Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Does Compassion Mean What I Think It Does?

Compassion.  I think I know what it means to me, and I know my penchant for projecting onto others what I think it must also mean to them.  And more often than not, I come to learn what I have projected is not necessarily at all something means to another.   So difficult, finding the commonality of our languages, even when we speak the same language.  I would have surely thought compassion would have a somewhat universal meaning and would be a safe conversational word to express humane, spiritual and faith based concepts. 

Apparently not so much in the faith based world.   Reading a post on Compassion at Better Than Believing blog this morning was an eye opener for me.   Translated from the scriptures and texts into the English may leave behind some of the intended meanings in the original writings.   Calls into question then, what it means to follow the popular belief of the Jesus teaching of compassion. 

The differing meanings of the words compassion as cited in the post:

racham as compassion; Hebrew racham, which may have evolved from a root associated with cuddling a baby or little child, is frequently rendered compassion but has a variety of other meanings.

chamal, which originally may have meant commiserate; another Hebrew word. The difference between chamal and racham is that chamalnever seems to be connected with emotions but always suggests a decision about how to treat people

Two other Hebrew words are occasionally translated compassion: chen, which usually appears in English as grace or favor, and chesed, which most often is translated steadfast love or mercy.

The word that usually appears as compassion in the gospels must always be accompanied by a verb because the word in Greek, splagchnizomai, is a verb. It is based on splagchnon which means intestines, bowels, guts, or viscera. When a people today talk about having a visceral reaction to someone, like the authors and editors of the gospels they are acknowledging that intense emotions are experienced in the digestive tract.  A crude but accurate translation of splagchnizomai would be torn up in the gut. In the gospels splagchnizomai usually describes a reaction of Jesus to the suffering or distress of other people.  Occasionally the translators use the word pity instead of compassion.

His post then poses question about meaning of compassion as is typically understood from the biblical texts. He suggests that making a virtue of compassion as if it is understood in the same way by all may not create a bit of a problem in understanding the meaning and intent of the teachings. If as a visceral feeling, gut reaction, one feels it or one doesn't. He then cites the well practiced masking people must do with their personal feelings in the helping professions in order to provide care (ie, doctors, nurses, EMT, etc) effectively.

I well know the experience of needing to turn off personal feeling less my compassion be exhausted before a nine hour work shift is completed. It provides a safety valve that permits me to do my job, helping large numbers of others, without depleting my personal resources. I don't think my sense of compassion fully dissipates, but it is necessary for it to recede to the background in order to more effectively perform the helping services of my profession.

His post goes on to suggest that followers of Jesus must also learn to train themselves with regard to their personal sense of compassion so that they might provide a loving and merciful response within the context of how they experience their sense of compassion.

I intend to contemplate this for a while, incorporate it into my understanding of compassion, and revisit what I think the scriptures might be suggesting Jesus meant in use of the word compassion. It sounds like there are differing meanings applicable to different situations.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mormonism of Yesteryear's Pioneer Spirit

It would not be complete to not include the link to this post by Holly Welker; Latter-Day Saints and Modern-Day Pioneers, which generated in me a culmination that it has become  time or even past time for me to lift up my voice with my husband's voice in honoring the spirit, integrity and courage displayed by his familial ancestors as reflective of the pioneer spirit of Mormonism.  I can admire the story, the people, the experience and relate to it strongly as it mirrors for me that deeply held faith beliefs can sustain horrific life experiences.  

I do believe believe that through arduous reflection, introspection, and determination, faith can help rescue human pain, human hurt.  I am not of the belief that there is some immediate miraculous lifting of the anguish, but that faith is a process and like many  processes, it evolves in increments, steps, time and experience. I think for the most part humans will experience varying kinds of levels of deep pain, deep hurt that need the balm of healing.  And I believe a combination of factors to include reaching out for or holding onto faith can be that balm.

My husband's  viewpoint on his ancestral story is better told in his own book 'And Should We Die', which is not an effort on my part to promote his book in this post; more that his own words tell the story of how he feels about his ancestral heritage and story.   Given what I have come to learn about this fateful and dangerous trek and the costs in terms of loss of life of men, women and children, I do not share quite the same viewpoint as my husband.  We do share in common a mutual admiration for the people who were his relatives, who made that trek, who brought his family to the West.  

