Behold, it was the Faith of Women (Ether 12-15)

Monday, November 23, 2020

Hi, I'm Elise. And although I'm usually joined by my best friend and cohost, Channing, this is going to be a solo episode of The Faithful Feminists podcast.

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 and a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all of the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Ether chapters 12 through 15 for the dates, November 23rd to the 29th. I'm so glad you're here today.

Welcome back everyone. Just a reminder that we will be taking a break for the holidays. So our plan is we will finish out the month of November with this episode that finishes out the book of ether. And then next week, or at the start of December, we're going to do one mega episode that covers all of the book of Moroni. Then after that, we plan to rest and prepare for the new year in Doctrine and Covenants. And we'll be back with a brand new episode to kick off the year on January 4th.

But for this week, these chapters are filled with some really powerful understandings about faith, hope and charity, which is absolutely a welcome start to what ends up being quite a sad and violent ending to the Jaredites people. In this episode, I'm hoping that we can talk about faith, our weaknesses being made strong and some of the consequences of winning at all costs.

Starting in chapter 12, this is where some really deep and vibrant discussion happens around the ideas of faith, hope and charity. In chapter 12, verse six, we have a really well-known verse that says faith is things which are hoped for and not seen. Wherefore dispute not because you see not for you receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. And after this, the text lists off stories of five to six faithful men and the result of their faith. The text includes things like Moses, Alma and Amulek, Nephi and Lehi, Ammon, and the brother of Jared. And these verses start out “Behold, it was the faith of Moses, which brought about blank, blank, blank,” which brought about many miracles or something like that.

And I think that these are of course powerful examples of faith, but let's remember that we can't forget about the women of faith too. So I took it upon myself to add these women into the text, following the same verse structure that was already there. Behold. It was the faith of Sariah, which wrought such great miracles and protection in the wilderness. Behold, it was the faith of Abish who rallied a community and used her spiritual gifts to save a people. Behold it was the faith of queen Lamoni that wrought so great a vision that could not be recorded. Behold, it was the faith of the maid servant of Morianton which brought about a great change in the Nephite history as she spoke out against domestic abuse. Behold, it was the faith of the mothers of the Stripling warriors, which brought an understanding of the atonement and inspired a generation.

I hope that we can see that in all of these scenarios, it's not just faith and hope that are involved, but there's also really intentional action. These people were actively seeking out answers to their problems. They're actively working with God. They're actively demanding blessings for them and for their people. For me, personally, having faith in things that are hoped for and not seen means that sometimes I will have no idea where I'm going, but I am moving. My faith and my hope are the things that move me. They are the things that can kind of sweep me up and wash me up on the shore of God's miracles. But the relationship goes both ways. I move in my faith and I am moved by my faith. I move in the hope that there might be a loving God and a better world. And I am moved by the deeply spiritual notion that fills my life with grace.

I hope that this comes as a balm to those of you who are listening and feel like maybe your faith is no longer existed or it's really uncertain and unsteady and fragile. And I just want to remind you that that's okay, whatever your faith looks like right now. That's okay. You're exactly where you need to be. You can't be anywhere else. Let it move you as you continue to move and act. Trust that you've got someone that loves you some, some type of divinity or all-encompassing creation or friends and neighbors and family that are here to support you wherever your faith may lead.

This pairing of faith and hope and action also reminds me of all of the other unnamed people in modern times. And so of course I wrote a few verses about them too. Behold. It was the faith of LGBTQ members and allies, which brought about the reversal of the 2015 policy that classified people in same-sex marriages apostate, and said that children from those marriages couldn't be baptized until they were 18 years old. It was the faith of Sam Young and the folks at Protect LDS children, which brought about more safety precautions for youth and Bishop interviews. Behold, it was the faith of Black Lives Matter protestors, which brought so great a miracle as to hear elder Oak say over the pulpit Black Lives Matter. Behold, it was the faith of Kate Kelly and the folks at Ordain Women, which brought about steady change for women in the church, including a recent notions about women having access to priesthood power. Behold, it was the faith of Back members and allies, which brought about the inclusion of Black men to receive the priesthood.

