Healing Our Family's History (Alma 36-38)

Monday, July 20, 2020

Resources mentioned in this episode:
  • This beautiful post by Michelle Franzoni Thorley on Instagram @florafamiliar
  • Introducing Liberation Theology by Boff & Boff

Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Alma 36:37
  • Alma 36:29
  • Matthew 25:35

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I'm Channing.

E: And I’m Elise.

C: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

C: We've saved you see on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Alma chapters 36 through 38, for the dates July 20th through the 26th. We're so glad you're here.

E: Welcome back everyone. In today's episode, we want to go over a little bit about where we are in the scriptures. And so in these chapters, Alma sits down with his sons Helaman and Shiblon. And next week he's going to talk with his other son named Coriantun. And Alma wants to teach them about all of the things “ pertaining unto righteousness.” In today's episode we're going to spend time talking about family history and generational healing. What does it mean to truly understand God as a liberator and deliverer? And then finally, we'll wrap up our conversation focusing on reparations and restitution. 

C: We're really excited to talk about family history and generational healing today, and we really feel that Alma is the perfect character to discuss these topics with. Primarily due to one reason -- of all of the characters we've come across in the Book of Mormon, Alma is by far the most complex. What I love about Alma is that he doesn't shy away from his own story. For readers of the Book of Mormon, we can easily see Alma in his complex humanity and realize that he is neither all good, nor all bad. In this way he differs greatly from most of the other heroes we see in the Book of Mormon. It's really easy to see him as human first and prophet second. This is a real gift for readers because it pushes back against the idea of perfection, specifically the idea of a perfect ancestor. 

E: Yeah, I agree with Channing. Alma is complex, and he doesn't shy away from sharing the joys and the sorrows of his experience and that's exactly what happens in this set of scriptures, especially when he starts by talking to Helaman. Alma actually recounts his conversion story, and he doesn't really leave out any of the dirty, ugly details. There are lines where he talks about murder and leading people astray and feeling swallowed up in the bitterness of hell. And it causes me to wonder if this is the first time that he is sharing this much detail regarding his history. And as he shares this history, Channing and I couldn't help but think of what it's like to understand and share familial stories and what that means for generations to come, because Alma has seen and experienced a lot of painful and horrible things. So what does that mean for his children and those to come after him? 

C: Elise, you bring up an excellent point because Alma's honesty about his life's experience is relevant, especially in our own ancestral lines. We don't even have to go back that far in our family tree to find stories of complexity, pain, and trauma, because that's part of the human experience. We want to spend some time talking about family history beyond what we normally think of as family history work in the church. We are often hyper-focused on temple work, but once we check off completing ordinances for the dead, I feel like we often give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done and feel that we've completed our family history. But Alma's example shows us that approach to family history is incomplete. Temple work is not all we can do for our ancestors. Alma shows us in these three chapters the importance of telling and listening to personal stories in their fullness. By passing his life experience and wisdom down to his children, Alma shows us that our family stories are in many ways our inheritance, for all their good and for all their bad. So as we talk about family history and the importance of generational healing, we want to get really specific today and explore why family history and generational healing are important and relevant, what it really means to learn and be a witness to our family stories. And after we've done this work, how can we take what we've learned with us into the present? How can we use our inheritance to create a bright and beautiful future, not just for ourselves, but for everyone?

C: We want to really explore what it means to learn and to be a witness to our family stories. There are two sides to family stories. If we work backwards from the present, it's the responsibility of the learner and the listener, which is us, to have the initiative to seek out family stories, to be patient enough to sit with the complexity of those stories, and have not just the humility to learn from the stories that are told, but also to have the wisdom to acknowledge the fact that there may be details missing and there might be circumstances untold that add to the weight of our inheritance, but that also have the potential to deepen our understanding and appreciation of our ancestors. The second side, or the second responsibility, is that of the storyteller, specifically our ancestor. What I love about Alma’s example is that he gives a full accounting of his life. He doesn't omit the bad parts or exaggerate the good. This, in my experience, is a pretty unusual approach on the part of the storyteller. Much of what I come across in the stories in my own family line is a lot of sugarcoating, a lot of white-washing, and a lot of slapping smiley face stickers everywhere in hopes that we, the modern-day listeners and learners, have an inheritance of perfection. And while this may be well-intended and likely unconsciously done, this approach actually does the listener a great disservice. By not acknowledging the complexity of their own story, our ancestors potentially gift us an inheritance that is both incomplete and dangerous. I know that dangerous may feel like an extreme way to describe it, but not knowing the full and whole truth of what we have inherited and why can place us in a social location of modern-day blindness and ignorance.

