Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Creating Unity Among Women

I was invited to present at SALT because of my work on a YouTube documentary series called Splitting the Sky. The seed that is now Splitting the Sky was planted a few years ago when Ordain Women was gaining traction and publicity. I should probably mention that I consider myself a feminist, and a creature of questions. I thoroughly identified with Ordain Women, and felt like I could understand the journey many of them took to their conclusion, although ultimately I felt like I couldn’t align with said conclusion.

I bring this up because my collaborators and I felt most affected by Ordain Women in a surprising way. We were shocked to see the divides that popped up amongst Mormon women in response to their position and plea. We wondered what we could do to foster a better sense of unity within our Church community. So Splitting the Sky, a diverse collection of stories told by LDS women about their personal relationships with God, was born.  

In our initial conceptualizing phase of the process, I did a lot of studying centered on the themes of our emerging work.  Which means that this scripture became very important:

 And the Lord called his people Zion because they were of one heart, and one mind.

Moses 7:18

As I considered on the sad state of the world, and the Church in this instance, I became a little overwhelmed by this scripture. What could I possibly do to unify countless hearts and minds? And then I remembered—that’s not my job. Thank goodness! And so I began to ask myself,

What can I do to build Zion—to build unity—within my own stewardship?

“I wish I had a fancy name for it, but women are called to be glue. We are the bonds of unity and kindness… This unity, this bonding, this glue is the ingredient of conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ that is in our most basic doctrines.
When I was first called to serve in Relief Society, I was surprised at how many women sat down and told me: ‘I’m not a ‘Relief Society’ type. I’m not like everyone else. I’m not politically conservative, or I don’t stay home. I’m not put together. My kids are in trouble. I’m twice divorced. I have sins I can’t put to rest. I have doctrinal issues. Relief Society increases my anxiety.’ I realized after a lot of this that none of us fits in.

Sister Addie Fuhriman, who was on the Relief Society general board, said in 1980: ‘The Lord saw our similarities as well as our differences, and he valued both. And from that wisdom, he provided within the Church the Relief Society where gospel principles that can touch the heart and life of each woman—you, me, young, old, married, single … could be taught.’ To Addie’s list I would add people with disabilities, recovering addicts, new in the Church, old pioneer stock, American, Syrian, Chilean, Samoan, working, home with kids, wishing to have a job, poor, rich, in debt, happy, depressed, bipolar, autistic, serving others, being served, liberal, conservative, don’t care, immigrant, gay, converted, and unconverted. The question is: Can we open up the circle of sisterhood to many more kinds of backgrounds and see those backgrounds as valuable instead of as handicaps?”

I love this timely question from Sister Eubank. And to it I would add how do we open up the circle of sisterhood? The scriptures offer us a clue.

For he is our peace, who math made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.
Ephesians 2:14

So what is it that prevents us from accessing the Savior’s power to break down these walls?

Pride. Now hear me out.

In the women’s session two weeks ago Neill F. Marriott quoted Ezra Taft Benson who taught that pride is “enmity toward God.” It might initially strike you as harsh (I know it struck me this way) but being at contest with yourself is a form of pride. If you are entertaining thoughts anywhere on the spectrum from self-loathing to self-doubt, you are wearing thick spectacles that obscure God’s vision of yourself. You are choosing to see one of His precious daughters in a way that runs exactly counter to the way He sees you, and the way He wants you to see yourself. This is enmity.

You were created in His and more importantly Her image. If you cannot see yourself the way God see you—if you are at a state of disunity inside of yourself—how can you expect to create unity in relationships outside of yourself?

