Category Archives: LDS

Sunday evening

Yesterday I went to the farmer’s market, my mouth watering for the heirloom tomatoes sold by my favorite vendor.  I bought two last week and they are the tastiest tomatoes that I’ve had that I haven’t grown myself.  She had just three left and I bought them all.  I had the first on a salad of spicy lettuce for my lunch and it was just as good as I had hoped it would be.

This morning I spent my extra hour in the garden, talking to our winter tomato plants that are just beginning to blossom.  They are thriving in this not-winter weather and I expect to have fruit soon.  I suppose we’ve gone a bit overboard, as we always seem to do, and  I am looking forward to having the problem of too many tomatoes.tomato plants

This afternoon I went to an intensive yoga workshop, “on the ropes.”  I hung upside down and did forward bends and backbends while suspended in loops of heavy rope hanging from the walls in my teacher’s studio.  While I suspect that I will be moving a bit slowly tomorrow as a result of my time hanging around this afternoon, it is such a delicious feeling to stretch and bend and twist and breathe into my body.  To push it harder than I think it can go.  As I walked home from the workshop I marveled that this is the thing that is middle age.  To have the freedom and the flexibility to choose to exercise for an afternoon just because it’s what I want to do.

And then afterwards I puttered around the house doing laundry and cooking dinner and watching a bit of Netflix.  A pair of missionaries knocked on my door as I was puttering.  When I answered the bell they greeted me by name, saying that they’d just received my contact information and that they were excited to meet me.

I was still wearing my yoga clothes, my bare shoulders revealing more than my tan lines.  I knew I couldn’t invite them inside, because I am an adult woman at home alone and that would not be appropriate.  They smiled and they told me they were from Utah and Texas and asked if they could come again soon.  I was tempted to tell them to google me when they got home, but instead I thanked them for their kindness and explained that I would not be interested in future visits.

I looked in their eyes and saw my brothers and so many other young mormons I have loved. I wondered which one of them had shared my address with the Church and wondered if they knew how sad I was to have my location known to the local congregation.

They asked how long I had been a member and I told them it has been for all of my life.

In that moment I remembered being wrapped in white linen, when holy oil was swabbed on my forehead and scalp and clavicles and spine, when I sat on a throne and was anointed to become both a priestess and a queen.  The details are still vivid, despite it being an eternity ago.

I wished the missionaries goodnight and turned off the porch light after they exited the front gate.

and 10 years later…

Tonight I attended the 10 year anniversary of the groundbreaking of the Fish Interfaith Center at Chapman U.  The dedication of the Interfaith Center was the first time that I set foot on the Chapman campus–I’m not even sure I knew that the university existed before that.

I covered the dedication for the Mormon news media and interviewed Jeffrey Holland, a visiting apostle of the LDS church who spoke at the event.  Some photos:

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It was impossible not to sit in that space tonite and reflect on all that’s happened in the last decade…

That Chapman is now “home” to me and the Mormon church is not, is such a dramatic turn of events that it seems hard to believe that it was a mere 10 years since that I sat in the Chapel chatting with Elder Holland. I look at the me in those photos and wonder if she could have ever imagined the me now.  I suspect not.

But I also see clues of who she was becoming: the long dark skirt (which later became my simple Quaker attire), the business-like button-down (almost like the one I wore to work today), the short simple hair, and the obvious curiosity that registers in my posture and which has continued as a constant in my journey ever since.

once upon a time…

Once upon a time, I was engaged to marry. As is the custom in my family, I made a quilt. The design reflected the hopes and ambitions that I had for my life. It was all-white, intricate and symmetrical. It was a vintage pattern to remind me of the ways that my life was connected to my heritage.  It was filled with circles to symbolize the ring I would wear in marriage:

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Over the years, I saved bits and scraps of brightly-colored cotton fabric. Then I let my daughter play around with these (with the help of her Aunt Susan), and she made this, while she was still in grade school:

crazy quilt

These two quilts are so heavy with metaphor, that it’s difficult to write about them without sounding trite.*  Perhaps it is enough, for now, to say that once upon a time…I made a quilt.

