Thursday, May 21, 2015

Evil and Evening Gowns

In the fifth season of Buffy, Dawn comes to the realization that, because bad things happen because of her, she must be evil.  She confides this to Spike, who gives this reply:

In case the picture doesn't show up, he's saying:
"I'm a vampire. I know something about evil. You're not evil."
Now, don't get me wrong: Dawn is The Worst.  So much so that everyone would have totally been fine with her doing that thing that Buffy did at the end of Season 5 instead of Buffy.*  But Dawn is certainly not "evil."  A 14-year-old girl who happens to have Circumstances in her life doesn't really fit that bill.

As much as I'd love to keep talking about Buffy, I'm now going to write about the thing that inspired me to write this post:  Lindsey Stirling's Billboard Award dress.  If you'd asked me two weeks ago who Lindsey Stirling was, I would probably have said, "isn't she that Mormon girl with the violin?" because that was all I knew.  Now I know her as the Mormon girl with the violin who wore a really controversial dress to an award show.  And not even the fun kind of "is this blue or black?" controversy, but the kind that calls all of the Mormons With Opinions (MWOs) out of the woodwork.

Now I'm not going to talk about lines or lining or whether you can wear that kind of dress with garments (although you totally can, and also I defy you to find one endowed Mormon woman who hasn't done some strategic cap-sleeve tucking at some point in her life) or even the definition of "modesty."  I am going to talk about the definition of "evil," though.  I looked up the word "evil" on Google.  It's defined as "profoundly immoral and malevolent."  The MWOs have said that even though the dress is fully lined, the fact that the nude fabric looks like skin gives off the "appearance of evil."


I think "evil" is one of those words that gets thrown around too liberally by some people.**  How can a dress be "profoundly immoral and malevolent"?  At worst, a dress can be a bit trashy-looking, but evil?  How can that even be applied to clothing?  I guess if you were wearing a t-shirt that said, "I worship Satan and enjoy eating babies on the weekends," you'd probably give off the appearance that you were a little bit evil, but an evening gown that fits well***, covers everything, and is appropriate for the occasion is anything but evil.  Clothes are not evil, and moreover, the (female) human body is not evil.

Again, this is not a post about the definition of modesty.  If you didn't like the dress or thought it was "too sexy" or wouldn't want your teenage daughter to wear something like that to prom, by all means, have that opinion, but for heaven's sake, stop calling it Evil.

(And for what my opinion is worth,  I thought she looked Amazing.)



*I can't spoil too much because my boyfriend reads this blog and he's only part of the way through Season 2.  Oz is just barely a werewolf right now.
**Another one is "apostate," but don't get me started.
***There's a difference between form-fitting and tight, by the way, so everyone who's all like, "Oh my gosh, she's got a female body under there! Call out the National Guard!" can just chill.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sacrament Meeting Talk: Eve as a Model for the Divine Feminine

I had to give a talk in church this Sunday (Mother's Day) on the topic of Eve.  It was a stressful two weeks of preparation because Eve is an incredibly weighty and potentially controversial topic, especially on Mother's Day, which brings about all sorts of mixed feelings in singles' congregations.  Thankfully, with the help of good friends and inspiration from an amazing essay by Beverly Campbell, I managed to pull something together.  Some people have asked to read it, so I figured I would post it here.

Eve as a Model for the Divine Feminine  

I am the biological daughter of two earthly parents.  From my father I inherited thick eyebrows and a temper; from my mother I inherited stubbornness and a high tolerance for physical pain (which comes in handy when dealing with the eyebrows).  Though I proclaim to be my mother’s daughter, for better or for worse, in truth I am a bit of both of them.

Likewise, we are the spirit children of two Heavenly Parents.  We read about the divine qualities of our Heavenly Father and strive to develop those qualities in ourselves, but what of our Heavenly Mother?  What qualities has She given us, and what do we strive to emulate?  We know very little about the Mother of our Spirits, but perhaps there are many things we can learn from one of Her first earthly descendants:  Eve.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said of Eve, “our glorious mother…a daughter of God—was among the noble and great in [premortal] existence. She ranked in spiritual stature, in faith and devotion, in conformity to eternal law” (1).  I have to believe that Eve rose to this level of spiritual nobility and prepared for her role on earth under the guidance of a Heavenly Mother.  We can look to Eve, the “mother of all living,” as a manifestation of the Divine Feminine in mortality.

