Searching for God, Finding Friends (Doctrine & Covenants 121-123)

Monday, October 18, 2021


This transcript was created by the wonderful Heather B! A big thank you for keeping us up-to-date on transcripts.

Channing: [00:00:00] 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.

[00:00:28] We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: [00:00:35] We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 121 through 123 for the dates October 18th through the 24th. We're so glad you're here and we're so glad we're back!

Elise: [00:00:58] So glad we're back, we've really, really missed these last two weeks being on the podcast with you all but honestly, the soft chairs workshop was *kiss* chef's kiss. So phenomenal, so phenomenal. 

Channing: [00:01:11] We had such a good time meeting all of you. And honestly, it was kind of the day of our dreams, where we just got to spend the entire time talking about things we love with people we love and just celebrating all of the goodness that is in the scriptures and also in this incredible community. So we just wanted to give a big thank you for everyone who came and also a big thank you for everyone who maybe couldn't make it, but was still so patient with us and anticipating our new, not our new comeback, but anticipating a new episode. So we're so thankful for all of you in all of the different ways that you've shown up for us. 

Elise: [00:01:54] Yes. And a big thank you to everyone who bought generous tickets to help scholarship people. And even to those people who went out of their way to make donations so that everyone who wanted to come to the workshop was able to come to the workshop. So much love and gratitude for all that you are, all that this community is.

[00:02:11] So thank you. Now, as we start to move into the episode, we have three main things that we're going to talk about today. The first- we'll think about friendship and how our friends are really important to us, especially during difficult times in our lives. Then, because these sections are all about the suffering and persecution that happens in Liberty Jail, we're going to spend some time thinking about why bad things happen to good people. And finally, we're going to finish the episode off with a bit of antidote for the Priesthood. So to give a little bit of context and lots of this will come from the Revelations In Context book, but in October of 1838, Governor Boggs of Missouri signed an executive order known as the extermination order where “Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace. Their outrages are beyond all description.” And so this order made it legal to hunt, terrorize and murder Mormons in Missouri. 

After this order was signed, a Missouri militia raided the village of Hahn's Mill, where 17 people were killed and 13 were injured. There's a really powerful, great, but also, like, very upsettingly awful article focusing also on the rape and sexual assault of women at Hahn's Mill during this time from the LDS woman project titled “The Rest of Their Story” by Elizabeth Ostler. We really recommend you check that out if you have space and capacity to do so.

Then in October and November of 1838 General Samuel D Lucas, who was a leader in the Missouri militia, imprisoned several, like, prominent LDS Saint leaders, like Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Parley P. Pratt, George W. Robinson and Amasa Lyman. These people and others spent more than four months in Liberty Jail. 

Channing: [00:03:56] Yeah. Just so you have an idea of what these people were up against inside of the prison they slept on stone floors in the middle of winter, so it was very, very cold. They had only like two very, very tiny windows to, like, have light for the entire room. And even if they wanted to light a fire to keep warm or provide some light, there wasn't anywhere for the smoke to go. So I ended up just filling the entire room. So as you can imagine, they probably didn't light many fires down there. And we also know that the food that the people who were imprisoned there were provided with was often spoiled or rotten. So they would get very, very sick and just all of the conditions inside of the prison were very cruel and, as we can imagine, very difficult and probably really traumatizing for all of the people in this situation. So Revelations In Context, just like Elise said, offers quite a bit of background on the conditions and what the experiences of the people were there and we really felt like it was important to note that these chapters, as powerful as they are, and as much content as they've offered us, we also recognize that they came from circumstances that were really difficult and really heartbreaking.

And eventually how these sections came to be in the Doctrine and Covenants, they actually started out as letters that Joseph Smith narrated to the Saints and also to the men who were with him in prison and the community of Saints loved these letters so much that they were reprinted a ton, like, in so many different forms. And eventually because they are so beloved, they were then canonized as part of the Doctrine and Covenants.

[00:05:49] So as we move into the text, starting in section 121, we first start off with a really interesting reference to the character of Job, which I always get really excited about, because that is one of my favorite Bible stories. And we see this pop up in verse nine. The Lord is saying to Joseph Smith, “thy friends do stand by thee and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.” And then in verse 10, “thou art not yet as Job. Thy friends do not contend against me, neither charged thee with transgression as they did Job.” And these stuck out to me for two important reasons. One, because it's my favorite Bible story, but also it does seem that in these couple of verses God is noting or maybe placing some importance on friendship.

