Thursday, December 18, 2008
Two dinner-time conversations at family gatherings:
dinner number one; the patriarch of the family loudly bemoans the women in the stake who are dumb enough, deceived enough, lacking-in-the-spirit enough to get those "disgusting breast implants."
dinner number two; the same patriarch, in discussing Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction
loudly scoffs at how stupid Janet must be to think that anyone would want to see her "old ugly shriveled up 40 yr old breasts."
Talk about your lose lose situation.
The way the ladies in my family resolve this dilemma breaks down by generation. The women 40 and over (my mother and aunts) chose to embrace (or endure with relative good humor) "old and shriveled up". In fact, one dear aunt for her 50th birthday gave her boobs 'a gift' by refusing to wear a bra the entire day. The women in their 20's and 30's (my sisters and SILs) are, almost without exception, making arrangements to have augmentation, not giving a darn about some old guy's assessment of their spiritual/mental capacity.
Me? My dirty little secret (well, not now) is that I do harbor a hidden curiosity about what a scalpel and a tiny bit of silicon (or saline) could do for me; I'm not entirely impervious to comments about "old ugly and shriveled up." (And I am much closer to 40 than I am to 20). But... have you SEEN breast implant surgery? I saw one on the Health Channel once a while back and I still get the willies thinking about it- the graphic slicing and dicing of such a sensitive body region (Naomi Wolf refers to it "sexual mutilation"). I'm much more inclined to get a nipple ring thank you very much. Less blood, shorter healing time.
Which makes me wonder: I know the injunction against extra piercings is an official from-the-pulpit edict. But what about breast implants? Have church leaders spoken out against elective cosmetic surgery in a similar way? (I'm too lazy to search this out for myself, so if you have a link, please share it.) I know a lot of LDS women do get augmentation and don't feel conflicted about it at all, whereas a second stud in the ear (don't even mention the nipple)~ No way!
But mostly I just wonder what it is that goes on inside the head of that dear patriarch, the beloved head of my family, when he makes such comments as the aforementioned ones. The underlying sentiment in both statements are ones of disgust, an abhorrence for a woman's breasts (or at least for breasts that aren't naturally young and plump). Maybe he really is disgusted by breasts. Or perhaps it is his way of trying to circumvent his own normal (natural man?) response to women's breasts, to be above any perceived sexual impurity by taking an internalized guilt and projected it outward as a defense? I don't know.
It is all just a mess of mixed messages.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
But after all this time I still don't have one. Typically I chalk it up to not having found the desired imagery and location, but I think it's a bit more than that. See, I spoke to this woman the other day; she had an amazing tattoo on her left arm and after talking for a bit she mentioned that she had had huge buyers remorse the day after she got it. She wore a certain a shirt and hated how it looked with the tattoo. This after planning the tattoo for some time- putting down deposits at parlors all over town then finally spent quite a bit of time working with this particular artist on the image. Yet she still woke up the next day, looked at her fresh ink, and wondered if she had done the right thing.
She loves her tattoo now, but it was good for me to hear her account because I am inclined towards having buyers remorse. Almost every large purchase or decision I make causes me conniptions after I sign on the dotted line. "AAGH! It was a mistake! I shouldn't have done that!!!" Then I usually get over it and am happy with what I bought/did.
The permanence of it, on my flesh!
So, for the moment, I satisfy my urge for ink with ball point pen on the regions of my body that my right hand can reasonably reach. And maybe eventually I will be ready for the next level. And even after I am ready, I may still have buyers remorse the next day, and that will be okay. Here is my most recent doodle:
To doodle my first tattoo
To realize a tattoo is no more permanent
Than I am..."
-Ani Difranco. Shroud
Thursday, November 20, 2008
During my youth and early adulthood I had a bit of an obsession with being spiritually clean. The peak of this obsession came during my mission and the ensuing couple of years; through dedicated church service, scripture study (including a fixation with memorization), prayer/meditation and temple attendance I sought God's approval, desperately wanting to be found worthy, clean. What I find ironic is that this was the time of my life where I felt the most unclean, the most unworthy, and none of my full hearted sincerity or excellent memorization skills could wash that out. Looking back I'm not sure if I worked hard because I felt dirty, or if I felt dirty because I could never work hard enough (scrubbing away... 'out damn spot!')
Pondering my own experience, it occurs to me that this tendency to feel unclean targets the female gender. Yes, I'm projecting, I am definitely generalizing (big time), and my only evidence is personal observation; but what I am wondering is if LDS women (in general) feel inherently MORE dirty and therefore work HARDER than their male counterparts. Yes, the gospel says that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And yeah, we typically think of men being 'dirtier' with leaving socks lying all over the place etc, but historically women's bodies have been the recipient of the most censure for filthiness and I have a sneaking suspicion that such ideas still underlie and inform a good deal of our belief systems.
In every ward I have been in there is usually the open recognition that the ladies work harder than the gentlemen; visiting teaching stats outstripping home teaching stats, women spending proportionally way more time in lesson preparations (even if that is merely in making crafty handouts), etc... It seemed that every temple endowment session I attended women easily out numbered the men (except in the Provo temple when districts of elders were in attendance). These facts are used as the anecdotal evidence that women are just naturally more spiritual than men, but when that rhetoric is combined with the real life fact that having a superior spiritual nature doesn't translate into any real decision-making power in the organization, perhaps women just implicitly feel they have more to prove. To themselves. To God. To the ward.
Maybe we can chalk it up to traditional gender roles that have the man of the house as the main breadwinner, spending hours each day bringing home the temporal bacon. The stay-at-home wife sees a church calling as a serious full time job to which she can dedicate her energies, providing a sense of purpose, a sense of responsibility, and a chance to prove herself. Maybe this is part of a gender construct that gives women more accolades for frequent tearful testimonies than men. Cultural training about masculinity and femininity (and whether or not it's okay to be in touch with your feelings).
Or maybe there is the subtle implication that women are a little less worthy, and the little pedestal of superior purity is a smokescreen. Cleanliness before God is a huge part of our belief system; baptism to wash away our sins, bits of bread and sips of water on a weekly basis to sanctify us, continual repentance of the blemishes that constantly mar our souls; all of this leading up to the ultimate purification of the temple initiation and endowment, preparing us to pass through the veil that separates us from God. A promise of being clean enough to enter his holy presence.
The women in the room will now please veil their faces.
Monday, November 10, 2008
[Jan 2009 update, this post is now being discussed at The Exponent.]
being empowered, being cleaned because of this mortal god who bled in a sacred grove of trees under the weight of my pain was a powerful notion for me, because I had a lot of pain and felt chronically filthy.
It was about a year and a half ago that I sat with the Teach My Gospel manual in my lap, and realized that I was in serious trouble in regards to my relationship to the church. I was a ward missionary preparing a new member discussion for a recent convert. Lesson number 3, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ."