“Only the Savior’s Atonement can cleanse us of our sins and close that gap or breach. We want to be encircled in the arms of our Heavenly Father’s love and guidance, and so we put His will first and with a broken heart plead that Christ will pour streams of cleansing water into our pitcher. At first it may come drop by drop, but as we seek, ask, and obey, it will come abundantly. This living water will begin to fill us, and brimming with His love, we can tip the pitcher of our soul and share its contents with others who thirst for healing, hope, and belonging. As our inner pitcher becomes clean, our earthly relationships begin to heal.”
-Neill F. Marriott

A few years ago I experienced a watershed moment on my own journey to find God and to be an agent of unity. I was sitting in a car with a very straightforward friend of mine. “Amber,” she said, “If you treated someone else as poorly as you treat yourself, you would repent wouldn’t you?” I had to admit she was right. And while I had never considered formally asking the Lord for forgiveness for the years I’d lived dealing so uncharitably with myself, her call resonated with me.

So that night I knelt down beside my bed and repented. What followed was a moment of clarity with God, lots of opposition, and gradual progress. Although I still have days where I dip my pen back into the inkwell of self-inflicted negativity, I now have something that I can look back at and hold on to. On June 6, 2016 I did repent. So I will just keep on repenting.

In addition to that challenge—to go home and repent—I’d like to leave you with this final quote and testimony.

“When we become the heroine of a tale, we are ready to tell our own story. And when we tell our own story we will find that it is part of the kingdom.”

-Catherine Leary

I have experienced this beautiful discovery for myself. In the moment that I was ready to be the heroine of my own story—or in other words recognize myself for the creature of divinity and agency that I am—I truly was ready to give voice to all I had lived through and seen. And in that blessed moment I saw what I had always craved to see. All of me, the parts I thought were most taboo, unmentionable, and just downright weird, truly was designed to be part of God’s kingdom. Gossamer threads in His (and Her) great, radiant tapestry of unity.

Works Cited

“Abiding in God and Repairing the Breach,” Neill F. Marriott, LDS General Conference, October 2017

“Parables and Fairytales,” Catherine Leary. Religious Education; Summer 1986; 81, 3; Periodicals Archive Online pg. 485.

“Women Are the Glue,” Sharon Eubank, Blog. May 12, 2017. Accessed online.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Reflections on Mother Wove the Morning

A very thoughtful member of our audience (his name has been changed) wrote me an email after our last performance. This is a re-worked version of my response to his questions.

Hi Peter!

I’m really grateful that you could attend our performance, and hope that some of what I write here will be helpful to you, as it will undoubtedly be helpful to me. Working on Mother Wove the Morning required a lot of time, soul, and heart, and it’s so nice to have an opportunity to look at it now, sometime after we closed. Thank you for that.

The reason this production came about is because… well it’s a quick story! I work at BYU, where I’m fairly vocal about my testimony and my questions. One day one of co-workers, who saw this play 25 years ago, dropped a copy of the script on my desk. She knew that I studied theater and wanted to learn more about Heavenly Mother, so it was sort of the perfect thing.

I devoured the little script that night. So many complicated female characters. So much rich history. So many beautiful, poetic words. But, quite frankly, I was incredibly intimidated by the material. Although I had studied theater, doing a one-woman show about these topics was really scary to me. I started daydreaming about it, but mostly repressed those daydreams because I thought they were unrealistic, and because I feared that a performance like this one might exacerbate questions and doubts for our audience, for our girls, and maybe even for myself.

This would have been last September. In October, as I viewed general conference, I had an overpowering prompting that I was to move forward with staging the play. Caitlin Hall’s name came into my mind (the woman who directed the show). I got in contact with her, and together we did move forward.

Throughout the process I continued to feel concern about this show’s potential to harm rather than heal, but God had told me to do it, so I figured that if God could continue to help shape the performance, that perhaps it could be a good thing after all. 

There were several directions that came down the revelation shoot to me and Caitlin. One was in regards to the creation of the mother chorus. Another was the use of the veils. (Those were actually cut up from the curtains I kept around my canopy bed when I was 14, so the whole thing felt an awful lot like Sound of Music.)

I personally felt like the mother chorus prevented the show from being purely an exploration of human (and sometimes toxic) emotion. Which, of course, would have made for a fine show! But it felt like this needed to be more. For me the mother chorus did ground things. Always having a physical representation of the divine on stage… I don’t know. It was powerful for me. It said to me, “Yes. This tragedy happened. Yes this tragedy is happening. But I am here, I am always here, and it’s going to be okay.”

