Book of Mormon Heroes

In honor of the Fall 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz short story contest, I’m posting this one-act play I wrote. Write your own short story, up to 2,000 words, for the possibility of winning $200. Deadline October 31st. Submission guidelines here.

Book of Mormon Heroes
by Katherine Morris

Intergalactic smuggler or Book of Mormon prophet?

Intergalactic smuggler or Book of Mormon prophet?

Scene: Matt and Alicia, a young Mormon married couple are perusing the shelves of Seagull Book (a Mormon bookstore). The shop is decorated for Christmas, and carols are playing faintly in the background.

Matt: K, hon, we gotta go.
Alicia: (Holding two action figures in her hands.) Just a sec.
Matt: (Sighs, then pulls out his cell phone and starts fiddling with it.)
Alicia: Do you think Eli would prefer a Brother of Jared action figure or a King Lamoni?
Matt: Is that all they’ve got? What about a Captain Moroni?
Alicia: Those are all gone.
Matt: An Ammon?
Alicia: Uh–I don’t think they make those.
Matt: Why not? He’s a total stud.
Alicia: Maybe they’re concerned about the violence? I mean, what would he come with—a pile of arms?
Matt: (Looks up.) That would be cool!
(Alicia rolls her eyes.)
Well, what about a Nephi?
Alicia: Honey, those sell out as soon as they hit the shelf.
Matt: Well, what else have they got? We really need to go—Home Depot closes in an hour.
Alicia: Yeah, okay. Hmm. Let’s see…there’s a bunch of Lemuels. I don’t even know why they sell those. No one ever buys them.
Matt: Actually, one of my zone leaders got a Lemuel for Christmas from a new convert.
Alicia: Really?
Matt: Yeah. Remember Elder Graff? The lady got an Alma for his companion and a Lemuel for him. She said Lemuel was the only action figure left in the store, and she felt sorry for him.
Alicia: Felt sorry for Lemuel?
Matt: Yeah, Elder Graff never lived that one down…We could get Lemuel and just tell Eli it’s Nephi.
Alicia: We can’t do that! What if one of his friends comes over with the real Nephi? He’ll find out we lied to him, and it might hurt his testimony.
Matt: Alicia, he’s three.
Alicia: I know! But if we lie to him about Book of Mormon characters, he might think we’re also lying to him about Jesus.
Matt: Like we’re lying to him about Santa Claus?
Alicia: That’s different.
Matt: Lying about action figures is not the same thing as lying about the Book of Mormon. Besides, I’m not sure teaching Eli that Nephi wore a one-strap miniskirt get-up would be good for his testimony either…or for his sexuality.

One-strap miniskirt. Thank you, Arnold Friberg.

One-strap miniskirt. Thank you, Arnold Friberg.

Alicia: Matt! (Looks around.) Shh!
Matt: I’m serious! Book of Mormon prophets should not be running around wearing miniskirts, no matter how bulging their muscles are. There is no chance that Nephi’s outfit would have covered boxers, never mind garments. It’s completely immodest. And kind of girly. At least Lemuel is wearing a full robe. He looks a lot more prophet-y.
Alicia: Well, Lemuel doesn’t come with anything cool, anyway.
Matt: (Looking at his phone.) We could get him a Samson. Those come with a donkey jawbone.
Alicia: Nuh-uh.
Matt: Look. (Holds out his phone.)

What! His hair doesn't grow?

The deluxe edition comes with a donkey jawbone and hair you can cut and style.

Alicia: (Covers her mouth.) Oh my gosh! Does his hair grow too? Remember those dolls they used to have?

Enter sales clerk

Matt: Hey, do you have any of these?
Clerk: No. We don’t sell Bible characters. You could try the Christian bookstore.
Matt: The Christian–um…I thought–never mind. Okay, thanks.

Exit sales clerk.

