To say what is truth?

27I have not been able to stop thinking about an essay I read a few months ago: “Oh Say What is Truth? Understanding Mormonism Through a Black Feminist Epistemology”  The author argues that in Mormonism truth is acquired through feeling, citing D&C 9:8, as well as through lived experience; these are the ways we “find out for ourselves.”  These methods of determining truth are part of a black feminist epistemology set forth by Patricia Hill Collins, and the essay argues that her ideas are very close to Mormon methods of determining truth.

Taking feelings and lived experience a step further, Collins argues that a collective dialogue is essential to furthering and developing the truth that each person has acquired, and that each person has a moral obligation to share her truth.  Collins wrote, “The fundamental requirement of [a collective dialogue] is the active participation of all individuals. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. To refuse to join in, especially if one really disagrees with what has been said, is seen as ‘cheating.’” The essayist concludes, “Because we all have a truth to speak, to fail to speak our truth especially when it is needed most – when it is being contradicted – is to fail the community’s efforts to build collective, experienced-based truth as a whole body.”

I try to live as though participating in collective dialogue is a moral obligation.  For years I’ve felt that speaking my truth regarding gender equality in Mormonism is one of the important purposes of my life.  For example, Mormonism is patriarchal, but I believe patriarchy is a Judeo-Christian heritage not inspired by God, passed down through many years of unchecked sexism, and now entangled so that it touches nearly every aspect of Church culture and much of Church doctrine.  How do I live as part of a religious community with strongly held traditional beliefs and while hoping for radical change?

I do it by talking.  I use inclusive language, I comment often in Sunday School and Relief Society, I get up in fast and testimony meeting a few times every year, I give carefully crafted talks that are both diplomatic and radical, and I write for a Mormon feminist blog and paper.  I speak my truth wherever I can.  This can be scary because it opens me up for criticism and judgement, but it can also create unexpected connections with people who resonate with what I’ve said.  In the context of contemporary American life it may seem tame to speak truth in one’s own small community – others have spoken up at much greater cost than I have, and to greater effect.  But to do this consistently, to remain attached to a community that has expanded my spirit but also makes me weep, this takes courage and staying power.

So, my ideas matter, even if, or especially when, they are contrary to the status quo.  And if a collective dialogue is needed to develop and advance knowledge, then I need to keep showing up for that dialogue.  I also believe that organizations need insiders working for change for that change to become possible.

But here’s the problem.  What if I’m a lone reed?  In my experience there needs to be a critical mass of people in a Sunday School discussion to get an idea afloat.  It’s great when that happens, and the discussion becomes enlightening and enlivening.  But what if comments or questions fall flat and the teacher marches on with the lesson as planned?  What if people hold your truth in contempt, or possibly worse, just ignore it?  A dialogue in which everyone participates sounds great, but in does that ever happen in real life?  What if, as happened to me earlier this month, a First Presidency letter, the bishopric’s selection of the theme for sacrament meeting, and the material in the talks and discussions form a unified block of content that I don’t resonate with?  Are comments against such a backdrop useful, or contentious even if contention is not my intent?

I’m lonely and tired, friends.  So please, give me your stories.  When you speak up, how does it go?  What do you learn?  Does it create a spark for generating sincere discussion?  Or does your spark fall to the ground, extingushed?  If it’s the latter, what does that mean?

Read More

On Blessings

In Gilead, a favorite novel of mine, a Congregational minister named John Ames recalls his life in a letter to his young son.  Part autobiography and part meditation on ultimate questions, the book contains some interesting thought on blessings.  As a minister, Ames has bestowed countless blessings, but his first experiencing of blessing was with kittens.

