September 2014 General Women’s Meeting: President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I know I am not alone in loving President Uchtdorf. Today I was grateful for his heartfelt, genuine talk. I appreciate how hard he tried to articulate his love for the sisters of the church and how important he thinks we are. I thought it was important that he specified that this, the General Women’s Meeting, is the opening session of conference and should be counted as such. I think this counts as a change in the way we discuss this meeting. I also thought it was important that President Uchtdorf repeatedly mentioned the existence of Heavenly Parents.

It was obvious from his address that President Uchtdorf wants to help us return to our Heavenly Parents. He believes that the best way to do this is to walk the path of discipleship and obedience. President Uchtdorf acknowledged that obedience isn’t always joyful but that we need to have trust that God’s vision is larger than ours. Heavenly Father is eternally loving and focused on getting us home. Uchtdorf encouraged each us to cherish the light posts of obedience that will help us return to him.

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September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Jean A. Stevens

September 2014 General Women’s Meeting – Jean A. Stevens

Jean A. StevensIt seems that the theme for this women’s meeting is covenants and the temple. Sister Jean A. Stevens, first counselor in the Primary Presidency focused on the covenants, starting with the baptismal covenant and leading up to the temple. She used her own mother as the central example saying she had a “remarkable connection to heaven” and later used quotes from many women of differing ages and their examples of looking to the temple. I loved that she used regular Church members and especially women as examples and multiple times emphasized that we all have different paths. We have so few in the scriptures and often go through whole Sunday School or RS lessons without any quotes from women. I also liked her story of her parents getting married before her father’s mission- it’s a great example of how our current practices aren’t doctrine and that there is a lot of leeway in how we practice the gospel. I really enjoyed her talk and I don’t have much to add to it, so I will share some of my favorite quotes from her talk.

“We are known and loved individually by Him.”

“As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple.”

“Tonight we gather as covenant women of God. Our ages, circumstances & personalities cannot separate us. ”

“Temples are an expression of God’s love”

“Every mighty change of heart matters to the Lord and it will make all the difference to you, for as we go to his holy house, we can be armed with his power, his name upon us, his glory round about us, and his angels have charge over us.”

I am really looking forward to re-reading the talks from this meeting when they become available. I hope you all can find something for yourselves in at least one of these talks.

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“There is Room for You” / “Il y a une place pour vous”

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

This was the theme of the regional YSA conference here in the northeast. Hosted in New York City, it was a two-day conference, however I was only able to attend the Sunday session, which is just as well.

While the Sacrament meeting service was lackluster and disappointing, the evening fireside (presented by the always fabulous, Sistas in Zion) was spectacular and uplifting.  They talked extensively on the conference’s theme and reiterated how “there is room for you”.

Unsurprisingly, as a feminist young single black Mormon convert from New York, the number of times I felt that there hasn’t been room for me is too many to count. Even now, I recently made the decision to stop attending church services on a regular basis. However, my testimony of the Gospel is still strong. I read the Book of Mormon, I pray when I feel inspired or prompted, I believe in the Plan of Happiness, etc. I can even believe the idea that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri! It is my testimony of the Church that is weak and failing (that is a post for another time).

So… is there room for me? For us?

President Uchtdorf says there is. In his October General Conference address, he speaks, “If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”

I’d still like to think that when I am ready to return, there will be room for me. If not, I’ll make room. I know it’s there. I just have to find it and carve it out. There wasn’t room for Christ while he went about His ministry–– He was rejected and despised and considered a radical. But nonetheless, He went about His Father’s business and He made room. And his disciples  and friends followed and supported Him, while gaining new supporters and friends. Heck, there wasn’t even room for Mary at the inn, but that didn’t stop the Savior from being born! Mary made room for Him! Now, not only is there room for Christ, there are mansions dedicated to His name! And He tells us today there is room for us. And I believe it.

Now, I’m not trying to compare myself to Christ in any way shape or form. Nor am I about to start my own denomination in the name of making room. I’m simply noting the example He sets in creating a place for those who felt there was no place for them before. And His story proves that there are always friends to be found and be there for you. And that they will hold your place in the room for when you return.