(Turns to Alicia and shrugs.) Dang. Too bad we’re not Christian.
Alicia: (Laughs.) Well, it’s okay–the jawbone may be a little much anyway.
Matt: Yeah, we wouldn’t want Eli taking out villages of people.
Alicia: You’re the one who got him Anakin last Christmas.
Matt: (Closes his eyes.) Can’t you just see Samson coming in to confess to Delilah? “I killed the Philistines. I killed them all…”
Alicia: Anakin’s a creep. I can understand why Delilah would have hooked up with Samson. They sort of deserved each other. But Padme? Seriously? Your boyfriend just took out an entire village? If you were looking for a red flag—that would have been it.
Matt: But Anakin’s really cool! He repents in the end. He could have been a Book of Mormon character…You know, when I was a kid, we had awesome family home evenings using our Star Wars figures to act out Book of Mormon scenes.
Alicia: With Luke Skywalker as Nephi and Princess Leia as a daughter of Ishmael?
Matt: No, that would have been wrong. Plus Luke is a dork. Han Solo was always the prophet. I remember when we got to Abinadi—we had Han Solo all wrapped up in chains in his carbonite chamber. Lando was Alma. My brother had just gotten Jabba the Hutt and Princess Leia from some friends, and my parents wouldn’t let him play with her until we turned her into a Lamanite princess. So there was Jabba as King Noah and Leia as a Lamanite Princess who had fallen in love with Abinadi.

Who would win in a battle?

King Noah v. Jabba the Hutt. In hand-to-girth combat, who would win?

Alicia: Wait—that’s not in the story.
Matt: I know, but we had to have a love story.
Alicia: Aw, that’s really cute.
Matt: I mean, we had to have a girl for Abinadi to impress.
Alicia: Uh-huh.
Matt: I’m serious. It wasn’t that cute. In fact, when King Noah was about to have them close the carbonite chamber, Princess Leia yelled out “I love thee!” And Abinadi said, “Yea, verily. I know.” It was classic.

cmlsv
Alicia: Wait, so where was Luke during all this time?
Matt: Luke? Oh, he didn’t show up in very many scenes. I think we used him for Sam once. He got thrashed pretty badly by Lando until an angel in white, with cinnamon buns on the side of his head stayed Lando’s hand.
Alicia: Wait!—I think I saw a Sam. Somewhere in the back. (She rummages through the shelves.)
Matt: A Sam? A Sam action figure? They make those? Sam never did anything. Why don’t we get the King Lamoni?
Alicia: No—Sam was a good guy.
Matt: But he never did anything.
Alicia: You never do anything.
Matt: Hey! I did my home teaching yesterday. And took out the trash.
Alicia: (Kissing him.) I bet Sam did his home teaching too. Here it is! Okay, I’m going to buy this real quick. What time is it?
Matt: (Looking at his watch.) Oh, dang it. We have twenty minutes. I’ll go get the car. Don’t forget to put it on the other card.
Alicia: Yeah, I know.

Matt and Alicia exit scene.

 


Photo 1: “Wherever there is a man who exercises authority, there is a man who resists authority” by JD Hancock is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Photo 2: From http://www.seagullbook.com

Photo 3: From eBay. Almighty Heroes distributed by Anchor Distributors.

Photo 4: “Abinadi before King Noah (Abinadi Appearing before King Noah),” by Arnold Friberg. Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Photo 5: “Jabba the Hutt,” by Dirk Vorderstraße is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Photo 6: From http://www.ew.com

Priesthood Reflections: The Night Gabriel and I Went Chaplaining

[W]hen ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. -Mosiah 2:17

 

Photo by Andy Peters*

A couple years ago my friend Gabriel and I volunteered to take a chaplain shift together at a local hospital. Gabriel was a French-and-Arabic-studying philosophy major who also happened to be an army chaplain-in-training. I used to call him “Angel.” I’d recruited him to the program after having tripped over the posting for volunteer interfaith chaplains online.

Most of the volunteer chaplain team were cheery middle-aged or older Protestant women recruited by the previous chaplain, who had served as a minister in a local congregation. There had been several LDS volunteers on the chaplain team, but at the time Gabriel and I were two of only three LDS chaplains in a team of 40.

