29 October 2013

Doubting Thomas

In the New Testament, we learn about the life of Christ, and of His Apostles. We hear of the miracles that Christ performed, and of the lives He touched. We learn lessons of love and service to others through His parables, and we learn to accept others through His ministry. We see the attributes of His Apostles... unwavering loyalty from Peter, and the unconditional love of John. But what do we hear of the Apostle Thomas?

The Gospel of John gives us the most information about Thomas. In John 11:16 the Apostles were hesitant to go back to Judea, where the Jews had attempted to stone Jesus. But Thomas, showing his devotion and love for Christ, says, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." He speaks again in John 14:5. Christ had explained that He was going away to prepare a heavenly home for His followers, and that one day they will join Him there. Thomas reacts by saying, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" Thomas wants to follow the words of Christ, but he was afraid that without Christ, he would not know what to do. He is loyal. He knows and loves Christ.

But we don't remember this about Thomas. What we do remember, is that Thomas was a doubter, and poor Thomas really gets put through the ringer for it.

Last summer, I performed with my Young Single Adult Stake for the work of "Lamb of God". Thomas is one of the main "characters" in the story, and there is a song, sung by Thomas called "Sometime We'll Understand". Here are some of the words from that song:

You've seen the Lord? You've seen Him risen? You've seen His hands, and touched His side, and you are certain? But I've not seen him. and I must see him. Until I've seen His wounded side, until my hands have felt His hands, I will not know, or yet believe...

Can you really blame Thomas? I can't. If I were in his shoes, I would have been just as skeptical... not because I don't believe that Christ is Divine, and the Son of God, but because the emotions and fear that I would have felt, seeing my Savior crucified, would have rattled my brain. Hard. So my friends telling me that they had seen Him... I simply would not have been able to believe it.

Does that make Thomas any less loyal? No. Does it make Thomas any less faithful? No. Does Thomas deserve to be remembered as a doubter? Absolutely not.

I love the Gospel. It is everything to me. But I doubt. I wonder about things. I wonder about many, many things. I wonder about the role of women in the Church. I wonder about what the Church says about the LGBT community. I wonder about everything. I doubt everything. Most of these doubts resolve themselves. Most of them are resolved because I "doubted my doubts". But not all of them.

Thomas doubted. But he was not shunned. He was not made to be less than the other Apostles. He was not told to "believe or else". He was accepted. He was welcomed into the fold. There was a place for him, because Christ made a place for him.

Christ Atoned for our us. He felt the struggles and pain we feel every day. He has felt the weight of the questions and uncertainty we bear. He knows the emotional turmoil we feel coming from all directions. He knows the skepticism, the hesitation, and sometimes outright disbelief that we feel in our day to day lives.

But Christ loves us. And just as He made a place for Thomas, He made a place for you and I too.

28 October 2013


Modesty... let's talk about it.

Now... before you jump all over me about this, and start calling me an apostate and a whore (ok fine... most of you don't call me a whore), I'm all for people dressing modestly. Seriously. Cross my heart, hope to die (No needles in my eye though... those mofo's give me the creeps).

But seriously, all sarcasm aside... I love it when people dress modestly. It shows the world that you show yourself dignity and respect. And it generally means that you treat others with the same dignity, and the same respect. I'm all for that. Also... take note that I did not direct any of this exclusively towards women.

For me personally, I have always dressed "modestly". I had the strapless dress at Homecoming and Prom, and the occasional tank top on the beach to show off my rockin' body, but I had always been a t-shirt and jeans; hoodie and boardshorts kind of girl. Hell... it was my mom's greatest goal in life to get me to wear anything that emphasized my womanly curves.


What I find ironic, is that when I was in high school, the lack of bared skin labeled me as a prude. After I joined the Church though... those bare shoulders turned me into Potifer's wife.

The Church is obsessed with modesty. It is obsessed with what women wear, or don't wear. We teach our young women that they alone are responsible for keeping the "priesthood holders" clean and worthy, and that we alone are at fault when they look at us with leering eyes. We teach our young women that modesty is directly connected with their virginity virtue, and that their virginity virtue is directly connected with their marriage potential. We teach our young women that their virginity virtue is everything, and that if they lose it, they will be a chewed piece of gum, a shattered vase, a crushed rose, and a dozen other horrific analogies.

Stop it already!! Men know how to control themselves... and if they don't... well, there's something much more serious going on. And trust me... I know that beautiful women in bikini's are hard to keep your eyes off of, but if I can keep it in my pants, so can the guys. We are all taught about inappropriate touching and respecting others as kids. Those rules still apply throughout adolescence and adulthood.

