On being ‘that girl’ no longer

I used to be that girl.  Devout, unquestioning, orthodox, loyal, safe.  But I’m not now, and there is no going back.

I spent time at the beach last night chatting with a good friend who was also, that girl.  But in recent unbidden flashes of knowing, sudden critical insights, and the lifting of heavy lidded eyes upon the great scene of the churched patriarchy, she too has changed. Her ground has tilted and notwithstanding she has done everything, and more than was expected of her, her bearings are now off.     And there is no going back for her either.

Nobody knowingly, nor graspingly seeks out this place of uncertainty, both terrible and beautiful all at once.   It comes upon us suddenly, often beginning with what feels at the time like a simple and innocent question.

‘Are women really equal in the church?’  

‘Why do I feel so powerless because I am a woman?’

‘Why don’t we talk about Heavenly Mother any more?’ 

‘Why can’t women have the priesthood?’

‘Why was Relief Society taken away from  women and placed under a priesthood committee?’

‘Why don’t women give blessings any longer?’

Questions, that once begun, fizz and buzz with more and more questions, exploding at the surface of our consciousness like the night sky on Guy Fawkes.    Terrifying but beautiful.

After our evening beach interlude I dragged my friend to an evangelical service, one of those youth/young at heart Christian rock affairs replete with electric guitars, drums and the unembarrassed swayings and prayings of those in spiritual ecstasies.  I wanted some worshipful simplicity.   We pondered later upon the straightforward beauty of this triumphant celebration of Jesus, where worshippers embody their love for God, with arms held high, a song of thanksgiving on their lips.

‘How do we Mormons embody our love for Jesus?’ We wondered.  

Nathan and I had taken the family to a Choral Eucharist yesterday morning.  The High Anglican love for Jesus was embodied in sobriety, exactness, and the visual and aural perfection of the service.  Not a word, a cassock, a surplice, a note, a reading, a collect, an anthem out of place – for this was God’s work, and nothing should be out of place.

‘How do we Mormons embody our love for Jesus?’ We wondered.

We wondered if we Mormons embody our love of Christ through talk.  Perhaps for Mormons,  its a cerebral affair;

See how the plan of salvation makes such perfect sense? 

Of course the Godhead is three separate personages!

In the heaven’s are parent’s single?  No! The thought makes reasons stare!

Families can be together forever!  

And over time we stock pile stories, official declarations, handbooks of instruction, policies, media, conferences, testimonies, histories, commentaries, teachings, explanations, lessons, talks, directives, warnings, commandments, discussions, counsel, councils, scripture, interviews, dogmas, doctrines, maxims, memes – words, words, words, years upon years of words.

If our eyes were half shut, in a fat, exhausted, sleepy, smiling kind of way we’d be inoculated from the fissures and fractures that begin to appear between the words.

 ‘Uchtdorf’s words made me feel like I belong, Christofferson’s made me feel I should leave’.

Scott’s words offered me assurance; Packer’s made me fearful.

Oaks used logic and argument;  Monson used  amusing facial calisthenics.

But as the weight of words have burdened my friend and me over time, we have had to sift, sort, arrange and synthesise, and we have realised that the seemingly coherent tapestry of words that make up our religious language are shot through with privileges that we will never know because we are women.   And we intone together,

‘This is such a nice, nice church for boys, and for the women who want it to stay so.’ 

But we can’t go back to unknowing.  We can’t roll back the clock to the before when we thought our religion was like a jelly donut, just stuffed full of sweet sticky stuff; When we thought that our religion was pure, guileless, innocent and brimming with an easy goodness;  Before we noticed that some Mormons are afraid of our new women’s words, our new questions, our new women’s language.   Nobody goes back to the unblinking, narcotized fug of their former semi-consciousness.  Just as an adolescent can’t go back to infancy.

We are the great inbetween.  The church has lost our former selves, but we nonetheless feel found – wide open, full of breath and thought, and a spiritual rhythm that sings in time with our new found knowledge of ourselves as beloved women of God.  But sadly many of us have been escorted to the doors of the meetinghouse by the pleasant polyester smile of the viscously well meaning:

‘If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?’

‘Nobody’s keeping you here!’

‘Tow the line’

‘I’m afraid for you’

‘You are bringing contention into our church.’