***

Chaplaining was difficult for me. I’m an introvert; I’m shy; I’m empathetic to a fault, and I find others’ suffering overwhelming. I can’t filter others’ emotions; they slosh into me, ebbing and flowing with little regard to the shallow dams I put up.  Choosing to plunge myself into the middle of suffering was something I felt called to do but had to brace myself for every time I volunteered for a shift. I would stand outside each hospital room, my fist poised, fear ballooning under my ribs, doubt nipping my ears raw.

Every time I let my fist fall was an act of faith. What would I encounter on the other side? A teenage girl with jaundice-yellow eyes who would cry bitterly when I prayed with her? A family who would rock their bodies in grief, asking for my absence, having just made the decision to take their toddler off of life support? A frail-boned child whose routine medical procedures had worn grandmother weariness and wisdom into her broad smiles and the lines around her eyes?

There were many reasons I became a volunteer chaplain. It’s a long story, involving a dream so vivid I woke up crying, the passing of my brave-hearted niece from leukemia, and a pressing feeling that God was calling me to minister to others inside the chasms of their pain.

I had wanted desperately to serve a mission; filled out papers twice; felt too hesitant to submit them. This was before the new missionary age policy turned the cultural tide, back when a woman had to be certain it was what God wanted her to do above any other obligation. That if she made the wrong decision at the wrong time, she may end up missing out on important, life-altering opportunities. It wasn’t a decision that someone with an untreated anxiety disorder could comfortably follow through on; and, with an untreated anxiety disorder, that was perhaps the best outcome.

But I wanted that spiritual calling–to minister, to nurture, to share the light that somehow God had allowed to pierce through the heavens and burn into my heart. To sit with others in their pain. And I wanted to feel holy, to wear sacred set-apart clothing, to assume an identity that gave me permission to talk spirit-to-spirit with my fellow humans. I wanted to feel unfettered to say, if I sensed the need in another, “Would you like to pray together? Right here; right now?” I’ve always been envious of monastics for that freedom.

***

It was customary for chaplains to team up for an evening shift when possible. In that way it was like missionary work; although most split up the rooms rather than visit room-to-room with each other. Gabriel thought it would be a good idea to do the latter.  I was grateful for the suggestion because having a companion reduced my anxiety considerably. We visited a number of rooms that night and had some tender and also some mundane experiences. One of the last families we visited that evening were on the infant critical care unit.

The mother was hovering over her baby’s crib. Her eyes looked weary, hollowed-out in the dim fluorescent light. We chatted with her, found out she was LDS and wanted an LDS priesthood blessing that night. This was a somewhat unusual opportunity for me. I’d arranged for Catholic priests to come to the hospital to bless children. I once put in a request for a Buddhist monk to visit. And since this was a city with a large LDS population, I’d arranged for many LDS families to have “the elders” (as the volunteer chaplains affectionately called them) stop by and offer blessings.

“The elders” was a misnomer. An LDS branch covers this hospital, and every evening two married couples visit to give LDS blessings to anyone who has requested one that day. Since I’d never chaplained with one of our two LDS volunteers who held the priesthood, I was never able to  arrange a blessing for a family by one of our chaplains.

The woman’s husband was present with her at their baby’s bedside. We didn’t inquire into why she hadn’t asked him for a blessing; the impression we got was that he was LDS but not active. We told her we would offer prayer support then and that if she still wanted a blessing, that could be arranged later that evening when members from the branch came to do their rounds and someone would be able to assist Gabriel.

As we folded our arms, according to my custom, I asked the woman what was in her heart for her child. I listened and then voiced a prayer to our Father, asking for healing and strength, pleading for this child and his parents to feel warm in God’s embrace. Gabriel and I then left to take our dinner break at the hospital cafe and wait for several medical units to open back up to visitors after the nightly family/quiet hour was over.

***

At around 8:00, we visited the woman again with one of “the elders.” Gabriel asked her to tell us more about her concerns. She poured out her fear, her hope, her sadness, less reserved than she had been before. Gabriel listened carefully, thought for several moments, and then placed his hands softly on the woman’s head.