I can’t think of a more healing message than that.

But at the end of the day each audience member, based on his or her own lived experiences, witnessed the play differently. So my (and our) prayer throughout the process was that the people who needed to see this show would be prompted to come.

We tried to craft something using the Spirit as our guide. Before every rehearsal and show we would have a cast devotional, study the scriptures together, and pray. So to sum up… our intention was to follow the Spirit, and our hope was that the end product of that exercise would be something nourishing.

Which I suppose leaves me to describe “nourishing” as I understand it. As I’ve grown older I’ve learned that I must give voice to the negative things, the hurts, the pains, even (and perhaps especially) the things that I have done wrong. The hurts I’ve inflicted on others. If I do not acknowledge them, they do not go away, but instead stay stoppered inside of me, and prevent me from progressing.  If I put this in physical terms, it makes a lot more sense, at least for me.

If I were to come find you, and beat your shins with a big stick, maybe even break one of them, would it be of any benefit to you for you to pretend it never happened? No. Obviously not. You have to acknowledge that it happened so you can take the next step and go see a doctor. I know this example is ridiculous. And yet we do this all the time with emotional wounds. We bury them. And pain is a bad bad seed. Pain does eventually sprout, Peter, and it doesn’t sprout good fruit.

We do this with the pains that others have inflicted on us, and we do this with the pains we inflict on ourselves. Guilt can go very very deep. This is why repentance is such a gift! Jesus Christ has provided a way for us to heal all wounds. But we cannot heal them if we cannot first acknowledge them. This acknowledging process does take courage. But it is crucial.

So in my mind, that’s what we were doing with Mother Wove the Morning. Taking the first step. Acknowledging. 

My next step is to take these wounds to Christ, to have him heal them and make sense of them for me. I hope (and pray) that our audience chooses to do the same thing.

The step after that, where I've found myself recently, is to trust that Christ can heal--that he has healed--and to build something new. A new paradigm, a new way to exist in the world, and a newer and better capacity to love.

As for your very well founded concerns that this play could foster doubt in those already struggling with issues in the LDS faith, I can tell you this: I personally have struggled with many doubts, and continue to do so. There are many facets of our history, our temple worship, and our current policies that are points of concern for me, and that I do not yet have answers to. But here’s the deal: I’m not going to get the answers I need if I am operating from a place of woundedness. The answers don’t get through when the pain is drowning them out.

I choose to believe that the answers are there. Accordingly, I’ve been trying to heal the wounds (through acknowledging—which being the Amber that I am happens very effectively in dramatic settings—and then taking them to Christ) so that I will be ready and prepared for him to minister to me, and answer the questions of my heart. This is my working definition of faith.

I mentioned above that I personally wrestle with many doubts. It’s an interesting dance, because while my doubts are a significant force, so are my remembrances of moments when I’ve felt God’s closeness and power, and had his (and her) Spirit testify truths to my heart. I am no longer uncomfortable with this dance, and no longer feel any fear about it either. I trust that things will shake out exactly how they are supposed to.

I choose God. I choose God every day and will continue to for as long as I have breath. Every time I choose God the doubts get a little weaker and the faith gets a little stronger. And as I grow in light I’m able to sit with greater paradox and bigger questions, all the while feeling more quiet in my heart than ever before. This is an indication to me that I am on the right path. 

I have also chosen commitment to the LDS Church. And I believe that as I continue to serve and keep my covenants that I will continue to receive the answers my soul needs. This happens as I retain the Spirit's closeness by choosing God.

Which leaves me with your last question. “What can a man do to help heal a woman’s heart?” Oh Peter. Thank you for that. Thank you for asking, and for asking with such sincerity. My advice to you would be this: Seek first to heal your own heart. 