[00:06:40] So Elise and I wanted to spend some time discussing the value of friendship, especially friendship during difficulty. We so, I feel like, I don't know if you feel this way Elise, but we so rarely hear about friendship as friendship in the text. Often whenever I come across it, it seems really gendered, like there's references to brotherhood or sisterhood but those words feel different to me. Like when I think of sisterhood that feels different than friendship. I think the two can overlap but sisterhood kind of seems like a very, like, general open, welcoming circle, but friendship seems a little bit more intimate and a little bit more connected, but I don't know. How do you feel about that? 

Elise: [00:07:25] I would hope that in order for a sisterhood to be strong and thriving, it would also need to include friends. Like you would need to be friends with your sisters in the sisterhood in order for it to feel like a sisterhood community at all. 

Channing: [00:07:38] Yeah, I agree with that. And I think too, like, while it is possible to be friends or like sisters with a wide group of people, it's also difficult to be, like, really close, intimate friends with everybody all of the time. and so I like to think that individual friendships make up sisterhood because we're all interconnected. Like, you and I exist as a friendship inside sisterhood, but we also recognize that you have other friendships outside of mine. And I have other friendships outside of mine and all of these interconnected friendships make up a sisterhood. And I think that's a really cool part. 

Elise: [00:08:18] I really like that.

Channing: But I think that really guides us well into my next question is what is friendship? Like, how do you define a friend? Like, how do you know that someone is your friend? I think for me a friend is someone that I can count on. It's someone who, if I have to write an emergency contact down on my child's school, like registration, papers, like, my friend is someone that I could put on that, or if I needed someone who I just wanted to, like, go to the store and grab a treat with, and then come home and watch a show, just so I didn't like have to do it alone, like, there’re, you know, there are different layers and levels to friendship, but at least for me, it's someone who can make me laugh, who I have a good time with, but also someone who I can trust, especially if I maybe need some help or am going through a difficult time. How do you feel about friendship, Elise?

Elise: [00:09:16] Well, one of the things that really stands out to me in the verses that you read is this line about friends that will kind of meet us or hail us with warm hearts and friendly hands. And these verses remind me that, like, it's almost as if God is saying like, “hang on. Not all is lost. You have friends around you and like, they are resilient and they help you to be resilient.” And so having friends around us matters during these difficult times, because friends that meet us with warm hearts, I think, listen. They understand. They meet us with empathy and compassion. They encourage us to be vulnerable and believe us when we say that things are really, really hard friends that have warm hearts or maybe warm hearts are the things that make up friends, but those warm hearts provide us solace and comfort. And I also think that those hearts melt away or can melt away some of our IC Innes, some of the parts of our hearts that are frozen and rigid, the parts that are, like, immovable with blame and anger and resentment. I think that friends with warm hearts help us thaw out things safely and then reconnect with who we are and who we can be because friends, like, they see us and they. 

Channing: [00:10:26] I love that interpretation, honestly so much because that's been my experience too. Like, friends always bring me, it sounds kind of, like, selfish or maybe like a little self-centered, but like a good friend always brings me closer to my, like, my best self or my better self. 

Elise: [00:10:45] Yeah. I also liked the line about friends having friendly hands. And that makes me think of friends helping us build and collaborate, friends that scheme and plan and labor and help us execute plans for justice and freedom, especially in this scenario.

[00:10:59] And it reminds me that we need friends because we can't do any of this alone. We can't move throughout the world or make goals or have plans or fight for freedom and justice. And we need friends that have different skills and strengths than us. We need friends who push us to do more and to do better, friends who can use their hands to, like, wipe our tears and kind of pull our shoulders back and tip our chins up and then hug us on our way back out into the world or back out into the work.

Channing: [00:11:26] And it also reminded me too, like, when are times in my life that I felt like a friend has shown up for me in a difficult time? And honestly, like, I could name a thousand, I can name a thousand ways that people have shown up for me, but one of the most impactful things, one of the most impactful times that I always think about. And I think I've shared this on the podcast before, but Elise and I have a mutual friend. Her name is Lisa. And I always will remember when she knew that I was having such a hard time being at church. That's where the whole “we saved you a seat on the soft chairs” comes from because Lisa always saved me a seat right next to her. Anytime someone made a comment that she knew maybe would, like, hurt my feelings or frustrate me, she would reach over and hold my hand. And it was so comforting to know that she was always there for me. And that was it! Like, I mean, she did so many more things as my friend, but that was the thing for me that felt like a warm heart and a friendly hand because she was right there.