For several years I had been struggling to hold together a crumbling belief in The Church. Usually called to teaching positions I found myself having to edit and adapt the lessons more and more to be true to my own beliefs, it was disconcerting to keep being faced with more and more topics and doctrines that I could no longer toe the line for. But there was one doctrine that I clung to with a riveting obsession and that was the healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I had a gripping hope in and affinity for a savior who would be with me in the deepest pit, lending me strength beyond my own to help me up. The concept of being empowered, being cleaned because of this mortal god who bled in a sacred grove of trees under the weight of my pain was a powerful notion for me, because I had a lot of pain and felt chronically filthy.
And so I held to the church out of the strength of that belief.
But the beliefs that were changing for me had unavoidable repercussions: I was losing my belief in the literally defined precisely explained thoroughly cross referenced version of the Life and Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I was losing belief in the claims of The Church as the only organization with the real authority to speak for Christ and the only organization with the real priesthood to perform all the ordinances that make us one with Christ. And so when I opened that teacher's manual to prepare a lesson about Jesus Christ, and realized that I didn't believe a single thing that the manual taught.... Well it was a bit devastating. As a short term remedy I cancelled the appointment for the lesson and got released from my calling (citing 'personal
reasons'). Then I continued to attend church and find non-doctrinal ways to participate... but I think that was the beginning of the end for me. I no longer believed what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught about Jesus Christ (finally added to that list of everything else I didn't believe).
I still find myself riveted by the story of Jesus, this social agitator who stood for the poor and downtrodden, pissed off religious leaders, and shared meals with sinners and women. And I still have a longing for a healing presence during my low times. But I no longer hold to The Church as a way to connect to those concepts.
So, perhaps, for me as with the faithful dissident, it all boils down to Jesus. Just with different results. For her, He is the reason that she continues to pursue an uncomfortable participation in The Church. For me, He is (a good part of) the reason that I made the uncomfortable decision to take a break from The Church.
I have written about this painting in a previous post, but thought I'd put it up again here because I painted it while working through my feelings about Christianity.
One of the quotes on it was copied from this interesting website I had stumbled upon called Mind On Fire. It would still be several months before I discovered the bloggernacle and began forming friendships, and almost two years before I would meet any of these friends in the flesh.
Anyhoo... just feeling nostalgic and grateful and so very blessed to have found the people I have. Thank you friends. You've saved my life.
(I think the majority of my journal is filled with quotes from other people. You should know that quite a few of you grace the pages of the Book of G.)
Friday, October 31, 2008
(Thank you, lessie, for the recommendation!)
The Female Thing, Envy, Sex, Dirt and Vulnerablitiy by Laura Kipnis. (BTW, that link is to the review by Salon's Laura Miller and it is excellent. Much better than what I am going to write here, so read it if you are curious for more about the book) Laura put together a thrilling and quick (less than 200 pgs) read that probably pissed a bunch of people off and I totally fell in love with it. Filled with plenty of referenece to (and digs at) feminist theory and plenty of reference to (and digs at) our pop-culture, I think it would make a perfect follow-up read to Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs. (Just in case you were looking for a good book to read along side that one.)
Here's a few quotes...
A little bit about Envy: "Clearly both male presence and male absence are equally capable of causing chagrin, each in its own way. [heterosexual] woman [is] suspended between wanting to have a man and wanting what men don't have to give... The irony is that even women who really don't want a man- don't want them as boyfriends or husbands or sex-partners- usually still want something that men have: their salaries, for one thing, or their social privleges, or their access to those coveted corridors of power... " (pg 16, 24)
Something about Sex: "Let's be honest: Nature herself has not been entirely kind to women in this regard... amoung Nature's little jokes at women's expense is the entire excruciating, immoblizing burden (sorry, privilege) of childbearing (a privilege that can kill you, thanks), PMS, painful sexual initiation... and on top of that, the unkindest joke of all: the placement of the clitoris, the primary local of female sexual pleasure, at some remove from the vagina, the primary local of human sexual intercourse." (pg 44)
The dish on Dirt: "How could anyone think there is anything compulsive about the numerous time-consuming beautifying procedures and absolutions that most of us females ritually perform before leaving the house and presenting our fatally flawed, often secretly bleeding bodies for public inspection- even those of us armed to the teeth with feminist theory or madonnaesque postmodern irony about femininity?" (pg 117)
A revealing glimpse of Vulnerablitiy: "If you're a chick, your sitting on some pretty valuable real estate. Is there any other body cavity quite so laden with symbolic value, not to mention actual monetary worth, particularly for exclusive access?" (She followes that up with the quip: "...women got blessed with these wonderfully valuable vagina's but not necesarily with the body strength to defend them, should it prove necessary.") (pg 123, 125)
I giggled and smirked and nodded my head through the Envy Sex and Dirt sections, and felt uncomfortably exposed through the Vulnerablity section, and really really enjoyed all of it.
anyhoo... anyone else read it? I'd love to hear what you thought.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
So I went again today, and was both unnerved and flattered that EVERYONE including the pastor remembered my name. (It's been a month since I was there last!)
Once again, I really enjoyed the meeting, felt the familiar glow and lightness in my heart... but also noticed something else: FEAR.
I could get sucked in.
I could lose my freedom to wander, become trapped by a responsibility. I might lose my anonymity, have to really learn everybody's names, no longer be the mysterious visitor in the back... I could become a known quantity (all my failings and short comings revealed).
I could become locked into a committed relationship.
And that makes me afraid.
Which pretty much sums up my tendency towards relationships with other humans in general.
Most of my life has been a practice in avoiding entangling alliances...
But yet, to allow myself to become a part of a community...
To have greater capacity for... for what? Making a difference? For touching others?
It would be nice if I had some nice profound epiphany to conclude with here, but I don't at the moment. All I have is a newly-discovered recognition of one of my fears.
And I'll have to figure out what to do with that now.
Friday, October 24, 2008
The painting shown here is one I did just before I got intentionally pregnant with our son. I found myself using art making to process some of the ambiguity I felt about that decision. The sacrifice, the sanctification, the vulnerability, the fear (and hope), the requirement. (And just because, here is something I did when I was about 9 mo pregnant with our son.)
I have wondered if it was the birth of our son that doomed my faith in the church, opened that perilous door which led to a very diminished belief in it's claims to exclusive divine direction. I'm the kind of woman who has never been 'baby hungry'. I enjoy kids (and love my son) but prefer my exposure to them to be limited to a degree (I'm a much better mother to my son when he is with someone else for a part of the day) and I have never experienced a longing to reproduce. It was with a bit of trepidation and ambivalence that I agreed to conceive; it's what Mormon couples do after getting married, hubby thought it was a good idea, I was approaching 30, clock's a ticking. I couldn't vocalize any good reason not to. So we did. The Pregnancy was fine. Labor and delivery went without a hitch. But then I was suddenly a mom... and I discovered it wasn't a role that worked very well for me. When the other young mothers around me talked about planning for their 'next one' I had a hard time relating. The only possible reason I could see for wanting another child was because it was what God wanted me to do, sort of like commanding Jonas to go to Nineveh. And I was starting to have some issues with the Father's demands upon my body.
