Are we not bonded?

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My grandmother passed away a few days ago.

I wrote before of the tender acts of service she received before she passed – the pots of soup, the flowers that kept her home cheery and beautiful, the visits from family members and friends who were touched by her life.  The final weeks of her life were filled with even more tender watchcare - her husband, her children, and her grandchildren were able to show their love for her by tenderly washing her body, rubbing her feet, sitting with her, holding her hand, administering medicine, helping her walk – literally sustaining her all the way through her final breaths on earth.  She was so loved by her family – it was simultaneously a time of holy ministry and tremendous grief.

I’ve thought a lot about those final months – how we were all desperate to see her one last time, to give her one last hug or to say one last “I love you.”  We knew that our mortal separation was imminent, and so it seemed like we were all frantic to make sure that we crammed in as many experiences and loving words as we possibly could.  We didn’t know the day or hour that she would die, but we knew it would be soon, and the impending separation drove us to her bedside.

I’ve heard before that the threat of separation is what bonds us – we would have no incentive to get to know one another or spend time with each other if there were no risk of it ever being over.  

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The Goodness in Others; the Goodness in Me

Suzette and EliTwo years ago this month I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer – and started on a dark journey of hospitals, needles, chemotherapy, nausea, and pain.  I have been reflecting on this time as I pass the anniversary. The thing that stands out the most is how much goodness I saw in others as I struggled through.  It was remarkable to me at the time and continues to be a source of inspiration.

The people I knew well (close friends and family) banded together to form a shelter, so that I rarely worried about my next meal, a ride to the hospital, being alone, or even doing laundry.  My people were beyond generous with their time and resources – and I feel grateful for that every day.

But even outside of my own clan, goodness came to me from all kinds of strangers.  Because I was bald and walking slowly, most people could tell that I was going through some sort of treatment.  I noticed that people smiled at me more and this seemed a sign of solidarity against the great enemy of humankind:  cancer.  Many people approached me to wish me well and give me their prayers.  Waiters and store clerks often discounted items; others (strangers to me) picked up my tab.  Women let me go ahead of them in bathroom lines, teenagers carried my bags, and taxi drivers dismissed charges.  It was astonishing – and wonderful.  I can only imagine that they did these things because they saw “one among them” who was obviously struggling and going through a difficult time.  It was heartening.  I will forever believe in the goodness of humankind because of this experience.

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Coercion within a Church that Values Agency

Hester-marchingMormons believe that agency (free will) is fundamental to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our scriptures teach that agency is God’s gift and plan for us:

Moses 4:3

Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him…I caused that he should be cast down.

Yet, several institutional policies and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormon) authorize or require local leaders to coerce members of their congregations. To coerce is “to make someone do something by using force or threats.” Reference A

Temple Recommends as Leverage

Article of Faith 11

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

A local, lay priesthood leader may threaten to confiscate temple recommends from their parishioners, which prevents them from attending any ordinance, including weddings, in any Mormon temple anywhere in the world. Essentially, local lay clergy have the authority to tell a member of their congregation, “Do what I say or I will not allow you to attend your son’s/daughter’s/sibling’s/best friend’s wedding.”

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Meet Me at the Tree

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Tree of Life by Lukey

 

 

I pressed forward in line heading for the sacred grounds of the temple while angry anti-Mormon protesters shouted hateful words, and church members fresh out of the Saturday afternoon session of conference honked and shouted hateful things.  It was like something out of a dream.  In fact, it felt much like a dream I had spent my whole youth learning about, never fully understanding.

I used to understand Lehi’s dream of the tree of life to be about the church vs. the world.  We as members of the church hold onto the word of God and press forward toward the tree of life and its delicious fruit, the love of God, while people outside the church mock us from the great and spacious building.  Never did I think that as I pressed forward, holding onto what I feel very strongly is the word of God, that I would be mocked by members of my own church.  Like Lehi, I have tasted a fruit “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.”  It is a fruit that represents our Heavenly Parent’s love for all their children, and their desire for us to truly be equal.  But when I turned back to tell others about this fruit, they did not want to join me in partaking of it.  Some, instead of coming to the tree with me have mocked and ridiculed me for doing so.  This pointing fingers and derisive mocking has become intolerable over the last few months.

