Hostility, Hospitality, & Impossibility (Doctrine & Covenants 124)

Monday, October 25, 2021


All the credit for the creation of this transcript goes to the super star: Heather B.!

Channing: Hi! I’m Channing.

Elise: And I’m Elise.

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise: [00:00:12] 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. 

Channing: We saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 124 for the dates October 25th through the 31st. We're so glad you're here!

Elise: [00:00:51] Yes. And we're so glad you're here for the spookiest Halloween.

Channing: [00:01:00] Happy Halloween! That was amazing. I'm going to keep it. It's there now. It's not going anywhere. You know, on a side note, I have always wanted to, like, for Halloween decorations, I have this really big window that faces the street in the front of my house. And for Halloween, my greatest heart's desire is just to write on this big window, say, “there's nothing scarier than patriarchy.”

Elise: [00:01:25] Yes. Sometimes if it, if it aligns perfectly in my gender class, I teach an essay about patriarchy and sometimes it falls at the end of October and I do this whole, like, kind of like schticky thing about like, “Ooh, what's spooky” or same thing, like, “what’s spookier than patriarchy?” And everyone's like, oh, wow. So funny. They don’t love it.

Channing: [00:01:46] Wow. It is the spookiest night of the year. And for all of our listeners this week for Halloween, we get to... read the Doctrine and Covenants. So your feelings on whether that's scary or not, we're with you, 100% of the way. So as we've moved toward the text, we wanted to give a little bit of background on what we'll be focusing on this week. So the Saints had to leave Missouri, just like we talked about in our last episode, because of persecutions and the extermination order that was issued in Missouri.

[00:02:18] And so they moved to the city of Nauvoo, Illinois. So thus begins the Nauvoo era of the Saints. And even if there aren't very many sections included in the Doctrine and Covenants from this era, many historians and scholars find the Nauvoo period to be a place of new beginnings, foundational gospel doctrine, and practice of modern day Mormonism.

[00:02:43] And ultimately it's a place where things would never be the same after the prophet Joseph Smith’s death. 

Elise: [00:02:50] That's right. And so we're just focusing on this one section this week, section 124, it is ginormous. It's like, I don't know, 170 versus. So lots of things to choose from, but it's also, for me, it was kind of a struggle to get through, not just because it was so long, but because it was specific to the Saints, obviously, and different individual Saints that show up throughout the section. So the themes or topics that we pulled this week: we're going to start by talking about this sense of urgency that we find in the chapter. Then we'll spend a little bit of time talking about hostility and hospitality.

[00:03:24] Then we see God of Impossibility show up. And finally we'll think about what it would be like to be called, to build a temple when you just move to a brand new city. 

Channing: [00:03:34] So when we opened up to look at the manual and read the section for this week, I thought that the Come Follow Me manual offered some really good, maybe, like, a good backdrop for where we're at, but also, some interesting perspective on the chapters.

[00:03:49] The manual opens with a paragraph that reads, “As difficult as the last six years had been for the Saints, things started to look up in the spring of 1839. The refugee Saints had found compassion among the citizens of Quincy, Illinois. Guards had allowed the prophet Joseph Smith and other church leaders to escape captivity in Missouri.

[00:04:09] And the church had just purchased land in Illinois where the Saints could gather again. Yes, it was swampy mosquito infested land, but compared to the challenges the Saints had already faced, this probably seemed manageable.” So they drained the swamp and part of me, like, outside of reading this, I'm like, “how do you do that?”

[00:04:32] I have no clue, but they did it. They drained the swamp and drafted a charter for a new city, which they named Nauvoo. This means “beautiful” in Hebrew though. It was more an expression of faith than an accurate description, at least at first. And part of me here is also like,” yeah. Remember when they got to Missouri and it was literally just this blank thing of land, and they're like, “this is Zion! This is where it's going to be!” And everyone's like, “this is just a bunch of trees.” But that seems to be the case here too. And then the Come Follow Me manual writes, “Meanwhile, the Lord was impressing his prophet with a sense of urgency. He had more truths and ordinances to restore and he needed a holy temple where the Saints could receive them.