Gabriel gave her a blessing in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power and authority of God. The woman, her husband, and I folded our arms. But not before I’d seen the eager, hopeful look on her face when those broad hands were placed on her head–a look that had not been on her face when I’d offered my prayer earlier.

I felt a twinge inside–an emptiness–that my offering, my prayer of faith was so much less valued than the blessing Gabriel offered. He and I had the same concern for her, were both worthy, earnest conduits of faith, but my offering wasn’t enough to fully comfort. I thought about how I’d looked into being a professional chaplain, only to discover that while I could be a general Christian chaplain, I couldn’t be an LDS chaplain. The Church doesn’t endorse female chaplains.* Which makes sense–female chaplains can’t perform LDS ordinances.

After the blessing, the woman smiled radiantly and shook hands with Gabriel and the other elder, thanking them. She looked comforted, at peace, uplifted from her burden. She had received exactly the comfort she needed, desired.

As the woman expressed her appreciation to Gabriel and the other elder, I stood to the side, feeling small in my over-sized chaplain vest. Small and slightly crumpled. I’d never in my life felt bad that I didn’t hold the priesthood. For one brief moment, I was tempted to feel insignificant and hurt by this woman I had come to minister to. But then something from my 40 hours worth of chaplain training nudged softly into my consciousness. It was one of the mantras we so often repeated during our meetings: It’s not about you. It’s not about you.

In chaplain training we talked about how the needs of the person we were offering spiritual support to took precedence above everything else, including our own need to feel useful and valued and powerful.

I’ll never forget what a splash of cold water it was to walk into my first chaplain training meeting, feeling like an angel with wings poised, to be told that the most common feeling we would experience during our volunteer service was helplessness. Absolute helplessness. That that was a feeling we needed to become comfortable with if we wanted to engage in this work.

The other feeling that would come into play, I learned very quickly, was humility. It wasn’t about you. You never offered spiritual support because it made you feel better–because that added a burden instead of lightening a burden of a patient’s family. It wasn’t about you. You offered your ear, your presence, and if even that wasn’t welcome, you withdrew and respected that your absence was what that patient needed at that time.

Our previous full-time chaplain had been fond of sharing an anecdote about a time that one of the volunteers went to visit a little boy on her list. She knocked on the boy’s door and started to open it, but closed it tight again when she heard him yell, “GET OUT.” Upon reflection, she realized that this boy had nurses, doctors, family members trampling in and out all day. Often to poke, prod, hurt his body to heal it. In the entire hospital, the only person he had the power to command–the only person who could empower his desire for left-aloneness was the chaplain. He could say “no” to the chaplain. Even our absence could be a gift.

It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about Gabriel. It wasn’t about this woman’s priesthood-reluctant husband. It was about what a suffering mother needed and wanted so she could get through one more night–one more night of watching helplessly, faithfully over her sick baby’s bed. It was about her peace, her comfort, her spiritual healing. That was my first duty–to minister to her needs, not mine.

And then another thought flashed into my head: if my husband were giving this woman a blessing and I felt truly one with him, I would feel as though my hands were placed on her head and my voice speaking when my husband blessed her. If my husband and I were truly one, truly knit together in heart and mind, then what he or I did was the same. And isn’t that what God does when he lends his sons the priesthood, the power to act and speak in His name (if those actions and words are righteous)? If God himself can have that kind of humility and trust in his sons, can I?

As Gabriel and I left this mother to chart our visits, clean up, and drive home, I felt peace again. Peace that God accepted my offering. Peace that this mother had heard the voice of God in the way she needed. Peace that Gabriel and I were both enabled by the support we had offered each other during the night. Peace and gratitude that God allows us to participate in his work of salvation–in ways that are quiet but intimate, quotidian but sacred, simple but eternal.

 


*Interestingly enough, the LDS Church also doesn’t endorse male chaplains unless they are married.