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That’s what I’m hoping for. As I take this much needed step away from the institutional Church, I am counting on dear friends to save a seat for me. I am counting on friends to tell me they are there for me on my journey. If there is to be room, not only I, but others must make room as well. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. For many, once they leave, others shut the door and claim the seat they once had is gone. Nothing is farther from the truth. I echo the theme of the regional conference and of President Uchtdorf: There is room for you.

Regardless of whether or not you return, there is room for you. Either in the church building or in the hearts of your fellow Saints. At the very least, there is room for you with me.

 

“Il y a une place pour vous”

Voilà le thème de la conférence régionale des JA du nord-est des Etats-Unis qui a eu lieu à New York City pendant deux jours. Je n’ai assisté qu’à la session du dimanche.

Même si le service de Sainte-Cène a été décevant, le coin de feu de la soirée (présenté par le groupe Sistas in Zion) était spectaculaire et édifiant. On a beaucoup parlé du thème en insistant qu’il y a bien « une place pour vous. »

En tant que convertie jeune, célibataire, féministe et noire, je ne peux pas compter le nombre de fois où j’ai senti qu’il n’y avait aucune place pour moi. Récemment, j’ai décidé d’arrêter de venir à l’Eglise régulièrement. J’ai pourtant un témoignage fort de l’Evangile. Je lis le Livre de Mormon, je prie quand je me sens inspirée, je crois au Plan de Salut. J’arrive même à croire que le Jardin d’Eden se trouvait en Missouri ! Mais j’ai aussi un témoignage que l’Eglise est faible et est en train d’échouer (ce qui est tout un billet pour un autre moment).

Alors…y a-t-il une place pour moi? Pour nous ?

Président Uchtdorf dit que oui. Dans son discours de la conférence générale d’octobre 2013, il dit, « Si c’est ce que vous désirez, alors, quelles que soient votre situation, votre histoire personnelle ou la force de votre témoignage, il y a de la place pour vous dans l’Église. Venez nous rejoindre ! »

J’aimerais croire que quand je serai prête à revenir, il y aura une place pour moi. Sinon j’en créerai une. Je sais qu’elle est là, je dois la trouver. Il n’y avait pas de place pour le Christ : on l’a rejeté et l’a haï et l’a traité de radical. Mais malgré tout il faisait l’œuvre de son Père et il faisait de la place pour lui. Et ses disciples et ses amis le suivaient, ce qui attirait d’autres disciples et amis. Il n’y avait même pas de place pour Marie à l’auberge, mais cela n’a pas empêché au Christ de venir au monde. Marie a fait une place pour lui. Maintenant, non seulement il y a de la place pour le Christ, il y a même des châteaux dédiés à son nom! Il nous dit qu’il y a une place pour nous, et je le crois.

Je ne me compare pas du tout au Christ. Je ne vais pas non plus créer ma propre réligion. Je note l’exemple qu’il nous donne de créer une place pour ceux qui n’en avaient pas une avant. Son histoire prouve qu’il y aura toujours des amis à trouver, et qu’il garderont votre place pour quand vous reviendrez.

Voilà ce que j’espère. Pendant cette pause de l’Eglise institutionnelle, je compte sur mes amis de garder une place pour moi. Malheureusement, ce n’est pas le cas pour tout le monde. Pour beaucoup d’entre nous, une fois partis, d’autres ferment la porte sur eux et prennent la place que nous avons quittée. Rien ne peut être plus loin de la vérité. Comme le dit Président Uchtdorf : il y a de la place pour vous, qu’elle soit dans l’Eglise ou dans les cœurs des saints. Au moins, il y a de la place pour vous avec moi.

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I Hope You Stay

It’s not very politically correct these days in the feminist or progressive Mormon community to make a plea like this. We’re expected to honor every woman in the place she stands, to wish her well wherever she goes. And I do. I also want to be able to say what’s in my heart and on my mind.

