Thursday, August 31, 2006

Musings on Suffering and Submission (and Sacrifice)

With the chronic fatiguey stuff I deal with, I never know how I will feel from day to day. Yesterday was a rough day. By the end of the day I was so spent, so discouraged. I read this, and found myself on the verge of tears. (Sidenote -- that is a stunning article on sacrifice. I suggest you go read it now before even finishing here!) The irony of being a mother of young children with limited energy (and being willing but currently unable to subject my body to another being-pregnant-and-taking-care-of-an-infant experience) sometimes seems like more than I can bear. And there just seems to be no end in sight to this relentless, foggy fatigue and the pain and discomfort that often accompany it. It's. Not. Fair.

Weighed down by these thoughts, as I did dishes last night, I finally slumped over the sink and began to cry. The gift of that article, however, must have allowed an image to form in my heart and mind. In that instant, I pictured the Savior also slumped over, in Gethsemane, pressed by the "infinite and eternal" weight of the sins and afflictions heaped upon His soul.

That image enabled me to stand up a little straighter and dry my eyes. "I am trying to be like Jesus," right? Somehow, I must summon the strength to bear this trial gracefully. Even the Savior wanted His cup to pass, but, in the end, He submitted. "Thy will be done."

Irony is the hard crust on the bread of adversity. Irony can try both our faith and our patience. Irony can be a particularly bitter form of such chastening because it involves disturbing incongruity. It involves outcomes in violation of our expectations. We see the best laid plans laid waste.

Amid life’s varied ironies, you and I may begin to wonder, Did not God notice this torturous turn of events? And if He noticed, why did He permit it? Am I not valued?...

Irony may involve not only unexpected suffering but also undeserved suffering. We feel we deserved better, and yet we fared worse. We had other plans, even commendable plans. Did they not count?...

In coping with irony, as in all things, we have an Exemplary Teacher in Jesus. Dramatic irony assaulted Jesus’ divinity almost constantly.

For Jesus, in fact, irony began at His birth. Truly, He suffered the will of the Father 'in all things from the beginning.' (3 Ne. 11:11.) This whole earth became Jesus’ footstool (see Acts 7:49), but at Bethlehem there was 'no room … in the inn' (Luke 2:7) and 'no crib for his bed' (Hymns, 1985, no. 206.)

At the end, meek and lowly Jesus partook of the most bitter cup without becoming the least bitter. (See 3 Ne. 11:11; D&C 19:18–19.) The Most Innocent suffered the most. Yet the King of Kings did not break, even when some of His subjects did unto Him 'as they listed.' (D&C 49:6.) Christ’s capacity to endure such irony was truly remarkable.

(Neal A. Maxwell, “Irony: The Crust on the Bread of Adversity,” Ensign, May 1989, 62

Though stretched by our challenges, by living righteously and enduring well we can eventually become sufficiently more like Jesus in our traits and attributes, that one day we can dwell in the Father’s presence forever and ever. By so living now, our confidence will 'wax strong in the presence of God' then (D&C 121:45). Confirmingly, the Prophet Joseph declared, 'If you wish to go where God is, you must be like God, or possess the principles which God possesses' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 216).

Again, our experiences surely do not approach those of Jesus, yet the same principles and processes apply. His perfected attributes exemplify what can be much further developed by each of us. There is certainly no shortage of relevant clinical experiences, is there?

(Neal A. Maxwell, “Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 22)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Good news, anyone?