This list certainly isn't exhaustive. And I'm not even saying that each of these examples are kind of one-to-one connection. But what I am saying is that acting on faith and hoping for a better world can bring about miracles, even bigger miracles that we have yet to imagine.

After this conversation of faith, hope and charity, we hear a little bit from Moroni who’s the one that's kind of writing in first person and keeping the record about some of his insecurities and his weaknesses. And then the kind of iconic verse that comes after where the Lord says, I give people weakness so that they will be humble. And through me and my grace, I can make weak things strong. But before we get to making weak things strong, I actually want to spend time breaking down the verses where Moroni is, is comparing his writing and his words to the work of other people and feeling incredibly inadequate.

In chapter 12, starting in verse 24, he writes Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things because of our weakness in writing for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but that has not made us mighty in writing. And thou hast made us that we could write, but little because of the awkwardness of our hands, behold, thou has not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared. Wherefore when we write, we behold our weaknesses and stumble because of the placing of our words. And I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock our words.

I think this is such like, this feels so personal and real to me, I find myself doing this type of comparison and introspection only to find that I'm incredibly insecure all of the time. In these verses, we see that Moroni is afraid of being ridiculed, but that fear comes from comparing ourselves to others and thinking that we're less than them, that we're not as amazing as them, that somehow the Lord has kind of gypped us in a skill or a talent. And I'm thinking today about how a lot of comparison, particularly among women happens and, and is kind of spurred on by social media.

So I want to talk about the connection between comparison and social media and body image and the ways that God is with us through all of it. As social media users, we build this type of identity that represents an idealized version of ourself, right? A picture perfect, pristine makeup, ready, camera ready, fantastic outfit of the day. Right. We curate and shape the version of ourself that we want to be, and that we want others to think that we are. There's a really great article titled Instagram Use and Self Objectification: The Roles of Internalization, Comparison, Appearance Commentary, and Feminism by Chandra E. Feltman and Dawn M. Szymanski.

In this article, they note that as women, we really stress over the importance of looking pretty and attractive in pictures, especially on Instagram. And that shows that we have internalized the cultural beauty standards around what it means to be physically attractive, how our appearance needs to be and the size and acceptability of our bodies. And when we're scrolling through Instagram and we see like conventionally attractive people receive a lot of attention and a lot of positive commentary because of their appearance. Those cultural beauty standards are then reinforced to us because it looks like proof, right? These people look so beautiful and they're getting this positivity. So, so our cultural understanding of beauty must be good and right and correct.

From there, we start to compare our realistic flawed selves. Like the ways that our bodies look in everyday life, not on Instagram life, but we start to compare our realistic selves to the kind of carefully crafted images that are posted on social media, by our friends or by people we don't even know. And we don't always realize that these photos are sometimes incredibly edited. They're unrealistic portrayals and versions of beauty and bodies. Then as we break, you're clearly engaged in this like unrealistic comparison that we're doing online. We start looking at our own selves and objectifying our own bodies to see how we are measuring up to these ideal depictions of what beauty is and what bodies should be. But here's the kicker. I think this article found that higher feminist beliefs play kind of a buffering or a protective role against body image concerns and body dissatisfaction. But unfortunately we are so exposed to these idealized hyper edited images that feminism doesn't like magically make these comparisons or our negative body shame disappear.

Instead, the article suggests that although feminism does offer a way to cope with and question these images that we see on social media at the end of the day, it's not enough to counteract these harmful messages about beauty and the temptation to make appearance based comparisons. So I know you might be thinking like, okay, now what, why did you just lay this through this whole article and it doesn't even have a fantastic conclusion. Like it didn't even save us, but we're not just forever doomed to this crippling comparison that we see Moroni engage in. We don't always have to be so worried about the awkwardness of our hands and the way that we speak that's not as good as the way that so-and-so speaks or the way that so, and so looks online.

