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?

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Moral Development

marbles I am a research psychologist by profession; I study adolescent moral development. In research, theories guide our questions and our methods. They are kind of like churches – they all have basic assumptions and ‘truths’ that you have to buy in to in order for the theory to work for you.

The theoretical perspective I use is called social domain theory. This theory proposes that there are different kinds of social knowledge that that individuals construct based on their social interactions:

  1. Personal/Psychological – This is our understanding of self and others, including motivations, emotions, perspectives, and preferences.
  2. Conventional – These are the social norms and expectations that guide our social interactions. They are generally arbitrary and can vary from culture to culture.
  3. Moral – These are issues that involve consequences for others; concepts of rights, justice, welfare, and harm (both physical and psychological), fall in this domain
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Who are these children?

SaturdaysWarriorORIGINALCOVER“Mom, you have to hear this.” I lean closer to my son’s phone as he turns the volume up on a song. He and I like similar music only his is about forty years more cool. Luckily he shares. “What does that sound like?” It sounds familiar but I can’t place it. He looks at me expectantly. I shake my head. No idea. “The chorus sounds just like ‘Who are these children coming down . . .’ that Saturday’s Warrior song.” It totally does. “Is it a sample?” He often plays music that combines parts of other songs. But no, it is simply one of those cosmic moments when an indie band reaches out into the universe for inspiration and channels Lex de Azevedo.

Flashback to 1974. I was eleven or twelve when my family moved to San Jose, California from the Midwest. We were recent converts, in our first real Ward, and the members lovingly adopted and shepherded us through the newness of being Mormon, Californian and Suburban. As part of this tutelage, we were swept up in a church field trip to see the original traveling production of Saturday’s Warrior. I had never been to a live musical before and the stage and orchestra alone were transporting. Then the play started. In the two years since being baptized, I had listened to every missionary lesson, read every church book I could find and steeped in the grand scope of the Plan of Salvation. Yet, watching it depicted in story and song was like having a vision. A personal glimpse into heaven. Nothing had prepared me for this complete and perfect version of tween theology. My parents bought me the record album and my sisters and I reenacted every scene, sang every song, for hours and days and years. It shaped my view of the world and like many of my peers, I showed up at BYU humming “I take some paper in my hand . . .” and scanning the crowd for my Tod.

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Compromises, An Update

In my last post when mentioning the state of my church belief and testimony, I wrote:

“My testimony, though strong, is at its basic level–– my recommend expires in seven days and I have no plans to renew it, nor do I plan on paying tithing (wedding season is coming up, however, so I may have to revisit this topic….)”

Well, wedding season has arrived. Two of my very best friends are getting married in August within a week of each other out west. And I’m a bridesmaid for one of them (the other isn’t having bridesmaids, but she mentioned that if she did have them, I would be one of them–– so, honorary bridesmaid?). I already requested time off of work. I’m going. I’m also going to their sealings.

I renewed my temple recommend.


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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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Heavenly Mothers Day: My Absentee Heavenly Parent

Many women—and men—yearn for our heavenly mother.

I don’t. When I believe in her at all, I tend to resent my absentee heavenly parent, just as an abandoned child would resent an earthly parent that doesn’t communicate with her child.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has taught that “We improve our relationship with our Heavenly Father by learning of Him, by communing with Him.” Reference A

If this is how strong relationships with deity are formed, it is obvious why I don’t have a healthy relationship with my heavenly mother, if she exists. I don’t learn about her in my Sunday meetings and communing with her through prayer is expressly forbidden.

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