So a Mormon Feminist Sits By a Priest on an Airplane . . .

Posted by on October 14, 2013 in women | 9 comments

planeReady for the punchline?

Well there isn’t one, but I promise I will tell a joke.

When flew back from Lubbock, TX last week, I sat next to a very nice man in his twenties who is in seminary to be a parish priest.  Of course it was 7:25 AM and everyone else wanted to sleep, but I mentioned that I really liked the new Pope (Thank you, Deborah!)  and we launched into conversation for the entire flight.  With Ordain Women fresh on my mind, I was itching to know his view on female ordination to the Catholic priesthood, and what he thought of the role of women in the church in New Testament time and now.  He knew a little about Catholic women’s push for ordination and was respectful of my views.  He even seemed to be somewhat open to the idea of female ordination, acknowledging that Jesus treated women with radical equality in the Bible.  I was surprised that he had questions for me about Mormonism and glad that I could help him understand our temples, policies, priesthood and sacrament a little better.  We spent time comparing stories of Adam and Eve and the consequences of the Fall. When he asked me about Mormons being Christians,  I had difficulty remembering the nuances of why Mormons calling themselves Christian is difficult for other Christians, but I remembered it had something to do with branding.  Along that line, I challenged him with the age-old question put to Christians, “Why does God require a sacrifice anyway?” and found him struggling to remember what he had recently been taught about this in his seminary.  As he asked me about the Lubbock LDS Temple, I described the differences between our worship services and our Temple services/covenants generally, and more specifically what qualifies people to receive a recommend.  The conversation drifted to the sacrament versus Eucharist,  an embodied and gendered God versus the Trinity, Mary, the Divine Feminine (or the Divine Feminism, as my priest-friend misspoke) and any number of other nuances of our faiths.

I loved his view of Mary. He described her as a creature  who was close to God.  Essentially, she is the human who is closest to God, who has the most divinity within her.  I liked that much better than the way I described how Mormons think of her as a fortunate women who we occasionally remember at Christmastime.  It’s easier to see the Divine Feminine in Catholicism’s Mary than in Mormonism’s invisible  Heavenly Mother.

At one point I mentioned that Mormon feminism was my hobby and he replied, “Oh, it seems like it’s a lot more than that.”  I smiled.  I’ve spent so many years reading, conversing, and writing about issues of faith that I was happy to meet someone with a similar fascination for religious topics, who was receptive to sharing information about our faith traditions.  For example, we took turns asking each other about how our religion understood the Fall, and heaven, also the human search for the divine.  I explained the different offices and duties of Mormon priesthood and he explained what his job would entail when he took over as Lubbock parish priest in two years.

When I asked about the drop in men entering the priesthood, he acknowledged that fewer people are choosing to devote their lives to God in this way, but seemed happy with his choice.  I acknowledged that it must have been hard to commit to life as a priest and forgo a family life. He said it was a long and very difficult decision, which I can only begin to imagine.   In order to lighten the mood a bit, I summarized the one joke I know about Catholic priests,

After a lifetime of hand-copying ancient texts, an elderly monk became abbot of his monastery.

Realizing that for centuries his order had been making copies of copies, he decided to examine some of the monastery’s original documents.

Days later, the other monks found him in the cellar, weeping over a crumbling manuscript and moaning, “It says celebrate, not celibate.”

Fortunately, my new priest friend thought the joke was even funnier than I did.

When we ended our 45 minute flight, I had made a new friend. We said goodbye and I knew I would probably never meet this man again, but I was so grateful we had crossed paths. Our conversation was really powerful to me. It reminded me that no matter what my views and struggles with religion may be, the people who serve God can be demonstrate their faith in ways that help me see beauty.  In our discussions, I felt God.  Not as a person or presence, but as a divine connection between people who share their hopes and beliefs.  As we engage honestly in inter-faith dialog, without desire to convert, but with the desire to bless, we can more truly see the divinity within each other and within ourselves.

Tonight I will pray for the priest from Lubbock, I’m sure he is praying for me.

What are your experiences with inter-faith dialog?

Have you found God in other faiths?

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9 Comments

  1. This is lovely. And you’re reminding me how much I enjoy talking with all kinds of people–but particularly other people who are devoted to God in their own way–about religion. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for sharing that wonderful story! Throughout my life I have enjoyed many religious discussions, about Islam, Judaism, various flavors of Christianity including Catholicism, without any proselyting pressure. Just sharing what we had to offer.

  3. Great story, Jess! I agree with him that Mormon feminism as your hobby seems to under-describe it by a large margin. It’s like saying physics is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s hobby. :)

    • Thank you all for your comments. It’s nice to hear that others have similar experiences with interfaith dialog.

      Ziff- Ha! I guess it’s more of a hobby/obsession

  4. What a fun and meaningful conversation, I wish I could have more like it. So many people I know are either Mormon or not religious at all so it’s hard to have interfaith conversations. Although a lot of the time I feel like I’m having an interfaith conversation when I talk to other Mormons because my brand of Mormonism is a little different.

    Sometimes I wonder if airplane conversations can be so good because you know you’ll probably never see this person again so you can “afford” to be honest with them. It’s too bad it can’t be like that more often with our everyday friends and acquaintances.

    • I think that’s a great point, Emily U. There’s little risk to opening up when you don’t have an ongoing relationship.

      Tangentially, I think this is why GAs are so enamored of telling stories of people they talked to on airplanes. It’s a low-risk situation for the same reason. If you offend them, well, after the flight, you’ll never see them again. It just bugs me when this gets generalized to the idea that you have nothing to lose by proselytizing to friends and family, who of course you do have an ongoing relationship with, and who it does matter if you offend.

      • Yes! This was part of my original post, because there is something great about authenticity in every area of life, and connecting deeply with people you love, but it really is so complicated when we have history and future with someone.

        Thanks for the comments!

      • Exactly, Ziff. That, and they must fly on airplanes a lot more than I do!

  5. Nice post, I really enjoyed it!

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