I think this is a really great intersection where our theology and our feminism can meet and help us fight against this toxic comparison and learn to be vulnerable enough to love what the world calls weaknesses, but God calls strengths. In response to Moroni’s fear of being ridiculed in response to Moroni’s insecurity, the Lord responds, look fools mock, but they will mourn. My grace is sufficient for the meek that they shall take no advantage of your weakness for if people come into me, I will show them their weakness. I give unto people weakness that they may be humble. And my grace is sufficient for all that humble themselves before me. Then I will make weak things become strong unto them. So we see here that the world mocks us for what they call our weaknesses.

And if we stick to the body image theme, the world mocks us for not being thin enough for having acne, for having small boobs for not having a tight stomach for not having the right nose or lips. These are all things that the world and cultural patriarchal beauty standards have told us that we should be ashamed of because we're not as fantastic as the other people. We don't look like them. We're awkward and uncomfortable, and we're worried that people will make fun of us. But when feminism and God show up, feminism first says, wait, slow down. You know, as a feminist, that bodies, that women's bodies are sexually objectified. You know, that they are shamed, controlled, dominated, and taken advantage of, and they're not valued within the system of patriarchy. You know that every time you hate your body enough to go on a new diet, to buy a gym membership, to buy new makeup, to buy a waist trainer, et cetera, you know that you are only benefiting some random rich guy who profits off of yourself hate.

And then God steps in and says, besides I love you the way you are. What you see as a shortcoming or a weakness, what the world sees as a shortcoming or a weakness, I see it as something that makes you, you, and in this way, what you perceive to be your weaknesses are really things that I can help you love. My grace is sufficient enough to help make your insecurities secure, to help make your flaws and to treasures. And I'm doing it all without even changing the weakness. I'm not even changing the world. Instead, I'm changing you through my love for you.

And I know this may sound like I'm reading this passage of scripture a bit differently than the way that it's traditionally interpreted, but I think that a quote from Brene Brown can help us find a nice balance. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection she writes “healthy striving is self-focused and it sounds like how can I improve? Perfectionism is other focused. And that sounds like, what will they think?” So of course, as we strive to focus on ourself in connection with God, we can absolutely improve the areas in our life that could positively bless and benefit us.

Like for example, I should and could and can improve on my willingness to creatively connect with the youth during this pandemic for my calling. But we must also caution ourselves to steer clear of perfectionism and self-deprecation. God can help us love every bit of ourself, even if the world wants us to feel ashamed and wants to tell us that we are weak and therefore not good enough and not deserving of love. This is where God comes in and says, these people are fools.

Finally, I want to move to chapter 14 and in this chapter, this is where destruction comes to the people. And I'm going to summarize the story of Coriantumr and Shiz. And as I summarize the story, I want you to listen to all of the times where Coriantumr has the explicit opportunity to stop the violence and save his people, but because of their wickedness, it doesn't end up happening. In chapters, 13, 14, and 15 there's a lot of war, a lot of secret plans of wickedness. There are robbers and murderers and one of the leaders or Kings named Coriantumr, he in fact studied in all of the arts of war and all of the cutting ways of the world. And so he ends up fighting every single person. Every single group of people that seek to destroy him, like it's just a rampage. And then you have sweet, humble Ether, the prophet, and the Lord tells Ether. Okay. You know, that guy Coriantumr, the leader who basically kills any and everyone that approaches him, uh, yeah. I need you to go to him and let him know that if he and all of his people will repent, the Lord would give him his kingdom and spare and save all of the people. But if they don't do this, if they don't repent and if they don't change their ways, everyone is going to be destroyed.

