The Temple (Monday) 2021 - Women With Him: A Feminist Celebration of Easter

Monday, March 29, 2021

For Sale

The temple is not
a place where money should be made.
It is a dwelling - 
a holy place.
Don't they know
gold can't buy a house in heaven?
God is already here!
Look around you.

God is wrapped in fishnet tights and red lights
and hustled on sidewalks. Street doves.

God sews five dollar t-shirts.
God is an eight cow wife.
God cleans the homes of the rich
on undocumented hands and knees.

The backs
The breasts
The legs
The arms
The wombs
of temples are not
for sale.

Monday Sermon

Over the last few years, I've noticed in my friends, family, and wider community that there is a collective discomfort around intense emotion, particularly anger. We tend to view outbursts of emotions quite negatively. Even our language reflects this. Anger is explosive, violent, stabbing. When we are angry, we've "lost our cool" and become "irrational." Culturally, emotions are understood on a spectrum of good and bad. If happiness is good, sadness is bad. If submission is good, resistance is bad. If peacefulness is good, anger and confrontation are bad.

In truth, emotions are much more acceptable than our language allows for. I'm tempted to name them as a condition of mortality, but theologically, that theory does not hold up. The scriptures narrate countless examples of an emotional God. Enoch's God weeps. Hagar's God is compassionate. Tamar's God is encouraging. Job's God is annoyed. In the Book of Mormon, Jacob's God is angry. In their book The God Who Weeps, the Givens point out that "There is the sense in the Old Testament that Creation itself is an overflowing of God's own joyfulness." With these examples it quickly becomes apparent that we are surrounded by the emotions of the Divine. In chapter 5 verse 40, Alma teaches that "whatsoever is good cometh from God." It follows that if God is goodness, then whatever cometh from God - including God's rainbow of emotion - can be considered good also.

Because of our discomfort with anger, it can be difficult to understand the story of Christ cleansing the temple, let alone make a place for it in our heart. The familiarity of the image of a surrendered, meek, calm Christ is challenged in this story of the temple. I don't know about you, but for a long time I kind of wrote this story off and allowed myself to forget about it. But there are two experiences that have changed my understanding of this story.

I re-entered therapy last year because I was full-to-the-brim of anger. Truly, my cup did runneth over with bitterness, hatred, annoyance, and searing anger. I was confused as to why I kept feeling this way because typically I'm a pretty loving and kind person. I have since learned that the emotion of anger acts as an indication that a boundary has been crossed. It was true in my case. This lense of understanding offers clarity and curiosity to the story of Christ cleansing the temple and also begs the question - if Christ was angry, what boundary was crossed?

Tradition interprets the crossed boundary as money exchange occurring in the temple. Because of my upbringing in the church, the word "temple" has always held more than one meaning for me. Over 162 LDS temples currently operate worldwide, with more being built and announced at every General Conference. That being given, this number strikes me as both small and inaccurate. In truth, the church has stewardship over something close to 16.3 million temples worldwide - or members of the church, however you prefer to say it. This would be a more accurate count when aligned with our deeply held belief that bodies are temples, too.

When I think of Christ becoming angry about the way the temple is being treated in this story, I can't help but interchange the word "temple" with "body." I think the imagery this interplay offers is striking. If Jesus was angry about the temple being the site of barter and sale, how much more angry was he about the treatment of the body as such?

For centuries, the bodies of the patriarchally marginalized have been bought, sold, traded, used, and ultimately depended upon to provide labor, service, and pleasure for the privileged. This certainly would have been the case in Christ's time. I think of the woman caught in the adultery. The suspect circumstances of the discovery of her indiscretion is a conversation for another day, but it doesn't take a scholar to unearth the fact that this woman - and her female body - was used by not only the man she was "fornicating" with, but also by the men who used her as a means to an end. Her body was their point of sale.

Worldwide, the bodies of women bear the staggering majority of the physical, emotional, and mental workload of society, and any point of further marginalization only increases the weight. In my poem, I wanted to highlight specific situations that showcase the disproportionate burden women bear - including women in sex trafficking. Women in undeveloped countries employed by fast fashion companies to provide underpaid work in dangerous and inhumane conditions. The undocumented immigrant who provides labor those more privileged deem to be too unclean or overwhelming to do for themselves. We tend to think that slavery was abolished in the United States during the Civil War; but that is not wholly true. Slavery lives in every marginalized person who works from sun rise to sun down day in and day out and still lives on crumbs.

If women's bodies are the mines patriarchy has stripped, dismembered, and then put to work, then Christ is our canary. In the cleansing of the temple, he provided a warning for those who seek to benefit from the bodies of others. In John 2:16 Christ says, "make not my Mother's and Father's house a house of merchandise."

A few years ago I participated in a women's discussion about the Israelite's exodus from Egypt, led by our very own Elise. My biggest takeaway from this discussion is summed up in an Instagram post I paired with a poem written in honor of her. It reads:

"What Elise Taught Me

is sin
when it serves

Friends, it benefits us nothing to look ONLY on the good in our world, our religion, theology, communities, or homes, past present and future, if people in those spheres are hurting.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is about love and liberation. The scriptures are alive with imagery of freedom and healing. I hope we remember that the ministry of Christ was one of action, service, and sanctification."

I believe that the treasure we find among the turning over of temple tables, among the yelling and scourging, is the radical love of a God who not only honors the body of each of God's creations, but lives within them too. Hidden among the coins, the pieces of silver, among the silks and linens laced with gold, is the ultimate proverbial pearl of truth without price: "She is more precious than rubies." (Prov. 3:15) Christ's anger in the cleansing and sanctification of the temple is not that of blind rage, but of a deeply loving and empathetic God who sees the boundaries of the sacred body crossed time and time again and will not - indeed, cannot - stand to see injustice go unspoken any longer. We can view this public display of anger from an otherwise peaceful and merciful Lord as either an erratic and one-off outburst, or as the spark meant to inflame Zion to awaken to the God who embodies a "preferential option for the poor." To open our eyes to see and our ears to hear. To be filled with the love to minister to the naked, the hungry, the weary, the downtrodden, and the oppressed until there are truly "no poor among us."
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