3/29/13

Good Friday



A story about Resurrection:

A few months ago I found myself vising the Getty Museum. This trip to Los Angeles was the first time I ever spent more than 6 hours away from my child, and I reveled in the luxury of feeling absolutely alone as I wandered through the museum, listening only to the audio-guide.

I've always maintained a special relationship with art museums. Even in the days of  full religious belief, I found myself turning to art, and the museums that held them, as sanctuaries from my every day world. In my early twenties, seeking therapy for general anxiety and depression, a therapist asked me to imagined my "safe place." It should surprise no one who knows me that I immediately imagined myself in London's National Gallery, surrounded by jewel-tone walls and beautiful art.



Two days before my wedding, which were happy, but busy days, I didn't find myself visiting the temple, like so many other Mormon brides. I found myself at the University of Utah's MOMA. There was a Brian Kershisnik show on display, and Dan and I wandered through the rooms, breathing slowly for the first time in weeks. Everything was going to be fine.




I've experienced more spirituality in art museums than I ever knew at church. Especially more spiritual than anything I ever felt in the temple. Not that churches and temples can't be beautiful, or spiritual, but for me, all those feelings I was supposed to feel at church, I felt when I looked at art. I can feel the art in a way I never felt my Mormonism.

I see myself in the images. In London, the National Gallery has a room filled with Annunciation paintings. (Annunciation paintings depict the moment Gabriel tells Mary she will have the Christ child.) In Duccio's painting, Mary looks afraid, stepping back from the angel Gabriel, hand over her heart, almost dropping her book.

I spend a lot of time feeling like Mary. Afraid of a God who I'm not sure knows or understands my heart. As a person who plans, and plans, and plans some more, I never could trust the Annunciation paintings in which Mary accepts the news of an unplanned divine pregnancy with serenity and grace. I've yet to accept nearly any message I hear in church with serenity and grace, after all.




But I didn't learn to relate to Mary in church. I learned empathy and love for my fellow sister and mother in an art Museum.

Likewise, I made pilgrimage to three cities and three countries to see replications of this statue by Rodin:

These are the Burghers, or city-leaders, of Calais. During the Hundred Years' War, Calais was under siege by the English. The Burghers willingly offered themselves for execution if the English would spare their starving city.They came forward, some with the noose already around their neck, in a supreme act of selflessness and devotion.

I love their faces. I travel just too look at their faces. Some show despair, some resignation, some anger, but I always feel both more human and more divine looking at their faces, feeling what humanity can accomplish when we allow ourselves to become just a little more selfless.



If art museums are my temples and churches, these statues and paintings are my saviors, redeeming me and reminding me that even imperfect humans are capable of wonderful things. I can't look at the Burghers without my heart pounding through my chest, every part of my soul telling me that this, whatever this is, this is truth.

There is one similarity to my religious life and my life as an amateur art historian: I sometimes grow lazy in my devotion. So as I walked through the Getty, seeing my old friends again (El Greco, Giacometti,) I took time to feel the sense of peace settle into my soul. Did you know that all art museums somehow smell the same? They smell like nothingness. Not food, or car exhaust, or even people. Just air. Art museums always smell pure, like breathing inside one will automatically make you smarter and kinder.

At one point in the audio tour, the speaker described his favorite Cezanne painting. Unlike the other art historians and experts discussing the pieces, this man was an artist, and I could hear the emotion in his voice when he described Cezanne's work, his voice breaking as he declared, "I need Cezanne like some folks need God."

I need art like some folks need God.

I need to stand in a space dedicated to human achievement, for all the good humanity can do in spite of all the awful pain and destruction. Because every time I visit an art museum, I'm ressurected. While most days I wear the robes of pain and cynicism, after a day in the Getty, I leave those feelings neatly folded in a marble tomb. I leave, choking down the heart that threatens to pound through my chest, because for one moment, I believe again that people are mostly good. We are flawed, and we get scared, and we bury our head in our hands, but we are good.

It is no surprise that in the same year I moved away from the orthodoxy of my religion, I taught my first humanities class. That class saved my life, as every morning I followed the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson and made "my own bible." But instead of collecting "all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet," I collected art. I found peace with my prophets and prophetesses, my Van Goghs and Kahlos, and brought myself slowly back to life in the temple of my classroom.


Photo credits:

National Gallery: mine (hence the lack of professional quality.)