In that vein, when I read Holly Welker's post, I let out a hoop and holler of Yes!  A person who not only shares my viewpoint but brings additional material to the discussion, offering up resource material for me to seek out and digest.  Bringing me to an almost 'aha' moment, which generated in me the desire to initiate this blog.  

Quoting from her post; 

  As far as I'm concerned, my activity in the Mormon church is irrelevant to my identity as a Mormon. Mormons call themselves saints; I suppose these days I'm a secular saint rather than a devout one. But that indelible mark made on the collective Mormon psyche by the trek across the plains? It's as vivid and deep on my psyche as on anyone's. What it marks is not my relationship to orthodoxy but to sacrifice, landscape, the unknown, and change.
I am proud of and humbled by the actions of my ancestors. They abandoned the familiar and strode bravely into the unknown, confident that doing so would enable a better future. They gave up possessions, relationships that no longer nurtured them, ideologies they had outgrown. They did the hardest thing they could, both because they could and because they had no other choice.
I cannot count the number of people who have said to me,"I have profound doubts about the church -- its politics, its doctrines, its social structures. I don't always feel at home. But I'll never stop attending or voice certain doubts in public because that would render the sacrifices of my ancestors null and void."
And I say, "How is doing the opposite of what your ancestors did the best way to honor their actions? Isn't the best way to honor their examples simply to follow it?"
I currently live in Salt Lake City, with ample opportunity to celebrate Pioneer Day: concerts in the tabernacle, a ball, a powwow, fireworks, the obligatory parade. I'll probably skip it, because these days Pioneer Day is about settling down, when the spirit that made the arrival in the Salt Lake Valley possible in the first place was about rising up. Mormons today are instructed to submit to authority, when the impetus for the trek across America was rejection of authority.
So this year I celebrate by imagining the Pioneer Day parade of my latter-day dreams. The marshals of my parade wouldn't be men who make pronouncements about doctrine, but the contemporary pioneers who challenge and remake the ways Mormons lives their day-to-day lives.
Read more at the link, and the resource material she has posted. 

Literalism, another way to look at it


I have come to value that one of the pitfalls my formerly devout (in other words, accepted by the LDS mainstream) husband was his experience of a literal faith, which proved to have holes too big for him to ignore, followed by his need to resist the literalism of his faith community.  

In the either/or literal sense, his resistance was truly more his own effort to deepen his faith within the context of his faith community.  What he met with were too many who offered him the black or white literalism - if you are not for it, do not believe it, do not accept it, then you have lost your way, are listening to another force, are out of step and compliance with the homogeneous belief requirements. Would that his resistance have met with people who could offer him a more meaningful way to wear and use his faith, acknowledging his need to be out of compliance as part of his quest to deepen his faith.

My journey with him began at the time of his questioning, and I can only speculate what his life in the literal belief may have looked like, felt like to him.  Before I knew much of the community of LDS or Mormonism, I only knew of some of what is described as the peculiarities of Mormons - the usual array of things like their undergarments, the history of polygamy, the strong family bond, and an arrogance that they believed they had the only truth there is to have in such matters as faith, family, God.  What was more relevant to me than what the beliefs were, was his carriage of himself, the obviousness (to me) of his deeply held faith, and that there was a goodness about him that I had to conclude came about as a result of his heritage, his culture and his beliefs.   I have oft wondered if there was a way in which to accept aspects of the faith minus the literalism and still be able to hold to the faith-based tenet of the narrative. 

My experience of religions considered to be traditional and mainstream Christian is that they too have holes too big to ignore, and again it seems literalism is a core cause of the need to resist by questioning.  It is the questioning process that I believe strengthens the faith.  It is the faith, I believe, that then strengthens the belief.  The two seem incompatible at times. I could never, for example, say that I believe with absolute certainty and unequivocably that a conceptual storyline is reality or truth, rather that it points to inner, deeper, personal truths that need to be nurtured over time and experience in order to more fully manifest in one's personal life. 

