The Politics of Softness and Rest (Alma 8-12)

Monday, June 8, 2020

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Alma 8:1
  • Alma 8:18-19
  • Alma 8:27
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
  • Alma 9:5
  • Alma 10:6
  • Alma 12:34

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I’m Channing

E: And I’m Elise.

C: And this is the Faithful Feminists podcast.

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience.

C: We’ve saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Alma chapters 8 through 12 for the dates June 8th through the 14th. We're so glad you're here.

E: Welcome back, everyone. We appreciate that you have chosen to listen to this Come Follow Me podcast, especially given our current situation that's happening in the United States. And when we are recording it's June 6th, 2020, and the Black Lives Matter movement is going on in response to the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, in a big wake of ongoing police brutality and violence. When Channing and I were preparing for this podcast, we found it really difficult to try and separate the scripture and this idea that we were having about spirituality and what that should look like, as if we were going to be able to offer you some type of break from reality. And every time we tried to sit down and outline something, we just couldn't do it. Not only because we felt that it would be insincere to try and pull our lived experience right now in the States apart from our spiritual experience with scripture, but also because we found it to be almost impossible to try and separate the two, because they're so entwined, and good spirituality impacts and influences good political action, and vice versa. Good political action should influence and reshape our interpretations of sacred texts.

C: Yeah, I totally, I 100% agree with you, Elise. And part of me, I wasn't actually worried, because I'm not worried about this, but I do anticipate there being some commentary about, “Oh, we're not supposed to make the scriptures political, we're supposed to separate church and state.” Right? That's something I hear really often in Sunday School lessons, but we can't do that because we come to scripture already carrying our lived experiences, what's happening in the world around us right now, and our own biases, our own struggles, our own thoughts and perspectives. And so right now, what's happening in the world is incredibly politically charged and it would be really, really difficult and impossible, just like Elise said, to try and separate the two. And I think also going along with that, even the scriptures can't keep politics out of its own text. If we look at the Book of Mormon as a whole, it's an incredibly political text. We already just in the six months that we've been doing this podcast have talked about King Benjamin for president, and what his reign looked like, and what his politics were like.

And we've also talked about his son, King Mosiah. And even though he was doing a great job, he didn't want people to have a bad government, like King Noah. So he did something totally new. And so not only is it impossible to separate scripture from politics, but I think if we take the scriptures as they are written and meant to be, politics is part of scripture. It's literally written right in the text. 

E: And we often hear the phrase “This is a modern-day text,” or the scripture was written for our time. But it's interesting to think about when that phrase gets used and when it kind of shifts to the side, right? Because if we believe that this is a modern-day text, then that means for all of the modern times. At any moment, we should be able to take our experience and allow it to influence our scriptural understanding and vice versa. 

C: The church is also a political being. And, if you're totally still not sure about that, anytime that the church, any time that the United States makes a big power move, like going to war or denying refugees entrance to the country, the church releases statements, either supporting or disagreeing with those particular actions. And so it really is just totally disingenuous to say that our religion and our spirituality should not also be political because that's the precedent that's already set up.

E: All of this to say, this episode is not going to be an escape from what's happening right now.

C: And we not only can't not talk about it, but we also don't want to not talk about it. So the scriptures are not an escape from reality

C: So that brings us to the Come Follow Me chapters for this week, which we realize we're already pretty into the episode and haven't even talked about it yet, but today we're going to spend most of our time in chapter 8, mostly because there's a theme there that we are really excited to share with you. So the theme that comes up again and again, in this chapter especially, is rest.

E: So in Alma chapter 8, verse 1, this is when Alma has finished preaching to the people of Gideon and Zarahemla, and he turns his attention to the people of Ammonihah. But before he sets out to go, verse 1 says, “He returned to his own house to rest himself from the labors which he had performed.” So the very first verse sets the stage. Before Alma embarks on this new work, he rests, because he knows what's ahead of him is going to be laborious. And when he arrives in Ammonihah, his message is rejected by the people and he gets cast out. So he leaves, only to be told by an angel that he needs to return and try again. Go back to the city that just cast you out, and try it one more time. And he does it. He actually turns around and goes back speedily, which is what verse 18 says. So when he makes his way, all the way, back speedily to Ammoniohah, he hasn't eaten in a while. And the text says in verse 19, “As he entered the city, he was an hungered and he said to a man, will you give to a humble servant of God something to eat?” And lucky for him, this guy says, “I'm a Nephite. And I know that thou art a holy prophet of God, for thou ar, the man, an angel said in a vision thou shalt receive, therefore go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food. And I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house.” Basically, it's a long way of saying yes, come and stay with me, and I can give you a place to rest and I can give you some food. And I'm sure you all know, but this guy that takes in Alma, his name is Amulek. So Alma and Amulek go to Amulek’s home, where they have a great meal together. And according to verse 27, Alma tarried many days with Amulek before he began to preach unto the people.