Political correctness has never been my strong suit. And I’m not sure how to say this except in very simple words. I could say I’m asking out of love, but that may not be entirely true. Except that I love this church. With all its sexist, puritanical, hierarchical insanity, I love it. And I love you too. People like you are making Mormonism better, so even if it’s selfish of me to expect you to listen, I’m going to come out and say it anyway:

I hope you stay.crazyquiltjanicevaine

 

Please stay.

Please don’t go.

Can I help you?

How can I help you?

What can I do to help you stay?

If you’re thinking of leaving Mormonism, please reconsider.

Maybe none of this matters to you anymore. Maybe you’ve reached the breaking point or your therapist has advised you to go. Maybe your wounded heart or your guardian angels are leading you away for your own good. And what can I say to that?

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We have to tell our stories

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Just over a year ago, I sat in a cabin with some of my dearest friends.  They were women that I had gotten to know over the years when we had all lived near each other, but most of us had since moved away to different locations.  We had kept in touch via email – we had actually spent most of a year discussing various issues in Mormonism (particularly women’s issues), and we had enjoyed such a rich conversation that we decided to meet up for a weekend retreat.  We left 47 of our 50 combined children at home, packed our favorite treats and games, and met up in the mountains – away from the routine demands of life.  After a day of playing games, gorging on cupcakes, and catching up, we broke into small groups.

And we started to tell our stories.

As a background, I had heard about the Mormon Women’s Oral History Project through a podcast I had listened to – Caroline Kline and Claudia Bushman spoke with Dan Wotherspoon about their book “Mormon Women Have Their Say” (reviewed here by Rachel), and they talked about the project.  As my friend Melissa Mason and I planned our informal friends’ retreat, we talked about it and thought that we could use the Oral History Project as the central activity of the weekend – we thought it would be neat to hear everybody talk about their lives and hear some more background.  So we got some basic information from Claudia, included some USB recording sticks in our packing gear, and sat down to listen to one another.

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Digging Up Our Patriarchal Roots

IMG_7216 By Jenny

In the wave of Kate Kelly’s excommunication, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people criticizing Ordain Women for making the church look bad.  Now the rest of the world thinks our leaders are just a bunch of privileged misogynistic men trying to uphold an archaic patriarchal tradition.  It’s Ordain Women’s fault for trying to ruin the church.  They created an ugly schism in our church.

These comments remind me of some comments I received about my backyard earlier this summer.  I had spent weeks laboring in the corner of my yard to uproot the sod so that I could build a sanctuary.  I wanted a place where I could sit and ponder and pray and write and be close to God.  As I wiped the sweat from my dirt stained face, I often wondered if the work I was doing was worth it.  The roots of the sod were deep and entangled.  It took great effort just to get up one small patch of sod.

I thought about the other options my husband and I had considered.  We thought about just covering up the sod with black fabric and mulch, hoping that all the roots would die.  That’s what we had done under our deck however, and now we had grass sneaking up through the rocks.  I didn’t want to risk the chance of grass infiltrating my sanctuary.  It was hard work to uproot the sod, but I felt like it was going to be worth it in the end.

Of course I could have left the sod as it was.  There was nothing wrong with grass.  It was soft and stable.  It grew easily, was easy to maintain.  But it also left this corner of my yard like everything else in the yard: just a place to look at and to mow.  I had a more beautiful vision for it.  I wanted a place where I could sit and enjoy my yard.  I didn’t want just plain grass, I wanted a variety of plants that change colors in the seasons, flowers that bloom, and a fountain of water.  My vision was beautiful, and it carried me through the work that it took to get there.

I had friends who visited my home during this time who didn’t have my vision.  Whenever anyone came into my backyard, the first question was, “Why are you digging up your grass?”  This was always said with enough incredulity that I couldn’t help but look at the ugly gaping hole of dirt that was left behind by my work.  Patches of sod were strewn around, making the corner of my yard look awful.  It truly looked like I was destroying my backyard.   At those moments I began anxiously describing the vision I had for that area.  It was usually lost on them.  That’s okay.  It was my vision, and it was going to be beautiful.  But first I had to get through stripping away what was already there.  I didn’t enjoy that work, but it was necessary.