[00:05:17] In many ways, these same feelings of faith and urgency are important in the Lord's work today.” And so I think the sentiment of urgency is super relevant to this week's section. We have verses scattered throughout these 170 verses in this section, even in the first and second verse, we hear the Lord saying, “I am well pleased with your offering. Your prayers are acceptable before me and in answer to them I say unto you, that you are now called immediately to make a solemn proclamation of my gospel.” In verse 10, the Lord says, “For the day of my visitation cometh speedily,” and then in verses 31 and 32, the Lord says, “I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me. And during this time, your baptism shall be acceptable unto me, but at the end of this appointment your baptism shall not be acceptable unto me.” So from these verses, we really get the sense that God is kind of like, “Alright. I got business to do, and I need y'all to hurry up and get it done.” And contrary to how I thought I would feel about this, I actually really appreciate the sense of urgency, especially when I'm looking at that last line of the manual, where it says, “in many ways, these same feelings of faith and urgency are important in the Lord's work.” And I'm like, “yeah, it is!” Especially when we consider these timeless commandments that we have from God to love thy neighbor and the covenants that we made at baptism to mourn, comfort, and serve those who need it.

[00:06:58] And so for me, reading this part in the manual, I was like, “yeah, urgency is still needed.” There are so many systems of oppression that need dismantling urgently. So many people whose suffering deserves to be ended urgently, and ultimately an earth that will, to use the scriptural words, swallow us whole, unless we act urgently.

[00:07:21] But what I also appreciate about this section, kind of different from some of the other language that we've seen in previous sections about the apocalypse, or that kind of have this apocalyptic tone where God is like, “all right, I'm coming to the earth, like, tomorrow. I'm not going to tell you the time, but I'll be there. And I’m just going to, like, send earthquakes and fire and flame and kill everyone.” That doesn't seem to be the sense in this section. Instead, it seems this sense of urgency really seems to come from a place of faith. It's this idea that there's a lot of action required. It's this belief that we can do the impossible thing because we must and because the Saints are aided by their higher power who deeply desires that Zion, peace, healing, all of these things to be brought forth urgently, immediately, tomorrow, today. And so I appreciate this because it acknowledges that our hands and our work is needed. It's not this attitude of like, “oh, Jesus, take the wheel, like, this swamp was too bad. Like, Jesus, you need to fix it. We need to get out of here.” It's more of that “Put your shoulder to the wheel,” like, very traditional hymn kind of idea of, like, “get to work. Get your hands dirty. Let's put some sweat equity into Zion.” And I really, really liked this. And I'm excited about the section, even though it's super long, and even though sometimes I get annoyed at, like, all the very specific naming in it, I like it because it reminds me that the antidote to feeling like nothing can be done is to begin somewhere, even if it's in a mosquito-filled swamp. And if we use more modern day examples, even if it's your ultra-conservative word, even if it's your homophobic family or your racist coworker. And for the early Saints, the work was not optional. You either drained the swamp or you lived in it. And for us today, the idea that it's optional is an illusion based on privilege. Urgency is only non-essential when someone feels none of the effects of oppression. And so I appreciate this chapter for reminding me that urgency is still absolutely necessary in the Lord's work.

Elise: [00:09:49] I love that so much, so much, especially because this wasn't one of the themes I had originally noticed the first few times through the section. And so, like we always say on the podcast, you need people around you to help you see things that you weren't able to see before. So I'm so, so grateful for that point that you brought up.

[00:10:09] Some of the things that I had found in this section also were prompted by the Come Follow Me manual. And it's this theme of hostility or hospitality. And in the Come Follow Me manual, it says, “as difficult as the last six years had been for the Saints, things started to look up in the spring of 1839. The refugee Saints had found compassion among citizens of Quincy, Illinois. Guards had allowed the prophet Joseph Smith and other church leaders to escape captivity in Missouri. And the church had just purchased land in Illinois, where the Saints could gather again.” And so one of the things that I'm thinking about is I wonder what these people, these people that found compassion on the refugee Saints, what did they see in the Saints that allowed them to meet the Saints with hospitality and compassion?

