Monday, September 19, 2016

FGM and Mormons

Last month an article I wrote about female genital mutilation (aka as female genital cutting or female circumcision) and Mormons was published in an on-line journal called Square Two which deals with "faithful LDS thought on contemporary issues." You can read that article here:

The gist of the article is that there is evidence of the mildest form of FGM (stage IV)--pricking of the clitoris--being practiced on some LDS girls in Indonesia. The question then arises that if it happens among LDS girls in Indonesia might it then happen among Mormons in Africa where FGM is also commonly practiced among all religious groups--including Christians. I was unable to confirm if FGM has been practiced among Mormons in Africa so there is more research that needs to be done. What I did find out is that many other Christian Churches with congregations in Africa have spoken out against FGM. Within the Mormon Church I was able to find examples of Church leaders condemning cultural practices from Africa, like paying a bride price (lobola) or spending exorbitant amounts on funerals and weddings, but nothing about FGM. In fact I have not yet found any official mention of FGM by Mormon leaders (in conference talks, Ensign articles, the Handbook of Instructions, letters from the first presidency).

In the conclusion of the article I made these recommendations:

"Since FGM/C has been practiced among Mormons in Indonesia and might be practiced in Africa, it makes sense to consider ways to make sure that Latter-day Saints understand that this is not part of the gospel culture.Possible actions to be taken might include: 1) seeking out information from local Relief Society and Young Women leaders (in Africa, Indonesia and in any country where there are immigrant communities who come from areas where FGM/C is practiced) as to whether or not FGM/C is practiced by women and girls in their ward/branch; 2) determining the severity of this cutting and then deciding if all forms of FGM/C are not in keeping with the gospel cultures or if the ceremonial prick of Stage IV as practiced in Indonesia is acceptable: 3) suggesting other coming of age activities/ceremonies that are in concert with the gospel culture, if a ceremonial prick is considered unacceptable. Additionally, even if FGM/C is found not to be practiced among Mormons, the LDS Church should still join the chorus of other Christian churches in openly condemning this harmful practice."

Since the publication of the article two positive developments have come to my attention.

In a September 11, 2016 address (minute 3:41) at Windsor Castle, Elder Jeffery R. Holland, an apostle in the LDS Church, spoke out against FGM (perhaps the first mention of this practice by a church leader) as one of many forms of violence against women. 

He said: “Unfortunately violence toward women is not limited to times of war. Instances of female genital mutilation, removable [sic] of bodily appendages, and honor killings persist during times of peace….Surely God knows of their suffering and weeps with them. As Isaiah [22:4] lamented: Therefore said I, Look away from me; I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me, because of the spoiling of the daughter of my people.” (transcribed from his on-line speech) 

Sadly, this important statement was included at the first of a speech that mainly focused on two other important and current issues--helping refugees and religious persecution, both of which have received considerable attention over the past year by Church leaders. Unfortunately this ground breaking statement about FGM did not get mentioned in either of the main Church produced articles about the speech including a Church News article (image below) that briefly mentioned women's issues including "sexual violence against women," but did not include mention of specifics like FGM, and an article in the Deseret News that mentioned "sexual violence" against women:

Last week I was contacted by a staff member of US Senator Harry Reid (a Mormon and a Democrat) from Nevada. From this staff member, who had some questions about my article, I learned that for over two decades Reid has been at the forefront of US government efforts to curtail the practice of FGM. He first learned of FGM in 1994 and was the author of the 1996 law banning FGM in the US for girls under 18. He also sponsored the Girls’ Protection Act, which banned vacation cutting. This law passed as part of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.  He also initiated two broad and comprehensive reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which were just released, looking into how the US is addressing FGM.

I applaud the long time efforts of Senator Reid and hope that the speech by Elder Holland might be the beginning of Church efforts to help stop the horrible practice of FGM.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


I did it again. My voice cracked, tears welled up and I had to take deep breaths to keep reading. It has happened before when I have read the Bronze Bow or Where the Red Fern Grows to my kids and it happened this Sunday afternoon when I finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio to willing Will.

