Tag Archives: Mormon

Blessing the Sacrament in a Purple Tie

16 Dec

ImageI need not summarize the saga of the Pantspocalypse; if you’re reading this, you probably know it already. What is relevant is that after last week I decided I would be wearing a purple tie to church meetings on Sunday. My decision came as a result of my sympathies with imperfectly gender-conforming women (and men) who are often marginalized, the desire to show solidarity in the face of recalcitrant and exaggerated norms of gendered dress and behavior (as well as death threats), and the conviction that cultural change often starts with the culture in question – and that culture lags behind Church pronouncements. Also, my purple tie is one of my favorites.

Of the arguments arrayed against the latter-day bloomers, however, I found the most thought-provoking to be that of not marrying “political statements” with sacred ordinances like the Sacrament. Would not knowledge of a grassroots event simmering among Church members distract the congregation from the object of the meeting, Jesus Christ? If I cared not for the sanctity of the ordinance and the value of not distracting from it, I actually would have worn my dishdash (the white, robe-like formalwear of Arab men). Since I did care, however, I was left with some reservations about my violet neckwear, though not enough to dissuade me from wearing it.

Almost immediately after entering the chapel of my YSA ward I was approached and asked to help bless or pass the Sacrament. I intentionally took the spot on the stand next to my roommate, the only other purpled man in the room. There were no trousered women. I’m not sure why I did that so deliberately. I placed a feminist critique of latent, baseline patriarchy into the locus of patriarchy in weekly worship – the Sacrament.

I’ve blessed the Sacrament countless times before, but today was different. I was extraordinarily self-conscious, aware of every single one of my thoughts. As I knelt, I knew that I, with my concerns, worries, and stresses, was coming before the Lord on behalf of the congregation. And as I read, I pronounced the words more slowly and with much more precision than my average. Wearing a purple tie had made me hypersensitive to myself and, in turn, the Spirit, whose presence I found myself seeking more fervidly than I have for a long time in Sacrament meeting. Under this influence, I noticed several things:

“Oh God, the Eternal Father …”

All of worship is humans coming to the mercy seat, laden with their own burdens to be relieved. Some of our burdens might be socially acceptable and widely recognized, but others are not. Some women feel marginalized by the sometimes strict gender roles and norms assigned to them by their fellow Saints (stricter, often, than those embodied in modern Church proclamations). Some do not. A myriad of statements are made tacitly every week in the clothes we bear, statements that, though often not part of a wider movement, nonetheless have some political content. Further, we are constantly negotiating the boundaries between minimalist divine ritual and totalizing cultural trappings.

“…we ask thee …”

Though we partake of the pieces of bread and cups of water each individually, we all are parties to the prayer offered to consecrate them. We – the old and the young, the man and the woman, the new convert and the descendent of pure pioneer stock, the patriarch and the feminist, the conservative and the liberal, the straight and the not-so-straight, the pants and the dresses. All of us together implore God to sanctify unto our souls the emblems of the Sacrament, to soothe the wounds our fallen natures cause with the healing balm of the holy.

“… in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ …”

Not only do we all come before God, but we come before Him explicitly as disciples of Jesus Christ, in representation of Jesus Christ, in our strivings to be Jesus Christ: the friend of women of ill repute and the nemesis of men of good repute; the political radical and the prince of peace; the king of kings and the servant of all. We have made covenants to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those that stand in need of comfort, as He did. While it is problematic if we expect the Church to institutionally affirm every facet of our identities, it is necessary that we empathize even with the most other Other. If we find we cannot empathize with people’s experiences that are wholly different than ours, we are not fulfilling our covenants. Yes, we come to meetings in order to worship God, but we do it in a community in part to be disturbed and humbled by those around us, to serve them in their specific anxieties and infirmities that we probably don’t share. Our efforts to be Christlike require a dedication to diversity; people can be disciples of Christ, oriented toward God, and differ in a million other ways. It would seem that beauty and variety are also values Divinity wishes would adorn Zion’s unity of heart. And given that we seek to convert the world, we had better be ready for diversity in our membership.

Unlike any other time in recent memory, I returned to my seat pondering the Sacrament and its symbolism, all because I, through my purple tie, had bared a bit of my soul before my fellow man and my God.

That didn’t stop me from smiling, though, when I noticed that all the chapel’s upholstery was purple.

Cross-posted at the author’s personal blog.

Gendering Mormon Temple Architecture

3 Apr

Michael Haycock, who has his own blog here, joins us again with this insightful piece.

