World War II serves as a setting for Daughters in My Kingdom to present vignettes illustrating “charity in action.” The stories of several European sisters are briefly told as demonstrations of “praiseworthy courage in serving one another in spite of harrowing conditions.” One story is that of Gertrude Zippro:
Gertrude Zippro, another district Relief Society president, walked with God in the darkness many nights to love and serve her sisters. She lived in Holland at a time when the country was under military occupation. Because guards often stopped and searched travelers, she carried identification with her so she could visit branch Relief Societies in the district.
Sister Zippro’s son John said that it “became increasingly dangerous to be out at night as the occupation continued for five years.” Remembering his mother’s dedication, he said, “Can you imagine my mother braving those circumstances and going out at night on her bike many times, to visit another branch?” He recalled: “No matter how she felt or what the circumstances, she would take care of her obligation. What a great woman and leader she was! There is no doubt in my mind now that she was hand-picked by the Lord to be the Relief Society President at that time.”
Sister Zippro’s son observed, “She must have had complete trust in the Lord to go time after time under those conditions, not knowing what problems she would encounter.”
If this were all we knew of Sister Zippro, we would think that her greatest wartime trial was having to carry ID with her as she rode her bike from one Relief Society meeting to another. Yes, her country was occupied and yes, she could be stopped and searched, but is carrying ID and going out at night really all that big a sacrifice, even in wartime?
We’ve talked about Geertruida Lodder Zippro before (at Times and Seasons, before Keepa’s inception). Her greatest burden was hardly being under the necessity of carrying her papers with her. Go read her story. We’ll wait for you.
You’ve read it now? Does carrying ID sound like a sacrifice after you know she rode directly into the danger and confusion of an active war zone the morning after 30,000 of her countrymen were killed in a surprise bombing raid? Does “going out at night on her bike” sound like much when you imagine her bicycling on country roads with wired-on garden hose taking the place of bicycle tires? Does visiting “another branch” sound like much work without knowing that her district encompassed an entire nation?
Sister Zippro’s story is an easy hook on which to base this review because I can compare the version told in Daughters in My Kingdom with the version available after a little archival research. The account in Daughters of My Kingdom is representative – for me – of the entire book: It’s true, it’s okay, but I want more. I need more. I am grateful that I’m in a position to find more.
I write that admitting that I may not be fully representative of the women of the Church. When I try to put myself in the place of the General Relief Society Presidency, knowing the varied conditions of women around the world, I can suppose that there might be good reasons for using these tamer statements by Sister Zippro’s son rather than the more dramatic incidents I researched and which personally I find so inspiring. Telling the more dramatic story might, perhaps, be misinterpreted in modern war zones as implying that the Church always expects women to risk their lives while the bombs are still dropping. Or it might have been felt that some women would throw up their hands and say “Oh, she was wonderful, but I could never do anything like that!” which could defeat the purpose of including her story at all. It may be that the Presidency felt that stressing Sister Zippro’s ongoing attention to duty, her willingness to serve despite personal inconvenience, were the most important parts of her story, the most useful to modern women. Perhaps there were other reasons. If so, I admit that they are in a better position than I am to know what would be most useful to the greatest number of readers, and I won’t second-guess them as far as the whole Church goes. For me, in my circumstances, though, I wanted more than this story gives me.
That pretty well sums up my response to Daughters in My Kingdom as a whole. I wanted more. I needed more. It may all be true, it may all be good, it may all be beautiful, but I wanted more.
I realized that in opening lines where the author describes the Savior’s relationship to the women he encountered during his mortal ministry.
The Savior taught women in multitudes and as individuals, on the street and by the seashore, at the well and in their homes. He showed loving-kindness toward them and healed them and their family members. In many parables, He told stories of women engaged in ordinary activities. He demonstrated deep familiarity with women’s lives and drew timeless gospel lessons from their everyday experiences. He forgave them. He wept with them. He had compassion on them in their specific circumstances as daughters, wives, homemakers, mothers, and widows. He appreciated them and ennobled them.
Even while reading those lines, some part of my brain was trying to find examples to support those statements. I can think of occasions when he was in close proximity to women, teaching them and speaking to them, and not treating them as inferiors or unclean beings – think of the woman with the issue of blood whom he stopped to speak to rather than pulling away when she touched the hem of his garment, and the woman he allowed to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. As for familiarity with women’s everyday experiences, think of the parables he told regarding a woman’s search for her lost coin, and about leavening flour. Recognizing their specific circumstances in their life roles, though? Examples to support some of those roles (mother, widow) come to mind easily, but I’m in the dark as to how he recognized other roles, including daughter (which is the only listed role that I can personally identify with). I can do the research to find those stories, if I want to. Will other women do that? Or will most of us be satisfied with the bare assertion that those things are so?