So Ether goes to talk to and Coriantumr. But the people drive him out, they hunt him down, but the prophet Ether ends up hiding away in a rock for a long time. After that Coriantumr fights lots of different groups of people. And the story spends a lot of time on the battles between Coriantumr and a man named Shiz. And Shiz is a pretty bad guy, too. Like he continues to pursue Coriantumr they continue to engage in battle, Shiz, overthrow cities. He kills women and children. He burns down the cities. And so you have a really big division that's happening between the people of Shizand the people of Coriantumr. And this is no small thing. I know that in previous chapters, there's a lots of, there's a lot of war and violence, but these chapters feel a little bit different. They feel like the entire people are consumed in a war. Like not even more like in a war mentality, they, their lives are filled with war and death. In chapter 14, verses 21 and 22, it says: And so great and lasting had been the war. And so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage that the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead. And so swift and speedy was the war that there were none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood. Leaving behind the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land to become a prey to the worms of the flesh.

There's a sense of, of rapidness that these wars and these murders are rapid. Everyone's killing everyone, and there's not even enough people around living to bury the dead. They're onto the next big fight, but nevertheless, Shiz and Coriantumr continue to fight. Shiz has kind of sworn to avenge himself upon Coriantumr for the blood of his brother in one battle, Shiz ends up striking Coriantumr and gives him a lot of deep wounds. Coriantumr loses a lot of blood. He faints and he's carried away as if he were dead. But when he recovers from his wounds, he ends up remembering the words that Ether had spoken to him. He realizes that nearly 2 million of his own people have died and the sorrow enters into his heart. So he ends up writing a letter to Shiz and asks him to spare the lives of all of his people. And he will give up the kingdom. He'll let Shiz be the King. As long as Shiz like stops pursuing them, but he says, um, no, I will only stop pursuing and killing you, you and your people, if you end up letting me kill you. And things don't go well, everyone gets all stirred up in anger against one another.

And this potential peace offering or compromise gets swept away in a fit of anger on, in the scriptures, make it seem like it's on everyone's side. Then they spend the next four years gathering everyone they can, men, women, and children to fight and then Coriantumr and Shiz go to battle once again. I don't know how many battles they've had, but it seems like a lot. And again, Coriantumr writes to Shiz again, asking him to spare his people and Coriantumr will sacrifice the kingdom. But at this point in time, everyone's hearts are too hard. The text says that the Lord no longer dwells with the people. And that the people are drunken with anger and they continue to fight. And as their numbers continue to dwindle and dwindle Coriantumr and Shiz fight and fight. And finally Coriantumr slays, Shiz only after Coriantumr loses all of his people. And then immediately after Coriantumr kills Shiz, Coriantumr falls on the earth. And the text says that he became as if he had no life. So aside from this being an absolute tragedy of war and violence and death, I think that one way to approach this story is to internalize it and personalize it.

And in that way, I think the story asks us to look at all of the ways that we are relentless, even unto our own destruction. I think the story can be about how there are some really nasty, violent parts of ourselves that want to win at all costs. Maybe you counted in your own mind, but there are three times that I've found when Coriantumr is snapped out of this like murderous, vengeful pattern that he's fallen into and that, and he can see a bit more clearly how his actions are hurting everyone. Himself included. In fact, almost each time Coriantumr awakes from his harmful behavior. Like, yeah, that's putting it way too lightly, but almost each time he has this overwhelming sense of clarity. It's because he's been significantly wounded. I think that sometimes we can become so used to operating in attack mode, that we don't realize the gravity of our behavior until it comes back to hurt us personally. The wounds that Coriantumr receives make him slow down and rest and remember, and look around him with brand new eyes, to see that 2 million of his own people are dead.