[00:10:57] And then almost on the flip side, after the Saints had received this compassion and hospitality from people along the way, they're also called to extend a very similar type of hospitality to strangers among them in Nauvoo. In verses 22 to 24 and also in verses 60 and 61, God commands the Saints to “build a house unto my name. And it shall be for a house of boarding, a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein. Therefore, let it be a good house worthy of all acceptation that the weary traveler may find health and safety while he shall contemplate the word of the Lord.” Verse 60 says, “let the name of the house be called Nauvoo house and let it be a delightful habitation for man and a resting place for the weary traveller.”

[00:11:45] And I find it striking here that there's a lot of emphasis being placed on welcoming others, but also being welcomed by others or by strangers. And in each of these situations, both groups of people encounter strangers. Other people encountered the Saints and they probably thought the Saints were super strange. But also God is calling the Saints to welcome and accept people that they might consider to be strangers. And one of my favorite philosophers and theologians, Richard Kearney reminds us that we meet strangers at thresholds or these, these kinds of moments where we are compelled to make a wager or take a risk between hospitality and hostility. Will this threshold lead us to greet one another with a kiss or with a violent grapple in the doorway?

[00:12:30] Do we see this stranger as enemy or guest? Friend or foe? Kearney will also continue to say that there is something divine in welcoming those who appear strange or foreign to us. There is godliness in these threshold moments where we choose to move toward and not away from the stranger and let them show up as their full selves, even if it's not who we expect them to be. So perhaps for the Saints, I'm wondering if on some level they feel compelled to welcome strangers for a few reasons. Maybe two of which, maybe first they know what it's like to be run out, displaced, violated, and to be treated like an enemy. And so, because they know what it's like, I think that maybe they're moved with compassion to make sure that that doesn't happen to anyone else. This reminds me of some Bible verses, like for example, in Exodus chapter 23 verse nine that says, “thou shalt not oppress a stranger for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing as you were a stranger in the land of Egypt.” Like, “Hello! You know what it's like! So you should have this kind of built-in compassion and built-in empathy.” And also later in Leviticus, chapter 19 verse 34, “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you. And thou shalt love him as thyself for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And this verse, to me, says, “not only do you know what it's like to be considered stranger or enemy, but when you meet people that you think are strange or foreign to you, you should welcome them as a part of the community as if they were born from your family.”

[00:14:03] And maybe secondly, perhaps they remember the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 25: 35. “I was a stranger and you took me in.” And maybe they've come to learn that each time we choose to welcome those who we see as strange or foreign or other to us with hospitality over hostility, we are truly loving God as we actively love those around us.

[00:14:24] And this is one of my favorite elements of Christianity, because it helps me twist free from having to know exactly who and what and how God is, because I can learn to love my neighbor and know that that is loving God. I appreciate being able to have a bit of space to think about hostility and hospitality, especially because I think in today's age, we think that we know the stranger better than they know themselves. We think that we know who arrives at our door, asking for water or asking for food or clothing. We think that we already know them and we think that we have them all figured out. And so it almost feels like an impossible kind of, like, a big, something that's big impossibility, but so impossible because it's out of reach, it almost feels impossible for us to suspend those expectations or those kind of pre-told stories that we have about people that we consider strangers.

[00:15:18] It might feel impossible to suspend those stories and meet them with love and compassion. But I know that you have a whole lot of thoughts about this impossibility of God. Right? And how God makes what seems impossible actually very possible. 

Channing: [00:15:32] Yeah, I do. But before I move into that, I did want to add just a little bit more to the concept of, like, embracing someone exactly as they are, even though they're foreign to us.

[00:15:44] I've been seeing a lot being shared on my Instagram, not on my personal Instagram stories, but on Instagram stories in general about, preconceived notions about our non-binary and transgender siblings and how oftentimes there's this pre-assumption, from someone who meets non-binary people or transgender people and kind of just already makes an assumption about them as if they know this stranger better than the stranger knows themself.