I wrote this guest post at fMh a little over a year ago about why people have children. It was really big on my mind at the time, we were coming to that point where my husband and I were asking "do we have another one?" and I was doing some serious soul searching. This year, my son turns five, I will soon become officially "mid 30's", and I have gone through a bit of a cognitive shift. Epitomized, perhaps, by president Beck's Mother's Who Know talk; it wasn't until after I ceased believing in "Prophets, seers, and revelators who... [declare] that 'God's commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force'" that I could finally come to grips with and admit the fact that I really didn't want any more children. That our family felt complete to me. I think for my mother this is painfully personal. To her it is not only proof of my declining faith in the church, but also an indictment against her own effectiveness as a mother (she wonders if I would be more maternal if she had been a better mom.) Likewise there are women who desire (but are unable) to have a child, and my fully capable but intentionally empty womb must seem like a cruel joke. I don't have answers to those questions. This is just my personal story.
But I am curious, for me faith and family planning seemed so heavily connected, (which is silly- perpetuating the species is what we are programed for) how does this work for others? Are there faithful members of the church who don't feel any contradiction between believing in the restored gospel and happily remaining childless? On the flip side, know any atheists with lots of kids? What has been your experience with the command to multiply and replenish the earth?
Thursday, October 16, 2008
But this weekend...
This will be the first family temple event where I will be waiting outside. I knew it was coming, I guess I will find out just how ready I am for this. My mom asked if My Lover wanted to attend the session and I think he will. I think he should. He can represent us, be the one on the 'inside' to show our support. She knew not to invite me; by the seams no longer visible under my clothes, by the flesh that flashes where there should be a glimpse of white cotton she knew that I was no longer wearing garments. It wasn't a 'you're not invited' gesture, I think she just didn't want to put me the position of having to say "I can't go" and I appreciate that. What I am more anxious about are the reactions of the rest of my siblings (and cousins, uncles, aunts, etc...) when they realize that G is on the outside.
Holding to tradition, I am sure we will all go to dinner afterwards at the Mexican restaurant across the street. Happy, excited, noisy... And I'll be happy, excited and noisy too. I think. I hope. I may be faking it. Perhaps many of them will be faking non-bafflement at why I wasn't inside. Maybe we'll all just happily avoid the big Non-Temple Attender Issue.
Or maybe not.
This brings me to my point... How do I explain?
I think I'll try to come up with a couple good one-liners for this weekend in case I am asked. Maybe something like "oh, I'm just working some things out." (Yeah, that's lame. Any suggestions?)
But eventually, sometime soon, I should find a way to discuss with my family 'what is up with G'.
They don't know about this blog. (I think!)
Initially the secrecy was in part to avoid painful accusations of being deceived, of being unfaithful, etc... But, well... I got a parental email the other day that accused me of just those things. So my secretiveness didn't protect me from that. Perhaps it's served it's purpose and it is time to start opening the door.
Here's a tentative plan. I'll start with my mom, because she is the one who has been the most hurt by seeing the writing on the wall yet not knowing the WHYs of it all. Perhaps I'll email her links to John Dehlin's (extensive) essay on how to stay in the church after a challenge to the faith, and to Richard Bushman's paper on Losing Faith Over History (thanks, Adam, for that one). Sort of laying some ground-work from a fairly faithful viewpoint. Depending on how things go over that email, I will then let her know that I have a blog where I talk about my feelings on these things, perhaps start her off with links to the posts I wrote about returning my temple recommend, where I come to a watershed point, and then where I finally decide to take a break...
Just for starters.
Just an idea.
Sorry... I'm just kinda talking/typing out-loud here. thanks for bearing with me.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Several years ago Elder David Bednar gave a devotional address at BYU where he recounted this story:
"Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. This young man cared for the young woman very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. Now this relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.
The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her nonresponsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times. The young man was quick to observe that the young woman was not quick to observe."
This account has been on my mind recently.
Seven years ago the man who would become my husband found in me a woman who was quick to observe. I was a return missionary, had a fervent testimony of the gospel and the scriptures, held callings of responsibility, (and had only one earring in each ear). We fell in love and married in the temple.
About two years ago, I had my first alcoholic drink. I have written a little about it here and here if you are interested, but for the purposes of this post all that really matters is that drink. And the subsequent ones I had after that. I didn't tell my husband when I had that first drink. (Or the second, etc...) That sounds horrifically deceptive, I know. It is one of those things that I think I will always regret. But I simply had no idea how to approach the subject- ask permission? Announce my intention? Neither of those options seemed at all helpful so I went the passive aggressive route and just DID it with the vague idea that I would eventually find a healthy way to bring it up and talk about it with my beloved husband. But always in the back of my mind was the fear... Would he become incensed? Hate me? Hit me? Be devastated, utterly crushed with grief? Would it be the deal-breaker for our marriage?
To make a long story short(er), we were eventually able to talk about it. He didn't hit me or threaten divorce or fall into a deep depression. We were able to negotiate this change and keep the marriage intact. But going through this experience brought up all sorts of thoughts and issues for me. As exemplified by Elder Bednar's young man looking for a wife, there is a lot of emphasis on finding "the right someone" to marry. There tends to be much less said about what to do when that special someone changes after marriage. We have the young man's rejection of a disobedient woman as the model for other singles; but once married what model does the couple have when one of them loses faith? Acceptance of the 'offending' spouse's actions may feel, to the faithful member, like a slight against god or the church. Yet non-acceptance creates incredible strain in the marriage.
Circumstances like this bring up questions of power, control, and respect. Is the marriage egalitarian or does someone "preside"? The patriarch of old declared "as for me and my house we will serve the Lord" but in today's world exactly whose house is it? The husband of a friend of mine insists that she refrain from herbal teas. Out of respect for him, for his house. For women who are non-wage-earners, there may be the pressure of "you can't buy that stuff with MY money!" But this isn't just a patriarchal thing. Power plays between the genders can go in both directions.
For many members, this just won't be an issue in their marriage; neither spouse loses faith, or if one does they simply won't feel the need to step over any questionable lines. But for some, negotiating these crossings is inevitable and must be dealt with; the challenging question of how much allowance for individual change a marriage can tolerate.
So, what are your thoughts and experiences on the subject? It doesn't have to be Word of Wisdom specific, that is just the example I have the most experience with (For some couples, a spouse joining or reactivating in the church is the touchy issue). Likewise, it does not have to be marriage specific; similar tensions arise in family settings (siblings, parents, etc), between friends, or in roommate situations.
