A Moving Mormon Performance

I could not sleep. It was as though it was midday and had the energy of a racehorse about to take flight. empty houseBut it was really 2 AM, and I had been awake since 1AM. I had fallen asleep in utter exhaustion around 11PM, but woke at 1 …and there I remained, twitching.

 

The ghosts of the day were haunting me and tears filled my eyes. But I withheld any sound, silently weeping, trying to not wake my husband.

 

The day before had been traumatic. We had packed to move, and left our house in a state. It wasn’t untidy, but I had not the time to make all of the runs to the Salvation Army on that day, nor had I the time in the preceding days to list all that I had hoped on eBay. As a result, clusters of items I deemed valuable were in boxes, or loosely stacked piles, awaiting to be unceremoniously bagged and taken to the dump.

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All I Really Need To Know About Mothering I Learned From My Cat

While I raised my children I remember watching myself over-expend energy. I was aware of what I was doing: helping and working, sharing and caring for everyone who needed me. However, it seemed there was never enough time in the day to slow down and provide for myself what I routinely (and for the most part happily) provided for others.

Midnight is missing from this photo. But my three mewing children are all there.

Midnight is missing from this photo. But my three mewing children are all here.

At work I was a skilled and compassionate nurse. At church I invested heart and soul as a primary teacher, den mother, young women’s leader, choir member, whatever I was called to do. At home I was a deeply devoted and exhausted mom to three kids. Honestly, most days I was overwhelmed by all the responsibilities. But I did the best I could. We ate cereal for dinner on really hard days. Other days it was a rotating menu of tuna casserole, spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburger patties with Rice-A-Roni. Taco Time, Arby’s and Stan’s Drive-In fed us more times than I can count. This was a time of endless giving and comparatively little receiving on my part.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t gain anything from serving and loving all those people at work, church and home. I gained a great deal of understanding about the human condition via those relationships. My capacity for love was enlarged because I believe God gave me strength beyond my own when I chose to serve people in need, especially my own children, and that was a good thing. But I learned lessons along the way about how to give and receive in more enriching, nourishing ways, rather than just “on the run.”

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Equal in Faith: Salt Lake City

Collage 2013-08-26 22_24_40

On Monday I fasted. I fasted for the first time in years. It was completely different than I remember. I remember fasting being about food, about missing food, wanting food and taking a long Sunday nap until I could eat food again. Occasionally, we would fast for something: an illness, fire, job or tragedy. During these times I really did want to comfort the people in need. I thought about them while I fasted….for about 3 minutes before I broke my fast. This Monday’s fast was very different. It was a fast on National Equality Day for the purpose of religious gender equality around the world in collaboration with thousands of women and men of all faiths.

All day I thought about this issue. When my stomach growled in the morning I thought about all of those people around the world that go hungry and thought, “Maybe if women were in charge of religions that number would decrease.” Around noon, on my way to teaching my class, I was thirsty. I saw a water fountain and wanted a drink so badly. This made me think about how few people in the world have access to clean water. I reflected on how many millions of lives are lost because of this one simple issue. I realized that if women were in charge of all of the money, human capital and decision making power of religions around the world, would we solve the world’s largest problems: water, sanitation, education, war, poverty and inequality? By the time I broke my fast in the evening this was not just something I had thought about for a few minutes, it was something that overwhelmed my life. To me, religious gender equality is so much more than having female religious leaders or ordination for women. To me, it is a fundamental path to equality, peace and hope throughout the world.

These were the thoughts I had running through my mind as I entered the pews at the BuddhistTemple in Salt Lake City, Monday, August 26th, along with fifty other comrades. The meeting was conducted brilliantly by Margaret Toscano and we began with the song “Freedom’s Daughter,” sung to the tune of “Hope of Israel”—a song written by Lula Greene Richards during the late 18th Century when the LDS church stood for Women’s Suffrage! The first speaker was Debra Jensen, an LDS woman who shared her story of why she stood for religious gender equality. She started with the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Then she gave us her own answer. When she took fear out of the equation she realized she would absolutely stand for equality. Then she asked, “What are we missing out on because of fear?” Jensen concluded her talk by relating the hunger we all felt after fasting to the hunger women all over the world feel for equality and by urging us to recognize and utilize the privilege we have to stand up for our rights.

The next speaker was Pastor Monica Hall. In a rousing and inspiring display of humor, joy and enthusiasm, Pastor Hall described the journey that her own Presbyterian religion had to go through in order to obtain ordination for women. She, an ordained minister, asked if she was more qualified for her role than her LDS female counterparts? She asked if LDS male members were more qualified than LDS females? She argued that neither was the case. In fact, she argued via beautifully told stories from the scriptures, women were the first to see the resurrected Lord, women were the first appointed apostles, and, finally, women are not neglected by Jesus today either! Pastor Hall then quoted fellow Presbyterian feminist, activist and anthropologist Margaret Mead as saying “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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Pioneers: Just Surviving Their Own Journey

Ours was not a family whose heritage was lauded. Although both maternal and paternal ancestral lines are rich with faithful pioneers, their stories were not recounted during family home evenings in my childhood or held up to remind us of our relative specialness in the Latter-day Saint community. We celebrated pioneer day with other ward-members. I don’t recall it being any more significant in our home than any other ward picnic. That our forebears had been among those saints who suffered and worked their way across the plains to relative freedom in the harsh Utah desert was simply a matter of fact, a remote history of which I was vaguely aware.

