Space to Fill

Warning: what you are about to read is not clever. It has not been edited for treacle, banality or minutia. I am pretty sure I am over-telling and under-showing. It is Thanksgiving morning 2014 and I need a dose of raw, unfiltered gratitude. Stat.

I am thankful that my husband is healthy. Eight months ago he was having major surgery. Last night, he was trying to make brussel sprouts tastes less like cabbage.  

I am thankful for our two sons who are kind, confident and passionate. Do you want me to tell you more about them? I have time. Do you want to see pictures of them? I downloaded several hundred off of facebook just last night. I love being their mom.

I am thankful I am safe, have a dry place to live, enough food, and warm clothes. I never take these things for granted.  

Today I am waking up with just two people in the house, one is still sleeping and one is typing. This is the first time my husband and I have been alone for a big holiday since . . . ever. It just happened. One of our boys is staying home and attending a “Friendsgiving.” The other is studying abroad. Friends and family can’t make the trip or are coming for Christmas instead. Several plans shifted at the last minute, and subsequently, my husband and I are here and everyone we typically host is somewhere else. We do have an invite for dinner, but we will not have the usual tumult of out-of-town guests, board games and traditional recipes. There is no turkey brining in a black garbage bag on our stoop. No stack of pies. No anticipation of someone squirting soda through their nose in response to mass hilarity.

I am thankful for all the extended family who do not necessarily get us, but love us anyway.

I am thankful for all my friends who listen to me and assure me that I am great, guiding me back to some version of great when I am being ridiculous.

I am thankful that I have interesting work that keeps my busy brain busy.  

I enjoy our empty nest, but I have been dreading the quiet today.

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Plural Marriage: Will We Claim a Limited Prophet or a Limited God?

More Good Foundation

More Good Foundation

By Jenny

The recent essays produced by the Church on plural marriage have turned my thoughts inward to reflect on my own journey and relationship with the concept of plural marriage. I have especially ached for the young girls who married Joseph, as I have thought about the young, naïve girl I was at the age of fourteen. I still remember my first pivotal moment with polygamy. I had been reading The Work and the Glory series over the summer and I was struggling through the one in which plural marriage was being introduced in Nauvoo. I’m sure I had already known about plural marriage before then. Even at that tender age, I was terrified that I would die after I got married and would then have to share my future husband with another woman. Yes, I was fourteen!

But now, sitting in my room, tears streaming down my cheeks, I first came into contact with the pain of women who did have to share their husbands with other women. In a fictional book, written by a man who had never experienced that fear from a female perspective, I began my wrestle with a concept that I was too young to fully understand. Obviously, The Work and the Glory towed the line of the church in its sympathetic portrayal of Joseph. My pain and agony over this concept were reflected in the characters that rejected plural marriage and lost their eternal rewards. I thought my feelings were proof of my unfaithfulness toward God. I did not want to be one of the unfaithful ones. But I also didn’t know how I could ever feel good about polygamy. What a heavy burden for a fourteen-year-old girl to bear alone in her room.

But not all fourteen-year-old girls got to wrestle with hypothetical ideas alone in their rooms. Some had to do so face to face with someone they believed was a prophet of God with authority to make his word God’s word. What was their wrestle like? Did they go through the tortuous battle to work it out in their minds and hearts like I did? Did they cry and scream and rage against God the way I did? Did they spend hours on their knees, pleading with God to understand something that didn’t make sense to them? And in the end, did they humbly give in, thinking that a prophet of God must surely know best, that their own feelings and struggles meant nothing compared to his understanding? Did they give in because their desire to be righteous outweighed their own sense of logic and love?

