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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.


Rape on a University Campus

29 Aug

A few days ago, the University of Michigan sent an e-mail to its students, faculty, and staff updating them on the police investigation of the recent rise of sexual attacks near campus.  The women involved were attacked in stairwells, parking structures, and on the street.  Although some of the attacks happened at night, at least one occurred in the afternoon as a woman went to a parking structure to get her car.  Initially, the university’s response seemed inadequate and almost laughable.  It urged young women to be careful and to never walk by themselves.  It was as though most women were already worried about being attacked, and that it was up to us to make sure that we weren’t attacked.   One of my friends, angered by the university’s response, posted the following guide to men on how to avoid sexually assaulting women.  It began simply, “If you see a woman walking alone, don’t follow her.  If she is wearing clothing you think are revealing, do not think that she deserves whatever she gets.  And, no matter what happens, don’t rape her.”

As time passed, however, the university’s response got better.  Officials at the university agreed to meet with one of my friends who was particularly concerned about what the campus’ response was going to be.  She had been assaulted once in New York and was determined that the university should do everything in its power to prevent other young women from being assaulted after the reports initially began to circulate.  The university has also sent out multiple e-mails about the investigation and was supportive of a Take Back the Night Rally.

I applaud the university’s response to the rapes, but I think we need to expand the way that we think about rape and the way in which we respond to it.  Although the university’s efforts have been commendable, most rapes do not occur in parking lots, elevators, or staircases.  They occur in apartments, bedrooms, and at parties.  Most women are raped by men that they know, not by strangers.  I would like to see campuses like the University of Michigan become more involved in preventing these everyday, more frequent types of rape.  There needs to be education and activism to stop sexual violence within relationships and by acquaintances.  Focusing too much on one type of rape without being equally vocal about the others spreads the misperception that the danger of being raped is one that exists primarily in the streets and not within the walls of your home and those of your friends.

From the Archives: Sex Scandals, Feminism, and Touring the States

13 Aug

For the last couple of weeks, I have been doing research at Girton, the first women’s college in Britain.  Located just outside of Cambridge and surrounded by acres of grass, trees, and gardens, the college was founded in the 1860s by Emily Davies, Barbara Bodichon, and a host of other Victorian feminists who were dedicated to the education of girls.  The buildings are made of red brick and are a bit drafty, even in the midst of the British summer.   The other day I found in the papers of Bessie Rayner Parkes a bit of information related to Mormonism.  Parkes and her father were discussing a sex scandal involving one of their friends Emily Faithfull.  Faithfull had been forced to take the stand in a divorce trial, in which she was accused of having improper relations with both the husband and the wife.  Perhaps the oddest story to come from the trial was that the husband had crawled into bed with Faithfull and tried to have sex with her, while his wife was sleeping just inches away in the same bed. Continue reading

Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day.

14 Feb

“Now they tell us we should not vote because we have not the time, we are so burdened that we should not have any more burdens. Then, if that is so, I think we ought to allow the women to vote instead of the men, since we pay a man anywhere from a third to a half more than we do women it would be better to use up the cheap time of the women instead of the dear time of the men. And talking about time you would think it took about a week to vote” (Anna Howard Shaw, The Fundamental Principle of a Republic).

Judith in Gulabi

15 Sep

I remember the first time I saw Artemesia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes. It was in my European history class in high school. I was astounded. Should a woman be doing that, I wondered? At the same time, I was intoxicated by her display of female power. In the painting, a woman has seduced a general to help her people, who are besieged by the Assyrians; and she is beheading him. Although Judith grimaces slightly, she and her handmaid seem relatively emotionless as they are going about this brutal task. The general Holofernes, completely drunk, has no time to react, and a cruel spurt of blood ejects from his neck. Judith looks like she’s slicing a large piece of meat. Her cleavage shows, underscoring the power of her sexuality as she exacts revenge and helps to free her people. Continue reading