“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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Representing Christ

The Good Shepherd by Waiting for the World

The Good Shepherd
by Waiting for the World

 

 

 

By Jenny

I looked out the window of the bus at the dreary grey sky, as we winded down the long road from Hitler’s Tea House on the top of the mountain.  It had been another dismal workday and I was ready to crash.  I was nineteen and living alone in a mountain village in Southern Bavaria, doing an internship that I had gotten through BYU.  Up until the point that I boarded the airplane for this secluded place, I had barely left my own mountains of Utah.  I was sheltered to say the least.  Now I was the lone Mormon kid, an hour away from the nearest LDS church in Salzburg.  In my immature and naïve mind, I was also surrounded by heathens who might be contagious.  I would come to love the people I was surrounded by and lose most of my self- righteous attitude toward them, but at this point I was spending too much energy trying to keep myself unstained from the sins of the world.  That left me with little capacity for love.

This day had been a particularly hard one.  When I finally arrived at my apartment, depression seized me and I threw myself on the bed and pulled the covers over my head.  I was ready to give up.  I lay there crying and praying.  In my loneliness that summer, God had become my  one constant companion.  I knew that if I got up and ran in the hills behind my apartment I  would feel better, but I couldn’t pull myself out of my bed.  I lay there in misery until I saw  something curious on my back door.  I got out of bed to see what it was and found that it was a note from the Sister Missionaries.

Liebe Jenny, We had a crazy desire to visit you today—unfortunately the budget didn’t take us to the top of the mountain. Na, ja—we picked the second best thing and hiked up here to your house.  Above all, we have been thinking about you—it’s tough being the only Mormon kid in a foreign country but buck up trooper—we know your example will have many lasting effects—the Lord even gives us pep talks when we need them, here’s Sister Nuttall and I’s favorite. D&C 6:34-37. The Lord knows each one of us very personally—even those of us wandering around Salzburg or sitting atop a mountain in Germany!  The Lord is also most pleased in how strong you are growing in this experience—spiritual muscles!  We are sorry that we didn’t plan this adventure to Berchtesgaden well enough—don’t worry, we will get together another time. Wir haben Sie Lieb Schwester Jensen and Schwester Nuttalls

 

That note was everything to me at that moment, and it got me out of bed.  I put on my running shoes and ran through the lush forested hills.  I wondered why the missionaries would take so much time and energy to travel an hour by train and then hike all the way up to my apartment just to leave me a note.  They could have been searching for converts, but they spent the greater part of their day just to make my day better.  That day was not a successful one for them by any outward appearance.  They didn’t find a golden contact, they didn’t convert anyone to the gospel, they didn’t even get to see the one person they spent their day travelling to see.  As a missionary it could have been considered a wasted day.  But their efforts meant everything to me, one lonely nineteen-year-old girl far from the comfort of her tribe.  That day, my missionaries chose to represent Christ.

That was the loneliest time of my life because I was in an unfamiliar culture with people who weren’t like me.  I have felt a similar loneliness over the last few years.  This time I am not alone in a foreign country where I struggle to use the language to express myself.  I am not different from everyone around me because I grew up with different beliefs and values than they did.  This time I am in the culture of my birth.  I should fit in.  But after a life-changing faith transition and feminist awakening, I am different.  I believe differently.  I speak differently and I do struggle to find a common language with which I can fully express myself.  Now I am the heathen whom others are struggling to be around for fear that what I have is contagious.  In the very culture of my birth I don’t fit in.  I am different.

So naturally I am thinking about those missionaries so many years ago and the effort they made to help me feel like I was okay in a culture that I didn’t belong to.  And I am thinking about the ideal we set in the church for every member to be a missionary.  What does that mean?  The typical Sunday School answers are to pray for missionary experiences, give Book of Mormons away, and talk to our friends and neighbors about the church.  But my wise sister missionaries knew that it wasn’t just about getting converts.  What good does it do us to convert people to our church if our church is not a place for many people with differing beliefs and levels of orthodoxy to feel welcome.  If our church is not a church of love and inclusion, then converts will profit us nothing.

We worry about our image, we worry about our numbers, we worry about our rules.  We don’t want to get too close because what that person has looks like apostasy.  We bear our testimonies in an attempt to convert them back to our way of thinking and believing.  We live in a cold and delusional world of Sunday school answers.  It’s time to shed our rules, shed our agendas, and shed the self righteousness that makes us believe that we have all the right answers for everyone.   If we truly want to be representatives of Christ in our member missionary work, then it’s time for us to climb the mountains to find the one.  To find the one who is lonely and feels out of place.  To find the one who is giving up on the church because the church has given up on her.  To find the one who needs to know that she is loved no matter what she believes or how she lives her life.  We can spend our energy worrying about apostasy and trying to keep ourselves unstained from the sins of the world.  Or we can give ourselves fully to loving the way Christ did.

 

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Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Some bike-themed Exponent posts, a poll and a video.

(Click on the titles of some of these wonderful, classic posts to enjoy some bike-related reading. When you’re done, get off the computer and go for a bike ride.)