Brian Kershisnik: Meyer Gallery

Annunciation: Here

Burghers: mine

Burgher: Jeff Kubina


3/26/13

Hope is never silent.

“Hope is never silent.” 
― Harvey Milk

I remember in 2008 when I was too afraid to write a blog post supporting Gay Marriage. I listened to the angry lessons in church. I listened to the comments made by friends, who didn't know my views, casually dismissing those too stupid to "follow the prophet." I sat in Relief Society meetings where the same woman who signed up to bring sick people dinner and babysit neighborhood kids for free railed against "those people." I was afraid of my own church, afraid of what I would find if I thought too hard about what I knew in my head to be right, and what I heard in my church. I was so afraid.

I remember my heart exploding when I read the letter from the First Presidency, read to Californians over the pulpit, urging them to fight against same-sex marriage.

It was the moment I knew I could never go home again. I would never be the same.

I could never be just a Mormon again.

Now, I was "a Mormon, but I support Gay Marriage!" A Mormon Feminist and LGBT ally. A Mormon advocate and friend, but never just a Mormon. Mormon stopped being enough.

It was sad, and it was hard, and it still hurts. I don't know if the pain of a lost religion ever goes away. I think I will mourn for the rest of my life. The huge, aching wound in my soul, that opened the moment I realized I could be a "good Mormon" or a "good person," but not both.* Not when others are hurting. Not when I had been commanded to love one another, and mourn with those that mourn. Not when I had been promised: "blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

But my pain is so small, and so insignificant in view of the greater picture.

Comparatively, it is easy to be a straight ally. It isn't me being denied the right to marry the person I love. I don't face dismissal without question from my job. No one can evict me from my house for being straight. The way I love, and the terms I use to identify myself, aren't  hurled as insults on playgrounds. No one protests my existence. No one denies the reality of my soul, and who my soul seeks to love.

I've never had to wonder if it would be easier to just stop living than live in a society that often rejects me and threatens me based on the way I was born.

So it was hard at first, but then it became easy to be a straight ally.  After the initial heart explosion, when there was nothing left in my chest except a small piece of the pain felt by millions of people all over the world, it became easy to do the right thing. That small piece of pain motivated me, and every day that wound heals as I consistently live my conscience. Now, I don't listen to old men at pulpits when they tell me how to live.

 I listen to what my heart and my head and my entire being tells me is right. I lost something in 2008, but I've gained so much as I've learned to trust myself, and to risk doing the right thing, despite the hurt, despite the loss, despite the pain.

I can do the right thing, even when it is hard.

It is hard, and then it is easy. It is surprisingly easy, being yourself.

And that means so much more to me than being just a "good" Mormon.

It is cruel, and awful to think that I've gained anything from standing up, even in the smallest ways, against the much larger pain my LGBT brothers and sisters face. That's a terrible world to live in, but it is also a true world. We can change that.

Today I look over my Facebook friend page, the one-stop shop for easy "Profile Picture Activism." Most of the pictures are a red equal sign. Sometimes all you need is a small sign to remind yourself of something important:

I'm not afraid anymore, and from the looks of it, neither are you.



“Politics is theater. It doesn't matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, "I'm here, pay attention to me” 
― Harvey Milk







* I know many "good Mormons" who are also "Good people," I speak only to my own experience.

3/4/13

handcuffs




I think Mormon Feminism is having some growing pains.

It's understandable, and people's reaction to it is understandable. Some people are thrilled at the idea of a lot of action-based events, with media! Radical viewpoints! Handcuffs?* Sure!Some people are really concerned about scaring off newbie Mormon Feminists who feel hurt by church patriarchy, but don't want to "come out" yet to their friends and family. Lots of people fall somewhere in between and don't know how to behave in relation to their moderate views. They are the Goldilocks of Mormon Feminists, and they are important too.

There's a lot of talk about message and image, and the pros of having the media on your side (media scrutiny does often force organizations to change,) versus "going through the right channels," (better preserving the relationship between feminists and church leaders.)

I like aspects of both perspectives. I think both sides have really valid points. While I'm by nature drawn to grand gestures and displays, if I've learned anything in the past few months, it is that there is value in the quiet, confidence-building gestures as well.

It took me a long time to see the benefits of both sides. I'm lucky to have nice Mormon Feminist friends and mentors to show me the necessity of moderation in many things.