That’s how it was for me. Worn out from my raging struggle, with red eyes and tears dried to my face, I looked in my mirror. I thought about my grandma who had divorced at an old age and had died without being sealed to anyone. “Okay God,” I said, trying to muster the courage I needed to do this. “I will share my husband (yes, I was fourteen!), but only if it will help my grandma to have someone to be sealed to.” And that was that. I had accepted the principle of plural marriage. It felt good. Just like the early saints, I had passed the test. I had proven faithful. Thinking back on that fourteen-year-old girl that I was, I can’t imagine any scenario in which loving Heavenly Parents would be okay with a thirty-eight-year old asking such a young, innocent girl to marry him. The legality of it makes no difference to me because man’s laws are not God’s laws.  I believe God’s laws are meant to protect us.

A decade later I was no longer an innocent fourteen-year-old girl as I searched for a greater understanding of plural marriage in the early days of the church. I learned about Joseph’s deceitfulness to his wife, the secrecies, denials, lies, coercion of young girls, and the rejection of those who didn’t comply. I was no longer a naïve girl who wanted to be faithful at any cost to myself, but I still wanted the church to come off victorious. I wanted to believe that God had commanded plural marriage and that Joseph Smith had acted in secrecy only because people wouldn’t understand that this came from God.

But one major thing had changed in my life by this point. My understanding of God had expanded. I now believed in a God who loved beyond anything I had ever imagined as a fourteen-year-old girl. I no longer believed in a God who asked His children to commit immoral acts like cheating on a spouse or killing a son in order to test their faithfulness to Him. I believed in Heavenly Parents who love far beyond the love I have even for my own children. If I would not tease my own children in such a horrendous manner just to be sure that they are true and faithful to me, why would loving Heavenly Parents do that to us?

This new understanding of God left me with two choices. I could continue to believe in a God who would ask His prophet to lie and cheat on his wife, coerce young girls more than half his age to marry him, and to set up a system that would cause immense pain for women whom this same God calls His daughters, or I could accept that Joseph was mistaken. This was not the God I believed in anymore, so I had to accept that Joseph was wrong. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be gentle and forgiving toward a man with very human weaknesses. I still love and respect him as a man with a vision to build the kingdom of God! I can even accept that he caused himself to believe that polygamy was part of that. Perception can change much easier than we tend to think, especially if it can ease a sense of guilt or sorrow that we are feeling. My perception had also allowed me at one time to fit polygamy into my understanding of the kingdom of God in order to ease the pain of being one of the unfaithful ones.

Since I have discarded polygamy from my understanding of what the kingdom of God looks like, I have discovered a more loving peaceful kingdom to dwell in. It is a place where young girls are no longer victims of Joseph’s possibly well-intentioned, yet ill-fated marriage construct. It is a place where my daughters will not have to live with the agony of thinking that they might need to share their husbands for eternity, while fearing that their own feelings make them unfaithful. It is a place where God the Mother and God the Father love all their children equally, and They would never command a man to hurt their daughters in any way or for any reason. It is a place where our Heavenly Parents do not see our disdain for the practice of plural marriage as unfaithfulness to them. They are proud of us for speaking up about our feelings

I realize that it is hard to bring Joseph down to the level of a man with natural weaknesses when we have revered and deified him for so long. It is especially hard under scrutiny from the rest of the world. They can’t possibly understand what this means for us as Mormons.  Our church is experiencing growing pains. I know personally how this painful process is going to feel for us because I have gone through it in my own faith over the last few years. But there is so much beauty and goodness on the other side of this.

My hope would be that Joseph himself has already repented of his own sins in regards to plural marriage. Why can’t we also repent of it as a church? Why can’t we stop allowing young girls to be his victims? Why can’t we say Joseph was wrong, we have made progress since then, and now we know better? If we could accept Joseph as a man with sexual appetites and imperfect understandings of God’s ways, then our understanding of a more perfect, loving God can expand. But if we continue to accept that Joseph’s claims of plural marriage came from God, then I’m afraid the God we believe in is limited in His ability to love, to parent wisely, and to give moral directives that will help us to be happy. What will we claim in the next chapter of Mormonism, a limited prophet or a limited God?

 

What was your experience trying to understand and relate plural marriage to your life?  How do you feel about it now?

