Internalize, Don't Weaponize (Helaman 1-6)

Monday, August 17, 2020


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’re here to show you all the really good ways 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 Helaman 1-6 for the dates August 17-23. We’re so glad you’re here.

E: Welcome back everyone! Thanks for joining us on another episode of The Faithful Feminists. We’re really excited because today we get to start a brand new book of scripture. This is the first set of scriptures that show up in the book of Helaman. And in this story, The Book of Helaman starts sketching some of the triumphs and the tragedies among the Nephites and Lamanites. There are a lot of adventures that we're going to follow throughout this episode and for the first part of the episode we're going to look at these stories from a place of internal reflection. And then later in the episode we're going to ask some questions about its external implications as well. And I know, Channing, you were really excited to kind of share your ideas about how these stories come to life and can be meaningful to us as we apply them to our internal lives.

C: Yes, I really am and admittedly I got really nerdy for this episode! So, I found the story that we're going to focus on today to be very compelling in a way that we haven't explored on the podcast yet. We've talked a little bit about the method and value of understanding the storytelling principles within the text before, but today I'd like to go a little more in-depth. I'll be drawing on my experience as a writer, a story lover, and the work of Jungian psychologist Clarissa Pinkola Estes to illustrate the symbols and archetypes at play in the text specifically in Helaman chapter 2 verses 1-9. But before we get into that if you're not familiar with Clarissa Pinkola Estes she's the author of quite a few books but her most popular and my favorite is Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.

Her book focuses on a psychoanalytical study of fairy tales. And I know that's a huge mouthful, so to say it more simply, she shines a light on the bones of old stories to teach women about Universal aspects of their inner world and how to successfully navigate this inner world, or psyche as she calls it, for growth, maturity, and peace. I'll be using some of her knowledge and insight as we explore the story in this chapter because I think an incredibly interesting way to view the story is to recognize the information and wisdom it offers us individually and collectively.

So in Helaman chapter 2 we're going to get right into the story. There are two main characters: Kishkumen who is working as an assassin for the iconic Gadianton robbers and in the past chapter he had already killed one chief judge and now he's on assignment to kill the current chief judge, Helaman. Also we have a servant of Helaman whose one job is to protect Helaman. So in the text I'm going to read just a couple of verses but don't worry because it's actually not boring! Starting in Helaman 2 verse 2:

“And it came to pass that Helaman, who was the con of Helaman, was appointed to fill the judgement seat, by the voice of the people. But behold, Kishkumen, who had murdered Pahoran, did lay wait to destroy Helaman also; and he was upheld by his band who had entered into a covenant that no one should know his wickedness. 

For there was one Gadianton, who was exceedingly expert in many words, and also in his craft, to carry on the secret work of murder and of robbery; therefore he became the leader of the band of Kishkumen. He did flatter them that if they would place him in the judgement seat, he would grant unto them that they should be placed in power and authority among the people; therefore Kihkumen sought to destroy Helaman.

And it came to pass as he went forth towards the judgement-seat to destroy Helaman, behold one of the servants of Helaman, having been out by night and having obtained, through disguise, a knowledge of those plans which had been laid by this band to destroy Helaman-- 

And it came to pass that he met Kishkumen, and he gave unto him a sign; therefore Kishkumen made known unto him the object of his desire, desiring that he would conduct him to the judgement seat that he might murder Helaman. And when the servant had known all the heart of Kishkumen… he said unto Kishkumen: Let us go forth unto the judgement-seat. 

Now this did please Kishkumen exceedingly, for he did suppose that he should accomplish his design, but behold, the servant of Helaman; as they were going forth unto the judgement seat, did stab Kishkumen even to the heart, that he fell dead without a groan. And he ran and told Helaman all the things which he had seen and heard and done.”

Alright, I’ll give it to Mormon--He is a pretty excellent storyteller! Like, I seriously feel like this reads like a spy movie. So like I said earlier, these chapters in Helaman mark the first appearance of the iconic Gadianton robbers. From an analysis standpoint, the robbers, especially Kishkumen and Gadianton, resemble an archetype, or a symbol, that is common in stories and myth, not just scriptures. And this archetype is called the predator.