The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

National Bike Month

“But a year later after we moved from rural Indiana to the suburban sprawl of Chicago, bicycling became my morning meditation.”

tricycle bike

Photo by Jana Remy

 

Biking In A Skirt

Modesty was a problem for me during my missionary days. Skirts flap around Marilyn Monroe-style on a bike.”

Don’t Come Cryin’ To Me!

I have to admit part of me was SAD that the bikes were patiently waiting for them after the movie.”

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Leaving Eden

 

"Two Souls" by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

“Two Souls” by Eduardo Rodriguez Calzado

I have a secret to tell: I mourn not being able to be the Mormon woman I was always taught to be, that I was always told I would be, that I was always patted on the head for my righteous desires to be as a young woman. I wanted to have the lovely home, the quiver full of children, homeschooling, every meal homemade with love. I would lie awake at night when I was engaged to my husband, envisioning a life of fresh muffins in the morning and a constantly clean bathroom (admittedly, this one is still on my wish list).

I know the dream is idyllic and was completely unattainable from the start, but I still mourn the possibility. I never asked for my faith to take a dramatic shift, held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope rather than anchored in certainty. I never asked for my mind to be so thirsty for more knowledge and information that the easy answers stopped working. I never asked for the postpartum depression that followed my births, making motherhood an excruciating tumble into the abyss of despair rather than a joyous journey in those first months and years. These are not the things we simply pick out of a lineup of potential experiments like cans on supermarket shelves. These experiences choose us and we learn how to stumble our way through as gracefully as possible.

But every day as I work to reason and share my heart with others about the experiences that have brought me to Mormon feminism, I am confronted with the woman that I once thought I would be: the woman who believes so easily, who finds joy and fulfillment where she’s told she would, the woman who is that Mormon woman. I mourn her despite the fact that my life experiences have caused me to cry out, “Please stop defining me by a biological process that, while bringing light and life, also brought utter darkness! Please stop telling me that I ‘just don’t understand,’ when my mind spends countless hours of every.single.day mulling over, praying over, writing over, and pondering over these things! Please stop telling me that I just need to have more faith when I’ve exercised all that I have in me and still, somehow, try to keep my faith together.

I mourn her because her life had a well-laid path and straight-forward answers. When belief was easy, she didn’t have to spend so much of her energy finding footholds. I mourn her because her life was not conflicted: read, pray, follow the prophet, endure to the end. Check, check, check, check.

One night as I shared the profound sadness in my loss of innocence with a friend, the picture became clear. Much of the time when we speak of the story of Adam and Eve, we forget how radical the underlying message is–in order to truly live and progress, we must choose knowledge. We must choose a life of paradox and pain. We must choose to have our eyes opened. We must leave the Garden. We must leave what we thought was the ideal, the simple and well-laid path, in favour of life.

I wonder if Eve, in those moments of toil in the lone and dreary world, ever looked back on Eden in the way that I look back on the woman I was always told I should want to be. I wonder if she thought, “what if my eyes had never been opened? What if I could have continued on peacefully without having to struggle, without being removed from the certainty of God’s presence? What if I had just done what I was supposed to do? Why did I seek out this knowledge?”

But like Eve, we go forward. This is the work of women. Forward, ever forward, eyes constantly lifted to heaven for more understanding, a space in our hearts for that piece of us that could have been continuously content but chose choice, uncertainty, and the height and depth of human emotions.

Forward, ever forward, with faith held together by ribbons of choice and streams of hope.

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Will we be silenced again?

One by one they throw us from the tower and we spread our wings and fly linda sillitoeMy name is April Young Bennett.

About three years ago, I published my very first post at the Exponent. I identified myself only by my first name because I was scared. Terrified. Silenced.

I loved my Mormon faith, but I could also see its flaws—how the sexism embedded in its culture, policies and doctrines were affecting my life. I had more than complaints; I had ideas! I wanted to contribute to my church, to make it a better place, but my input was not wanted because I am a woman. 

The Exponent gave me a forum to air my views, but I continued to sign my posts with only my first name.

It wasn’t my fault that I was scared. I grew up in a culture of fear. People who dared to publicly discuss the church’s flaws were cast out of it when I was still a child. When I reached adulthood, I thought I was the only Mormon in the world who cared about sexism because people with questions stopped asking them. It wasn’t safe.

A little over a year ago, Kate Kelly invited Mormon women to try again. We could be bold. We could ask for what we want.  We could break taboos that silence us, speaking out in public instead of limiting ourselves to semi-anonymous cyberspace.

We could use our real names.

Mormons accuse each other of “going public” as if it were a sin, as if the phrase from the Book of Mormon, “All is well in Zion” were a script we should follow, instead of an example of “carnal security” that “cheateth [our] souls.” (2 Nephi 28:21) We hope that by keeping our opinions to ourselves, our faith community will appear to be perfectly happy. We are living advertisements, wooing potential converts. We can’t actually address our problems while we are busy hiding them, but we hope that no one else will notice our issues because we don’t mention them in public. Building Zion takes a backseat to keeping up the appearance of Zion.  We lay aside scriptural admonition to “lay aside…all guile, and hypocrisies” (1 Peter 2:1).

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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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