Monday, May 9, 2011

Episode 6: "Not Perfect" — Sara's Mother's Day Talk

Right click here to download the mp3.

One more special edition! This past weekend, Sara gave a talk for Mother's Day in her parents' ward. She reaches out to mothers in a universal way, giving understanding for why Mother's Day is so hard for so many.

Sara addresses complex issues with our own mothers, the over-emphasis on "perfect mothers," and our Heavenly Mother. She also speaks about the atonement. 

Sara will be watching the comments to answer questions or discuss issues raised in her talk.


  1. wow! such a great talk, sara. I was so moved. You were really able to be inspiring and uplifting without the guilt trip or patronizing that often happens in mother's day talks. well done.

  2. Sara, these words popped into my head after listening to your talk:

    Dig fingers deep
    cultural constructions
    words and actions of wrenching realness

    Thank you for sharing such a real, resonating talk. It was refreshing and satisfying to listen to. I pray we can all learn to speak more like this in Church.

  3. (I would replace "speak/act" with "create")

  4. Wow! This was fantastic. It gave me goosebumbs. I will definitely share it with my wife as well.

  5. i really liked this talk, so please forgive me while i go off on the piece that hurt me. there's one thing that, even though i hear it a lot in all sorts of different ways, it still doesn't make sense to me, and i can't find any way to believe it. we are always told that jesus understands everything, and the quote from the talk said that he understood pms, and cramps, and menopause. even rape and stuff. it's a nice sentiment, but really, he was a man. he didn't have our female anatomy. i guess i feel like my experiences in my female body are dismissed by people saying that jesus knows what it felt like to be raped by a man so much bigger and stronger than me. i guess i can see him being able to understand the guy doing the raping, since they share the same anatomy and strength and hormones and cultural empowerment, but i really don't get how he could really, truly, actually, totally, intrinsically get what happened to me. because he's NOT female. no matter how understanding and transcendent he is or was or whatever, no matter how people try to spell it out, he was MALE. is male. people tell me that he gets it because he was a god, but i don't buy that either. the god that gets presented to me over and over in the church is a very male god being presented by male leaders. male leaders who don't get us, don't get females being real people with different experiences than theirs. i guess this is part of why i really want so much more about mother in heaven. she's a female. like me. and maybe in her life when she was a woman before she became a goddess, maybe she was raped, too.

  6. Anonymous, I'm not offended at all that you shared your pain and I'm glad you drew my attention to this piece. This is how I understand the issue that you mentioned:

    I don't know how the atonement happened. I don't understand the physics of it and I don't know if it happened in quite the way we imagine it, etc., but it's my testimony that, in his role as Savior, Christ did experience our sins and our pains in some manner, and for the purposes of my understanding, I'm happy to call that event the atonement.

    We talk about Jesus as being male and, indeed, he was, insofar as we understand gender and insofar as the historical record describes him. For the atonement to have been effective and sufficient, though, it makes sense to me that Jesus would have transcended gender, and I mean that literally. In that event, I don't think he was limited to experiencing things as a 30-something year old Jewish carpenter; I think Jesus transcended - stood apart from and escaped - the boundaries of gender, of race, of culture, of physical and mental ability, of age, of language, etc. I think Jesus experienced things as we experienced them. You alluded to this idea in your comment, saying "no matter how understanding and transcendent he is or was ... he was MALE." What I'm trying to say is that, according to my understanding of the atonement, Jesus WASN'T male; Jesus was male/female/any other gender identification or lack thereof, according to our needs. That's the only way the atonement makes sense for me.

    I think Jesus experienced your situation as you experience your situation, with all the attendant fear and worry and guilt and anger, etc. In his ministry, Jesus was this incredibly wise, loving, centered person, but in the atonement, I think Jesus was US. I think Jesus experienced the struggle to forgive as we do, but in his own life, he apparently found forgiveness very easy. I think Jesus experienced the hopelessness of our darkest hours, but in his own life, I imagine he had this great perspective that gave him an endless supply of hope. Does that make sense?

    We often say to each other, "I know exactly how you're feeling," but it's not true. In Jesus's case, I don't think he "understands" because he loves us and because he suffered a lot of pain himself; I think Jesus genuinely understands from experiencing the same thing, in the same way, with the same feelings that we have.

    Obviously, all of this is just my take on the matter. I don't know if it reveals anything new for you or if it's just the same old thing you've heard before, but in any case, please know that when I said "Jesus gets it," I meant it literally and I believe it sincerely; I meant for it to be a comfort, and I'm so sorry for the pain it caused you. Your desire to learn more about a Mother in Heaven is something I relate to and support entirely; no doubt that she can understand you in an intimate, divinely-female way, and that access to female understanding is something we lose out on by not emphasizing her more frequently in this church.

