Thursday, October 2, 2014

Can We Be of One Heart and One Mind About Womanhood?

This post is the second in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.

two women understanding the same mystery by Caitlin Connolly

In Moses 7:18 God revealed to His prophet Enoch that one of the reasons that He (and She) called His (and Her) people Zion was "because they were of one mind and one heart." I've revisited this passage several times over the last year with a little bit of incredulity because if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that we have not yet reached this place as a people.

The issue that's brought this into focus for me is of course, womanhood.

It's interesting to consider, isn't it? That while there is something to appreciate, and even to seek out about diversity, that there might be a place and a time where diversity (at least diversity of perspective) is no longer needful?

I think it might be an especially difficult idea to swallow in this realm because opposing tensions seem to run so high. There's a lot potentially at stakeindividual identities, familial constructs, cultural traditions, religious understandings, peace of mind, and more I'm surewhen gender gets thrown into question.

But nevertheless, there it is: "And the Lord called his people Zion because they were of one mind and one heart."

I think we can learn something about this by revisiting the story of the boy Joseph. The Restoration of the Gospel began with a familiar question: "Which of all the sects is right?" (JS History 1:10) But let's examine the presupposition that underlies this questionthat is, that one of them was right. That there was one truth, one answer. A universal truth.

The boy Joseph wanted to know God's truth of the matter. And, if you're a practicing Mormon, there's a good chance that you, like Joseph Smith, subscribe to his answer. Namely, that there is one true way back.

I believe in this meta-narrative. And it's informed my questions about womanhood from the beginning. I believe that there must be an answer to every single inquiry I've made. One universal truth at the end of every question. That God knows who and where Heavenly Mother is. God knows what She is doing. God knows why women don't have the priesthood. (Pause. I've got to acknowledge that this is one of the most loaded sentences and someday soon we'll come back to this topic.) God knows why women have been and are oppressed.

If this is true, then I think the secret to becoming truly Zion-like, to becoming of one mind and one heart, is to seek and embody God's mind and heart. And I believe that this is possible in the field of gender issues! Because if God knows the answer, and we all seek, accept, and become that answer, what is there left to do?

But maybe the more relevant question here concerns not the what but the how.

Since our focus today is on Zion, a community, I'm going to try to provide a perspective in that vein. In my last post, I wrote about some of (as I see them) my strengthsan ability to question, an active mind, a inner forward movement towards getting answers. I believe that these strengths come from God. I'd even go so far as to call them gifts or talents.

But, it would be completely unfair of me not to acknowledge opposing characteristics as gifts and talents as well. What about my sisters who are steadfast? Who do not question, but accept? Those who have the gifts of trust and happiness and peace?

It might appear paradoxical but I believe that all of these things are needful, and that if we all throw our respective gifts (however contradictory they may seem) into building the Kingdom that we can strengthen each other, push each other, and ultimately learn together.

I've come to this conclusion through a very dear friendship. One of my best friends, Anna, and I have been collaborating on a film about LDS women for three and a half years. A few years into the project, we were presented with an opportunity to take some of our ideas to the stage, and begin collaborating with more women. We excitedly dove into this opportunity, but for different reasons.

I, being the naturally more (justifiably) agitated human being, wanted to produce Women of Faith for what you might call feminist reasons. Give these women a voice! Create well rounded female characters! Show the diversity of womanhood! Promote social change! Although in the quietest part of my heart, I did hope that I could find answers through the creative process.

Anna's approach was softer, gentler. She hoped to edify her sisters who would sit in the audience, and ultimately view the film. She wanted to give them confidence, to bolster their faith. Anna (at least, as I remember it) didn't have half of the questions I did, and at first they seemed pretty foreign to her.

A lot of magic happened during that project. Magic of the theatrical variety, definitely, but the moments that still stand out to me the most were the moments where all nine of us performers came together. The nine of us had vastly different experiences and perspectives, but were able to unify anyways.

I think Anna's example helped us all. Because something that puts Anna on the road towards Zion is her profound capacity to love and to listen. She listened to me, to all of my questions and concerns. She often put herself in my shoes, and as she did that, I watched her discover that she had questions too. That was incredibly validating.

And she did even more for me. I wish I could help you understand how her example, her strengths fortified me. I drew peace from her peace, and trust from her trust. And so, you could say that I listened too. Or at least, that I tried.

And after a very long time, Anna and I, who started out nearly polarized in our perspectives and aims as artists and daughters, have become unified.

If it can happen between two sisters, why couldn't it happen between us all?

If you'd like to hear some of Anna's perspective on how we learned together, check out this podcast at about 30:00, or read this article published by Meridian Magazine.  Anna shares her thoughts way eloquently, and in an obviously more complete fashion that I can do here.