Seeing Signs (3 Nephi 1-7)

Monday, September 7, 2020

Channing: Hi I’m Channing

Elise: 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’re 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 a seat on the soft chairs so join us today for a conversation about 3 Nephi 1-7 for the dates September 7-13

E: Welcome back everyone! Thanks for joining us on another episode of The Faithful Feminists. Before we jump into the chapters, there are a few things that Channing I wanted to spend just a bit of time talking about. Recently we've been receiving lots of amazing DM's and emails spreading love and appreciation for the podcast, but also offering new perspectives or offering your own interpretations. We wanted to say good job! That is exactly what this podcast is all about--finding personal, meaningful ways to interpret the text.

C: Right! I love getting those because it shows me that we're not the only ones that are engaging with all of our hearts and all of our minds and all of our might. It's really cool to get those. Elise and I just want to remind you that we are not experts on the text. We don't know everything-- we're just here offering our own interpretation from a feminist lens of the scriptures, just   all of you are doing. What we offer here on the podcast isn't meant to be prescriptive. It's not meant to be authoritative. It's just meant to be an open door for you to walk through and explore more. It's a starting point, it's a conversation that is meant to open you up to new ideas and to encourage you to read the scriptures and a new and radical way. We're really grateful to see all of the ways that you are interpreting these stories and that the text is speaking to you. We just want to remind you that we love you and we're doing the exact same things. I hope you never walk away from the episode of feeling  , oh well Channing and Elise said that it should be this way, so it should be this way. We're not that powerful!

E: No, but we do hope that we can show you that the scriptures come to life when you engage with them in new ways and when you're in conversation with really important people or people in your wards and branches. This is the way that they are a living book, is by having these conversations and wrestling with them and being open to new understandings and new perspectives.

C: Going along with that, we love receiving all of the DM's about the text! We don't always have time to answer every single one of them, and so our best piece of advice is find a friend-- not that we won't get to your DM eventually, but find a friend who you can talk to about the scriptures. I know that's sometimes easier said than done, but for Elise and I especially, having someone to   bounce ideas off of and see through different perspectives has really changed our scripture study. If you can find a friend or a scripture reading partner or even your spouse who's interested in reading the text in these similar and radical ways, it can really transform your scripture reading. We just encourage you to do that if you can because it's amazing and it's a great experience and it's different than your gospel Doctrine Sunday school,   here is the one way to read the text.

E: You also bring up a great point--we try to offer a way, or just one way, to read the text, but it's not the way, the only way, or even the correct way-- it's just our way that we found important and meaningful.

C: So we love you guys! Keep sending DMs. Just be patient with us as we work through all of them and try to respond to all of them with all the love we have for each one of you. We just wanted to put that out there this week.

E: We also received a really awesome DM asking us about the state of our faith and why we choose to stay in the church when we have such divergent or even radical understandings of a faith and church and feminism. This is not the first time that we've received a question about this, so what our plan is is that we hope to make a mini kind of bonus episode answering this DM. Hopefully we'll be able to inspire our listeners or at least provide a bit more context on our own faith experiences. So look for that later this week!

C: Or if you're listening on Sunday, just look through the episode list for this week and we'll post about it on Instagram too so you can listen to that bonus episode.

E: Yes yes yes. So now let's get to it! In this set of chapters, we are in the very beginning of 3rd Nephi, the book of 3rd Nephi. In these seven chapters that we cover, there are signs and miracles that lead up to Jesus's birth. There's also this tension that grows between the believers and the unbelievers. In chapter 1 verse 7, it says the unbelievers “caused a great uproar throughout the land.” This tension is real. They're saying that the time has already passed for these prophecies that Samuel the Lamanite prophesied about to be fulfilled and they're not happening, so this all must just be a sham. 

C: They go one step further. They don't even just say, like, all these are a sham; They say We're going to kill anyone who believes this. Its tension, but on steroids. 

E: Yeah, it gets pretty serious. To even heighten that tension even more, we have another run-in with the Gadianton robbers. Almost every time I read these chapters, I say, Wait, what? I thought they were gone! I thought they had been totally wiped out! But they just keep showing up.

I think this set of scripture shows the power and the wickedness of the Gadianton robbers because they're trying to make big moves to not just wipe the people out but to take the people captive. In 3rd Nephi chapter 1 verses 10-14, this is when Nephi is praying mightily to God because the unbelievers and their enemies have threatened to kill all of those who believe in the signs that were foretold by Samuel the Lamanite. God responds and says, Don't be afraid-- these signs of Christ's birth will be fulfilled this very same night. 