The predator is a unique type of villain in storytelling. He’s not immediately identifiable as a bad guy. A few examples I can think of from other stories and works, and this going to show like how not like popular film-watcher I am, like I don’t watch that many movies, but I tried to pull like from the few that I know right? So a friend this to you that I know right so a couple of these examples would be Mr. George Wickham in P&P, Norman Spencer in “What Lies Beneath,” it’s an older one so if you haven’t seen it that’s okay. And then the other one that came to my mind was the Prime Minister of England in the show “Wonder Woman” who is actually Aries in disguise. So don't make fun of me for like all the movies. I don't watch that many! Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her work does a heavy analysis on this predator symbol using the story of Bluebeard if you're familiar with any of that.

What I find fascinating and relevant about Estes’ work is that she encourages readers to take stories personally and interpret them internally. I feel like this pushes back on traditional interpretations, especially of scripture stories, that encourage an outward-focused reading where the reader identifies similarities between the characters in the text and people or systems in their own reality. I’d like to practice this style of interpretation using Kishkumen and the servant to see what benefits and understandings it can offer to us about our own selves.

This predator archetype, along with its appearances in myth and story, also has its mirror aspect within us as individuals too. Men and women alike have this predatory aspect within their own psyches. It is a shadow aspect of our human selves. It desires superiority and power of others and of the self, and in this quest it opposes growth and change, suppresses curiosity, and ultimately seeks to either keep small or kill entirely the parts of the self that seek maturity and wholeness. In an LDS context, the best way to explain this predatory aspect, I feel, is “the natural man” we find in Mosiah 3:19, who the author explicitly states is an “enemy to God.” 

So in these verses in Helaman 2, we see this Kishkumen acting as a predator. He and his “band of men” seek “power and authority” over the people. He has killed and will kill again any that oppose him in that goal. Internally, questions you may use to explore this shadow aspect of The Predator may include the following:

  • How does pride show up in my inner landscape? In what ways is it allowed to operate unchecked in the dark corners of my mind and heart? In what ways, spoken or unspoken, do I believe I am better, more deserving, or more righteous than others?

  • What known but unspoken suspicions, curiosities, and beliefs--about anything really--are you afraid to explore? What are you afraid of? What or who makes you afraid?

  • From where do these beliefs originate? How do they show up in my everyday life? 

  • And finally, how do they influence my understanding of God? Of others?

Remember that, just like the scripture in Mosiah 3, this aspect is ever-present in the self. It’s simply a condition of being human. It will never fully go away. If we allow it to work in the shadows of our minds and its influence go unchecked, we risk our own ignorance and potential, if unintentional, harm to others.

So, what do we do about this Predator? What do we do about Kiskumen? The text answers that too! The Servant of Helaman presents a solution. What I love about this servant is that he doesn’t just go waiting around for Kishkumen to show up and do his job. He actively seeks him out, gains knowledge about his entire plan and his network, and then acts on the information he finds. Estes really demonstrates the importance of what role the servant plays. I love this quote from her. She says, “All women must acknowledge that both within and without, there is a force which will act in opposition to the instincts of the Natural Self, and that malignant force is what it is,” and she’s talking about the predator here, “Though we might have mercy upon it, our first actions must be to recognize it, to protect ourselves from its devastations, and ultimately to deprive it of its murderous energy.”

What Clarissa Estes encourages here is 1. Recognition of the predatory aspect of the shadow self, or the Natural man, and how it presents inwardly and outwardly, 2. protection or strict boundaries around that aspect so it can neither harm self or others, and 3. Eventually starve this predatory aspect of fuel and opportunity to act. This is a lifelong work, and we ultimately achieve this by self-awareness, compassion, empathy, meditation, and a heck of a lot of Grace. And probably a ton of therapy too!