What is this “divine feminine”?  Between what is written in the scriptures and what we learn in our most sacred liturgy, we only see fragments of the lives of Adam and Eve, but from these fragments, we can get a glimpse of their personalities.  As I was preparing this talk, I tried to understand how Adam and Eve are distinct from one another.  What personality traits were unique to Eve, and how were these traits crucial to their equal partnership both in and out of Eden?  In other words, why was it “not good for man to be alone”?  What does Eve contribute to the Plan of Salvation and the human condition that Adam could not?

In order to understand Eve, we must also understand Adam.  If I had to choose one adjective to describe Adam, I would choose “obedient.”  When explaining why he partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he stated, “The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat” (2).  Knowing that one of God’s first commandments had been transgressed, Adam partook of the forbidden fruit so that he could remain obedient to the command to remain with his partner.  Another example of Adam’s obedience is seen outside of the Garden of Eden:  “And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (3)

We can learn much about Eve in her exchange with the serpent (or Lucifer) in the Garden of Eden.  The first thing we learn is that she clearly knows the law.  She explains to the serpent, “we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (4).  Eve then considers the fruit of the tree:  “and when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat” (5).  This account erases any misconception that Eve was somehow tricked or deceived into eating the fruit.  She had a full understanding of the law, and total awareness of the consequences of her action.

Perhaps then it was not a coincidence that it was Eve, and not Adam, who first partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If Adam had been alone in the Garden, he may never have eaten the fruit out of obedience to his Father’s commandment.  The Fall, and subsequently, the Plan of Salvation, required Eve and her divine understanding of what needed to be done.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks described Eve’s action as “a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life” (6).

Notably, when confronted by the Lord about her action, Eve responds, “the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (7).  Notice the conjunction in this statement: “and.”  Eve does not say “the serpent beguiled me, therefore I did eat.”  Eve reports what transpired, but takes full accountability for her action.

Sister Sheri Dew, former General Relief Society President regarded Eve’s action as “the most courageous decision any woman has ever made” (8).  Eve chose to leave perfection and paradise to enter a world that was harsh, difficult, and full of sorrow, a world in which she would face pain and death, both physically and spiritually.  I can’t believe this was an easy decision.  Nor do I believe that these consequences came as a surprise to Eve.  She knew what she would be facing, but she also knew that there would be no other way.  The Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry on Eve states, “Eve faced the choice between selfish ease and unselfishly facing tribulation and death. As befit her calling, she realized that there was no other way and deliberately chose mortal life so as to further the purpose of God and bring children into the world" (9).

We read further of Eve’s understanding of the choice she made in Eden.  After they had been cast out of the Garden of Eden, an angel spoke to Adam and Eve about the Plan of Salvation.  Shortly thereafter, Adam said, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God” (10).  “And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (11).  While from this it is clear that Adam and Eve both realize that the Fall was a blessing, Eve’s declaration illustrates a distinct eternal perspective.

We can read about more of the life of Eve in the fifth chapter of the Book of Moses.  We see that Eve labors alongside Adam (12) and that she and Adam pray together (13).  Moses 5:12 states, “And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.”  Eve and Adam worked together as equal partners in mortality, united in purpose.  This unity continued as they raised their children and taught them all things both temporal and spiritual.

In the 138th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, President Joseph F. Smith describes a vision of the Spirit World.  In the Spirit World he sees the noble spirits who were chosen as messengers of the Lord, including “our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God” (14).  Who were these “faithful daughters”?  Whom do we know that inherited Eve’s divine characteristics?  Ultimately, what does it mean to be a “daughter of Eve”?

