Sin Far, “Mrs. Spring Fragrance”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Selected Works

Jack London, The Call of the Wild, White Fang, Selected Works

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

1914–1945

Willa Cather, My Antonia

Gertrude Stein, Writing of choice

Robert Frost, Selected Poems

Wallace Stevens, Selected Poems

Ezra Pound, Selected Poems

T. S. Eliot, Selected Poems

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Edna St. Vincent Milay, Selected Poems

e. e. Cummings, Selected Poems

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and the Damned, Selected Works

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, Green Hills of Africa, Garden of Eden, A Moveable Feast, In Our Time, Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Thomas Wolfe, “The Lost Boy”

Langston Hughes, Selected Poems

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Absalom, Absalom!, Go Down, Moses, Selected Works

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, Tortilla Flat, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden

Richard Wright, The Man Who Was Almost a Man

J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Literature Since 1945

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Theodore Roethke, Selected Works

Eudora Welty, Petrified Man

Elizabeth Bishop, Selected Works

Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh, Desire Under the Elems, Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape

John Cheever, “The Swimmer”

Robert Hayden, Selected Poems

Randall Jarrell, Selected Works

Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie

Bernard Malamud, “The Magic Barrell”

Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Selected Works

Toni Morrison, Beloved, The Song of Solomon, Sula, Selected Works

Flannery O’Connor, Selected Works

Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”

Philip Levine, Sleected Poems

Anne Sexton, Selected Works

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Adrienne Rich, Sleected Works

Ursula K. Le Guin, “Schrödinger’s Cat,” “She Unnames Them”

Sylvia Plath, Selected Poems, The Bell Jar

John Updike, “Separating,” The Withces of Eastwick

Philip Roth, “Defender of the Faith,” Novel of choice

Amiri Baraka, Selected Works

Audre Lorde, Selected Works

Mary Oliver, Selected Works

Lucille Clifton, Selected Works

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

August Wilson, Fences

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Art Spiegelman, Maus

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

2019 Reading Goals

I like the number three. It’s not my favorite number, but it’s a number I enjoy. As such, I decided this year to have three reading goals. The word goals is used as an all-encompassing term to represent the ideals that I want to strive for in my reading.

Reading Goal 1

Never fall behind on assigned readings.

As many of you know, I am currently in grad school for my master’s degree. There is a lot of reading that goes into that. I think I averaged reading roughly the length of four to six book every week for my last semester. And this year, I’m expecting a lot of reading to come my way again.

I secretly love and loathe assigned readings. I loathe it because it’s assigned, and I always bristle at something when it is assigned to me. However, I love and cherish my assigned readings dearly because they open me to new things that I might not have read.

My first semester, I regret to acknowledge, I did not keep up on my readings as well as I should have. I barely skimmed the surface of most, and that caused my class experiences to not be as edifying as they could have been. So, I’m committing to not falling behind on my class readings.

Reading Goal 2

Read a rough sketch of an American literary canon.

The word canon always creates a war in any field. This last semester, we had many in-depth conversations about the “canon” of religious studies, going so far as to say there is a distinct canon and there is no such thing as a canon (both arguments are valid).

In the field of literary studies, the canon battle is louder than a cannon. With feuding anthologies and debating professors attempting to settle on what exactly makes American literature distinctly American or uniquely literature, we could go so far as to say there is a distinct canon and there is not one.

So, that’s why I specifically placed on this reading goal “an American literary canon.” The grammar faux pas is necessary. I will be reading the canon that I’ve curtailed for this specific year in order to read enough literature to feel grounded in the American tradition. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss further this canon and give you a taste of what it entails and why I am going on this journey this year (especially when I classify myself as a Medievalist who flirts with the Early Modern).

Reading Goal 3

Discuss what I am reading.

One of my core beliefs is that literature is meant to be read and talked about. When reading a book, we intimately inhabit the words on the page; the book changes us through this cohabitation with ink and paper, text and space. when talking about a book, we interact with each other through the medium of the words on the page; that interaction changes the world.

So, I want to talk about more books—in person and through text. If you see me, ask me what I’m reading. If you see a post from me on social media about a book, enter into a discussion with me about it. There will most likely be a lot more book-ish posts from me, especially if I want to reach this goal.

2018 Top Ten Books

I really love end of year reading roundups, so here’s mine! Here’s a list of ten books I enjoyed in 2018 with one-line review thoughts in no particular order (except the first one, because it’s my top read of 2018).

Educated, Tara Westover

I’m still thinking about this book.

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Sheher amazingness.

Parable of the Talents, Octavia E. Butler

Make America Great Again Chills.

The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin

I will always sing the praises of Jemisin from now until after I die.

Vicious, V. E. Schwab

Victorious, delightfully so.

Tears in Rain, Rosa Montero

Let me go rewatch Blade Runner and reread this and then rewatch Blade Runner in an endless loop of awesomeness.

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

My gay soul sang.

Becoming, Michelle Obama

Excuse me as I’m still in awe of this woman.

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson

Left my queer little heart over-brimming with joy.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

Blue&Simon <3.

Love, Adam.

It Hurts

The words in General Conference can hurt. I know many people who believe this “hurt” is what is meant to happen in order for those of us who don’t conform to the Church’s wishes to be influenced into conforming. It is the “hard sayings” that prick the heart of the wicked.

May I contend that there is a better way to bring about repentance than hurting people and making them feel alienated? Because I believe there is.

Certain groups of people will always be hurt when certain things are said in Conference. But they also hurt because of what the membership of the body of Christ says after those words are shared on pulpits. Here are examples of responses online that people shared when Mr. Oaks spoke:

Think about it. You are just told by an apostle of God that what you’re struggling through—your sexuality or your gender identity—is contrary to God’s plan. That’s all you’ve been told. No help is given. No balm provided. A simple “That is not the way.” Even though you feel, in the deepest part of your soul and your very biological being, that even if it isn’t “the way,” it is still something you’re dealing with.

And then, once an apostle of God has illegitimized your very personal feelings, members of the Church cheer on those “hard sayings.” Instead of providing love for people who are struggling with coming to grips with what an apostle has said, these tweets—Oaks is on fire; Oaks is coming out hitting; Oaks is laying down the law—hurt. The words people speak in the halls of the church buildings for the comings months will harm because online or in-person, many members of the Church say the same thing. These sayings rip and tear at a soul—no matter how old you are, no matter how separated from these words you seem to be. They are, to utilize the Church of Jesus Christ’s framework, Satan working through you to harm these people who are attempting to reconcile what is happening in their body and what they are  being told over a pulpit.

It is a shame on every follower of Jesus Christ when a fellow disciple cheers for an apostle to “lay down the law” instead of doing what they have covenanted to do: weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.

Instead of cheering for an apostle who says in dispassionate terms that a friend or family member of yours is not welcome in the house of God, why don’t you reach out in love to those people?

“I love you” is a simple text to send. A heart emoji is not that difficult to type. A “I’d love to listen to your perspective on what we heard in General Conference so I can understand more about you. I don’t want to talk; I simply want to listen to you. How about dinner this week?” is not that difficult to ask.

I remember being the person who would say, “Hot dang, this apostle is really saying it how it is.” It’s difficult to get out of that mindset. But we really do need to change our mindset from one that only supports apostles to one that has room for those who the apostles are “calling to repentance.”

People are not brought to God through hard sayings; they’re brought to God through Love.