So in conclusion, this, I believe, is the value of reading and analyzing stories internally. While I would never encourage physical violence to self or others, allowing ourselves a framework to study and move within to understand elements of our own psyche allows us to recognize the internal forces at play within our own selves. I personally think this is a responsible reading of the text. It's not the only way to read it responsibly, but in exploring the shadow side of the Self, or the Natural man, we have opportunity to understand and acknowledge our full humanity, allowing us to make conscious and informed choices about what we believe and how we’d like to move about the world. 

I find the text to be most valuable to me when I can internalize it instead of weaponize it. When I come across a story, like this one, of good guy vs. bad guy, this is the lens I have found to be the most educational and spiritually nourishing. Although this is uncomfortable, challenging, and complex work, the fruits of it are so, so good.

I know this is a heavy, analytical, critical way to come to the text but I also find it really exciting and like I said before really nerdy. So, I'm so glad that I had opportunity to just share some of my like excitement and knowledge and information that I've come across because for anyone who is also interested in doing the same, I really feel like this is an incredibly revolutionary way to read scripture.

E: It totally is! I'm super jazzed about what you shared here because it's so different then the way we commonly approach scripture. I feel like, at least for me, the first way I had read these stories was that these were separate people outside of me in a totally different time in history doing this thing. And of course there are things we can learn from that if that's our perspective, but then I think the next type of perspective we usually take is like oh how are we like these people? How am I like Kishkumen how am I like the servant that's protecting Helaman? But I think you and Pinkola Estes take it one step more personally and say no not just le how are we like them but how do they show up in us? And that is wild, but it also forces us to look Inward and not just that the great parts of ourselves but to really start mapping our internal structures and seeing like okay what does my natural woman or Kishkumen look like? And for me at least when you were describing it I felt like the Kishkumen or the like predator side of me shows up as like just a side of me that is really relentless. The side that wants to win at all costs, the side that is self-destructive, or the side that knows decisions I'm making are bad but still does them anyways. It’s that type of of self and as much as I want to disavow myself from that part, I can't because that is neetu I'm not only the servant protecting me. I'm also the predator.

C: Right, I love that. You did a wonderful self-analysis. But I am so interested to hear what you got out of these chapters Elise because I know this isn't the only way to come to the text.

E: Yes, definitely not the only way but a really beautiful way to approach the text and it was different than what I had pulled out. I actually feel like my interpretations are quite external and come with a lot more questions than they do any type of like through analysis that is well researched like yours. So I'm glad that we, well for all of these reasons, I’m glad that you’re my best friend but also because it makes the podcast interesting because if people only heard what I had to say they’d probably get bored of it! So thank goodness we are both here to share various perspectives.

C: Right? And I’m like, inside of my mind I’m like, I should have consulted Elise, like, the Sundance Film watcher for good ideas of what the predator looks like so I didn’t have to embarrass myself on the podcast.

E: No, not embarrassing! People are going to love it.

C: Perfect!

E: But I really felt like when I was reading through I found a recurring theme of misalignment. I  feel like there are two groups of people that kept coming up, that I just kept feeling called to with this theme of misalignment. And one was the Nephite dissenters and the other was just kind of the Nephite society at large because in this set of scriptures there's a flip-flop in the ways that the stories are being told. It’s not that the Lamaites are the bad guys anymore. The text is really explicit about calling out all of the ways that the Nephites are falling into wickedness and violence and they're becoming the oppressors. So the script flipped and it says that there are actually more Lamanites, like the good Lamanites outnumbered the good Nephites, so the majority of the Nephites were the bad guys and the majority of the Lamaites are the good guys. And I feel like this is a really refreshing, it's not refreshing that people are doing bad things, but it's refreshing that the Lamanites are not painted as the bad people anymore and that the text doesn't hold back the critique or try and pretend that the Nephites are the good people 24/7 for their entire civilization.

C: Right. Yeah, I think I can appreciate the text for its depth and complexity in that way. That it’s willing to showcase the good and bad of both sides and not just like hold each side to like a very strict or narrow or here’s another storytelling aspect flat aspect or characterization of all these people. 

