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.

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