One of the things Channing and I wanted to talk about is this idea of signs and proof, or fulfillment as proof. I find it interesting here, what counts as proof? Samuel the Lamanite is not the first prophet to talk about his experiences, his dreams and visions, and his prophecies that he's had. I'm sure that many people on the ground level have intimate experiences with God, and visions of God, and have come to a true testimony and believe that these things are going to happen. But those aren't the things that count as proof. These stories and this lived experience of the people is really not enough. These personal accounts aren't enough. The unbelievers are kind of sitting there, tapping their watches, saying, You said, but I don't believe just your words. I need to see it in a physical, tangible way that this is going to happen or else I won't believe it.

C: I think you're right. I think the people want something big and miraculous. They want something that shows up to them so that they have all their answers. They want something that takes away the uncertainty of having to decide if this is true or is it not true. They want something that will last for centuries so that they never have to worry about it ever again. This makes it easy for them. They don't have to think about it anymore because it's black and white. You don't have to choose when a choice is made for you.

E: To that same point, this isn't even something that God can offer. Just a few verses before, the Nephites did have these big miraculous signs and wonders appear to them, and even that wasn't enough, right? Even when the sign comes or even when the prophecy is fulfilled it's not enough to sustain them, to solidify their faith. I'm not saying that we should strive to solidify our faith-- actually I think, personally, the opposite. I think that we should have a fragile faith that is open and able to receive wonder and miracle at any point. We remember those miracles and are not so quick to forget them.

C: I feel the same as you, that our faith should be fragile. As I was listening to you talk about that, the image that came to my mind as you were talking about faith was actually a river. A river flows and it's contained within the banks and by the Earth, but it flows easily and it follows a path. It's always being refreshed, it's always moving, it's always changing, and it's not stagnant. 

E: And it's never too sure of itself. I think that's where we can fall into the trap of fundamentalism, where we think that our way is the one and only way. I think the idea of having a fragile or flexible or open faith or if peace like a river is one that is never sure of itself, one that is always looking for God and whatever ways God might show up. I think this conversation about faith and a more flexible and open faith actually lends itself pretty well to nuance. 

C: A question that has been coming to my mind as I’ve been thinking about these chapters this week is: Can it be both? Can we want to have our faith validated and also know that maybe it never will be? Can we desire proof but also sit in doubt and cleave to hope? Does it have to be just certainty or uncertainty, or can we make space for both in our faith journeys and in our worship spaces and in our communities? Can there be room for both? I think the very definition of faith says yes. If it's certainty, it's not faith because it's already been made sure and so what's the point?

E: I'm so glad you asked those questions. That nuance and that being able to hold both of these seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum... I think that is really important. I think that showcases a mature faith. I think if we swing too far on either side we can find ourselves in a really precarious place. By swinging too far on the doubtful side, I could slip into nihilism, when nothing matters, nothing is true, and  I don't believe in anything. I think when people who are experiencing faith transition express their doubts and questions, I think outside members looking in on that think, Oh my gosh, they swung way too far to the other side and they’ll never make it back! But I don't think that's the case. But also, on the other end it's almost as if we're not open to hearing anything new because we already know for a surety and nothing can shake our “sure foundation.” I appreciate you bringing the idea of hope into it because I think that's a generous reading of these people's experience here. The believers are hoping that the prophecies will be fulfilled. I'm sure that not all of them knew that they would be, but they hope that they will. I think that hope is something that spurs or carries our faith into new deeper mature levels.

C: I also find fundamentalism playing a huge part in the story of the believers vs the non-believers. I actually see fundamentalism playing a huge part in the unbelievers. I think throughout this chapter and throughout last week's chapters, all of the people who don't like what the prophets are saying have said, These are all foolish traditions of our fathers, they bring us no good. Why do we keep believing this? Eventually it gets to the point where-- this is the story that they're telling themselves, right-- they want it to be true so badly and they don't want Jesus to be true for whatever reason-- the text doesn't really say, it's just as pretty vague unrighteousness… it can be this really stubborn and unmovable belief for something to be true that we kind of put our own blinders on and we say, Nope, we're not open to anything else, not open to any persuasion, not open to any other ideas that might sway us from this one thing that we really want / need to be true.

I think that's a really dangerous place to be, both for the self-- because it makes us unteachable and unpliable-- and also to others, because once we think that we have all the answers and we know exactly how things are supposed to go, we start to alienate ourselves. We talked about this before, but no woman is an island. Every choice that we make and every decision that we make affects other people. Its not just one isolated person or one isolated group that's making these decisions; eventually it affects the entire community.

