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Monday, February 18, 2013

Guilt vs. shame

The academic interest in shame and other emotions of self-consciousness (guilt, embarrassment) is relatively recent. It’s part of a broader effort on the part of psychologists to think systematically about resilience—which emotions serve us well in the long run, which ones hobble and shrink us. Those who’ve spent a lot of time thinking about guilt, for example, have come to the surprising conclusion that it’s pretty useful and adaptive, because it tends to center on a specific event (I cannot believe I did that) and is therefore narrowly focused enough to be constructive (I will apologize, and I will not do that again). 
Shame, on the other hand, is a much more global, crippling sensation. Those who feel it aren’t energized by it but isolated. They feel unworthy of acceptance and fellowship; they labor under the impression that their awfulness is something to hide. “And this incredibly painful feeling that you’re not lovable or worthy of belonging?” asks Brown. “You’re navigating that feeling every day in high school.”
The above text is from this New York Magazine article--it's specifically about adolescence and the effects of American-style high school on development, but this quotation about guilt versus shame reminds me specifically of what I felt as a teenager in the LDS church. In the past I've referred to feelings of bad behavior or inadequacy as guilt, but it seems that shame is a more proper term, at least as it is used in the article. As I read it, guilt stems from feeling that you've done something wrong, whereas shame stems from feeling that you are wrong--yourself, your being. This is the key to why I felt so strongly that I was a bad Mormon, though my behavior was model, and why reinforcing my "good habits" (scripture study, prayer, magnifying callings, etc.) did nothing to dispel that feeling.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Shameless linkage

Whatever you're doing today--fancy sex, making waffles, eating all the chocolate in sight, watching action movies, napping--I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine's Day. Preferably with lots of fandom Valentines like this one:

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Prophetess, priestess, queen

One of my favorite women-in-culture blogs posted today about Tamora Pierce, Beka Cooper, and the Cult of the Gentle Mother. Go give her post a read if you're unfamiliar with any of these terms (or even if you are; it's a good post). All done? Ok. Reading Deborah's post made me remember something that I always meant to talk about and then never got around to. As I read along with Beka when her books came out, the first mention of the Gentle Mother cult gave me pause, initially because I was excited for this stitching-together, a very good and plausible reason for the lady knights of Tortall to decline and for Alanna to be the fulcrum that she was, but then because it reminded me of the eternal question of women and the priesthood in the LDS church. 

Early in the church's history, women wielded priesthood power--not to the extent of men in terms of baptizing and sealing, but women such as Emma Smith and Eliza R. Snow were recorded as healing sisters and setting apart Relief Society presidencies. Skip to the present, where LDS women have no active priesthood authority. When and why did this gap appear? Mormon women in the past were frontier women, as the church moved from Ohio to Missouri to Illinois and on west to Utah and California; as such they took on more roles than the women in "civilized" areas of the East Coast. For all his flaws, Brigham Young endorsed the women of the church in their goals to obtain education and be self-sufficient, and a number of male LDS authorities blessed women with priesthood power, including Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith, and Young. Emma Smith, as leader of the first Relief Society, gave blessings to women members, and Eliza Snow in her time as RS President did the same, along with encouraging the sisters to develop themselves spiritually and economically. Snow was also instrumental in shaping considerations of Heavenly Mother, another aspect of LDS doctrine rarely touched today.

Ultimately, the spiritual status of LDS women declined...or was reshaped. According to D. Michael Quinn as excerpted on Mormon Heretic, the temple endowment ceremony still bestows the Melchizedek Priesthood on women. Not having participated, I can't speak as to the exact wording of the ritual or how explicit this might be. The development of the Relief Society may not have been to Joseph Smith's expectations, as the first meeting's minutes indicate that he saw the body as a parallel to the organized men's priesthood. The Relief Society today is neither this parallel nor a strict administrative organization. It is an auxiliary entity, subject to oversight from the bishopric of its ward, and the President does not set apart her counselors or administer healing or other ordinances.  Where exactly the schism happened, I can't say, though in the 1940s Joseph Fielding Smith told Belle Spafford, the Relief Society General President, that church elders administering was the Lord's intention and the Saints' proper mode of action. It does seem clear that as the church grew and refined its practices, much of its early wildness was lost (for better and worse); correlation has done a good deal to weed out, well, heresy. In doing so, women's roles as mothers and wives were emphasized to the point of obstructing and even obliterating other options and pathways. As noted on Mormon Heretic and discussed at length in the Bloggernacle, the priesthood has become synonymous with administrative and leadership power. It is interesting to me that despite not having paid clergy, the LDS church nonetheless has a sharp division between members and leadership, where "members" is in practice "women." Doctrinally, there's no reason why any faithful endowed member should not administer to fellow members, but functionally only male members carry these practices out. Women are not condoned to administer to one another or even to their own spouses and children. It's possible that LDS women are privately blessing their children and themselves, and indeed I hope they are. 

The Cult of the Gentle Mother overtook what had previously been in practice. LDS women had some measure of active spiritual power within the church structure, and it was gradually eroded and changed. The church's culture, traditions, and doctrine have always had a way of becoming inextricably intertwined: now it may simply be a case of enough women pointing to the temple ceremonies and scriptures and saying, It's right here. It's God's teachings. We're doing this. If women in the church today do succeed in their push for change in how the priesthood is wielded, I doubt that it will be a single triumph or one that needs no defending and bolstering. Equality is not something that we get and then keep forever. It can be taken away or altered in a person's lifetime. As women have seen in the (nominally) secular sphere, each step forward is attended by backlash and extremism. 

Note: A good deal of my information here comes from this Sunstone article, written by Linda King Newell. It's an excellent overview of women and the priesthood in the LDS church. I also recommend reading the comments for the Mormon Heretic post linked above; there are some really interesting notes from a member of the Community of Christ. And for more information about the Smiths, priestesshood, and the early Relief Society, check out this fMh post (and this one).

Friday, February 01, 2013

Still I'm holding out my hand

If you don't follow my Tumblr, I recently rebageled this quotation from Natalie Goldberg: “Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released."

This has been said before by many, I'm sure, but I think it's the core. There are stories that I will never finish writing. There are themes and motifs and images and turns of phrase that live inside me like the vampire; sometimes these things can be written out or bled off, and sometimes they are never-healing wounds. And this is most of the reason why this here blogge has had such a dearth of material lately: because I am distracted by writing a story that I have been writing for nearly a decade. Maybe this time it'll finally hive off and become its own being.
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