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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Finding Our Voice

(I started writing this post a few weeks ago, before word came about the upcoming disciplinary hearings for Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. But I think it still applies now, maybe even more so. Also, thanks to April for her post on Sunday (http://www.the-exponent.com/will-we-be-silenced-again/); it gave a lot of people a lot of courage, including me.)

Recently I was talking to one of my friends about a frustration I had. She stopped me at one point and said, “Goodness, Jess, there is no reason to sound so angry.” The statement didn’t really register with me at the time, but later as I was thinking about our conversation, it made me…well, it made me angry that she had said that. I did have a reason to be angry. Why should I not sound the way I felt? It made me feel like my voice was unacceptable, like how I was talking was more important than what I was saying. Somehow my tone illegitimated my experience, even though the feelings behind that tone were legitimate. In a way, and without even meaning to, my friend took away my voice.

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Discipleship

When I was in college at BYU I took a class on the New Testament from Camille Fronk, and I will be forever grateful that I did.  She opened the gospels up for me like no one had before.  When studying Matthew chapters 18-20, she asked us: what are the costs, or requirements, of discipleship?  I find myself returning to that question in light of the pending excommunications of Kate Kelley and John Dehlin.  Because it is hard not to see severing them as an indirect severing of those that share their questions and concerns.  Is a cost of discipleship a willingness to put aside my conscience, and to stay in a church that insists that my personhood never reach beyond the scope of my assigned gender role?  Do I insult myself by staying?  Would the church prefer that I leave?

In verse 1 of Matthew 18, disciples ask Jesus, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Who did they expect would be?  Abraham?  The one who perfectly keeps commandments?  The one with perfect faith, or perfectly orthodox belief?  The answer was whoever becomes as a little child.  Children are eager to learn, forgiving, they make no distinctions among people, they are compassionate, and faithful.  A cost of discipleship is to become as a little child.

In verses 8 and 9 Jesus says if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.  Rid yourself of whatever separates you from God, so that you can commune with God and your neighbor [Ref 1].  A cost of discipleship is unflinching self-examination.

In verse 21, Peter asks Jesus, how oft shall I forgive?  Jesus answered, don’t keep track.  A cost of discipleship is to always forgive.

In verse 16 of chapter 19, a young ruler asks Jesus, what good thing shall I do to have eternal life?  Jesus answered, be willing to forsake your possessions, and follow me.  A cost of discipleship is giving your will to God.

In chapter 20 Jesus gives the parable of the laborers.  A householder contracted with laborers to work a day for a penny.  And at the sixth, and ninth, and eleventh hours he contracted with more laborers, to work till day’s end, for a penny. The laborers who were hired first felt cheated, and he answered them, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?  Why must you see my doing good to another as taking something away from you?  A cost of discipleship is to serve with your whole heart, and without thought of reward, because the reward is the same for all: everlasting life.

I want to be a disciple of Christ, and according to Paul, this means I must be of the body of Christ.  I may not say because I am not the eye, or the ear, or the hand, that I am not of the body.  I think Paul is saying that it is impossible to be fully Christian in isolation.  For without a community, who will I forgive?  Who will I serve?  Who will nurture me in my child-likeness?  Who will hold a mirror up, kindly, so that I can examine myself?  Who will show me what it looks like to give your will to God?  “There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” (1 Corinthians 12:25)  A cost of discipleship is to remain, even, especially, when other members suffer.

I realize there are other communities of Christians, and I think joining one could be a legitimate choice for me.  But for many reasons, all of which are beyond the scope of this blog post, Mormonism is my incarnation of the body of Christ.  It pains me greatly to think of a member being severed against her will.  But just as our bodies will be made perfect in the resurrection, so, I believe, will the body of Christ be restored eventually.  If there’s a God in heaven then whatever wrong is done will be made right.  If Kate and John are severed, and if other members are severed, I believe they will eventually be restored, though there is a lot of pain between now and then.  Until that day, the only choice for me is to stay.

 

 

Reference 1: “The self is in fact called to rid itself of whatever in it leads to sin (vv. 8-9; the references to hand and eye do not, in Pauline fashion, represent members of the church; they are rather hyperbolic illustrations, as in 5:29-30).  The underlying logic seems to be that in order to avoid offending others (v.7) one must also take care of oneself (vv.8-9).” The Oxford Bible Commentary, p. 867.  John Barton and John Muddiman, editors. Oxford University Press.

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From the Backlist: Comforting Those that Stand in Need of Comfort

Michaelangelo's 4th PietaA couple of weeks ago, I was having a down day between my relationship with the Church and Mormon feminism. I vague-booked out to my “Rogue Mormon” Facebook list and quickly after, my bishop and fellow ward members who are on that list messaged me back, letting me know I am always welcome and they want me in the ward, in the Church.