I can imagine critics thinking I’m being too petty here. It is not a single occurrence, though – this paragraph is merely representative of dozens? scores? of points in the book where I needed more. My experiences and temperament don’t allow me to settle for history by assertion, or religion by assertion. I don’t want my history or my doctrine second-hand that way. I need to know where ideas come from, why the book makes those claims, whether those things are true … and Daughters in My Kingdom gives me very little help in knowing where ideas come from or whether claims are true, because so little detail, so few examples, and almost no scriptural or prophetic sources, are given. If it’s true, for example, as this book claims, that “Women in the Church play essential roles in Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation – just as important as the roles played by men who hold the priesthood,” I need to know what roles those are, or at least which roles are open to me. Priesthood is not. Motherhood is not. Leadership is not (at least, there has been no sign so far that leadership is an available role – I wasn’t even a class officer in any MIA class, much less had the adult opportunity to serve in any position that could remotely be considered leadership). What roles can I play that are “just as important” as exercising the priesthood? Why make that claim without explanation and example?
There is a section explicitly directed toward single women:
Many Latter-day Saints have never been married. Others are single because of the death of a spouse, abandonment, or divorce. Like all members of the Church, these members will be blessed as they remain faithful to their covenants and do all they can to strive for the ideal of living in an eternal family. They can enjoy the blessings, strength, and influence of the priesthood in their lives and homes through the ordinances they have received and the covenants they keep.
Well, good. At least they acknowledge the existence of single sisters. But Daughters in My Kingdom again leaves me craving more What can I do “to strive for the ideal of living in an eternal family”? I believe blessings do result from remaining faithful to covenants, but as a practical matter that belief is merely theoretical at this point in my life – how am I blessed for faithfulness?
The section on single sisters goes on to assure us that we preside in our homes. Oh, goody. Since the only alternative president in my home is my cat, I’m glad to know that the presiding role doesn’t belong to him even if he IS male. Okay, I’m being silly. Or bitter. Or snarky. Or something. But what does it mean to say I preside in my home? I wish the book hadn’t stopped with the bald assertion, but had gone on to explain what that means, and what, if anything, are the benefits of being my own president. It doesn’t, though. As on virtually every other point, Daughters in My Kingdom makes the assertion without explanation, without example, and leaves me crying for more.
One instance where the book does succeed fairly well, I think, is in the section “Glimpses of Heaven.” “Throughout the world,” it says, “Relief Society sisters and their families have drawn near to heaven by the way they have lived.” This is followed by eight, if I counted right, vignettes of unnamed sisters in various parts of the world who did such ordinary and unremarkable things as taking care of children, cultivating gardens, visiting teaching, and maintaining a home atmosphere conducive to scripture study. These are all the ordinary things I like to celebrate when I can find a story showing how some Latter-day Saint becomes extraordinary simply by doing what needs to be done. I think my stories – focusing on specific incidents, and naming names – do a better job of helping readers connect with the lives of our fellow Saints, but these examples, anonymous as they are, still sufficiently illustrate the idea that simply living lives of humble, clean, and productive service, no matter that – no, especially when – that service is so ordinary and routine as to seem unremarkable, is heavenly.
I suspect that Keepa’ninnies waiting for this review anticipated that I would review the historical sections about Relief Society bazaars, and building hospitals, and saving wheat, and interacting with national and international women’s groups. I could have done that, but it will be more interesting to most of you, I think, if I simply write the posts I’ve been threatening for months to write: somewhat more expansive accounts of those various activities. As with the rest of the book, I think the accounts of those activities in Daughters in My Kingdom are generally correct (except insofar as simplification and brevity create misleading impressions in a couple of cases) – as with everything else, though, what this book narrates in a single sentence leaves me needing more.
Instead of reviewing Daughters in My Kingdom as an historian might review it, I’ve read it and thought about it as an individual woman, as a random reader for whom this book was written and distributed. I have that right – the book was intended to me as a female Church member as much as it was intended for a widow in Mongolia or a young wife in Ireland or a convert in Chile or a third-generation member in Australia. (In other words, please don’t respond to this review by telling me I need to remember that Daughters in My Kingdom was written for sisters all over the world in whatever conditions they live – I am one of those sisters, after all.) It doesn’t satisfy me – but not because it is wrong, or inaccurate, or preachy, or anything else like that. It doesn’t satisfy me, because it leaves me hungry. I need more. Have I said that enough? I. Need. More. Just as I don’t feel inspired by the published version of Sister Zippro’s story because I realize how shallow and incomplete it is, I don’t feel inspired, really, by unexplained and unsupported assertions that God loves me or that I have a meaningful role in the Kingdom. You can tell me that that is so, but that doesn’t make me feel it, or believe it, or know it, or be moved by it. I need the details for that to happen.
Fortunately, I’m in a position to help myself supply what is missing fromDaughters in My Kingdom, whether what is missing is examples from the scriptures, or examples from history. I have the interest and the inclination and the incentive and the education and the access to do that. The constant need for something to post on Keepa has driven me to do more of that in the past few years than I might ordinarily have done.
I don’t have any idea how other individual women will respond to Daughters in My Kingdom. It’s a different kind of writing than anything I’ve ever judged before – a manual that is intended to be read rather than merely taught from (and, incidentally, it was much easier to read in the Kindle version I made for myself by stripping out all the distracting illustrations and captions); a Church book that we’re all supposed to read and study (kind of like scripture, only without the divine weight of scripture); a history but one without scholarly argument, structure, or apparatus; a devotional book, but one which draws from the lives of contemporary women rather than from the lives and words of prophets, ancient or modern. This is less a review than one individual’s response to the book as a whole.
It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. It just doesn’t satisfy. I need more.