Monday, March 30, 2009

Neck High in Familiar Waters Pt III

The next thing that I want to address is the relationship between men women.

Within in the context of Heavenly Mother the question was raised at the conference if her silent roll is a platform in which male dominance takes root in the construct of Church hierarchy and within marital rolls. The issue of women being the purported more capable and spiritual sex yet being kept from positions and callings in the church that they could affect the most good was raised as well.

In Kate Holbrook’s paper she brought up the concept of “bishopric” and proposed the idea of taking the term from a noun to an adjective thereby making it accessible to everyone. Like by finding a way to truly do good you are finding your personal bishopric and not limiting yourself to what you think is your conventional roll. She sited a few opportunities that she has had to be a female voice of council to formal Bishoprics (as in governing bodies in a ward) as well as of women that have carved out their own.

Both of these concepts exist in very similar spaces in my brain and there was something I wanted to say when we were discussing Kate Holbrook’s paper that I didn’t get a chance to. The discussion at the time was surrounding the plausibility of reconstructing Bishoprics to include a female voice and Mary clarified that that wasn’t her assertion at all and that she didn’t want to get excommunicated. I gathered that she was just trying to clarify her meaning. I got when she was presenting and got lost in my head about similar experiences I’ve had a female voice of council to leaders which I’ll get to later.

This exchange saddened me because 1) the person that was feeling strongly about reconstruction must have cause. Meaning they must have had one or a number of Priesthood holders or Bishoprics that didn’t understand their calling and abused their position. I was talking to my dad about the conference and this topic this morning. Watching my dad assimilate information is fascinating. He will listen to a room full of people discussing ideas and be totally silent. Then he’ll sit and you can practically see him classifying, sorting and considering information through all his lawyer filters in his brain and then he’ll come back to you with one sentence or thought that makes it all make sense. His thought on all this was “Well they (meaning Bishoprics/husbands) don’t understand the scriptures then. They need to read DC 121” I agree with him. 2) because of this angst they (meaning people arguing about reconstruction), and probably a lot of other people, are missing the mark.

This is the comment that I wanted to make – power dynamics is a sexy fun topic. Insomuch that it painfully seduces and distracts from the real issues at hand. Women and men arguing over bishopric assignments and titles are wasting precious time and energy. The point is (and this is the welfare missionary in me talking) there is a lot of work to do! like, A LOT. There are a lot of people that need real help and they need it right now. Testimonies are failing, children are hungry and people are scared. Sitting in an office or classroom sparing about who is in charge doesn’t help ANY of that. Also, this is The Lord's work, not our own. We get the opportunity to have a part but those people in need are His first and last thought and I would assert they should be ours as well.

We all have a called Bishop and if he is a good Bishop (if he understands the scriptures as my dad says) then his first and last concern is everyone outside the office, not inside and I would optimistically assert that a Bishopric true to their calling would love and welcome any earnest voice and pair of hands that is looking for their own personal bishopric to use Kate’s term. Kate’s voice was probably welcomed on the Bishoprics she served on because she earnestly wanted to do some good. The job of a Bishopric is almost overwhelming. I think it would be silly to assume that they would refuse an honest intent to help. If someone was approaching them (male and female) alike with a “desire to help” but they really just want to is a chair in a meeting and to feel in power then it’s no wonder that they, the Bishopric, would delicately decline. The Spirit has a way of giving those mal-intended types a certain odor and, speaking as a former leader, you can smell them a mile a way.

When I was a missionary I reveled in the fact that I didn’t have to worry about getting called to leadership. I LOVED the fact that I free to do the work that I came to do without distraction or stress. With my leaders that I was close to I was impolitic to gloat over the fact. I would assert that a real leader is one who is committed to the grass roots effort and nothing else. There was an elder in my mission who I was very close with and learned a lot from. His name was Elder Hughes. He was an English missionary and me a Spanish one but he was a leader of mine from practically my first transfer. He was either my roommates District leader, my Zone leader or my Assistant my entire mission. He was a stand out missionary and that’s why he was trusted with what he was. When my first president was going home he was pulled into the office as an assistant after being in the field for a little more than year. This was unheard of in my mission. He stayed there for 9 months and when he was looking at the end of his mission he begged to be go back into the Field and he did. He came to my zone as a ZL and it was some of the most productive time everyone in my zone had on their mission. He never stopped being committed to his call or was seduced by the allurements of office. I consider him to be a real gem and a great example of true leadership. Someone who understands the scriptures.

We’re building a kingdom here people. Stop arguing over who get a shovel and who gets a wheelbarrow. Just get to work and cut the Adversaries puppet strings yeah?

I think it's this attitude that got me pulled into my mission president's office. I was being the best missionary I could be at the time and being blessed with success. I had mastered my assigned language despite being called to my own country and was looking at finishing strong and free of distractions.