For white people, especially, we may be uninformed about exactly how our ancestors arrived to the United States, how our pioneer heritage is one of strength and resilience, but also one of the blood of indigenous peoples and the theft of their ancestral lands. We may be unconscious or only semi-conscious to the hows and whys and ways our modern-day institutions came to be. Institutions of society that the privileged assumed to have been ever present and good, but in fact, were created to harm and oppress those that our ancestors felt were a threat, even when that was not the case. White blindness and ignorance to these circumstances are dangerous because they're powered by privilege, and unchecked privilege threatens marginalized peoples even still, even today, because it seeks to uphold institutions that were created with the intent to harm, explain, and oppress. This is precisely why Alma taking full responsibility for his story is so radical. Alma accepts the responsibility for his choices and, and the and is very important here, he does everything he can to make amends for the harms that he caused in his own lifetime. A process that he calls for repentance, therefore lessening the generational responsibility for making restitution. And though we've been speaking about inheritances on a big scale with societies and institutions, this same concept applies on a personal level as well. Women in the LDS church have unique inheritances with intersecting points of privilege and oppression. With our pioneer heritage also comes the inheritance of a loss of place of our own ancestral lands, which intersects in heart-wrenching ways, but absolutely does not absolve the horrific treatment of indigenous peoples of the Shoshone and Ute tribes. With our inheritance of the gospel also comes the practice of polygamy, and the exploitation of women's bodies. I feel like this really illustrates just how messy and how important family history work really is. It's not just a nice activity that we participate in to feel good about ourselves. It's dirty. It's difficult. And it's painful work. For anyone who finds themselves on an intersection of privilege and oppression, it will be unsurprising to discover that our family history includes both the abused and the abuser. This is especially true for black indigenous people of color. This conversation would be incomplete and honestly not even possible without the influence from one of our favorite family history ladies, Michelle Franzoni Thorley, you can find it on Instagram @florafamiliar where Michelle shares her love for family history and what her generational healing process looks like as a Mexican American woman.

E: On Instagram, Michelle recently wrote a post that we think really underscores the importance of family history and reconciling with some of the past pains and traumas that have come before us. Her post says, “Did you know that the antidotes for poisonous plants are often found nearby in the same area? It's called a sting and relief relationship. Indigenous peoples have known about these plant relationships for centuries. It's part of their medical practices. I believe the sting and relief relationship also applies to family history. Much of the poison and pain that is handed to us from generational trauma can be healed by understanding our family history. When we see the big picture, we understand, not condone, some of the choices our ancestors made or even choices that were made for them. We can turn to them and say, I'm sorry you made that choice, or, I'm sorry those choices were made for you. Those choices you made caused a lot of pain to our family, but I am here now to change the story and give our family the chance to heal. You have all the power to continue the good and end the bad. Knowing the big picture of your family story is difficult, but also empowering because you understand that it's all in your power to choose how your family story will continue. Knowing and understanding the past also gives you the power to prevent bad things from repeating. We are the good ancestors now. So act accordingly.” What I love so much about this post is that I can see all of Alma’s descendants having to wrestle with the things that Alma and the people that came before him did. I can hear Helaman, and Shiblon, and Corianton, and all of Alma’s daughters saying,, “Look, some of the choices that you made have caused a lot of pain to our family, but because we know the story and because you've shared it with us in these chapters, we're going to start the healing. We're going to make better decisions than the people before us. And we're going to make sure that we care and heal our family.” So as you're moving through this week's chapters, we want you to keep in mind ways that you can try and embody this generational healing that Alma is showing us. Maybe some of the things that you can do is to simply start by researching your own familial lines. Who's there? What stories have already been shared? What does your living family know about your past history? And once you start to piece together family members, then you can start exploring deeper. What pains have been hidden? What ways can you accept them in all of their messiness? And how can you identify what pains are bubbling up for you? Not only to heal yourself, but to heal those that came before you.

C: And these are really just the beginnings of what it looks like to be doing family history work. And these are, both at the same time, exciting and very painful, but they're absolutely necessary if we ever want to heal those wounds for our ancestors and for ourselves.