It's been quite a week. You know the "good news minute" in Relief Society that it seems is done quite regularly? Well, I missed it today. Literally and figuratively. I'm feeling weighed down, because:

- I found out a friend's missionary son came home six months early from his mission. Not for health reasons. (I was thrilled, however, to see the love and warmth that he found at church. We have an awesome ward.)
- We had two babies born, both who ended up in the ICU. (I think they will be fine.)
- I spent RS talking to a friend who is on the brink of leaving her husband. Hard situation on many fronts. They have two small children.
- I met yet another woman who was deserted by her husband (of 20 years) for another woman, whom he then deserted months later. I can't comprehend the pain they must have experienced.
- A friend has decided to be done with the Church. If you wonder why I worry about too much intellectualizing about stuff related to our religion in ways that calls into the question the foundations of our faith, this is one reason why. I have walked with her through part of this journey, desperately hoping that she could see the light instead of the darkness of doubt, but to no avail. Dancing with doubt is dangerous business. It's devastating to me to see someone I care about so deeply walk away from Living Water and the Bread of Life.
- Our Sunday School lesson was one of those last-days-gloom-and-doom lessons. Of course, I know all the righteous-need-not-fear answers, but still sometimes the realization of our perilous times gets to me, ya know?
- On a personal note, I had a hard time not breaking down at the hospital when we visited one of the new moms. I am feeling old and tired and still not sure if having another child will be something we get to experience. While it doesn't stop my life, the pain of that potential end is ever-present -- made more so when I see a new little life.

I'm really fine, but it has been quite a heavy day. Thank heaven for the gospel which is my anchor, reminding me that there is hope in these last days, that trials can be overcome, and that nothing can go permanently wrong if we trust in and follow the Savior.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A response about questioning leaders

In response to "Can leaders be wrong?"

Of course leaders can be wrong. They are human. But they are humans with authority. Their being wrong doesn't happen very often, and we still have a responsibility to sustain and support them, even if they goof once in a while. (Minus extreme abuse or other situations that should be reported, but that's a different issue.) I get uneasy with discussions that want to push the point of "can leaders be wrong?" What I have seen happen is that advocating "thinking" about what they say often means challenging what they say (or do) and/or morphs into criticizing them.

So, if you sense my hesitancy to focus on possibility of leaders being wrong, you are right -- in part because of the above. My own experience with the few times I have thought a leader was wrong and vocalize that sentiment is that criticism of leaders offends the Spirit. (A recent experience also revealed that I was the one wrong, not the leader. I think such is usually the case.) So, "can a leader be wrong?" Yes, but what are we to do about that when it happens? Is it our place to correct them or point out their error to them or others? IMO, no, it's not. If we ever feel we receive direction contrary to theirs, I think we should keep that to ourselves. It's our responsibility to show charity and support in spite of their weakness. My experience is that it helps me keep the Spirit. Supporting my leaders is what builds my testimony, not questioning them or what they say or do (not that I never have, but when I have and have judged my leaders in a negative way, it's basically not been something of benefit to me and my testimony, but rather a detriment. (Thinking for further understanding, however, is a different issue altogether.)

Incidentally, I have been on the receiving end of criticism (unfairly leveled, I might add) and it undermined my ability to serve in my calling, and caused other people to mistrust me until they figured out that lies were being told. It was one of the worst experiences I have ever had in the Church in part because it took so much away from what good could have been done.

I have found the following to be meaningful when I have considered the question you pose. (This is not the first time I have had this discussion. I realize others may have a different approach.)

I have given the following counsel to Church members—those who have committed themselves by upraised hands to sustain their church leaders:
"Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local.... Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. As Elder George F. Richards, President of the Council of the Twelve, said in a conference address in April 1947,

“ ‘When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and his cause.’ (In Conference Report, Apr. 1947, p. 24.)” ...

[For example, consider how it's nearly impossible to discuss Elder McConkie's point of view in the 'nacle because he has been criticized so much around here. I can't imagine the Lord is pleased about that, because Elder McConkie was His apostle, and did so much for the work.]

In our system of Church government, evil speaking and criticism of leaders by members is always negative. ...
(see D&C 121:16.)

The counsel against speaking evil of Church leaders is not so much for the benefit of the leaders as it is for the spiritual well-being of members who are prone to murmur and find fault. [Again, this has been consistent with my personal experience.]

