Saturday, July 5, 2014

Does anyone even read this any more??

The last month, I know, has been gut wrenching to watch. From all vantages. I'm so sorry that we have borne this trial, and I sincerely hope that you have found someone to bear it deeply with you.

In my academic life, I study how minority groups are visually depicted and represented. I find a fascinating application for my training in looking towards my own self, and the groups with whom I am family. Right now, I want to turn my attention to us; to Mormons. Specifically, to Mormon women.

I was  struck when the church decided (whether autonomously or not) to FINALLY display a photograph of the highest female authorities of our organization in the conference center this year. I wondered, when that happened, why it was happening just now, and I was intrigued that there was only minimal precedent for such a display in such a public place in the church. Almost every Relief Society room I've been in has little oval portraits of the presidents of that organization hanging on its walls. I hadn't really ever considered that such a view wasn't displayed for everyone. When those sisters showed up in the conference center, with their pastel blazers and heavenly puffed hair helmets, I was moved to finally see my sisters taking their place.

Being represented on a wall with a portrait in a public place has a long tradition in western culture. A portrait conveys a message of importance, of belonging and sometimes of wealth or great knowledge. Historically, portraits were reserved for kings and queens, emperors and pharaohs , members of royal courts and heroic dynasties. I saw these sisters taking their place in line with a long tradition.

But the fact that it took them until 2014 to finally be put up on the wall told me a different story.

In art history (my area of academic interest and practice), there is a great array of means to approach visual representation. In my particular area of study, the mechanism of the "post memory" has been useful. The post memory, essentially, is the means by which the struggles and hardships of our predecessors are imbued with meaning. It is the means by which latter generations inherit these struggles as a part of their identity, their narrative, their truth. I posit that Mormon women today are inheritors of the minimal visibility of our faithful sisters before us, and the deep capacity to remain faithful regardless. I would like to further suggest that that specific struggle has a great deal of significance and meaning.

A dear friend KB recently expressed to me the frustration that she feels compelled to "bask in the history of my foremothers. But it is too deeply overshadowed by [our] forefathers." KB isn't one to be lost on sentiment where it isn't due, and I want to tell her, to tell all of us, that there is meaning in joining the struggle to be seen, to be heard, to matter, and to make the story of the gospel whole.

I think often about when Eliza Snow was writing the words to O My Father. She was discussing the theology and nature of Godliness with her husband Joseph Smith, when he told her that we have a Mother in Heaven just as much as we have a Father there. She excitedly added that verse to her poem and encased our deep revealed doctrine of feminine potential in its lines. Eliza helped to usher forth the truth of the gospel, providing a projected potentiality for the women of the church. Why, then, have we taken to being so quiet about her, then? Do we have an obligation to honor her thorough silence? Does a half of the God of the universe speak in a primary voice? Does She speak at all?

And why, until Mormon revelation was the overriding Christian belief that Eve ruined all of existence for humanity?

It has been tempting for me to believe that the real truth is what I hear so very very often, even from people in the church; I'm tempted to believe that maybe God really doesn't value me as a whole being because I am a daughter. It's heartbreaking for me to even write this down. I am tempted to buy the line that I was made with the wrong parts to be a full participant in Zion. I'm really really tempted to believe it when people tell me (so often) that women are silent and invisible because that's how God wants it. It seems to make so much sense- all of my foremothers, all of the heroines and prophetesses of scripture are muzzled in light of their male counterparts. I am bereft at the fact that I don't miss their voice more, that we don't long more wholly for our Mother. There is no song we teach our young about the presidents of the Relief Society.

I could bemoan the inequities for days. But I will spare you (since you are here, you are probably already acutely aware), and instead offer this thought: I believe that as the women of the church, we link with these women- powerful role models: Heavenly Mother, Eve, Mary, The Other Mary, Emma, Lucy, Deborah, Miriam, Jael, Jezebel, Leah, Dorcas, The Woman Taken In Adultery, Ruth, Bonnie, Carole, Linda, The Other Linda, The Other Carol, Neill, Rosemary, Jean and Cheryl, Margaret, Maxine, Lynne, Lavina,  Kate, and countless others - in seeking to be seen, to be heard, to be faithful to righteousness. We inherit their struggle and their faith also in NOT being seen or heard, but valued abundantly nevertheless.