[00:12:32] So, I don't know. I know, I know Lisa is amazing, Elise, but have you ever had a friend that has shown up for you in a difficult time? 

Elise: [00:12:39] Yeah. Well, I'm actually thinking of the soft chairs workshop and just how nervous you and I both were and how well we wanted it to go, but there was still a bit of, like, hesitation and a little bit of imposter syndrome and just a lot of doubt and I think uncertainty moving behind the scenes. And so then I felt like being able to be in a room with all of these other people who maybe I didn’t know by name just yet, but there was this kind of shared friendship or like agreement of friendship that we are all here supporting one another, that we have space to listen and hold one another. And I found it so comforting and so loving that as we were working through the workshop, you know, presenting material and stuff, I was able to look out into the audience and like make eye contact with so many people who would like nod their heads, like, in encouragement and who I just felt were kind of radiating this like praise and yeah, just meeting me with, like, “yes, you can do it. I see you here. Like, you're doing an amazing job.” And so in that way, I know it's not as intimate as our friendship with Lisa or our friendship with one another, but good friends start from general spaces, like everyone starts with strangers before they’re friends. And so I think at the workshop there was this kind of bridging from, like, stranger to friends that I really appreciated. Yeah. 

Channing: [00:13:57] I absolutely felt that too. And we could even see it in the, like, blossoming friendships that were being made at each table, and between, like, all of the people who were there. And honestly, that was my favorite part of being there was just getting to be a part of this, like, community that, yeah, just like you said, started out as strangers, but hopefully left of feeling a little bit more like friends. 

Elise: Absolutely. 

Channing: [00:14:22] So another reading that we could offer in the context of friendship in these verses and in these sections is also looking at the way that God can be a friend to us.

At least for me, I often tend to think of God as someone who is kind of this authoritative figure. But even though They're in this position, that's maybe higher than me. I still kind of see God as, like, very benevolent and bestowing blessings on me when I need/ask for them. But I rarely think of God as friends and I think mostly because I'm not used to framing our relationship in that way. And so one of the questions that I may be wanting to ask generally- and you can answer this, Elise, if you want to or not- but what changes your understanding or relationship with God when you think of Them as a friend? And for me, that question actually spurred a huge, like, understanding for me.

[00:15:20] So when I looked at the sections and framework of this question, I actually see a ton of friendship here, or at least what I considered to be friendship. So I don't know if you've ever been on the receiving end of Elise, but when someone that I love is hurting, my very first reaction is to be like, “Who did this to you? What is their name? I will add them to my list. I would also like the list of people who saw and did nothing, who knew and did nothing so that I can come after them.” And I definitely feel like I don't lack on follow-through when one of my people has tears in their eyes. Someone I really care about once described themselves as this, like, kind of tiny little dragon with the power to burn the city down. And I honestly felt that in my bones, like, I feel like that is me, this protective, feisty little dragon who will go out looking for the people on my list, burn their houses down and then feel bad about it later. But honestly, I see that in these sections too, in section 123 Joseph Smith writes, “We suggest the propriety of all the Saints gathering up a knowledge of all the facts and sufferings and abuses put on them by the people of this state, all the property, all the damage and all the names of the persons that have had a hand in their oppressions as far as they can get ahold of them and find them out.”

[00:16:45] And I'm like, “yep, there it is. Give me that list, baby. I'll take it.” And then in section 121, Joseph Smith writes, “Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against the anointed, saith the Lord. Wo, unto them. Their basket shall not be full. Their houses and their barns shall perish and they shall be despised by those that flattered them.

[00:17:08] “Generation of vipers,” he calls them. “Servants of sin, children of disobedience.” And I'm like, “there it is. There's the dragon like there's the fire and the flame.” But also in the same interpretation what's really striking to me is that I have never seen Missouri on fire. You know what I mean? Like it hasn't disappeared off the face of the earth. It's still on the map of the United States. It still has a star on the flag and people like really good people live there. And so this makes me think that God really is indeed a good friend, because I always believe that a good friend acts in the best interest of the people that they love. For me. I know when smoke starts coming out of my nose, my friends and I always have a good laugh imagining revenge, but it's rarely taken because we know we both don't want it to.