So why is it that sometimes we can only see other's pain when we have experienced pain ourselves? It's only when Coriantumr is significantly wounded that he's overcome with sorrow, that he's able to see just how wrong his decisions have been. Just how many people he has hurt. But unfortunately, even when Coriantumr has these moments of sorrow and repentance, they seem to be really short-lived. It seems that there's something in him. And in Shiz that's addicted to winning. He's addicted to battle and bloodshed, no matter the cost, he continues to fight and fight and fight. Even when he knows he's losing, even when he knows it would be better for everyone. If he were to stop and continue trying to find a viable solution, the same thing goes for Shiz. All of his people die too. He ends up dying too. Like it would be better for everyone if they were to come to a peaceable solution together.

And I think like both of these men, like Coriantumr and Shiz, we can spend a lot of our life on the defense with our armor and our swords with our like bulging neck veins and hate-filled eyes. And whether it's because we have experienced past hurt or we have this uncompromising desire to be correct all of the time or, or maybe we just enjoy picking fights or are dead set on revenge. This story shows us that though we might technically win, right? Coriantumr does end up killing Shiz just before Coriantumr dies, we have one at what cost. Even though you win the battle and you come out as the apparent victor, the story reminds us that you end up realizing that you have lost as much, if not more than your opponent, this battle has cost you something significant. It's cost you the lives of your loved ones. It's cost you displacement; it's cost you your own life.

So maybe the advice from this story is pick your battles. We might be tempted to fight every single conflict to ensure that we get our way to prove that we're right to defend ourselves when we feel like we're being challenged. So it's about picking our battles, but it's also a reminder and an invitation to apologize. Because the longer that we brood or the more that we try to try to prove that we're right, the more challenging and harmful and dangerous and hurtful our relationships become. I can't imagine that Shiz or Coriantumr, they obviously didn't have a great re relationship among each other. They don't have any relationship with God aside from these few fleeting moments that Coriantumr has where he tries to repent, but they probably don't have any relationship with him, or their family. They've probably sacrificed love for this, for this endless violent war.

And going back to our conversation about weakness. Again, we're taught to think that apologizing is weak. So perhaps the story can be, can also be about strengthening the parts in us that the world deems weak, right? The world says it's week of us to apologize, to forgive, to surrender. So we learn about strengthening the parts that the world deems are weak, but also weakening the parts of us that the world deemed strong competition, aggression, violence, the need to be right and correct all of the time. We have to be ready to say that we got it wrong. That we are wrong and we have to be ready to make amends for the safety and wellbeing, not just of others, but for ourselves too, we have to look for common ground and seek forgiveness. It's also worth noting that this story shows us the value placed on traditionally masculine ways of approaching conflict, which the world values. Revenge until everyone is dead. I think of movies like John Wick, where the entire story he just goes out and kills any, and everyone that gets in his way and he doesn't stop until he wins.

Other examples are shown no mercy, never apologize first, never surrender because it's a sign of weakness. Those are all things that we are taught to value that we're taught that that's how that's what makes a true fighter. That's what makes a real man. And then we see that weakness is set up to be something that is not masculine and therefore feminine. So forgiveness, apologizing and surrendering are deemed weak feminine aspects and our patriarchal world doesn't like those things. It doesn't value those things and thinks that they're trivial and unnecessary and unproductive.

However, in God's kingdom, the masculine and the feminine are equal, balanced and harmonious. I can pick my battles and be the first to apologize. I can fight with honor and also surrender. I want to leave you with just a few questions before we finish the episode:
  • In what scenarios or conversations do I find myself trying to win at all costs? And what are the costs? Not just to those around me, but to myself.
  • How can I surrender to the grace of God and not the vengefulness of my own heart? 
Friends, thank you so much for joining me on another episode of The Faithful Feminists, it's always a pleasure and always a blessing to be with you. I hope that these episodes deepen your understanding, deepen your relationship with God and help you feel comforted and supported. You're not alone. And I'm so grateful for the community that we've built both through our podcast and through Instagram, if you love that this are any of our past episodes, or if you learned something new and you think it could benefit others, we would love it if you left us a review on iTunes so that more people can find the show. We love you so much.

We hope you have a fantastic holiday and we'll talk to you next week. Bye.
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