C: We really want to focus on this relationship between Alma and Amulek in this chapter. Alma was tired and he was hungry. So God, with the hands of Amulek, offers Alma food, safety, and respite, and so we see in this chapter that the goodness of God is also the goodness of people and the goodness of people is the goodness of God. We really are so grateful, not just for this lesson on rest, but on the explicit focus on who is giving and who is receiving that same rest. 

E: Like I said, in the introduction, today's date is June 6th, 2020. And if you're listening from the future, here's what's been going on. The past week, the United States has seen protesting and rioting in almost every major city because of police brutality, murder, and violence toward black people. George Floyd died in police custody after an officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. “I can't breathe,” were his final words. Breonna Taylor was a black woman and an EMT who was shot to death in the middle of the night, in her own bed after police entered her home. The police say they were looking for drugs and a suspect who did not live at Breonna’s address, but who was already in custody. We also have the story of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot to death by two white men while he was jogging in broad daylight in February, 2020. It took two months for any arrest to be made, even though the murder was filmed. Black people across the country are making their voices heard. Black Lives Matter is their message and we couldn't agree more. 

C: What we've heard so much this week from the black community is this: they're saying we are tired, tired of dying, tired of fighting the system every day, just to stay alive. We are an hungered for justice and peace. That's what I'm hearing, and friends, we know that most of the people listening to this podcast are white. An overwhelming majority of our listeners are from the state of Utah, where black people make up less than 1% of the population. If you follow us on Instagram, you'll also know that Elise and I are white. And so this week I have some questions for all of us about rest, specifically directed at our white listeners and followers, and ourselves included. So the question that I really have that's been weighing on my heart is, if Alma came to your house right now and said, “I am hungered, will you give a humble servant of God something to eat?” Would you do it? Would you give Alma rest? And I think we all hope that we would do it, right? That's what I want to hope for myself. That's what I think a lot of people that I know hope that they would do, too, but I think in light of current circumstances, the question that we also need to ask is, would we do the same thing if Alma was a black man? Because that's really not terribly too far off from what's actually happening right now. Black people are asking for rest. They're asking for rest from injustice, from murder, from prejudice, from racism, from hate, and from ignorance. White friends, we really have to ask ourselves, are we giving that rest? Or are we waiting for an angel to come and tell us what we should do? 

E: And I think it's important to note here that black people aren't just asking for rest so that they can have a quick break before they go back to the way that things are currently set up in the United States. We're not just pausing time for them. Instead, we're all called to not just create spaces where black people can rest, but to reshape a world in which black people don't have to escape from their current world in order to find peace and joy and rest. Why can't they find these things in their current living situations? And these are the things that they're calling for and demanding for it with the Black Lives Matter movement. Justice, change, abolition.

C: And reparation. And this idea of rest and reparation and justice and peace comes from @thenapministry on Instagram. And we've talked about them before, because we're in love with them. They are a nonprofit that was founded in 2016. They're based in Atlanta, Georgia, and it's run by Tricia Hershey. The Nap Ministry “believes rest is a form of resistance and reparations.” And their focus is providing the black community with education, tools, and encouragement for the practice of rest. This week, they posted something that really struck me. They said, “My dream during these times of protest against the police state are for more white folks to be on the front lines and for black folks to be home healing, grieving, and taking naps.” And I read this and I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I was really uncomfortable. And you know what, that's what being called out feels like. A hundred percent. We've kind of talked about being called out and being called out for your privilege in some of our past episodes. And if you want to hear more about what we said about that, you can listen to the episode titled King Benjamin for President. But before you do that while you're here, while you're listening, I think that it's not only worth practicing, but it's necessary that we do practice sitting in that discomfort and spending some time with that, because ultimately discomfort is a messenger with a lesson. So let's sit with the lesson a little bit longer so we can learn something.