[00:18:01] Oftentimes my friends don't actually want burned houses and I'm not really particularly interested in burning them down. Oftentimes my friends just want their pain seen and validated and imagining a little revenge is enough. Smoke is often enough and on the few occasions when flames are required and they need someone there to witness I am 100% there. I'm the type of person who throws breakup parties and lights the fire in the fire pit in my backyard to burn all of their ex-partners’ hoodies. So I kind of imagined that that's what God might be doing here. Maybe God is saying, “Hey, Joseph, you want me to burn this place down for you? Like, I'll do it. I'll do it for you.” And Joseph Smith is like, “oh yeah, like that would be cool. But also maybe I just want to cry a little bit.” And so. At least for me, there's a big part of me that’s reading these sections in the type of friendship that I see and the type of friendship that I'm a part of in my own life.

[00:19:04] And I like seeing God like this, but it's only, only because I don't truly feel that God is going to burn it all down. It's only because I trust God enough to not follow through on these wild imaginations that I can engage with this reading of friendship in the text. And so, yeah, I don't know. How do you feel about that Elise?

[00:19:26] How do you feel about looking at these couple of sections in the context of friendship with God? 

Elise: [00:19:33] Yeah. God as friend. So loving, it reminds me of the hymn Reverently and Meekly Now. And there's a line, I think in the third or fourth verse that says, “I have loved thee as a friend with a love that cannot end.”

[00:19:46] And so it's just to hear God even approaching me as friend or seeing me as friend instead of, like, lowly human that is beneath them. Yes. I think that levels the power dynamic. It also invites more intimacy between us, but also thinking about, I think- and we'll talk about this a little bit later in the episode- but I think we can hold space for God-as-friend in one of the ways that you're describing where God is kind of listening to Joseph and saying, like, “yep, I'll show up for you.” But also I think that there is something that is really filled with justice, where Joseph knows or hopes that God-as-friend or God-as-merciful-enactor-of-justice would also follow through with some of the consequences of people's own actions.

[00:20:39] So I think there's space for both the God that, like, hypes up Joseph and says, just like you said, “yes, let's burn it all down.” But also God-as-friend that says, no, “I'm going to hold people accountable. Especially the ones that have hurt you.” That's what good friends do too. And perhaps this even moves us super nicely into our next conversation about sorrow and suffering.

[00:20:59] And I remember, like, going to Seminary and feeling so, so, so sorrowful when reading these verses. And so reading them again this week has stirred very similar emotions, but now I think that I have a bit more language and critical understanding to offer the passage. In the very first, maybe like four or five verses in section 121 we see Joseph calling out for a God who Joseph thinks is hiding from them. Verse one says, “oh God, where art thou and where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thine hand be stayed? And thine eye, yay, thy pure eye behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants and thy ear be penetrated with their cries.”

[00:21:43] And these verses go on to basically we just hear Joseph, like, so, so sorrowfully calling out to God and saying, “Where are you? Where are you? The God that I have loved and trusted in, the God who I think is going to show up for me and my people in history. Where are you now, then? Where are you now?” And I love seeing Joseph as a full bodied, emotional human being who struggles with God, who is angry at God, because those things feel very human to me. It doesn't feel like what I would expect a prophet-God relationship to be like, I don't know, very formal and kind of like, “ah, yes, you are divinely chosen.” And I don't know, it doesn't seem like there would be space in that relationship for hurt or upset or anger to show up there too. And so when I see it show up, I'm like, “Wow, okay. This is something distinctly different than maybe more traditional verses or understandings or conversations with God that are full of praise, full of glory and full of joy.”

And I think that we can see, especially in the Bible or in other places in scripture, we can see a similar theme, show up, people searching for a God that they trust in, but who they don't see or experience right now. In the new revised standard version of the Bible in the book of Habbakuk chapter one, verses two through four, we hear a very, very similar crying out in anguish to God. These verses say, “oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help? And you will not listen. Or cry to you, violence, and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous, therefore judgment comes forth perverted.” And we even see Jesus in the garden of Gethseman saying like, “why have you forsaken me? Why have you left me alone here?” And so with these themes of anguish and kind of being forgotten or left alone, I just wanted to ask if there are times where we've experienced or felt something similar. Are there times in your life where you felt abandoned by God or where you felt incredibly angry or forgotten by God, and anything that you might want to share?