  7. Sara,
    I adore you, and loved your previous podcast and your mother's day talk. It made me cry, and I feel it would have been very healing for so many of the women in my ward on sunday. We got the same old same old. Nothing super terrible, but nothing really uplifting like your talk either.

    I would like to say I feel your pain, but I know that I can't. I have felt a similar urge to get closer to my Mother in Heaven though, and I hope she wraps you in her loving arms and heals your heart.
    I have wondered the same as you, if Jesus truly understands those specifically female experiences, whether they be rape, child birth, or any others. I don't understand how Jesus could truly experience those things, not merely understand, but feel them in his body.

    I'm still not sure, but I liked Sara's explanation of Jesus transcending sex (not gender the way I understand the difference between sex and gender). However, this transcendence is completely unorthodox, as the way I understand it, you're suggesting that Jesus actually changed between male and female genitals. I'm fairly certain that asserting Jesus at one point had a vagina and breasts would be considered blasphemous in orthodox mormon circles. Not that I have an issue with it, I find it highly intriguing, but it's just not anything that would be discussed in church, therefore the ways we are taught the atonement at church do not explain how Jesus could have possibly experienced things like a woman.

    Anyway, great talk, and great discussion!

  8. I understand the atonement a lot like Sarah explained it. It has made sense to me for a long time that the atonement was accomplished by an entity of love, healing and knowledge with more than enough power to transcend everything that we see as concrete. In that act, the maleness of that entity seemed like barely a footnote to me. But as I read your comment, Anonymous, I began to see it differently.

    I see that in the experience of your spirit my understanding of the atonement, and the atonement taught in church, does not answer. Someone that I love is in a similar place as you in this matter. I don't understand either how Christ could fully experience and understand what happened to you, and my loved one; but I feel that somehow your experience is felt and understood. Maybe the key to all this really is a greater understanding of, and relationship with our Heavenly Mother.

    I sincerely want to find the answers to this, and I just as sincerely hope that you find the divinely feminine healing that you need.

  9. Anonymous, I've been thinking about your comment all day long. I can feel the pain from where you speak, because I have wounds that are similar to yours.

    I have a different take on the atonement than most people. To me, when Jesus said, "Come, follow me," he was showing us a way to live, a way to be. And that way, that path that he showed us was to descend into the darkness, into the pain, because then we could RISE from it. He demonstrated it in a rather dramatic fashion, with the New Testament accounts saying he rose from the dead.

    Like you, I don't feel that a male could fully understand the embodied female experience. It is so fundamentally different than the male experience. So, when people give their versions of explaining the atonement, for me I try to replace it with that he showed us a way to live. A way to receive healing.

    Also, for me, being taught that the atonement is to help us repent of our sins has not helped me. I'm not really much of a sinner; never had the knack for it. But I have been sinned against. And by looking at the atonement as a means of showing a path toward healing rather than as "he understood it all" ... well, it works much better for me. I hope I'm making sense.

    Lastly, feel free to let go of the things that hurt you. I don't think Jesus would be offended. Reach toward that which offers you the feminine healing you seek. And if you want to talk, send me an email.

  10. thanks for caring, everyone. and for all the ideas. i've never heard the idea that jesus didn't have a gender or switched genders to do the atonement. that was new. with all the church emphasis on the eternal nature of gender ... i don't know. it still feels like it doesn't work. because it's still all men who do everything that matters. so it's like i still don't matter. i don't know. i like the idea that he showed us a path instead of tried to comprehend us. thanks for the offer to talk, sybil. maybe i'll take you up on it someday. and thanks for the distinction between sinning and being sinned against. that helped.

  11. Just wanted to say that I've loved this conversation about different ways to look at the atonement and how gender is an issue to be considered. Thanks, Anonymous, for being brave enough to start this topic!

    Also, Sara, I liked in your talk how you opened the door to consider mothers who were neglectful. How did you decide to bring that up?

  12. I really enjoyed your talk, Sara! How was it received there?

    I've known for a long time that many people feel negatively towards Mother's Day and especially Mother's Day talks. But I find them quite hopeful. No doubt this is my own reading of things, but I think hearing people talk so glowingly about their mothers is comforting because I'm fairly certain that 1) their mothers were not perfect (the idea that a mother never said a cross word, well, most people don't honestly remember their childhood's accurately enough to state such a thing with certainty) and 2) they probably at some time had conflict or frustration with their mothers. What a great thing that those negative experiences/sentiments subside in our memories and the positive floats to the top! Now that I study relationships, I find there is actually a term for this type of thing: positive sentiment override. When we have a globally positive feeling about someone, we interpret (and often reinterpret) the things that they do or have done as overwhelmingly positive. To me, there is nothing more hopeful than that, which I find is quite a common phenomenon even among my incarcerated men who struggle with mothers who initiated them into drug use and criminal activity.

