Guest Post: Redeeming My Soul, Part II

sabraby Sabra

Although I was only a full-time missionary for a few months, this would be the first of many companionships. They ran from the trio that questioned my worthiness and “attitude” (an always strategically chosen word when used to describe women of color) because I chose to pray standing up over kneeling at times and didn’t wake up with the alarm clock one morning. Only one of these two sisters spoke about this; the other one admitted to being a strict conflict avoider, refusing to discuss, explore or resolve tensions at all. She expressed, “I think if you’re an adult and don’t hear the alarm it’s not my responsibility to wake you.” I found this sentiment to be conflicting with the concept of “companionship”. I was learning that each missionary has their own idea of what a missionary, companionship and the mission rules are supposed to look like. So my adherence to the rules I’d learned in the MTC, missionary guide and rule book were not completely in line with any of the companionships that I had.

This made the lack of support from the Billings mission leadership, family/friends, and companions at many times beyond what I could endure by myself.

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Guest Post: Redeeming My Soul, Part I

sabraby Sabra

I was always a supporter of gender equality in the LDS church; any time women in my classes at church wanted to serve missions, I was all for it. However it wasn’t until my late teens that it occurred to me that I could serve a mission too. Since then I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I was going to serve a full-time mission, then I wasn’t, then I was. This battle would continue for the next 7 years. Finally at 26 years old I decided to follow the promptings that I had been feeling for years and submit mission papers. The process that would follow is one that I am still struggling to completely understand and accept.

From the mission call itself to incompatible companionships and experiencing bullying from the mission president and his wife, much of my full-time mission was weighted with loneliness, misunderstandings and mistrust of others.

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Sisters Speak: Countering Androcentric and Limiting Gender Messages Our Children Hear at Church

 

by Sheila Rhodes

Dear Exponent readers, the Sisters Speak column of an upcoming Exponent II magazine will focus on the topic of raising empowered daughters and sons in the face of sometimes limiting gender teachings at church.  I am looking for brief (one or two paragraph) responses to the question below, and I will email some of you commenters to ask if I can quote you in the magazine. For those that would like to respond privately, please email me at carolinekline1 at gmail dot com. 

Church teachings can be enormously empowering for young people. Knowing that we are children of God, that we all have divine potential, that our Heavenly Parents and Jesus care deeply about us  — these are, I believe, healing and affirming messages for kids and adults.

I do worry, however, about other androcentric and limiting teachings regarding gender and how they will affect my kids, particularly my daughter. What will she make of incessant references to Heavenly Father (with no mention of Heavenly Mother)? What will she make of lesson after lesson about prophets and priesthood, with all examples and images focusing on males? Will it hurt her, as it does me, to sing hymns every week that virtually erase her existence as a woman? Will Young Women lessons constantly frame the end goal of her life as finding someone to “take her to the temple”? What will it do to her psyche to hear messages about men presiding in the home and church? Will she begin to question whether God loves her as much as God loves males when she sees boys only being allowed to perform priesthood tasks?  Will she reign in her professional dreams and desires in order to conform to church ideals of proper womanhood?

Perhaps not. Perhaps she’ll soar above these messages and never let them hurt her sense of self or constrain her. I hope so. And I am determined to do whatever I can to help her soar above them.

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Where is God?

“Breath of Life” by J. Kirk Richards

CW: rape, stillbirth

 

Three stories:

1. A woman is promised a long life in her patriarchal blessing.  She dies young from an incurable disease.

2. A woman feels that she heard the voice of God telling her to go on a mission, and subsequent promptings in prayer and in the temple confirm this decision.  On the first day in her mission, she is violently raped by an intruder and immediately returns home.

3. A woman is told in a dream or vision that she will have a daughter whose name is revealed to her, and that this daughter will go on to do great things.  She discovers she’s unexpectedly pregnant, but later delivers a stillborn daughter.

Where is God in this?  Why would God direct people in these ways when these are the events that follow?

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Finding God in Community

"Lightning on Columbus River" by Ian Boggs

“Lightning on Columbus River”
by Ian Boggs

By Jenny

The spring thunderstorms have set my mind back to my youth.  I watch the misty greyness creep in as the rolling thunder awakens in me a sense that a powerful universal force exists.  Lightning pierces the melancholy clouds and lacerates the sky with its fierce power.  It’s as if God is raging in the heavens above, until the clouds open and the fierceness turns to a cleansing grace which flows freely to earth allowing life and beauty to thrive.

My teenage years also flowed with grace that allowed life and beauty to thrive in me.  I was nurtured by community and by dedicated leaders.  I lived in a world filled with scripture stories, faith, and miracles.  On a Book of Mormon Trek the summer after I turned sixteen, these scripture stories surrounded me in the form of handcarts and liahonas helping my youth group through the wilderness like Lehi’s family.  Prophets appeared to tell their stories and miracles surrounded us at every bend.  My leaders had put their heart and souls into planning a three-day trek that they hoped would be life-changing for those in their charge.  And it was.