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Leaping

nov postAs a young teenager, I believed that every decision I made was eligible for divine intervention. I was cultivating my persona as Intellectual Mormon Mystic Saint and my general obsession with how to be a holy girl was channeled in a question and answer format. The model for my coming of age story was equal parts Nephi, Joseph Smith and Joan of Arc. If God had talked to these fourteen year olds, why not me? I just needed a dilemma, then to pray intently, and surely I would receive an answer stunning enough to start a religion or save France. I imagined an adolescence filled with dramatic crossroads and I read the scriptures voraciously for clues on how to ensure that my requests would result in a vision, voice or literal Liahona-type direction.

My favorite scriptures on how to make decisions were addressed to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith in the early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. We often quote section 9, verse 8 and 9 which describe thinking through an issue and then asking for spiritual confirmation, receiving either a burning sense of right or a stupor of thought. Many scriptures in the first ten sections also offer comfort and encourage patience in the process. These words appealed deeply to my mix of 1870’s via 1970’s logic. I had to do my homework, then wait for revelation or the “go back and try again” confusion. I had hoped to use these verses to ward off temptations like cigarettes or to tell the bad kids that hung around Mack in Saturday’s Warrior that I would not be joining them in their “Summer of Fair Weather,” but I suppose my owl-eyed intensity scared away most peer pressure. I had to settle for discerning more mundane decisions like whether or not to audition for Show Choir or what to give a talk on in church. But I approached each day to day inquiry with the same fervor.

As I marched into adulthood, this formula led me to more questions than answers. Why, even when I felt right about a decision, was it never easy afterwards? There always seemed to be loss and gain, good choices did not mean happy endings. The older I got, the more complicated it felt to look at all the angles of an issue. How did I know if I had studied enough and what if my studying had left me with a level of fear and anxiety that felt a lot like a stupor of thought? And what if I felt one way about a question and someone else prays about the exact same thing and gets another answer? I was once engaged to a boy who believed that he was told to marry me while I experienced a sledgehammer stupor that practically yelled “run away.” Was one of us wrong? Heartbroken, he moved to a new city and immediately met his future wife, a much better match for him in every way. Both of us felt strong emotions and experienced true spiritual promptings, but the sorting out led us to different conclusions.

I realized as a young woman that I had clung to these scriptures as a roadmap to try and control the events of my life. I was hoping to be “told” where to step, every step of the way, reducing the risk of making mistakes. Over the years I discovered so many other factors at play. I was developing my own voice through accumulated history, relationships, and a growing peacefulness in how the world unfolds miraculously without much effort on our part. I began to think about living with an openness to the spirit and with an openness to experience.

Recently, I had to make a big decision. It could be life changing. People will depend on me and it will require time and energy layered on a job and family. I had to consider more carefully than I have in a long time. I compared the decision process of my youth to how I approach it now. I still study, talk to my friends, read, go on long walks. I still have the expectation that in my quiet moments I will discern rightness. But I have added other strategies. Sometimes I let time pass to see what resolves or becomes clearer. Sometimes I let someone else decide and the confirmation is about trust and support in another’s revelatory understanding. Sometimes I just leap – motivated alternately by scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia or Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. In Prince Caspian, Lucy and her siblings are lost and wandering when she sees Aslan down in a valley that seems impossible to access. When no one believes her, Lucy appears to step off a cliff to discover a hidden path down the mountain. Likewise, Indiana walks into an abyss and finds a bridge only visible from the vantage point of this first step. In both cases they take a leap of faith when there was no rational reason to move forward. And in moving, they gain insight for the path ahead.

In the case of my current decision, I am taking a leap. I spent less time trying to work out every detail in my head, less time waiting for a whammy sense of rightness and simply let my desire to do good work and be a part of something I have experienced to deliver good works guide me. I respect the holy girl that was me. I wanted to be not just good, but spectacularly good, and that required determining the absolute right in every possible action before taking a step. I also respect the wiser woman that is me. We teach each other. The girl tells the woman to be still and pay attention to spiritual knowing. The woman tells the girl that with this feeling, and our experience, we can step stone to stone or even off a mountain or into an abyss, and learn as we go.