In recent research for a term paper on Mormonism and native Hawaiian culture for my history course on the American West, I came across Frank Salamone’s essay on “The Polynesian Cultural Center and the Mormon Image of Body.” Salamone discusses the alterations made in traditional Polynesian dress made at the Center to accommodate LDS conceptions of modesty, gender differentials in bodily coverage, and subversions of modesty through manner of dance and personal comportment.

While I will save for another day his analysis that greater male bareness at the Polynesian Cultural Center is reflective of Mormon gender ideology, I would like to focus here on another observation he makes, taking a cue from another researcher: “As Knowlton mentions, Mormons are surrounded by phallic symbols in their religious imagery, including the architecture of their temples.”

My immediate reaction was a sort of revulsion; how could one relate the ethereal heaven-reaching spires to something so base?  Furthermore, I felt that this analysis reflected a sort of Freudian phallomania. Could temple spires truly be conceived as symbols of such dramatic masculinity? I do not think it is anywhere near that simple.

Here is the church house, here is the steeple...

Even as Salamone qualifies that “American Mormons are a bit more subtle and shy about these images [than Pacific Islanders],” I think that cultural context must be considered when judging Mormon architecture. First, it arose in the American Northeast and West, were the country church reigned supreme: a rectangular structure, roof pitched to the sides, and a steeple housing a bell by whose ringing the community might measure time in the absence of clocks. This, in turn, was influenced by hundreds of years of European church-building, wherein the spired bell tower was literally the pinnacle of community achievement and served as a significant civic and ecclesiastical landmark. The dramatic Catholic cathedral, roughened and simplified by frontier Protestantism, has had an enormous impact on Mormon designs. The Kirtland and Nauvoo temples, save for the interior arrangement of their assembly halls and other ordinance-specific designs, had more to do with the neighborhood church with its amalgamation of folk architectural vocabularies than the Mormon theology reflected in incidental surface details (sunstones and moonstones, for example). If the spire is a phallus, it’s a democratized European one. (Were Tocqueville an architect, he’d have written a book on this.)

Moreover, sometimes Mormon architects tend to do strange things. There’s a reason that the Washington DC and San Diegotemples are likened to fantasy castles: they articulate architectural movements of their times in ways that are mostly unparalleled in the modern world. People don’t quite know what to make of them.

You should see it with a Hollywood marquee. Yup.

(Humorously, the South Park creators knew exactly what to do: they based the stage frame for the Book of Mormon musical on the San Diego Temple itself, and play on the peculiarity of its design by shifting its lighting throughout the production.)

Continue reading

Claudia Bushman on the Pink Dialogue

30 Jul

We’re pleased to have Professor Claudia Bushman’s reflection on the pink issue of Dialogue, for which she wrote the introduction and served as guest editor. In “Women in Dialogue: An Introduction,” Professor Bushman describes the gathering of the coterie of Boston-area Mormon women who met with some regularity to discuss feminist issues. These women considered the dominant model of womanhood in the LDS church and examined its scriptural and historical origins. As a result, they “argue . . . for acceptance of the diversity that already exists in the life styles of Mormon women” (8). Poignantly Professor Bushman queries, “Does it undercut the celestial dream to admit that there are occasional Japanese beetles in the roses covering our cottages?” (6). The group’s questioning reveals the need to understand the complexity of the Mormon woman’s heritage (see 7). With each generation, Mormon women continue to confront this complexity and struggle for women’s liberation anew. Please welcome Professor Bushman. Continue reading

The Pink Issue of Dialogue, Part I

28 Jul

Note: Summer 2011 will be the fortieth anniversary of the Pink Issue of Dialogue.  The publication of this issue marked the beginning of a resurgence of Mormon feminism and an increased interest in women’s history.  The women who were involved – Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, etc. – have become important figures within the Mormon academic community.  In this series of blog posts, we examine the Pink Issue of Dialogue and think about the moment from which it sprang and the possible meaning of that issue today.

(Edit: Thanks to Kristine for reminding us to add the link to the 1971 Pink Issue of Dialogue: https://dialoguejournal.com/archive/issue-details/?in=23)

In the early 1970s, Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and other women living in Boston formed what they would call the “L.D.S. cell of Women’s Lib.”  They read Kate Millet and discussed Relief Society lessons.  Out of these discussions grew a special pink edition of Dialogue that focused on the experiences of the women within the Mormon Church.  Edited by the discussion group that had coalesced around the original members,  it included articles on nineteenth-century Mormon feminists, the difficulty of balancing academic work with family, and the challenge of being single within a church that exalted families. Continue reading

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