Book Review: My Name Used to Be Muhammad

This is a book review by my husband, Matt. I occasionally get offers to receive a book in exchange for an honest review. I only accept if it’s a book I’m interested in reading anyway. I saw some pre-promotional material for this one and showed it to Matt. He volunteered to read and report. I will only add that I knew he liked this book quite a lot because he started it one night, read until late, and spent almost the entire next day on the couch reading it. He couldn’t put it down. Here is his review.

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We are all God’s children, and after all is said and done, we are not that different from each other. Regardless of where we were born on this Earth, what circumstances we face, what religion we belong to, we can know this surety: He loves us and will help us. These are the thoughts I have after reading Tito’s book.

The book is well written and flows easily as we follow Tito from chapter to chapter. There are times of intense affinity, such as growing up in a small, close-knit religious community; striving through early adulthood to remain chaste; leaving home for years to attend to religious training and duties; intense scripture study.

I realize that as an American, there are some places I can’t go on this Earth or I’ll be killed, because of my nationality, my religion, my government, or my race. After reading Tito’s story, I appreciate now that those would call me an infidel and spill my blood share a great many commonalities with me and others of my culture, race, religion and nationality. We are not as different as we suppose. We all share similar devotion, faith, hopes and dreams.

Reading about Tito and his preparation from a young age to serve God, and attend a religious university doesn’t sound so that foreign to me. Watching Tito court his girlfriend, as they talk about their faith and plan for a life together, try to keep their religion central in their lives, and face temptations and struggles together, nothing out of the ordinary from my own experience. There were times I wanted to shout out, “No, Tito! Don’t do it!” and other times I was dumbfounded by the amazing circumstances of Tito’s deliverance.

Tito’s story also left me with a deep appreciation for blessings I enjoy: freedom of religion, speech and expression; a national Constitution providing equal protection of laws and due process; a nation ruled by laws not men.

Tito’s story has left me with a deeper understanding of my own faith, God’s love for all His children, and despite some of the horrors of his story, a greater understanding of those who wish the United States would burn to ashes. Thank you Tito for sharing your story, for your courage and endurance, and ultimately the sacrifices you’ve made on your journey of faith.

The book is available on Amazon and at Deseret Book. I was touched by this photo taken at the launch party.

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The Moral Force of Women: Some connections

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I’m supposed to be working on my class for tomorrow. I actually am, but I made a cool research discovery, so I wanted to share. For the last couple of days, I’ve been studying Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s most recent conference talk, “The Moral Force of Women.” I’ve long felt that women have a certain power (beyond childbearing) that cannot be duplicated or replaced. It’s not just nurturing (especially in the too-narrow ways we often define it), but it’s more like a binding power. I recently listened to a radio interview with M. Russell Ballard where he claimed that women have a special gift with one-on-one relationships. I’d never thought of that before but I think it’s true, and he said that men can learn a lot from women about that subject if they will watch and listen. Anyway, back to Elder Christofferson’s talk. He said,

“As grandmothers, mothers, and role models, women have been the guardians of the wellspring of life, teaching each generation the importance of sexual purity—of chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. In this way, they have been a civilizing influence in society; they have brought out the best in men; they have perpetuated wholesome environments in which to raise secure and healthy children.”*

Something about that quote rang really familiar to me, mostly the phrase “civilizing influence.” Little by little, my old and tired brain started putting pieces together and I remembered it had something to do with Australia. I know. Weird.

So I’ve been trying to research it out and track it down, and–tonight–I found the connection. The whole thing is pretty amazing, but just read this one very cool account as told by Elder Bruce R. Hafen at the World Congress of Families in 1999. By no small coincidence, the title of his speech was “Motherhood and the Moral Influence of Women.”

Consider now, in summary, a true story from Australian history that illustrates the power of women’s moral influence as mothers of hope, women of fidelity, wives of commitment, and nurturers of human ties. In its early decades as a British colony, Australia was a vast wilderness designated as a jail for exiled convicts. Until 1850, six of every seven people who went “down under” from Britain were men. And the few women who went were often convicts or social outcasts themselves. The men ruthlessly exploited them, sexually and in other ways. With few exceptions, these women without hope were powerless to change their conditions.

In about 1840, a reformer named Caroline Chisholm urged that more women would stabilize the culture. She told the British government the best way to establish a community of “great and good people” in Australia: “For all the clergy you can dispatch, all the schoolmasters you can appoint, all the churches you can build, and all the books you can export, will never do much good without . . . ‘God’s police’– wives and little children–good and virtuous women.”

Chisholm searched for women who would raise “the moral standard of the people.” She spent twenty years traveling to England, recruiting young women and young couples who believed in the common sense principles of family life. Over time, these women tamed the men who were taming the wild land; and civil society in Australia gradually emerged. Also, the colonial governments enacted policies that elevated women’s status and reinforced family life.[23] As one historian said, “the initial reluctance of the wild colonial boys to marry was eroded fairly quickly.” Eventually, thousands of new immigrants who shared the vision of these “good and virtuous women” established stable families as the basic unit of Australian society more quickly than had occurred “anywhere else in the Western world.”[24]

This striking story of women’s moral influence grew from a conscious design to replace “the penal colony’s rough and wild ways” with “a more moral civilization.” The reformers intentionally capitalized on women’s innate “civilizing” capacity. [25] These women made Australia a promised land that flowed with a healthy ecosystem of milk and honey. And the milk, literally and figuratively, was mother’s milk–the milk of human kindness. That milk nurtures those habits of the heart without which no civil society can sustain itself.”