I know this is sensitive topic, feel free to comment anonymously if you're more comfortable that way.
Monday, October 6, 2008
About two years ago I got up the courage to check out a book about Wicca from the library. I don't remember the title, "Wicca for Beginners" or something like that. I was searching for "The Divine Feminine" and had really enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd's Dance of the Dissident Daughter (I'll have to blog about that book sometime.) But I did have a harder time relating to most of the books I found about modern paganism- the appropriation of ancient culture's gods and goddess for use in spells for prosperity and love... I just couldn't get into it. The book that I enjoyed the most, The Body Sacred, ironically was also the last pagan book I read as it really brought home to me that a faith surrounding the Goddess (or Lady) had several problematic and contradictory aspects just like the patriarchal tradition I was questioning.
But yet when I heard about this Wiccan seminar, I couldn't resist, ditched the last session of General Conference to go have a "pagan experience". Like the books I had read, there was a lot that just didn't resonate with me and the gendered language that the group leader used (equating feminine with passivity and masculine with action etc...) was off-putting. But the concept of making a special space in a little nook or cranny of the home, collecting items that have meaning to help focus, remind... Well, I have had that thought before of making a little alter/shrine/something but never quite known exactly how to go about it. And I still don't, even after attending this seminar, but it is back to the front of my mind. One of my flickr friends posted a picture of her family alter in her home and that really stuck with me. Also back to front of my mind are the various alters of Christianity and Mormondom, sacrificial alters of the old testament, the sacrament table, the marriage alter (and the many times I passed out at that marriage alter while doing work for the dead in the temple. did anyone else ever do that? Something about kneeling for long durations, I passed out almost every time. Weird.)
Anyhow, in honor of the various little connections between Christianity and Pagan, and for your viewing entertainment, a little Dar Williams:
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Personally, I'm just sad that fMhLisa beat me to the proposal. I want to marry you too, kiskilili! Do you do the polygamy thing? Can I be ya'lls third wife? Pleeeeease?
(fMhLisa can preside, Kiskilili can nurture, or however they want to work that out... I will merely humbly and obediently submit to their obvious authority! WooHoo!!)
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
(Other times when I can't sleep I take picture after picture after picture with the camera...)
Now for you viewing pleasure (because OF COURSE you want to see this), my tired eyes: (ironically, I took this pic after a night where I actually GOT a good night's sleep, but was still very tired!)
Sunday, September 28, 2008
For the second week in a row now I have found myself in the embarrassing position of weeping in public, and I am trying to unravel what is it the root of it. It started last Sunday at the Episcopalian church I visited. The service itself, while heavily Christian, was a liberal interpretation that resonated with me and I felt the spirit during it. Then it came time for partaking of the Eucharist. Now, I had been looking forward to this, was really curious about it and hoping it would be acceptable for a visitor to participate, because I wanted to experience it. Sort of like trying some new foreign food.
I was relieved when it was made very clear that this Eucharist was open to anyone who wanted it... and then became completely baffled when I began to weep uncontrollably as I stood to walk to the front (I was just one in a crowd of people moving up to the alter). Perhaps you know the feeling, tears start pouring down your face and your breath becomes erratic and your face muscles start trying to contort and you are doing everything you can to be discrete and keep it hidden from everyone around you. Yeah, that was what happened. And inside I was thinking... "...huh?!?" Up at the front, we knelt on a padded bench and a priest came and put a small thin round wafer in each of our hands and said "body of Christ" (or something like that) and at this point I am trying to hard to keep it under control, but my weeping is obvious to anyone who looks at my face. Then the priest comes around with a cup of wine for us to dip the wafer in. "Blood of Christ". And I ate it and wept. Back at my pew it took me a good while to stem the flood. And the whole time I am thinking "Get a Grip!!!" It wasn't a bad feeling. Actually felt pretty good and clean afterwards. Just embarrassing. And baffling. What was that?
Then yesterday I visited a United Congregational Church. Totally different feel from the Episcopalians, no vaulted ceilings, no crosses, no biblically themed stained-glass, no elegant pews with folding down pads for kneeling. It was rather plain with folding chairs, some stylized "unify-the-world" type paintings and a rock band set up at the front. The service had lots of music, a reading from the Book of Acts and a sermon by the pastor (a friendly funny woman) about leaving the Comfortable in order to follow God. Still Christian themed, but much looser than the Episcopalian sermon. It was all actually very inspiring and I felt the spirit strongly again. At this church a big loaf of crusty french bread was used instead of a wafer, and it was dipped in grape juice instead of wine, and there was none of the pomp and ceremony of the Eucharist ritual. But once again I found myself getting a tiny bit teary-eyed as I waited with the other parishioners for my bit of "Jesus snack". Not much, nothing like last week, just a little wet around the eyes. "Cool" I though, "I got this under control". Until it was my turn and this friendly funny young woman tore off a piece of bread, put it in my hand and said "even for you". And I sort of crumpled, and tears started pouring out.
What is this?
So I have been wondering why this ritual of the bread and wine is doing this to me. It's crossed my mind that a part of it may be the active participation required, the need to stand up and go get it, which, especially as a visitor unfamiliar with the process heightens the emotional vulnerability. (I wonder if I went to a church where it was passed around in a similar fashion to the LDS church, would I still find myself overcome with tears?)
But I think it also has a lot to do with a real craving for sacred ceremony, for spiritual ritual. I was always very aware that the sacrament was supposed to be that, but even when I was trying really hard to focus and ponder the atonement it seemed the bread and water would come and go in a haze of a routine rendered invisible because of it's familiarity. And more recently it had merely become an uncomfortable moment: should I take it? If I do, will the bishop try to intervene? Actually, I think the yearning more closely aligns with what I sought for in the temple. In fact, the last time I remember weeping in church like this was this past November, the 18th to be precise- I was sitting in Sunday School and had the strong impression that I should give up my temple recommend. When I had that thought and knew it was a true one, I began to weep and beat a hasty exist from the class. Those weren't good tears, those ones hurt. Yet, at that point attending the temple had been arduous and painful for quite some time, not a place of solace or spirituality for me at all. But it was my only available outlet for a spiritual ritual. For a sacred ceremony.
It's just an educated guess, but I think perhaps my emotional response to the communion of these faiths is relief at finding an alternate venue for some form of meaningful ordinance.
And I'd like to keep exploring that. But seriously... I hope to be able to keep the emotions under check next time. Please!
Monday, September 22, 2008
My staunchly LDS family hates those blue water barrels, are strongly supportive of the vandals who go out and sabotage the water stations. It is not entirely fair, using my family as a measuring stick for The Church's immigration stance. On the books I believe the church is much more neutral (even compassionate) about the immigration issue. But there are no blue barrels in front of any LDS chapels in Tucson. Instead, one state over, enormous financial support is collected to defeat same sex marriage in California.