And some of us take the invitation and leave triumphant but angry, tired but relieved, liberated but heartbroken.

And some of us stay, held tenuously by the tremulous hand of a patient but uncomprehending spouse, friend or family member.  Held in the breach by fear of the unknown, not sure of who we are in a world where we are no longer numbered among the Saints.  Held by feet aggressively planted in an act of resistance.  Held by the loving words of a church leader, who despite the meanness of others, love us and see us.  Held by testimonies of church grown in a time where once it made perfect sense, but we love it still despite its failings.    Held because others, many, many others who share our own language of uncertainty have made a church – our kind of church.  Held because we think, we hope, we wonder if we yet have something more to offer.

But none of us can go back.  We can’t be ‘that girl’ any more.

 

 

  • Leah Marie Pickren Silverman

    Perfect. Just so perfectly said.

    • Gina Colvin

      Thank you Leah. Thank you!

  • Dan Wotherspoon

    Amazing. Powerful. Thank you. Love you. Praying and working in the ways I can for the same goals you have. It’s a privilege to partner with you.

    • Gina Colvin

      Back at ya Dan! You are solid brother – a rock, and an inspiration. Outpourings of gratitude and love to you my friend.

  • Barbara Clendon

    How do we Mormons embody our love for Jesus? Through service to others; through time spent trying to follow the Saviour in helping ourselves and others come closer to our Heavenly parents; through heartfelt song (“a prayer unto Him”) which is not in perfect high Anglican harmony or meaningless Latin words that the singers (those select few with approved voices) themselves hardly understand; through quiet moments of communion with the Lord while praying, reading scriptures or pondering; through our efforts to keep His commandments (“If you love me keep my commandments” John 14:15) …..

    • Gina Colvin

      I agree, but our service is not unique to Mormons. Christians of all persuasions serve, and do so beautifully. I suppose my comment was more about our worship services, which wasn’t a comparative study more than it was an observation as to how we do the business of worship.

      • J. Weight

        I love that we have members get up and share every sunday. I think it’s quite refreshing and amazing. It’s what makes our church unique instead of having a leader type getting up every Sunday doing all the talking. I love giving talks especially because sometimes it really touches people and/ or makes them laugh really hard. Either way it’s great! Everyone has different perspectives, different stories, and makes each Sunday different which is what keeps me going :)

  • michelleglauser

    How interesting that the feelings that come are so opposing–thanks for putting them out there. The only word that would fit between the sides is “torn,” but even that has a negative connotation.

  • Alisha Worthington

    I love how you captured the ambivalence so many of us feel. While I can’t “go back” I’m also trying to remain hopeful that as sisters and brothers we can find the way forward to a place where fear and silence are replaced by love and dialogue. Great article!

  • Cristi Jenkins

    Beautiful writing.

  • http://yllommormon.blogspot.com/ aletha

    Beautiful. I’m glad that you have a friend that will be “that girl” with you. I’m happy that you feel safe and comfortable enough to share how you feel. I’m blessed because I have read your words, and don’t feel so alone.
    Thank you.

  • Darren

    Just wondering if I can post here still.

    To summarize my previous posts on this thread:

    1) LDS theology is such that a woman’s gender empowers her to become God.
    2) the LDS place a higher value on doing good works than merely singing praises for Jesus though there is absolutely nothing to prevent LDS members from getting together to do as much.
    3) there’s no need to place on the back shelf intellectual questioning of LDS history.
    4) no one fully understands why the priesthood ordination is male only.
    a) Ordaining women will not strengthen families but could well complicate them
    More so than what is going on eight now
    b) According to LDS theology, Adam had to listen to Eve before the Fall and Eve to Adam after the Fall.
    c) Eve is never departed or away from Adam after the Fall, ergo; man needs woman an woman needs man yo progress in the Lord and the priesthood
    5) I fail to see how feminism has helped the world since the 1960s (especially in areas where I and a majority of men already support)

    • JohnH2

      Darran,

      What does 1 mean? What does it mean in context of the Godhead being apparently all male?

      For 2, I would think that MoTab and “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me” demonstrates that to be an incomplete response.

      • Darren

        I originally had about four posts up explaining my positions in more detail and after returning and seeing that they were no longer here (probably I did not post the, correctly or a software glitch) I did not desire to redevelop my ideas (some of which you already voiced above) but rather just list them in a summary form.

