Pearls & Parables (Matt. 13; Luke 8 & 13)

Tuesday, March 21, 2023


Thank you so much Sarah for creating this transcript!

Channing: [00:00] Hi, I'm Channing.

Elise: [00:05] And I'm Elise.

Channing: [00:06] And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise: [00:07] We focus on feminist interpretation of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me Manual as a guide for study. We understand that scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain really compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with the Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred text with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:40] While Mormonism with its iconic floral foyer couches is our background, we follow our faith in our God on the path of spirituality over institution and connection over condemnation. We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling too faithful for some and not enough for others, welcome, we've saved you a seat on the soft chairs.

[01:10] Hi, friends! Welcome back. In this week's episode, we'll be covering Matthew chapter 13, Luke chapter 8, and Luke chapter 13 for the dates March 20th through the 26th. Thanks for joining us. We get to cover so many stories and so many parables today.

Elise: [01:28] Yeah, and I think I just wanted to start by making a few general comments about the parables from this week, because I think when we lay out their images together, we learn something about the kind of everydayness of the gospel and the parables that Jesus chooses to focus on.

[01:44] So in Matthew 13, Jesus shares tons of parables. He shares parables about farmers, seeds, and rocks; wheat, weeds, and harvesting. He shares parables about tiny mustard seeds and women making bread, people treasure hunting in a field, and a merchant man who goes on a shopping trip. He shares parables about big fishing nets, seas, and seashores. And there are many interpretations that we can offer for each of these parables, but I think the one that feels the most joyous to me today is recognizing that gospel truths can be found in the type of everydayness of our lives. What can I learn about bodies and goodness when I lie in the bath? What can I learn about faith when I walk to the bathroom at night with no lights on? What can I learn about kinship with the earth and other-than-human beings when I sit outside on my lawn chair in the sunshine? And I'm not saying that like, I'm on the same level as Jesus when I'm talking about parables, but I am saying that if Jesus spends an entire chapter pulling from the little things that make life boring and mundane in order to teach us something magnificent, maybe I can start focusing on an everyday gospel instead of a Sunday only, church bound, temple driven gospel that often feels separate and distanced from my everyday life.

[03:03] And since I've stopped going to church, perhaps I can think about remembering Jesus when I break the bread of my morning toast for breakfast. Without church or temple rituals, maybe I can learn from my nightly bedtime routine of washing my feet, hands, and face before quietly getting into bed. And if we take the parables seriously, that means we can practice godliness and truth in our everyday doings, no matter how small, how rote, or even how boring. And that's one of the takeaways that I had from this week about all the different parables. So, a more general takeaway than something really specific.

Channing: [03:39] Yeah, I really like that though because it really grounds us into our lived experience, and I think that that's something that Jesus did so incredibly well, primarily because he used stories. That's one reason why I think that Jesus was such a powerful and effective teacher is because he taught using stories. I really believe that stories speak to the psyche better than most other methods of teaching. For me, what do I remember: a scripture mastery verse or a scripture story? To me, they feel different. The story feels alive and vibrant; and sure, I can remember some Scripture Mastery scriptures, but they don't feel the same to me. I don't feel my voice lilting or carrying anything special with it other than just pride that I actually memorized this one scripture in the whole four years of me being in seminary [laughs].

[04:30] Well-told stories make me feel something. They engage all of my senses. When I listen to a well-told story, I not only remember the story itself, but also the way I felt, where I was, and the sound of the storyteller's voice and what they were wearing. Teaching in a story is also nearly a guarantee that the concepts that were wrapped in the story will be taught again and again and again. For Jesus, this ensured that the gospel would be taught generation to generation to generation. And not only did Jesus teach in story, he also used literary devices like metaphor, which is-- a parable is essentially a very long metaphor. And these illustrated complex teachings so that his students could grasp and understand them.