[00:16:17] And I think that that's also a really potent avenue for exploration, as well as kind of this recognition that God calls us to welcome the stranger exactly as they are, instead of asking them to fit our own preconceived notions about who they are or what their pronouns are or what gender they are or any of these things.

[00:16:39] Right? And so this conversation is really, really reminding me of that. And even in our own conversations that we've had, like, this openness to the impossibility or this openness to something that feels impossible. It's impossible until it isn't. And so, yeah, when I brought this up to Elise that we were going to be talking about impossibility I can imagine she probably had a little bit of a laugh because this is an idea that she and I have been kind of throwing around a lot. I typically say impossible a lot as if everything is always impossible. 

Elise: Everything is impossible! *laughs*

Channing: Yeah. 

Elise: [00:17:16] Which is why I think it's so amazing that this is one of the things that stood out to you this week, because you're right. I think that oftentimes you'll talk about how things are so impossible that there's no way that it could ever come to pass.

Channing: Yep. 

Elise: [00:17:29] And then here you are showing up in all of these beautiful complexities saying, “well, you know what, maybe there's space for the impossible to be possible.” 

Channing: [00:17:39] Yeah. It really surprised me too. So, yeah, as I've been thinking about it and just as I was reading this week, I was like, “okay, this really is coming up for me” because given the circumstances that these early Saints find themselves in, when they get to Nauvoo, then here's God on the other side saying, “Alright, build this house, build this temple, like, do all these things.” And part of me is like, “Jeez, God. Chill!” Like if I was there, I would be like, “I literally just got here. Like, I don't even have a place to put my  luggage or whatever.” 

Elise: [00:18:14] I'm still figuring out what it means to drain the swamp.

Channing: [00:18:20] Yeah, like, seriously! And so there was a part of me reading this week that I was like, “can you like, not?” But then there's also this other part of me too, that feels, I don't know, maybe a little bit more patient and a little bit, I don't know, maybe out of grasp for even myself, but this part of me is asking, “wait a second. Haven't I faced impossibility too?”

[00:18:45] And it actually got real personal for me this week because I was like, “yeah, there have been times in my life where I felt like I've been asked to do the impossible” and it's happened really, really recently. And if you've been around the podcast for a while, you'll remember that last year at the end of the year, Elise kind of took over for the last couple of episodes for the podcast and I was so, so grateful because, during this time my partner and I separated for a little while, and I was single-momming it for a couple of months. And it was a really tough time for me and for my family. I was working part-time. I was still taking care of my kids and the house, and I was grieving a broken relationship. And these tiny few sentences can't really illuminate just how difficult this experience was for me. But impossible was exactly what I felt like. There were moments during this time that I felt so lonely, so heartbroken that the depth of these feelings would sometimes steal the breath from my lungs mid-sentence. And then there were times where I felt like the waves of heartbreak came so quickly one after another, that I was like, yeah, “Oh, God. Chill! I can't take any more. I can only handle so much!” But then right on the cusp of that, I remember that there were things that got me through that time safely and stronger than I was before.

[00:20:13] And the first thing was something that I can only call faith because during that time, I really didn't know how things were going to turn out. All I could do was trust that whatever happened, I was going to be okay. And I had to trust that underneath all of the human choices and all of the mistakes in this situation was this loving force that was holding me and holding all of us.

[00:20:36] And then the second thing that saw me through these, like, really difficult times was- it seems so basic to me, but like, you know, how they always talk about in church, like “those tender mercies.” And I'm like, “that's what it was.” Like, I have no other language for it, except for tender mercy. And I feel like, “oh, so, so basic of me to be, like, tender mercies” but it's also undeniable because there were so many. This separation happened around Christmas time so there's a lot of potent examples. I had Thanksgiving dinner that year only because friends invited me to theirs. On my tiny part-time salary, I couldn't get some of the essentials I needed for my kids, so friends who I had never met outside of Instagram came to drop off pajamas and pants for my son and the school sent home new shoes and a coat for my daughter. Elise ordered pizza from a thousand miles away and had it delivered for dinner.

