Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Thursday, March 29, 2007


In a week, Mike and I are heading out to Sedona AZ. I picked that for our mini vacation because I wanted someplace beautiful. Someplace close to nature. Somewhere peaceful.

And a couple months down the road, I'll be heading to the Colorado mountains for the Mormon Women's Rocky Mountain Retreat. I was attracted to the idea of meeting some progressive Mormon women, but what really sold me was the scenery and hot springs.

I've come a long way. In the past I always gravitated towards big cities with lots of history and museums. Now all I want to do is be surrounded by the beauty of nature. I'm not sure what has inspired this transformation, but it seems to go hand in hand with some other interests that have cropped up. Buying organic local produce (and even eating vegetables!). Voting for leaders who will work to protect the environment. Eating less meat. Avidly recycling. Looking seriously into solar panels for my house. Seriously considering selling my newish gas guzzling sedan and buying a Prius.

I never thought of myself as the crunchy type. But I'm leaning there more and more...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What I'm Reading (when I have a spare minute)

1. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver is the book I picked for this month's AROOM meeting. I was struck by Kingsolver's respect for nature, and I enjoyed the story of the plucky 18 year old who becomes an instant mother when she comes accross an unwanted Native American child.

2. The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch (This is my guilty pleasure.) It's not a romance novel, but it is this huge 1000 page sweeping saga. It's an update of the Caesar and Cleopatra story.

3. Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. I've only read the first chapter or so, but I'm loving all the fabulous quotes from various feminists and great thinkers she's using.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Go See Amazing Grace

Last night Mike and I saw the movie Amazing Grace. It was wonderful. Even though it only had one woman in it. I loved the issues it presented - the confluence of faith and action, the struggle against injustice, the effort to redeem past wrongs.

And I am newly in love with this man, William Wilberforce, who worked so unceasingly to outlaw the slave trade in England, created the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, reformed the prison system, and more. Early in the movie, he has to decide to become either a clergyman or a politician. His faith in God and wonder over nature lead him to the church, but his unique political abilities make him uniquely suited to ultimately win over parliament in the 20 year battle he waged against the slave trade.

At the end of the movie, I couldn't help but wonder about what horrible and terrible injustices are right in front of my face that I am unaware, or unconcerned about. That I am complicit in. In 200 years, I wonder, what common practices will be looked upon with abhorrance the way we look at slavery? Will it be raising animals to kill and eat them? Will it be the idea that humans have the right to keep out from certain lands other humans who want to migrate and move to a better life?

The song "Amazing Grace" is a refrain throughout the movie, written by an old sea captain of a slave ship who has come to bitterly regret his role in the business. And as a reviewer on NPR said, God give me the amazing grace to discover and work against the injustices that are blighting my world today.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ideas on Restlessness

I was listening to Speaking of Faith on NPR, and I was struck by this quote by theologian Joseph Sittler.

"St. Augustine, at the beginning of his Confessions, makes a great and beautiful statement: "Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee." Back of that statement lies a proposition which says that the human is created for transcendence. It is the Jewish and Christian belief that we are meant for a selfhood that is more than our own selves—that we are by nature created to envision more than we can accomplish, to long for that which is beyond our possibilities.

We are formed for God; we are formed to be in relation to that which was before we were, from which we proceed, and in which we will ultimately end. Faith is a longing. Humankind is created to grasp more than we can grab, to probe for more than we can ever handle or manage.

This transcendental restlessness has two parts: First, I cannot unfold, in the totality of my possibility, to the level of that which I dream. Second, the one who placed the dream in me is the Creator. We are made in the image of God. We are made after the image and the likeness of the ultimate thing itself. Our whole life is an effort to approach, to appreciate, to some degree to participate in, the absoluteness of God himself. But we can never do it; that's why our whole life is a restlessness.

This restlessness may make us want to throw in the towel—or to pull up our socks. You can play it either way. You can either be creatively restless, as before the unknowable, or you can simply collapse into futility. One of the goals of the Christian message is to join together the people of the way, the way of an eternally given restlessness, and to win from that restlessness the participation in God, which is all that our mortality can deliver."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Good quote

There is nothing else for it. I shall have to solve my own problems. I always get the feeling that when I solve them for myself I shall have solved them for a thousand other women. For that very reason I must come to grips with myself.

-Etty Hillesum, imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp

Friday, March 09, 2007

My Mormon Woman Story

John Dehlin of Mormon Stories is currently putting together some podcasts featuring Mormon women's stories. I was flattered that he particularly asked me to send one in! This is what I came up with. The latter half is an amalgamation of other posts I have written over the last couple of years. I was trying to be somewhat balanced about my experience as a Mormon woman, ergo my section about why I stay. When Mike read it he asked, "Can you live up to this?" And my answer is a resounding "no." But I'd like to.

Here it is.