*And I have already written some of these stories, here and here.

Pants (or, this is why the feminists win)

Recently a group of progressive Mormon women decided to organize a Wear-Pants-to-Church-Day.  Really, it’s hard to believe that in the 21st-century that skirts or dresses are still the mandated attire for Mormon women, but it’s true.  Growing up LDS, I was told my some stalwart church leaders that I should not even enter the Chapel (the meetingroom where Sunday services are held) without wearing a dress or a skirt.  Even on weekdays or to vacuum that room when volunteering for weekly church cleaning.

It’s tough not to be a bit snarky about this issue–as if God cares what kind of clothes you are wearing to worship services.  Because Mormons are picky about their clothes.  Men wear dark suits and white shirts and ties.  Women wear dresses or skirts that cover cleavage and shoulders and knees.  And let’s not even get started talking about the mandated skivvies that all faithful LDS wear (so many people have asked me these past few years if LDS really wear underpants manufactured by their church.  The answer is that Absolutely Yes They Do).

So…back to pants…

The thing that is pure genius about this movement is that the feminists win either way.  Win.  Win-win.  Because the church has been forced to come out and state their position on women and pants, which is:

“Attending church is about worship and learning to be followers of Jesus Christ,” LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said Tuesday in a statement. “Generally church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don’t counsel people beyond that.”

Huge.  HUGE.  This means that women no longer have to wear skirts or dresses.  They can be counseled to do so, but the official word is that they don’t have to.

But what it really means is HUGE HUGE.  It means that all of that gender folklore about women and dresses and no-pants was just wiped away with that simple statement (a statement which adheres so much more closely to anything godly than the Women-in-skirts rule).

So that is why the feminists win.  They get to wear pants and they’ve also shown that the church will bend in the face of looking foolish in front of mainstream media.

That the church’s statement goes against everything I was taught about “Sunday dress” growing up is…well, it makes me a bit crazy.  There were emphatic lessons given by prophets about “appropriate” women’s Sunday attire as recently as two years ago, such as in THIS TALK that warned about the dangers of mothers wearing flip-flop sandals or THIS TALK that warned against women wearing more than one set of earrings. And of course card-carrying Mormons are told EXACTLY what kind of undies they need to wear to get into heaven, and they are asked regularly by their bishops if they are wearing said skivvies “night and day.”  So it boggles my mind that the LDS church PR department has back-pedaled so quickly by stating that “we don’t counsel people beyond that.”  Honestly, that is a lie.  They have counseled about specific elements of their adherents’ wardrobe over the pulpit.  Repeatedly.  It’s in print.  It’s google-able.  It’s on their website.  It’s a known fact of LDS culture.

back in the day…

Monday I went to lunch with an old LDS friend, someone I’d known back in the days when most of my time was spent corralling toddlers and keeping house. Because she was on her way to Italy and I just returned, we planned to discuss travel. But instead we talked mostly about change. I wondered if she would recognize the now-me, and how different I would seem from the Jana of twenty years ago.

She said I was still the same person, but suggested that maybe my years spent as a mother-of-young children and as a dutiful-Mormon-wife were more of an aberration from the “real me” than is my life now. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that since we met and I’m not sure. I think I have changed in some pretty fundamental ways–that was the major insight that I had while ruminating on my life at Cape Cod last year and that feeling has persisted since then.

Just like I look back on the essays that I wrote when I was a college freshman or even the blogposts that I wrote a few years and cringe a bit at my naivete, I do the same when I reflect on some of the decisions that I made in the past. I don’t have any regrets, per se. But my lens is not the same as it was before, and that change means that I make decisions differently and hold other priorities than I used to. It feels right to see an evolution of behavior and choices in myself, instead of stagnation.

But perhaps the biggest change in me is that I used to be afraid of change. And I’m not so much anymore. Maybe it’s just a phase that I’m going through and eventually I will find a familiar path and will no longer want to deviate from it. But for now, I’m enjoying the exploration and the traveling. It feels right to be trying new things, even uncomfortable ones. And it’s a liberating feeling to not be constantly measuring myself against the expectations of a church, a community, or a relationship that doesn’t fit my values. In general I feel more present and alive to my experiences and possibilities than ever before, which seems right to me at this mid-stage of my life.