I sat in the forest alone after the prophet Enos had appeared.  He sent us to pray and meditate on our own in the woods as he had done.  My scriptures lay open on my lap as the thunder began to roll in.  I looked up at the sky and smiled.  I could feel raindrops slowly kissing my face.  The smell of newness filled the air.  Thunder crept closer to me, as if warning me of what was coming.  Suddenly a boom shook the earth and the forest was consumed with fire.  A sharp pain shot through my back and I fell to the ground.  Through the chaos of people running down the mountain, I stumbled and was carried to a tent.  The doctor came quickly and looked at my back.  When he decided I was fine (just experiencing acute shock), he couldn’t hide his excitement over seeing an actual mark left by a lightning strike.  He took a picture.

The Stake President and Bishop came in then to give me a blessing.  Everyone in the tent could feel the power at that moment.  I don’t remember exactly what my bishop said.  It wasn’t so much a power of words, as it was a power of love and belief shared among humans.  When they left the doctor checked my back, but the mark was gone.  As a community, we felt the miracle in this event.  No one else on that mountain was hurt.  Through the storm, God had showed us power and grace.  I spent my teenage years feeling wrapped in that blanket of grace, safe and secure.

From that environment of communal nurturing and growth came a strong and powerful faith.  Over the years my faith has become more complex.  I have gained a deeper understanding of experiences beyond my own.  I have found knowledge that extends beyond my cultural conditioning.  I see now that things aren’t as they always seemed to me when I was younger.  Some might call the complexities of my faith “doubt,” but that word doesn’t describe it.

I have frequently been asked over the last few years, “So what do you believe?”  I don’t have the words, or maybe the words are meaningless to someone who hasn’t experienced my journey.  How do you describe what lightning feels like to someone who has never been hit by lightning?  If I could just show you my faith.  If you could see it, feel it, hear it, taste it…like running out into a thunderstorm, arms out, feeling energy flashing in the sky, the rain streaming down your face.  If you could only know my faith the way I do.  But you are in your safe shelter, watching the storm from a distance.  All it is to you is a disturbance to your plans, a tempest when you want sunshine.

I don’t claim to know the form of God.  Male, female, an old man with a beard, a king, a spirit, energy, embodied being, the evolutionary perfection of the human race, Elohim, Allah, Krishna…it doesn’t matter to me.  God is perfect love.  God is brightest light which opens the mind and fills it with knowledge and wisdom.  God is energy to move in a positive and powerful way.  God is grace.

I felt that grace as a young girl.  I felt it through family, friends, and leaders.  It kept me in the light.  It moved me in a positive direction.  It surrounded me with the power of love.  I don’t feel like I am wrapped in a blanket of grace anymore.  So I must generate grace within my own soul.  God is in me.  God is in the way I love, forgive, and connect with other people.  God is in the way I accept my imperfect faith and move forward.  God is in the way my heart tries to understand those who don’t understand me.  I believe God’s power and grace can be found in lightning and miracles.  God’s power and grace are in communities that nurture, build, and support each other.  God’s power and grace are in a heart that is open to love.     As Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

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Anger

Anger is something I don’t do well. When I get angry, one of two things happens. I get emotional and cry, and no one takes me seriously; or I swallow it, and no one even knows I’m mad, and I wallow in it for days. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because later this week I will have to see someone who I used to be very angry with, for the first time since they hurt me. I’m very nervous about how I am going to react.

I learned a lot of my non-coping strategies from the culture of the LDS church; as a woman, but especially as a Mormon woman, I’ve been taught my whole life to avoid conflict, to be nice, to deffer to authority especially when I disagree, and to swallow my negative emotions. In writing this post I looked up as many references to anger by general authorities as I could find. Unsurprisingly, they were all either about how we need to choose not to be angry, or warnings about the evils of anger. For example:

“Anger is the mother of a whole brood of evil actions” (Gordon B. Hinckley, 2007)

“If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry” (Thomas S. Monson, 2009)

I absolutely agree that anger can be damaging, and in many instances, dangerous. However, I feel that simply telling people that anger is bad and they should try not to feel it is not the answer. Emotions happen. They are a reality. Even when we are at our best, they run away with us. What we should be teaching people is that Anger is part of the human experience, and giving them tools to cope with it when it does inevitably come up.

Besides, anger can be positive when it can be channeled in to productive directions. For example, my neighbor with a special-needs child has been able to turn her anger at a system that disadvantages her child in to advocacy for many families in similar situations. It can be a great source of motivation for change.

What do you do when you get angry? Have you ever turned the experience in to a positive?

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