Monday, September 11, 2017

Names


Baby names aren’t the only form of naming on my mind lately. I have also been thinking about how our experience in the church is limited and enhanced based on the vocabulary we use to talk and think about it, especially vocabulary around women’s responsibilities and work in church administration.

On the one hand, naming gives people and practices authority and scope. Have you noticed the way leaders trip over the wording when they try to talk about how a woman’s auxiliary service will start or end on a different time table because of her and her husband’s call to lead a mission? Names matter here. We have a clear title for a Temple Matron, for instance, that implies certain responsibilities and influence. The Mission President’s Wife does not, and it impacts how we think of her role there. Hearing a leader say, “Sister _____ will begin serving in the YW Presidency in July, as she is completing her current assignment as the temple matron of the Winter Quarters Temple” feels very different than saying, “Sister _____ will begin serving in the YW Presidency in July, as her husband is currently serving as the president of the Omaha Mission.” The second makes it feels like her responsibilities are secondary to her husband’s; the first makes it clear she currently has important responsibilities. It sends a very different message about the value of women’s work, and I am thoroughly convinced that the biggest barrier to fulfilling President Nelson’s call for women to make their voices heard is our own lack of vision about our contributions and influence.

At the same time, when you name something, it places boundaries on its scope and possibilities. When a role isn’t as well-defined, leadership has greater capacity for creativity and fluidity in what positions are created and how to perform them. I think a prime example here is making the women’s session of conference an official session, rather than auxiliary. I love that it recognizes the centrality of women’s work to the work of the church, but I’ve noticed structural changes that have occurred since it was renamed. The format has gone to the same strictly talk-and-choir-number format of the other sessions, where in the past, women’s sessions included videos that helped engage younger attendees. And I think the redefinition probably had a lot to do with the fact there were fewer total female speakers this last General Conference – women had already spoken in an official session of conference, so why did they also need to speak in the other sessions? In this situation, naming interfered with our young women’s need to have content designed for them, and to see women acting as leaders in the church.

I’m a bit torn. Going back to the Mission Presidents’ wives example, I do feel that the work of Mission Presidents’ wives is not recognized as valuable because we don’t have the vocabulary to talk about their contributions, and I feel like our rising generation desperately needs models to see themselves as leaders in the work of the church. Yet, as it currently stands, Mission Presidents’ wives have a great deal of flexibility in what work they do and how they strive to accomplish it. This flexibility allows women to play to their strengths, be flexible in how they share the workload with their husbands, and more easily adapt to the needs of their unique mission and missionaries.

I feel that our vocabulary is incredibly influential in how we think about women’s work. I want our young women to have the vocabulary to see themselves as the women of action and influence God needs them to be. But I want to change it in a way where we maintain our opportunities for innovation and adaptability.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Response


This week has made me feel indescribably sad for my country. A comedian posing with a fake severed head of our president. Nooses left in the Smithsonian African American History Museum & in front of the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum (and that’s just this week – we’ve had other noose incidents in our capital in recent months that haven’t gotten the same press). An anti-Muslim terrorist stabbing people on a train and calling it patriotism. I’m grieving our lack of empathy, our inability to see beyond our own priorities.

But here’s the thing: my current sadness isn’t because these actions are anything new for our country. We’ve been doing this and much worse from the start. My current state of sadness is based on how connected our emotional response is to where we identify politically.

I believe the vast majority of Americans are sad about these actions. But we only become livid if it is something the other side has done.

Where is the liberal rage over Griffin’s photo? We had plenty of it when we witnessed images of effigies of Obama hanging from nooses. We’re very fast to pull them out in response to Trump’s comment about liberal violence. But we are not mustering the same level of rage over Griffin’s photo that we are over the Nugent/Palin/Kid Rock photo in front of Hilary Clinton’s portrait, and it is hypocritical and intensely wrong. Griffin’s photo was inexcusable, and we need to stop sitting quietly and ignoring it – we need to speak up.

Where is the conservative rage over the nooses and stabbings? You’ve told marginalized groups that white supremacists didn’t reflect the average Trump voter and you absolutely weren’t voting for that hatred when you voted for Trump, that your policies would better protect people of color than liberal policies, and even in some situations that the images we’ve seen are a liberal plant to make conservatives look bad. Yet when I’ve scrolled social media, I have yet to see a conservative friend even talk about these acts, let alone express sorrow or outrage. They have been largely ignored. Why aren’t conservatives speaking out about this? It flies in the face of conservative values. The stabbings are not patriotism, and were motivated by a rejection of religious freedom. The nooses do not make America safe. Vigilantism rejects the justice system our founding fathers created.  

Americans, we are fighting the same fight. This is the same fight. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The dignity of human life. Pluralism. Empathy. Civility. Our faith that democracy can solve our problems by bringing people with different views together and finding compromises so all can be free. If we only speak out when the other guy violates these principles, we’re going to lose this fight.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Rusty


Yes, I am aware that personal blogging isn’t a thing that is really done anymore. But here I am.

Writing has been something that has slipped from my life. It had previously been something that held me together, something that allowed me to process my feelings and exercise a part of my brain that had fewer outlets when I was spending most of my hours with magnificent little people whose most complex sentences consisted of, “mean Spiderman take pizza away!” Yet with the exception of occasional journal entries and Goodreads reviews, writing isn’t really a part of my life anymore.

Now, I have been given some writing opportunities that matter deeply to me, and I realize I am wildly out of practice. I feel like in the past few years, my thinking has become more nuanced and sophisticated. I’ve learned to ask better questions when things trouble me, to listen to a broader range of perspectives, and to be more patient with the process involved in gaining understanding. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, more willing to make mistakes on paths I care about travelling. Yet, when I sit in front of the computer to write, everything comes out slowly and awkwardly, and it frustrates me.

Turns out there’s something to that practice thing after all.

I’ve realized that if I want to maximize these opportunities, I need to invest more time into my craft. I can’t expect to sit down after a multi-year hiatus and write moving and persuasive prose.

I assume no one really comes here now, but regardless, I want to start writing again. It shouldn’t be this way, but putting pieces up here instead of in some folder makes me finish them instead of endlessly and aimlessly toying with them, and consider how the reader would respond to what I’ve written. Thank you for being my sounding board.