Channing: [00:24:03] Um, I mean, yeah, we've had this discussion before where I kind of feel like my relationship with The Divine kind of moves in waves. Like, sometimes I feel very close and sometimes I feel very, very far away and at least for my own personal experience, there was a decent amount of time in my life where I didn't feel like God was paying attention to me.

[00:24:28] Like, where I felt like, you know, God was real and probably cared about a whole lot of other people, but didn't necessarily care about me. And that was a really difficult time for me because I would come across verses like this or, like, chapters like this, where God showed up for people. And I was like, okay, well, like, cool for them, I guess, but what is wrong with me that I felt like God never showed up for me? And with a little bit of hindsight and honestly, like, in the last, probably two years, that framework has really changed for me. And I feel like I've been able to understand my relationship with God a little bit better. And I feel like my attachment with God is a little bit more secure.

[00:25:15] And so I can maybe reframe, like, unfortunate or painful experiences by allowing myself some distance from, like, God makes everything happen. And, you know, the difference between that and then the understanding that people, like, really do have the power to make their own choices. And someone's bad choice doesn't necessarily mean something about me.

[00:25:38] And I think since being able to maybe reframe that a little bit, and I talk about it as if it's the easiest thing in the world, and it's really not. Like, it's a very painful and heart-wrenching process, but I would say, yeah, just without going into too many details, I have experienced that in my life and I can, I know that pain very intimately and it is some of the most lonely and yeah, abandonment is the word that I would use to describe it. Like, it is just a very, very lonely and sad experience. And so I have a lot of space and a lot of like care and love in my heart for others who maybe feel that same distance and loneliness in their life. So, yeah, I've been there. I know what that's like.

Elise: [00:26:31] Yeah, absolutely.  I think lots of us have, and especially lots of our listeners probably resonate with what you're saying. And I think in that way, these passages can be both really, really upsetting, but I would also hope that you can feel, that one could feel really, really seen in that shared experience of abandonment and perhaps even that sharing makes it feel a little less lonely, but I'm thinking I just can't even imagine how difficult it was for Joseph Smith and the Saints to try and make sense of a God who they had come to know as loving and compassionate and merciful but who now, in this moment, when they needed God most, perhaps this God seemed distant and apathetic and disconnected from their people.

[00:27:13] Right? And I think that this further brings up the question of theodicy or which is why bad things happen to good people. And when I think about theodicy oppression or like the sufferings of a group of people, I felt called to turn to the work of James Cone, who was the founder of Black Liberation Theology.

[00:27:31] And it makes me ask, “okay, what might we learn from Black Liberation Theology that speaks to the lived experience and historical context of Blacks who are experiencing slavery, oppression and racism?” And there's a really lovely essay that I was able to read by Warren McWilliams, titled “Theodicy According to James Cone” and the passage says:

[00:27:51] “Although Blacks experience the reality of suffering, Cone argues they were not concerned with a theoretical issue. That is, they never really doubted the justice and goodness of God and never saw suffering as a reason for rejecting God. The divine question, which they addressed was whether or not God was with them in their struggle for liberation. Blacks generally did not focus on the traditional theodicy issues because they did not feel God was the cause for their suffering.”

[00:28:21] And I find that this reframing is so important because it helps us, perhaps, see that God is with us in the suffering and the struggle, but that God did not cause the suffering and the struggle. Kind of like you were saying before, people have their own choices and we live in a society that has systems at play that make it easier or more difficult for people to move and act upon other people.

[00:28:43] In another essay by Celucien L. Joseph titled “Theodicy and Black Theological Anthropology in James Cone's Theological Identity” we read that womanist theologian Stephanie Mitchum argues, “Suffering in itself is not salvific. It is redemptive only in that it may lead to critical rethinking of meaning or purpose, as might any life crisis. Such reexamination is part of the process of human maturation. However, suffering is a distinctive starting place for thinking about salvation, as it brings into sharp focus, humane experience with God.”

[00:29:22]  So in our own words, Mitchum is saying to be saved or to be redeemed, suffering isn't a prerequisite for those things. It's not necessary that you suffer in order to be saved or freed from your oppression. But what may be redemptive about suffering is the invitation that it gives us to start thinking about what our suffering means, what our life means and how we are trying to make sense of God in relation to the suffering that we're focusing on.

[00:29:50] And I feel like that's something that you and I talk about a lot, like who gets to make sense of, or make meaning out of suffering. And for us, at least in our conversations, it's never an outsider. Meaning making, especially around oppression, trauma and violence must always come as a firsthand account from the ones who are experiencing it.