[00:21:37] There were anonymous gifts on my doorstep, homemade soup, sodas and treats, gift cards and spontaneous Venmos for Christmas presents for my kids, and I even had a friend take me to dinner on my 10 year anniversary. And so when I think about these times and I think about impossibility, I can't deny it because it was all of these things that cared for me when I needed it the most.

[00:22:02] And sometimes I might be tempted to say that, “oh, it was just the goodness of people's hearts and not some divine force from the heavens that provided all of these amazing, beautiful things.” But I also have this really strong sense that it's that same divine goodness within people that often encourages us to move from within our own lives and our own spheres and into someone else's life for even just a moment.

[00:22:30] And I'm so grateful for all of the people who did that for me and for my family. And so while it feels really traditional, kind of this awkward space for me, very traditionally Mormon to credit these tender mercies for sustaining me, it would be disingenuous of me not to, because they really, really did.

[00:22:49] And this reminds me of that verse from Matthew chapter 19, it's verse 26. It says, “With men, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” And so in context of this week's readings, I think of this theme of impossibility, that it's potent, because even when I personally think that the text, especially in Doctrine and Covenants sometimes presents a God that is maybe unfeeling and often unreasonable, there is also that part of me that is enchanted by the promise that God is going to make all things possible through whatever means necessary. And I think for the early Saints, this may have been a hopeful mindset to hear alongside these commandments to build, build, build, to then hear the promise of their heart's desire after so much displacement and suffering to read in verse 45, “if my people will hearken unto my voice, they shall not be moved out of their place.” And again, in the verse just before it, “if you labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made whole.” And so there's this aspect of God that's intriguing to me here. A God that says, “Give me the best you have, and I'm going to make it happen for you. If you attempt the impossible, I will make it possible.” And there are times in my life, like, super, very recently that I've needed that encouragement and I've really clung to it, and it's been really sacred and important to me. And so I was surprised by that coming up for me this week, but it also reminds me like, “oh, Doctrine and Covenants, even as much as you frustrate me, you're still always more than I expect you to be.” 

Elise: [00:24:36] That's so good. I love when we can say that and use that line. It reminds me of a passage from [John D. Caputo] who writes, “The name of God is the name of the chance for something absolutely new for a new birth for the expectation or the hope, the hope against hope.”

[00:24:53] Yeah. This kind of hope in the face of impossibility, that's where God also shows up and says, “No, no, we can do this because we can do it together.” And just like you talked about- thinking about how I would have felt... first of all, I think maybe I've already said on the podcast... I know for sure. I could have never been a pioneer.

[00:25:13] No, I can't walk that far without getting in a really bad mood or having a really bad attitude. So, like, I would have been left behind for sure, for sure. But I'm trying to think about how I would feel in, in their shoes, in this time when the Saints were called to not just build up a city, not just to build up this Nauvoo House to be a boarding place for strangers and visitors, but to also build another new temple, even after they had just abandoned the previous temple that they had built.

[00:25:47] And so I'm thinking for myself, “how would I feel if I received this calling to build up this temple?” Honestly, I think I'd feel so exhausted. Yeah. But on another hand, I mean, this would be, this was the community who had suffered with me. This is the community that moved with me that left behind the old temple with me.

[00:26:08] So my community understood my pain and my suffering. And so maybe I was trying to lean into that aspect of community and try and commune with them at the temple. Or maybe I had some really powerful experiences in the temple previously, and that was something that had been able to sustain me through all of my sorrows and my tribulations.

[00:26:28] And if that was the case, then I could absolutely understand the desire and the, kind of, fervor to build this new temple. But maybe also for the Saints, I wonder if the call to build a new temple might have been seen or interpreted as a physical sign of permanence and stability, the hope and promise of a new beginning as if finally, maybe this is the place that we get to call home.

Channing: [00:26:50] Yeah, we do. Like, they really do get that promise in verse 45 says, “if they hearken into my voice, they shall not be moved out of their place.” It gets literally promised. 