[In addition] the Bible teaches that rejection of or murmuring against the counsel of the Lord’s servants amounts to actions against the Lord himself. How could it be otherwise? The Lord acts through his servants. That is the pattern he has established to safeguard our agency in mortality. His servants are not perfect, which is another consequence of mortality. But if we murmur against the Lord’s servants, we are working against the Lord and his cause and will soon find ourselves without the companionship of his Spirit.

(Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism,” Ensign, Feb. 1987, 68, emphasis added)

As a side note, regarding BY's quote, I find it interesting, too, to note that BY lived in a day where he saw half the Quorum of the 12 apostatize. I wonder if that is part of the reason he said what he did. (We should also consider all the times he talked about following the prophet, too.) I don't hear any current leaders underscoring what he taught in that one quote, but rather putting much more emphasis on following our leaders in faith and trust. I tend to look for patterns in what is said, and the pattern I see is definitely on the side of following in trust.

But again, I realize other people may have a different approach. But now you can understand mine a little better. This is not just based on quotes in a vacuum. It's based on my own personal experience as well, and what I have seen in others. I don't see questioning leaders and their rightness as a prerequisite to testimony. For some, maybe that helps in the journey somehow, although I don't relate to that at all. That has simply not been the case for me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Thoughts on Feminist Blogging from a "Non-Feminist"

Kiskilili said the following:
I would be interested, though, to hear from a non-feminist who nevertheless participates regularly on feminist blogs and feels its net effect has been damaging, in what ways, and what draws them to such discussions.

My response, too long to post at ZD, follows.

For what it is worth, I will share my point of view since I don't identify myself as a feminist (at least not in the way feminism is usually framed in the 'nacle). (I'm a little hesitant to do so...please treat my words with kindness, even if you don't agree.) This is an issue I have been thinking about for months, so forgive the length. (This is also quite stream-of-consciousness. I have a headache and just can't do much more than this it is, I have spent a lot of time trying to pull out some of what is swimming in my brain....)

During the last few months in the 'nacle, I have come to understand that for some women, finding out that they are not alone in their struggles is incredibly helpful. They are able to talk about things they don't talk about at church. I respect and appreciate that.

But I think that benefit may be limited, at least to a degree. Looking at it analytically at least, I think it doesn't take long to be able to say, "Oh, look, I'm not alone." But then what? Even getting other people's ideas seems to have a limited scope, because often the same issues are brought up over and over again.

Lynnette acknowledged that blogging can intensify feelings of anger, and I think it often does. What saddens me is that like-minded people group together, but often end up just re-hashing the same points, venting and expressing frustration about what they don't like about Church or the leaders or whatever, or how they wish the Church would be different. Often, it seems (my perception) that those expressions outweigh efforts to move forward with faith. Fixation on frustrations can often make the frustrations seem bigger and more in need of attention than perhaps they were before, which leads to more focus on frustration. It's a potentially vicious cycle. And I think it often creates a false sense of reality.

When I'm upset about something, and I give voice to frustrations for long and I feed them too much, they just gain a unrealistic life of their own. In the 'nacle, what often seems to ensue is not clear understanding but a false sense of reality based on (usually negative) perception and experience alone (a potentially dangerous sort of groupthink), especially when very few voices on "the other side" are heard or considered. Can focus on the frustrations really bring resolution and peace? I doubt it.

Following are other ways I see feminist blogging as potentially detrimental:

- There is often contempt toward mainstream Mormonism, leaders and people who even want to express their mainstreamish points of view. While criticism is directed at the Church for being closed-minded, it seems that there is little room for considering merits of the mainstream viewpoints, life, etc in discussions. If such things are not given voice, I see no chance for anything but frustration to breed frustration. Much of the "Mormon" is often stripped from these discussions, except to express anger toward what makes the Church what it is (priesthood, prophets, temple, etc.) It lacks in objectivity and seems very one-sided to me.

