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Tuesday, June 07, 2005 

You Must Be Stonger Than Me

I have been thinking about this topic and trying to figure out what I wanted to say about it for a week. Carrie Ann said just about everything I wanted to say. I love that she talked about the humanness of church leaders. I think we have a tendency to escalate people to perfection long before they are anywhere close to such a thing. I know I am more than guilty of such practices. When I think of people in leadership positions in the church, I tend to think of them as perfect and wonderful and good at all times and in all things and in all places. And I'm not just talking about people who are prophets, or general authorities, or stake presidents. I even thought such things of Relief Society Presidents and Sunday School Teachers. Then I lived with a series of RS Presidents and was a Sunday School teacher for 8 years of my life. In all of this, there is one thing I have learned... No one is perfect. No one is 100% all of the time. People falter, people fail, but it's the atonement of Jesus Christ that allows us to be forgiven our trespasses - small, medium, or super sized - and be the best we can. It is difficult for me to find fault with others when I have so many shortcomings myself. It might sound naive, but I honestly believe that most people really are trying to do their best. Sure, some will screw up, some will say the wrong thing, do something contrary to what we believe is correct, and so on, but I cannot fault someone for making a mistake when I have made so very many of my own.

I think was is even harder for me, is following council that I don't personally agree with. In 2000 I was experiencing some serious difficulty in my professional life that had seeped over into my private life. It was not a pretty time in my life. I honestly did not think I was going to make it through that period of my life unharmed. But, as the darkness began to recede (as it always does) and I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I made a choice that I wanted to remember this time in my life; I wanted to remember that I was stronger than the forces that seemed to conspire against me. So, I walked into Wild Bill's with every intention of getting a tattoo. Nothing big, and nothing anyone could see when I was fully (or even partitally really) clothed. But, I couldn't find a design I was willing to commit to. So, instead of a tattoo I got the upper cartilage of my left ear pierced. I picked out the perfect hoop, and had a burley looking man who was inked up and down his arms shove a needle through my ear and create something that for me was a symbol of my strength. I loved that earring. I constantly fiddled with it through my long days and sleepless nights. Just putting my fingers to the metal somehow made me feel able to endure the trials in my path. Later that year I sat next to my mother as President Gordon B. Hinkley addressed the women of the church and told us that we should only have one set of earrings in our ears. My hand flew up to my ear and at the same moment my heart became a bit hard. How DARE someone tell ME what I can or cannot do with MY body!?!?! My mother leaned over to me and whispered, "You better take that thing out." To which I responded, "Over my dead body!" There was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to remove my symbol of strength. It was mine and no one else, not even a prophet of God, could tell me what to do with it.

A few months later I sat with a dear friend at a young single adult fireside. I had defended my choice to keep my earring in to many of my church friends as well as some of my singles ward leadership. It was MY choice, and I was making it MY way. The speaker at the fireside was talking to us about faith, about faith not only in God, but in those who have been called to lead us. He mentioned the earring issue and I felt my heart grow even stonier. He then posed and answered the following question, "Will a piece of metal in your ear keep you out of the Kingdom of God? Absolutely not." I smiled. But that smile disappeared with his next question and answer. "But, will willful disobedience to a prophet of god keep you out of the Kingdom of God? You bet it will." Suddenly, it was painfully clear to me that I had been seriously disobedient about something that was trite at best. I reached my hand up to my ear and felt the metal hoop there. It didn't feel the same now, it didn't hold the same strength I thought it did. Suddenly, it seemed like a sign of my weakness rather than my strength. I took the hoop out when I got home and placed it in my memory box. I wanted to remember what it was like to choose the right, choose what deep down I knew was what I should have been doing all along.

I still have issues with some of the things we are counseled to do. It's part of being a seriously bleeding heart liberal. I don't believe in the death penalty, I support a woman's right to choose an abortion, I think gays should be able to marry, etc. etc. etc. I have my own reasons for these beliefs, my own testimony if you will, of what I believe to be right and wrong. When I sit in a meeting and those beliefs are challenged it can be extremely difficult for me to keep my heart soft and open to the Spirit. But I also know that the Lord has given us agency for a reason, that he had given us our minds and hearts to make choices with, to love others with, to be right and wrong with. I am so glad I get to make my own choices, so glad I can choose to follow the council of the Lord, so glad for leaders both locally and globally who have the best of intentions for the members of this church, even if they fall short. But most of all I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father, who knows each of us well, who guides us, challenges us, and helps us become life Him through trials and joys.