“I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand.  Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it, is a very different thing.  It stays the mind”  He and his lifelong friend Boughton had wetted the kittens brows with water to baptize them.  He wondered what they had done to them, musing, “It still seems to me to be a real question.”[1]

Read More

Two years after I submitted an Ordain Women profile, this is what I’m thinking

Hotel_Dieu_in_Paris_about_1500My babies were delivered in hospitals, safely and pleasantly enough.  But delivering in a hospital was not always so safe.  Many women died in European and American lying-in hospitals in the 17th to 19th centuries from childbed fever – an infection of streptococcal bacteria in the uterus that spread to the bloodstream causing sepsis and, usually, death.  Childbed fever can occur in women who deliver at home, but it was so prevalent in lying-in hospitals because doctors unwittingly spread the bacteria from one woman to another through bad hygiene.  Mortality rates averaged around 1 in 5 to 1 in 4, with some epidemics being close to 100% mortality.  

Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, began looking at mortality in the maternity ward at the General Hospital in Vienna in 1846.  He noted that doctors patients died at a rate 5 times higher than the midwives patients and set out to find out why.  Ahead of his time, and without knowledge of microbiology, he came up with a procedure that dropped maternal mortality by 90%.  It was washing hands in a chlorine solution.

Read More

On Obedience and Happiness

screenshot for exii postOn a Monday in March I went to lds.org to access my ward directory and noticed the Mormon Message in the top left panel.  It featured this video.

You’ll just have to trust me because I didn’t take a screenshot, but the video was titled “Happiness is the Sum of Obedience” with the subtitle “Do you understand God’s equation for happiness?”  When I returned to the site two days later the title had changed to “Obedience to the Ten Commandments.”

This brings up two questions for me.  First, why was the title changed?  And second, why the original titles were chosen in the first place?

1.
I have no objection to the Mormon Message video, but I very much object to the original title and subtitle.  I think they’re damaging and false, and I left a comment saying so (without using those words).  I don’t have my original comment, but it was close to the following:

Elder Perry’s talk is valuable and the video is beautifully produced.  But I find the title and subtitle problematic for a couple of reasons. First, Elder Perry doesn’t phase things that way, and second they lend themselves to the idea that obedience to God is a transactional process.  As if God dispenses particular blessings in response to obedience like a vending machine would.  The danger with this kind of thinking is that when people are doing their best to follow the commandments and still not receiving desired blessings, it can lead to an unnecessary crisis of faith. 

Read More

#VisibleWomen Series: Please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidency Members to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the High Council

Here is the letter I’m sending to general and auxiliary authorities, and (slightly revised) to my local leaders:

 

Dear Leader,

I’ve been a Relief Society member for almost 20 years.  During that time I got married, became a mother, graduated from two universities, began working in my profession, and held several callings in Relief Society, always including that of Visiting Teacher.  I’ve taught and been taught by my fellow sisters and received support in life transitions, and have appreciated the company of my peers and the wisdom of women farther along in life than I am.

I have learned something from each of my Relief Society Presidents and have regarded them as inspired women with stewardship for me.  I can name most of them and picture a talk or an event where they said something meaningful.  But as I think back on my years in Relief Society I realize I don’t remember any of my Stake Relief Society Presidencies.  I never even knew most their names.  I rarely if ever heard them speak.  Though I believe they had a spiritual stewardship over the women in our stake, I can’t think of anything I learned from them because I did not know them.  This has also been true of the Stake Young Women and Stake Primary Presidencies of my youth.  By contrast I’ve always known who the Stake President and his counselors were.

It occurs to me that this is a loss, for me personally, and I think for the majority of women in the stakes I have lived in.  There must be a way to benefit more often and more directly from the wisdom and spiritual strength of the women called to leadership positions in the stakes of the Church.

Would you please consider Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Stake Presidencies to have rotating speaking assignments as often as members of the Stake High Council speak to the wards of the Stake?  Similar to how women in the General Presidencies of the Church speak in General Conference?  There are no doubt other ways to get to know our stake leaders, but this would have the benefit of allowing all women (and children and men) to hear their words, whether or not they attend Relief Society on Sundays, and whether or not they’re part of a particular auxiliary.

My stake is geographically large and diverse, and while I always appreciate the contact with the stake membership and the Stake Presidency that High Council speakers bring, I really feel the lack of contact with the women leaders of my stake, particularly the Stake Relief Society Presidency.

Thank you for your consideration.

Read More