        As for the Godhead all being male that is true but could there be a Father without a Mother? As Gina cited, “the though makes reason stare”. Becoming God (“Elohim”) requires more than one gender. It requires both male and female together. Males cannot “become God” without females nor vice-versa. Therefore the female gender empowers women to “become God”.

        What you cited is what the LDS officially worship and place their faith in. That is, a male God, namely the Father. But LDS theology is open to the point that if there is an all powerful male God than there’s an all powerful female God at His side. I know of no other religion which comes near preaching such divine majesty in women.

      • Darren

        As for number 2, note that i said that the LDS “place a higher value” n performing good works in the name of Jesus rather than just sing praises to Him. In fact, I think that if all one odes is sing praises about Jesus that that person will come across an upset Jesus in the afterlife and it won’t be pretty. While of course people may gather and sing praises to the Son of God but that’ll only carry one’s soul so far in Him.

        Speaking of singing praises to express one’s love to Jesus Christ, I got the following information from Daniel Peterson via a facebook post of his hope you can make it but for me Salt Lake is a bit too far from Houston. :(

        http://www.lds.org/church/events/temple-square-events/2013-celebration-of-christ?lang=eng

  • JohnH2

    “‘If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?’”

    So I have asked essentially this before and your second paragraph is pretty much the first direct answer from you that I believe I have seen which does directly answer my question. I have not been able to understand how one holds the positions that you do and still claim to believe in the church; it has been terribly unclear what, if anything, you did believe in related to the church (your testimony of fhe though actually helped me understand more).

    I certainly don’t have any sort of polyester smile but I am sorry if my questions were vicious; I was intentionally so only once and already apologized for that. I imagine that many of the people asking the question are also not intentionally trying to offend, but are generally curious and confused. My suggestion would be to expand that paragraph and add to it to have a ‘why I am a mormon’ or ‘why I stay’ post as a top level tab of the site.

  • JohnH2

    ‘Are women really equal in the church?’

    Since the basic unit of the church is the family then in the most important setting of the church they are. At the ward level the women of the church arguably hold more of the most actually important and holy positions then the men; there is though somewhat of a social disconnect in what is important, holy, and actually useful and what is prestigious.

    (Think nursery leader and Sunday school president, the nursery leader is unarguably more important, is serving in what is either the most holy or second most holy place in a chapel serving pure innocent children by providing them with the very foundations of their testimonies and in a position where angels are most likely to assist. The Sunday school president is largely unnecessary and presides over what is generally considered the least important part of church, yet for some reason the Sunday school president is seen as a position of high prestige and the nursery leader as low prestige. Obviously those two are the far extremes, but that pattern holds true all the way up the church structure it seems.)

    ‘Why do I feel so powerless because I am a woman?’

    Philosophy and general society both inside and outside of the church probably has something to do with that. Society, even in the church, not placing value on children and on women and women’s roles and placing great amount of prestige not only on the actually important men and men’s roles but on all men and men’s roles in the church also contributes. Policy certainly contributes in reenforcing this and the doctrine isn’t complete.

    ‘Why don’t we talk about Heavenly Mother any more?’

    Because praying to and worshiping Her has not been authorized and is condemned in various places. Not much has been revealed about Her and so it is easy to minimize Her as reactionary to those that go further and contrary to what has currently been revealed.

    ‘Why can’t women have the priesthood?’

    In a sense they do; but otherwise that is unknown. Something to do with the Fall of Man and the relation of birth with baptism comes through in the New Testament epistles. Valerie Hudson has some interesting ideas about that subject, though obviously those are her ideas and not doctrine.

    ‘Why was Relief Society taken away from women and placed under a priesthood committee?’

    Unknown, it was an effect of Correlation. Obviously, in a marginal sense it was always under the priesthood via the prophet. David O. McKay standardized and internationalized the church and consolidated power in the hands of priesthood leadership, (which oddly means taking a lot of power from called positions in the church and giving it to un-called church administrators). Some of the effects of that have been inarguably good, others appear to have been necessary policy decisions at the time which may change, and it is entirely possible (likely I think) that some of it is wrong and needs to be changed.

    ‘Why don’t women give blessings any longer?’

