religion


First of all, just so you all know, I’m over it. I don’t even care anymore, although I was exceedingly amused by some of the comments that happened on my little blog over the weekend. And by amused, I mean that I actually giggle thinking about how hard it must be to be in the head of someone who is so sure they are going to heaven and I’m not.

Which brings me to the reason I’m so at peace, and not snarling with impotent rage. I spent the weekend with Sheila, Liz, my aunt Barbara, her best friend Judy, and about 50 other incredible women I didn’t know before, in Kirtland, Ohio. This is going to take some explaining, so be patient. It might take a dozen posts to work through how fabulous this retreat was.

I’ll start with the location. Kirtland, Ohio is a tiny little town east of Cleveland that is really only a speck on the map for most people, but for Mormons, it is a place full of history that inspires great emotion. It is a popular destination for family vacations and tours, along with places like Palmyra, New York, Nauvoo, Illinois, and several others. Kirtland is where the Mormons built their first temple, and it is still standing there. Across the street and down the hill is a store owned by an early Mormon family, and several other buildings that date back to the time before the Mormons were driven out of Ohio and into Missouri. The area and the buildings are important to Mormon history because if the events that happened there. Joseph Smith lived in the home of Newell K. Whitney, who owned the store where, upstairs, Smith conducted the “School of the Prophets,” a sort of training class for future leaders.

Liz, Sheila, and I went on the tour, and I must say the the buildings are beautiful. Like a moron, I didn’t even take a camera, so I have no photos to share, but these buildings have been restored artfully, with period furnishings and fixtures, and even a few pieces of furniture that were original to the houses. The store was stocked with real-live mid-1800s general store inventory. We also toured the sawmill and the place where they make potash. I can’t think what it’s called, but it was cool.

We had an evening service in the Kirtland Temple, which is important to Mormons as not only the first temple of many, but also the place where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery saw a vision of Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias and Elijah.

Although the location of the retreat was beautiful and historically and architecturally interesting, the important part about being there was meeting and associating with some fantastic women who were intellectually intimidating, with their PhDs, published books and articles, time spent in the Peace Corps, etc., but kind, personable, welcoming, charming, accepting, non-judging, free-thinking… I could go on. The women were all at various stages of faith: believing Mormons, doubting Mormons who love the church, women who love the doctrine but dislike the culture, women in the process of leaving the church, and even women who had been excommunicated from the church, or had previously left and recently returned to activity. In other words, this was not a typical Relief Society event organized by a local entity, it was just a gathering of women with the purpose of sharing a weekend of spiritual and intellectual enrichment. Writing about it brings back the peace, fulfillment and acceptance I felt while I was there.

Here is a brief synopsis of the presentations I attended, which not all that was offered. I have mostly left out the names of the presenters.

1. A presentation by a woman who is a member of the Community of Christ, formerly know as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Barbara talked about her upbringing and her Priesthood ordination. She brought with her two friends who also answered questions.

2. A workshop on poverty and abundance, by two women, one of whom was a professor of psychology, the other of whom had spent 3 years in Kenya, serving in the Peace Corps.

3. A presentation by a woman who grew up Muslim and Iraqi in America, and a reading of selections from her memoir.

4. A talk on the need us to establish our own credos, and the need for us to find our own faith heroes, especially within an idiomatic belief-system such as Mormonism.

5. A presentation on the beauty and faith that can be gained by praying the Psalms as written, straight out of the Old Testament. This talk was given by Jana Riess, who has a master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a PhD in American Religious History from Columbia, and is also the author of “What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide.” I know you are jealous, and to make it even better, she had copies in her trunk, and I got myself a signed one.

6. A talk about loving our neighbors, and getting past only loving the people we have something in common with.

7. Another talk on love and justice, and the need especially for redemptive love, which does not discount justice, but rather includes mercy.