[05:18] Stories have the power of bypassing the regular paths of thinking and logic that really pull us into experiencing something. For example, in Matthew chapter 13 verse 15, Jesus says, “The people’s heart is waxed gross… but if at any time they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, they shall be converted, and I will heal them. And I love this, first because I think it really shows that Jesus is trying to engage all of our senses with his use of story so that our souls can pay attention. And I think that stories are the master teaching tool when we're trying to engage both the body and the spirit. One of the things that I'm really appreciating about spending time in the New Testament this year, is watching the way that Jesus interacts with people. And in this week's chapters, he is all about stories. 

[06:13] A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a storytelling festival with my daughter's third grade class. One of the storytellers was an older Black woman who was dressed in a beautiful yellow and black dress, and she told the class a rather spooky story about a ribbon. But before she began, she had the whole group - something like a hundred people, elementary students, and adults alike - repeat affirmations with her. So before I share a few of these stories from our chapters this week, in the spirit of this amazing woman who told us all of these affirmations, I would like to share a few affirmations with you. When we did this at the festival, it was a call and response exercise, and so it will be for us too.

[06:55] I'll say the affirmations and you can repeat them wherever you are. You'll be joining a chorus of thousands across time and distance. So here we go. I am marvelous. I am unique. I am the best me that I can be. I am kind. I am open-hearted. I'm brave. I'm smart. I believe in myself. I know I can because I always do my best work. I am good to others and I'm extra good to myself. I shine like the sun, the moon, and the stars. My smile is like sunbeams. I brighten the whole world around me. I am loved. I am the prettiest shell on the beach. I am the sparkliest crystal in my pocket. I am the tallest tree and I am the cutest baby bunny. I am adorable. I love you. And I love me too. Very nice, I hope you have a smile on your face because I definitely have a smile on mine. Okay, now for our story time, Elise is going to tell us a little story.

Elise: [08:16] Okay, so once upon a time, there was a man in Galilee who was teaching a more excellent way. But this more excellent way was so radical that the people were having a hard time understanding, let alone getting on board.  And so Jesus said, Once there was a farmer who planted some seeds. Some seeds were eaten by birds. Some seeds fell into stony ground and couldn't grow. Some seeds got mixed up with weeds and then died. Some seeds fell into soil that was just right and they grew very well. Jesus called us to be seed planters.

Sure, not every seed is going to grow just right in the way we want, but that doesn't mean we stop planting. It doesn't mean we stop advocating for gender affirming healthcare for trans folks. It doesn't mean we stop calling out racism wherever we see it. Just because the one time we put out a rainbow flag it got stolen, doesn't mean we don't do it again. We keep planting and we let the seeds fall where they may.

Channing: [09:13] Jesus also said, Don't worry too much about what your success looks like. For once, there was a farmer who planted seeds in good soil, but in the night his enemy came and planted weeds among them. Rather than uprooting the weeds, which also risked uprooting the seeds, the farmer let them grow together. You see, the farmer knew that wheat and tares can be somewhat difficult to distinguish, but he gave specific instructions to ensure that only the good seed was harvested. But what people sometimes forget about this story, is that both the seed and the weed were fed, tended to, and nurtured by the farmer while they grew.

[09:53] “Love your enemies,” Jesus once said in another time and another place, and we think it applies here too. And once this good seed is harvested into wheat, Jesus says, Let it grow, just like the dough in which a woman hides a measure of yeast. Watch with time as it miraculously doubles, ferments, and becomes delicious to the taste. Watch as the message of radical love multiplies and feeds thirty fold, sixty fold, a hundred fold of the original small seed, some the size of a mustard grain.

[10:28] The pearl of great price is not the prize of successful conversion. The pearl the size of a mustard seed is a small hope we carry in us when we try again, when we keep telling and creating stories that imagine a better world within our reach. The pearl is a seed that is planted each time we say Black Lives Matter. The pearl is a seed that is planted each time we donate money to purchase water shares for Great Salt Lake. The pearl is a seed that is planted each time we use someone's pronouns correctly, each time we advocate for the safety and longevity of trans lives. The pearl is a seed. It's springtime; let's get to work.

