Faith Marches On

My great-aunt Bobbie, who was my father’s mother’s sister, passed away last week.

She was blind, and that was how I first got interested in blindness, and why I pursued studies in braille later after I became friends with one of my mother’s librarians who was also blind.  Her name was Helen.  My brother and I used to play with braille cards, the little note cards with the Braille alphabet on them, when we were young and hung out with her a lot.  Nathan’s mother spent her career working with blind children also, so that was a pretty neat connection when I first met his family.  A few weeks ago, when Mary and I spoke at the social justice symposium, Mary met her first blind friends, and spent the day learning how to use a cane.

Obviously with my hearing issues, and having these blind influences in my life, it makes sense that I was totally obsessed with Helen Keller from an early age.  Now, as an adult, I have several deaf-blind friends, plus my own deaf daughter and hard-of-hearing daughter.  Besides that, sign language has been really good for my other children:  my autistic son that struggles to express himself and regulate his emotional responses at the same time, my son with cerebral palsy who struggles to get his words out, my son with fetal alcohol syndrome who doesn’t know how to pace his paragraphs, and my reactive attachment preschooler who would rather sign than speak in many environments.

My husband is hearing, and doesn’t have any disabilities like those, but he is a man of the arts.  He is a writer.  He writes musicals, and collaborates as the lyricist for musicals written with an additional composer, and comes up with the most fantastical plays, and writes gorgeous songs – some of which choirs and colleges use for their competitions, so it’s fun to google his songs on YouTube and watch different people performing them.  They are doing their best for their group, and don’t even know about our little family and the story of us, or that Nathan was only in high school when he wrote the song they are performing.

Nathan writes very differently than I do.  He is a slow writer, like one who tastes every bite of every course rather than rushing through dinner.  He picks up each word, mixes the right colors to paint it, and knits together phrases like an intricate embroidery that takes hours to make the perfect flowers.  When I think of Nathan’s work, he sometimes reminds me of Monet, and I mean that because of how long it must take to tap down so many dots of so many colors, and how you have to stand back and see the whole picture.  He doesn’t write fluff, and he doesn’t write trendy, and he doesn’t write copycat stuff just to sell.  He doesn’t throw in loads of “inappropriate” material just to sell his work.  He is very intentional, very congruent to character, very nothing-like-ever-before.   That’s what makes his deep stuff so deep, and his fun stuff so hilarious, because you never know what to expect.  There is an art and a science to what he does, and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

My writing is different, both in style and in voice.  I write very quickly, but way too much.  When we write together, and he helps edit my work, he takes out at least two-thirds or not more of my words.  Always.  I have a specific “voice” in my writing, and he leaves that, but he makes it much more powerful editing down the volume.  Even our book, Keeping Kyrie, would have been half as thick, if he had anything to do with it!  But he totally respects when I draw the line to defend a particular phrase or sentence (or paragraph), though usually he is right when I look at it again from his ideas.

It’s a very intimate thing, all these language things, whether it comes from bumps on a page or hands in the air or words on the page.

It’s about having a voice, though.

And everyone has a voice because everyone has a story.

And their story is theirs.

No one else gets to write it.

I think, sometimes, when we – as individuals or as society – have failed to live in such a way that respects ourselves and respects others, the story starts to get lost.  I think this makes people panic and makes people angry and makes people afraid, because if you lose your story, then you lose your voice.

On the other hand, when we respect even those who are different than us in one way or another, and when we can learn from those with whom we disagree, and when we can be present with someone even when we do not understand their story, then we help protect their voice.

I think that’s part of why people want to march, to make sure their voices are heard.

And that’s fair.

But not always effective.

And like arguing preschoolers, shouting over each other won’t let any voice be heard.

My daughters and I did not march on Saturday because we were at Aunt Bobbie’s funeral.

But I got lots of text messages from friends who were there, and followed social media to learn about what people were thinking, before I could discern what I was thinking about it.

My text messages were from friends who were Democrats and friends who were Republicans.  I got pictures of friends who were there because they were Pro-Choice, and others who were there because they were Pro-Life.  I got texts from women of color and texts from friends with disabilities and texts from one white friend who has such a thick southern accent that I can barely understand what she says.  I saw banners made by friends who were LDS, Catholic, Sikh, Buddhist, Methodist, Agnostic, Episcopalian, Protestant, Evangelical, and “Word of Faith”.  I saw friends there who are straight, and friends who were there with GLBTQ groups.  I saw friends who went alone, who took their whole families with all the children, and friends who went with groups of friends.

Some voted for Trump and wanted to remind him to be kind while shaking things up enough to make changes, and others did not vote for Trump are just plain scared about what might happen with such an aggressive President.

They were all there because they are women, or love someone who is a woman, and wanted to share their voice.

I’m actually okay with that, and would have loved to take our children for the experience of peaceful protesting, and even got us the pink hats, not because of any political drama, but because I want them to know that they have a voice, both by girls and my boys.

We are learning about government in our little homeschool, and learning about what it means to be a citizen, and studying the Family Proclamation that includes lines about nations being held accountable, and I think a peaceful protest would be a great experience for them to see all of this in action.

As far as the politics piece, it is true that I want my daughters to know that no one has the right to touch them without their permission.  But I also want to hold them responsible, and we talked about how just because you let someone touch you and it feels good doesn’t mean it’s love.  It just means your body is working as it was designed.  It has nothing to do with the other person, not in and of itself.