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Stages of Grief

Andrassy_Kurta_Janos-GriefElisabeth Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist whose work focused on terminally ill and elderly patients. In her landmark book, On Death and Dying, she lays the 5 stages of grief. These stages have become part of the general consciousness and Dr. Kubler-Ross’ ideas have been applied to all kinds of human loss. The stages are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These can happen in any order, and not every one experiences them all. One can also jump from stage to stage. The goal, however, is to process each one and eventually end up at acceptance.

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International Series: Seeing Past the Coin

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Elissa.  Elissa lives in Greenville, South Carolina for now. She is married, has three children, and works part time as an English language tutor so she can pretend she’s still all international.

Elissa

I was born in Salt Lake City, a fourth-generation Mormon, ancestors having come variously by wagon train, on the ship Brooklyn, and with the Mormon Battalion. I was planted firmly in the LDS corner of the vineyard with the Mormon flower the only one in sight.

And then came the pullback. The intriguing beauty of all the other flowers. How could it be—with the grand diversity of this splendid field—that mine is the one true flower? Examining it carefully, decades ago in my thirties and forties, I found that to my eyes (and who else’s eyes could I possibly use, even though I see through a glass darkly?) there were some pretty evident flaws—historical and doctrinal positions that seemed indefensible and that felt wrong. Many today who come to feel that way find it highly distressing. I found it thrilling. I gained a new respect for God, a new delight in every one of the billions who inhabit this planet.

-Carol Lynn Pearson, “Why I Stay”

I have been married for 22 years, and nearly half of those have been spent outside of the United States. My husband and I are both American, but his job has taken us to Mexico, France, and the United Kingdom, and all this time out of our own country has affected our family in many ways. For one thing, taking your kids abroad when they are three, four months, and not born yet, then bringing them back eight years later has some good entertainment value. Living in post-9/11 France does not prepare them for American uber-patriotism, and they do not know what to do with being compelled to recite the pledge of allegiance each day. (Actually, they do know what to do: refuse.) They are amazed – AMAZED – at the miracle of Paas tablets. They say things like, “What’s Wal-Mart?” They are self-conscious about everyone understanding them, so they argue in French in public. They don’t get the most common of cultural references. (The down side of this one is they don’t share your grief when Mr. Rogers dies.) They spend a year asking you the names and values of coins (“Remember, ‘le dime’ is the word for tithing, so you can remember that a dime is ten cents.”). They rage against Imperial units, but rhapsodize about toast; discussing where they had the best toast and what is the perfect method of making it (apply butter BEFORE toasting). They just find the nearest tree when they have to pee at the school picnic. (I kid you not, I once saw an adult woman having a wee behind the map at a park in one of the above named countries. Little boys didn’t even have to make a pretense of hiding.) They get kicked out of class for correcting their teacher’s pronunciation of “Versailles.” If they have a speech impediment, everyone thinks it’s an adorable accent. It’s fun.

Since I am clearly given to deep thoughts regarding the effects of expatriation on our lives, you will be surprised to know that until now I had not given much thought to how it influenced my feelings about the my faith. However, it may not be a coincidence that it was in France that the thought, “It’s possible there’s not a God,” wormed its way into my consciousness and open consideration. Or that it was during our next stint abroad in England that I accepted that uncertainty instead of trying to fix it.

