I’m Coming From Where I Have Been

May 06, 2013 By: Jenna Category: Personal, Religious

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I was raised in a tiny town. It seemed to me that everyone was either Nazarene, Catholic, or Mormon. Growing up I never heard anyone vocally identify as a democrat. There was one African-American in my school, otherwise everyone was either Latino or White.  I didn’t personally interact with a gay person until I was out of college. I tell you these things to try convey the lack of diversity in my hometown community because it played a pivotal role in shaping the person I was throughout my early and mid twenties. During my freshman year my roommates teased me for taking a Women’s Studies course at BYU. They said I was going to turn into a “dirty feminist” and I fought back not because I wanted to defend Feminism, but because I too thought that feminists hated men while secretly wanting to be like them in every way. I knew so little and I was wrong about so many things. Mormonism wasn’t just one hour of church on Sunday, it was my entire lifestyle and culture for a quarter century. I don’t blame my past for my actions, but I am the person I am today because of my personal history.

This journey that I’m about to describe was initiated, in large part, by my blogging. Between the posts on Mormonism that I used to write each week and the questions that were sent my way via Formspring, there were so many aspects of Mormonism that I had never considered. Ever the stalwart missionary, I set out to find the answers for my readers so they could understand why joining the LDS Church would be the best possible thing that every single person out there could do. That’s what Sunday School lesson after youth devotional night after annual temple trip had taught me to do. I relied pretty heavily on the FAIR LDS Wiki, an apologetic resource with the tagline “Defending Mormonism.” I liked that this was a place full of people taking a look at difficult issues and trying to make sense of them from a faithful perspective. Over time I was exposed to things I didn’t know about, things that felt a bit jarring, but the apologists at FAIR were always there to help me make it all fit together within my belief system.

Slowly I started to feel like it was okay to learn about Mormonism from sources other than those approved by the leadership of the Church. I know this limitation isn’t what every LDS person believes regarding reading and studying about Mormonism, but it was the framework that I personally was operating in and I think this is a framework that is encouraged by the current LDS curriculum. At one point in my life I limited my information to very specific sources because that is what felt safe, and I was terrified that something written or shared with ill-intentions would deceive me and make me question my beliefs.

 

My online missionary efforts pushed me out of the circle I had drawn for myself. For the first time in my life, I was asking questions that I had never dared to even think before.  Mormonism encourages congregants to build their faith upon their own testimonies, but also encourages members to “shelve” things that are difficult to answer. To quote myself from just over a year ago, “I have several boxes on a shelf in my mind, and I want to sort all the issues out . A box for the things I know, a box for the things I’m puzzling through, a box of ideas that others accept which I’ve rejected, and a box for things I will never understand no matter how I search, ponder, and pray. This idea of a “box on the shelf” is not a concept of my own invention, it’s a pretty common idea passed around within Mormonism. We are encouraged to build up our faith like a house, laying the bricks that form the foundation, and then moving on to the pillars and windows and shelves, fortifying along the way. If we don’t have a strong testimonyof something, we put that idea in a box on the shelf and come back to it again later.” As I started to seek out answers to questions I had previously shelved I realized I wasn’t finding answers that worked for me. Pieces of information that used to fit perfectly together like a puzzle were jutting out uncomfortably. I was no longer sure. This was extremely upsetting because feeling sure was a critical part of my faith. Once a month members of the congregations I belonged to would get up and talk about not just what they believed, but what they knew. I would get up a few times a year and say “I know God lives. I know we have a loving Prophet. I know the Book of Mormon is a literal story of a people who lived in America. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is True.”

 

The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable. – Arundhati Roy

I used to know things, and then I had come to un-know them. Read more →

Pants. At Church. On A Female.

December 14, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Religious

The shooting in Connecticut is devastating. The children.  The parents. The families. My thoughts are with them.

I’ve always been a dress girl, even for occasions when a suit was appropriate. For me this isn’t about not liking dresses.

There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right. The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.

Elder Boyd K. Packer, 1993*.

A new group on Facebook called All Enlisted recently started inviting people to an event called Wear Pants to Church day on December 16, 2012 (it was originally an event with 2200 people attending, but complaints by users in opposition to the event caused Facebook to flag it and pull it down, now it’s a Facebook page with numbers building once again). The reaction has been unlike anything anyone expected, and I had to stop visiting the event page because it was so full of hateful and rude comments from those both in support of and in opposition of the idea of women wearing pants to church as part of a formalized movement. On the event page stories were shared of women who had worn pants to church and been rebuked by a fellow church-member because of it. These are real experiences and the feelings of these women deserve to be acknowledged and validated. Women wearing dresses is an American social norm, and dressing in a way that society has deemed feminine should not be equated with dressing respectfully. Many news sources have reported on the situation, with several prominent bloggers weighing in as well. This post by CJane is my favorite.