E: We should take time to sit in that discomfort. And not just to experience it, but to really look at it critically because white supremacy keeps white people safe and comfortable. And if we are feeling uncomfortable by something we read, or by listening to the stories of black people, before we get defensive, we need to check ourselves and check our privilege and think about whose stories matter in this circumstance. Black Lives Matter is about black people. But it's also about the ways that white supremacy hurt black people and keep white people safe. So when you feel uncomfortable, slow it down a little bit and recognize that maybe that's the white supremacy that's trying to encourage you to retreat back to your place of comfort.

C: As we've been on Instagram this week, we've seen so many people trying to figure out how to navigate this really complex space of addressing our own white supremacist attitudes, of addressing racism, and trying to support this Black Lives Matter movement. I've come across a few quotes this week that I want to share with you today because they've really moved me to kind of look at what the state of my own heart looks like. And so I share them with you today so that we can practice listening to what pleas of hunger look like. And I just really encourage you to let these words meet you where you are. Tricia Hershey says, “I am dreaming of a world that includes justice, ease, and rest for black people who are caught in the daily trauma and shenanigans of white supremacy.”

Rachel Cargill say, “Racial justice is a feminist issue. Black women are seeing their children shot down in the streets. Black girls are being pushed out of systems due to institutionalized racism. Black mothers are dying at disproportionate rates due to the proven medical biases and maternal mortality. Black women are carrying the heavy burdens of being the foundations of communities that the police are terrorizing day in and day out. I don't believe your commitment to the women's movement if the only women you show up for are white women.” And Marianne Feldmann says, “A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back, but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.” 

E: That Rachel Cargill passage is so striking, especially because we have a podcast and an Instagram page dedicated to feminism. Her last two lines say, “I don't believe your commitment to the women's movement if the only women you show up for are white women.” And I feel like that's a direct call-out to us, and a great reminder to start committing, or recommitting, to showing up for all women, especially black women, because the cries for hunger are all around us. Are we listening? And then are we doing something about it? We have a great friend, Jasmine Bradshaw, she's the host of the First Name Basis podcast. And she says, “Are we being allies or are we being co-conspirators?” And jumping off this point, are we using our privilege and our whiteness to help? Or are we standing on the sidelines commentating, using our whiteness to keep us safe and to wear a mask of unity with no action.

C:  Elise, you said it perfectly. And I think we have to, as white women, do more than hope for change, because hope and action are not the same. Friends, the angels have already spoken. What are we waiting for? We must be ready to be radically in love, in love with God, in love with blackness, and in love with people, because they're all the same thing. You cannot take the God out of people. You cannot take the God out of blackness, and you cannot take the blackness out of black people. You can't. They are all essential parts of the same being. And when we talk about love, when we talk about being radically in love, I think it's important to really understand what love is and what love looks like. And I think that Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, has something really good to say about that. He says, “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It's not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

E: And to add on to this, love is a verb. Love shows up for people. Love uses one's voice without speaking over or for them. Love creates space, and welcomes people in. And that's the radical part of the love that Channing is talking about. It's kind and it's patient, and it's not proud or easily angered, but it's also active. Sometimes in ways that can feel dangerous or uncomfortable, but love puts others first. Love always points us to God, which points us to those around us. And when you love someone, you take care of them, like Amulek cared for Alma. But it can also work the other way around. If we don't love someone yet, why don't we try caring for them? Offering them what they need, whether it's rest or our voice or our action or our money. Maybe it's trying to care for them as a stranger first. And then we can learn to love them. Amulek cared for Alma, but he didn't know Alma personally yet. He loved and knew of Alma as the high priest of the church, but it was after spending time and serving and caring for Alma that Amulek became a partner, someone who loved and cared for Alma throughout the rest of his life. It was not just, “I care for you now when you need it most,” but, “I will continue to care for you now and forever.” In this way, Alma and Amulek teach us about what it means, not just to care for people, but what it means to have soft hearts. And this is really what these chapters comprise of, kind of the contrast between having a soft heart and what it means to have a hard heart. In the city of Ammonihah, chapter 9 verse 5 tells us that the people were hard-hearted and stiff-necked. And in fact, the phrase “hard hearts” or “to harden one's heart” is mentioned 15 times throughout this block of text. And 10 of those times are them being in chapter 12. And it's when Alma and Amulek are trying to talk and preach and have conversation with the people, and the people will not listen. They don’t want to hear it at all. And one of the questions that we wanted to ask is, what makes a hard heart?