Coming across the post Avoid The Temptation of Literalism, by Steve P. at bycommonconsent corresponds well to my take on the matter, and I'm actually a bit surprised to find it so well articulated from inside the LDS community.

To borrow Steve's words from the post;

This is why reading the scriptures a scientific text does such violence to their purpose. They are designed to connect us subjectively, consciously and spiritually to richer truths and meaning. To use the scriptures to pull out objective facts about the physical world and its history is to tear them way from what they are there to ground. Literalism is like giving a child a calculus book as a stepping stool to reach a washbasin. In so doing, much is lost that lies with the proper use of the book. Certainly children need footstools, but such use misses the true potential the book has to offer.
The scriptures are sacred. They allow us to touch the deepest truths available. To use them to read the surface of physical things (for which they are not intended and for which they don’t lend themselves) is a mistake that leads us away from where science is strong and should be used (as Elder Oaks points out) and, worse, wrenches the scriptures away from the beauty and truth they have to offer.

My husband has posted thousands of words expressing just such thoughts in his earnest need to indict literalism in any religion.  He and I have shared many hours of conversation and discussion over the past sixteen years of our lives together.  I'm not as likely to spend the amount of time, energy or resources as he has used in pointing to the flaw in a literal interpretation of what many consider the 'sacred' book.  As we have shared our thoughts, feelings with each other, I believe our sense of faith and belief has evolved and that while we share much in common in our connectedness at a spiritual level, we might have somewhat dissimilar verbalized belief sets.  It is extremely difficult to have any kind of conversation about religion, beliefs, faith because the language one eventually must employ has so many words that are 'charged' with meanings as defined for us, rather than words we can use and define for ourselves.  

Yet he and I have persevered in sharing such discussions, and when it gets close to the heart of the matter, to the faith of our child selves and the intellect of our adult selves, a reconciliation must take place for the faith to grow and mature.  I see us at this place in trying to find our own definitions. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Barbara B. Smith influence on Mormon Women at time of ERA


It helped me to read what Stephanie posted in eulogizing Barbara B. Smith.  Her expansive description of the time in which Barbara Smith took office of President of Relief Society reflected a time of great inner organizational structural change in the LDS church.  At the time of ERA, I knew little of Mormon faith, beliefs or culture, only that the LDS women were marching in lockstep to help defeat ERA.  At the time I was not in the fullest sense of the feminist movement, but I was in a budding career and much interested in growth of recognition of equal wages for women who found themselves in the workplace (either by choice or economic circumstance).  I recall my thoughts at that time of thorough surprise, puzzlement and even disdain in hearing that Mormon women were not in support of ERA.  How could sisters not support sisters, I wondered.  What was this peculiar belief set that permitted the women to hold to the status quo of too many characteristics on the economic and domestic frontlines belonging to a ‘man’s world’?

Perhaps Barbara B. Smith wasn’t as far off the mark as I believed at the time.  Now that even Mormon women find themselves in the workplace, and not necessarily by choice, but by economic circumstance, women’s rights have taken a slightly backwards step forcing choices to multi-task as wife, mother, parent, and working woman.  The ‘SuperWoman’ as it was thought we women could be in those years of the movement (1970’s n 198'0’s) has proven to be unrealizeable.  Some role element suffers - be it the career, the parent, the wife.   I now believe an economy that forces women into the workforce at the expense of raising their children has consequences for the woman and the children.  Which is not to say it can’t be balanced and done well, but it takes enormous energy and superb help, not always readily or handily available. 

Having said that, I also believe that an economy built on consumerism has worn out it’s welcome and revisiting what we ‘need’ instead of what we ‘want’ is timely.  We may well find out that we need less consumerism and want more time to be in and with family. 

What does Yon Kippur have to do with Mormonism?