In 1997 Gordon B. Hinckley, who was at that time Prophet of the LDS Church, gave an interview where he was asked why “women are not allowed to be priests” in the LDS Church. President Hinckley responded with “[Women] bring in insight that we very much appreciate and they have this tremendous organisation of the world where they grow and if you ask them they’ll say we’re happy and we’re satisfied. … All except a oh you’ll find a little handful one or two here and there, but in 10 million members you expect that. … But there’s no agitation for [revelation regarding women in the Church]. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied.

All Enlisted is a group ready to do the agitating President Hinckley referred to. Wear Pants to Church day is thousands of members joining together to say “It isn’t just a little handful here and there.” Please listen to us.

It was suggested on my Facebook wall that this kind of thing would be appropriate if done as a demonstration outside of church headquarters. Maybe a sit-in or silent protest of some sort with signs and women in dress pants?

 No.  

If feminist men and women are on the news or on the sidewalk speaking about pants and inequalities they feel, they are too easily painted as “the other”. When the women wearing pants are worshiping with you, they are one of the group. They too have committed to share each other’s burdens and lift the downtrodden. When they put on those pants and (bravely) walk into church they are admitting that they have a burden. They are asking you to commune with them, to try to understand them.

Boyd K. Packer’s sentiment that gays, feminists, and so-called intellectuals are a threat to the LDS Church is still prevalent, as evidenced by the vitriolic dialog on the original Wear Pants to Church event page. Below are short summaries of some of the statements I saw on that event page, and my responses to them.

“We show our respect by wearing our Sunday Best. Women wear dresses, mean wear pants.”

Once upon a time there was no Nordstrom, no Kohls, No Ross/TJMAxx/Marshalls, no Goodwill. Clothes were made by hand, and wardrobes were small unless you were wealthy and could pay for someone else to make them by hand for you. Family members labored physically in order to meet the needs of the household. Certain items of clothing were set aside for church else they be worn down. Thus the idea of Sunday Best was introduced.

But what does that mean in our day? Why is a clearance dress from Forever 21 purchased for a few dollars and topped with a cotton cardigan considered Sunday Best; but a pant suit custom-made from sustainable materials** is unacceptable and disrespectful if I have a vagina?

Should I be setting aside my most expensive or luxurious pieces of clothing for church? Imagine if everyone actually did that. Socioeconomic differences between attendees would become even more stark than they already are.

My socioeconomic status should not dictate whether it is socially acceptable for me to wear pants to church. I am speaking directly to the unvoiced attitude that females who don’t have the means to buy new clothes can get away with wearing pants to church, but those who have the money to do so show their respect to God by wearing skirts or dresses. In the past I have also held the attitude (and heard/felt it expressed by others) that we should accept convert/investigator females in pants, but that it is unacceptable for a lifelong member to do so. The message sent is that the convert/investigator is ignorant or doesn’t know any better, but with time she will be educated about the proper way to dress for church. I feel confident that this attitude exists church-wide because of the many personal stories shared detailing how a new member was “educated” by a longtime member about the way women are supposed to dress in the LDS church for Sunday worship.

“Think about Jesus and focus on what is really important. Your pants demonstration is stupid and worthless.”

Being a thoughtful, considerate, conscientious, kind, service-providing type of person and also being the type of person who wears pants to church as a female in order to agitate for social change are not mutually exclusive. This month my husband and I will sit down as a couple and discuss how we want to use our resources throughout 2013 to help others. Last week I went to the Bishop’s Storehouse and spent several hours packing produce; this week I bought a bag of travel-sized deodorants for our church Christmas breakfast/service activity and will spend some time on Saturday morning stuffing socks for the needy; and on Sunday I will wear pants to church.  I can be both a feminist and (try to) be a person who makes the world better for other people. I can always do more, of course. But wearing pants doesn’t mean I am only a feminist who wears pants. We are all so much more than that.

“Sacrament meeting is no place for politics.”

The Church set the precedent for this when it used the pulpit to tell members how to vote in states across the US when gay marriage laws were being decided. It did so in 2008, it did so in 2012, and I imagine it will continue to do so.

“If you don’t like things the way they are, why don’t you just leave”.

This year, someone very close to me said that exact thing to me. I am ashamed to say that there is a comment on my blog where I said the same thing to someone else when they expressed frustration with some things about the Church (this was several years ago, my how things have changed for me!). Even though this is a church founded on the idea of personal revelation and asking questions, the attitude prevails that if you don’t like the status quo then you shouldn’t be a part of the group. I deeply apologize to all of those who felt this attitude for me in the past, and I am saddened to see it’s so widespread.

I am wearing pants on Sunday, December 16 because I feel alone in my new ward. I have yet to find anyone who shares many of the concerns I do, or is frustrated and confused about the same things I am***.  This day is an opportunity for me to see if there are other people who have heard about the event and are also saying that they think and feel and believe in similar ways. I’m wearing pants because it is painful for me to sit  in a room exclusively made up of women hearing lesson after lesson learning what men have said, week after week. The manuals the Relief Society (church organization exclusively for women) uses are filled with quotes from men telling me how to be a Christian.  A mother. A woman. Why doesn’t God speak to His daughters? And if He does, why are they not qualified to share what they’ve heard?****

I’ve been told directly and indirectly that if I can’t fall in line that I should just leave. Who is going to see me in pants (and the hundreds, possibly thousands, of LDS women around the world doing the same) and reach out to say “We want you here. Whatever kind of ‘you’ that might be. Please stay.”

