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(Courtesy Mama Rine Clark) Tamu Smith (left) and Zandra Vranes (right) are "Sistas in Zion" and have written a new book, Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons
Dear Diary: We’re black Mormon women and we have lots to say

Black, female authors bring clarity and humor to issues that pop up in the LDS Church.

First Published Jun 06 2014 12:55 pm • Last Updated Jun 10 2014 09:54 am

Faith in God, Jesus and the Mormon gospel come easy to Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes. LDS culture? Not so much.

You see, Smith and Vranes are black and were mostly reared outside the Beehive State. They were used to wearing hats to church and calling out "amen" when they agreed with a preacher. Their Jell-O never gelled or their funeral potatoes had too much kick. They were comfortable jawing in urban slang like "hooptie" (a junker car that still runs) and "boo" (a loved one).

At a glance

Excerpts from their book

» “When Rosa Parks sat down, she was actually standing up. Because on Dec. 1, 1955, when that bus driver told her to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus, she had a choice. You see, long before that moment, Ms. Parks had decided it was wrong for blacks to be treated unequally. ... God has equipped us with all the tools to live the happiest lives possible, but he doesn’t force us to put them to use, and thankfully he doesn’t expect us to be perfect. In fact, Jesus has made it possible for us to get back up every time we fall, and you can’t tell us it doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to stand knowing God’s got your back.”

» Learning to pray is one thing, but learning to be a prayer warrior was a whole ’nother thing! I don’t know if at a certain age faithful people just get a Ph.D. in prayer, but my mama and aunts (all my mama’s friends included) got to a place in their relationship with God that they were no longer just faithful Christians praying. Guess they skipped getting their master’s, or maybe they were in the master’s program by the time I arrived on the scene.”

» “[My mama] taught me that people can either breathe life into you or suck life out of you and the blessings that God intends for you. Let me tell you this right now, my mama didn’t mind letting folks know that if they had negative breath, they couldn’t come to her house breathing all the negativity on her blessings! According to my mama, negativity is extremely contagious and very dangerous.”

» “It’s a good thing that while my mama was teaching me how to pray, she was also teaching me that even men of God can get it wrong sometimes.”

Source: “Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord’s Lesson in Everyday Life”

‘I Am Jane’ performances

“I Am Jane,” a play about Jane Manning James, will be performed Sunday, June 15, at Weber State University for Juneteenth weekend and Wednesday, June 25, at Zions Mercantile Co. at 4801 N. University Ave. No. 350 in Provo. The latter performance will feature vignettes about James with Joseph Smith to mark the 170th anniversary of the Mormon founder’s murder.

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"I have a family history and culture," says Vranes, co-author with Smith of a new book, "Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons: Finding the Lord’s Lesson in Everyday Life." "When I want to take my culture with me, some people think I am shirking a part of my Mormon faith."

And then there’s the question of the priesthood ban, which for more than a century barred blacks from joining the faith’s all-male priesthood. It turns out, the prohibition, which ended 36 years ago this weekend, was about much more than priesthood. Indeed, its effects trickled down to all black members, including women and children.

No endowments (temple rituals), no sealings (temple marriages) for couples or to their children, no eternal families — the crowning rites of Mormonism.

Even a white Mormon man, who had the priesthood, could not be sealed to a black woman in the temple, Smith says. "If the purpose of the endowment is to prepare us for the highest degree of [heaven], then black women were being denied that right."

Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James repeatedly petitioned LDS leaders to be allowed into the temple for the faith’s ceremonies.

In the 1840s, James worked in the home of LDS founder Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, who asked her if she wanted to be sealed to them as a member of their family, but she declined. Decades later, in Utah, she was sealed to Mormonism’s first couple as their servant, with a white person standing in for her. After 1978 — and the end of the ban — James was posthumously sealed to her children and enjoyed full temple blessings.

"People think that because she wasn’t a man, Jane wasn’t affected," Smith says. "But they are wrong."

While disturbed by the well-meaning but sometimes-offensive comments of fellow Mormons, these black women respond with grace, directness, laughter and lots of straightforward advice.

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A recent blog post, dubbed "Five Things Mormons Should Stop Doing," included edicts to "stop telling single saints they’ll get married in the next life; stop claiming that Mormon celebs don’t have to serve missions; stop fighting on social media."

Their motto — "A relief from sobriety, where hilarity never faileth" — is a play on the church’s slogan for the women’s Relief Society.

And it sums up their approach.

A playful partnership • Smith and Vranes joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as children.

Smith, a mother of six who lives in Orem with her husband, came in with her grandparents in Southern California in the early 1980s," while Vranes’ parents were baptized before she was born and then lived in Trinidad and Tobago, Utah and Georgia. Currently, Vranes is married and lives in Boise.

The "sistas" became fast friends in 1997 after meeting in Utah at a monthly gathering of Genesis, a support group for black Mormons. After Vranes moved out of state in 2009, they decided to blog together as a way to keep in touch.

Thus was born their online "Sistas in Zion." They decided not to blog about anything personal — except, well, faith, perhaps the most personal topic of all — and to do it in their own sometimes-irreverent voices and vocabulary.

Smith took on the handle Sister Beehive (what the LDS Church calls its youngest teen girls), and Vranes became Sister Laurel (after the eldest teen girls).

"Nobody was interested in being Sista Mia Maid [the middle teen girls] ’cause with maid in their name," they write, "they might get mistaken for the help."

A few years later, the two launched a Sunday night radio show on a faith-based channel. They interviewed LDS athletes and other figures as well as those from various denominations (one Pentecostal fashion blogger told them she had never worn pants a day in her life, even went to elementary school and took physical education classes in a skirt).

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Trib Talk

O Authors Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes will join Jennifer Napier-Pearce on Monday at 12:15 p.m. to talk about their new book, “Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons,” and about diversity within Mormon culture.

You can join the discussion by sending questions and comments to #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+.

You can also text comments to 801-609-8059. › sltrib.com

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