Elise: [00:27:02] Right. And I think that that's kind of where the struggle is coming in for me. Like, the promise is there. I know what what happens in the future. And so just trying to grapple with that. My foresight that I have, that the Saints didn't have and just trying to be really present with the Saints. And if they received this word from God, that this is the place where they would stay and be permanent and secure, then why wouldn't they give their all to the God who had promised them that this would be the place for them?

[00:27:30] So I don't know. I'm just kind of in that space of like, “oh no, I know what happens in Nauvoo.” I think in this way, the Nauvoo period or the Nauvoo era or the story can kind of read like a tragedy because we do know what happens, but if we try and stay really present with the Saints in this moment, I think that we can kind of track and see their excitement, or at least some of the energy that they had around trying to build the city, build the Nauvoo house and build the temple.

[00:27:59] And two of the women that we know of are named Margaret Cook and Sarah Kimball. And I just want to read a little bit of their experience because they have a deep desire to support the efforts in building the temple. And this comes from an article on the Church news website, “Relief Society got its start when 2 pioneer women pitched in to help with the Nauvoo temple. Here’s how they made a difference.” It's a long title that really just reads like a kitschy little pitch...

Channing: [00:28:26] Like a magazine article. 

Elise: [00:28:28] And in this episode, we're not going to focus our conversation on the development or the formation of the Relief Society; We're going to do that in a future episode, but I just want to spend time thinking about Margaret and Sarah and how they wanted to support the efforts to build a temple. So there were, during this time, there were four wards that were organized in each city and each ward was basically expected to assist in building the temple by sending laborers to go work on the temple every 10th day.

[00:28:54] And this article says, “Margaret Cook, an unmarried woman who supported herself as a seamstress in Nauvoo, watched as work on the temple progressed. She had been working for Sarah Kimball, one of the earliest converts to the church, who had married a successful merchant who was not a Latter-day Saint.

As Margaret worked, she and Sarah sometimes talked about efforts to build the temple. … Eager to contribute to the temple herself, Margaret noticed that many workers lacked adequate shoes, trousers, and shirts. She suggested to Sarah that they work together to provide new shirts for the workers. Sarah said she could supply the materials for the shirts if Margaret did the sewing. They could also enlist the help of other women in Nauvoo and organize a society to direct the work.

A short time later, Sarah invited about a dozen women to her home to discuss the new society. They asked Eliza Snow, who was known for her writing talents, to draft a constitution. Eliza went to work immediately on the document and showed it to the prophet when she finished.”

[00:29:55] And so, thus the Relief Society is formed from here on out, and we’ll talk about that in another episode and I really loved this story, of both of these women kind of watching these efforts and labour in the temple and they wanted to contribute in some way that they knew how, some way that allowed them to use their talents and to give what they had to the building up of this temple, which is exactly what the Saints were called to do in verses 26 and 27. It says, “Come ye with all your gold and your silver and your precious stones and with all your antiquities and with all who have knowledge of antiquities that will come, may come and bring the box tree and the fir tree and the pine tree together with all the previous trees of the earth and with iron and copper and with brass and with zinc and with all your precious things of the earth and build a house unto my name for the Most High to dwell there in.”

[00:30:52] And so this makes me think that maybe Margaret heard this call, saw the work that was going on in the temple and thought, “you know what? Maybe I don't have any gold or copper or zinc. And I can't really show up with my box tree or my pine tree, but I know what I can do. And I know that I can use my talents as a seamstress to support and supply the laborers who are working on the temple.”

Channing: [00:31:16] And I love that you were able to find this story of these women, especially because there are so many dudes in this section, like, so many! In fact, I was reading it and I was commenting to my partner. I was like, okay, half the time. I feel like the Doctrine and Covenants could be half as long as it actually is if we just got rid of all of the mission calls inside of it. And I felt like 124 was a really good example of that. So it's really refreshing to see these women participating in the work that they felt called to, especially when we don't get that context directly from the text.

Elise: [00:32:01] Yes. Friends. Wow. Thanks so much for joining us on this episode. I hope that the content kept your attention, especially as you're trying to work through this incredibly long 170 verse section, which is section 124. Thanks for joining us for another conversation. We love you so, so much, and we can't wait to talk with you next week. Bye.

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