A couple of questions that I think are worth asking ourselves when we come to the story of the unbelievers and the believers are the following: What do we cling to that makes us a threat to others? This doesn't necessarily have to be religious or spiritual or political even, it's just what stories, what beliefs, what ideologies do we cling to that make us a threat to others? Going along with that: How do we as individuals and as a church Institution require others to prove their faith or belief before we consider it valid? 

E: That's a good question. I'm just thinking of all of the ways that people feel they have to perform their faith. Especially at church there's a sense that everyone needs to be on the same page, and you have to perform during testimony meeting, you have to stand-up really stalwart and say, “I know, I know, I know.” Those are just some of the small ways I see the church culture and church institution valuing the proof behind the faith. 

C: Finally, how do we weaponize our own rightness of belief? For me I feel this is the one that I see happening most often in my own congregations. It's not even the LDS church versus Christianity or LDS church versus Islam or any other belief system… its people against people.  This is where scripture bashing comes in, where weaponizing conference talks comes in, where finding quotes from prophets that validate our own opinions and beliefs come in. I think very often we’re tempted to weaponize our own rightness because we enjoy being right. 

I was just telling my husband the other day: I like to win. I am a very competitive person and I don't like to lose. So this one for me is pretty convicting because a lot of times I can come off as very passionate and very firm in my beliefs and  sometimes my words are harsh because I feel I'm right. You can probably even tell on the podcast when I feel that way! I think this is a good reminder that we don't always have all of the answers, and just because we want something to be true or just because we believe something to be true doesn't always necessarily mean it's the only way or even the most correct way to feel or think about something. 

E: What's also telling in this set of scriptures is not just the ways that people wait or expect or hope for prophecy to be proved or to be fulfilled, but also the ways that after prophecy has been fulfilled or after our proof has come, how does that stay with us or how do we forget it? In chapter 2 verses 1 and 2 it says, “and it came to pass that… the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard and they began to be less and less astonished at the sign or wonders from Heaven.” This is referring to the star that appeared in the sky when Jesus was born. 

It says, “Insomuch that they begin to be hardened in their hearts and blind in their minds and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen.” It makes me so sad. This is what you thought you wanted! This is what you thought you needed! When it happened, there's still that lingering, you're still left yearning as if that wasn't enough. I think the question here is: Will it ever be enough? Or, what are some ways we can continue to remember these astonishing and wondrous experiences? Even if in our day we don't see stars in the sky because Jesus is being born, what are the ways that we can remember the ways that God has shown up for us in miraculous ways?

C: Well the first thought that comes to my mind, just because we've been reading The Book of Mormon so much this year, is anytime that the prophets are speaking about faith, they always bring up-- we talk about this in past episodes--they always bring up the Legacy of Faith. It's always, “Remember when Moses parted the waters & freed the Israelites from Egypt? Remember when…” I don't even know…

E: Lehi, who led his family out of Jerusalem?

C: Yes! Or King Benjamin! Mormon especially-- the narrator of the Book of Mormon--Mormon especially loves King Benjamin. He's always going back, saying, “It's been 95 years since King Benjamin died.” I think that Legacy of face is valuable because it's a consistent reminder of all of the ways that God has shown up for God's people. We asked this in a past episode but I think it's valuable to ask it again: we each have our own personal Legacies of Faith as well. It can be people from our family line, it can be women in the scriptures that really speak to us, and it can be our own personal experiences with the Divine that we can add to this Legacy of Faith. It might be worth thinking about this week, just who and what experiences are in my own Legacy of Faith, and what can I do to remind myself of that?

E:  I think it's important for us to mention here too that we're not even advocating for experiences just in the LDS structure. I think there is something meaningful and enriching when we can look back on our experiences and say, Wow! I felt cared for in a Divine way during this time, and I remember that! and That helped shape who I am today! or I felt an answer to my ponderings or to my prayers. Maybe it's from God or maybe it's just from a larger creative force. Whatever it is. But I think that not just remembering LDS faith affirming experiences, but just remembering all of the times when you felt some type of godliness or some type of divinity show up for you.

C: You and I talked about this earlier this week, but the episode that we recorded about the experience you had when you went to see the Buddha in China... I just love that because the experience was super tender and important to you. I feel it perfectly demonstrates this idea that   not every spiritual experience has to happen within Church walls or within an LDS context because, like you said in that episode you were like, God is that you? You're here too? I love that and it really demonstrates this point really well. I can't speak for you, but hearing you say that, it's on my legacy of faith. Remember that one time God showed up at the Golden Buddha for Elise?

E: Totally! Stories are important and they remind us not just of the grandeur of the miracles, right? Not that everyone has to go to see the Golden Buddha, but its that everyday wonder that I don't think that we should forget.