I support blue water barrels. Giving water to the thirsty in the desert.
Monday, September 15, 2008
I went to a Quaker meeting yesterday. I visited once before, last year, and I had forgotten how strongly I felt the spirit there. It’s actually been quite a while since I have felt the spirit; months and months, and in the back of my mind I was beginning to wonder, to worry. So to feel it again so strongly, yesterday, among that quite group of oldish whitish hippyish folks was an overwhelming relief.
I stepped on the path of questioning a few years ago with the utmost trepidation and fear, well versed in the church’s language: take heed lest ye be deceived, don’t be led astray. And so I determined to follow closely the promptings of the spirit to take each questioning step with prayer (allowing myself to question The Church, but never that spiritual guidance). Removal of the garments, first alcoholic drink, experiments that to a true believing member must seem like an attempt to mutilate and destroy spiritual sensitivity, but I went about it with a keen sense of listening to the spirit. Does that make sense? An intentional pushing, a deliberate testing of boundaries. A controlled scientific experiment even (closely looking at cause and effect). And during that time of experimentation, I did feel the spirit sometimes so strongly, a comforting validation of my being “okay” (Good with God? On the path? Something like that.)
And so this long stretch of numbness has caused me some concern in the back of my mind, the lingering language of the church, warnings of the traps and snares of the devil, being gently led to destruction, and I have wondered. (“Am I deceived? Damned?”) But that is only in the back of my mind, a quiet audio-feed with my mother's voice. I am just surprised at how much I have changed in these past few months; I went from being a mystic to a skeptic. I’ve lost (almost) all belief in anything supernatural and feel much more inclined to look at things with a rational eye than a spiritual eye. Mostly, I am just questioning everything now. Including the feelings I have previously felt, including spiritual guidance.
So yesterday, sitting in that simple room, sitting in silence… to once again feel that tangible clear feeling inside my ribcage and running up and down my veins. Well, it was relieving. But it has also brought up all sorts of questions about this thing I call “The Spirit”. I was a missionary (and after that, and MTC teacher) whose major focus was ‘helping people feel and recognize the spirit’ (and then getting them to understand that the spirit was telling them to join the church).
Now I sometimes wonder if it isn’t chemical euphoria, perhaps a by-product of my mildly manic depressive tendencies.
I really like JohnR’s post about the subject, a skeptic’s yearning for “those sublime moments in which we feel a deep awe and a sense of connection to humanity and the universe.” I like the sound of that much better than the effect of a frenzied mind.
Anyways, just some thoughts.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
"If you could take the skewers of religion, those that riddle your frame, make you aware every time you move- if you could withdraw the scimitars of religion from your mental and moral systems- could you even stand? Or do you need religion as, say the hippos in the Grasslands need the poisonous little parasites within them, to help them digest fiber and pulp? The history of peoples who have shucked off religion isn't an especially persuasive argument for living without it. Is religion itself- that tired and ironic phrase- the necessary evil?"
Wicked. pg 387
I'm not sure of my opinion (or knowledge) of 'peoples who have shucked off religion' but what has been on my mind a lot are the stringent requirements/belief structure of the LDS church (skewers and scimitars?) and the relaxed requirement/belief structures of other faiths I am learning about and the various detriments and benefits of both.
Joseph Smith said "Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation."
That quote chafes me now, it smacks of rhetorical propaganda, a carrot on a stick to keep members from being enticed by other less sacrificial belief systems.
But, perhaps, that "sacrifice" is the necessary evil? Necessary to what? I have lost the belief in religion's claims to salvation, but perhaps, on a human-nature level, social level, personal accountability level... necessary, beneficial? (What of those 'peoples who have shucked off religion'?)
Perhaps I am thinking too much, reading too much into Maguire's words (re-interpreting his words).
Monday, September 8, 2008
I guess I wanted to make a note of that. The bruised feeling. I had rather anticipated a feeling of freedom, of a burden lifting by allowing myself to take a step away from the LDS ward. That feeling may yet come, but I want to be honest about this experience and not try to tell the story as I think it should go, doing the same kind of whitewashing and re-interpreting of the story that has been done to Mormon History, the same kind of whitewashing and re-interpreting that happens in so many faithful member's journals.
I do it too; coming up with the expected explanation for things that I really don't have an explanation for. I'd like to stop that habit.
So I felt a little bruised going to a new church service.
But it was a lovely service, music, a few readings, a sermon (about what Americans believe, facts, figures, and statistics).
Next sunday, I think I'll attend a local Friends meeting. (I've been before, and was very touched by the guided silence).
Then, the week after that..... I don't know. Perhaps sample meditation with the Buddhists, experience Eucharist with the Episcopals, maybe even find a coven of local pagans and see what they say about the divine feminine and the power of trees.
But I feel a bit jaded about doing this. Am I shopping around for a church? For a belief system? I have no allusions that this is a treasure hunt where I will be able to find a nice neat package "just for me" in some hidden location.
But I do need to rebuild my beliefs, find the things I believe in. I used to believe so strongly... I used to feel the spirit so strongly, and experience God so strongly.
I've lost that. And hope to be able to regain some semblance of it all.
Well.... more about this later.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
A few days ago, I made all the necessary calls required to get out of all my callings and obligations to the ward.
But let me back up a bit.
Two, maybe even three years ago I wrote this:
"But I hang on. Lots of others in my situation have severed all ties, start to drink, smoke, swear, etc… Obviously they don’t keep paying 10 percent of their income to the organization. But not me. I am still there, gritting my teeth through most of the meetings, trying no to be too cynical of the things said in Sunday school. Trying not to deviate too far when I teach the kids their Sunday school lessons, not bring up any of the questions that torment me. I don’t drink or smoke, and I am fighting off swearing as hard as I can… but then I know lots of good members who do let rip with offending words, but they still have callings in high places, so I feel okay about my little slip-ups. And we do keep paying 10 percent of our income to the organization of the church. I say we, because I get little checks here and there from various art projects I do… and I usually slide on paying my tithing on them- is that a sign… am I loosing my grip on the rod? As long as “We” pay that comforting little 10 percent, I am content to ignore my own little irregularities. So why do I hang on? Here is the best answer I can come up with: deep in the spiritual experiences I have had with this theology, there have been good and Godly things that I have needed. I am content to allow myself to interpret things in a slightly different way, and to permit myself to see certain things as a result of the “false traditions of the fathers” while still remaining within the framework. Still hanging on. keeping silence a lot of the times, but hanging on."
Then, it was last year that I returned my temple recommend to my bishop. letting that go, but still hoping to hold on to the church as a non-recommended member.
Still hanging on.
