Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Putting a human face on the story of Joseph Smith

Lesson with the missionaries again tonight, and they wanted us to watch hour long dvd with them, give a bit of relief to the discussions.  I don't recall the exact title of the dvd, but it is an updated depiction of the life of Joseph Smith.  Some things I did not know about the traumas that shaped him in his early life;

-- trauma 1; he was a small 7 year old boy with a residual after effect of typhus - leg injury requiring surgical removal of tissue.  Spent some years crippled using a cane.

-- trauma 2; his older brother Alvin, 25, dies.  Religious belief sets at that time Second Awakening, Restoration included some harsh (imo) beliefs about damnation, hell, baptism, salvation.  Likely Joseph was told his brother was among those lost as he had not been baptized, was not saved, hell-bound.  (It is said this influenced Joseph Smith's later thinking in regards to baptism for the dead).

-- trauma 3; stillborn deaths of four (4) of their children - Joseph and Emma Smith.  Another of their children died at 14 months.

This portion of the dvd really struck a chord with me.  While I am not at a place to believe that what came next with the visions was inspired of God inasmuch as I am greatly willing to believe Joseph was spiritual in his questing and believed his vision to be real to him, many pieces of this puzzle clicked together for me in appreciating the very human, psychological aspects that made up parts of Joseph Smith's early years that would have a great influence on the visions and his structuring of what became the basis of Mormonism.

I was so taken by the human portrayal that I want to watch this dvd again, take it in sections, stop it at certain points and study it out.  I asked the young missionary how I might obtain a copy and he provided the resources where he thought it might be available for purchase, and the other young missionary said he had a copy he could loan to us.  He went out to his car to get it, and I am much pleased we will be able to view it as a study reference.

There did come a point in the dvd where it did seem the efforts to elevate Joseph Smith status shifted him out of the human-ness as portrayed in the earlier part of the dvd to a place of close to worship.  I'm sure as we watch the dvd together again, I may want to write about the portrayal of various stages of his life in the dvd, which will of necessity being church produced paint a more glowing portrait against so much of what has been written about his less than savory characteristics as a person.

The dvd did evoke strong feelings in me, leaving me with a more empathetic view of the course of history that birthed Mormonism.  I'll be getting back to writing about my impressions.

A btw, we began reading 'The Mormon Hierarchy Origins of Power' by D. Michael Quinn and the first two chapters are so thoroughly involved with explaining the concepts of Authority and Priesthood and who holds what authority and why and the march down the hierarchal chain of command, that I soon lost interest in trying to visualize all these men vying for some place of position, authority and relevance in this formation.  I'm fairly content to let the men mill about figuring out who is head of what and has keys to what and so on and so on as men are prone to do.  Unless or until they are stepping on my toes or those of the people I hold dear, the Men's Club can enjoy whatever it is that makes Men's Clubs attractive to them.  I mean no disrespect, truly, but as I listened I could feel the dinner burning in the oven, the dishes piling up, the kids crying as their needs went unmet, the laundry backing up and on and on and on as that is so much of what women do irrespective of all the other jobs they may choose to do alongside their jobs in their homes.

I said that I was willing to 'default' on the whole men's priesthood authority thing for now.  I didn't grow up inside this church, and am not beholden to a male ordered authority structuring and am perhaps less likely to feel the compression of my identity as it is defined within this church structure.  Not wishing to get sidetracked into a discussion of gender roles, gender identity, it provides me some element of relief that my adult life was not lived under these constraints.  Even as I don't fully agree that the eruption of women's choices and roles as I experienced in that second wave of feminism (1970s) was a balanced social reaction, I also don't agree that keeping women's roles in their status quo was useful nor indicative of personal growth for women.  I have said to my own children (now grown) that I don't regret the opportunity I had for career development, but that I would have preferred the timing to be different, not simultaneous to the time of raising children.  But I do digress.

This may have to do with a mellowing of my attitude about Joseph Smith as the originator of much of the LDS doctrines that seem odd in their male authority over women.   When I can see him as a human, a person, a boy, get some sense of his background, the historical time of religion that shaped his own religious/spiritual formation, I can get past the chagrin I have felt for him with regard to my sense of an oppressiveness of women to see him in a more personal manner.  Less the charlatan portrayal, certainly not the saintly deity portrayal and a somewhat more balanced view of a human making his way in the world, asking those angst kinds of questions we all ask, and looking for better answers than were being provided him at that time.

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