Just Ask or the Most Important Thing I Learned During My Time as an Exponent II Editor

fmh coverI’ve learned much during the past 6 years working as an editor for Exponent II, but I wanted to share the skill that I felt has been most important for me.

I learned to just ask. Ask for help, ask for essays, ask for people to do permanent difficult positions for free, just ask because when they say, “no,” at least I knew I had done my best, and when they said “yes” wonderful things came about.

I believe that there is a part of Mormon culture, at least in the United States, that teaches women not to ask. Mormon women are taught to wait.

  • We wait for callings.
  • We wait for a man to call for a date…or to ask us to marry them.
  • We wait to see if we’ll need that career since stay-at-home motherhood is the ideal.

What happens if we’re not attracted to men? If we aren’t given the opportunity to serve in callings that help us grow and satisfy us? What if we want careers in addition to or instead of motherhood?

I don’t think that waiting is an explicit message we are being given at church. It’s insidious side effect of patriarchy in our institution, and it is something we need to push away.

Read More

A Testimony: Jesus Loves Gay Marriage

A Testimony: Jesus Loves Gay Marriage

Jesus_w_childrenLike many Mormons, I was raised to believe that sexual attraction was a choice. Anything other than heterosexual desire expressed through a Mormon temple marriage was inferior and possibly deviant. But I lacked fervor when it came to defending marriage. My testimony of California’s Proposition 8 was weak. It seemed like every young single adult in my stake was phone-banking or bearing a testimony of heterosexual marriage in a campaign commercial. But as I studied the issue of marriage equality I could find no legal, social, or moral basis to support limiting marriage to only heterosexual couples. It became a test of faith for me.

I loved President Monson and believed a prophet of God could never lead me astray. I attempted to put my faith in action with a Facebook post and bumper sticker in support of CA Proposition 8. I waited for the warm outpouring of Spirit to confirm my faith that I was standing for God. But, instead I accidentally overheard a conversation between those wounded by LDS support of Proposition 8 that helped me to realize I could not be an activist in support on this issue. I recognized I was contributing to the harm of people I cared about and took no further public action. But I still wanted to sustain President Monson and voted yes on Proposition 8, waiting for a testimony to confirm that my act of faith was the right choice.

Eventually a testimony came. But it was not the testimony I had sought out. Instead, I gained a testimony that marriage equality is essential to the plan of salvation; gay marriage strengthens families and heals and protects children.

This is my conversion story:

As an adoption social worker in Los Angeles, specializing in older teen adoption; my caseload was predominantly older children of color. The one exception was Joshua. A toothy pumpkin grinned boy living in a predominantly black neighborhood with an elderly black couple in their eighties. His foster parents were ready to retire from fostering and anxiously awaited the day Joshua could be placed with a permanent family for adoption. The lone white boy in his neighborhood, Joshua was frequently bullied for his socially awkward behavior.

Joshua was popular at adoption recruitment events with white parents looking to adopt a child that bore some family resemblance to them. At 10-years-old, he was still on the cute side of puberty. Joshua desperately wanted to belong to a family. His birthday wish each year in foster care was to be adopted.

Joshua was matched for adoption with a wealthy couple. Devoutly religious and empty nesters they had an abundance of time, experience, religious motivation, and wealth to pour into parenting Joshua. I was thrilled with the parenting assets they brought to the match.  After an extensive screening, they began to visit with Joshua in a process of increasing contact with initial short visits progressing to longer overnight weekend visits.

Read More

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

Sacred Music Sunday: Healing with Hildegard Von Bingen

Sacred Music Sunday: Healing with Hildegard Von Bingen

Guest Post by Lisi Youngberg

Lisi Youngberg is a piano teacher and vocal performance coach that loves empowering others to express themselves through music. The only human female in a male household, Lisi is raising her boys to be feminist allies. Her cat, Gigi, is naturally a feminist.


unnamed

Hildegard von Bingen (b.1098 – d. 1179) was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath. She referred to herself as a member of the “weaker sex,” claimed she was unlearned and incapable of biblical exegesis.

Hildegard explained that the inspiration and intelligence behind her writings and music came from visions of the Divine. Presenting herself this way, gave her authority to speak in a time and place where few women were permitted a voice. Early feminists used Hildegard’s reputation as a medicinal writer and healer to argue for a woman’s right to attend medical school.
The intelligence, creativity and spirituality of Hildegard are beautifully captured in her music. As I listen to this recording of O Frondens Virga I feel my own primal soul yearning to transcend my body and connect with the Divine.

O Frondens Virga

O branch coming into leaf,
standing in your nobility
as the dawn breaks forth:
now rejoice and be glad
and deign to set us frail ones
free from evil habits
and stretch forth your hand
to lift us up.

I chose the Chanticleer recording because I enjoy watching a group of robust-looking men expressing themselves with a voice that is so deeply feminine. The masculine and feminine are at one in this ethereal expression of Hildegard’s divine visions.
Hildegard’s music is ideal for meditation. This longer group of recordings could be the setting for your next quiet time.

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

Personal Revelation in an Authoritarian Church: Balance of Power or Détente?

Picture_108

If you have gotten your 40th Anniversary copy of Exponent II, then you know that many past editors were asked to choose their favorite essay from their tenure at the magazine. The essay I have most often shared from my decade of as associate editor is the following piece by a wise woman and dear friend that taught me that “Contention comes not from having different ideas of what is right, but from the effort to prove another person wrong.” 