I didn’t take notes on any of the presentations, to my eternal shame. Although I did request copies of their texts or notes, as did everyone else who attended. I’m hoping to get permission to share more of their thoughts and words, because it was just too awesome. These women were so intelligent, thoughtful, and sensitive.

After having read Sister Julie B. Beck’s talk given at the L.D.S. Church’s General Conference on Sunday (which you can listen to here, and in a few days you can read on the Church’s official website), I would like to share my feelings on my reconciliation to her words. Much of this post comes from an email conversation I had the other day with Azúcar, in which she helped me sort out the words and calm myself down.

Here is a brief quote from the talk (which I found not on the Church’s website, but on Feminist Mormon Housewives, a group blog dedicated to helping people in the church come to terms with their faith and become better Christians through examination and discussion):

“Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role in the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence. Therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world.

Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowlegeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make up homes that create a climate for spiritual growth.

Growth happens best in a house of order, and women should pattern their homes after the Lord’s house. Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a powerful and influential role bestowed on women.”

At first, I felt like the talk was so directed at mothers being better maids. The specific things she brought up later, kids in pressed clothes, missionary haircuts, house as clean as the temple, seemed so far from any doctrine that could help me be a better person. And saying that mothers who “know” do all those things seemed like such a slap in the face. Especially since it’s so cultural, and really unnecessary to salvation. (The “mothers who know” references a story well-known to Mormons, in which there are 2,000 young men who fight in a war and are not seriously injured, but have great faith that God will help them. When asked how they gained such faith, they respond that their mothers knew it.)

I don’t take exception to advice to be a better mother, but I do take exception to the notion that if my house isn’t clean, I am failing and/or unfaithful. I don’t believe it is only the mother who should be cleaning, but rather, it should be a full-family endeavor. Husbands have just as much responsibility in keeping their surroundings clean. I will say that it is definitely the parents’ responsibility to teach the children how to clean, and to involve them in the process whenever they can, but that burden should not be laid squarely on the mother’s shoulders. I’m not sure Sister Beck intended her words to be taken that way, but it seems to be how they came out.

After having such a negative reaction to this talk, and reading many other people’s reactions, I decided to try to find something that really could help me be a better mother and person. I’m already trying to live in a clean house, though it almost never happens. I don’t think missionary haircuts or white shirts mean anything. I try to be a leader, but I don’t think of myself as the primary example of leadership, because my kids have a father too. I know Sister Beck meant well, which is why I wanted to know how other people perceived her words. I wanted to have an alternate explanation that isn’t my own “she’s just reaffirming old gender stereotypes and throwing us back into ‘The Art of Homemaking’ so people think Mormons are happy because they look like June Cleaver.” I felt like I might have over-reacted.

Carina helped me think about it in terms of why, rather that how the message was given. It really is the why that is important. I’d gotten way too offended at the how. I still think the manner was offensive, but I’ve cooled down.

I did go back and read it again, and tried to add in some things that would help me with the semantics. So where she says “homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes, and dishes and keeping an orderly home,” the word “includes” is key. It also includes reading, playing, painting, laughing, etc, but those are things we already know. We have done as Daring Young Mom said, we’ve made the housekeeping part of the equation a joke. “It’s sort of en vogue to be a slacker mom, to joke about how big your pile of laundry is, how long it’s been since you did dishes, how you’ve given up trying to feed your kids enough veggies or that you’re always late for everything.” So when Sister Beck says we should be the best homemakers, she’s not saying we should be the best housekeepers. We can be the best at creating a loving and spiritual environment that is hopefully as clean as we can get it. Likewise, if we know a lot about mitosis and meiosis, it won’t help our children if we don’t have the skills to teach it to them. I have to believe that she’s not just talking about housework.

We, as mothers and part of a parental team, can create a powerful world for our children, one in which they are free to learn what they want, and they also see the value in learning what we want to teach them, or what society requires them to know, that is, how to be clean, responsible, respectful of others, kind, doing good to all man, virtuous, lovely…

(That last gratuitous reference is from the 13th Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s like a part of the Credo for the Mormons. “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say we follow the admonition of Paul- We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.)