- I believe feminist Mormon blogging has the potential to damage those who are tender in the gospel, who might have more doubt heaped upon them before their foundation of faith can handle it. Those who blog often don't seem to think of the ramifications of feeding doubt when faith is needed, even crucial. I think we will be held accountable for the impact we have on others, even if those people are people we never meet. (See this brief article for reflections on that topic.)

- I feel that feminist blogging intensifies a rift that exists between women who struggle with the Church and women who don't. Mormon feminism seems to only care about women who share its views – not about women in the Church in a general way. Feminism is a rather exclusive club. (I know that doesn't necessarily translate to feminists only caring about feminists in "real life" but it's often the way it feels online.) On "both sides" we often become untrusting of each other and so we continue to congregate based on differences, instead of trying to find ways to come together and find similarities. Frankly, I don't want there to be an 'us' and a 'them.' Perhaps it's inevitable at this point. Yet, I still yearn for a Mormon sisterhood that we can ALL enjoy, not just if we are "feminist" or "not feminist." I personally don't believe the Savior wants us to compartmentalize ourselves into so many subgroups, and that is the kind of compartmentalizing that I think is potentially very damaging on the 'nacle. Unity is impossible in this kind of forum, for in the bloggernacle, familiarity breeds friendship, and differences often breed contempt. That doesn't do much for building bridges.

- On a personal note, there have been several occasions where, especially on feminist-themed threads, I have been personally attacked and treated unkindly. I am accused of being insensitive yet treated insensitively. I am accused of not considering other points of view when mine is treated with contempt. So, frankly, for personal reasons, I'm having a hard time feeling positive about feminist blogging. The tone and tenor of discussions often lends itself to such unkindness, particularly to those who may not share feminist concerns. (I do need to say that there are those who, even though they disagree with me, have showed patience and kindness – that in spite of my sometimes-overzealous thought-sharing, and to you, I say thank you.)

- As much as blogging feeds the fire of revolution-minded, radical feminism in the Church, then feminist blogging is not a good thing. Frankly, I don't see feminist blogging as being a vehicle for change in the Church. I am confident the Brethren are aware of the issues discussed in the 'nacle long before any critical mass on any issue can congregate toward a goal of change. If feminist blogging causes more people to want to rise up against our leaders, then it's a bad thing. Not that the Church or leaders can't handle it, but because I believe it is bad for the individuals themselves who engage in such efforts. In general, anger and criticism shut out the Spirit, and I think there is particular risk of spiritual harm when criticizing our leaders. (Elder Oaks has said as much.) (Perhaps I'm reacting more to things I have read on my own and less here online, so this may or may not be relevant to blogging in particular.)

- I feel that sometimes the feminacle becomes a place to pretend that mainstream Mormonism doesn't exist, or to mock it, or even to escape --or replace -- it -- rather than help people figure out how to really embrace it in spite of the concerns and frustrations. Again, as much as the 'nacle helps someone not feel alone so she can go back and tackle her concerns in "the real world" with faith, it can be good. I'm glad to hear women have decided to stay in the Church because they don't feel so alone, thanks to sites like FMH. But too often I feel people stop there – relishing in a community built on the foundation of frustration that leads some to compartmentalize their lives. ("My real sisters are online; I simply endure my RS sisters and others at church, or endure the church altogether."). This kind of double-life doesn't seem like a good thing. (This can also underscore that sometimes RS sisters need to do more to reach out – I realize this can cut both ways. But that really isn't possible if women turn exclusively to the bloggernacle for their community fix.)