Photo: “A visit from mom” by Andy Peters is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Thoughts on Ordain Women

Note: The following outlines my current (6/18/14) thoughts on Ordain Women, which will undoubtedly evolve as events continue to unfold and I consider these matters more deeply.

C., Sorry for the delayed reply. Finals week and all. Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful response. I appreciate your perspective, and I appreciate that in your support for OW, you’ve always been respectful and civil. You bring up some good points. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. “I don’t believe the size of the group should have any bearing on the virtue of their position.”

I agree that the size of the group doesn’t matter, and I wouldn’t make this an argument against female ordination itself at all. There were a lot of women who weren’t in favor of women’s suffrage and quite content to give up their voice in political matters to their husbands and fathers. Their contentment with the status quo didn’t make the status quo ideal. The idea that you don’t have to be in the majority to be in the right is something Mormons in particular are known for—rather vigorously—subscribing to.

I do think it’s useful to consider how the majority of Mormon women feel about OW, however, because (1) any change in Church policy and/or doctrine would affect these women disproportionately; and (2) OW claim to want to improve the situation of all Mormon women; also, their public actions impact Mormon women beyond their own group. It’s actually these last two points in particular that has made me puzzled by aspects of OW’s and Kate Kelly’s messaging (see below).

2. “OW isn’t making the church look bad, the church is making the church look bad. OW is trying to fix it.”

I’ve listened to a number of interviews with Kate Kelly to try to understand her and the OW movement better. Initially, I thought Kate Kelly came across as quite sincere, even though I was wary of her approach. (I feel pretty wary of any group that publicly dismisses written proclamations by apostles and prophets as products of cultural bias; but that doesn’t find the same critique applicable to feminist and activist writings that are influenced by an increasingly individualistic culture of self-affirmation.)

The moment I felt like she wasn’t speaking to “mainstream” Mormon women—and perhaps didn’t have much regard for them—was during one interview when she related an anecdote that her husband told her about an investigator on his mission. She said the woman was hesitant to join the Church because, as she put it, “I don’t want my daughters to grow up to be what Mormon Women are.” Kate said she thought this anecdote was “interesting.” Interesting? That’s a pretty big slap in the face to generations of faithful Mormon women, and she didn’t particularly seem to notice. Kate Kelly has said that many Mormon women don’t agree with her position because it’s difficult to take a hard look in the mirror and not like what you see. This could be correct; it’s also fairly condescending and presumptuous.

Kate Kelly also publicly accused specific moderate Mormon feminists—people who have worked for years to promote women’s voices in the Church—of benevolent sexism and mercenary motivations because they weren’t on the same page with her regarding ordination. She’s stated that the only sins she’s guilty of are being authentic, speaking the truth, and standing up for her sisters. From my perspective, she stood up for one group of sisters by painting the rest as naïve at best; mercenary at worst. In other words, she hasn’t merely “shed light” on what people already believe about Mormon women; she’s actively encouraged those stereotypes. Perhaps it wasn’t malicious, but it certainly seemed an intentional part of her rhetoric.

3. “The prophet has made no indication that he’s been praying and seeking revelation on this issue.”

The point that the prophet hasn’t said the words, “I prayed about this and the answer is no” is wearing thinner and thinner. Elder Oaks said, “The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood.” I can see how pressing and pressing for “revelation” would make sense if you firmly believe that female ordination is God’s will AND if you believe it’s your place to tell apostles/prophets it’s God’s will. But if you’re actually seeking to know God’s will above all else—including above desiring female ordination—then it seems recent General Conference talks would at least give you pause. Most people didn’t give Elder Hales’s last October GC talk a second thought. It was, significantly, the opening talk of GC, and his entire point was stressing that Church leaders pray about the topics they speak about. I didn’t hear a single Mormon blogger mention this. To believe that Church leaders haven’t prayed about this matter is making a pretty big assumption and to me seems to be coming from a place of confirmation bias rather than an earnest desire to know God’s will on this matter. [Note: I’m well aware that I’m highly prone to confirmation bias myself, on this matter as on any other.]