E: Right. And that's also not to say that the text always is this honest and is always this up front in the ways that people are complex and messy. But I do feel like in these first 6 chapters of the text feels a little more honest...whatever that means. I don't actually know if it's true and 100% accurate and like 100% fact but that's how it felt when I had read these scriptures. In these same chapters, so the Nephite dissenters like this isn't the first group of Nephite dissenters that we have seen. In fact, during the first like 95 years of the reign of the judges there are nine different groups of Nephite dissenters that show up here. And the majority of the time like it's not just like they’re dissenting.

They’re not just speaking out against what they don't like or they're not just speaking out because they're being treated poorly in society. It's more than that, it’s way more than that because they, these Nephite dissenters, actively call upon or go incite the Lamanites and stir up the Lamanites in a way that causes them to attack the Nephite nation. And if it weren't for these dissenters some people have written that it might have been possible that the Nephite nation may have been able to be at peace with the Lamanites because there is no record of the Lamanites ever going to war against the Nephites during this period, during this like 95 years of the reign of the judges, except for when they were either incited or lead or both by Nephite dissenters. And this comes from a talk that was written in 1977 called Dissent and Treason by Orson Scott Card. 

But I find that so interesting! Like it's something I hadn't picked up on or realized until doing this study for the podcast. For some reason I had always, I had always told myself that the Lamanites were like senselessly attacking the Nephites, but I missed the whole part where it is Nephite dissenters that goes stir up the Lamanites and call the Lamanites to fight the Nephites in the first place. That's so messed up.

C: That is messed up, but oh my gosh like I hadn't picked up on that either. I’m so glad you brought that up. And that is wild because it is essentially like if you like really zoom out and look at it big picture, it's the Nephites attacking the Nephites. That’s so wild.

E: Right, right, right. One of the questions that I ask myself about these Nephite dissenters is why? Why do they do this? What is their like primary motivation to leave the group that they once loved? Like, the group that they were born and raised in with this group’s stories and this group's culture. What makes them leave and go running to Lamanites? The same Lamanites who they used to claim were wicked and violent people. Is it the prospect of power and personal gain? Some of the Nephite dissenters do work their way up the Lamanite hierarchy or chain of command and become leaders of armies because they do know the Nephite structure really well and I think the Lamanites think they can get an inside look at the Nephites if they have a Nephite dissenter as one of their leaders. Or maybe, do they feel like they don't belong with the Nephites and they want to go somewhere where they feel like they’ll be more accepted? Do they feel slighted or wrong by the Nephites all together?

And with each of these questions that I don't have an answer to I do think that it showcases a type of misalignment because for each of the questions that I offered, like why do they do what they do, I think it suggests that they are running to a system or a structure that they think can protect them. But that's not protection. And I think if we take a social justice and activism lens we have to ask ourselves, when things get tough who do we run to? Do we run back to the structures and the systems that have hurt people we love and continue to hurt people we love, but they can protect us because we have some type of stock in them? For example if we say we are fighting against racism, when things get really tough and we get called out and we get held accountable or we lose friends and family members over our beliefs, who do we run to?

Do we run back to the systems of white supremacy because we know they can keep us quote “safe” because I'm white and I know that I get certain benefits from a system of white supremacy? But that's the trick, like aligning yourself with that system is not actually protecting you because it asks you to sacrifice parts of yourself in order to be accepted and protected. It it asks you to forget what you knew. What you knew when you were doing anti-racism work, what you knew when you were listening to Black women and their experiences, what you knew when you were attending protests and listening to Indigenous women, all of these things. It asks you to forget all of that and espouse yourself to a system that is painted by power and oppression. So it's not protection. So, that's the question that I came away with from the Nephite dissenters is who do I run to and why do I run? 

C: Those are really powerful questions to ask ourselves because they challenge us. They ask to be honest and one step further than that, they asked us to be honest about what we're afraid of. Like I seriously listened to you read those and was struck at my core. Like yes, what do I run to and why do I run? What do I need from theses systems and because I also know that the systems are harmful either to me or to people that I love that I know, just like you said what do I have stock in, I know that what I quote “think I need” from these systems is exactly what I'm being asked to give up in favor of equality and justice and liberation. And I think that that’s, Elise, I’m like so in awe. You really got, I feel like, at the heart of what it means to read the text through a social justice and activist lens because you're asking us to bring those aspects of ourselves to light so that we can be aware and eventually be whole. Like freaking dang girl.