I mention this because I’ve heard people say that pioneer day celebrates the heritage of a relatively few Latter-day Saints. I suppose this is true. But, you know what? I only found my place among those good folks out of desperation. It had little to do with family history. And there is a place for everyone who needs or wants a place among her pioneering brothers and sisters, related or not.

I raised my kids as a single woman. I maintained swamp coolers, changed flat tires on my car in six inches of snow (I kid you not), rode my bike to a from work when the car was broken down, killed the occasional rat when the compost pile drew them to the backyard, scraped and painted fifty-year-old true divided-light windows . . . I could go on and on.

One particular day I was fighting with weeds alongside the garage — trying to create a stepping-stone pathway to a side door. It was hot. I was sweating. I was tired and overwhelmed. I was pretty much ready to curse God and die because I’d had it with how hard my life was. I remember crying as I worked. Literally. (You know how pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked? It was like that. Only crying.) Somewhere in the midst of my angst I began to pray for help and strength. I spoke aloud as I worked. I told God how unfair it was that LDS men could look to the scriptures and find all manner of good male examples of faithful endurance, but women had nothing. Nothing by comparison anyway.

“Seriously!” I whined, “What’s up with that?”

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When Good Women Do Nothing

boots_grayFriday Night
It’s an unfamiliar scene, I’m at a country dancing bar, surrounded by cowboy hats and boots, listening to twangy music that’s foreign to me.  If it sounds like I’m not enjoying myself, I am. Partner dancing-  country, swing, and ballroom- was one of my favorite pastimes in high school and college. Although that was awhile ago, I still love it and country dancing is a popular type of partner dancing in Arizona.  Unfortunately, my husband is not interested in joining me, so I go with my cousin when she visits, which he doesn’t seem to mind. This means it the second time in my adult life I’ve been to a country bar. What I find are couples  dancing the two step and country swing, spinning and twirling around the dance floor.
This time, as I watch the dance floor to see which guys know how to lead, and waiting for one of them to ask me to dance, I get bored and ask a guy next to me if he knows how to dance. Unfortunately, it’s so loud he doesn’t hear my question and thinks I’ve just asked him to dance. Which wouldn’t be a problem if he could dance, and was sober. But, I’ve just lost the Texas Roulette and this guy is not a winner. He’s holding my hand and back SUPER tightly and swaying around like a drunk person.

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Mormon Male Privilege and How to Make Apparent Gender Disparity in the Church

Many people are concerned with a very basic question right now: Why do some women feel unequal in the church? A few years ago I wrote a post for LDS WAVE about why I feel unequal. While this was not an exhaustive list, it made apparent many of the gender disparities that we often take for granted.

Another way to make inequality apparent is to talk about privilege. In academia there is a lot of literature on male privilege and white privilege—those unacknolwedged advantages that men and majority ethnicities gain from women’s and minorities’ disadvantages. An important step in lessening, mitigating and ending this discrimination is acknowledging it. It is sometimes easier to see that others have different gender roles or even that women have some disadvantages. The truly difficult thing to recognize is the concomitant truth: what aspects of being male are advantageous?

Do not despair, this is not an attack on men. Rather it is a mental exercise in trying to see those aspects of gender inequality that are normally hidden in our religious culture. Men (and women alike) are taught not to recognize our privileges or as Dr. Peggy McIntosh puts it the “invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. [Male] privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks” (McIntosh 1988). It is not the fault of the holder of these privileges that he has them. However, it is our moral and ethical duty to learn to recognize, mitigate and lessen them for greater religious gender equality.

I decided to try to identify some of the daily effects of these advantages in order to answer the question: What is it like to have Mormon male privilege? (Many of these points have corollaries in literature on white and male privilege).

As a Mormon Male:

  1. My odds of receiving a leadership calling compared to females of my same age, experience and spirituality are skewed in my favor. The more prestigious the calling, the larger the odds are skewed.
  2. My odds of being asked to speak at church functions compared to females of my same age, experience and spirituality are skewed in my favor. The larger the forum, the more my odds are skewed.
  3. My church leaders are people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the calling, the more this is true.
  4. When I ask to “see the person in charge,” odds are that I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.
  5. I can go home from most leadership meetings feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
  6. I can be pretty sure that a disagreement with a woman is more likely to jeopardize her chances for advancement in leadership positions and her reputation as a good Mormon than it will jeopardize mine.
  7. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my gender on trial. If I fall short as a missionary, gospel doctrine teacher, or general conference speaker I can feel sure this won’t be seen as a black mark against my entire sex’s capabilities.
  8. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my gender.
  9. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my gender is not the problem.
  10. I am never asked to speak for or represent “the” perspective of all the people of my gender.
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