Elise: [11:11] If we stay in Matthew chapter 13-- so the disciples end up asking Jesus why he's speaking in all of these parables. And in chapter 13 verse 13, Jesus responds, “I speak to them in parables because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” And a few verses later, he expands saying that, just like Channing said, the people's heart has waxed gross. Their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes have closed. And as such, the people desire to see things which the disciples see, but they've not seen them or heard them, and they definitely don't understand them. And this notion of desiring to see what we see, hear what we hear, and know what we know, reminds us of one of our all-time favorite books called The Birth of Pleasure by Carol Gilligan.

[12:01] And a backstory, this was probably-- this was the book that cemented Channing and I's deep love and friendship. We like-- when we first met, we were kind of doing the friendship flirting and feminist flirting, just to see where the other stood. And we decided to have a book club, just the two of us, reading The Birth of Pleasure. And so it's been an important book for us. And so [Channing: Absolutely] oh yeah, sorry--

Channing: [12:25] No, I was just gonna say, Absolutely. And I'm so glad that it's making an appearance here. [laughs]

Elise: [12:29] Yeah. And in this book, author Carol Gilligan studies children's communication and the communication of couples that are in crisis. And she argues that our ability to love freely and live authentically becomes limited or inhibited by patriarchy and power systems. Patriarchy, parents, and culture force children into strict gendered identities where boys are forced and shamed into masculine behavior that looks like asserting themselves and being aggressive, and girls are forced into compromising themselves to have relationships.

[13:05] And in both situations, boys and girls are forced to cover their vulnerability and dissociate from their authentic selves in order to see, hear, and know what society expects them to see, hear, and know. This means that instead of seeing oneself as inherently worthy of love, we learn to see ourselves as needing to earn and prove our worthiness. Instead of hearing our inner voice, maybe a voice that says like, I'm gay or I'm attracted to women, or something like that, we learn to hear and defer to the patriarchal voice that says, Nope; heterosexuality is the best and only way of being. Instead of knowing and claiming who we are on a deep psychic level, we learn to dissociate from that soul voice and that soul self because we are told that the deepest version of ourself is unlovable, unlikeable, and undeserving of pleasure.

[13:59] Thus, just like the people in the Bible verse we see, but don't see; we hear, but don't hear, because we are forced to unknow ourselves. And aside from dissociation and disconnection from our true selves and others, this break has consequences for what we come to learn about big life things, like love and pleasure and relationship. Under patriarchy, we learn to see love as a tragedy that often requires hurt and resentment. We hear pleasure as a surface level encounter that is often degrading and leaves us feeling empty. We come to know relationships as performance, and we better keep up this image in order for people to like us. 

Channing: [14:42] Yeah, so with all of this, what then is the path out of tragedy, dissociation, and pain; and a way to come back to our inner authentic understandings of love, pleasure, and self and relationships? Well, Gilligan says it is vulnerability. She writes, 

“To free love and pleasure from the trappings of patriarchal manhood or womanhood means to undo dissociation by risking association—knowing what one knows, feeling one’s feelings, being naked in the presence of another by removing the protective clothes of masculinity and femininity, however they are culturally designed.”

And very in line with the parables for this week's episode, Gilligan turns to the story of Psyche and Cupid to showcase how we can move from a pseudo love and relationship to an authentic love and relationship.

[15:32] The story goes that a woman named Psyche is so beautiful that it makes the goddess Venus jealous. Venus commands her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with an unworthy man. However, Cupid falls in love with Psyche instead. Lots of rumors float around the town, and an oracle tells Psyche's parents that her future husband is a monster and she must be abandoned on top of a mountain in order to keep the town safe. Thankfully, Psyche is saved by the wind who carries her to Cupid's palace. Cupid visits Psyche only at night and forbids her to make any attempt to see him. Psyche is curious about her lover's appearance and fearful after her two sisters convince her that Cupid is a monster. One night she takes a lamp and a knife and waits for the monster to fall asleep so she can go kill him.

