Exponent II’s long-anticipated temple-themed issue is surely worth the wait. Mormons’ unique culture surrounding our temples and temple worship has made this issue rich with work ranging from humor to heartache.
This issue also has a fantastic Letter from our Art Editor, Margaret. Enjoy!
I was just a baby really, just twenty years old, when I went through the temple for the first time. I was getting married in three months and had just moved across the country to join my fiancé in Maryland. For those three months I was living with my future sister-in-law, Julie, and her husband, Karl. I barely knew them but immediately counted them as kindred spirits and a safe refuge for the faith crisis that was beginning to envelope me. I walked into their kitchen one evening after an endowment session and blurted out, “Do you think it’s okay to not really like the temple?”
Karl deliberately put down his work, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Absolutely.” I talked to them both for a long time that evening and they were unfailingly supportive, loving, and calm. I don’t remember much of what any of us said, but in the years that followed, I returned often to the love and empathy Karl showed when he answered my question. It took me many years before I could get through an endowment session without crying. It took prayers of wrestling with God before I could come to a place of peace about my decision to stay in the Church. But often along that difficult and rewarding journey, when I felt lonely, confused, and angry, I steadied myself by remembering that people I loved and deeply respected thought that my feelings were valid and believed that I still had a place in this Church.
Collecting art for this edition of Exponent II has been a particularly interesting experience. When we put out a call for folk art, it came pouring in. We received images of cross-stitches, paintings, photography, and quilts. All of it was wonderful and much of it you’ll find in the following pages. In addition, I searched through Etsy.com stores and Mormon women’s blogs. I was struck by how an essentially identical experience could be translated into such a wide variety of art and commercial products. There were door frames, rainbow-colored prints, jewelry, cookie cutters, shoes, stationery, and statues. There was also the pop art of Keshia Larsen, photography from Dana Holcomb, and paper collages by Amy Zeleski, all of which you’ll find in this issue. Clearly, the temple had inspired people in enormously different ways. Some of what I found on Etsy was lovely; some of it was downright crass. But the more I looked the more I appreciated the kitsch, the over-stylization, and the faux symbolism of pieces I had initially found distasteful. Taken all together it was an incredible representation of the diversity of the body of Christ. Probably some of those artists would look at this edition of Exponent II and reject it as disrespectful or unfaithful. A few of them might dismiss as sinful the ambivalence, anger, or confusion that some Mormon women experience with the temple. They might even wish that those women would stay silent or leave the Church. I hope our readers will see something deeper and more important, even with essays they dislike.
The essays contained in this issue run as wide a spectrum in feelings about the temple as the art that we found to accompany them. Readers are sure to find at least one essay that does not sound anything like their experience with the temple. It is strange and wonderful and somehow deeply satisfying that a ritual that is so standardized can be interpreted in such magnificently varied ways. I hope that you read this issue with deliberation. I hope that as you read you imagine looking into the eyes of the women who wrote about their experiences. When they ask implicitly, and maybe with fear and sadness or joy and affirmed faith, whether you think their experiences are acceptable, I hope that we can all answer, “Absolutely.”