    But I imagine your talk felt like a breath of fresh air for some people!

  13. Tansy - I decided to bring up the idea of neglectful mothers because, while I was preparing the talk, I saw a post on LDSLiving's Facebook page, asking for thoughts on Mother's Day; one woman said, "Unfortunately, my mother was a very bad, bad woman so as sad as it is, I don't celebrate her but I do celebrate my motherhood and how fortunate I am to be a mother ..." That's what put it in my mind. I imagine it must be really difficult to try to honor mothers when one's own mother was "bad" in some profound way, and I've never heard that facet addressed in church before (while I have heard people speak of bad fathers on Father's Day, interestingly enough), so it seemed worth addressing for the sake of people in that situation.

    Lindsay - It was received really well. It feels kind of braggy to say so. =) But several women came to me after Sacrament Meeting and shared their tears and stories with me - stories about being glad to hear of Heavenly Mother, about a niece who says she's too bad (ie not perfect enough) to attend church anymore, about a mother who was abusive, etc. It was very touching. My dad called and said that he has continued to get good responses from ward members. The thing the women seemed to appreciate most was all the "it's okay that you're not perfect!" jazz. It's so great that you can contextualize those glowing mother tributes; I wonder if it just gets to be overkill for some people sometimes, but like you, I haven't had a lot of personal struggle with hearing those kinds of talks.

  14. Great Talk! And thanks for the shout out! ; ) I enjoyed your talk. I would have liked to have heard that on Sunday. I can't say I'm going to like Mother's Day now, but I did like your take. I actually like mothers. I love my mother, but the culture of the church has given me a bad taste in my mouth about something I should be excited about.

  15. Anonymous, my heart goes out to you. I know what it is to be abused and have loved ones abused, though I have not experienced what you have.

    Here is my favorite concept of the Atonement... Gethsemane is still happening, as it was out of time. I believe that the Atonement is about Jesus transcending time and limitations, as Sara said, and that he became all of us, he lived all of our lives and died all of our deaths. He took all of us as part of himself, which was a critical step in us all becoming One.

    I hear you about the dominance of male voices. I feel a bit awkward posting on this blog as a male, though I have so enjoyed listening to the podcasts with my wife. I too ache for the increase of the female voice on earth and in heaven.

  16. this was so wonderful. i left the church years ago, but i would have loved to hear this talk on any sunday. thank you for this.

  17. Sara, this was absolutely beautiful. I hope that one day we will hear women speak the way you did in church conferences, both local and general. I also found myself hoping that my children will be able to say the same things about me that you did about your mom. This was such a treat to listen to.

    As for Jesus being beyond gender for the atonement; I just bought DaVinci's "Christ's head" for my entry way. I'm in love with how it looks neither male nor female, and I do think that this was part of Christ's mission, to somehow assume both roles. For whatever reason, I'm sure it helped for the times that he was male in perception, but all the stuff we hear about him embodying both male and female characteristics goes beyond just the idea that he was feminine or masculine. Testosterone really does play a significant role in our lived experiences (even more so than our anatomy alone), and inherently changes the way we live this life - so I do think there is something to be said for taking hormonal gender into account, and I don't doubt that Christ had control over how he experienced the aspects of life that are ruled by gender as we see it. I do think he "gets it". I can't say for sure how, but I feel good about that assessment and it comforts me, as I'm sure it is meant to.

    Thank you for sharing your talk.

  18. I always think that Mother's Day is a fascinating time for those of us who are feminists and/or come from broken homes. I happen to be both. I wrote a post on The Exponent regarding that, and I like your podcast for similar reasons to why I wrote that post: because Mother's Day really IS complicated and not the perfect day many think it is. A good mother does not equal a perfect mother, and perfection is overrated anyways :)

  19. k, would you mind posting a link to your blog post?

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. Great talk. I would've liked to hear that one on one of those Mother's Days when I sat there feeling so very patronised as a single, childless woman (the term 'mother in Zion' SHOULD be a positive, but over the years I grew to just hate it. :)

    It's really important to realise our parents aren't perfect, but (as you said) to watch them grow as people and to see how they deal with their imperfections. I think you're right that children learn the confidence to deal with their own imperfections that way.


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