E: Thank you! I'm glad that it's feeling powerful to more than just me right now so hopefully that comes through for our listeners too. I think the conversation we're having actually leads us really nicely into the kind of flip-flop that happens where the Nephites become quote “bad” and “wicked” and the Lamanites become “righteous” and “prosperous.” And again, same types of questions like why does this happen? How do, how did the Nephites go from being the oppressed group, right, the group that feels like they are discriminated, hunted against, having violence perpetuated against them, constantly having to be on the defensive because of the Lamanite groups that are coming after them trying to take them into bondage and trying to oppress them. How do these Nephite dissenters, and other groups of Nephites, how did they make the switch? How do you go from the oppressed to the oppressor? How do you go from living a righteous life to, like in Helaman chapter 4 verses 12 and 13 it talks about these Nephites being overcome with pride and focusing on their riches and they were oppressing the poor and withholding their food from the hungry withholding their clothing from the naked smiting their humble brother and upon the cheek and making a mock of that which was sacred. They were committing adultery and murdering and lying and stealing and they were rising up in great contentions. So how did they go from the humble, righteous Nephites to the oppressors?

I don't have an answer to that aside from, power is tempting and it's corrupting. And if we continue on this social justice and activism, then we need to think about what moves us from a state of oppression or from being an ally to being the oppressor. And some of the thoughts I have is like, look, if we’re able to move that easily from oppressed to oppressor then we really didn't understand what the work was calling us to do in the first place. We thought it was about our own individual freedom and our own individual liberation and not the freedom and liberation of the entire group. But it's not just about us.

We had forgotten that we are one piece of a whole. So then we have to ask ourselves what do we want more? Do I want justice and liberation for myself or do I want it for all of my people? Which might mean that we have either forgotten, right, we have forgotten our people, we’ve forgotten what it was like to be the oppressed, we’ve forgotten what it was like to be suffering under the hand of the oppressor. Or that we never truly saw it for what it was in the first place. That we never truly understood the situation. Like maybe we jumped into this activism work too quickly and it was really shallow and performative. And so when the opportunity arises for us to get gain or get power to take care of our own selves we've abandoned the people that we were fighting for in the first place. If we recognize ourselves as the Nephite dissenters or if we recognize ourselves as people who are quick to leave the group we are trying to align ourselves with, that we're trying to advocate and fight for, if we're quick to leave those people and go stir up the oppressors to do more harm to that same group of people that we just came from I think the next question to ask is like what do we do? How do we keep ourselves in check?

And in Helaman chapter 5 verse 12 we get this really beautiful scripture that is often cited about the rock of our redeemer in building a strong foundation. It says “It is upon the rock of our Redeemer that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his might storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if people build they cannot fall.”

I turn to this scripture to try and think about how can I keep myself in check because it does talk about having a strong foundation. And so if I want to continue to do good social justice and activism work, I have to constantly be checking in not only with myself but with the other people in the community that I'm trying to stand up for and to stand up with. And then I ask what is my sure foundation? What is it at the core that I am fighting for and that I say that I'm committed to? And in that same line of questioning, then what are the winds? What are you committed to? It's one thing to know what your sure foundation is when the winds of hardship come, right? Maybe you're really good at digging in your heels deeper and fighting the good fight and being on the front lines. But what about when the winds of isolated individual opportunity show up and they beg to sweep you away. Do you go? Do you forget your foundation when the winds of opportunity show up for you and only you? And then you have to ask yourself, am I more committed to my individual freedom and liberation than I am to the entire groups’ liberation and freedom? Because if you're only committed to your individual freedom and your individual prosperity, then you will continue to reinforce and play into the systems of oppression. You will become the oppressor.

