Consider the Lilies, Consider the Closets (Matt 6-7)

Sunday, February 19, 2023


Biggest gratitude to Sarah and Rose for completing this transcript!

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

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations 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 texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and 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. 

Elise: [01:09] Hi everyone. Welcome back for another episode. This week we're covering Matthew chapters 6 through 7 for the dates February 20th through the 27th. And these chapters are all about more wonderful words from Jesus as he's preaching his Sermon on the Mount. Also, as a side note, I have my dog in the recording room with me, which is really just my office, and she's having a really great time chewing on a bone, so if you hear any kind of scraping and chewing sounds, that's what's going on. 

Channing: [01:40] I love Toddie. I am so glad that she's enjoying her bone [laughs] yes. So as we went through the text this week, there was just so much wisdom that Jesus was sharing in these two chapters, and Elise and I kind of approached it By choosing some of the things that he said, some of the verses that really spoke to us and relating them to our lived experience.

[02:02] So the first one that we really enjoyed was Matthew chapter 6, verse 6. This verse reads: “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret, and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” This verse immediately made me think of the closet where LBGTQ+ folks might find themselves when they don't feel ready or safe to share their authentic selves with the world.

There's a lot of debate about the helpfulness or harm of the closet within queer communities, but as it stands today, the closet is still a very real place and feels necessary for many queer folks. I like reading this verse from the closet. It helps me remember that the closet is a sacred space. As someone who holds authenticity as a close value and appreciates being known and recognized as a unique individual, I don't find myself in closets too often. But in the context of this verse, closets can be a space of connection. They're a space that facilitates important relationships with oneself and with one's higher power. The primary function of a closet in this verse at least, is privacy. The verse doesn't dictate the square footage, the color, or the contents of the closet, only that the closet has a door, and that what one does within it remains private. 

[03:34] This verse makes me want to give the queer closet a makeover. Rather than being a small, cramped space with dusty coats and winter boots with barely enough room to stand up, I want to imagine tearing the closet walls down and making it bigger. I want to imagine making room in this closet for a cozy chair with a soft blanket draped over the arm. I want there to be a window covered with sheer drapes and a fiddle leaf fig to the side. I want there to be a small table with a lamp for when it gets dark and plenty of space in the middle to dance, to lay down on the floor, or put a platter of candles.

[04:12] I want this room to be beautiful, a place I come to often because it's quiet and simple and comfortable. I want to make a room for myself and for my God. It doesn't have to be huge, maybe just the size of a walk-in closet is fine. And I can come in and I can come out whenever I want. But here is where I say my prayers. Here is where I make my offerings. Here's where I journal, where I paint and dance and sing and cry. Here, there's a lock on the door, so my kids can't just come bursting in whenever they want. Here, where I don't have to explain myself, justify myself, but instead can show up to myself and to my higher power in a different kind of authenticity, but authenticity all the same. 

[04:58] So friends, if you find yourself in a closet, queer or otherwise, and you feel like your only choices are to stay in this cramped, stinky space, or take on all the risks of leaving, you can give yourself a third option. Make a bigger closet, give yourself more room to authentically connect to yourself and to your higher power, whatever that looks like. Hang a pride flag. Come out to someone safe, like yourself, or your higher power, or an ally you trust. Go to an anonymous support group or connection group where you don't have to know anyone and they don't have to know you. Maybe read a queer romance novel on your phone or your e-reader. Listen to podcasts like Call to Queer. Let your closet serve you and make room. Make room. Make room. 

Elise: [05:47] I love this. In the Sermon on the Mount, there are so many wonderful verses because we can do exactly what Channing just did, which is take a few images or phrases that stand out to us and really let them unfold in light of our personal experiences. Thank you for sharing that. [Channing: Yeah!]

[06:04] If we continue to stick in Matthew chapter 6, I want us to take a look at verses 26 through 28. And these are very popular verses; I'm sure you'll know them. They say “Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns. Yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are you not much better than they?” And then 28 says, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin.” And I've always really loved the ways these verses were written. And when things are going really great in my life, it's easy for me to want to be like the fowls and the lilies: without worry and without toil, and having full trust in the measure of my being and faith in my God and the Great Creator that all of my needs are going to be taken care of. But when things are not going so well in my world, or when I think about the millions of people who do not have the luxury of relying on the kindness and goodwill of God to satisfy their material, lived needs, then where does this verse leave us?