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“Let Her Enter”

I received my endowment last year on April 27th  (sans marriage or mission at age 21…. I was ready and didn’t take no for an answer) and, I must say, I loved it. Let me rephrase: I loved the spirit that I felt there. As a feminist, obviously certain things bothered me. And as a woman of the world, certain things confused (read: freaked) the hell out of me. Still, one of the first things I said to everyone (after whisper-shouting, “I’m in a cult!”) was, “I’m home.” Despite all the imperfections and oddities of the temple, I feel at home there. Everything feels so natural and heavenly. When I’m in the prayer circle, it’s an otherworldly experience and I feel angels surrounding me. I feel a strong spiritual camaraderie with the other Saints as we pray for ourselves and for others. When I converse with the Lord through the veil and enter into “His” presence, for me, it symbolically represents being worthy to enter the presence of my Heavenly Family. I imagine that’s how it’ll be when I literally pass through the veil–– I’ll converse with my Father and enter into the warm and teary-eyed embrace of my Savior and my dear Mother. She will be absent to me no more.

As June 8th has come and gone, I thought about something: Had I been a member on April 27th, 1978, none of this would have happened. As a Black woman I would, literally, be on the outside looking in. Having gone through the temple, it breaks my heart to think about that. For all my feminist misgivings I have about the temple (the unreciprocated promise of obedience, the wording of the initiatory where my eternal blessings are attached to my non-existent husband, the silence of Eve after a certain point in the ceremony, etc.), I have a testimony of the temple. So it pains my heart to think that just 36 years ago, I would not have been able to receive those blessings.

I think of Jane Manning James, particularly. She was an African-American woman who traveled all the way to where the Saints settled in Illinois and lived with the Prophet Joseph Smith. She then made her way to the Utah Territory where she began to petition to receive her endowment. She petitioned the First Presidency multiple times to no avail. In the end, a special ceremony in the temple was performed in which she was sealed as a servant to Joseph Smith and his family. Sister James wasn’t even allowed in the temple when that “sealing” was performed. My heart aches thinking of Jane James as she faithfully pleaded with the Brethren to receive her endowment, but was denied every single time. Simply because she was black.

Jane_Elizabeth_Manning_James

My heart aches thinking of all the black pioneers before 1978 who joined the Church, but were not able to be sealed to their loved ones forever. My heart aches thinking of the countless number of fathers who couldn’t even bless and heal their own children because of their race. My heart aches reading this account from Darius Gray (a renowned Black Mormon pioneer who joined the LDS Church in 1964):

“I remember being in a Sacrament meeting, pre-1978, and the sacrament was being passed and there was special care taken by this person that not only did I not officiate, but I didn’t touch the sacrament tray. They made sure that I could take the sacrament, but that I did not touch the tray and it was passed around me. That was awfully hard, considering that often times those who were officiating were young men in their early teens, and they had that Priesthood. I valued that Priesthood, but it wasn’t available.”

As a woman, not being able to pass the sacrament because of my gender is hard enough, but to not be able to even touch the tray that represents the body and blood of the Savior? My eyes fill with tears at the thought. I can’t even imagine being a Black member of the Church before 1978. To be denied receiving my temple recommend simply because I was born in the wrong skin color would have given me great sorrow that I can’t even comprehend.

Despite whatever feelings you have about the temple and the priesthood, there is an amount of thankfulness that should be given, as those blessings would have never been denied to you. If you are of African ancestry, be so thankful for modern revelation and that He will send more down to guide us. And especially as women, we must all be thankful for June 8th, because if that day has shown us anything else, it is that there is hope for our future in the Church. Just as the beginning of equality for African-American Latter-day Saints happened on that day, our day of equality for female Latter-day Saints will soon come upon us. It inevitably will.

Until that day, I will celebrate June 8th. I will be thankful for the lifting of the Priesthood Restriction. I will be thankful for the great blessing it is for me to perform temple ordinances. I will continue to feel the strength of my ancestors as I complete their temple work. I know they will bless me and thank me for enabling them to progress in the Spirit World. I am the link that will bind the generations of my family. I know their spirits wept with joy on June 8th, 1978. They knew that eventually somewhere down the line, one of their posterity would embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And they knew that June 8th, 1978 would provide the opportunity for me, one of their posterity, to be the link that binds. Without that miraculous revelation, they would not receive the blessings that they have now received. And neither would I. On that most sacred day, the Priesthood was, once again, restored.

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