C: Yeah, that actually reminds me of a really well-known quote from Fannie Lou Hamer who says, “We are not free until everyone is free.” 

E: That is exactly it! That is the exact idea that I'm trying to sort through right now I think. So when that individual window of opportunity comes to take you out of your isolated oppression will you follow those winds and will you leave your community behind? Which means leaving them behind on the rock of the sure foundation that you thought you were so committed to. But the rest of the people have to continue to stay committed to that rock, their foundation, while the tides rise. You get on your isolated raft and you say “Sorry! It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up..but like, maybe I'll come back for you later.” I think we often see this a lot with white feminism and feminists that say they're committed to the liberation and freedom and equality of all women. But when white women, and the winds of opportunity come to white women, we can so quickly turn into the oppressor. We want to break the glass ceiling for ourselves and no one else. We don't bring the other women with us. And I'm wondering if that's a helpful example here. What do you think?

C: Yeah, I think it actually reminds me of a critique I once heard I don't know who the attribution is so if one of our listeners know, or, I will look it up later and put it in the show notes. When talking about women in the scriptures especially when in the Old Testament talking about Sarah Abraham's wife or Sariah, it changes in there so whichever you prefer I guess. Talking about how she was prophetess and talking about how she was an influential woman in that time period, but then also not recognizing that she was actually the oppressor of Hagar also.

E: That’s a good example!

C: Forgetting the complexity of the roles that she plays. So, sure feminism can try to liberate Sariah from that role of the oppressed woman, but does white feminism also seek to liberate Hagar as well? We have to take everyone with us if we want to make it.

E: Yes! Exactly. And I feel like that is why intersectionality is important because it gives us language to understand how we are both always already the oppressed and the oppressor. We hold multiple intersecting identities that, just like the example you gave with Sarah and Hagar, yes of course Sariah is oppressed but she also holds a position of privilege and power and oppression over Hagar at the same time. And if she forgets that Hagar is part of the women that she is fighting for, if she forgets that she is part of a larger group of women who all need freedom and liberation, then she will leave the women behind to drown while she sails off.

C: That’s such a good analogy.

E: And for all of these really heart-wrenching, challenging questions that are asking to ourselves, in Helaman chapter 5 verse 17 I think there's something really hopeful and redeeming in a way that recognizes we are going to make mistakes and sometimes we might choose our individual freedom over the freedom of the group, but here's how we make it right. The scripture talks about how Nephi and Lehi went and preached with great power and the Nephite dissenters confess their sins, they were baptized unto repentance and, here's the big kicker, “immediately return to the Nephites to endeavor to repair unto them the wrongs which they had done.” I love this because it is both individual and communal. Not only do they have to confess their individual sins and make new covenants unto repentance, but they also have to go back to the community. Back to the community that they left stranded on that rock. And they have to not just apologize, they have to repair the wrong that they had done to them. And as we do this we can be welcomed back into the community when the community is ready and as we show our true sorrow and change of heart and recommit ourselves to fighting the good fight.

C: So good Elise. Do you ever feel like when you watch conference that there are people who get up to speak and you’re like, “Ah yes, I loved everything they said. This is like a heavy-hitter.” Right, like, I hear a lot of people reference like, certain talks or certain general authorities as like the “heavy-hitters.” I totally think this episode qualifies as a heavy hitter. It just really asks us to take a brutally honest look at what's happening in our internal landscape, what our intentions are, what our, I don’t know, maybe fall backs, or unconscious decisions that we make that don't necessarily align with what our internal values are. I’m just really excited about this episode. I hope it lands with all of the love and intention that we made it with. This was an incredibly complex set of chapters for us to come to, but honestly, I think we hit the nail on the head. Not to like, pat ourselves on the backs but like, I’m excited about the work that we’ve done here today.

E: Me too. Thank you everyone who's listening and joining us for this week's episode. We're so glad that we could work through these chapters with you and we are really looking forward to hearing how not only you receive them, but what new interpretations you have found during your come follow me study this week. So until next time, we wish you the best of luck and we miss you and will see you soon. Bye!

Powered by Blogger.