E: The next thing we find really interesting about this conversation that Alma is having with Helaman is that Alma doesn't just share his conversion story and his past history, but he also says that one of the things he continually does is remember the bondage and captivity of his own ancestors. He remembers the ways that they were in bondage and God delivered them. And so throughout his recounting of his own history, we now start to see a theme of God as a liberator. And Alma really sees the connection between the God who delivered him from “all manner of afflictions,” delivered him from prison and from bonds and even delivered Alma from death, and he sees that connection between the God who freed and liberated himself as the same God who brought Lehi's family out of Jerusalem safely, and as the same God who led the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom. Then Alma says in chapter 36, verse 29, “I have always retained in remembrance their captivity; yea, and ye also ought to retain in remembrance, as I have done, their captivity.” And I find this lesson that Alma teaches Helaman an important one because 1) it paints God as a liberator without covering over the fact that lived experience of oppression and captivity and bondage is real. And the second reason I think it's important is because it reminds us that liberation is indeed grounded in history and in politics. And in our present day, this idea of God as liberator truly stems out of black liberation theology, womanist theology, and Latin American liberation theology.

C: In our own context, I think the LDS church tips a hat to God as liberator, but only in the spiritual realm as the God who liberates us from sin and spiritual death because of Jesus Christ and the atonement. But I don't think the LDS church moves out of this spiritual dimension to the physical historical realm, but here's the thing. How can it be liberation if it's not liberation all the way through? The LDS church has a long way to go, which is why we need to turn the heart of liberation that is found in black, womanist, and Latinex liberation theology to better understand the depth of what Alma is saying. 

E: It's within those traditions that we learned that liberate means to set free from restraint or bondage. In today's world, we might think of bondage as anything that restricts limits or refuses human flourishing. This includes those who are exploited by the capitalist system, those who are enslaved by racism and white supremacy, those who are erased by heterosexism, and on and on and on. And while I think that many of us in the present day are starting to see a little bit more clearly this bondage and oppression, sometimes we can get stuck in the introspection and in the silence. And we can speak in big generalities, like, “Oh, well we're all children of God.” And then just call it a day. Like that's all the work that we needed to do, but in a text called An Introduction to Liberation Theology, Boff and Boff write, “What is needed is not so much contemplation as effective action for liberation. We are on the side of the poor and the oppressed only when we struggle alongside them against the systems and acts that have been unjustly created and forced on them.” So for Alma to share the Israelite stories in these chapters, it seems like a really harrowing reminder that oppression does exist, and that God is always the one who liberates. The Exodus experience really is a contemporary story because in our present day, people experience bondage and oppression at the hands of a system and at the hands of individual people. 

C: Yeah. And if we're inspired by our faith that includes and affirms God as liberator, then we really have to show ourselves as actively committed to liberation. And I think that this can show up in a couple of ways. We can demonstrate this love in a couple of ways. It might look like showing up to a Back Lives Matter protest. It might look like redistributing our wealth. It might look like being more active in our advocacy for our LGBTQ siblings, with our family, with our friends, with our comments in church and on social media. And so this idea that we accept and honor God as liberator has to be reflected in our actions, because it's one thing to say we believe in it and it's another thing to act as though it is true. 

E: And in this really short kind of summary and recap of liberation theology, we know that it sounds like something that everyone would want to get behind. Who doesn't want freedom and liberation? So I think on the surface level, a surface level understanding of liberation theology as just an idea that God frees us and God saves us, that's an easy thing to understand and get behind. But it is so much more than that, because if we're really doing the work, it should be difficult because it means re-imagining all of the systems that are currently in place because the systems that we have right now are the things that keep us and others in bondage and captivity. If we find ourselves so quick to rally behind believing God is the liberator, God delivers us, we also have to recognize that God acts on earth in history through people. On the surface liberation theology seems really easy to understand, something that everyone would want and love, but you have to push past that because it actually calls us to do real work in history now. It calls us to dismantle systems of oppression. And if we want to get behind liberation theology, then we must also stop and ask ourselves, in what ways have I, or am I, contributing to the oppression, suffering, and violence of all groups of people? Black women, queer black women, trans women, sex workers, you name it. So there's kind of two questions that we should leave this conversation about liberation theology asking ourselves, not just in what ways have we participated in the oppression, but also what part have you played in the effective liberation of the oppressed?

E: Before we close this episode, we think that the idea and act of reparation is really the thing that bridges together generational healing and God as liberator and liberation theology. So we wanted to spend our last section of the episode giving you some concrete ideas of what this might look like for us as white women and people in the church.