There is a scripture that I found recently that caught me in a moment of my temptation to believe the lie that women's authority is null: it's aaaaall the way back in Doctrine & Covenants  138. It's embedded in this recounting of Joseph F Smith's vision. He is telling about a vast congregation who await Christ while His body lay in the tomb. Is says that, assembled among Adam and his male cohort, was also "our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God."

I feel dumbfounded that this scripture isn't more well known and beloved and celebrated amongst Mormon feminists. I intend to learn it and use it every time I enter back into temptation to believe the lie that women don't matter or are lesser. It reminds me that daughters have place in the halls of Zion. Even on the walls with the sons!

These daughters' struggle is ours. I in no way praise the institutions of the world nor forgive the mechanisms of almighty history for forgetting these women, I simply ask that we see, as their inheritors, the light of the gospel in them and take them as our mothers. I want to be nourished by them.

And so. 

For those is us who are ready to be done with the church, I stand with you. I want to hug each of you in the lobby on your way out the chapel doors and weep with you. I want to shout out my anger with you, using all of the tones and swears unbefitting the "good girls" we were trained up to be. I want to walk around with you and know where you can still see God and I want to worship with you there. I know why you have to go, and I honor that. I don't blame you, or begrudge your choice in the slightest.

For those of us who can stay a little longer, I hope that you find meaning and a means by which you can honor our women in spite of the temptation to believe that we must be mute and invisible. I hope that we magnify and grow our faith from the realities of our predecessors. If there's one thing we are good at, it's honoring our pioneer ancestors. I believe that it's the thing that Christ would have us do.

I think we have a chance to make this into a blessed time for growth as a sisterhood, as a people, and as humanity.


Jenna Foote said...

Thoughts, thoughts and more thoughts ...

Whenever I feel disheartened by what seems to be regression by our Church leaders and policies, I have to remind myself we are a young church still. We spew historical accuracies and cling to cultural practices of the past because for most of us, it's all we've known. But as the church continues to grow and proliferate throughout the world, we are going to have to change our ways. I think we've started. The new youth curriculum -- which is gender neutral and Christ-centered -- is a huge start. I hear a similar program will be implemented in adult Sunday school as well. The release of articles and documents related to unsavory bits of Church history is also quite a stride. Little things, like having women pray in General Conference, including photographs of female leadership in the Conference Hall, the new Women's General Meeting, the release of Daughters in My Kingdom ... they are starting to add up.

Whenever I feel like my worth as a woman isn't being acknowledged, I have to remind myself of the youthful immaturity of my Church and allow some forgiveness. My worth is not defined by others' perceptions of me. I know personally that my Father and Mother in Heaven value me and my daughters. It's nice to be told these things in Sunday School and to hear them in conference talks, but I know them for myself. I know when I attend the temple and am promised unique blessings because of my womanhood. I know in those quiet moments of communion with my Heavenly Parents. The Spirit whispers it to me in a calm, quiet way that the world can't understand.

Alicia, you are doing great things. Don't leave, ever. We need women like you in the church to illuminate these issues for the older generations who are still running things. As a YW President I am always looking for ways to show and teach the young women their eternal worth. It actually hasn't been hard to find evidence in church history, doctrine and scripture. As we empower future generations and refuse to play into gender stereotypes, we are advancing the church in ways that make our Parents proud.

*ehu. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
*ehu. said...

This makes me feel 10x better about feeling dissed about my stake not having sports for the sisters. In my stake, the men...sorry, priesthood brethren have softball and basketball. The sisters had a chance for volleyball, but the new brother in charge of sports felt that it was unnecessary. It really pissed me off! It still pisses me off! GRR!! Ok, rant over... time for bed, so I can THINK about going to church tomorrow.

Marge Bjork said...

I really appreciate your thoughts and those of the first comment. And I sympathize with *ehu. I never know what to make of these situations, this time we're in. I start getting lost when I'm looking for answers. When I remember to look for my questions I feel alive and hopeful again. Then I feel like I'm at the edge of a vast abyss where anything may be waiting and I get to jump into it, ready to embrace every unknown truth I find.