Then, several months ago, I hit a fork in the road. I felt I could no longer go on as I had been going, I had to make a decision about The Church one way or the other; either re-enter as a fully participating member, or take a leave of absence for a bit. I was leaning towards a sabbatical. The same day I wrote that post, I was called to work in the nursery with my husband. These past few months have been quite hard, I have felt so stuck, arrested mid-step. More than anything, these past few months have solidified the desire to take a break. To step alway from the church, get some breathing room, something.
So now it begins. I have let go. I am taking a sabbatical. Taking a break. I'm going to start from scratch, and try to do some rebuilding of my shattered self-image.
Margaret Starbird in speaking of her own crisis of faith, wrote: "I feared it would turn me inside out. Doctrines I had believed on faith had to be uprooted and discarded, and new beliefs had to be sown and allowed to take root. The entire Roman Catholic framework of my childhood had to be dismantled to uncover the dangerous fault in the foundation and then the belief system carefully rebuilt when the fissure had been sealed."
Likewise, Jeremy (Chandelle's lover) spoke of when he left the church: "Without the constant need to check every decision I made against the teachings of that institution, a whole slew of possibilities previously closed to me opened themselves for consideration and action... I also had an intense feeling of fear. I was afraid of giving up the familiar. Afraid of ridding myself of a level of support that I had relied on all my life."
I am a little afraid. And shaky. Really, I don't know who I am anymore. And the day I made the phone calls to get released from my callings, I cried and cried.
Cuz I don't know where this is going.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
This is a piece I made before my son was born. I may have been pregnant with him, I don't remember for sure.
Childbirth was definitely on my mind, the pressure to reproduce, the spiritual mandate to make a body for a spirit brother or sister to inhabit. And I was fascinated with the many scriptural analogies between spiritual growth and actual pregnancy.
Blood and Water and Born Again...
(Matriarchal imagery in a Patriarchal religion)
For this piece I took an old screen door that I had found dumped out in the desert. I de-constructed it, taking it apart and putting it back together as a bunch of boxes of various sizes. I than began to fill the boxes, stuffing them with egg shells, broken cups (that box is not shown here), pages riped from books and rolled up tight, jars filled with salt and stones. One box is empty, painted stark white inside and then closed off (protected?) by a rusty spikey metal "door" (a large joiner that I found in the ashes of a bonfire, the wood it was joining burned away). I also put in some of the little female fertility icons I had been making out of plaster- little venus-of-willendorf-ish type figures, one with wings (angel? resurrected being?) one surrounded in flowers, almost like a burial.
blood and sweat and amniotic fluid and baptism
sex and pregnancy.
All compartmentalized in a bunch of boxes.
It was sort of a self-portrait: Searching for spiritual rebirth and conflicted about the roll of motherhood that was expected of me.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Now, with most my other siblings safely in the fold of the church (presumably having 'gotten it all out' in their young and rebellious years) it is my turn to tear her heart out. And to do it so cruelly.
Everything about me now is a rejection of her beliefs and values: her faith, her politics, her lifelong calling as stay-at-home-mother...
You know... I think my losing faith in the church, and swinging left in my politics are hard for her, but not unbearable.
But I think that my only having one child is killing her; proof that I do not think she was a good mother.
"Was there something in the way I was as a mother that makes you not want to be a mom?"
She asked me that today, in the moment as we were saying our goodbyes. I was unprepared for it, didn't know how to respond, we were in the process of going to our cars, going our separate ways... "Was there something in the way I was as a mother..."
My choices becomes her proof that she was lacking as a mother.
I'll have to write more about this later. Not now.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Anyways, I just had to post this because I just got an email from my mom. The only thing she wrote is "are you trying to tell us you are gay?" And I think she was serious.
I wrote back: "Yes. And DH is a woman in drag."
I wonder if she'll think that I am serious?
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Discussion taking place at The Exponent.
[If you have not yet read Take This Bread, excerpts can be read here here and here, and an additional essay by Miles can be read here.]
“ ‘Oh God of abundance,’ I began, ‘you feed us every day. Rise in us now, make us into your bread, that we may share your gifts with a hungry world, and join in love with all people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ ” -pg 247
This was one of the prayers offered by Sara, one she specially wrote for use at the Food Pantry where her and her volunteers distribute free groceries to upwards of three hundred people once a week. I think the main reason it caught my eye as I read it this time around, was that it is reminded me very much of a prayer Bart Erhman described in his book God’s Problem. For Bart, the doctrine of a God who feeds people became proof that there is no God because millions of people starve every day. For Sara, the doctrine of a God who feeds people became the knowledge that God was asking for her help, because millions of people starve every day.
I hardly know where to begin with this book, there are so many themes and things written in it that just stop me in my tracks, I can hardly refrain from just blurting out “oh, did you read this part?” and “I LOVE what she said here” and “this quote just blows me away!”
So, actually… I’m gonna just blurt stuff out here:
I LOVE Sara’s doctrine of inclusion that welcomes everyone to the (sacramental) table;
“As I interpreted it, Jesus invited notorious wrongdoes to his table, airily discarding all the religious rules of the day, and fed whoever showed up, by the thousands. In the end, he was murdered for eating with the wrong people.” –pg 92
I am profoundly humbled by her belief that you cannot be Christian by your self,
“I was going to get communion, whether I wanted it or not, with people I didn’t necessarily like… the people God chose for me.” –pg 97 The atheist, the Buddhist, the wealthy liberal church member who doesn’t want the Food Pantry interfering with ‘church’, the schizophrenic, the hopeless drug addict, the homophobic evangelical, the sexual deviant (as she occasionally refers to herself) … all part of God’s flesh, the body that we are a part of.
Her take on the Holy Scriptures is delightful to me; “ ‘The Word of God,’ [Donald] said, ‘is what’s heard by the people of God when the Bible is read.’ That meant the Word was living not because it was magical but because over and over, down the centuries, believers wrestled with texts, adapted them, edited them, interpreted them, swallowed them whole an spat them out. The stories in the Bible were records of human attempts to understand God- attempts that were hopelessly incomplete. But through words and acts, we kept trying.” –pg 172
One of my favorite parts, the one lodged in the back of my mind like a seed, is when Sara takes a vial of rosemary scented oil to the Food Bank and shyly goes around asking the workers there if they wanted a blessing. A special anointing, a ‘blessing of the hands’ that she thought up just for the occasion. Dipping her thumb in the oil, making the sign of the cross upon the palm of whoever said yes, giving a little prayer. As they all go about their work of feeding the poor. The imagery is one I just cannot shake.
I was sometimes uncomfortable with her ‘new convert’ fervor, slipping scriptural phrases into conversations with her atheist partner, self-righteously strong-arming her new church community into the good-works sector using the guilt card (“it’s what Jesus would do if he were here”). And my heart hurt a little bit when she shared the account of the young girl, obviously abused, who wanted baptism; ‘…the water God puts on you to make you safe…’ It was a beautiful, intimate ordinance, as Sara and Lynn (the female minister) washed and anointed this girl (pg 237)… but I found my self thinking, aching; does she think this will protect her? Did they explain well enough to that beaten abused child that the water and the oil won’t keep her from getting hit (or worse)?