And, besides that, I want my boys to know the same thing.  They have no right to touch anyone else just because it feels good.  But I also want them to know that just because someone does let them touch them, doesn’t mean they are good for them.  They need to be able to talk about these things.  Touch does not equate with control for either the boys or the girls, and it’s not okay for touch to be used to manipulate another or have power over another.

Historically, the women’s march means a lot, even if not everybody was happy about this one.  I would want my kids a part of it if only for that piece, even if for nothing else.  It was women who first marched through the streets to Versailles in 1789, demanding their voice be heard by the governor, beginning the French Revolution.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 was also started by a women’s march.  It happened in America in 1963, resulting in the powerful I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a ritual, a rite of passage, and part of the winds of change.  It means, even if nothing happened to make today any different than the day before the march, that things will never be the same.  So many voices united together crying out for change is exactly why Trump says he ran for President.  That means that even the anti-Trumpsters give him points by agreeing with him that things need to change, and giving him points for shaking things up enough to actually have their attention.

I want my children to see what is happening even now, and to understand how it all unfolds:  these people voted for Trump because of this, and those people didn’t because of that.  These people think he will be great because of this, and these people think there are concerns because of that.  These people are “pro-choice” because they think women should get to choose for themselves about their own bodies, and these people are “pro-life” because they are advocating for the babies in those bodies.  People with disabilities, or people of color, or GLBTQ people talk about human rights because of the kinds of violations they have endured in the past.  This faith tradition is mean to people who believe differently because…., while that faith tradition persecutes this other one because they disagree about…

I want them to understand, because this is their life.  Once again, how the grownups of America handle this will determine their entire adolescence and entrance into adulthood.  It’s like we have all become the foster children of planet Earth.

It’s real stuff, and I don’t want to just teach them my side or Nathan’s side, or what his parents think or what my parents thought.  I want to teach them how to think.  I want to teach them how to discern.   I want to teach them to love others by being able to see the world from a different perspective, by having a heart soft enough for God by being kind to those He has created.

I want them to know that when someone thinks they are being mature by politely refusing to listen to another person who believes differently than they do, that it is not the same as loving the way God loves.

I want them to remember that the people Jesus hung out with were the people that all the religious people had rejected as bad: bad politics, bad behavior, bad choices, and bad interactions.

I want them to remember the people who were humble enough to listen to Jesus were the people who were brave enough to ask questions.

I want them to remember the people Jesus served were the poor, and the disabled, and the orphans and widows (those without access to the priesthood).

I want them to remember that all the prophets called by God were humble people who felt inadequate, or disabled, or unwanted, or rejected in some way.

I want them to know it’s not about what other people say, but about what God says, and about the testimony they share.

I want them to know it’s not just about knowing.

It’s about feeling.

It’s about being pastoral, about being present with others in their worst moments – not about condemning them, or shaming them, or being too good for them.

I want them to feel what it’s like to have a voice, and know how to use it effectively.

I want them to know why protesting is a thing, but feel the benefit of keeping it peaceful.

I want them to express themselves in words painted on banners, but also know how to pick up their trash and clean up after themselves.

I want them to know a parade is not the same thing as breaking windows.

I want them to experience, and defend, and march for something besides just the easy stuff.

I want them to discern the difference between peaceful protestors, president supporters, and the kinds of secret combinations that set up a Nazi punk to get fake-punched just so he can get his own army.

I want them to know what it means to choose the right, but also to lose gracefully, and absolutely to be prepared to give their lives for their faith.

Nothing is more important than your testimony, we say.  Not even your life.

But I also want them to know that you don’t just get a testimony for freebies.  You work for it.  You harvest it.  You pray and study and ponder and pray some more.  You wait and wrestle.  You ask questions and experiment and try things out and make huge mistakes, even public ones, and then put yourself back together again with what you learn and try again.  You keep trying, because you know who you are and whose you are and why you are here.

There were a lot of people at that march that I maybe disagree with on some (or many) things, but a lot of people I do agree with, too.

And one thing a lot of people said was a weakness of the march was that there were so many different causes represented.

But for me, when I talked about it with my children, it was about having a voice.

It was about the right to be.

If we only let people who agree with us, I said, have jobs and housing and food and the kind of care people need to live good lives, then there is no way to bridge that gap.  We become the great and spacious building, and they are left hopeless.

But, I said, if we work together, and share, and make sure everyone has a voice – even when it is one we disagree with – then we have freedom for our family, and our church, and our liberty, just like Moroni said.

But we can’t do that if we don’t think, if we don’t feel, and if we don’t discern.

So yeah, I would totally take my kids to the march if we hadn’t been at a funeral.

I will even post a picture of our pink kitty-cat hats when they are finished, ears and all.

Not because of any civil disobedience or political drama, but because I want my kids to know how to see with open eyes, to discern with open ears, and to feel with a soft heart.

Because two of us have brown skin.

Because we are eight pre-existing conditions.

Because we are a family of disabilities.

Because we are of a historically persecuted faith tradition.

Because we are children of Heavenly Father.

Because we have the right to live our lives.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
~ Helen Keller

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Faith Marches On — 3 Comments

  1. You put my feelings into words so beautifully. My children are grown and never faced any of the challenges yours face – well, except being LDS, sometimes – but your words put life to the things I tried to teach them. I tried to teach them to think, to analyze, etc. I tried. I don’t know that I was as successful as I wanted to be.

    • I think all moms feel like they are not as successful as we wanted to be… and yet our children turn out to remain such amazing spirits!

  2. Posts like this a good reason to continue to be a fan of this blog. What I most appreciate about Emily and Nathan, is they can’t just be put in a category or box…real artists and thoughtful writers transcend labels.