Will has always been very selective in what I can and cannot read to him. Unlike his older siblings, I have started and then, at his request, stopped reading many a book with him. A few weeks ago a friend of mine Betsy Siddoway Vandenberghe (we first met on the same study abroad in Jerusalem years ago) recommended Wonder as a great read-out-loud for kids. Here is what she wrote in a Facebook post:

"This book is a family MUST. Always appreciate the posts about bullying and teaching kids to be kind at school, but if you want your kids’ hearts, and your own, to grow 10 sizes—well, that is a job fiction, deftly and honestly and artistically rendered, does best, without preaching, but through making your soul care so deeply about a character and his family that the writer (R.J. Palacio, a first-time author whose career involved book jacket designing and raising kids) receives letters from all over the world, including full-grown men who cried out loud reading her book. Have to admit to choking up and not being able to continue multiple times, myself. And for those who prefer their religious motifs understated and subtle (as opposed to heavy handed and turning off anyone not religiously inclined), the references to CS Lewis, Tolkien, and 1 John 5:4 are masterfully executed."

It sounded wonderful to me so I checked it out of the BYU library in hopes that Will would let me read it to him. Happily he agreed. What started out as a thirty minute reading session the first night morphed into several hour-plus sessions during the past week (in which I willingly (not something I readily do) chose to skip the 10:00 news) with Will begging for me to read some more. What is so weird about this all is that it is not Harry Potter or Fablehaven or some other typical read for kids. It is about a boy with a facial deformity trying to make his way through fifth grade. Along the way we learn of nice and not-so-nice reactions from people around him. 

Here is one quote in the book that summarizes why I liked it so much and why I choked up several times while reading it: "Shall we make a new rule of life....always try to be a little kinder than necessary." (p. 299, from J.M. Barrie's, The Little White Bird). Such good advice. Read this book. Read it to your kids. 

Also be sure to read the follow-up The Julian Chapter--it's always to good to get the other side of the story. Very touching and also full of humanity.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Hiking Mt. Timpanogos

Mt. Timpanogos from Pleasant Grove. Saturday September 3rd after our hike.

From the south with Payson in the foreground.

From the southwest side of Utah Lake. Just to the left (north) of the tallest section (the highest point is the north point of that plateau looking section) is the lower lying saddle--which is the point where the two trail coming from the north and east finally reach the crest of the mountain.

The east side of Timp from Brighton. The highest point is in the center with the saddle to the right (north) just beyond the big shadow cast by the summit.

Rising to 11,752 feet, Mt Timpanogos is the second highest peak of Utah's Wasatch Range. It is also a popular hike, with the Labor Day weekend being one of the busiest times. There are two trails to the top and people all have varying opinions about which route is the best and when is the best time to hike. Back in 1997, newlyweds Marie and I made the hike via the the Timpooneke trail beginning at about 3:00 AM so we could be on top for the sunrise. In 2009 I made a second assent with the Young Men in our ward. We left at about 6:00 AM in the cool of a July morning--also long the Timpooneke trail. Two years ago Sarah made her first attempt with the youth of the ward. They left early morning from the Aspen Grove base near Sundance on the Timpanogos trail. The group got started on the wrong trail and by the time they corrected and back tracked they only had time and energy to get as far as Emerald Lake. Ever since then Sarah has been wanting to give it another try. It was on her list to do this summer. Joel was also excited to give it a try. Reluctant Will decided the night before to give it a try, even though he has long protested about going on 'hikes". Marie who is a slow and steady hiker, decided to sit this one out lest she slow down the whole group.

We were out the door at 4:10 AM. Marie kindly volunteered to shuttle us there since parking is at a premium on summer weekends. Good thing she helped out, the lot at Timpooneke was full when we arrived. We set out at 5:00 AM with flash lights in hand. Early on we passed two groups of returning hikers who had gone up and back all in the dark. A nice way to avoid crowds and mid-day heat, but they missed all of the beautiful scenery.

First rest, in the dark.

We climbed about two hour in the dark to an elevation that allowed for great views of sunrise colors.

Looking to the northeast.

