Yesterday, after Elder Lawrence’s talk, I took his advice and said a prayer. I asked, “what is stopping me from progressing?”
The answer came quite clearly: “you should stop being such a horse’s ass.”
Later that day, a friend confirmed that answer for me, by laying out in a few very precise ways in which I have been a horse’s ass with some regularity for quite a long period of time. This was a revelation to me, not just in the sense of a surprise, but also that it was God working through my friend to show me things about myself that I could not see. The main problem was that I don’t pay attention to people, specifically to women, minorities and other voices. And the fundamental way I could get better: listening.
Here’s an example: this weekend, I wrote a brief commentary on Elder Holland’s talk. There were some excellent comments, some I agreed with and others I disagreed with (hi, Marie!). But then there was this comment, which I didn’t engage:
Frank, when I first went to the temple I had every hope and expectation of coming to know and understand our Heavenly Mother. She was not there. She is not shown as having any part in the creative process or role in the lives of Her children. Women are given no expectation that they will have any power in the afterlife beyond serving and obeying their husbands and being vessels that bear the spirit children of their husbands – it seems like a stretch to call those spirits the children of their Mother. That, among other things, has kept me out of the temple for the past year and a half.
It has taken a long time for me to be able to pray to God without imagining Mother, beaten and bruised, chained away, eternally pregnant, crying out for her children. I no longer believe that is the case, but it took time to accept that our current understanding (and lack thereof) of our Mother is wrong. I’m glad the temple has helped you in that respect, but temple attendance is about the last thing I’d recommend someone who is looking for Heavenly Mother do.
Let me share with you the thoughts I had when I read that comment the first time:
-I’ve never experienced anything close to that.
-That’s not what the temple is about! The temple is about…
It was completely foreign to me, and so I completely dismissed it. And when I look at the comment now, I still don’t understand it, not really. I haven’t felt those things. But I feel like I’m no longer interested in trying to tell this commenter why they’re wrong or to try and explain away the experience. I’m interested in understanding why they had these feelings, what circumstances gave them those feelings, and how we can take those elements in our culture by the root, pull them out and throw them away. I’m interested in how I can support this person better, how I can sympathize and help those hands which hang down, strengthen those feeble knees. In other words, the commenter is a person, someone who is real, whose life actually matters and is as precious in the eyes of God as I am.
Elder Nelson said on Sunday morning:
We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women who make sacred covenants and then keep them, women who can speak with the power and authority of God.
Blair’s summary is a must-read on the topic. But Elder Nelson’s logic is inescapable: the corollary to women speaking more is that men need to listen more! And why listen more, if not to actually consider what is being said? And this means hearing things we don’t necessarily agree with all the time.
Consider the wisdom of the prophetess Nicki Minaj, throwing shade at Miley Cyrus:
The fact that you feel upset about me speaking on something that affects black women makes me feel like you have some big balls. You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.
If we are serious about women speaking more, about listening more to them as well, it means that we’re going to hear talk about things they don’t like. This is probably going to be disturbing. It means hearing things that are foreign or scary or beyond out current experience. We don’t want to hear that we are wrong about how things are, we don’t want to hear that we have oppressed others or that we don’t deserve our special positions in society. I really hate to be told I’m wrong. I’m never wrong. But God just told me I was.
Are our God and our religion strong enough for us to listen to these things? I believe they are.
How can we succor each other, be saviors on Mt Zion for each other if we cannot let each other talk and listen to each other?
So I’m going to be trying harder to really listen, to strengthen feeble knees. Now, let me add: BCC is still a faithful place. I have no interest in making this a forum for everyone to simply lodge their grievances with the Church. As I said to another friend the other day, I am looking for Zion. I want BCC to be engaging, thoughtful, prayerful and beautiful.
I recognize the potential conflict here, and all I can say is that we should try to navigate that as we go, listening to the Spirit. I don’t believe that listening to each other means abandoning faithfulness. In fact, I think faithfulness requires listening: listening to God, to the Spirit and to revelation that can come to us through others. It means trying to see each other through God’s eyes. It means confronting some harsh things about ourselves at the same time. This, frankly, scares the crap out of me and I’m not really looking forward to it. But I have come to believe that this is a sacred obligation and part of working towards Zion.
I also recognize my own hypocrisy here; over the last 15 years I have gained a reputation for my intolerance. And I guess I’ll still be intolerant in lots of respects. But I want to repent for not listening to women and people of color in thoughtful ways. So, this is a start.