C: And just to kind of give a heads up in the episode, Elise and I both were kind of like, “Uh, do we talk about reparations? I don't even know what those would look like, and I'm not super confident in talking about it.” And so what we're offering you today is not necessarily a prescription for what we think we should be doing, but more of like a creative imagination of what it might look like for us to make amends for things that our ancestors have done, or for the ways that we have participated in the oppression of others. And so we really want you to know that we're not experts in this, but it's also our responsibility, even if we're not experts, to lend our imaginations and lend our hopes for the future to this conversation. Because if we wait around for the experts to tell us what we should do, nothing's going to change, obviously. And so we can offer creative imaginations, but what is most important I think too that we can't leave out of this conversation is that we have to learn to de-center ourselves and our ideas as white women from saying, this is the answer, or this is what we think is right, because we're operating from a place of privilege. And sometimes our privilege can blind us to what is actually going to be an effective solution. And so I think when we start talking about reparations, we have to realize that in order to be effective, we have to start not only listening to marginalized voices, but centering marginalized voices, allowing these marginalized voices of black people, of indigenous people, and people of color, to start taking the lead and allowing them to take the lead in re-imagining what our new communities and what our new societies and governments need to look like. And so some of the things that we can think of just off the top of our heads about what reparations would look like based on what we're hearing from the marginalized communities are defunding the police, which is something that the Black Lives Matter movement is really pushing for. Another exciting thing that happened in the last two weeks was the United States Supreme Court Justice ruled that a large portion of the state of Oklahoma needed to go back to the indigenous tribes of that area to honor the original treaty that the United States of America made with those indigenous tribes. And that was really exciting and a huge victory for all of those people who've been pushing for that. Something else that the indigenous community is pushing for is justice and protection for murdered and missing indigenous women. Indigenous women go missing or murdered at higher rates than any other community. And they never really ever see justice. And just continuing on this steam roll of just all kinds of reparations that need to be made, we're also hearing calls for prison abolition, for changing the school to prison pipeline, and all of these things are actually reminding me of King Benjamin for president. Remember how in those chapters, King Benjamin was like, we have no prisons, isn't this amazing? And both you and I at the time were like, can we even imagine what that would look like? Well, as white women, no, we couldn't imagine what that would look like, but the people in the black indigenous and people of color communities can, and I'm excited actually to see what that community would actually look like, because it's there in our sacred text. Something that we uphold to honor and be true and be good. And so why wouldn't we want that? 

E: And within the LDS church, I think reparations can first and foremost start with apologies and admission of the racist history that the church has and all of the ways that they have continued to exclude black indigenous people of color and the LGBTQ community, the ways that we say, “No, we love all of you,” but there's really no structural action or set up in the church that shows and proves that we do love you all. 

C: Something else that I think would be an important part of reparations for the LDS church is to recognize the ways that the LDS church and community have forced indigenous peoples to basically abandon their heritage. This idea first came to mind for me when I was listening to Gina Colvin on A Thoughtful Faith podcast, talking about her experience a Maori woman and having her language and culture and heritage either taken away or completely whitewashed from her worship experience. And also, even in my own family, my maternal grandparents often hosted children of indigenous tribes under then what was called in the seventies, the Indian student placement program. And basically, these children came to stay with white Mormon families for a school year and so they could have that experience. And so I think an initiative within the church to reestablish, or even, and like I said, I don't even know what this would look like, but an initiative within the church to give permission for people to reconnect with their heritage, to open up more resources for black indigenous people of color to actually do their family history without having to do the extra legwork, having initiatives to restore endangered native languages. There are all kinds of things that we could do to make reparations for the people that we have taken land from, that we have taken heritage and culture from. I really would love to see that be a part of the church's reparation process, especially for indigenous people. And I think tithing should also be included in the conversation about reparations. Members pay a lot, a lot, a lot of money in tithing. And even though we know that the church has programs in place that are meant to redistribute that wealth, I would like to see tithing being redistributed even more. I would like to see less temples and less meetinghouses and more feeding the poor and the hungry, both locally and globally, because there is so much need. Wherever you are, there's a need. And I feel like as a church institution, if we have the means, we should be giving it right here right now, because this is the moment that matters.

E: As we reconcile our ancestral past and reconcile the ways that we participate in oppression and captivity today, reparations and restitution can be terrifying for those who hold privilege because often the evening out of the scales can feel like a loss for those who hold the majority of the power and the privilege, but they should hurt. This is the way that we build a more equitable society. This is the way that we honor what we believe in Matthew 25:35, that says “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.” This is the way that we invite everyone to participate in deliverance and salvation, in a way that shapes a world where people can flourish and have not just their basic needs met, but have all of the resources and support and safety that they need to be the people that they want to be.

E: We're so glad that we were able to spend some time digging deep into these chapters because who would have known that Alma’s one-on-one with his sons would unfold such a vibrant conversation grounded in social justice. So thank you all so much for joining and listening in with us today. We look forward to carrying this conversation over on Instagram and of course, as you have questions or ideas, please feel free to comment them or DM us or send us an email. 

C: We give this episode to you with all of our love. We'll see you next week. Bye!

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