Channing: [00:30:09] Absolutely. Yeah, we do talk about this a lot and actually really interestingly enough I have, like, I have my own story or my own life experience that's kind of coinciding with this topic and with this chapter. Last week, when Elise was in town, we got an email from our stake that said that our building that we usually attend for services, that our building had been vandalized to the point that we wouldn't be able to attend services there for a long, long time.

[00:30:37] And, you know, they didn't release any details at first but eventually we found out and we saw pictures that a 16 year old had taken black spray paint to the building and had written some very offensive words and ideas. Like he had drawn like an upside down cross and he said, like, something along the lines of like Mormons suck and God isn't real. And that's the nice way of saying it, right, it was definitely in worse words than that. And then he also tried to light the building on fire and so luckily the chapel has like a great fire suppression system, but because of it the building had been flooded with two to three inches of water throughout the entire building.

[00:31:24] So there's going to be some extensive repairs that are happening on our chapel, on my chapel. And so in context of this conversation that we're having about who gets to make meaning out of something, for me a good example of this would be well, who does get to make meaning of this? Like if someone who maybe didn't attend the church or who wasn't a member kind of looked at that building and was like, “oh, well.” And maybe if they had even used, like, words from this chapter, like, “oh, don't worry about it. Like, it's just a blip in time. Like, it's all gonna work out. Everything's working together for your good” and all of my ward members and I are looking at each other, like, “Well, okay. That's easy for you to say, but like, that's not your home. Like you don't have your favorite pew.” Like, when I had told my son about what had happened, my five-year-old, he was like, “oh, but I like learning about Jesus in that building.” And I was like, “you're right.” Like, there is something that feels, like, very homey and very like belonging-y about going to your home chapel.

[00:32:33] And so it's the difference between someone from the outside saying, like, “oh, it's not really a big deal. Like you're, you're gonna make it through, you're going to get over it.” It's the difference between that and maybe another ward member turning to me and saying, like, “It's all going to work out. Like, we're in this together. It's just going to be a little blip in time.” Someday we're going to look back on this and say, “Hey, remember when that really crazy experience happened?” And we'll be like, yeah, but look, see how we made it through.” And there's a really subtle but also very potent difference between those two examples.

[00:33:06] And I think that that's kind of what you're highlighting here, Elise, is this meaning making or this story that we tell about our experience most often is the most effective and the most healing when it's done from the inside-out rather than the outside-in.

Elise: [00:33:23] That, yes. Yes, yes. Yes. Thank you for sharing that. That is a great example, and some of the language I needed, because what we see in sections 121 and 122 is Joseph not only, like, struggling in anguish with God, but then we also see some type of meaning-making or some type of story, or sense-making come in this conversation between God and Joseph. In section 121 verse seven, God says, “My son, peace be unto thy soul and adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” And then later in section 122 verses five through seven, we read, like, this series of verses that almost act like a piling on of bad things that could happen. It starts by saying, like, if thou art in peril among robbers, or if your enemies tear you away from your family, or if you're cast into the hands of murderers or, you know what, even if the very jaws of hell open wide against you, God says, “Know thou my son, that all these things shall give the experience and shall be for thy good.” And so even though reading those verses almost out of context makes me a little bit hesitant and I have some personal hang ups about how I don't think we should just blatantly apply these verses to everyone or say these things to everyone who is going through suffering. Just like you said, like, imagine if you came to me with a really, really big, tragic experience that had happened in your life.

[00:34:47] And I was basically saying like, “you know what, that's bad, but, are the gates of hell opened up against you? And even if they were, you know, this is all for your own good. it's for your own experience.” Like, that is so dismissive. And it's so, like you said, outside-in and I'm speaking to you or trying to, like, make you make meaning from a place of disconnected privilege. I haven't been the one that had to experience what you went through. So in that line of thinking, I shouldn't have been the one that tries to, like, offer you any type of meaning-making. But if this was the meaning that Joseph Smith came to with Joseph Smith's own God, and maybe the best thing that they were able to come up with together in the midst of being in prison was that Joseph was able to feel a bit of comfort and solace by saying, “you know what? Okay, maybe these afflictions are only a small moment in time. Right? Maybe they're going to teach me something. Maybe they're going to shape me and be for my good experience.” That's meaningful and important to Joseph and probably to a lot of other people who shared that very similar experience. So I don't know.

