Thursday, November 20, 2008


[being discussed at The Exponent.)

wash me
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

thoughts on Christ

(thank you, Faithful Dissident for the wonderful post that got me thinking about this again.)

[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.

internet connection coincidences.

Recently I going through an older journal of mine, revisiting back to when I was working through my belief system trying to find a place to construct a divine female role... and I found this page, Aug 6 2006. It brought a smile to my face.

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.)