Perhaps more than is realized or currently practiced.  In quickly scanning which posts I would read this morning, I almost skipped this post, because it immediately started with Yon Kippur, and I wasn’t in the mood to read about Yon Kippur today.  But what Mraynes did with interpreting the spirit of Yon Kippur in applying it to Mormon doctrine of atonement was refreshing.
Today is Yom Kippur. Day of Atonement. A time to repent of the sins between man and God. I like the idea of taking a day to right your relationship with God. In our own tradition, the story of Enos has always spoken to me for this reason.
There is not a lot of room within Mormon theology for this kind of relationship with God. God is perfect, some say unchanging, and it is us who must repent, break our hearts and make contrite our spirits. And yet who among us has not been angry at God? Who among us has not felt that God has treated us poorly?
If Rabbi Brous’ metaphor holds, what kind of marriage is it if one party cannot say to the other, “You have hurt me”?

She asks the questions most obvious to me

Is this a pattern? A lot of us women on fMh have been hurt by men in some form or another - abuse, rape, abandonment, etc. It seems to me that my friend in the temple easily dismissed my concerns because of my fears. If I wasn’t so “damaged”, then I would understand the patriarchal order and be at peace with it.

Is that true? Part of me wonders if it might be. But then part of me tends to think hat because I am aware of the abuses of authority that can occur, I am more sensitive to how they can occur.

Anyways, these are my questions:  If you have been hurt by a man at some point in your life, do you feel it has shaped your feminism? If you have never been hurt by a man, what do you think shapes your feminism and makes you aware of these issues? If more women who are not “damaged” speak up, will it lend more credence to those of us who are and make it harder to just dismiss us and our concerns?

via Feminist Mormon Housewives by Stephanie on 9/18/10

She asks questions that seem obvious to me, in the sharing of sisterhood across all the spectrums, don’t we have a bit of a sister obligation to ‘hear’ our sisters when they try to speak to abuse they experience under authoritarian structures.  And don’t we have some inner urging to speak out against it, even if the voice we use is one of support for one of our sisters?

Starting this narrative; wife of a former LDS Church Member. Oh Really?!

When I met him in 1991, I was thoroughly impressed with his kind and respectful mannerisms. He had his life path and I had mine and we did not have much interaction over the years. In 1994 our life paths intertwined and our marriage to each other followed. Ah, I make it sound so simple, don't I? It was far from simple and our coming together in marriage left a lot of broken hearts strewn about both our paths. That was 1994, and sixteen years later, we hope some of those hearts have mended and found their way in the world. I am his wife. He is my husband. His entire life up to the day I met him was about Mormon values, beliefs, policies, theologies, liturgies, history and his personal faith in the context of Mormonism.

My entire faith life up to the day I met him can best be described as spiritual on a deeply personal level with a narrative from mainstream traditional Christian church belief sets.

Before our journey together, he had already separated himself from the traditional LDS church and formalized his leaving in the manner prescribed by the LDS Church. A formal act which allowed him to open himself to furthering and expanding his belief set, exploring many other avenues and options for defining his own narrative.

Better that he attempt to state what his belief set is now, sixteen years later as it is not mine to say. What I do own, however, is the sixteen years I have walked with him on his journey away from LDS Church Authority, Utah style Mormonism as he has reached out to claim his own faith, his own beliefs. What I can say reflects my own experience in this journey with him, whereby, it becomes increasingly clear to me that he can no more erase his Mormon heritage, culture, and belief sets than he can erase who he is as a faith loving human being.

As he has railed and railed over the years about what he no longer believes as defined by the ordinances of the LDS Church Authority, I am more interested in learning what he does believe. I recognize in him the values of a loving and faithful man of great moral spirit, compassion, and passion for those disenfranchised by overbearing, bullying, and oft times ignorant prejudices. I'm not entirely sure how he recognizes himself, if there is carry over residue from the guilting tactics used by the LDS Church Authority to keep their members in line, in adherence and in the LDS box. Fully respecting organizations work as organizations do, I 'get it' that the LDS Church Authority believes it must run it's organization as good administrators tend to do and along the way, the casualties are not of as much concern or consequence to the authority powers as the bottom line. Combination of $$ profit and vigorous membership. Not to fault Church Authority in it's need to tend to the administrative tasking demands of organizational entities. It's a given in most organized entities, church, non-profit, for-profit, corporations. The LDS organization doesn't differ greatly from the operational standards of other organizations in that regard. I've heard enough, read enough, seen enough to know that part of the dialogue and narrative.