[00:35:55] I think that these verses can do multiple things at once. They can be specific. They can offer specific solace and comfort to Joseph Smith and the other people that were in prison with him, but they could also be really harmful if we apply them out of context to everyone who is suffering something that we haven't experienced.

Channing: [00:36:12] Right. 

Elise: But they could also, you know, act as a buoy or a bit of inspiration for others who come across this section. I know that there have been times in my life when these verses have really felt inspiring to me, have really felt encouraging. But again, that's me approaching the text, weaving my own story.

[00:36:31] And not someone else saying, “you know, you should really get over it. It's only a small bit in time.” Or later in the chapter where they're like, “well, you're complaining about your suffering, but have you suffered as much as Job? or you haven't suffered as much as Jesus.” And so those things I think out of context can feel harmful. And so we should move with caution about who gets to make meaning out of suffering. 

Channing: [00:36:51] Absolutely. Absolutely. The last thing that we really wanted to focus on for this week’s sections comes at the very end of section 121 and shockingly enough it's about the priesthood. And we really haven't spent a ton of time talking about the priesthood because Elise and I are both, kind of, of the opinion of, like, “okay, well, like we've made our feelings known about it and how much more do we keep on saying the same thing over and over and over again? The priesthood should include everyone.” But we came across some really important, what we felt were some really important verses that offer some clarification, some meaning, and some of the importance of the priesthood. So these verses are found in section 121 verses 41 through 46.

[00:37:45] And honestly, these verses kind of function like a user's guide to the Priesthood. So these verses kind of highlight, you know, the Priesthood should never be used for dominion, for power, for influence, for hypocrisy, or guile, but it should be used with, or for persuasion, gentleness, long suffering, meekness, and love.

[00:38:15] And something that we talked about at the Soft Chairs Workshop, but also something that Elise and I have a framework about the texts, that Elise and I are just kind of new to and understanding a little bit, is that the text in general is kind of this, like, double-duty paradox thing and that it is both a poison- Like, we can be harmed by the text and hurt by the things that it says- but it also provides an antidote as well, kind of like snake venom, right? Like the antidote for snake venom always contains a little bit of snake venom. And so in this way, the text can also function as an antidote. And what we really strongly felt happens in these verses at the end of section 121 is really a lot of antidote. So we're calling it the Antidote to the Priesthood, very, like, tongue-in-cheek, for sure. And we really felt like a lot of the Doctrine and Covenants rhetoric around the Priesthood up until this point has largely focused on it's like leadership and organizational function.

[00:39:20] So I don't really think that we've come across guidelines like these before. They're very specific. And I found this really hopeful for three reasons. If the priesthood is the power of God, just like it says in verse 36 “that the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven” then these guidelines in verses 41 through 46, they potentially show how God uses God's own power. And so we kind of get this picture of God being a kind and a meek and a gentle God, which honestly is kind of a different flavor of the divine presence than we're getting through the rest of the chapters.

[00:39:59] And then we also see, like, God acting through persuasion, not necessarily out of this, like, strong arm, like, powerful commanding influence, but more of this, like, gentle friend. There's that word again. That gentle, like, friendly, influencer, friendly relations. The second reason why this is helpful to me is because even though this is a short part in the text, it offers us a standard to which we can hold Priesthood holders accountable.

[00:40:29] And I was thinking about this, like, when I look at these criteria for using the priesthood, like, meek, long suffering, persuasive, gentle, love unfeigned, kindness, pure knowledge, I'm like, “okay, there are some Priesthood holders in my life who have embodied these,” like my old Bishop was really amazing.

[00:40:56] Like I felt like he embodied these uses of the Priesthood really, really well. And I have a lot of love and a lot of honor and a lot of respect for that, but I have also had, like, priesthood holders in the past who haven't used these correctly and haven't, like, really, I felt, upheld the standards of their priesthood.