————————————

*Less than 5 months after this the September Six were excommunicated from the LDS Church

**I am not suggesting that I want to wear that particular pant suit to church, or that anyone necessarily should. It’s just an example.

***This is not meant to imply that I only want to be friends with people who think, act, or believe the same way I do. But there are things I think and feel which are, at best, unpopular among the general membership. I long to find someone who I can completely be myself with, without fear or rebuke or abandonment.

****For a long, heartfelt list of reasons why LDS women feel unequal in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, see this post at LDS Wave.

My Paper on Female Mormon Bloggers

September 14, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Religious, School

Remember when I asked you to name your favorite bloggers who were both Mormon and female? I took your suggestions, looked them up on the website Alexa to find out their traffic ranking, and then compiled a giant list of blogs written by female Mormons.

Based on what I found, the 10 blogs I chose to study for my paper (because Alexa told me they were the most highly trafficked) were: Our Best Bites (http://www.ourbestbites.com/), Two Peas & Their Pod (http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/), Oh Happy Day, (http://www.ohhappyday.com/), Design Mom (http://www.designmom.com/), Rockstar Diaries (http://taza-and-husband.blogspot.com/), The House of Smiths (http://www.thehouseofsmiths.com/), Little Green Notebook (http://littlegreennotebook.blogspot.com/), The Daybook (http://www.thedaybookblog.com/), Little Miss Momma (http://www.littlemissmomma.com/), and Say Yes to Hoboken (http://sayyestohoboken.com/)

The first draft of my paper was 18 pages double-spaced, but my professor wasn’t thrilled with the length and made me cut it down to ten. I prefer the longer one because I really liked some of the things I had to cut out, so I’m showing you the long version here. I figure if you actually click over to read it you’re interested enough to make it through the whole thing? Maybe I’m wrong. :)

Female Mormon Bloggers – Long Version

This is still a bit rough, because I cut out 8 pages and then polished it up to hand it in, but you get the idea. I’d love to know what you think about my conclusions!

It Gets Better, BYU

April 11, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Religious

In 2006 a group called Soulforce came to BYU. My memory isn’t good enough to remember exactly what I thought or said at the time, but I do have vague recollections of distrust and annoyance. Who was this group coming to our campus and spreading a message we were never going to believe in? We have a structure and a culture that influences and defines our beliefs, and we didn’t need “the world” telling us how to think and act.

In 2007 BYU made changes to the Honor Code that clarified whether an openly homosexual person can attend. Wonderful progress, but a bit shameful considering the previous wording had people feeling like they had to remain closeted to be part of the student body. Any type of homosexual activity, kissing, holding hands, etc still isn’t allowed (not just on campus, this means that current students can’t participate in such things anywhere, at any time).

In 2010 BYU made another shift to policy, lifting a ban on advocacy of homosexuality. A group called Understanding Same-Gender Attraction was formed, and the beautiful video you see below could be made. Recently BYU allowed a panel discussion comprised of three self-identified homosexual students and one bisexual student. All four students currently attend BYU and were there to share their experiences and beliefs. It makes my heart happy to hear that the event was not only allowed, it was filled to capacity, with all seats taken a half-hour before the event began. This doesn’t mean things are even close to where I’d like them to be, but when I return to BYU one last time this summer I will be interacting with students here and there who feel the same way I do.

They’re looking for change.

Hoping for change.

Advocating for change in large and small ways.

If you are LGBTQ at BYU this Summer term (or heterosexual of course, I don’t discriminate), I want you to know that I would love to be your friend. You can tell me which fro-yo place is the best right now. We Mormons love our frozen yogurt.

I am a straight ally, and I want to help make it better for everyone, no matter their orientation or belief system.

I didn’t always feel the way I do now, but I’m human, and I change as I stretch and learn and grow. We all change. And we can become better.

A Favorite Hymn

April 07, 2012 By: Jenna Category: Religious

Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy has long been a favorite hymn of mine, but I couldn’t find an arrangement that really does it justice. It’s not as powerful to me when a large group sings it. I was listening to the newest podcast at Mormon Transition and heard what I’ve been looking for all this time!

You can listen to a live amateur recording on YouTube.

But I think the version you can buy on iTunes is much better (the song is called Let the Lower Lights Be Burning). I just bought the whole album, and look forward to working it into my Sunday listening rotation.

After reading the suggestions found in the comments on my post on LDS Hymns, I started listening to It Is Well With My Soul and Palmetto. Thank you for introducing me to these beautiful pieces of music, they bring me a lot of peace.

      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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