The more you are healed, the more healing flows from you. As you get to know the Savior you will begin to understand more and more how healing works, and you will become a great conduit of his love. You will be able to shepherd women down their own paths of healing, and it will be so joyful. If you want to be more like Jesus—you can be! He will help you. You’ll just need to turn a few things over to him. Ask God where to start. I’m excited for you! This can be a beautiful process.

Once you've done it--come back and find me! I'd like to build together.

You know, that same woman who made the comment about rape came to another one of our performances, and there she made a beautiful comment about the opportunity that is in front of us as a people to truly move beyond all these historic and personal gendered wounds. She testified that we can (with Christ’s help) move forward into a brighter future for both men and women. It is my conviction too that we can do this, and we can do this together.

It is both my desire and my conviction that we do this. Because I think that this bright future might just be the essence and heart of Zion.

Thanks again for allowing me to write out some of my testimony for you, for coming to the show, and for taking the time to write me afterwards. I truly truly appreciate it.

With love,

P.S. YES. Lydia’s scene was terribly frightening. I procrastinated memorizing it for weeks. I’d have to say that Emma and Lydia’s scenes were the hardest for me, and I think this is because these two vignettes involved emotions that were most raw for me to sit with.

Monday, July 10, 2017

To Receive the Holy Spirit of Promise

This is a transcript of a talk I gave in my YSA ward on Sunday, July 9th, 2017. I was assigned to speak on David A. Bednar's 2010 talk, "Receive the Holy Ghost," but as I have recently been studying sanctification and spiritual rebirth, the first counselor in my bishopric kindly allowed me to marry the two topics.

And this is a slightly over-exposed photo I took of the Nærøyfjord. What does
this fjord have to do with the Holy Ghost? Not a single concrete thing.

“These four words—’Receive the Holy Ghost’—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon.”

That’s David A. Bednar speaking in a 2010 General Conference address entitled, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” As I’ve contemplated on those four words I’ve asked myself, “Why is it important that I receive the Holy Ghost?” And I think there are a lot of really good answers, but the answer that was banging around in my head during the sacrament I think is really nicely contained in this verse in Doctrine and Covenants 88.

“Wherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples, as is recorded in the testimony of John… This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom.” (vs. 3-4)

The Holy Spirit of Promise is one the Holy Ghost’s roles, one that we mostly talk about in reference to having your calling and election made sure, or being sealed in the temple. This verse, in Moses, also describes this role of the Holy Ghost’s. I really love this one. This is Moses 6:61.

“Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.”

David A. Bednar gave a general conference talk entitled, “That Ye May Be Born Again” several years ago about the parable of the pickle. You might remember that one. In it he parallels a pickle’s journey from a cucumber to a pickle with our journeys to become sanctified and to inherit eternal life. He calls it a process. In the end of the talk he bears a really emotional and riveting testimony about how necessary it is for each of us to go on that journey of sanctification.

So sanctification is what I’d like to discuss with you today in the time that I have.

I’ve been thinking a lot about promises over the last few weeks as I’ve been preparing to give this talk. I had a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, and she used a phrase that I hadn’t heard before that I liked: the ‘terminal promise.’ After the conversation that phrase stuck with me and I wondered, “Wait a second, is there such a thing as a terminal promise?”

We know that we can sin and rebel against God and His plan for us, and thereby disqualify ourselves from inheriting promises. But aside from that, I know I’ve experienced things in my life where I have been very faithful, very obedient, and promises have seemed to escape me, like water dripping through my fingers. And I have labeled those things terminal promises. And what I have learned is that I have labeled them wrongly ‘terminal promises.’

I was in the cemetery last week, I went for a walk on Sunday and I took a moment and contemplated on what those tombstones signified. You know we have a lot of light and truth here in the Church. When we’re sealed in the temple, it’s not until death do you part, right? But the truth is that death does part people, at least temporarily. So is that a terminal promise? When you lose someone, and they’re gone from you? I tend to feel loss very profoundly. I am very affected by all kinds of loss. And sometimes the hurt and pain and grief is so overwhelming that not only do those promises feel terminal to me, but I am in so much pain that I cannot really bear to look into eternity.