It was then that President asked me to "help him out". The DC South is a fascinating mission. We had a lot of sisters. We weren't the visitor center mission, that was the North mission but we had more sisters in ours. At one point there were 200 missionaries 75 of which were sisters 14 of which were Spanish sisters like myself and 6 of which were Vietnamese sisters like my roommates for my whole mission had been.

President was dealing with a few problem sisters. Ones that he just didn't know what to do with and he had exhausted all his ideas. He called me in to "do what he couldn't do and help him where he couldn't help" so I became what they call a Traveling Sister. I had two principle assignments - one being my comp and the other being my roommate. I flitted about my last transfer helping and juicing up other sisters that needed a booster shot as well. I felt super inadequate to the task. I had been in the best area of the mission for 6 months with the same comp for 6 months who I adored. We had gotten to the point that we didn't really know how to function without each other. All I wanted to do was keep working where I was till they shoved me kicking and screaming on the plane. But there were sisters that President felt that I needed to help so that's what I did. There were some that I dragged kicking and screaming out of the apartment and made them talk to strangers and get to work. There were others I sat down with and said in no uncertain terms that they weren't being missionaries, they were just waiting for their boyfriends in the wrong place and they needed to pray about going home. There were some that we got to the Dr and got them the anti-depressants they needed (that was fun) and they finished well. It was a roller coaster of a transfer, I'm not going to lie.

The strangest part wasn't getting ready to go home, it was being an extension of the office for the first time as a missionary. To talk to my mission President like an equal and not missionary to President. I spent a lot more time with him and his wife and staff than I ever thought I would because all I ever thought or wanted to be was a missionary. The sisters I worked with changed me and I hope that I changed them. Some shaped up and some didn't, some finished, some went home early. It was all a cluster but a didactic one. I think President had a more functional mission because he had to good sense to see and address the needs of his sisters and I for a brief moment felt a part of council. Sitting in on meetings with the Assistants and President was something else. I felt at home though. I spoke their language strangely. I credit this to my upbringing as well

Which leads me to the second half of this set of ideas - the supposed Silent(ced) Heavenly Mother and the Priesthood Preside/domination platform. More on that tomorrow...


Rachel said...

Your example illustrates something that I think a lot of women have a problem with. You were pulled into the inner circle in your mission, and only then were you able to speak with your president on a different level. There are women in the church who feel that this is the only way they can be validated. I'm not one of those women and I kind of think it's a selfish way to view things. But I can see how they get there.

And I completely agree that it's about the work.

Ms. Liz said...

I can see it too and I'm a bit skeptical. I would question motives. Like why would women want to be pulled in to the "inner circles"? Is it a power thing? Is it an insecurity thing? Is it a jealous thing? Do they want to be that girl and not who they are? All that to me are red lights that this particular person is missing the mark too. Its about The Work. Make that your priority and you'll look up and find yourself in a meeting making decisions and what will be funny is that you won't want to be there.

I think the reason I did get pulled in was because it was the last thing I wanted to have happen. All I wanted to do was stay and do what I was doing. I was happy and successful and validated. I liked what I was doing too, but I was always itchy to get back.

Quixotic Healer said...

Loving all these thoughts! I'm sad, but so GLAD that I didn't go on a mission. I felt like I didn't have a strong desire, so I SHOULDN'T go. I didn't want to be one of those sisters who went on a mission cause she didn't know what else to do with herself, I felt that would be wrong. I know I'd have risen to the challenge, but who knows how long that would have taken. Missions aren't about personal growth (though it happens of course) they're about unselfish service....and I wasn't really ready for that. Hopefully I will be by the time Chris and I retire!

Also, I had to mention this: "We’re building a kingdom here people. Stop arguing over who get a shovel and who gets a wheelbarrow. Just get to work and cut the Adversary's puppet strings, yeah?"

The first thought that popped into my head? "Glory Hallelujah!"

Rachel said...

I definitely think it's a power thing. And a world thing. Everytime I hear a women complain that she doesn't have the same responsibilities in the church as a man would have it is usually followed with, "In any other organization..." Well, there is no other organization like the church.

Ms. Liz said...

Rachel I think that complaining need to have male opportunities comes from a dysfunction of first wave Feminism. I don't agree with a lot of 1st wave feminism because its I found it to be masculating women essentially. Women can't be more powerful women by being like men. We become more powerful women by being better women. The vacuum of self awareness and that a lot of the boomers have I find disturbing on a lot of levels... Queen Elizabeth didn't augment her self and attitudes to be like a man's to secure power. Oh no, became the womanliest woman there ever was. And she is still on of the best monarchs England has ever had.

Liz W. said...

Liz, I whole-heartedly agree with this post!!!

Really, I have much more to say about it, but don’t have the time right now to type it up.