As a member of Ordain Women I can’t say that I have always remained at the tree of life either during this journey.  I came to Ordain Women because of some powerful spiritual experiences that left me with a greater capacity to love and to understand God’s love.  But, just like the people in Lehi’s dream, I have had moments when I cast my eyes about and wandered away from that love to a great and spacious building where I didn’t intend to understand the person I was contending with. We are all prone to have moments when we are partaking of the love of God and other moments when we are the ones in the great and spacious building, mocking others who are partaking of the love of God in their way.  It’s not black and white.  It’s not church members vs. the world.  As a church, we do not hold a monopoly on the tree of life and we are not immune from the great and spacious building.

The thing I find most tragic is those who wander the pathways lost and alone, all because the mocking of others caused them to doubt that the fruit they were tasting was really good.  Instead of judging others and causing them to second-guess and lose their way, I think we need to carefully consider at all times, where we are on the spectrum of Lehi’s dream.  Are we partaking of the love of God, or are we being critical of someone we disagree with because we can’t see things from her perspective?  As a member of Ordain Women, I have experienced a lot of loss and pain from those who chose to remain above me and criticize, mock, shun, call me to repentance and judge me from a place where they couldn’t see or understand my heart.  But I have also been blessed with friends and family who have met me at the tree of life and said, I don’t fully understand, but I love you and I am trying to understand.  It is the love and support from these friends that keeps me rooted at the tree of life instead of falling away into dark paths or joining the critics in the great and spacious building with negativity and angry words.

The reason the great and spacious building is up in the air, far from the tree of life, is that misunderstanding is easier to achieve from a distance.  It is easy to criticize and point fingers when we can’t even see the fruit that someone is tasting.  That’s when it is time to come down and share in God’s love with those we don’t understand.  Nephi was told by the angel that the tree of life represented the condescension of God.  Christ came down among us.  He descended below everything and experienced everything so that he could understand us perfectly and love us perfectly.  He had to come to where we are at and experience what we experience before he could gain that perfect love.  That is the condescension of God and that is the love represented by the tree of life.  If we follow his example, then we must also come down from our floating buildings that make us think we are above others.  We have to come down to a level where we can fully understand others, just as Christ did.  I don’t think this means that we all have to agree on everything.  But we do have to do our best to fully understand each other without judgment.  We have to let go of our need to be right or to be better, in order to love.

So to my fellow Mormon feminists who have tasted of the same precious fruit I have, I know that the last few months have been rough.  I don’t know about you, but it has been hard for me to remain at the tree.  I have found myself wandering up to the great and spacious building or becoming lost in the dark paths.  Let’s meet back at the tree and partake of that great love that once consumed us.  And to my fellow Mormon sisters and brothers, please meet us there.  Even if we disagree, it’s better to do so together at the tree of life. I still have a great desire to share with other members of the church, the precious fruit of divine love that I have found in the concept of female ordination and in agitating for it through Ordain Women.  At the very least, I hope we can stand together at the tree of life and share in the fruits of love, instead of pointing fingers from a place where understanding isn’t possible.  In choosing to meet at the tree of life, we are choosing to love, even if we disagree.

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Created in Their Image

Soon after graduating from BYU and leaving Utah, I left for a study abroad in Denmark, hence my prolonged absence from the comment section (I took Danish for two years at BYU and since being in Denmark, my Danish has become–– according to the locals–– better than the majority of missionaries there and those who’ve lived in the country for several years, almost equivalent to a native speaker, American accent notwithstanding). So far, I’ve been here for three weeks and I’ll be here for close to another four weeks. It is the most magical land and I am close to burning my American passport and living secretly in what is now my favorite country.

During the study abroad, our group has also organized trips to other countries, including Sweden and Germany. And just recently, I returned from a trip in Oslo, Norway. Oslo is a modern city and home to the friendliest people. Oslo is also home to Frogner Park that houses the Vigeland Installation by Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures there are magnificence and worth a trip out to Frogner. Not only for their aesthetic and unique nature of the statues (they are all nude), but for the thoughts and intellectual stimulation they provoke.

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Each of the sculptures in the Vigeland Installation were nude and anatomically correct and full figured. As members of the LDS Church, we are programmed to treat nudity and nakedness as “other”, taboo, or strange. In other words, unacceptable. So to be confronted with this public display of artistic nudity instilled in me the question of vulnerability. It made me question why we as Latter-day Saints afraid of the naked human form. I saw nothing offensive. Is it because of the vulnerability and insecurity it rouses in us? As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, nudity does sometimes leave me feeling vulnerable and insecure. So it was refreshing and challenging to have the park confront me with what is naturally uncomfortable and taboo for most others, and sometimes myself. We believe that our bodies are holy temples, created in the image of the most power Being in the universe. How did we go to being uncomfortable with it?