OK, I’m long overdue for the Genesis question to be explained. And since tomorrow is the holiday, and Derek and I are going to San Francisco for my cousin’s wedding this weekend, now is my chance.

So, first, what is the main theme of the book of Genesis? My cousin Liz took an IQ test, wherein she was asked this question. She was troubled by it, so she called me and asked how I would answer it. Liz is no Bible dummy, she teaches The Bible as Literature, as well as other English classes, at a high school. And she goes to Sunday School, and reads the Bible on her own time. I’m no teacher, nor a Bible scholar, but I’ve read the thing at least a few times.

But apparently Liz and I had more trouble with the question than most of you did. First of all, I thought it odd that it was even part of this IQ test, with the inherent assumption that the test-taker has read and/or is familiar with Judeo-Christian literature and themes. I wasn’t sure how that relates to a person’s intelligence, since intelligence is a measure of a person’s ability to learn and adapt, and, as NungNung said, “Those things are nowhere near culturally, socially, or economically neutral, so people from certain backgrounds tend to be “smart,” and those less privileged, less fortunate, or less Christian are often left behind.” But apparently there is a “crystallized intelligence” section of the test, which is more about things learned previously, than adaptability.

Sheila’s short answer was “separation.” Adam and Eve were separated from God, and expected to deal with it. Cain and Abel, Noah and his people, the people of Babel, the physical example of the covenant of circumcision, Lot and his city, Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob, Esau and the birthright, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, Joseph being sold to the Egyptians, and in the end of Genesis, the people of the covenant as slaves in another land, waiting to return to the promised land, all had to work through some sort of separation. Also see Azúcar’s answer, which elaborates the separation theme.

Liz’s short answer was “punishments and rewards.” Each of the above examples shows a clear consequence for some action; being cast out of the garden for eating the fruit, being banished for murder, civilization being destroyed for wickedness. This also fits right in with the separation theme, since the punishment for most of the wrong-doing is separation of some sort; separation from the presence of God, from a society, from a loved one.

Initially, I was going to say “the beginning,” but, . So my answer was “good versus evil.” Adam and Eve were given the option of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and having chosen to eat it, blessed the rest of humanity with the choice to act on that knowledge. In each of the above examples, there was a good side and an evil side, so it was about taking sides.

The “correct” answer was “The beginning of the world.” Short, simple, and not hard to justify. Or is it? My first thought, upon being asked the question, was to say, “The beginning.” But then I though about it and decided, like Liz and others who responded, that it was too simplistic, since the creation account only takes up the first two chapters, and with the continuing saga of the children of God, there is much more to it than just the creation. The guy who administered the test told Liz that she was over-intellectualizing her answer. They really only wanted a simple answer.

Yet, I can only think that a better wording of the question, if they were looking for “beginning” as an answer, would have been, “What is the first thing you think of when you think about the book of Genesis.” Since a “theme” is “an implicit or recurrent idea: a motif” (American Heritage Dictionary), I think “the beginning” is an element of the book, but not so much a recurrent idea. Then again, I must also be over-intellectualizing it. I guess each of the above examples of separation could be looked at as new beginnings, a few of them more strikingly so than others, namely, the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, Noah, the tower of Babel, and the Abrahamic covenant.

So are you mad at me? I wasn’t trying to trap anyone into giving an answer only to tell you why I thought your answer was wrong, I just wanted to know what other intelligent people thought. Obviously, some people did choose “the beginning” as their answer. But each of the other answers, in my humble genius IQ opinion, was also a “right” answer. Human life after the fall, obedience, love, separation, good versus evil, punishments and rewards, God’s relationship with his people, all these are recurrent themes in the book of Genesis.

I just don’t think this question was appropriate for an IQ test. I welcome disagreement in any form.