Underbelly

In this short post, I want to ask, Who are we forgetting? Who are we leaving out?

In the ongoing journey for equality and civil rights for all, often times we forget about the underbelly of society (underbelly meaning hidden or vulnerable).

I currently work at a non-profit that works with active drug users and sex workers. A population that society has forgotten. A population that my organization seeks to include in conversations relating to policy and health. We constantly search each day for methods to better the lives of this group and to make them feel included within society. We work with those who are transgender and seek to protect their best interests with their help and input.

At our monthly trans support group last month, one transwoman remarked how she never leaves home without her long metal chain. It’s the only way she’s feels protected and it’s the only way she can guarantee her safety. Another transwoman from the group mentioned how often she has faced discrimination in searching and keeping jobs.

I live a bustling metropolis that prides itself on its open-mindedness and liberalness. How do we still have people feeling unsafe and unwelcome here? How do we do nothing to include them in conversations regarding their problems and safety? For such an open minded city, we close our ears to those in our midst whose voices need to be heard more than ours.

And so it is within the modern Mormon feminist movement. At least in my eyes.

We have made great strides in our community in making Mormonism more vast and egalitarian. We pride ourselves on being more open to change than the traditional orthodox LDS Church members. We’re ahead of the curve.

Yet….

When we talk about feminism, are we including transwomen into our conversations?

When we talk about equality (within and outside of the Church), why do we often forget our sisters of color?

When we talk about defending ourselves from the patriarchy, do we also include those who are gay, lesbian, or queer?

Courtesy of mormonfeminist.org

I still read and hear stories of Mormon women of color who still feel left out of the conversation (myself included). It is painfully obvious that there are few voices in our movement from those who are LGBTQ. And is there even a space for those  among us who are transwomen? Just because the numbers are small, doesn’t mean their voices shouldn’t be heard or included.

So, who are we forgetting? And how can we remember them?

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Forms of Grace

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And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

Poor Joseph. Birth order and his father’s feelings were not his fault. He was only 17. But still, you’d think common sense or modesty would have warned him off of telling his brothers about his dreams. They weren’t terribly nice guys, for instance Simeon and Levi had murdered all the men in Shechem’s household as they lay recovering from circumcisions. Clearly Joseph underestimated his brothers’ hatred for him, and would have been murdered himself if Reuben hadn’t stepped in and gotten him sold into slavery instead. (Reuben, who may have felt he owed their father some form of apology after he’d slept with Mama Bilhah). Joseph was apparently still peeved at his brothers many years later, because when they showed up in Egypt he “spake roughly unto them” and put the fear of God into them by framing Benjamin for theft before revealing his identity and insisting that they all move to Egypt, reuniting the happy family. All this is of course a prelude to the enslavement of the Israelites and their dramatic exodus back to Caanan (a land flowing with milk and honey–no going back to Egypt to buy corn [1]).

This story is about forging a covenant people. It’s such good drama that Hollywood, Broadway, and Disney have all had turns at telling it, and like all good drama, the story involves flawed characters whose motives aren’t always admirable. Here we have a cast of sinners motivated by jealousy, retribution, and the will to survive, whose lives turn out to form an enduring story of faith. God works in mysterious ways.

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General Conference: Feeling Tossed on the Old Ship Zion

life-preserver

For the most part I’m a fan of General Conference. I like to spend Saturdays working on a project, headphones on and hearing counsel and stories about the gospel. Sundays I turn it on in the kitchen and try to listen as I simultaneously instruct the kids on the proper way to make frijoles or corn chowder or whatever yumminess we’ll eat during the break between session. Sunday afternoon is spent in a food coma in the basement, drifting in and out of sleep as I recline on the futon. Some talks I like. Some bug me. But I usually walk away a little more committed and renewed. But this past weekend, I felt pulled in two different directions and I’m a little queasy as a result.

My favorite speaker is always Jeffrey Holland. I love his intelligence. I love his relationship with his wife Pat (she is his equal, not his “sweet companion”) and that comes out in how he talks about and to women. I love that he always has a thesis and sticks with it (English major here). His Saturday afternoon talk focused on how the Savior’s first “messianic call” was to care for the poor. “The great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join him in lifting this heavy burden from the people.” He really hit home our duty to “seek opportunities to care for the poor.” Aside from fast offerings, he promised that God “will guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.”

And other talks made reference to serving in our communities and as communities. I delighted in hearing Elder Wong talk (in Cantonese!!) about the absolute need to “Rescue in Unity.” “We can all help one another,” he said. “We should always be anxiously engaged in seeking to rescue those in need. … When we assist (Jesus Christ) in his mission of saving souls, we too will be rescued in the process.” I felt the truth of their admonitions. As I say to my teenage son who no longer identifies as Mormon, “I don’t care as much if you believe in Christ as I do that you act like Christ.”