I could go on and on… (the politics of food, the ordination of women and homosexuals, the wars within religious communities and between different factions of Christians, same-sex marriage, the spirituality of sharing food and of the dinner table, etc…) but I’ll stop now.
However, I’m hoping you will go on, I’m dying to know what you thought of the book!
What did you think of Sara’s conversion, of her experiences at St Gregory’s, of her radical politics and her unconventional education, of her work with the Food Pantries and her unorthodox gospel?
What parts were memorable, which were uncomfortable?
What similarities do you see between Sara’s beliefs and experience and your own?
Anything else that I am not asking but you want to share, please feel free.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
About three months ago I wrote this post, and had pretty much resolved to take a sabbatical from the church. The SAME DAY I wrote that post we were visited by a member of the bishopric (a friend of ours) and asked if we would serve as nursery leaders together.
Was it some joke from God? (Still assuming the existence of one.) A divine sign I should stay? Observant leadership perceiving that I might leave? There was a lot of emotional junk associated with this calling; the most basic being that I have a hard time with kids (hubby however, is great with them). But in addition to that, for all appearances, my disaffection kept my husband from getting a calling in the Elder's Quorum, and I, enraged, sent off a missive in which I indicated that my ability to support my husband in his callings had been severely misjudged. I never did receive a response to that letter. When we were extended this calling a month later, I wondered if this WAS a response; "oh yeah miss-offended-and-apostate-smarty-pants? support your husband in THIS!".
A calling that is typically considered one of the least desirable.
And which my husband cannot do unless I am present.
I seriously considered saying no. I was really planing on taking a break. But this brought up all sorts of stuff for me, like the taboo of saying no to callings, how badly the ward needs SOMEONE to do this, how it might be a suitable break from Sunday School and Relief Society yet still a way to participate (a sort-of sabbatical), how a humble calling would be a good thing for me (as an active and believing member I used to be so proud of my doctrinal teaching skills, this calling would have seemed like SUCH a waste of my talents!). And above all, "Hell yes, mister ass-hole Stake President... I DO support my husband in his callings! (You pompous arrogant white-collar slim ball!!)"
So, Sunday has become a pretty miserable day. (It was anyways... but now especially I feel stuck, arrested mid-step.) This Sunday I was dead set on asking to be released from nursery (and then take a break from church for a time.)
I haven't made the call yet.
It's a scary difficult phone call for me to make (to a friend).
There is a part of me that wants to just tough it out, that whispers that this is giving up, deserting the children! And then another voice self-righteously implies that it is all in my head, and if I had a better attitude it would be so wonderful and I would learn so much from this. (That voice sounds an awful lot like my mom.) And there is this little conspiracy theorist voice whispering that my giving up is exactly what mr. pious peremptory Stake President is expecting of me: then it becomes a total "I'll show you" pride thing.
(In all honestly, I bet he never gave me a second thought. This mostly just shows off my self-absorption. Sick.)
Really, I wonder if I am trying to talk myself into staying in the calling (hard option #1) or out of making that excruciating phone call (hard option #2).
Sunday, August 17, 2008
I used to read. A lot. When I was pregnant with my son and had a cake job as a live-in apartment manager I sometimes used to consume several books a day. Even just a few years ago I was still consuming ten or more books a month. Now, I feel like I am trickling in a book here or a book there, and struggling to 'get into' them the way I used to. When I read this fascinating article I realized the author had a point: "I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle... what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski".
That sounds so familiar. And it is not just reading. It seems a lot of things that used to be pivotal to my life are suffering, I used to write a lot; compulsive journaling, playing around with fictional characters and story lines, reviews and letters and thoughts and ponderings and observations... Not so much anymore. My journal is sadly neglected, I haven't touched any of my fiction in months, and when I look at the past couple months worth of blog entries they are mostly just brief humorous quips (appropriated from other sources) and pictures.
On top of reading and writing, I have not worked in my studio in.... almost a year? could that be right? Has it been that long? Previously an obsessive sketchbooker (as opposed to a scrapbooker) it so something that I just no longer do. And it's loss is painful. As sort of a replacement I have been taking pictures, but it's not the same; it doesn't satisfy the same need for expression that is still underlying and gnawing away.
Meanwhile my time on the internet has increased. A lot. Yet it feels like my internet 'productivity' has decreased as measured by meaningful contact with friends and exposure to ideas and information. I'm not sure how the math works out, I haven't sat down and analyzed my internet time, but perhaps I should. Flickr, Goodreads, email, chat, Blog Reader... and for all my attempts at getting all my information organized into one place I still just find myself... scattered and spinning my wheels.
And how embarrassing to write about this ON MY BLOG. (So, G, sign off already and go read a book!)
Maybe it is just an adjustment period (been lots of upheaval lately), maybe I just need to find a balance, get better at time management, maybe this has just been a necessary down time, and I'm ready to 'get up' again, maybe I have an addiction that I need to address. Or maybe Google has made me stoopid.
So... does anyone have any thoughts on the subject? ever gone though something similar? I am soliciting advice here, so feel free.
Friday, August 15, 2008
have you ever felt this?
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Finally! In the flesh, all these close friends I have, whom I had previously never seen face to face. It was AWESOME!!! Our family was already planning a trip to Utah to visit family, but when I found that the Sunstone Symposium was going on as well I couldn't believe my Luck. And so, after spending several days enjoying family and the great outdoors in St George and Provo, I continued on to Salt lake City where I hooked up with mfranti. And from there the fun never stopped. Honestly, mfranti's summary of the weekend is brilliant I don't know that I could add a single addition. But I can add a whole lot a photos, so here you go: bloggers in the flesh (for those of you only interested in the faces of the bloggers we hooked up with) and the whole shebang here (for those of you who also like pics of window shopping, shoe shopping, carrots pulled right from the ground, and a few extra candid shots of those aforementioned bloggers.)
Friday, August 1, 2008
Filling out the forms for my new ID I realized I had been holding on to that piece of identification with the embarrassing mug shot, with a completely obsolete address, with potentially dangerous personal info... because that ID had my maiden name on it. It had been my form of rebellion against changing my name. Having been unable during my engagement to express to others (or even myself) what it meant to me to take on a 'married name' I instead held on to a piece of plastic. Now, seven years after marrying, as I finally went into the DMV and got my much needed new drivers license, I felt the letting go of it all as I wrote my (by now so familiar) married name in the blanks of the required paperwork. A little sadness, a little resignation. A little relief (this had been an awkward double life that rose it's head anytime I needed to proffer identification). I mentioned it to my lover afterwards, and his response was "you can change your name back if you like. It won't hurt my feelings." And I know it won't. But I doubt I will.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
When we were dating, my lover, in a moment of awe and admiration, referred to my hips as “Thunderous”. Apparently he was unaware of the negative connotation of “Thunder Thighs.”