Maybe you know what that feels like.

So I sat there in that cemetery and contemplated on how each one of those tombstones signified a heartbreak, not only for one person, but probably for a family. How it signified a loss. And I thought about the various losses in my life, and times where my promises dripped through my fingers like water. But that’s kind of the template isn’t it? The Fall is in a way, a terminal promise. And that’s why we have the Atonement, to take us out of that thing.

Sometimes the Lord makes us very very specific personal promises, and sometimes we experience the death of those promises as well. I think it’s really easy for us to assume, perhaps mistakenly, that that’s the end of that thing. There’s no way that God can make that better. There’s no way that God can bring that back.

When I find myself staring down the throat of my own terminal promises, I've learned to embrace a kind of humility that I didn’t know before, and acknowledge this scripture here. Doctrine and Covenants 88:68.

“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.”

God is very, very good, and very, very powerful. And very creative. And he has a way to fulfill all of his promises. We just have to let him be in charge, and let him take the reigns.

This scripture of course is another verse about the sanctification process. As I’ve reflected on my own terminal promises, and the many terminal promises that seem to surround me here on this fallen globe, I’ve realized something, and I’d like to share it with you.

Joseph Smith saw God the Father. He saw God. I don’t know that I always embrace what that means. That there is a divine being who loves me, who loves us, who loves his children… and that Being appears to people. And we’re told in the scriptures that if we sanctify ourselves, a process that happens because of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, because we allow ourselves to receive the Holy Ghost, if we sanctify ourselves, he will unveil his face to us, in his own time, in his own way, and according to his own will.

That is not a terminal promise, and I can say that with such confidence and conviction.

One of my weaknesses is that I can often lose sight of things that are maybe of the most eternal import. I’ve certainly had moments where God has figuratively unveiled his face before me, where a problem is suddenly resolved and I’m blessed with this perspective that I didn’t have before, and I can see why I had to pass through what I passed through.

But the promise that one day God will unveil his face to me literally, I can’t really even verbalize it without being overcome with a kind of joy and gratitude that has to be divine. That is the promise that can get us through what we face here. That reunion.

I have this verse here, this is in Ether 12. Moroni’s talking about people who had really great faith, who had the veil parted for them in mortality, and this is what he writes:

“And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.” (vs. 19)

I feel like that’s the understatement of all scripture, “and they were glad.”

The last thing I want to talk about is something that I think often gets explored over this pulpit: Alma 32. We talk a lot about seeds, and nurturing them, and the end of Alma 32 frames this whole parable in a way that really surprised me when I noticed it for the first time.

So there’s been a lot of discussion about planting this seed, and what it means to discern light and truth, and how seeds eventually bear fruit. Here in verse 40 suddenly we go from talking about seeds, to talking about the tree of life.

“And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” (vs. 40-41)

Lehi’s vision teaches us that the fruit of the tree of life is the greatest of all the gifts of God, which D&C 14 clarifies is eternal life. More than anything else my belief is that that is what the Holy Ghost can do for us. The Holy Ghost is with us throughout that process of planting seeds, and growing trees of life, plucking from trees of life the fruit of eternal life.

Yep. So I’m really grateful for that member of the Godhead. There it is again, right? It’s crazy. It’s totally crazy. Like, I, I dunno, this is genuine shock happening at the pulpit. We have a member of the Godhead who wants to companion us? All the time? And all we have to do is follow the commandments? Wow. That feels like a big deal to me. And the reason that that member of the Godhead wants to be with us is because he wants us to return to where we came from?

Why do we reject that?

For me, I reject it because of pain. Because it hurts sometimes. But I’ve rejected it before because I’m stubborn, because I’m prideful. Because I don’t like being directed, or being told what to do.

That’s really foolish. I’m going to go repent later today I think.

I want to bear my testimony to you that this Gospel is true, and that the fruit of that tree is really, really, really desirable. God is offering us the very best that he has, and so I think we should do everything in our power to receive the Holy Ghost. And I’d like to bear that testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.