[07:08] Well, if we take a look at the way the verse shows up in the context of the scripture, we can see how Jesus is maybe reminding the people to be far less concerned with gathering treasure and obtaining wealth, and instead, leave all that rat-race, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality behind. Because like Jesus says, “Lay not up for yourself treasures upon the earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

[07:36] But I could also read this verse as a bit of Jesus dreaming and reminding us that this is what things could or should look like. If we were not all concerned with power and money and stealing land, then maybe we would be more concerned with loving and caring for our neighbors, and if that were the case, if we truly enacted God's love in our everyday interactions with others, then perhaps we could be able to take a lesson from the lilies and trust that our needs will be met because we are in a strong community built on gratitude and reciprocity.

Channing: [08:09] This really reminds me of something that you said a couple of weeks ago on the podcast that it's been really interesting and almost unique to the New Testament, the way that you and I both approach the text and then walk away from the text with different interpretations of the same verses. And I think that this happened again with this considered the lilies verse, because I interpreted it a little bit differently. 

[08:36] For me, I really wanted to pay attention to the word consider and look up some definitions of that word. To consider means to think carefully about and be drawn toward and maybe even complete a course of action. I really appreciate both parts of this definition. First, if we think carefully about lilies, we watch them. We notice their colors, their constitution, their properties. We listen to the sound that they make as the breeze passes by. We notice how they smell and how they grow, how the shades of green gradually turn to color or to no color at all. We might notice how the blossoms open and watch as the petals and leaves wave hello to you. It happens. Trust me.

[09:20] Next, we allow ourselves to be drawn toward: drawn toward the lilies. We move closer. We notice the soil. Notice if there are any ladybugs or aphids on the underside of the leaves. We notice if this lily is bigger or smaller than it was last year, than the other flowers in the field. We scoot in. We really look, we really notice.

[09:44] And finally, considering leads us to a course of action. Maybe we remove the aphid eggs from the leaves. Maybe we water and fertilize the soil. These are acts with care and consideration behind them. 

[10:01] I spent some time yesterday out on Antelope Island, and if you don't know where that is, you might not live in Utah, and that's okay. Antelope Island is in the middle of Great Salt Lake. For those of you who live outside of Utah, or for those of us who live in Utah but live under a rock, Great Salt Lake is fighting for her life. Lake levels have reached a record low, and ecosystem collapse has begun. 

[10:25] I walked Antelope Island yesterday and found myself along the shore. I waded in small pools and played with sheets of salty ice. It was really fun actually. [laughs] I swayed with the phragmites along the trail and placed my hand over paw- and webbed-feet prints. I put my hand over my eyes to shield them from the sun and looked way, way out to where the receding shoreline fell beyond my reach. And as I walked to the edge of the water to say my first hello of my entire life to the body of Great Salt Lake, I looked to my left, I looked to my right, and on each side, laid out in a gently curving but distinct line, were the bodies of dead birds decomposing on the shoreline. Those bodies were those of Eared Grebes, the primary avian residents of Great Salt Lake.

[11:16] 70% of the world's population of Eared Grebes rely on the unique ecosystem of Great Salt Lake. While some yearly population die-off of sick and elderly birds is not uncommon, it was unsettling and disconcerting to see these bird bodies create a shoreline all their own, knowing the severity of deaths and hence, the density of bodies along the waterfront will only increase if the water levels of Great Salt Lake are allowed to decline any further.

[11:46] If consider means to think carefully, look closely, move toward, and take a course of action, Utahns probably need to consider not just the lilies, but the heart of the place in which we live. That is Great Salt Lake. We need to think carefully about what it will mean if the lake is allowed to dry and release toxins into our already polluted air. We need to look really closely at the microbialites: the living rocks that have been present since the beginnings of life on Earth, and I'm not exaggerating. They're slowly drying out and dying as the water recedes. We need to not just consider the lilies, but consider the brine shrimp and the brine flies. Consider the Eared Grebes, the Snowy Plovers, the Black Necked Stilts, the California Gulls, the Red-Tailed Hawks, the Northern Harriers, the White Crown Sparrows, the Red Winged Blackbird, the meadowlarks, the sparrows. We consider the bison, the antelope, the mule deer, the field mice. Consider, and then take a course of action.