But one way I may disagree with some of my peers is my absolute aversion to trying to control or legislate (via the internet or other channels,) how someone else practices their Mormon Feminism. I don't like it when other people try and tell me how to practice my religion. I really don't like it when some tries to tell me how to practice my feminism.Combine the two and you are more likely than not to get a nice view of a certain finger, and a bonus creative swear for good measure.

*Deep breath, attempt to restore the balance I just extolled.*

I think instead of worrying what other people are going to do while living their Mormon Feminist Truth, and how it will look, and what it will make people think, I think we should just do our own things, collaborate when we can, and trust that it will all work out.

Here's why my plan is awesome:

1. People who are scared by the more radical stuff will often become more sympathetic to the moderate view-point in response. I can't take absolute credit for this idea, one of those great Mo Fem friends pointed it out to me. Essentially, every movement needs a radical fringe to make the moderate viewpoint sympathetic.

Worried that the "crazy" feminists with their radical demonstrations will make you look bad? They might. But they also might make you look really good and reasonable. Plus, everything that was once radical eventually becomes the new normal. We need the radical "fringe" people to help normalize the "moderate" stuff we are doing now.

I'm not perfect at this. Recently someone suggested a Mormon Feminist-type event that sounded way too crazy for my liking. I wanted to put a stop to it, (Ego, much?) because I thought it would undo all the hard work I and others had done to try and make Mormon Feminists look more normal. (Hello there again, ego.)

Now, I could try and use what absolutely minimal influence I have in the Mormon Feminist world and try and stop it, or I could let those people live their truths and go on and do my thing. (Which, incidentally, involves a whole lot of glorious nothing at the moment.)

2. History tells us that lots of people fighting for the same cause don't always have to agree on the how in order to be successful. You think the suffragists all got along and agreed on how to fight the man?

Wrong.

Suffragists disagreed on a whole crap load of stuff.

The American Woman Suffrage Association, also known as FMH AWSA,  a more "moderate" Suffragist group advocated worked towards's suffrage for Black males first, and pursuing the proper channels state-by-state laws adopting female suffrage.

On the other hand, the National Women's Suffrage Association wanted universal suffrage added as an amendment to the constitution, refusing to support any revelation amendment that gave Black males the priesthood vote, but not women.

Both groups had really valid points, even though they disagreed, and I truly think both viewpoints were necessary in convincing people that suffrage and equality for everyone was really important.

But the saga does not end there! (Historians will note I'm skipping a bunch of stuff, but remember this is a blog, and be grateful this isn't an outfit post or something.)

So some suffragists decided to form All Enlisted the National Woman's Party. They decided to protest in front of the White House and wear pants.  Many other Suffragists groups were upset when the women remained outside the White House after the outbreak of WWI. It was seen as traitorous to protest a sitting President during war-time and could potentially disrupt other members in Sacrament Meeting with their pants.)  Carrie Chapman Catt (a more moderate Suffragist) even wrote Alice Paul of the NWP, begging her to stop protesting during war-time.

You guys should read those letters. They make all the angsty conversations held by Mormon Feminists on Facebook look like small potatoes. Those ladies knew how to bring the guilt when someone disagreed with them.

And hey, Chapman Catt had a really good point. Soldiers were dying in the trenches, and maybe it would not have been a terrible idea to focus solely on the war effort until peace-time. Sometimes you need to show loyalty to an institution when it is hurting, it hopes that someday it will repay your loyalty with equality.

But maybe if we kept waiting for the "best" time and way to fight inequity, I wouldn't be here preparing to cast my ballot for Clinton in 2016 (IT'S GOING TO HAPPEN, OKAY? AND IT WILL BE GLORIOUS.)

There are so many good ways to be a Mormon Feminist. There are also some pretty lousy ways, but trying to police each other just distracts us from the bigger issues, and makes us crazy enough to think that our way is the only way.

We need to learn to be okay with how other people practice their Mormon Feminism. I truly believe the differences in groups and movements are beneficial, not detrimental to the cause. Moderate Suffragists achieved suffrage on a state-by-state basis, a precedent that surely influenced the ratification of the 19th Amendment, offering a template for future amendments like the ERA (someday, guys,) and further advances in women's rights.

They couldn't have done it without each other. So the slow and moderate approach may drive you crazy (I've been there,) and the scary-fast radicalism of others may terrify you (been there too.) But those are just distractions. Take a deep breath. It is going to be okay.


*No one has actually suggested handcuffs, or handcuffing themselves to anything. But it freaks people the crap out when I mention them, and I enjoy that.