I also find it significant that OW put more stock in what Gordon B. Hinckley said in an interview with a journalist than in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” document he signed his name to. Or in what apostles and prophets currently say in conference talks when speaking to the general membership. It seems at least likely that more thought and prayer goes into a public proclamation signed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or a GC talk specifically about priesthood than into an impromptu response to a journalist.

If OW actually believed in priesthood keys and authority, they would respect those who have the priesthood keys and authority to interpret scripture and teach doctrine to the Church. They would also respect the calling and agency of an apostle/prophet enough to, after hearing the request that he pray about female ordination, let him act with the Spirit in deciding what to do with that request. I have no problem with anyone asking questions (see Rachael Givens Johnson’s article on Patheos “I’ts Not About Questions–and it is”). I think these are valid, provocative questions OW is considering. I think there are a lot of possibilities for women in the Church that can be explored. But I don’t believe OW’s approach is faithful to scriptures or prophetic counsel. And, more tellingly, I don’t think their approach is even consistent with their proposed aims (i.e. they’re undermining the authority they’re asking to be a part of).

4. “Bottom-up policy changes have occurred consistently throughout church history, giving us the Word of Wisdom, the Relief Society, each of the auxiliaries, and the three-hour block just to name a few. Not to mention the lifting of the priesthood bad on men of African descent in 1978 which also serves as a good precedent.”

This is a valid point. OW’s methods have been very different from the methods of that movement (at least of those who were truly effective.) If you have more questions about that, you can look up articles on the topic by Russell Stevenson and Margaret Young (see Margaret Young’s article on Patheos “Priesthood Restrictions–Shall we Protest?”). I do think if the Church is responding to OW differently from black Mormons, then that indicates they perceive OW’s intentions differently. You could blame the Church for that; you could also acknowledge that OW have chosen to communicate its message in a way that Church leaders find difficult to engage with. Church PR was criticized by OW for saying they take a “non-negotiable” position. But what else can you make of Kate Kelly’s assertion, “The ordination of women would put us on equal spiritual footing with our brethren, and nothing less will suffice” or “‘Well, I’m in an institution and I can see it needs to be improved. It needs to change; I don’t need to leave.’” This sounds non-negotiable to me. That isn’t to say, of course, that Church PR couldn’t have engaged with OW differently or that channels for “bottom-up” questions can’t be put in place.

Re: the Canaanite woman:

The woman came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

I’m not convinced that kneeling before Jesus is the same as (1) publicly dismissing a proclamation signed by prophets/apostes, (2) interviewing with the press after demonstrating on Temple Square to craft a narrative of victim-aggressor, (3) disseminating 6 “discussions” that mimic missionary discussions and are designed to influence members to favor doctrine that Church leaders have not said is doctrine (and have indicated might actually not be doctrine), (4) granting interview after interview, writing article after article to continue carefully crafting the narrative of victim-aggressor after you’ve been admonished by local leaders. I mean, maybe the Canaanite woman would have written the article Kate Kelly recently published in the Guardian (“Jesus called me a dog for asking for equal rights”). Maybe she would have given the interview with the Huffington Post Kate Kelly recently gave. Maybe she would have found thin excuses to not take accountability for her actions and try to engage with her Church leaders by attending her disciplinary council. I’m highly skeptical. But this is obviously a matter of opinion.

5.  “I do not believe for a second that God has determined that it’s right for all women to play one role and for all men to play another, but let’s assume that it’s true for the sake of discussion. There’s still gender inequality in the church. This gender inequality has made membership difficult for a large number of people, whether they be prospective, current, or erstwhile members.”

It’s true that there are positive changes that can be made within the Church for women. I for one was really grateful that the recent change in missionary age has opened up opportunities for young women that I never had. The decision I had to make about whether or not to serve a mission when I was 21 was fraught with anxiety in a way that I don’t think it would have been if I’d been making that decision today. And I fervently hope this will dispel a lot of the negative stereotypes about sister missionaries—something that I’ve called people out on before. This was definitely one of the main areas of sexism I’ve personally witnessed in the Church. I’m not going to say, though, that the policy that was in place when I was 21 was wrong because it contributed to some very acute anxiety.

