Digging Up Our Patriarchal Roots
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.