I vividly remember one of my very first Sunday's attending my Singles Ward after being baptized. I was poor. I was SO poor that ramen noodles and goldfish with a glass of water had become the center of my diet. Because I was poor, and because of the circumstances in which I moved to Utah, I did not have much to my name. I had one three year old skirt that no longer fit, and I had a bunch of my famed hoodies and shorts. I had no church clothes. But I did have dress slacks. So I wore pants before it was cool. But it was NOT cool with the Bishop, the Patriarch and the Relief Society President who was counseled to "talk to me" about what's appropriate for the Lord's house.

I was mortified. And I stopped attending my ward. The missionaries went a little haywire, and so did my roommates who were just so excited to have a new convert move into their apartment. But I stopped coming. And I went to another ward where people didn't care.

Modesty isn't about the clothes you wear. Modesty isn't about your virginity. If you carry yourself with dignity and deal with your fellow men and women with kindness and fairness, then you are living a modest life. If you strive to live within your means, and not be flamboyant and ostentatious, then you are living modestly. Modesty is about the life you live, and the person you strive to be... and it has nothing to do whatsoever with the length of your shorts, or the covers on your shoulders.

16 October 2013

Just Be There

A couple of months ago I went to BYU in Provo, to help with a video that USGA (Understanding Same Gender Attraction) was shooting about suicide awareness among LGBT Mormons, especially those at BYU. Although I am not a BYU student, I went and participated, because this is something that I have dealt with in the past, and it's something that is important to me. Suicide rates are high among LGBT teens and young adults, and even more so when they come from conservative religious backgrounds. It needs to stop.

Stories like these, and talks like the one given by Elder Jeffery R. Holland in General Conference, will help us on this journey. Things are changing.

Without further ado....

06 October 2013

"Come Join With Us"

Yesterday I stood in the stand by line with over 300 women (and our male allies) for admittance to the Priesthood session of the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a bittersweet experience. I started my morning by watching the morning session of Conference, and eating breakfast with about 10 other LGBT Mormons. We were all in shock with President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's address at the close of the Saturday morning session, and it touched me on a deep personal level. It prepared me for the activities for the rest of the day, because it proved to me that I was doing the right thing. The Church has a place for me.

I went home, and got dressed, and really mentally prepared for what was about to happen, not because I was nervous, but because I was about to make history. I was about to do something that I genuinely believed in, and it was something so many people in the Church look down upon, and claim to be apostate.

I went and parked at the Ballpark (1300 South) TRAX station, and got on the train to head downtown. I got there early so that I could listen to the rest of the afternoon session on Temple Square, and after the session I headed to City Creek Park on State Street and 100 North. When I got there, I saw over 200 women, active, worthy LDS women gathered, and ready to head over to Temple Square. I had some time to meet new people, and visit with my two friends, Bridey and Elizabeth. We were briefed on logistics, sang the hymn, "The Spirit of God", and had a prayer, and then we were off. We were off to make history.

By the time we left for Temple Square, we had over 300 women and male allies among us. As we turned onto North Temple, I pulled out my Scriptures, and started reading my patriarchal blessing. You have been blessed with a sense of right and wrong and with a willing heart to hear the truth and you are true to it. You will experience loving, tender feelings as the Lord visits you by the power of His Spirit to comfort you, to give you reassurance, and strength to go on in times of need. Those words sang true to me that day. I was truly doing what I absolutely know to be right. And it was exhilarating!

Once we made our way onto the Temple Square grounds, we got in the stand by line for the Tabernacle. It was real now. We were there. People started coming up to us asking what the line was for. On more than one occasion I replied with, "This is the standby line for admittance to the Priesthood session in the Tabernacle." Most looked confused, but then smiled and said thank you. Others however... they smirked, and looked me up and down, as if looking for the male genitalia requisite for holding the Priesthood. And then the Sister Missionaries came to call... three companionships total. The first two were pretty... hostile... in that sugary, sweet sister missionary way. But the third set as amazing... they listened, they heard me out, and they understand how hurt the marginalized groups in this Church are. It was missionary work at it's best. They listened. They actually listened.

It wasn't long until word came that we were officially denied entry to the session. It wasn't really surprising to me. We decided to turn and face the crowd of men walking past us... this way they had to look at us. And we walked up, one by one, to ask for entry to the session. Once it was my turn, I walked up to the man standing in front of the door, and said, "My name is Ellen Koester. I'm requesting entry to the Conference Center to hear the counsel of the Prophet and his Apostles." This man, replied, "As you know this is the standby line for men to enter the Priesthood session. It is for male members only."