Now, I fear I may be misread here. I don't say any of this to imply that those with concerns don't have a place in the Church. I hurt when I hear women thinking they may not belong. Don't lose hope! The Savior is there with open arms. But we have to come to Him. The 'nacle is not the way to ultimately do that. We can't fully come to Him with one foot (or more) in a pool of frustration and doubt. We have to be willing to give HIM the doubt and look for ways to build faith. Inasmuch as feminist blogging lingers on sources of doubt and frustration, I think it can easily hinder someone from completely coming to Christ and laying burdens at HIS feet (rather than at the bloggernacle's!) Come to the 'nacle to find you are not alone if need be, then go back to church and to God to find out how to overcome the frustration. Don't give the frustration primary focus. His yoke is easy; His burden is light. His gospel is one of love, acceptance, peace and joy. He doesn't want you to feel frustrated, so find ways to move past the frustration, not feed it!

This is another downside I see of Mormon feminist blogging. It seems to be designed primarily as a vehicle for venting and discussing the frustation. Where, then, do such women go to plant and feed the seed of faith? (Think Al. 32 - give place for the seed, have a desire/hope that it's good and take great care to feed that seed - not seeds of doubt ("do not cast it out by your unbelief").) I don't see a lot of that feeding the seed of faith in places where women with concerns congregate. (I realize I haven't much of a clue what goes on at the personal level - can only share perceptions of the 'nacle itself.) Controversy is what breeds conversation in the bloggernacle. And I think that is one of its most unfortunate characteristics.

I guess I've seen too many people put their frustrations at the forefront and never seem to be able to move past them - to move toward reconciliation in their hearts – a reconciliation that is not contingent on change or revolution, but sought with the help of God who is the author of peace. Feminist blogging is at best a temporary solution to a problem that demands something more. I'm NOT saying that women with serious, heartfelt doubts don't turn to God for help already. I know that many do, and exert a lot of spiritual energy in doing so. Perhaps this struggle is their cross. To them, I would say, don't give up. Keep pressing forward. Keep feeding the seed of faith. Make place in your heart for that seed. But realize that the answer will not lie in re-hashing the same ol' frustrations over and over again – not without an eye toward faith and reconciliation.

I think an example might be useful here. Consider the recent post at BCC – "Why I Stay." Such a post acknowledges that there are issues and concerns ("I'm struggling, but I'm staying. Here's why."), but instead of feeding those concerns, the post focused on and fed faith. Everyone's foundation was a little different, but it was uplifting to read what everyone wrote. It was constructive. I felt it was forward-moving, not jumping on that cyclical, cynical bandwagon of complaint. Contrast that with posts that examine and rehash points of frustration over and over again, feeding that frustration and not leaving much of a place for faith. Frankly, I think we need many more posts like "Why I Stay." (Note how that was also a safe forum for both those who doubt and those who don't. It was a bridge-building post.)

I don't see faith having a significant and consistent voice in feminist blogging. Doubt has more of the stage. I think that easily can do disservice to its participants, especially those already struggling. I worry about people on the fence finding feminist blogs and being blown to the side of doubt, where, had there been a focus on faith, there could be a different outcome. In fact, sometimes, feminist blogs just create more questions -- questions that can crowd out faith – or gives unhealthy reinforcement to frustrations that might be best left to cool for a while.

And so, I would say, give faith a voice! Again, find ways to build and express faith, even in the things that feel frustrating. If the temple causes angst because of some of its elements, find what about the temple brings peace and perspective instead! If there are prophetic teachings that tear at your heartstrings, find those that resonate with your soul and build from there! And so it can go.... I would love to see more posts like "Why I Stay" from our feminist sisters. ("Why I love the temple." "How the priesthood has blessed my life." "What I [do] love about being a woman in the Church." "What I [do] love about the Church." "Anchor moments in my life that ground me at tough times." You get the idea.)

My one experience with feeling "oppressed" by a church leader led me to his office, where, when I expressed my frustration, he kindly explained his side of things, and I realized that my frustrations were basically based on faulty assumptions and perceptions. Isn't it possible that some of the frustrations expressed in the feminacle are based on faulty assumptions as well? How often are these assumptions honestly challenged? How often is the mainstream approach given honest, open-minded consideration discussions? Again, how often is faith given a voice?

