Thursday, May 21, 2009

Of Pilgrims and Projects

I was about to start this post with the sentence, "I've always struggled to find my place  in the church and in the world as a woman and as a Mormon," but I realized that, although I liked the sound of it, it would be a lie.  In my early adulthood, I felt perfectly at ease with myself and my church.  Granted, I was a Democrat at BYU ("What!?!  I'm pretty sure it's in the temple recommend interview somewhere that you must vote Republican!"), but my testimony was fairly mainstream and strong.  I'd heard of the feminist organization on campus (VOICE), but somehow never made it to a meeting to check it out.  And I had never considered most of the issues I'm sure they were talking about at the time (long, long ago in an early '90's galaxy far, far away).  I followed a fairly traditional path for a Mormon girl; I went on a mission, got married in the temple, graduated from college (finally), and had some kids (finally).  True, I threw in a little graduate school along the way, but although that may not be typical, it certainly isn't way out there.

Fast forward a few (OK, many) years later and I can say, "I currently struggle to find my place in the church and in the world as a woman and as a Mormon."  Problems with a male-centric hierarchy that seemed normal and natural to me before, now grate on me.  I find it confusing to love a church when I don't love everything it stands for or promotes.  People I meet in the outside world make invalid assumptions about me when they find out I'm LDS, and people in my ward throw out casual comments about those apostate feminists and liberals.  

I was lucky to land in Pittsburgh around the same time that I was growing more into my own sense of self.  There I met a group of amazing women who showed by example that it is possible to navigate the space that includes an awareness about and intolerance of sexism in the church and a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel.  A few weeks after I moved to Pittsburgh in 2000, a stranger (now my dear, dear friend Christine) invited me to a mini retreat held at a cabin up in the mountains.  She described it as "a relief society gathering for liberals."  What had I said to blow my cover?!  How did she know?!  Whatever I had done or said, she was right that I needed it.  Here was a group of women who were not afraid to talk about anything and everything.  Nothing was taboo, having questions was not considered a sign of doubt, and having doubts was not considered a sign of unworthiness.  That spring, I attended a similar, but larger gathering in Indiana - the Midwest Pilgrims Retreat.  It's been a good place to work out my frustrations, vent about my pet peeves, explore my doubts, renew my faith, connect with amazing women, and have a good time.

This year, the group from Pittsburgh was in charge of planning Midwest Pilgrims Retreat in Chicago and it has been a great project for me.  I put together the website (which you can check out here if you're interested in the program we put on), ran registration, made a labyrinth (with Michelle - see below), and led one of the workshops.  Having something tangible to plan and to do that also involved coordinating with lots of other grown-ups on a daily basis brought me out of a funk that had me in its grasp all winter.  Yes, spring, sunshine, new house, and new neighborhood to look forward to all helped as well, but I have a renewed belief in the value of projects.  

The workshop I led was a discussion about an article in Dialogue: "How to Worship our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated)".  Right about here is where half of my cousins have gasped and started to worry about my eternal soul (a few of them started worrying back when I talked about being a liberal feminist).  But, don't worry, it was a great discussion and I learned many ways to incorporate this important and unique aspect of Mormon doctrine into my life and mind.  And besides, I have so many questions and concerns about other things that many consider fundamental to salvation that a little speculation about the feminine divine is absolutely not even on the top ten list of things you should worry about with me (and a very special hello to my R.S. president who is probably reading this - Hi, Eliza!)

The retreat itself was rejuvenating.  So many of my friends who are still in Pittsburgh or who have moved away from Pittsburgh were there.  Below is a shot of all the current and former Pittsburghers who attended (and two are missing from the picture).  Twenty-two of the seventy-four attendees were from Pittsburgh (now or at some point in the recent past).  I don't know that I'll ever find another group like this in a Mormon congregation, and I haven't had much luck converting even a small group in my current suburban ward (can't wait to try it in the city ward).

So, to sum up - I love my friends.  I love my Mormon-ness.  I love Midwest Pilgrims.  I love my crazy ideas and ideals.  I love Chicago.  I love Pittsburgh.  I love holding the camera at arm's length and hoping against all previous experience in my life that I'll get a decent shot (see below).  I love a weekend without the kids.  I love my family (liberal and conservative sides).  I even love the struggle to find my place in the world and in the church.  After all, how boring would it be to just go back to being comfortable.

blog comments powered by Disqus