Monday, May 7, 2012

sheroes: special guest carol lynn pearson

You and I, child, /Have just begun
When we learned that former guest blogger Ingrid Asplund was doing a piece on Carol Lynn Pearson, we asked if she would interview Pearson for GITP. Here's what Ingrid got for us:
"Also Important is I Never Keep my Mouth Shut"--CLP
I write for and am an editor of my school’s feminist newspaper, the college news. My column, Oxy-Mormon discusses issues of Mormonism and feminism. I compiled a list of my Mormon sheroes for this column, and Carol Lynn Pearson was one of the first people I thought of, as she has long been an inspiration to me. 

Carol Lynn Pearson is a playwright, poet, author, and philosopher who has contributed a great deal as an advocate for LGBT issues and women’s authority in the Mormon Church. Her best known works include Goodbye, I Love You, which tells her story of taking care of her gay ex-husband as he died of AIDS, Beginnings, a best-selling book of her poetry. She was also the librettist for My Turn on Earth, a musical about Mormonism, and wrote Circling the Wagons: No More Goodbyes

What I admire about Carol Lynn Pearson is her courage in speaking out about controversial issues within Mormonism as well as her recognition that her unusual beliefs make her as a valuable member of the Mormon community. In her words, “I have a unique opportunity to build bridges.” I was lucky to be able to interview her on the phone today and ask her a few questions, as well as our four GITP queries.

IA: When did you first find yourself at an intersection of Mormonism and feminism? Was there one “aha” moment? What was that like?

CLP: I was a high school sophomore at BY High school, and my seminary teacher, who was a very good man, gave a lesson where he said that we have many Heavenly Mothers because polygamy is a true and eternal principal and that as we became more righteous, we would understand polygamy better. I remember walking home, and thinking there was just something wrong with that and that there was no way my seminary teacher was right. It never occurred to me that I was the one who was wrong, I think that too often women think that if they disagree with something the church does, it’s their problem and that they need to always defer to priesthood authority.

IA: Do you ever feel discouraged with how things are going? How do you deal with that?

CLP: *laughs* I often feel discouraged, outraged, and many other negative feelings that the church hasn’t joined the greatest movement we’ve ever had for women, which of course is feminism. However, I am not discouraged about the entire world or about Godliness because I know that humanity always moves forward. When I feel discouraged, I get in my spiritual helicopter and I look at the big picture of history—we may have our bumps and we may slide back occasionally, but the human condition always moves forward.

I’ve been focusing more on LGBT issues within the church recently. There has been big traction nationally with LGBT issues so the church has been focusing on that as well. Because there hasn’t been as much talk of women’s issues nationally in recent times, the church hasn’t been addressing it much. I have been focusing on gay rights recently because I haven’t seen any Mormon feminists commit suicide, unlike gay youth.

I am able to balance it all especially because I’m a Libra, so I go through the world with both hands out and am able to remember that on the one hand, we have a serious need to reframe our concept of a creator to encompass our Heavenly Mother, but on the other hand, I love the Mormon community and I see a lot of room for support and leadership for women.

Also important is that I never keep my mouth shut. I change pronouns when I sing hymns to sing about the faith of our mothers, and I am always willing to stand up during Relief Society and remind everyone that we come from a Heavenly Mother and a Heavenly Father. Just the other day I emailed my Stake President—it may surprise you to hear this, but I am on excellent terms with my ward and stake—and I closed the email by reminding him that “God moves in mysterious ways, Her wonders to perform.” 

I also try to remember that Salt Lake City is not the hub of the universe. It is one place in God’s great vineyard, and it has many wonderful answers but it does not have all the answers.

IA: Do you have any particular habits for nurturing your spirituality/activism/artistic practice?

CLP: I try to read nourishing and expansive books… not usually Deseret books! I’m also plugged into many spiritual arenas, lots of spiritually oriented mailing lists. I have my women’s group that has met once a month for about twenty-five years. It’s a very intimate group of about six women, we started out aiming to make change in the church but now I’m the only one of them who still goes to church and I go to church on my own terms, not as I did thirty or forty years ago. In my own personal meditations and prayers I think of God in terms of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. I think that might be a limited way of picturing it—if we even can picture something like that—but I try to remember that God is so much larger than what we talk about. Because God is love, wherever I find love, I find God—this can be in heterosexual relationships, homosexual relationships, in Islam, Protestantism, Mormonism… Mormons do remarkable things, regardless of all the crap they do.

IA: What are your feelings on the future?

CLP: I see women’s situations and women’s rights issues as improving worldwide. The Dalai Lama said that it is women who will save the world, and I absolutely believe that. As long as we don’t destroy the planet (and if we do destroy the planet, we’ll find an alternative space to continue the human condition on) we will continue to do our strange dance of forming relationships between men and women. Women should continue offering their strong feminine energy to change and improve power structures inside and outside of the church rather than merely trying to participate in existing power structures that are oppressive. Of course I’m sad that the church seems to be on the last wagon of feminism and gay rights issues, but I’m ok with it because I know we’ll figure it out eventually.

Are you in a tight place?

Yes I am, or I wouldn’t be human! I try to keep a general position of affirmation and confidence to deal with that.

What do you want to get done this year?

I am working on what I call my “Preparing for Death” project. I’m getting my archives in order so that I can feel at peace with all of my boxes and files organized. I also have some goals for my personal relationships and such.

What inspires you?

Anything heroic inspires me! Right now I am watching To Kill a Mockingbird on Netflix, it is very inspiring to see characters doing what is right and letting the consequences follow. I am inspired by the beautiful coincidences that seem to pop up every day, I even wrote a book about that. I am inspired when I walk up into the hills to go for a run, and I am inspired by nature being ongoing and beautiful. I am inspired by the people in my life and I’m also inspired by my own creative work! Sometimes I think to myself, “Dang! I am so lucky that I get to do this!”

What is your favorite legwear?

Old jeans.

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