I'm more interested in looking at our joining of culture, heritage and belief sets and how that influences our (his and mine) present day lives, our lives going forward, our children's lives and our grandchildren's lives. I'm a fairly typical woman, wife, mother and grandmother in that regard.

What is becoming clear to me is that my dear husband has a slice of the Mormon narrative that gets less play than the traditional LDS Church Authority Utah Mormon narrative, but his narrative is no less Mormon and in fact, may reflect more strongly the spirit of the faith, the courage of his ancestors (Martin-Willie Handcart Company), and the strength of our combined voices in knowing how to speak out while holding fast to beloved values.

He may well have taken the steps of formality to leave the LDS Church, but the LDS Church has not left him. The indelible imprints on his pysche don't dissipate because he sent a letter asking that his name be removed from the Church membership. I believe he emerges stronger in the faith, more connected to his heritage because he walked away and more empowered to practice those value laden aspects of his personal beliefs as learned in the culture of LDS community.

He is a most liberal Latter Day Saint. Given modern day LDS members are of a more conservative bent, I wonder in amazement where this liberal streak in him emerged. It was always there in him, it was perhaps laid dormant, but he carries a passionate liberalism in the make up of his belief set that astonishes me in the fullness of his compassion and love for his fellow human being. Ah, but he also carries the deep hurt of betrayal which shows up in his writings as he rails at the literality of the formal LDS Church Authority.

I ask him to walk with me a ways in a new direction.

I have asked him to walk with me in new direction regarding our faith practice before, pointing in the direction of a traditional and liturgical mainstream church, and we are confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Spending a number of years in the context of the Episcopal belief sets whereby it is believed that all within the congregation have a ministerial calling; a calling to ministry, and all are not called to be priests or officiates in the worship services, yet called into a wide variety of personal ministries. We begin on a path taking the formal steps towards becoming priests within the Episcopal Church, finding ourselves as lay preachers and looking ahead at the years of training and formal steps yet to be taken towards that goal. (I think my husband finds this training period somewhat tedious and perhaps unnecessary since he was a priesthood holder for 40 some years in his LDS days.) We wonder if it is our ministry calling or the church's ministry calling for us.

In the second year of training, we do find our personal calling to ministry in using our faith voices to speak out against the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent war in Iraq. We speak as Episcopalians, as lay preachers, as a military family with family members deployed in that initial invasion and repeated deployments to follow. We put a public voice on the matter, inviting our respective faiths to speak humanely and compassionately to the carnage of war, more so this war for which there was no provocation. We spend years in that endeavor, feeling the faith and spirit moving in our lives for the duration of the Iraq war.

When we return to our local church worship services to find our place within our community, we fins we are changed, we are not the same people who started a training journey towards officiating in the worship services. We do not find the comfort we once found and knew in our church community. We stand slightly outside and apart, different because of the ministry calling we did chose. We spend a couple of years not attached to any faith community, and once again I begin the process of reaching out to find a church somewhat compatible with our emerging belief sets. It is a half hearted attempt as I can feel that he is not feeling it and I'm only partially feeling it.

In what feels like a great culmination of the past sixteen years, exactly because of our journey together and the paths we have chosen and all that we have experienced along the way, I continue to feel the pull of revisiting his Mormon heritage, his LDS roots, his belief sets but in a way that differs considerably from the traditional LDS Church Authorized formalities. One might say that I am experiencing or having a revelation or that it is being revealed to me (in the Mormon church talk venacular). In fact, I am coming to believe that what he knows from having walked that journey, grown out of the literality of the belief set has readied him to not only embrace his own narrative but begin to tell it, to say it aloud, to share it with others, to find that space that lives somewhere between neither/nor....

And because I am so connected to him by the joining of our lives, by marriage, by mutual love, admiration and respect for each other, by our mutual deeply held spirituality and faiths, I am by default a peripheral Mormon because he can Not be what he is as a result of his heritage, his culture. So begins the journey of this blog.....
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