[12:49] Write your lawmakers and ask them to treat the ecosystem collapse of Great Salt Lake like the emergency it is. And then keep asking. Talk to your friends and family about Great Salt Lake and visit Great Salt Lake. Offer your prayers in your brand new closet on behalf of Great Salt Lake. Maybe follow artist and vigil keeper Nan Seymour who is staying lakeside throughout the current legislative session to stay with our dying mother. Connect with the resources that she's offering for advocacy and education. And maybe also consider staying in touch with Great Salt Lake Collaborative, Save our Great Salt Lake, Friends of Great Salt Lake, and the Utah Rivers Council, all nonprofits who are actively involved in community outreach and advocacy. We have to help Great Salt Lake fight for her life. As we have seen, consider means more than think about. Consider implies care, closeness, and action. Consider the lilies, absolutely. And consider Great Salt Lake too. 

Elise: [13:50] Thank you for sharing that. And I'm sure that many of our listeners know this is one of Channing's- yet another one of Channing's great strengths, which is making personal connections to the text. And I think that sometimes when we are born and raised in the church, we know how to make some personal connections with the text, but only the personal connections that fall within what's outlined already in the Come Follow Me manual, like, think about the ways this affects your family or whatever they outline. So I'm appreciative that you're always pushing us to consider more creatively the ways the text connects with our lives.  

Channing: [14:25] Well, you are the one who has shown me how to do that, so it's just that we make a great team. [laughs] 

Elise: [14:31] We do make a great team. Let's jump over to Matthew chapter 7. I wanna look at verses 15 through 20; and these verses talk about being aware of false prophets and the way that we come to know them is by their fruit. Good trees bring forth good fruits and corrupt trees bring forth evil fruits. And I watched a video from the Queer Theology podcast about these verses, and I thought they did a really nice connection because they tied them to anti LGBTQ+ theology. And I think that this could also be applied to Mormonism. Because we see many folks in the church, like members, leaders, apostles, and the prophet continue to spread anti-LGBTQ sentiments, theology, and practice. And when we look at the fruits of these practices, what we find is judgment, prejudice, exclusion, queer people unexcited or afraid to come to church. LGBTs denied romantic relationships, temple attendance, callings, and covenants. But I think what's potentially tricky about this fruit is that our leaders are the ones that are calling it good fruit. They use Jesus' name and the church's name and empty lines about love and sin. But when we actually slow down and take a look at the fruit, which is to say, when we look at the consequences of our theology and of our sentiments and church practices, when we look at the lived experience of LGBTQ+ folks in and out of the church, it's not good. It's painful, it's exclusionary, and it's violent.

[16:03] So in order to bring forth good fruit, we need good trees. Trees that are committed to “doing the will of God that is in heaven” which is a direct line from chapter 7. Which looks like more than simply citing Jesus' name to prophesy and doing big, showy acts of charity to make ourselves look good. We need trees that center marginalized voices, treat queer and BIPOC and trans experiences as sacred and valid, and continually shape spaces that are built by and for the most marginalized. We need trees that surprise us with the radically loving message of inclusivity and justice. So much so, that, like the people listening to Jesus's sermon, we will be “astonished at his doctrine.”

[16:50] And I know a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the line where the apostles had said something like, We've seen some strange things today. And then in chapter 7, I'm struck by this line too, that the people are astonished by his doctrine. And I really do think that there would be this overall sense of welcomed astonishment by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were we and our leaders to make a huge shift toward actually centering Jesus' work and name by centering marginalized folks. We would be excitedly astonished by how much [Channing: Yes!] change could come across.

Channing: [17:26] Well, and I think we're also hearing people be like, Please astonish me! [laughs] [Elise: Yes, yes. I've been waiting.] Please! I would love to be surprised; somebody, please surprise me. I would love that.

Elise: [17:38] And how astonished we would be if it was like Elder Oaks up there, saying all of the things that Jesus is saying in the Sermon on the Mount. We would be absolutely astonished.  