By E. Victoria Grover first published in The Exponent in Fall 2000

Sooner or later, almost every Latter-day Saint experiences conflict within the framework of his or her religious community. That conflict is particularly challenging when it seems to involve differing interpretations of the will of the Lord. In a religious environment that places great value on both personal revelation and obedience to authority, what are we to do when these two principles clash?

The Church has clear structural and ideological answers to these conflicts when they occur: Either the hierarchy of authority or the principle of stewardship tells us which interpretation will prevail.

But what do we do as individuals when we feel the promptings of the spirit get overruled? When we seem to find ourselves ill-used by someone else’s decision or perhaps even believe we are victims of the injustice within the Church? Whether it’s a matter of how Church welfare resources will be distributed or where new ward boundaries will be drawn, hundreds of decisions are made by those in authority with which we may deeply disagree. How do we deal with this when it happens? What is there for us to learn from these experiences, and where are the dangers? Finally, what is unique about the Mormon view of the dispersement of spiritual power and how can the implicit tension it creates enlighten us as individuals and as a larger community of wards and stakes in Zion?

About ten years ago, I had an interaction with a new bishop that changed the course of my spiritual life forever. In that short meeting, it became rapidly clear that he and I had very different views on fundamental principles of commitment and obligation. Over the next week, I struggled with a flood of feelings surrounding the bishop’s decision and the implications it held for me and my children. I prayed for understanding, and when it didn’t come, I prayed for relief. I felt a pressing weight of confusion, despair, and helplessness each time I thought about the difference between my conception of what was right and the bishop’s and how his decision was now going to affect my life. I felt my anger slice like a hot blade through the very cords that bound me to the ward and to the whole Church. For the first time in my adult life, I could envision the Church going forward without me in it.

I can’t remember at what point during that week I finally received an answer, but I recall the answer very clearly. Alone in my bedroom as I wept and poured out my story of injustice to the Lord yet one more time, I suddenly felt a piercing affirmation coming out of a place of emotional stillness that was not part of me, telling me very simply, “You are right.” Motionless, I listened for the rest of what I wanted to hear—the part about how the bishop was wrong and the wrath of a righteous God would soon fall on him like a thunderbolt! But that message never came. Instead, the Holy Ghost poured love out on me, and in those wonderful minutes of spiritual clarity the absence of any accusation against my bishop spoke volumes. The bishop, right or wrong, was not my concern. Instead, I saw the task of enlarging my heart and strengthening my soul lying before me, and with the assurance of God’s love and the blessings of free agency won for me by Mother Eve, I knew I had all that I needed to move on.

When our ideas or opinions are overruled by others, the first and most natural reaction is to contend with those others on behalf of our heartfelt beliefs. But contention is extremely dangerous because it hardens our hearts and drives away the Holy Ghost. It is possible for people to hold different views of what is right without succumbing to contention. People can state their views, explain them, even point out possible flaws in another person’s thinking, without invoking the spirit of contention.

One way to do this is to clarify in your own mind the purpose of the explanation in light of unconditional respect for the free agency of the person with whom you are speaking. If the purpose of your explanation is tainted by a desire to overcome the other person with your words—to convince, to control, to win–you move into dangerous territory. If, while you are speaking, you feel your respect for the other’s free agency draining out of you, watch for contempt to replace respect and any remnant of charity to disappear. You are now contending, and the purpose of your discussion has changed from explanation of defiance, from enlightenment to domination.

Contention comes not from having different ideas of what is right, but from the effort to prove another person wrong.

For all our talk about tolerance and diversity, contention as a way of sorting out our differences is both honored and glorified in America’s culture. The world often asks us to fit people and their disagreements into the dichotomous arrangement of “right and wrong.” While there certainly are important laws and principles that fit that arrangement—and knowing that we must guard against the danger of trying to rationalize away our very real sins—still, the rule of “right and wrong” serves us poorly in most disagreements with others. Even so, it is what we naturally fall back on whenever conflict occurs. As we start to fall, we grab onto contention to prop us up and support our need to be seen as “the right one” in a dispute. Even when we try to acknowledge valid issues on both sides of an argument, the very fact that we have taken sides push us us into the “us/them” duality and its corollary, which says, “they” are wrong and need to be stopped—or changed—by “we” who are right.

Christ asks his disciples to see conflict with different eyes—with out spiritual eyes—and get off the see-saw that says, “If I’m up you must be down!” he wants us to look at our brothers and sisters as a part of ourselves and realize that contending with them is as foolish as the foot contending with the hand on the same body. I believe Christ would agree with the comic strip philosopher Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The Church asks us to gather ourselves together in communities of many different people. Different is difficult and this gathering into communities has created challenges since Joseph Smith first restored the Gospel. The challenge is intensified by our belief in individual personal revelation. It is disciplined by asking our obedience to hierarchical authority. The tension between personal revelation and authority keeps us each vibrantly humming and engaged in both the workings of the Church and the pursuit of our own salvation. I believe the latter task is the more important one for each of us, from President Hinckley on down, and the Church organization serves us best when we keep that fact in mind. Then we realize that it doesn’t really matter whose idea gets acted on in the day-to-day business of running the ward, the stake, or the Church itself.

What is important is how each of us uses the Church community to refine our souls, to come unto Christ, to make our selves perfect and complete. When we come before him, Jesus will not ask us if we won in our disputes with others or even if we were on the right side. Instead, he will ask if we won our struggle against the natural man, the desire to control, the need to be essential, to feel powerful, to be right instead of righteous. If we are called upon to sacrifice on the alter of God our most tender and delicate parts—a piece of our ego—then truly in that act we become one with or Savior.

The philosopher/psychiatrist Sheldon Knopp said that all the significant battles are waged within the self. These are the only battles Christ is truly interested in.

Read More