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My body was, indeed, created in the image of my Heavenly Parents, so it’s sad that sometimes myself and others feel uncomfortable with it. I am learning to be empowered by my body–– something I once believe was disgusting and broken because of the abuse in my past. I am trying to love all my imperfections and curves and embrace normal sexuality. But lessons in church teach us that we must control our bodies in every form and function. We must cover up. We must be modest. We must not express the fulness of our sexuality. We are merely aesthetically pleasing objects. In the same breath, we teach that our bodies must be hidden and are shameful while simultaneously saying that our bodies are holy and to be embraced.

It is confusing and unhealthy.

Our bodies are modeled after Gods. And we are ashamed of that?

We are created in Their image.

Embrace it. Love it.

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Virtual Oases

by Violadiva
Another roundup of some must-read articles shared on the Internet this week.
  • Evolving conversations between Traditionalists and Feminists – an excellent piece by Andrea Radke-Moss (I love her paragraph of paradoxes on page 2!) And be sure to check out her essay/teaching on basic feminist terminology and theory. Feminism 101 for everyone!
  • Be sure to click over to this article showing the progression of women’s voices in our community, from the old days of the original Exponent up to today!
  • Lots of opinions and interpretations about Women and the Priesthood out there recently.  Fiona Givens writes a piece about Joseph Smith and the early Relief Society. Valerie Hudson describes ways to rid our church of non-doctrinal cultural hindrances regarding what women can/cannot do.  The Church of England votes to allow women Bishops (like a 70 Authority)
  •  Kate Kelly reflects on her excommunication and asserts what’s next for Ordain Women: Carrying on!
  • Bloggers, feminists, and allys chime in about current events, some to great positive receptions, others at the cost of church discipline. Popular Blogger Cjane Kendrick directs her words of support of OW to her young daughters. MikeC describes how he offered words of support in a testimony meeting and how his ward family responded.  Brother Jake makes a hilarious yet poignant “Instructional video” about church discipline.  Kiwimormon shares positive experiences with her local leaders and gives suggestions for building Zion. fMh bloggers and readers discuss Missionary efforts affected by feminism, share personal experiences of discipline, and offer hope about what happens after that. Our Jewish sister, Eden Farber, talks about what it’s like to stay active in her Orthodox faith.
  • an important piece by Nancy Ross, chronicling the rise in feminism, particularly in its rapid ascent due to digital accessibility.  And another  from Ozy with some great interviews.
  • Some surprising details about Mormon women’s issues on the Global scale, particularly of note is how women are used in higher levels of ward leadership in Hong Kong (labeled a special case of local need by the larger church). Read this for sure!
  • recent study of talks given by General Authorities shows very little change in the talking points about gender roles in the church over the last 40 years. And the Mormon Therapist postulates that gender roles are bad for mental health.
  • The church responds to the recent SCOTUS ruling about birth control health coverage (read Joanna’s older piece about the church not covering birth control to its employees) and you’ve got to click over to watch this guy’s song. He turned Justice Ginsburg’s dissent into an awesome feminist anthem which includes the hilarious addition of “slut-shaming geezers” to the tirade.
  • Though not LDS specific, this article about the “anti-feminist” is worth reading. I challenge someone from the Bloggernacle to write an LDS version of this article!
  • And finally, the piece that impacted my heart the most this week was a poignant yet still slightly funny article by Robert Kirby about how our most loving relationships are sometimes sacrificed on the alter of theology. Read this, then call your brother/sister/friend/aunt/cousin and tell them you love them.
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Last Call! Subscriptions for Women and the Priesthood Issue Closing at Noon PST

We at Exponent II are overwhelmed–and happily so!–by the flood of subscription orders to the magazine in the last month and a half. Thank you, everyone, for joining us on this journey and reading what your sisters have written about their Mormon experiences.

But we’ve just about run through our printing of this issue, and the summer 2014 issue is coming up soon. Starting at noon PST (3pm EST), any new subscriptions we receive at http://exponent.hyperingenuity.com/store.cgi/ will begin with our <i>next</i> issue. We have a whole team of devoted writers, readers, artists, and editors working on it as I type this, and we’re sure you’re going to love it.

Onward, sisters! (And if it’s before noon PST on July 22nd, 2014, you can still get the spring issue as your first issue.

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