[00:41:15] And even when I think about, like, our big priesthood leaders, like, our general authority, I'm kind of like, “Okay, Elder Holland, please tell me how your talk at BYU upheld these standards of the Priesthood.” Like I give it a D minus because he does “reprove betimes with sharpness when [maybe] moved upon by the Holy Ghost” but all the other things it doesn't check. Like, even in that same verse it says, “and then show forth afterwards an increase of love toward him who thou has to reprove lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.” And I'm like, well, there was no, like, showing forth of love after that. Like, there was no kindness or meekness and, like, I always want to remind everyone whenever we talk about meekness, that meekness isn’t about being a doormat or just, like, doing whatever anyone tells you to do. Meekness is about the openness and the vulnerability to learn from someone who you feel like has nothing to teach you. That's what meekness is. And so I'm kind of like, “Okay, I appreciate these sections or these verses because they give me a standard to know are the Priesthood holders in my life living up to the standard that their position requires?” And sometimes the answer's yes; sometimes the answer's no. And then, yeah, the last reason that these collection of verses are important to me is that there's a very important distinction that shows up in verse 36. I read it just before, but the full verse reads, “The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven and the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”

[00:43:04] And that really stuck out to me because of what it didn't say. It didn't say, “On principles of gender or on principles of race or class or on, like, principles of how, like, if you've received your endowment or not, or gotten certain covenants” like it's righteousness, that's it. And like most specifically, at least in our context of reading the verse, that would be righteousness to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

[00:43:33] And so, like, we even have this kind of, like, if we really are looking at the text as both a poison and an antidote, I'm kind of like, okay, maybe God is offering here a little bit of that antidote to saying, like, “Hey, the priesthood is about righteousness, not about gender.” And so maybe at this point, like, we can read into that and start questioning, like, are the defining characteristics of priesthood exclusively male? Obviously not. All of these words that are used in this chapter are not gendered. Like, does kindness have a gender? I really don't think so. And so it's a good time to question, like, is the priesthood really, is it really for men only? And then if we dig a little bit deeper, if we ask the next question, we say, “who said that? Who said priesthood is for men? When, or how did that whole line of thinking start? Why is it this way?” And if we dig even a level deeper, “Who does it benefit if we believe that and who does it harm?” And so these are just a couple of questions inspired by a small handful of verses that really honestly give us a really strong and grounded in the text line of thinking that maybe offers us a point of dismantling some of our gendered constructs around the Priesthood. So I think it's very exciting and we were thrilled to come across these verses. 

Elise: [00:45:01] Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things that stood out to me is actually in verse 35, and it just talks about how people misuse the Priesthood because their hearts are set upon the things of the world and they aspire to the honors of people and probably not trying to align themselves with Jesus or God's work. And then it says, “We've done these things and they, or we, have not learned this one lesson.” And in my interpretation, it's all caps, like, the one most important, perhaps one of the most important lessons that we haven't learned about the Priesthood comes in verse 36, like you said: that priesthood power and heaven are connected.

[00:45:41] And if we're not moving in the Priesthood based on principles of righteousness, then we are not moving or working in God's stead. We don't have access to heaven in that way. And then 37 backs it up even more. And it says, “okay, sure. You know what? You may have been given the title of Priesthood authority, but when you use your Priesthood to cover your sins or to fulfill your own pride and your own greed and your ambition or when you use it to exercise control or dominion of compulsion on any of the children of men in any degree of unrighteousness, the heavens withdraw themselves. God is grieved.” And then, I love this, “Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man” which is to say, like, “Bye! Bye! Amen to it!” Any time, any time you are exercising control or dominion over any children of God, in any degree of unrighteousness, you're not moving, like, bye to your priesthood, bye to your authority. That has no pull or weight or stead in God's work.

[00:46:45] And so I'm feeling super fired up, especially because I think that we often misuse and misunderstand Priesthood authority and power because we use it in control or domination over other people. When we have homophobic policies and then we cloud it and saying like, “well, we received this priesthood revelation.”

[00:47:05] No, no, no, no. Not according to these verses. 

Channing: Right. 

Elise: So I'm feeling fired up and I'm also feeling, just like you were saying, the poison and antidote, like watch out section 132, because we're coming for you with these verses.

Channing: I'm feeling inspired. I'm feeling like that little baby dragon is, like, having her heart on fire. I'm so happy. I love you so much. 

Elise: I love you so much. 

Channing: Thank you all for being here! For listening to the episode. We hope that you've gotten a good taste about friendship and the importance and power that our friends can offer us, especially when we're in times of difficulty or challenge, and also have new perspectives on suffering and meaning-making: who gets to decide the story we tell about our suffering. And finally this really inspiring and, honestly, like, mic drop moment for you, Elise, talking about the Priesthood. We love you so, so much, and we can't wait to spend more time with you next week. Until then, bye!

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