Sarah thought the colors and textures of this mountain side looked like an oil painting. About an hour into the hike Sarah took a rest stop and forgot to pick up her cute red Art Institute of Chicago sweat shirt she inherited from her grandma Emmett. Seven hours later we found it tied up on a bush by some kind soul for the owner to happily pick up on descent.

It was at about this point that Will figure out that after two hours of upward hiking there was still at least two-three hours left to go before we reached the summit. He started to grumble that he wouldn't have come had he know that it was such a LONG HIKE. I reminded him that I had explained the whole thing the night before including how long of a hike it was. I continued to patiently answer his questions every ten or so minutes about what time it was and how much longer it would take. Luckily a trip to the grocery store the night before had him well supplied with energizing snacks and food.

We had fun spotting pika in several of the large rocky slopes along the way. The non-hibernating pika harvest grass and other foods and store them in granaries in the rocks to eat during the long winters.

July is the best time for wild flowers. These are the daisy remnants.

photo by Joel

photo by dad. Joel's i-phone captured the right shading much better.

The northern-most peak of the Timpanogos crest. Timpanogos Cave lies beneath it.

Good Samaritan Joel let Sarah wear his long sleeve shirt when higher elevation meant lower temperature.

The summit.

It was cloudy most of the day and even threatened rain, but it never did.

Group hug. The saddle, in the left center of the photo, was our next stop and Will was not happy at how much further we still had to go.

A lonely mountain goat--center in white.

Several groups of goats.

Will decided that he only wanted to climb to the saddle so Sarah and Joel headed out at a quicker pace so they could make it to the summit.

Tasty currants.

Last of the lupines. Almost all had already gone to seed.

The view of Utah Valley and Utah Lake from the saddle.


Cold and strong westerly winds made us all glad we had brought an outer wind break layer.

While waiting for Sarah and Joel, Will and I sought shelter for lunch on the leeward side of the crest which was out of the wind. This is our view to the east with Heber Valley in the distance.

Waiting for siblings to safely return.

Western foothills of Timp.

 Four photos by Joel--when they arrived at the saddle this mountain goat was happily grazing among the dozens of passing hikers.

Way to go Sarah and Joel. They made it to the windy top.

Then they hurried down the rocky trail.

It took Dad and Will five hours to get to the saddle and Sarah and Joel 5 1/2 to get to the summit.

Down we go. My knees were not happy.

Waiting while others ate their lunch. His good humor and adventuresome spirit had returned.

Sun, warmth, beauty and happiness.

Beyond the far crest of mountains lie Brighton, Alta and Snowbird.

The trail zig zags down through this formidable slope.

We enjoyed seeing the beauty of the lower portion of the hike that we passed earlier in the dark. The Timpooneke trail has more trees, shade and beauty (so I've been told) than the other trail. We arrived at the parking lot at 2:20 where Marie was waiting with chocolate milk, cold water and a smile.

Timp Summit looking South. Bishop Emmett on the right with the four leaders and four Teachers and Priests of the Spring Creek 18th ward during our high adventure. July 18th 2008.

Looking down on Emerald Lake and the yet-to-melt snow fields.

For more photos of that climb go to this Flickr Album:

Unplanned, I wore this favorite shirt of mine on my last two Timp hikes--perhaps subconsciously in honor of my one great feat of mountaineer. I bought it in 1993 at the refuge shelter half way up the slope of Mt Cotopaxi in Ecuador. I was traveling in Latin America so I could be better prepared to teach my Latin American geography class. When my adventure travel group offered an add on hike up Cotopaxi, I happily decided to give it a try--even though my only other attempt at serious mountain climbing was with my brothers up through the snow field of Mt. Teewinot in the Grand Teton Range.

Mt Cotopaxi. At 19,347 feet it is the highest active volcano in the world.

At such a high elevation, I could only take about 50 steps before my lungs would scream for me to stop and allow in more oxygen.

The one other guy in our group, who was the one who arranged for the Cotopaxi add on hike, sadly got altitude sickness and remained in the refuge while I slowly made it to the top with our two guides. I don't think they ever thought I would be able to make it but I did.