Last week I had the honor to sit down with Danielle Calder over Zoom to talk about the upcoming Let’s Talks About Heavenly Mother Art Show and Fireside to be held at the Provo City Library Ballroom on Saturday, June 25. Danielle is a therapist based out of Southern California and is the host of the popular Instagram account, @ourmotherinheaven. I enjoyed our conversation and I hope you do too.
Katie: You have been hosting public discussions about Heavenly Mother on your Instagram account @ourmotherinheaven since 2017. If I’m not mistaken, yours was the first account dedicated to the LDS doctrine of a Heavenly Mother. What led you to start this account?
Danielle: I was in between my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and had a lot of extra time because I wasn’t a student. I always knew I wanted to be a therapist, so it wasn’t a surprise for me that I was heading in this direction, but I was in a state of transition. A huge emphasis of mine in life has always been feminism. I didn’t have the language until I was in my twenties and took a women’s studies class at BYU, but I always had a sensitivity, interest, and passion around feminism. So it was a time of reflection, and my friend shared a website that had a blog post and podcast about Heavenly Mother. At the time I was very curious to listen, but I didn’t know if it was safe. I didn’t know if it was LDS approved. I didn’t want to hear anything that wasn’t above board because I was scared. I grew up in an era of being extremely concerned over anti-Mormon literature and about reading something that wasn’t approved. I didn’t end up listening to the podcast, but it sparked an interest in me.
In 2017 I went online—as a millennial does—to see if there was an Instagram account or Facebook page dedicated to Heavenly Mother, and there wasn’t anything. So I decided I was going to do it. I named it “ourmotherinheaven” because I wanted it to be a collection of stories and experiences—it was “our” Mother in Heaven, not “my” Mother in Heaven. And I wanted it to be a place where a traditional or conservative member could feel like it was above board because that’s what I wasn’t finding.
Katie: How has your account changed over the last five years?
Danielle: At first I didn’t share my name and I didn’t say “I”—it could have been anybody. Eventually, I got a little bit braver and posted a picture of myself, but I still talked about myself in the third person. I put myself in quotes and said, “Danielle Calder,” like these are her words, but this isn’t her account. And I remember my sister started following before I had posted a picture of myself because it was just a generic account, and my sister was like, “What the heck, this is you? Why didn’t you tell me?” That’s how secretive it was at the time. I wasn’t even telling my own sister, but people were starting to follow. Slowly over time, I got more comfortable being like, this is my account. I also eventually decided to do a grid system on my profile where there are text posts and guest submissions. So the text posts are often sharing or discussing a quote, and who said it, and then the picture posts are geared more towards how people feel about the doctrine. To me this really embodies what we do at church—we’re taught doctrine, scripture, or a teaching, and then we hear what people feel about it.
Over time as I evolved in my own understanding in my master’s degree in social work about systems of power and privilege and oppression, it became even more important to me to have a special emphasis on intersectionality. For example, we’ve had discussions about how when people have assumptions that Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father are white—why do they assume they are white? Is this because of white supremacy? Is this because they themselves are white and they see God in their image? How can we make sure we are not assuming that God is white? Or what does this look like for someone who is LGBTQ? How might they access Heavenly Mother? So it became important to have a place that felt safe for active members while also making sure we are exploring it in an intersectional way.
Katie: You hear from many people along the Mormon continuum about their questions, thoughts, and fears regarding Heavenly Mother. What do you think people are looking for when they come to your account?
Danielle: I think they’re looking for two things: resources about Heavenly Mother according to LDS teachings, and they’re looking to feel seen and feel heard and to see and hear others.
Katie: What was the impetus for the Let’s Talk About Heavenly Mother Art Show and Fireside to be held in Provo this June?
Danielle: I was 6 days postpartum, out and about with my girls alone while my husband was working, and I felt energized. I wasn’t expecting to feel energized that soon after giving birth, and I felt this immense sense of freedom. For some people, maternity leave might feel like it’s so difficult, and that’s kind of where I am right now, but at the time, I felt like, I’m not working, I’m not pregnant anymore—I have time to create. I felt a very clear impression: do a fireside in Utah about Heavenly Mother. Initially, I thought we would hold it in March. I went to my followers and asked who would be interested in helping, and I got a tremendous amount of support. Thinking we might do this with a stake, my offer was we will do a PowerPoint with 100% from the Church’s website, we will do musical numbers that can be approved in advance, we will do a Q&A where all of the questions and all of the answers can be pre-approved. That felt like the best chance of getting the fireside approved by a stake, but it just wasn’t happening.