C: I call them “everyday miracles.” That's kind of what my faith is made up of, for sure. It's just   a huge conglomeration of everyday miracles. One of the questions that I like to think about is: How can we become less dismissive of the everyday miracles? 

For me, a gratitude practice has made everyday miracles become a lot more apparent and a lot less easy to dismiss. For me, everyday miracles look like when I plant a seed in the garden and then all of the sudden there's a sprout 3 days later. I’m always like, wow! That happened really fast! Then just to watch how fast it grows, and to see the flowers on the pumpkin plants open, and then to see actual pumpkins grow from the ground! How do we not bend down and kiss the earth when this happens? It's so amazing! Or the fact that corn stalks can grow taller than me, and they just keep going and they're big and huge and gigantic! I just can’t get over it! That is an everyday miracle to me. 

And watching my kids at night when they're sleeping in their bed and they're just breathing quietly, I'm like, “this is an everyday miracle-- they're not screaming!” (laughing) Its these small, tiny moments. There have been times where I've been in a big family gathering and the kids are laughing and the adults just told a funny joke and everyone's just enjoying and the smell of hot cider on the stove and there's soft music playing in the other room... there's just this moment where I kind of, I don't know, look around and I think, this is what heaven looks like. Iff you spend any time with me at all, you’ll know there are moments where we'll be sitting at a restaurant with perfect lighting and amazing food and great company and I'll say, this is what heaven looks like or I think that this is what food in heaven will taste like. For me personally,   those have been the most solidified, spiritual experiences for me because it just drives home the importance of the everyday. It reminds me to be present and it reminds me that the heaven that I'm waiting for is already here.

I'm just so obsessed with that. It makes me not want to miss the sacredness in the everyday. The people that I'm with all of the time and the goodness of God, that's here! I don't have to wait for it. I don't have to wait for Jesus to come, I don't have to wait for a star in the sky. Jesus is already here. Seriously, that's been the most important thing for me. It's totally changed my faith, it's totally changed the way I view the world, to realize that Heaven is already here. I don't have to wait around for it. It's so cool! I'm literally holding my head trying to hold my brain in because I feel like I need to explode because it's just so awesome! 

E: So beautiful! It reminds me of a passage from Luce Irigaray. She wrote once that the “celestial lies not only above our heads, but between us.” I feel as we remember to be open to the mystery and the wonder of this everyday sacredness, in this everyday divinity, then we don't get so preoccupied waiting for miracles to come. We don't get so caught up on the idea of prophecies to be fulfilled. I wonder if the Nephites and Lamanites, and the group of believers and unbelievers, if they stopped being so preoccupied with the sign that was to come, if they had slowed down and recognized the everyday wonderous miracles in their own communities, might they have been a little more compassionate towards one another? Might they have been a little more appreciative of the ways that the divine or the creative power already shows up for them, as opposed to counting down the days to try and prove or disprove Samuel the Lamanite’s prophecy?

C: I agree with everything you said Elise. I think I said this in last week's episode and I'll say it again... Elise and I decided we need to make pins or stickers or something with all of our most said phrases on the podcast. Apparently one of mine is “I don't know how to say this any differently” (laughing) But it's true! I don't know how to say this differently or any better: God is already here, and God is already among us! All we need to do is be present and stay open to all of the miracles that God is giving us every day. The star in this story rises bright as day, but guess what? Stars and suns and moons rise for us always, even still. Can we be open enough to see God in this also, or are we waiting for a sign in the sky?

E: The final piece that we want to talk about in this episode comes from chapter 2 verses 15 and 16. This is where we see an explicit mention that the curse of dark skin is being taken away from the Lamanites. To provide a little bit more context, the Gadianton robbers have showed up here and they're super numerous and they're killing a lot of people and destroying their cities. It says, “they did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and Lamanites, should take up arms against them.”

So the Nephites and Lamanites, they're uniting in one singular, powerful force for good. They build one singular united body and defense against the Gadianton robbers. In verse 15 it says, “and their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites, and their young men and their young daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and they were called Nephites. And thus ended the thirteenth year.” Aye yai yai.

C: We’ve got to unpack that.

E: Yeah. Some of the thoughts that I'm having are: why is it just now being explicitly mentioned that the curse is being taken from the Lamanites? I guess I don't understand what is so powerful about this type of union between the Nephites and Lamanites because a few chapters ago, the Lamanites were more righteous than the Nephites, and the Nephites and Lamanites have already been living together somewhat harmoniously. I just question what is it about this time? Why was the curse removed from them now?