From the scriptural accounts of Eve, I have identified three exemplary characteristics or principles:  first, Eve had the courage to make difficult choices and to stand accountable for them; second, Eve had a great understanding of the deep or eternal significance of her actions; and third, Eve acted as a help-meet to Adam to create a whole, unified partnership.

We don’t have to look far beyond the scriptures to find examples of faithful women who emulate these divine qualities.  The first quality, courage to choose, is seen in one of my favorite Biblical women, Esther.  Esther was asked by her people to approach the king and request that he rescind his decree to kill the Jews.  By doing this, Esther would risk her own life, as it was forbidden to approach the king uninvited.  Realizing, however, that there was no other way, she declared “if I perish, I perish” (15), and she chose to approach the king so that her family might live.  In addition to this noble act, Esther also demonstrates great faith in God, as she requests that her people join her in fasting.

It is likely no coincidence that two scriptural women who emulate Eve’s eternal perspective were also known for being mothers:  Elisabeth, mother of John the Baptist, and Mary, mother of Jesus.  Both women knew that their children would be essential to God’s plan and faithfully accepted and magnified their callings as mothers.

Rather than talk about marriage in a singles’ ward, I would like to relate Eve’s role as a help-meet to her partner in the context of all of our interpersonal relationships.  Adam and Eve were two parts of a whole partnership, each contributing equally, but not necessarily contributing the same things.  This is important to remember when we have to interact with others in our work, our church callings, and in our personal lives.  We can create unity in our relationships by recognizing our own spiritual gifts as well as the spiritual gifts of others.  One woman in Church history who is revered for her ability to embrace the diversity of spiritual gifts in God’s children is Sister Chieko Okazaki, former first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency.  Sister Okazaki acknowledged that despite differences in circumstances, the contributions of every member of the human family are essential to God’s plan.

Identifying divine characteristics within the “daughters of Eve” begs the question: why does there seem to be a distinction between the “daughters of Eve” and the “sons of Adam”?  Does Eve’s heritage only extend to her female children?  Surely this cannot be the case.  Although I am a female child, I am not a carbon copy of my earthly mother alone, and I am sure the men here would agree that they are not solely reflections of their earthly fathers.  I know of many men who are great examples of the divine characteristics of Eve.  Perhaps it is wiser to consider that all of us, male and female, possess a mosaic of traits inherited from both of our earthly and both of our Heavenly parents.

As this is Mother’s day, I would like to conclude by discussing Eve’s role as the “Mother of All Living” (16).  After the Fall, we know was Eve was told about the experience of conception and labor, but we don’t know what Eve knew of physical motherhood before she partook of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  Perhaps Eve, when pondering the eternal significance of her choice to become mortal, didn’t consider motherhood as solely the product of possessing the anatomy and physiology required to bear children.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated, “Adam and Eve…and a host of mighty men and equally glorious women comprised that group of ‘the noble and great ones,’ to whom the Lord Jesus said: ‘We will go down, for there is space there and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell” (1).  Eve (as well as her faithful descendants) was involved in the Creation of the world.  So when Eve saw herself as the “Mother of All Living” she thought less of reproduction and more of creation befitting her history as a creator and her legacy as the spirit daughter of Divine Creators.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before” (17).  All of us, whether we can, will, or want to have children, can relate to that.  Perhaps this will to create is our most prominent inheritance from our Heavenly Parents.  With this inherent gift, we already desire to be like our Heavenly Father and Mother.  Let us follow the example of Eve, and her faithful sons and daughters, that we may realize our divine destiny.

References 
1.  "Eve and The Fall" in Woman, 1979.
2.  Moses 4:18
3.  Moses 5:6
4.  Moses 4:8-9
5.  Moses 4:12
6.  "The Great Plan of Happiness" General Conference Address, 1993.
7.  Moses 4:19
8.  "Are We Not All Mothers?" General Conference Address, 2001.
9.  The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1992.
10.  Moses 5:10
11.  Moses 5:11
12.  Moses 5:1
13.  Moses 5:16
14.  D&C 138:39
15.  Esther 4:16
16.  Moses 4:26
17.  "The Remarkable Soul of a Woman", 2010.