The time was nearing closer, and I was like, if the church won’t provide a venue, then we’re just going to go find one, and that’s what we did. What I really like about the fireside is that this is not in reaction to the regional trainings or general conference, but this was an idea on like January 19, 10:30 AM, when I was in a drive-thru with my two girls. I’ve learned enough about myself to know that when I am reactive, it’s not pretty. Working out of that space of anger is not pleasant. Because we weren’t doing the fireside at a church building, it opened up the doors of what is possible, and also made it much more complicated. We moved the event to June to have time to plan.
Katie: What should people expect from the art show?
Danielle: We’ve been intentional about being inclusive and seeking artists with marginalized identities. We have BIPOC and LGBTQ artists and I really love that because it was extremely important to me that the art show includes a variety of depictions of Heavenly Mother. I didn’t want it to be all white, slim-bodied women with long hair. We have so many images of white Jesus, and that is really upsetting to me. We’ve intentionally invited artists who hold marginalized identities to be involved, and the art selected is being decided by a panel of people who hold marginalized identities, including BIPOC and LGBTQ identities. There are artists from every single level of experience—there is a 7-year-old artist, as well as professional artists who do this full-time. It will be a blend of different artists who are still united in this shared interest and passion. And there are different mediums—there’s one that’s a video, one that is a rock that is a textural piece, as well as more traditional paintings. We’re also allowing artists to sell their art because I want to make that art accessible to the followers.
Katie: What is the plan for the fireside?
Danielle: We’re still nailing down the exact details, but it will last around ninety minutes and include speakers and musical numbers. We’re going to be live-streaming it and recording it. Similar to the initial intention behind my account, the fireside is intended to create safety for traditional members who are new in their journey while also exploring this topic in an intersectional way. We considered having the talks be mostly personal reflections and having people share their journeys, but we decided to include church teachings because that is so often how people begin this journey by hearing a quote from a church leader. So just like we do in church and just like we do on our account, it will be a pattern of here’s this teaching, this is what I think about it. This is what the church has said, here’s my experience. I hope that will allow us to hear from people in marginalized communities and also learn the doctrine and official teachings—I hope it will be a really good blend of both.
Katie: What do you want attendees to take away from the event?
Danielle: I hope that they will first feel Heavenly Mother’s love, that they will feel community, and that they will feel like they are not the only one that believes in Heavenly Mother, that’s searching for her, that’s desperate to find friends and family that share their own version of God and their unique interests. A lot of time this yearning is done privately, in whispers. But I hope this not only helps people feel seen and heard but also shows people what is possible. There’s this huge myth that we don’t know much about Heavenly Mother, but I don’t think that’s true. My question is what do we know about Heavenly Father that we don’t also know about Heavenly Mother? It is very, very few things. I would like to show that there are a plethora of quotes, a plethora of people willing to speak, and who are interested in hearing. I hope that this shows members what they can maybe do on the local level. I’ve heard of firesides about Heavenly Mother, but I haven’t seen any of these efforts streamed and recorded before, and I hope this can serve as a template for future firesides.
Katie: How can people participate in the event?
Danielle: People can participate by inviting others to join and by attending in person or virtually. We want this to be very accessible and inclusive. We have been including BIPOC and LGBTQ people in the planning and participation from the onset. We’ve been intentional about including people with marginalized identities both behind the scenes and in the event itself. This is a sensitive topic that can bring up a variety of emotions, and that is valid. We hope that people will take away from the event that which is for them. We’re not here to tell people what to believe or what to think—we’re here to share people’s stories. We’re sharing stories through art, music, and word. For the people who are interested, they can join us.
“Let’s Talk About Heavenly Mother” Art Show and Fireside
Saturday, June 25, 2022, in the Provo City Library Ballroom
550 N University Ave, Provo, UT 84601
Art Show – 5 PM
Fireside – 7 PM
Concert by Dune Moss – 8:30 PM
There is no dress code and no tickets are needed.
There will be a live stream of the event on the “Our Mother in Heaven” YouTube Channel.
This post is part of a series, Contemplating Heavenly Mother. Find more from this series here.