When the New York Times article about Kate Kelly and John Dehlin came out yesterday, my tech-savvy bishop messaged me again to make sure I was ok. This morning I got an email from a fellow ward member telling me, “Don’t leave!” and that she believes there is room for everyone in the Church. I wasn’t going to leave and I’m surprisingly handling this newer news better than I was handling things a couple of weeks ago. I think the responses I got a couple of weeks ago were helpful in grounding me. When the NYT article came out, I knew already that my ward wanted to keep me and I didn’t need to worry about whether or not I’d be welcome on Sunday.

I’m so grateful for a ward that really does believe in taking care of everyone and making sure we are all doing well, no matter where our talents and interests fall. I am honored to go to church every Sunday with people who take their promise to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” seriously.

Yesterday we mourned with you, so today, from our backlist, we will share comfort with you all.

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My Reaction to the Disciplinary Councils

I spent most of the day yesterday refreshingly offline thinking all was right in the world.  The news of Kate Kelly’s and John Dehlin’s disciplinary councils finally hit me with full force a couple hours late, as I haphazardly glanced at my phone while stirring noodles for dinner.  Somehow dinner made it off the stove and into my kid’s mouths.  From there my ability to fulfill anymore household duties waned as my kids ran amuck outside and I sat at my computer in shock at what had happened.

Earlier in the day, my girls and I were listening to the new Frozen CD that had come in the mail.  I watched as they danced around the living room singing, “Let it Go.”  Even my two-year-old twirled along with them singing, “Go, Go, Go.”  As I watched them, I marveled at the beauty they exhibited by dancing freely and singing a song of empowerment.  Then I was saddened by a thought.  Disney has done more to empower my girls lately than my church has.  Disney has given them the right to openly be who they are and embrace their power, not to conceal it or to be afraid of it.

I think that’s why the news of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin hit me so hard.  Here in essence, the church was telling them to stop being so vocal about their questions.  It’s not wrong to have questions, but keep them to yourself or discuss them only with your bishop.  Conceal don’t feel, right?  Or if you have to feel, at least keep it to yourself.  The euphoria I felt earlier from watching my daughters dance around the room was definitely gone.

As I was mulling over all of this, a message popped up on facebook.  A distant friend had heard the news and was reaching out to me because he knew that I was involved with Ordain Women.  We had a good, long discussion about it and he told me that he had harbored a lot of deep questions for years.  I was the only one he felt that he could talk to about it.  I knew that feeling well.  I thought back to a time when I felt like my faith and my whole existence were crashing down around me.  It was John Dehlin and Dan Wotherspoon from Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters who had caught me in their safety net and helped me to put the shattered pieces of my faith back together.  I pointed my friend toward their podcasts, knowing full-well the irony of what was happening.

Because Kate Kelly spoke loudly about her questions and her truth, I was able to do so as well.  Because I did, my friend was reaching out to me with a lonely struggle he had dealt with for years.  Because I’ve been in that lonely place myself, I knew where to direct him.  I knew about a community started by John Dehlin that embraced me with open arms and helped my faith to blossom and expand.  But because of the work of these two people, they are branded as apostates.  If that is apostasy, then I feel more comfortable around apostates than I do in a church that fears people who speak out.  If it weren’t for them, I would never have known that I wasn’t alone in my own feelings and thoughts.  If it weren’t for them, I would not have connected last night with a distant friend from my past who also thought he was alone in his feelings.  Kate Kelly and John Dehlin are part of the solution, not the problem.  I will echo many voices I heard throughout last evening: I am still part of this church because of people like them.

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Book Review: Letters to a Young Mormon

Letters

I read Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon a bit ago, to the youngest Mormon I know well. (I think that she was six months, then.) I have been meaning to write a review since that time, but it is difficult to write well (or really, at all) about something so small that means something so big.

Because it is a personal book, perhaps I can begin personally: my Mormon heart has felt broken lately–by PR letter after PR letter, and the poor welcoming of women and men who should not have to fight to belong to the body of Christ. Miller’s words are some of the first to help unbreak it, because they are a reminder of everything good and beautiful in Mormonism. I am sincerely glad that my daughter has heard them, as I sincerely hope that she will hear them again, when she is young and old enough to take them in.

As the title suggests, the book is at least loosely inspired by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It is made up of twelve letters: Agency, Work, Sin, Faith, Scripture, Prayer, History, Science, Hunger, Sex, Temples, and Eternal Life. Each one begins, “Dear S.,” and ends, “Love, A.” Each is written to his daughter.

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