One of the things about leaving Provo (permanently and irrevocably) in 1992 and then moving back more than twenty years later is that I experience these periodic, intense flashbacks that just come out of nowhere. Like this morning, I’m driving up Center Street, listening to the radio, and I hear “You got a fast car, I want a ticket to anywhere . . .” and BOOM, I’m right back in my student apartment playing Tracy Chapman. I’m seeing my bedroom with peculiar 360 degree lucidity, hearing the words to Fast Car (especially Fast Car) coming out of my portable. During that pre-mission semester in 1988, I must have listened to Chapman’s album a thousand times. Now I’m feeling all the old feelings.
Those feelings included, first and foremost, nostalgia. During my last two years of high school I had a car, and despite also having early morning seminary AND a job, I enjoyed hours and hours of driving around with my friends, happily going nowhere. Those were the laissez faire days of benign parental neglect, coupled with the blissful weightlessness of being a teenager, and (gas was cheap) I drove my pals all over the place, imagining the vistas that would open up to us as soon as we got to college.
In my case, college meant BYU. What a shock to the old system when I got to Provo and experienced a sudden, almost vertiginous narrowing of perspective. This many years later, I know what bothered me, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it then: none of my professors was female. Neither were the speakers at any of the Tuesday devotionals, which (as a freshman at least) I attended quite faithfully. It was weird, and it made me feel displaced. But there was very little critical thinking performed at BYU in the late 80s, if such mental activity involved questioning doctrine or authority. My own analytic abilities (probably never robust to begin with) started to feel suspicious to me, and they withered on the vine like sad, rotten grapes.
So yes, Chapman’s anthem of escape struck a deep chord, even if I couldn’t have articulated it. Being at BYU was (to me, okay? I speak only for myself!) like being in a box, and not a particularly large one. When I got out, I did not look back.
Yet here I am in 2016, driving down Center Street in a minivan. Hah! There’s much to like about Provo. It’s a great place to raise kids, and boy, that’s not nothing. But as I said, I’ll have these occasional flashbacks with attendant tightness of breath until I remind myself that I have not only a minivan, but lots and lots of frequent flier miles, and I’ve made peace with my questions as well as my questioning.
I haven’t made peace with the still-unchecked chauvinism at BYU, though (see here!). This is because it’s the same chauvinism that runs rampant through the institutional church, of which I remain a part. It was a hard thing to deal with last Saturday, when I stood outside the Church Administration Building and asked a closed and gated door if someone would hear me. That was a pantomime, but a meaningful one. I could still make myself believe that, unacknowledged though I was by church leadership, perhaps the beating of my wings would ripple across the street where the Q12 were conducting Saturday sessions of Conference. I cherished the hope.
That hope took a bit of a thrashing the next day, when, in between Sunday sessions, I watched a few of the “leaked” videos showing the brethren in various modes of governance, their patriarchy glorious and uncensored. I didn’t watch all fifteen videos by any means, but I watched enough. Content-wise, I saw nothing particularly shocking. However, the unrelenting boys-only clubbiness of the private meetings was difficult for me. No women. No women. No women.
No women. I can only assume that for the apostles, it’s the most natural thing in the world to conduct meetings and such where there are NO WOMEN. Why would they ever feel inclined to consider changing a single thing? The hail-fellow-well-met camaraderie of it all has been working (in their favor) since the nineteenth century. And if it ain’t broken . . .
Friends, Tracy Chapman’s words are just timeless:
You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way