Exponent II Classics: Keepers of the Keys to the Culture

I love this piece from one of my favorite Exponent II founding mothers, Judy Dushku.  I hope that we bloggers continue to be the Exponent II women that others will seek for companionship when they are questioning or feel like they don’t fit in.

Judy Dushku
Watertown, Massachusetts
Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer 1982)

In a recent Relief Society meeting, a convert bore a powerful testimony filled with exhilaration about spiritual manifestations she had experienced in answer to her prayers pleading for peace of mind and confirmation that the Lord loved her. Because the woman was new in the Church, the words she chose to express her gratitude and joy and the experiences she described were unusual for an LDS group. She spoke openly of knowing that Jesus’ spirit was present and that she had felt in clear and vivid ways his love for her.

Many women who seldom speak were moved by her testimony and bore brief testimonies of their own, but it seemed apparent that some who usually are active participants in our meetings felt awkward and embarrassed by the testimony meeting. I sensed their discomfort and felt some of it myself, but I believed that it was not from any distrust of the genuiness of the expressions we had heard, but rather because the style and language of the speakers were not familiar to our Mormon culture. It was, and I knew it, too “excessive” a display of spiritual joy for the tastes of most people raised in the faith. I had fought off my discomfort because I wanted so much to hear what the women were saying, and I was glad that I was able to, for I was deeply edified in the full meaning of the word by the whole meeting.

After the meeting three women in the ward, whom I secretly think of as the Keepers of the Keys to the Culture because they are so enthusiastically Mormon and so clear in their sense of what is to be done and what is not to be done, were talking. Their conversation was relayed to me later by a confused and curious listener who, as a consequence of what she had heard, had a question about Exponent II. She said the three women seemed quite unnerved by the testimony meeting. They were concerned, they said, that there were several investigators present who were probably really “freaked out” by what had been said.

“What will they think of us?” one had asked with some horror.

“Surely the will think that we Mormons are really weird,” replied her friend. “The poor missionaries!”

“It’s too bad we had so much time for testimonies. Why didn’t you get up and bear a nice, normal one?”

They laughed, expressing mutual understanding of all the anxiety they were sharing.

“Well, at least Sister A (the convert speaker) didn’t get into talking about her past life,” one sighed with relief. “She has really been around and sometimes actually talks about it. It’s too much.”

“She reminded me of a woman in my parents’ ward who always talked about Jesus healing her. Really weird stuff.”

“I think they’ve got her teaching Primary soon. That will be good. The kids will love her.”

“She works, I think. And lives in the city. She probably has a hard time getting to church.”

“A Primary job doesn’t let you meet a lot of people. She might be lonely. She doesn’t exactly fit in…”

Then more laughing and really not unkindly: “I know, why don’t we introduce her to the Exponent II women. They would get along great!” More laughter.

“You work on Exponent II,” said my curious acquaintance. “What was that conversation all about, and what did that last reference to Exponent women mean?”

I knew inside exactly what it all meant, but it was hard to explain. I knew there was no malice in the conversation, and no criticism of either Exponent II or the new convert woman intended. I was not offended, and I understood the women well. I, too, have grown up in the Church and know so deeply inside of myself the rules of conduct that our culture has acquired. I know immediately when someone violates a rule, intentionally or not, and it makes me mildly uncomfortable—or even very sweaty—at times. I have tried to examine the roots of the rules and get rid of the ones that I don’t think have any real or necessary basis in the gospel, but I have a hard time freeing myself entirely from subtle rules that resulted from years of socializing in Church society.

I know these three women and I respect them in many ways. I call them Keepers of the Keys to the Culture because they are just that. They are absolutely reliable to set the proper—meaning normal—tone for meetings and all other events. They are called to many leadership positions in the ward and are asked to do extra and special things where a thoroughly dependable, capable person is needed who will carry the ball with little instruction. When asked “do the program” for the annual Relief Society birthday party, they know what is expected by the assigner: a well-written, twenty-minute skit featuring the early pioneer women at their most long-suffering and spiritual best. No song-and-dance routines for this birthday party. Ask one of them to teach the El Salvador lesson in Relief Society, and one can rest assured that if any innocent in the group asks if El Salvador isn’t the country where the government is killing and torturing people, the teacher would nod yes, say graciously and sweetly—but firmly, “Right, but I didn’t want to get into that right now. As I want to emphasize some of the positive aspects of their culture, I have asked a trio to sing a Salvadoran song, and they have to sing it now before one of the sisters in the trio has to leave.” If a sister commented in a lesson on family relations that she and her husband had been arguing about something, one of those good sisters as teacher would most ably thank her for her contribution, acknowledge that we all have our little disagreements with family members, but would go on to a scripture she had prepared.

I know these women and sincerely respect them for their ability to lead. If I were bishop, I would probably call them myself to positions where they could move things along smoothly and be role models for new initiates into the Church and the culture. One was my visiting teaching companion, and we never missed a month. She is bright, warm, punctual, optimistic, encouraging, and always had the lesson prepared. She was the one who always asked the women we visited how they were doing that month, and I was amazed at how she could elicit form each a description of some small disappointment from the week, but never got us messed up in the heavier problems that some of the women we visited were known to have. She knew exactly how to ask the questions, to get the intended degree of need expressed, and to move on quickly to words of encouragement, advice, and an offer of help. We always got our teaching done in a reasonable amount of time. It was a good year, a good route.

I tried to explain all this to my questioner. Naturally there women would be uncomfortable with this convert, her spiritual experiences, and her lack of control in describing them. And while they would think to refer someone to Exponent II if the person wanted to talk about being depressed, or about questions she had about whey men speak last in sacrament meetings, or some of those other “negative” topics, it was no surprise to me that these women would also imagine Exponent II women as the ones who would be just weird enough to welcome this overzealous testimony bearer. I was glad that we are thought of as those among whom people can feel comfortable and accepted and loved, baring their souls about Jesus’s love for them. It is part of what we stand for and want to mean to women, to people. But I still have a hard time explaining what all this means to my friend.

Do you know what I mean?

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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4 Responses

  1. G says:

    very interesting… and I understand what you mean (and what the keepers mean too), as missionaries we were actually pretty fearful of testimony meetings if we had investigators attending. that makes me pretty sad now. I’m currently trying to ‘de-socialize’ myself of the LDS culture. but those rules of engagement, yeah, they are hardwired.

    I gotta say, I’m just jealous that women in your ward even know about the “exponent women”. (however they tend to think of them.)

  2. Courtney says:

    Amen.

  3. Jessawhy says:

    Great post!
    My friend Suzann said she loves this writer, and I tend to agree. I’m amazed at how well, and kindly, she puts her finger on the Keepers of the Keys of culture.

    We have them in every ward.

    I also thought as I was reading, that much of the emotional testimony bearing would have been very much a part of Joseph and Emma’s day and that they would probably be bored stiff by our more restrained culture.

  4. D'Arcy says:

    Whoa. Reality check. I used to BE a keeper of the kingdom. I really did. I don’t think it went as far as talking with a group of women in the hallway about a testimony ( I tried to avoid the gossip circle as much as possible) but I was that adept at guiding a lesson, planning an event, doing my visiting teaching and being that “Perfect” example.

    Wow. Hard to imagine the D’Arcy that was.

    And I agree, I’m jealous people knew what Exponent II was as well. Most people I know think that the bloggernacle is a form of apostacy.

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