Three months ago, surrounded by friends and family in our home, my husband and I together held our firstborn baby and blessed him. Well, technically my husband blessed him. In the interest of preserving family harmony, I agreed that Mike could be the mouthpiece reading the blessing. But we composed that blessing together, negotiating, editing, and advocating, until we were satisfied that it resonated with our spirits and represented both our hopes for our little son. And in the end, when I raised the baby over my head – like Rafiki in The Lion King - I was satisfied that in the face of private convictions and institutional and traditional pressure, we had come up with viable compromise.

As a Mormon woman, a committed feminist, a loving spouse, and a questioning member of the church, compromise and negotiation like this will no doubt characterize the rest of my life.

Raised by a widowed mother and closet feminist, my questions about women’s roles in the world and church began early. I’ll never forget the day when my mom and I were riding in the car on our way to church when I was about 12 years old. We passed by a congregational church and I noticed that it said that the sermon would be given by pastor Marsha Graham. I was a bit stunned by this. Somehow I had never really realized that in other faith traditions women could be ordained.

“Mom” I said, “how weird is that – their minister is a woman!”

My mom glanced at the sign and replied casually “Actually there are a lot of women ministers. It’s a job that requires a lot of compassion and caretaking, and many women feel drawn towards this.”

I had never thought of it like that before. And from there I began to wonder a bit why women in Mormonism, women who in my experience were brimming with compassion and spirituality, couldn’t hold the priesthood and lead congregations, like these other women could.

When I later decided to attend a women’s college I became unafraid to associate the label "feminist" with some of my deepest convictions and understandings.

But as powerful as feminist ideals were to me, equally powerful was my identification and loyalty to the Mormon faith. I married Mike, former Elders Quorum president, and obvious bishop to be, thus consolidating my lifelong commitment to the church. I knew that when I married Mike I was also marrying the church, and I was more than willing to make that commitment at 22.

But that commitment was shaken by a painful experience at the temple. My third time doing an endowment session, the first time I did it not surrounded by acquaintences or in laws, I really listened to the women's hearken covenant. I saw Eve silenced. I pondered the implications.
And I lost it. Right there in the middle of the session. Silent tears soon became gulping sobs. Gulping sobs turned into wails of keening pain. I did everything I could to stop it, conscious that I was ruining the experience for everyone else there. Tried holding my breath, dug my nails into my wrist to distract myself. But nothing worked and I sobbed the entire session.

For a couple of years I couldn't even bear to think or talk of that experience. It was too painful. But I now see it as an important moment in my understanding of myself and my relationship with my faith. This experience forced me to confront the paradox of membership and commitment to a faith whose teachings at times fill me with anguish and don't adequately represent the ideals I see Jesus advocating in the New Testament.

While I am pained by many of my church's teachings regarding women, My commitment to Mormonism remains strong. Have I considered leaving in the past? Definitely. But for now I’ve decided to stay, and here are a few reasons why.

1. I love and embrace Joseph Smith's vision of the divine potential of humans, male and female. And the idea of eternal families deeply resonates with me.
2. the kindest, most thoughtful, most Christian human I’ve ever met is Mormon. And I know that the church helped foster those qualities in him.
3. I stay because the Church needs people like me to stay. The more types of people it has as members, the more types of people it can help.
4. . I stay because I know that leaders need to be allowed to make mistakes and grow. I now realize that all human beings, including Church leaders, including myself, are subject to their own cultural contexts, and that even the wisest, most wonderful leaders can allow unfortunate cultural ideas to creep into their conceptions of the gospel. I am trying to be more compassionate towards these leaders. After all, they are human, and I am human. And I know that I make mistakes too.
5. I stay because of my own fallibility. Just as I need Jesus to forgive me for all the mistakes I make, I know that I need to forgive the institutional Church for the mistakes it makes. It's not easy to do. I am extremely hurt by the ways women are routinely shut out from the general Church hierarchy, by the ways women's voices and ideas are lost or ignored in nearly all Church talks and lessons. But I need to give the Church time to progress. This is the gospel of progression; it is also the Church of progression. And I have reason to hope that it will indeed progress with time.
6. Finally, I stay because I now realize that I have the privilege, the right, and the responsibility to embrace those wonderful LDS ideas that empower me and to reject the ones that don't. And this realization - that I can choose what to believe in, that Mormonism is not an all or nothing proposition - has liberated me. By rejecting the ideas that tear me down and hurt me I am now at liberty to embrace the ideas which I love that are also a part of my faith. It inspires me to no end to know that the Jesus we Mormons believe in is the same Jesus who went out of his way to include and teach the outcasts of society, to break taboos, and to uplift all humans despite race, sex, or class. That is the Jesus I accept and love, and any ideas that have crept into Mormonism that go against that, I happily reject.

So here I am. A member whose commitment to stay is daily tested by doctrinal struggles, who takes Mormonism on her terms, in her way, hoping to find creative solutions and alternatives but also willing to go forward with “aching faith” that my loyalty is not misplaced. That my church will evolve to become better. That in the end my heavenly parents will open their arms to me and thank me for doing my best.

Oh and theTemple? I never went back. But I hope to someday - on my terms, when I'm ready, letting the good that is there buoy me up and inspire me, while letting the bad slide off and away from me, an obsolete anchor that no longer has the power to drag me down.