The drop in missionary age, women praying in GC–these are great opportunities that I’m excited about. However, does nurturing women’s voices and opportunities for service in the Church necessitate female ordination? Possibly. OW say it does, that anything else would be unequal. But in general, I’m wary to critique the gospel and the Church, even, with contemporary notions of “gender equality.” What does equality mean? And is it—as modern Americans understand it—a fundamental principle of the gospel? If all are alike unto God, why did he, for example, make men so that they have larger muscles than women so that they run faster and can protect themselves better? Why did God make it so that women have a unique opportunity to bond with their children through gestation, childbirth, and nursing? This is unequal. It could even be considered sexist. But is it?

“Male and female created he them.” If God made us biologically different (gave us different biological roles and responsibilities) and designed the fundamental unit of exaltation to be a male-female unit (“…neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord”), is it at least conceivable, for the sake of argument—that he may have given men and women different but equally-valued, equally-important, complementary spiritual roles? We can debate all day about what those roles are—and I honestly think it’s going to look different for every person. But is it at least conceivable? I’m not saying that biology prescribes or justifies current gender roles—I’m just asking, is it conceivable that God doesn’t see differences in gender roles as inherently unequal?

I’ve been reading a lot in Mosiah and Alma in the Book of Mormon recently. I think it’s somewhat useful (although, considering it’s a translation into English, any close word analysis is going to have its limitations) to see how “equality” is mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Alma 1:26 says, “And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.” In this instance, equality doesn’t necessarily mean that people have the same roles: it means that each person labors in his/her role and each role is esteemed equally important. If we see inequality in the Church, it may be because there’s something wrong with the lens we’re using. How much of this inequality exists in the Church—and how much exists in our attitudes toward different roles? If we’re currently lacking respect or undervaluing the roles that women have—if we’re not taking their voices seriously—we need to dramatically change our attitudes.

I’m not saying hearing more women’s voices in Church governance wouldn’t be a positive thing. I’m not even saying that women will never be ordained to the priesthood, or some kind of priesthood. I’m saying that we can’t always assume that we know what God’s design for his people will look like—and it may challenge our current culturally-influenced paradigms, whether those paradigms be more traditional or more conservative. I do think it’s interesting that every Church member I’ve talked to about female ordination who takes issue with OW’s approach has nonetheless said if the prophet declared women were to be ordained to the priesthood, they’d be fine with it. I would be more convinced of OW’s sincerity if I sensed the same kind of openness to receiving revelation that these more “conservative” members demonstrate.

6. “Kate Kelly has prevented hundreds of good, faithful latter-day saints from leaving the church…”

I hope that’s the case. However, first, we don’t have a lot of data on that; although I’ve been interested in the stats OW have been putting out about their membership. Second, as Maxine Hanks said in her recent interview with Dan Wotherspoon, I think it’s fair to question what that actually means. Are these women staying only because they think the Church will change its “policy?” What if the answer is “no?”—AND that answer is God’s will (at least for the time being)? What if (and I don’t know that this is the case), it’s not a matter of policy for women to not be ordained to priesthood offices (as they currently function) in this dispensation, or on the earth, or even in the eternities? If these women are only staying because they anticipate the Church will change, are they really “staying”? Are they staying because they want to sincerely follow Jesus Christ; or are they staying because they will follow Jesus Christ as long as following him doesn’t challenge their worldview?

For the record, I believe a lot of women in OW would stick around if the prophet said, “I prayed about this, and the answer is no,” but not all would. What I worry about is that OW’s actions and rhetoric—and the theology they implicitly teach—makes is MORE difficult for these good, faithful Latter-day Saint women to stay, not less. And I find that incredibly painful to consider.