 

Sonia’s legacy

The story of Sonia Johnson’s journey, From Housewife to Heretic, is a cautionary tale for young Mormon feminists. Through the story of Johnson we are warned against the dangers of too much ‘liberal’ education and too much female empowerment.

In her (in)famous speech–the one that most likely caused her excommunication–she wrote:

The political implications of this mass renunciation of individual conscience under direction from “God” are not clearly enough understood in this country. The Mormons, a tiny minority, are dedicated to imposing the Prophet’s moral directives upon all Americans, and they may succeed if Americans do not become aware of their methods and goals. Because the organization of the Church is marvelously tight, and the obedience of the members marvelously thoroughgoing, potentially thousands of people can be mobilized in a very short time to do–conscientiously–whatever they are told, without more explanation that “the Prophet has spoken…”

Members are cautioned not to reveal that they are Mormons or organized by the Church when they lobby, write letters, donate money and pass out anti-ERA[political] brochures door-to-door through whole states. Instead, they are directed to say they are concerned citizens following the dictates of their individual consciences. Since they are, in fact, following the very dictates of the Prophet’s conscience and would revise their own overnight if he were to revise his, nothing could be further from the truth.

I include Sonia Johnson in my pantheon of Mormon foremothers–as someone whose actions have influenced my own stance towards politics and the LDS church.  And I find her words even more salient (and perhaps, even more frightening) in a post-Prop8 world with a Mormon candidate vying for the highest political office in the United States.
5 fav LDS women's books

assertive

One of the biggest compliments that I received recently was from someone that I know professionally, who just learned that I’d been practicing LDS for most of my life.  She was shocked, only because she said that I didn’t behave like any of the LDS women that she knew–who she said were all the kind of women who had no opinions and who weren’t educated or assertive.  Of course she was painting LDS women with too broad a brush with her stereotypes, but it did stick with me–if only because I marvel a bit at how much I’ve changed, personality-wise, in the past few years.

Another connected experience occurred when I was at dinner with some liberal LDS women not too long ago and we were discussing passive-aggressiveness.  Our conclusion was that passive-aggressive behavior is more common among LDS women because they’re disenfranchised by their faith tradition, and have to find subversive ways of expressing themselves because of their lack of institutional power.

These experiences both came to mind when I read mraynes post about Speaking Truth.  She writes:

Women in the Mormon Church also belong to a patriarchal culture where they have very little institutional power. We women are taught from toddlerhood that we are to be wives and mothers and devote ourselves fully to our families. It is easy to see how some women can interpret this socialization to believe that their personal feelings or needs are irrelevant.[…]

LDS women must tell their stories. A majority of these stories are positive but there are also stories that tell of the hurt that our institutional practices and culture create. All deserve to be told. All deserve to be heard. Those in power in this church—men—must begin to know what it feels like to be a Mormon woman. They must hear what it feels like to only have the role of wife and mother presented to you.

In my life I’ve experimented a bit with this lately, and have found it quite liberating to say what I think about things, or to reveal my inner feelings in situations where I would have just kept quiet before.  For me much of this has been about speaking the truth of what happened in my marriage (secrets that I kept for many years), but it’s also a large part of trying to figure out what I want now–in personal relationships, in my professional future, and in my family.  There have been times that I’ve probably said a bit too much in my quest to ‘speak truth,’ but for the most part this has been a highly-positive experiment.  I’m weary of pretending to not have an opinion because it would be ‘unfeminine’ or saying only what I think the other person wants to hear, rather than saying how I really feel.  I’m no longer ‘going with the flow’ unless I really want to–I don’t have to pretend to want to do something and then secretly resent it.  Instead, I can be honest and either choose not to do something or find a compromise.  There’s simply no space for passive-aggressiveness in my life now.  I’m not living to please anyone else anymore.