C: For me, when I think of what makes a hard heart, I think of someone who is unfeeling. For me, as someone who literally feels all of the feels all of the time, of course I would think that someone who has no feelings is probably hard-hearted, but I'm not saying that, I'm not saying if you aren't as emotive or connected to your emotions that you're hardhearted. What I’m meaning is that an unfeeling heart is one that is unmovable towards someone else, that it's just so sure of its place. It's so sure of what it thinks. It's so certain about everything that it is unmovable anywhere. And a heart that's unmovable can't repent, because repentance is movement. Repentance is a movement toward God. And if repentance is a movement toward God, then a movement toward God is also a movement toward other people. And so when I say that a hard heart is an unfeeling heart, what I'm trying to say is that unfeeling hearts are hearts that are unmovable.

E: I also think that hard hearts can come out of misunderstanding and fear, especially when we don't have the whole story, or when we assume that what we know of the story is the whole story. Hard hearts can come from pride, from our inability to listen and to learn, from our inability to recognize our own faults and apologize for them. Hard hearts are ones that overemphasize faults in others, who want forgiveness and humanity for themselves, but don't offer it freely. And as we're having this conversation about hard hearts, the Come Follow Me manual stops us in our tracks and asks “Well, do you ever notice this tendency of hardheartedness in yourself?”

C: I have to laugh at this question because I'm pretty open about this. I don't mind sharing. So I go to therapy every week and every time my therapist asks me-- I'll be usually be going on a rant about something, or talking about this person did this, this, and that, and said this, this, and that. And she'll always pause me and just kind of ask me a question. “So, what do you think that's all about? For you?” And I'm always like, my therapist's name is Sarah, I'm always like, “Dang it, Sarah, stop making this appointment about me.” Because it's hard! It's hard to look at ourselves. It's hard to take accountability and responsibility for our emotions, for our actions, for our words. It’s uncomfortable because it's so much easier to blame our problems on somebody else. It's so much easier to blame our problems on a system or on a circumstance when really the best way toward change is to have it happen inside of you. We can't have an outward change if there's not an inward change. And so, freaking Come Follow Me, stop making these chapters about me. I don't like it. 

E: Yeah. And for me, just like you said, it's easier for me to recognize other people being hard-hearted while also being quick to say “No, that could never be me. I'm one of the ones with a soft heart.” Or drawing it back to the Black Lives Matter movement, I think a lot of white people, myself included, want to consider ourselves as one of the good ones. Right? We have black friends, on the podcast we try and read the words of black women. So we're already doing the work, our hearts aren't hard. And we start to feel certain in the ways that we're one of the good ones. We're one of the anti-racists, as opposed to seeing anti-racism work as something that is always in progress and that allyship and co-conspirator work is something that needs to be practiced, and we need to move and work toward it. And so, back to Channing’s comment about a hard heart being something that's unmovable, we can't get caught there. We can't get caught in “we’re one of the good ones,” we have to let ourselves be moved by black people's experience by the words of black women, and listen to what they say, and believe them.

E: Maybe that's one of the biggest takeaways that we can learn from Alma and Amulek, especially from an Amulek, because he knows what it's like to have a hard heart. In chapter 10, verse 6, he says, “I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear, therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know. Therefore, I went on rebelling against God in the wickedness of my heart. Even until this very day.” So two things are happening here. One, Amulek is sharing his personal experience of how his heart was changed with his people to try and show them that this change is possible. The second thing that's happening here is that he recognizes all of the times people approached him to try and share their stories of God or their experience, right? They called after him, but he was willfully not hearing them. He was trying to be immovable and push them aside. And he's finally realizing that that has been really damaging, not just for himself, but for all of the people in his community.