The other thing that makes this really challenging is that this is a racist verse. It literally connects it to the color of skin, and it says when the curse is taken from them their skin becomes white. The implication here is that, I don't know what, that the Lamanites have now reached their peak righteousness and so they get “rewarded” with whiteness?

C: You and I talked about this earlier. It's hard not to to make this verse about race because it literally makes it about the color of your skin. I guess I'm feeling frustrated with this verse because it does make it about their skin color. It also says that dark skin is bad, essentially it's unrighteous. It goes further to say that skin color can be changed according to your righteousness which we also know, at least the science we have today, skin color doesn't change. But what I'm hearing from the Black and people of color communities is that their skin color is important to them. It's part of their identity, part of their heritage, part of who they are. I find it a little offensive and a little weird that the text says their skin color was taken away from them. At least nowadays, I'm not sure that that would pass as kosher, you know what I mean? 

E: I’m also not super interested in factual proof of why this is not about skin color, because what happens with these verses is that they get weaponized toward BIPOC communities. Whether or not you can do actual proof that this isn't really talking about race doesn't necessarily matter to me when these verses have been used for so long to justify racism and to justify racism within the church.

C: I don't have the exact post from @florafamiliar, from Michelle Franzoni Thorley, who we’ve talked about on the podcast before; but she shared experiences of her own family as they've had interracial marriages [in her family line] that occasionally prophets have used these exact versus to say: look the the missionaries are marrying indigenous peoples and now their children are becoming white. I don't care for proof that these scriptures aren't/weren't written with the intent to be racist. What matters to me--same as you-- is that they have been used as racial justifications for the last... since whenever the Book of Mormon showed up. That's the impact, even if they didn't intend for it to be about race or they didn't intend for it to come off like that.

E: Well this is what the impact of these versus has been. And especially now, if there is a desire to stand with, in particular the black community, right now in the black lives matter movement, then when we come across these verses, not that we should just be wary of them, but we need to be explicit in calling them out for what they do, and then either try and offer a creative interpretation of them or just say: Nope this isn't serving us. This is going to stay in the dead past.

C: Yeah. The other thought that I have about this too is you know when the curse originally comes up, it's about unrighteousness, but then we read the whole book of Mormon and we see the Nephites going through their own cycle of righteousness and unrighteousness, and guess what? They never get a curse! So it really makes me question: is the curse really about righteousness, or is it about racism?

E: And if it was about righteousness, why wasn't the curse lifted when the Lamanites were exceeding the Nephites in righteousness? 

C: Exactly. The verses are icky and I kind of just want to…  , right now I'm kind of wanting to shake them off and be like, get away from me. But at the same time, as a white woman, this is part of my own anti-racism work, right? To say, this is part of my heritage. This is in my own text that I call sacred and I need to deal with it. I don't get to just shake it off and say oh whatever, those are in the past   they didn't really mean it the way that everyone else is saying that they meant it. It's my job to say, what if they did mean it in exactly the way that it's coming across? We really need to examine this and then be explicit and calling it out. It can be really uncomfortable, so if you're feeling that same feeling of icky and discomfort, I invite you to sit with it and be curious about it. I invite you to recognize that those feelings of ickiness are small compared to what members of color and black members and Indigenous members feel when they read these verses. Recognize that and then befriend it and say okay, now what are we going to do to fix it? It's all part of the process. 

E: I am really glad that you brought that up because as much as we can sit with it and let yourself be uncomfortable...  while we're doing that, racism has dire consequences for real people that we know today. So yes, take the time that we need to learn and whatever else, but we’ve got to get the show on the road here; people are dying.

C: Exactly.

E: In this union between the Nephites and Lamanites, I also find it interesting that what unites the people is not just a common enemy, but it's the value of justice and valuing their women and their children they want to maintain their rights and all of their privileges to worship as they want. They're fighting for their freedom and liberty together. I think it's a beautiful understanding of the ways that we can think, okay, are we more the same then we are different? And how can I see that you are both like me and unlike me and we can still come together towards a common goal to keep all of us safe?

C: I think we can even take that one step further and say: Can I possibly learn not just to accept our differences but to appreciate them and integrate them as a valuable part of our community?

E: I bet you didn't know that we had so much to say about only the first two chapters of this whole entire block of text! There are still five more chapters that we weren't even able to cover here in this episode. We encourage you to do your own work and share your ideas with friends and loved ones and new community members, or share them with us! We'd love to hear what new ideas you have for the rest of these chapters.

C: We're always so grateful to spend this time with you, and we're excited on Monday when we get to release this episode. It's just really meaningful to have that experience of sharing our interpretation with our community, and that's you! We love you, we can't wait to hear from you this week. We’ll see you soon! Bye!

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