    They still can, it is just heavily discouraged and not talked about (ever). The ordinances of washing and anointing women in labor has fallen away apparently completely, even more then women blessing their children or the sick. That seems to have been something of men at the local level being uncomfortable with the practice and forbidding it and that uncomfortableness working its way up to some of the Apostles who ended up suggesting it stop. That actually seems like something to push for, not necessarily the priesthood, but bringing the practice of the church in regards to women blessing and washing and anointing those going into labor in line with revelations of Joseph Smith and First Presidency statements from the first 100 years of the church.

  • Kirsten Crippen

    Thank you for a post that makes me feel less alone in the church. I am a single convert to the Church. I am the only member in my family. I am also childless. And a liberal politically speaking.

    I have gone inactive from time to time but I can never seem to leave the church. I think it is because I believe. Not in all the dogma. But in the basic principles of the church. I really don’t think God’s message is as right wing as others make it out to be.

    I remember back before they taught from the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church. I can remember running crying from Relief Society at least 2x a month. So, I am hopeful that the Church can change. It may change incrementally. But it can change.

  • Tristan G.

    ‘Why don’t women give blessings any longer?’

    What is stopping you from giving a blessing at least in your own home?

    • Jeremy Alleman

      Wasn’t it Mary Smith (Hyrum Smiths’s wife) who prayed over her ox on the way to the Salt Lake valley?

      I agree with you, there is no reason a mother can’t pray over her child in faith. “Ask and ye shall receive…”

  • Jessica Ward

    i was “that girl” not so long ago. and am in the midst of the terrible and beautiful change. and it is hard. and although i don’t understand everything about the gospel (and even as “that girl” i didn’t profess to understand everything) this continues to feel like the right place to be. and so i stay. and for today, that is enough. thanks for being out there and posting things like this. so that those, like me, know that others have gone before.

  • J. Weight

    I admit growing up in the church I had my issues with things but I am older and much wiser now. I prayed when I was a teenager about whether the church was true and I received my answer. There are things I disagree with leaders about but that doesn’t mean I doubt the gospel. People often forget that just because someone is in a leadership position doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes. I have had crappy bishops and thanks to Heavenly Father that I didn’t always follow their council. I don’t feel demeaned or less of a woman in the church. I guess I can’t relate to the whole feeling alone at church anymore. I always did things my own way as a teenager and yeah my young women leaders were always “concerned”. Here is the thing: there are all sorts of different people in the church- conservatives, liberals, feminists, brow beaters, racists, peacemakers, etc. I try to accept everyone just as I expect them to accept me. I love my BFF and little sister who are super gay and support whom they choose to love, I teach primary, I read scriptures and pray with my family each night, I love having the highest kills in Halo, I don’t love cleaning, I love booty music and booty dancing, my favorite song ever is Come Thou Fount, my mind is constantly in the gutter, i was married in the temple and try attend as much as I can, i love the prophet-I could listen to him talk all day, I love my violent video games, I love sex, and I love the gospel. I think limiting yourself, your feelings, your capabilities is depressing. Who really wants to be ‘ that girl’? Sure maybe it’s nice to be naive, living in bubble but one day you grow up and learn the world doesn’t work that way or least people outside Utah do… ( okay bad joke, sorry) But seriously I love being me and sometimes I can’t relate to women at church ( because really none of them play halo) but I respect their love for baking and crafting (how else would we eat so good at activities?). I guess what I am getting at, and my convert-Mormon-lesbian-not- active-anymore-but-celibate-for-a-time BFF put it best as there being varying degrees of Mormons. There is Classic Mormon, Diet Mormon, caffeine free diet Mormon, Mormon with Lime… You get the picture. The best part is, you are free to choose!

  • J. Weight

    Side note, I don’t care about having the priesthood. I am much more spiritually minded than my husband. He needs the priesthood because it doesn’t come naturally to him. I appreciate priesthood blessings but I don’t feel cheated or less of a person because I am not the one passing them out. I have often received promptings that my husband doesn’t receive and I don’t know why. Maybe I listen better? I don’t know but oftentimes the biggest changes or biggest decisions in our lives have been made according to the things The Lord told me specifically. So yeah I don’t need the priesthood in that way because I receive all the gifts/ directions i need already. That’s just my feelings on that matter