C: And this is really a necessary process, right? We hear about all the time in the scriptures that you need to have a soft heart, soft hearts are teachable, soft hearts are movable, and they really, really are necessary. And I think Alma chapter 12, verse 34, highlights the necessity of a soft heart. The verse says, “Therefore, whosoever repented (or is moveable) and hardeneth not their heart, shall enter into my rest.” And that is the Lord speaking. I don't think that the invitation from the Lord saying that you must have a soft heart to enter the kingdom of God is like, “Here, check this checklist off.” Just like you can't do the same thing with anti-racism work. As white people, I feel like we're never going to be able to check the anti-racist box fully. It will always be a half check mark, always be a work in progress, but I really feel like what God is saying is soft hearts, a moveable heart, a heart that is moving toward others, that's what I want. That's what we all want. And that is rest. And if you're still not totally convinced about soft hearts and what soft hearts have to do with the whole conversation that we're having today, ask yourself, what would Jesus do? What would Jesus do in the circumstances that we're in right now? What would Jesus do today, June 6th, 2020? If I've read the new Testament correctly, Jesus always takes the side of the oppressed. And so if we're going to do what Jesus would do, we would listen to black people, and we would take their side. And I'm not even sorry for telling you what to do, because ultimately, we are called to feed the hungry. We have to listen to the cries of the hungered. We are called to care for the poor. We're called to love one another. We're called to have soft hearts. We have inherited this earth and all the problems in it and on it. And a preferential option for the poor is our first estate. We must not abandon it. We can't take $200 and pass go, this is not get out of jail free card. We have to do this, because as Christians, this is what we're called to do. This is what the scriptures are calling us to do. And going along with this, I really feel like there's something that needs to be said. As I've been talking with friends and family members, both online and offline, a lot of people have asked me, “Do I think Jesus is coming soon?” And I literally LOL every time when I hear this and I say, “No, for two reasons. One, that hoping or thinking that the Second Coming is close because of the Rona or because of these protests is actually a type of apocalyptic thinking. We've discussed apocalyptic before in episode 3, titled Is it the End of the World? Wait, it's just Isaiah.” So if you haven't listened yet, and you're unsure of what apocalyptic thinking is, I highly recommend that you check that out. 

E: That phrase, “Oh, is the Second Coming happening?” That means that you're saying that you think things are so bad that the end of the world must be near. That means that you can't even imagine a world where black people have full liberation, full participation in the same ways that white people do, as if their fight for justice is really a fight against justice, is really a war that's going to end the entire world. 

C: Because even though it might feel like the world is falling apart to white people, for the black community, just like Elise said, this is running toward justice. It's running toward freedom and liberation. Honestly, we can't call the broken the white supremacist, the police state system that we live in any kind of utopia. We can't call it Zion. If we think that that place, if we think the Zion is going to look like the world that we live in now, but just a little bit better, where we have no problems, we are dead wrong. I hope we are dead wrong. We better be dead wrong, because I don't want to live in a world where women are less than men. I don't want to live in a world where black is less than white, where poor is less than rich, where Muslim is less than Christian, where earth is less than human. I don't want that to be the end goal. That's not Zion to me. That's not Zion to anyone. And honestly, if we're waiting around for a white Jesus, which is a whole other conversation for another time, if we're waiting around for a white Jesus to come and save us from our own discomfort that's happening right now, we are going to wait forever. We'll wait forever because it's not going to happen. This is something that you'll hear Elise and I say over and over and over again, if you want to see the face of God, look around you. It's already here. Zion is waiting to rise from beneath our feet. Not descend upon us from the heavens. These issues are not going to go away and will not be pushed aside, because we need to be part of the solution. We, as white people, we have to be part of the solution.

E: We know that we've jumped around in this block of text. And we also know that we've merged our spiritual realm with our political and personal and situational lives. And we hope that you do this, too. We encourage you to read these chapters and see how you can bring the current situation, whether it's still at the beginning of June or you're listening in the future, see what wonderful ways you can bridge your spirituality with your political life, in ways that will deepen your experience and call you to be part of the solution. We want to end this episode by reading a poem from Maya Angelou titled Still I Rise.

C: I chose this poem not just because it was written by a black woman and not just because it was written by a black woman poet, but because the words themselves really demonstrate the hope and resilience of the black community. And honestly, even though as a white woman I can read myself into this poem, I can read between the lines and make it mean something to me, I honestly think that the original intent of the author was to write this for the black community and to offer them hope and celebration and joy and beauty. And I can't even offer that. Right? I can only remind people that this is there. These are not my words. I'm just in love with them because they do more than I ever could. And so I share them with deep, deep gratitude, and I share them with you, our predominantly white audience, to also inspire you to recognize the humanity and the joy and the celebration in the black community around us.

Still I rise. 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
but still, like dust, I'll rise. 

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room. 

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
just like hopes springing high,
still I'll rise. 

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard.
‘Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise. 

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? 

Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise.
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling, I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear,
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise.
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise.
I rise.
I rise.

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