But there was another theme: the need to put family gospel study first. This was referenced many times, most particularly by Elder Scott who focused on the necessity of making one’s family the center of all our efforts. On Sunday afternoon he spoke of four tools. And here is where I started to feel guilty. And stressed. And confused. But don’t mistake my anxiety as disapproval or dislike because I actually believe in the benefits of his four tools:

1)   Family Prayer morning and night is “nonnegotiable priority in daily life, more important than sleep, school, media…”

2)   Scripture Study as a family, same as above

3)   FHE needs to be every Monday night and nothing, not “employment, sports, homework” should stand in the way.

4)   Attend the Temple.

I kinda wanted to cry, because as a SAHM who is actively trying to raise her family in the gospel, I WANT these things in my life. I TRY to do these things but fail. Majorly. Especially if the standard for success is Every. Single. Day. Twice. Whatever happened to the lovely vagueness of the word “regular?”  Regular prayer and scripture study are goals I can live with. But nonnegotiable rocks my boat, because I cannot prioritize my family as Scott urges and also serve those around me in the way Holland envisions.

As I listened to Elder Scott, I started to picture two versions of Elder Ballard’s “Old Ship Zion.” One ship is large, filled with many souls. Sometimes I have to leave my kids on the poop deck to go into the galley and wash dishes or play shuffleboard with a widow who desperately needs the company. Scriptures are not always studied because my time and attention are spent elsewhere, mending sails and swabbing decks. But my kids are learning to work and serve as well. Yet when I think of Scott’s focus on shoring up my family, I see me and my kids on a small boat, a dinghy of sorts. The only way I can make those four tools a regular part of our lives is to isolate ourselves. Become the Swiss Family Robinson. If I am going to make it happen, I cannot pull other people onto my boat.

I freely admit that my life is better when I have managed to make prayer and scriptures a regular part of our lives. There is a peace. But there is also a price. Because FHE is not simply 4o minutes on Monday night. It means meals and homework and lessons and projects all have to be dealt with ahead of time, often at great cost. It means preparing a spiritual message that a 17 year old and an 8 year old will listen to. And nobody’s mad, but all those tasks usually fall on the woman’s shoulders. So as Elder Scott talks about the peace brought by these tasks, I feel a little resentful because if any of it is going to happen, the tasks will be mine and mine alone. It ain’t right, but that’s how it is for me and most of the women I know. So we hear this counsel, and we want the benefits but just don’t know if we are capable of paying the price. What (or who) will we have to toss overboard to keep our family afloat?

I am torn because I know I cannot heed both orders. I cannot serve in my ward and community, as I love to, as Holland and Wong urge us to, if my days are filled with nonnegotiable obligations. If I go out in the evening for a lecture, exercise, visiting teachings, service, then family prayers and scriptures will not happen.

And here is where I miss Chieko Okazaki. If she were around she would be tossing me a life vest, and a Diet Coke, telling me that of course I cannot do it all. She might say this: “[Heather], I think that many Mormon women do not have clear boundaries for themselves. They feel a sense of confusion about who they are, because many competing voices lay claim to them and they try to accommodate them all…. Remember, a boundary has ‘yes’ on one side and ‘no’ on the other. A woman who never feels that she can say ‘no’ is lacking an important element of personal identity and, hence, personal safety. A woman who also feels that she can never say ‘yes’ has an equally serious problem in her inability to move beyond her own boundaries.” (https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/…/article/download/391/369)

So I come away from General Conference with lots to think about: my role as a mother, a sister, a friend, a disciple, a part of a community. I know I will have to find my own answers, my own balance. Choices will be made and I will live with the consequences. Ultimately it is Elder Uchtodorf words that provide a lifeline: “We are all pilgrims, seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship.” And in my quiet moments, I can almost see the sun on the horizon.

 

How do you reconcile what feel like conflicting admonitions from Church leaders?  What talks felt like life preservers? What make you feel like walking the plank? 

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Relief Society Lesson 22: Prayer, a Commandment and a Blessing

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

Cry unto Him over the crops of your field, that ye may prosper in themWe Need Prayer

Prayer is something that we need, not that the Lord needs. –Joseph Fielding Smith

Why do we need prayer?

As you watch this video about church member Daisy Ogando, pay attention to her testimony of prayer. How has prayer helped her? Consider both the tangible and intangible. Think about how prayer has helped you.

Video: Prayer

Our prayers are uttered more for our sakes, to build us up and give us strength and courage, and to increase our faith in him. Prayer is something that humbles the soul. It broadens our comprehension; it quickens the mind. It draws us nearer to our Father in heaven. We need his help; there is no question about that. We need the guidance of his Holy Spirit. We need to know what principles have been given to us by which we may come back into his presence. We need to have our minds quickened by the inspiration that comes from him; and for these reasons we pray to him, that he may help us to live so that we will know his truth and be able to walk in its light, that we may, through our faithfulness and our obedience, come back again into his presence. –Joseph Fielding Smith

How does prayer help us? How does prayer change us?

Gratitude

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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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