That statement floored me. I was expecting to be denied, but I was expecting the reason to be because I don't hold the Priesthood... not because I don't have a penis. I looked him straight in the eye, and said ok... and paused to look through the doors into the Tabernacle before I turned to walk away. Soon after, they closed the door, pulled a red tape across the entrance, and eventually drove a mini garbage truck in front of it... as if they were expecting the well behaved women, who had been asking peacefully for entrance, to suddenly storm the building. We all soon gathered for a prayer, and to sing the hymn, " I Am A Child Of God", and we made our way back to City Creek Park. But not before noticing three men standing inside by the window staring at us. They didn't smile, they didn't show any sort of outward emotion. They just stared.

On the walk back, I did a lot of soul searching, and conversing with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. To hear their personal stories was unbelievably inspiring, and faith promoting... I felt the Spirit more strongly than I had all day... with the brief exception of when President Uchtdorf spoke that morning. 

Conference weekend as a whole has been discouraging to say the least. But I am holding fast to the words of President Uchtdorf, "Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples is a strength of this Church." This taught me that my opinions and perspectives are valid, and that they are valued... even by the Church. "If you define hypocrites as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he or she believes, then we are all hypocrites. None of us are quite as Christ-like as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and sins to become better with the help of Jesus Christ.", and "If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come join with us." This taught me that although I break certain commandments, and have differing opinions about certain doctrines and practices within the Church, that I am valued. And that there is a place for me. I am Mormon... no matter what anyone else says or thinks. "If you expect to find perfect people here, you will be disappointed.", "If you are looking for a place of belonging come join with us." , "If you have left the faith you once embraced, come back again and join with us.", "If you are tempted to give up, stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here." He showed us that there is a place for us. He showed us that we are vital to the Church, as are our opinions and perspectives. He showed us that we were valued.

I am valued. I am wanted. My perspectives are valued. An Apostle of the Lord has asked me to stay. Many people have told me that I don't listen to the counsel of the Prophets, and that I should leave for the benefit of the Church, and the members around me. To them I say........ I'm listening. And I'm staying.

01 October 2013

I Support Ordaining Women To The Priesthood

I often mention my Catholic background in my day to day discussions about religion. Maybe it's because I like that it makes me different from my Mormon peers. I don't have the same pioneer stories about my ancestors, and unlike my generational Mormon peers, my family history binder is bare... there are just too many members if my family to find!

I still identify as Catholic in a way... not so much doctrinally, but culturally. I still attend mass on Christmas Eve and Easter, and on other holy days of obligation. I still light Advent candles and observe Lent... to prepare for Christ's birth, Atonement, death, resurrection and ascension. I will still make the sign of the cross occasionally after a prayer, because it helps me remember the three members of the Godhead; The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.

In short, I still have a deep devotion to a cause that is no longer my own.

I feel this same devotion on the topic if women's ordination to the priesthood. I never considered myself a feminist until about 18 months ago. I was too scared of my homosexuality to think of anything else I could do to mock and displease God. And even now... as an advocate in the Church for the harshly marginalized LGBT community, I've slowly aligned myself with the Mormon Feminist movement, because it helps me feel like I'm not alone. I'm not the only person that sees the Church as an old (white) men's club. I'm not the only one who wonders why Heavenly Mother is frankly... Ignored. I'm not the only one who believes that religion has no place in government, and politics have no place in Church. I'm not the only one who sees inconsistencies in Church History. I'm not the only one who hears mixed messages in General Conference... "Love one another!" , "Tolerance is a trap!" I'm not the only one who has had doubts, and I'm not the only one who still has a deep and sincere love for my Heavenly Parents amid these doubts.

Should women be ordained to the Priesthood? I believe we can, and we should. I don't know if God meant the Priesthood to be for men only... Just like I don't know if the Relief Society should be for women only. I haven't asked all questions, but the question I have asked is, "What is required to be ordained to the Priesthood?" I don't have all the answers, but my I have received an answer... that you must be worthy, and willing to serve throughout your whole life. No mention of male genitalia. 

I don't know if women will be ordained in my lifetime. I don't know if women will ever be ordained. But I believe that we should. I know that I can worthily serve God. I know that I can serve worthily in the leadership of my ward, and stake. I know that God respects my devotion to my convictions. And that's why I stand with the rest of the women who tirelessly work for this cause. And on Saturday October 5, I will be standing in line at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, requesting entry to the Priesthood Session of General Conference. This cause no longer belongs to someone else. This cause is my own.