And for your entertainment, Lucille Clifton’s brilliant poem,
"Homage to My Hips"
these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top
Thursday, July 17, 2008
They are taboo... not allowed growing up; I still only feel comfortable baring them in my own home, and never when I will be around most of my friends or family.
My skin, something to be hidden, it's exposure guaranteed to bring the wrath of God or the unwanted attention of man. (Taught as a young child; anecdotal stories of women raped because of what they wore... "and let that be a lesson to you...")
The stigma of sluttiness. The shame of nakedess. The reality of using one's provocatively shown skin to gain favor in a male-dominated culture where sex sells flipflops and rotisserie chicken and can buy promotions and fame.
All the messages bare shoulders can say; sexually available, secure in my sexuality, desperate for love, I love my body. I want your body, I am trying to get some sun, it's a hot day... or for me, most obviously to my peers; I'm not wearing garments.
(Of course, not all tank tops are equal, the sporty bright blue thing I am wearing in this pic with black Victoria's Secret bra straps showing is not saying the same thing as the militant feminist bra-less look in a faded gray tank. Just saying...)
Better cover up.
(sneaky internet stalker... she got my address from a careless pic I posted that had my info on it. LET THAT BE A LESSON TO YOU!!!)
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Sara was raised a secular atheist. A chef, an activist, a writer... religion, particularly Christianity, was the farthest thing from her mind. Then one day, out of curiosity, she stepped into a church, participated in the eucharist, and was changed forever. In her own words, "Mine is a personal story of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion, told by a very unlikely convert: a blue-state, secular intellectual; a lesbian, a left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism."
But the inconvenience of it all didn't matter. it happened, and she couldn't ignore it. As a chef, the core of her life was food, and feeing others, that act of 'eating God' spoke to her in a profound way, and in the scriptures she found a powerful spiritual doctrine to correspond:
"Poking around in the Bible, I found clues about my deepest questions. Salt, grain, wine and water; fig trees, fishermen and farmers. There were Psalms about hunger and thirst, about harvests and feasting. There were stories about manna in the wilderness, and prophets fed by birds. There was God appearing in radiance to Ezekiel and handing him a scroll: 'Mortal,' he said, 'eat this scroll,' and Ezekiel swallowed the words, 'sweet as honey,' and knew God.
And then in the New Testament appeared the central, astonishing fact of Jesus, proclaiming that he himself was the bread of heaven. 'Eat my flesh and drink my blood,' he said. I thought how outrageous Jesus was to the church of his time: he didn't wash before meals, he said the prayers incorrectly, he hung out with women, foreigners, the despised and unclean. Over and over, he told people not to be afraid. I liked all that, but mostly I liked that he said he was bread, and told his friends to eat him...I couldn't stop thinking about another story: Jesus instructing his beloved, fallible disciple Peter exactly how to love him: 'Feed my sheep'... It seemed pretty clear. If I wanted to see God, I could feed people."
And so that is what she did, opening food pantries in her town to feed the needy. Because that is what Jesus wanted her to do, feed his sheep.
Sara covers many themes in this book; conversion, faith, spiritual discovery, scriptural interpretation, political activism, 'good works', the difficult but necessary path of being 'one' with god's people, women in the ministry, etc...
Here is Sara Miles This I Believe essay about her conversion, and you can read excerpts from her book here, here, and here.
We'll discuss this book Aug 13 at The Exponent. I can 't wait to see what you thought.
Discussion of this book is taking place at the Exponent. For more about the book, Dave Banack of Times and Seasons reviewed it, as did Chris Hedges of the Harvard Divinity School. You can also read and/or listen to the NPR interview with author Bart Ehrman.
God’s Problem is about Bart Ehrman’s problem reconciling a belief in an all powerful, all loving, actively involved God with the reality of the enormous suffering in this world. The book is extensive in its scope, and I find myself scanning my notes (several pages worth) and not even knowing where to begin. There are his textual criticisms of the various biblical passages where he contests authorship and origin, there are his extensive explanations of the various biblical answers given, and of course, there are his logic-driven rebuffs to those answers.
In tackling this problem of suffering, Ehrman did an excruciating job of detailing what is meant by that word, giving us gut-wrenching reality checks, the numbers and visuals of ‘suffering’ (i.e., 11 million dead in the Holocaust, 2 million dead at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, 30 million dead from the 1918 flu epidemic, every minute five people die of malaria, every minute 25 people die of water-related health problems, every five seconds a child dies of starvation, etc, etc, etc…). This book was not just about personal trials and learning experiences, he is talking about the extremities of human suffering that are prevalent throughout the course of human history. Those billions living in pain and dying in horrific ways, was it because they had sinned? Or as a test of faith? Or because of cosmic forces of evil?
God’s Problem brought up all sorts of emotions, challenged many of my assumptions, and left me with more questions than answers. His scriptural knowledge is impressive (I am also enjoying his book Misquoting Jesus), the contradicting explanations for suffering that he writes about have been on my mind a lot lately and his crisis of faith is one that I understand very well. I did find myself occasionally frustrated by the rigidity with which he held to an all-or-nothing view of the bible’s explanation of God. While rejecting the conservative Christian view of the bible as the literal word of God he still stubbornly refuses interpretations that are not solidly rooted in the bible. For example, Jesus as divine and suffering on our behalf, or a God that is less-than omnipotent, or an eternal reward in heaven… those are all concepts that he finds attractive, but not substantiated by enough biblical authors to be in consideration as answers; “…for a biblical scholar like me, I have to admit that it still seems problematic.” (pg 272.) I also found his ‘solution’ in the last few pages to be simplistic and shallow. However, given that the point of God’s Problem is to show how the bible explains suffering, once can hardly fault Ehrman for being rigid with what it says, or for not going beyond the scope of the book by expounding upon how we can alleviate suffering (a complex topic all of it’s own.)
This was a fascinating read, and I can’t wait to hear what you thought of it.
What parts of this book stuck out to you the most?
What arguments did you agree with? Which did you disagree with? And why?
Anyone up to challenging or expanding upon Ehrman’s textual criticism of the biblical authors?
What are examples of LDS scripture and doctrine on suffering, and how do they correspond to the biblical answers Ehrman talks about? Do they shed additional light on the subject?
And, of course, feel free to add anything else you’d like to share about the book or the topic.
(By the way, reading this book made me very excited to begin our next book, Take This Bread, which will be introduced in a few days. Sara Miles, raised an atheist, doesn’t have Ehrman’s burden of ‘biblical scholarship’ and as such finds a powerful interpretation of divinity in the bible, as well as a personal calling to help alleviate suffering in her community.)