Elise: [16:21] Gillian writes, 

“But when Psyche ignites the lamp and sees Cupid sleeping under the light, she discovers that her mysterious lover is a beautiful young man. In this moment, Psyche sees what in another sense she knows: the lover who brought her great pleasure, whose mysterious voice gave comfort to her loneliness, who was moved by her depression and brought her sisters to visit her. What she discovers is that her tender and passionate lover is Cupid, the god of love. But not the Cupid of the stories about Cupid—the naughty boy with his arrows, flying around the world making trouble. She discovers a man she had known but had not been allowed to see or to speak of. And in the light of this discovery, she realizes that the stories she was told by the oracle, by her parents, and by her sisters are not true.”

[17:11] So by challenging the story of love she has been given, and risking herself for what she knows to be true, Psyche moves toward the vulnerability of knowing what she knows. The myth of Cupid and Psyche goes on with a few more challenges until finally Psyche and Cupid can be fully seen, heard, and known by one another. As such, Psyche gives birth to a baby whose name is Pleasure. Thus, when our soul voice or our psyche is in relationship with love (Cupid), then we are able to understand and experience the pleasure of connection and authenticity. So what would it look like for us to see what we see, hear what we hear, and know what we know, in a way that brings us into full understanding of ourself and others?

[17:59] Now, I recognize that this was an interpretation, not necessarily of the specific Bible verses, but inspired by them. And I think that this is one of the greatest thing[s] about stories and parables: they always lead us to other great stories.

Channing: [18:13] Yeah, and this is like-- at least for me since reading it with you, this story about Cupid and Psyche and Gilligan's research and just the ideas that she presents in this book, have been so transformative and so life-changing that in a sense, it is kind of like a bible to me. [laughs] [Elise: Mm-hmm, Mmm-hmm.] Because living in relationship with authenticity, in order to create pleasure in each of your relationships, it sounds hard; but in practice it's even harder. And I'm so grateful for that experience and the introduction to these ideas because it's deepened and transformed my relationship with all kinds of people in really unanticipated ways; and I think has been as much of a spiritual growth process as anything that I've ever read [Elise: yeah.] in a sacred text. So I think the parallels between the two are absolutely spot on.

Elise: [19:17] Yeah. And I think one of the great-- I think we, you and I, do this for each other, but one of the biggest practices that I've taken away from this book by Gilligan is the ways that, deep in our internal selves we see things or we know things, but we become afraid or worried or just silenced by all of these patriarchal structures that are around us, that make us disconnect from the things that we see and know and want. And so what happens is that when Channing and I will talk to each other, what will often happen is that she'll ask me a question and I'll start to say something, but then I'll back away from it and I'll say, Well I don't know. I don't actually know what I think, or I don't actually know what I want. And Channing will say, Do you actually not know, or are you saying that you don't know but you really do know?

[20:03] And almost every time after that question comes, it invites that risky space of vulnerability that encourages us to say, Okay wait. I actually do know what I want. I do know how I feel. But we mask it with this sense of unknowingness or this sense of disconnection and dissociation by simply saying, Well I don't know. Right? I don't know how I feel about the church. I don't know how I feel about my relationships. But deep down, we do know, but it's just a vulnerable risk to actually claim those things for ourselves. 

Channing: [20:34] Oh my gosh. I think one day we just need to have a whole entire podcast episode series that's just devoted to reading The Birth of Pleasure chapter by chapter [laughs] [Elise: Yes. It would be great] and talking about it. That'd be amazing! I would be 100% down for that. [laughs] Friends, thank you so, so much for joining us for this week's episode. We loved talking about parables, stories, and stories that lead us to other stories with you this week. We'll see you again soon. Bye!

Elise: [21:09] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we're grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you showed your support by sharing the podcast, leaving us a loving rating on iTunes, or connect with us on Instagram as TheFaithfulFeminists.

Channing: [21:29] We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so, so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.
Powered by Blogger.