Channing: [17:49] Yeah, yeah, and then actually have the action and policy change to back it up, I would be like, All right, [Elise: Hallelujah] I have forgiveness in my heart. [laughs] I love this. I think it's so important. I was also thinking too-- I was at a discussion yesterday, at Great Salt Lake, talking about the role of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Great Salt Lake preservation and advocacy.

[18:18] There was an article that came out earlier this week in the Salt Lake Tribune that asked a question along the lines of, Can Mormons save the Great Salt Lake? And the answer is, Yeah, if they really want to. Because they are the dominant religious presence in this area and because so many of the laws were written in context of Mormonism, there's so much that leaders and everyday church members can do to set a premise and kind of a standard of ecological preservation and conservation that could make a huge, markable difference in the life and quality of life for Great Salt Lake. And so I think that this is a place for sure, too, as I was listening to you make that connection between good trees bearing good fruit, and really looking at the roots of our theology. We've talked about this on the podcast before, specifically in relationship to apocalypticism, and this belief that Jesus is coming in the Second Coming, and so it doesn't matter what we did to the earth anyway, because Jesus will just come and restore all of it. So we can extract, extract, extract, and then when things get really bad, Jesus will just come and fix it all.

[19:38]  And I think that this is a case too, where we can kind of look at the fruits of our theology and say, Is this theology actually helping us? And are we leaning-- you know, I'm not saying totally get rid of it, but there are other aspects of our church doctrine and our church theology that we could lean more strongly into, and those are theologies of stewardship and care for the earth. And those options, like we've talked about on the podcast many times before, are strongly present in LDS theology. But it really comes down to what do we value more? Do we value good fruit or do we value bad fruit? And I think that that's one of the primary frustrations for people who are putting some distance between themselves and the church is the inability to-- the frustration with the inability to recognize bad fruit as bad fruit. The inability to recognize that harm for people and harm for environment and harm for communities is actually bad fruit, I think, is one of the root causes for people feeling so frustrated and so disappointed with the way that church leaders are leading the gospel. And so it makes it hard to respect a religious community that doesn't even align with the values that it says it aligns with. So I know that those are some harsh words that are definitely not in our outline [laughs], but I think really relate strongly to what you had shared here.  

Elise: [21:17] Yes, thank you. I think you're so right and I'm glad that you added that to our conversation here.

[21:22] Okay. I think for the last piece of the podcast, we just wanna focus really briefly on what's considered the Lord's Prayer in a lot of other Christian denominations. And that shows up in Matthew chapter 6, the prayer that says, “our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” That prayer. And guess what? Guess what we're gonna do again? We're going to quote Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, because we can't get enough of her stuff. And so Nadia Bolz-Weber has this piece that she's titled “The Lord's Prayer (extended dance mix)”, which is a great title, and she basically works phrase by phrase through the Lord's Prayer and offers additional lines and extends it just a bit more.  So we really think that everyone should go read the whole thing, but we do wanna share just a few of the star-studded lines that we are really loving. 

Channing: [22:12] A few that we are just in love with: 

“Our Father, Our Mother, Our Holy Parent, The Source of All Being from whom we came and to whom we return, You who knows us better than we know ourselves…

Who art in heaven, who art in everything. Our Father who art in orphanages and neonatal units, and jail cells and luxury high-rises, who art in law offices and adult book stores, and who art in rooms alone with suicidal people…

Thy kingdom come, God, right now we beg you to bring more than just a small measure of heaven to earth because, if you haven’t noticed, we are in a global pandemic, and there are unjust wars waged on innocent people in Yemen, Ethiopia and Ukraine -  not to mention, the Earth is on fire. It’s a mess down here, Lord, so, we need your Kingdom to speed the hell up. We need wise leaders, and just systems and an extra dose of compassion for all of us…”

Elise: [23:17] She continues to write:

“As Jesus taught us, we are throwing this bag of prayers at your door. We are not asking nicely, Lord. We are your children and we are claiming your promises as our own today. Some of us are holding your feet to the fire, some of us don’t know if we believe in you, some of us are distracted and just going through the motions, some are desperately in love with you....but all of us are your children. Use these prayers to hammer us all into vessels that can accept the answer when it comes. For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.” Amen.

Elise [23:56] 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 The Faithful Feminists.

Channing: [24:16] 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.
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