Lastly, I just want to say that I believe this is Jesus Christ’s church. (Which isn’t to imply that anyone who disagrees with me doesn’t.) One of the many reasons is that when I’ve dealt generously with my Church leaders who have given me counsel and even admonishment–that was within their stewardship (or “priesthood authority”) to give–I’ve been incredibly blessed. And incredibly empowered. FWIW.

Note: I hope all the above comes across as thoughtful and maybe direct, but not condescending or dismissive or argumentative. I don’t believe I have all the answers on this. No one does–because no one has all the information. But I do hope to represent a perspective that I think is common and valid–and that because of recent backlash, some feel too timid to voice. I realize anyone who disagrees with my perspective is taking a risk of backlash themselves. I’m praying that if anything, we will all come out of this less entrenched in our views, more committed to Jesus Christ, and more equipped to have open but respectful discussions.

Sacred Quotidian

Mormon scholar Terryl Givens once said,

With God an exalted man, man a God in embryo, the family a prototype for heavenly sociality, and Zion a city with dimensions and blueprints, Joseph [Smith] rewrote conventional dualism as thoroughgoing monism. The resulting paradox is manifest in the recurrent invasion of the banal into the realm of the holy and the infusion of the sacred into the realm of thequotidian. (“There is Room for Both,” BYU Studies, 2007; emphasis added)

I’ve often thought about what it means to be Mormon, and I think Terryl Givens alights on one of the most important aspects of it in this quote. A very basic Mormon belief is that we are literal offspring of God, whom we call “Heavenly Father” or “Father in Heaven,” or just “Father.” One of the main implications of this belief is that all men and women are therefore destined to be like God–if we humbly, relying on our faith in Jesus Christ, try our best to live according to the divine principles He has given us and which we believe He himself lives. Other implications of the belief of divine inheritance is that as God’s children, we each have an inherent divine nature with divine potential. When we see ourselves for who we are–children of God–and when we see others this way, that knowledge can’t help but influence how we live our lives and how we treat others.

This is our ideal. This is what I personally live for.

But life isn’t lived ideally. At least mine certainly isn’t. I rarely feel like a goddess, and it’s even rarer that I act like a goddess. I can’t honestly say that I feel particularly divine when someone cuts me off in traffic and I suddenly find unholy thoughts seeping into my head and trickling down my tongue, or when I stay up till 4:00 a.m. because for some unknown reason I decided that watching hours worth of “Know Your Meme” videos was more desperately urgent than finishing my take-home final, or when I go to church and find myself unaccountably irritated with any girl whose nose is more diminutive than mine.

With any luck, however, I’ll pray that night, or read scriptures that day, or go to the temple that week. And it will all come rushing vibrantly back. I’ll remember who I am–and who my neighbors are–and I will feel that warmth massaging the jealousy, the fear, the grasping, the insecurity, the inward hurting out of my spirit. Making space for wholeness–a wholeness that includes a depth of eternity in it. My muscles unknot themselves, my thoughts untangle, anxieties and insecurities melt away, and I can see clearly, miles and millennia in every direction. And I want to touch people–to hug their good, glad hearts and tell them true things about themselves…until approximately 17 1/2 minutes later, when a friend doesn’t text me back, and the humanness comes rushing in again.

To be simultaneously human and divine is to live a life of–often painful–paradox. But it’s a paradox I cherish. It’s slathered between every layer of my being–right down to my core. Sometimes it rattles about, beating at the insides of my ribcage, scratching and shredding and squeezing my vital organs until I can’t breathe. And sometimes it bubbles up light in my chest, diffusing radiance into my bloodstream, flooding into every fingertip, and printing glowing images of God’s love on the undersides of my eyelids. And I can feel that sacred sprouting from my shoulder blades, fountaining upward. I look at the Wasatch Mountains or a redwood tree and feel a glad kinship with them, knowing that we share ancient feelings. That we were fashioned a long time ago by a Being too good and too perfect that we can never worship Him wholly enough. And I look around at other people and see that they are the same. Gorgeous children of a luminous Father and Mother.

In this blog, I hope to share some of this richness of Mormon experience. The pain and the joy. Especially the joy.