OK, one last thing. I realize not all feminist blogging is comprised of feminist Church-related discussions. Some discussions are just about interesting issues – some not even directly related to women. This is something that can be very enjoyable for a broader audience. There are many of us out here who love the connection and intellectual stimulation that the bloggernacle can offer. That is its strength, and perhaps those are the kinds of things that should be given more attention, rather than rehashing the same old things over and over again. (There are many who have spoken about this bloggernacle burnout, so I'm not the only one who feels this way.)

In answer to Kiskilili's last question, I read and participate (although lately, less frequently) in feminist blogs for a variety of reasons:
– To understand others' points of view, struggles, etc. Believe it or not, I do care about that.
– To understand what issues are tender points. I have learned about some of our history that I was not aware of before. I don't believe we need to know all of the history to have a testimony, and sometimes I think it's actually rather pointless, but nevertheless, I know some things that have helped me in conversations with friends who have come across stuff and wondered.
– To share a differing point of view (although too often I feel such a point of view is not wanted).
– To sort through my own feelings, to ponder and study, and then to articulate how the "party line" answers bring me peace. This has strengthened my testimony of the gospel, the Church, of prophetic leadership, of the Proclamation, and other elements of "Mormon" life in various ways.

I know that was long and I said, this is about as well as I can do today. Sorry it wasn't more succinct. :)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Islandic Introspection

It's one of those days.

I feel like a lonely little island in a big sea. I know I'm not really alone, but I'm feeling that way today. The bloggernacle can be a frustrating place.

I participate in discussions about issues (like feminism, for example) not because I struggle with them myself, but because I like to understand those who do struggle, and I like to share what it is that grounds me and brings me peace. I also like to think through and articulate my thoughts because they become more clear within my own mind and heart. I've had some wonderful 'a-ha's while pondering a post or writing a response. I treasure those moments.

I yearn for my brothers and sisters to find peace with these issues -- not only for themselves, but for all of us. Focusing on and fuming over controversial issues divides us. Zion cannot be built when we are more concerned about the issues that define Babylon. We should not be divided along lines of political leanings, or philosophical concerns, or ideologies. We should be focused on the doctrine of Christ. Of one heart. Of one mind. Of one doctrine. With no "-ites."

But controversy breeds conversation in the 'nacle. And when "orthodoxy" (yet another label I don't like to use, but will to make my point) meets controversy, it's often not a pretty sight. My personal experience (as I share my "mainstream" feelings) has been to be misunderstood, misjudged, misrepresented--and even mistreated. I'm close to giving up commenting on others' blogs altogether. Just when I think I am part of a community, the reality hits that I'm often (usually) speaking to myself. If I were to run statistics on my comments, I am confident I would find that the majority are ignored. Many of the rest are attacked. (There are those who really do open their hearts to me, and for that I am grateful.) But, most of the time, there is a feeling of "me" and "them." Lonely indeed.

What would be the difference if I stopped vacationing on those islands, anyway? If my gut is right and most of the time my thoughts and feelings are ignored or dismissed or criticized, what's the point of staying? I realize that some of the problem is that I still have to learn how best to share my thoughts without coming across too strong. I need to "seek to understand" more before jumping straight to "being understood." But do I not deserve respect and patience as well? I am still relatively new to this blogging world and all the rules of engagement.

Then again, it seems the rules of engagement are usually for one purpose: to create a "safe place" for controversy. The thing is, the unwritten way to enforce those rules is to make sure that much of the 'nacle is not a safe place for people like me. (Sadly, however, this feeling is usually perpetrated by an intolerant few; I am grateful to those who would disagree agreeably. However, it only takes a few big waves to make the island feel unsafe.)

So, perhaps it's time to retreat and regroup and refocus my energies on those few little islands where I, myself, can feel safe.