I loved your post because i think it's something i can relate to. there are many times when my seriously liberal beliefs are hit smack in the face by counsl from church leaders, as well as issues regarding things like piercings (of which i have an eyebrow along with my ears) and tattoos (of which i have two, both after the prophet urged us not to do it). I once posted a question on feministmormonhousewvies.com about the counsel of churhc leaders on the role of women and i was surprised to find that many people felt that, while it is important to follow the counsel of churhc leaders, there is always a "loophole" known as personal revalation. Sometimes things work for some people and they don't for others and if you bring it to HF and your heart is open, like you were talking about, then sometimes your personal revelation says something different. i liked your comments about agency, because that's what it's really all about.

I loved your story, Sarah. I agree that your earing would not have kept you out of "heaven", but I love what it symbolized. I have so many "metal hoops" in my life. I think a lot about what I want to give up and about what I need to give up. I feel the same as you, that it is difficult to be a "liberal" in this religion (or any religion for that matter) but I act according to my own conscience. What decisions invite the Spirit and what decisions don't. I'm totally going to use your earing story in a talk sometime. :)

I'm a card carrying member of the Disaffected Mormon Underground. I'm in the church, but not of the church. I'm glad you felt that this was an important step for you. But the story just leaves a knot in my stomach.

That a nonogenarian bureaucrat can pass off his personal preferences as prophecy is just beyond me. That people accept those personal preferences as revelation and feel the need to "obey" makes me very, very angry.

I also get a knot in my stomach when I hear anyone even mention the earing 'commandment' for many reasons. Most importantly, it seems to me that it is more of a control thing than anything that God would wish for us. I mean why is it okay to have one earing and not two. The way I see it, things like more than one earing, tatoos, long hair on men etc. are part of a culture that older people find offensive. I can understand being offended by appearance issues. I don't like it when women wear a lot of make-up or have puffy hair. If I could make the rules I would say plastic surgery disfigures the body God gave you and you shouldn't do it.
Thank goodness I don't make the rules because I really don't think God cares about what I care about. I think he cares about how we treat each other. Do we love each other? Do we strive to serve everyone we can? What does our heart look like?
I believe, and the scriptures support my belief, that President Hinkley and all of the general authorities are as human as we are. Of course they will council us to act according to the way they see the world. I don't fault them for their council, but I do fault us and anyone who uses that council to make people feel guilty or unworthy. Sarah, you are lucky that you could resolve this issue in your heart and feel comfortable at church. I think many people have a harder time especially because it is something people can look at them and pass judgement. I find this very sad.

I think the "appearance" issue (or earing commandment-I liked that one) is a hard one because it almost seems like it gives some members of the church just "one more thing" to pass judgment on. I know that all of us judge books by their cover at many/most times in our life. It's part of being human. It just worries me when that's all people see.

Good post, Sarah

Good exploration of this difficult topic.

I think this issue goes deeper than appearances or the personal preferences of an old man. It is a nuance, a very personal nuance. You either get it or you don't. The spritually mature individual will not see many earings as a mark of the beast. I don't think the prophet sees it that way either. I just think it easier to be critical of the suggestion (it wasn't a commandment) and to treat it as a literal attack on jewelry because it masks an deeper grip we have on pride. We bristle when someone "tells us what to do". When we lose ourselves, we find ourselves. I don't think that conflicts with "be yourself", but is does conflict with "i know better than a prophet of God". But if you don't really believe that he's a prophet then what do you care what he says? If you DO believe he's a prophet of God...well..you know the rest.

If it is just a suggestion that women not wear two earings, why would disobedience to that council effect your eternal destination? It may have been meant as a suggestion, but the way it is talked about, it is one of the bigger commandments which will either prove or disprove our obedience, possibly jeprodizing our eternal salvation.
The whole earing thing doesn't bother me because I feel someone is telling me what to do. I have never wanted two earings. It bothers me because it has become a very visible symbol of faithfulness. I dare say none of us heed all of the prophet's 'suggestions'. The difference is that no one knows I don't have a year supply of food and a seventy-two hour kit. No one knows that I don't read my scriptures every night or go to the temple every month. Everyone knows X wears two earings or has a tatoo. And as far as pride goes, wearing or not wearing two earings does not seem to me to be what is holding us back as a church.

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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