Now I sit here in my sanctuary, as I write this.  It’s no longer an ugly gaping hole of dirt and uprooted sod.  It’s a beautiful place with young, growing plants and flowers, a small stone fountain, and a swing that I can sit on to enjoy the beauty around me.  It’s a place where I can get the spiritual nourishment and joy that I need, a function that the grass didn’t afford me before.  As I sit in this beautiful place to write, I am thinking about the church and what a beautiful sanctuary it could be for us as women, and also for men.  Right now it feels like it is deeply entrenched and entangled in patriarchal roots.  The traditions and doctrines are stable and secure like grass.  It’s not bad.  Really, the church is good.  But it could be better.  As it is, it doesn’t provide us with what we need for spiritual growth.  I have a vision for this church as a beautiful sanctuary of diversity, growth, and change, free of patriarchy.

The problem is that we don’t all share that vision in the church.  Those who don’t see it only see the big ugly gaping hole we are creating.  They think we are trying to ruin the church.  They don’t understand why we would try to root out what seems like perfectly good, stable tradition and doctrine.  It’s no wonder the church has tended to cover up the negative aspects of our culture instead of doing the work to uproot them.  It’s easier that way, and it keeps us from fully seeing the ugliness.  So is it the fault of OW and other feminists that the church doesn’t look at its best right now?  My feeling is that this is just a normal, natural process in building Zion.  If we want all the beauty that God has to give us, if we want our church to be all that it can be, we have to be willing to dig up what isn’t working and deal with the ugliness that that process will cause for a time.

I wish we were at a place where we could be planting and beautifying with the doctrines that have blessed and enriched my heart and soul.  The church is good, but oh how it could be better.  Once you’ve seen the vision of Zion as it could be, it’s hard to be satisfied with how it is now.  I wish we were at a the point where we could be planting and beautifying our Zion, but we’re still endlessly digging at those patriarchal roots and tearing out what can’t co-exist with the more beautiful things.

Christ taught us about this in his parable of the sower.  The sower went out and sowed seeds representing the word of God in different places.  Some fell by the wayside and were eaten by birds.  Some fell on rocks and couldn’t dig deep enough roots.  Some fell among thorns and were choked.  The only ones that grew and brought forth fruit were the ones planted in good ground.

I submit to you, that the word of God also can’t grow among patriarchal grass.  The roots of patriarchy will suck the nourishment out of the feminine aspects of God’s word.  In the midst of these patriarchal roots, we as daughters of God cannot speak to Heavenly Mother and She can’t speak to her daughters.  If She does speak to us, we are not allowed to express our experiences openly.  We can’t claim our power and authority from Her.  The feminine spiritual experience simply cannot flourish amidst stifling patriarchal roots.  We need to dig them up in order for the young and beautiful plants of feminine divinity to grow around us and bring greater joy and serenity to our worship.   It may be painful, brutal work, it may leave an open gaping wound in our church for a time.  But patriarchy must be uprooted in order for our church to grow and to become something more beautiful and functional for our spirituality.

After the last week’s events I am sad and frustrated and exhausted.  But I plan to continue the endless work that has already begun, because I want the church to be beautiful again.  So my friends in the church who haven’t seen the beautiful vision of Zion that I have seen, I know it is hard for you to see good in the church’s gaping wound.  You stand there watching my fellow feminists and me labor in dirt and sweat to tear at these roots.  You look at us in confusion, wondering why we are concerned about a little grass and why we would want to change it.  Some of you tell us we are delusional and that we are making the church look bad.  Some of you say that we are apostates who have lost our way and don’t understand what we are doing.  Maybe you can try to understand when we tell you about this beautiful vision of a place we are trying to create.  Maybe you can try to see the negative patriarchal roots that we have found through our labors.  Maybe you can even bend down and see and feel it from our perspective.  If we work together in unity and love, the work will go faster and our church will become a beautiful sanctuary were we can all sit and enjoy the warmth of God’s love and the beautiful and precious parts of God’s word that haven’t been able to grow yet in our church.

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