I. LOVE. THAT. Innate civilizing capacity. The milk of human kindness. Power. Force. Influence. Elder Christofferson quoted Elder Maxwell (he and this quote are both long-time favorites for me).

“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”

Sigh. I love being a woman. God has made His sons and His daughters powerful. He needs us both, and we can both do more with His help.

*Lest anyone get all worked up into a tizzy about women not being responsible for the morality of men, let’s agree to agree. Later on in his talk, Elder Christofferson acknowledges, “In these exhortations to women, let no one willfully misunderstand. By praising and encouraging the moral force in women, I am not saying that men and boys are somehow excused from their own duty to stand for truth and righteousness, that their responsibility to serve, sacrifice, and minister is somehow less than that of women or can be left to women. Brethren, let us stand with women, share their burdens, and cultivate our own companion moral authority. Dear sisters, we rely on the moral force you bring to the world, to marriage, to family, to the Church.”

Busy brain, idle hands?

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Do you ever have a mind full of ideas and wishes and goals and projects, but get hung up in the execution?

It’s so easy to get distracted. In some ways, I guess I’m like my own kids, and when there’s too much to do, I shut down a little bit and do … too little. That’s what I’ve been struggling with lately. I am getting things done, but we know ourselves and know when we can and should do more. Then we get frustrated.

I think it’s important to forgive ourselves in these situations and pat ourselves on the back just for being aware and being willing. I loved Elder Scott’s recent general conference talk when he said that the Lord sees weakness differently than he sees sin. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. When we sin, He wants us to remove it from our lives. Get rid of it. Go clean. With weakness, though, we have to stare it in the face and work on it. Like repentance, work is hard, and in both cases, we need the help of the Atonement.

I recently found this talk by Elder Maxwell (love him!) about weaknesses. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

Now may I speak, not to the slackers in the Kingdom, but to those who carry their own load and more; not to those lulled into false security, but to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. … Even prophets notice their weaknesses. Nephi persisted in a major task “notwithstanding my weakness.” (2 Ne. 33:11.) … Thus the feelings of inadequacy are common. So are the feelings of fatigue; hence, the needed warning about our becoming weary of well-doing. (See D&C 64:33.)

And then, he said some of the coolest things ever about how to deal with those common feelings and yearnings to do and be better. So the rest of the credit for this post goes completely to Elder Neal A. Maxwell whose inspiration helped me out again today.

What can we do to manage these vexing feelings of inadequacy? Here are but a few suggestions:

1. We can distinguish more clearly between divine discontent and the devil’s dissonance, between dissatisfaction with self and disdain for self. We need the first and must shun the second, remembering that when conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon.
2. We can contemplate how far we have already come in the climb along the pathway to perfection; it is usually much farther than we acknowledge. True, we are “unprofitable servants,” but partly because when “we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10), with every ounce of such obedience comes a bushel of blessings.
3. We can accept help as well as gladly give it. Happily, General Naaman received honest but helpful feedback, not from fellow generals, but from his orderlies. (See 2 Kgs. 5:1–14.) In the economy of heaven, God does not send thunder if a still, small voice is enough, or a prophet if a priest can do the job.
4. We can allow for the agency of others (including our children) before we assess our adequacy. Often our deliberate best is less effectual because of someone else’s worst.
5. We can write down, and act upon, more of those accumulating resolutions for self-improvement that we so often leave, unrecovered, at the edge of sleep.
6. We can admit that if we were to die today, we would be genuinely and deeply missed. Perhaps parliaments would not praise us, but no human circle is so small that it does not touch another, and another.
7. We can put our hand to the plow, looking neither back nor around, comparatively. Our gifts and opportunities differ; some are more visible and impactful. The historian Moroni felt inadequate as a writer beside the mighty Mahonri Moriancumer, who wrote overpoweringly. We all have at least one gift and an open invitation to seek “earnestly the best gifts.” (D&C 46:8.)
8. We can make quiet but more honest inventories of our strengths, since, in this connection, most of us are dishonest bookkeepers and need confirming “outside auditors.” He who was thrust down in the first estate delights to have us put ourselves down. Self-contempt is of Satan; there is none of it in heaven. We should, of course, learn from our mistakes, but without forever studying the instant replays as if these were the game of life itself.
9. We can add to each other’s storehouse of self-esteem by giving deserved, specific commendation more often, remembering, too, that those who are breathless from going the second mile need deserved praise just as the fallen need to be lifted up.
10. We can also keep moving. Only the Lord can compare crosses, but all crosses are easier to carry when we keep moving. Men finally climbed Mount Everest, not by standing at its base in consuming awe, but by shouldering their packs and by placing one foot in front of another. Feet are made to move forward—not backward!
11. We can know that when we have truly given what we have, it is like paying a full tithe; it is, in that respect, all that was asked. The widow who cast in her two mites was neither self-conscious nor searching for mortal approval.
12. We can allow for the reality that God is more concerned with growth than with geography. Thus, those who marched in Zion’s Camp were not exploring the Missouri countryside but their own possibilities.
13. We can learn that at the center of our agency is our freedom to form a healthy attitude toward whatever circumstances we are placed in! Those, for instance, who stretch themselves in service—though laced with limiting diseases—are often the healthiest among us! The Spirit can drive the flesh beyond where the body first agrees to go!
14. Finally, we can accept this stunning, irrevocable truth: Our Lord can lift us from deep despair and cradle us midst any care. We cannot tell Him anything about aloneness or nearness!

And that is why we should read something from the scriptures or words of the prophets every day. My busy brain feels so much better.

I hope it makes you feel better, too.