227: “Living” Stories

IndianaIn this episode, philosopher-theologian Adam Miller and narrative studies specialist Stephen Carter join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon to explore the many and varied ways we live within, think from, are shaped by, and are both aided and hindered by “stories.” The depth at which our lives are impacted by narratives—about what the world is like, about ourselves, our lives, our hopes and deepest desires, about God or the universe’s biggest forces—is staggering. Plus, and here is where it gets interesting, messy, and sometimes frightening, our stories change. Sometimes we fight these changes, trying to pigeon-hole into pre-packaged worldviews and narratives everything that life in all its complexity is attempting to show us. When we do so, we fail to live fully, to be vital. Sometimes Mormonism, if we give into certain cultural forces, seems to distract us from seeing this failure, from realizing our stagnation. But does it also have elements that focus our attention directly to the importance of living out of big stories that are intended to always yield to even richer vistas and more profound embodiments? We cannot escape stories. They provide many of the fundamental lenses through which we see and function in the world. But can we break free from the negative aspects of these narratives? Can we, and how do we, develop a love for the life-giving dynamic of letting life constantly call into question our stories and exploring our way into new ones? The participants in this conversation believe we can, and they share their experiences with “living” stories–Mormon ones, and others.
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Links:

Adam S. Miller (authored or edited) available through Amazon:

Letters to a Young Mormon

Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology

An Experiment on the Word: Reading Alma 32

Speculative Grace: Bruno Latour and Object-Oriented Theology (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy), written with Levi R, Bryant

Badiou, Marion and St. Paul: Immanent Grace (Continuum Studies in Continental Philosophy)


Stephen Carter

Essays:

Winter Light,” Sunstone, November 2005

Smoke and Mirrors,” Sunstone, September 2006

The Weight of Priesthood,” Dialogue 38, no. 3 (Fall 2005)

Books:

What of the Night?: Personal Essays
(Collection of Stephen’s Essays, including the ones above)

iPlates, Volume 1 (Book of Mormon comics), with Jett Atwood

The Hand of Glory (The Harrowed Valley Hauntings)

The Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer, edited by Christopher Kimball Bigelow
(Stephen mentioned this as part of his past work with the satire publication The Sugar Beet--LDS equivalent to The Onion)

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The Karate Kid (1984, Columbia Pictures)

 

Comments

comments

51 comments for “227: “Living” Stories

  1. Matteo Masiello
    May 22, 2014 at 9:28 am

    Mr. Miller is disingenuous in his opinion in saying that religion is not about belief or about what is termed as religion is about life. Then sin, hell, God, etc. are all not real but a part of the narrative construct. There is no need of that stigmatizing language. Atheists and humanists should look to him to justify stories deemed to be be history.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      May 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

      Count me in with Adam. Religions certainly state beliefs and when attending worship services and in other settings religious people have many conversations about them, but religion is much more than that, with beliefs far less important than seeking the transcendent through various practices, loving and serving others in community, sharing our hearts and highest aspirations, etc. I like the focus on a religious “life.”

      Beliefs (which we likened in the episode to the content of stories, with faith more about our orientation that content) can help or hurt depending on our way of “holding” them. Do we recognize them as pointers and symbolic expressions trying to point us to truths we’ve experienced or hope to experience? Or are we confusing them with the experience itself (the famous Buddhist injunction for us to not mistake the finger pointing at the moon with the moon itself). Sin, hell, God ARE constructs, and to think our words and expressions capture them is simply wrong. But even as we might say that, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a reality to them–just not one fully captured by words or our other symbols. If this podcast struck a chord at all, I hope it highlighted this dynamic that Adam talked about: The map is not the territory. To see a place on a map is not the same thing as visiting that place. We should try very hard to not let our stories (the preconceived ideas and often unexamined assumptions we bring to our experiences) rob us of having the experiences that life (Adam’s term for what the world presents to us in all its richness, awaiting us to really encounter it) is serving up to us.

      • Glen T. Hale
        May 27, 2014 at 1:58 am

        Dan, I agree with you. These ideas seem good and real. I’m not disagreeing with the good in what was discussed above. Mormonism, however, teaches that there is a reality: a god with a body of flesh and “bone”, a real place where he lives, golden plates, a real resurrection, a Jesus that endured the atonement, a real Nephi and Mormon. Those aren’t just constructs in Mormonism. They are spoken of and taught as reality. So what I’m pushing back with is that while these ideas work and feel right, they aren’t what Mormonism espouses to be. So these ideas feel like a new religion.
        To me, all my life, the reason I was proud and happy to be a Mormon is because I didn’t think it was a religion of constructs (a religion of the made up story or the partial truth), but a religion of what really is. And I argue that there has to be a reality, a place that if you and I died at the same time and walked into the afterlife together, we would be in the same place, see the same color, shake the same hands, see the same resurrected beings (or not). I guess the reason I felt I could say Mormonism is true is because I believed it taught what was real. I’m okay to transition into the ideas you and your guests have espoused; but those ideas feel less than what I always felt was real about Mormonism…less because there isn’t a firm conviction of what is absolutely irrevocably true.

        • Carey
          May 27, 2014 at 10:06 am

          What could be more real then my own flesh and blood family being integrated into my salvation? What could be more real then attending church with my actual neighbors? That really makes the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself have real power.

          While I totally get what your saying Glen, and still think there’s some important stuff there that I still haven’t completely worked out myself I can honestly say one thing I’ve began to see these last couple of years is that while Mormonism has always espoused those types of claims, it has always wanted me to test those claims through living the principles and feeling the Holy Ghost. In other words, it always insisted that I judge those “truths” by my own spiritual experiences, rather then promising some kind of direct access to those truths.

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          May 27, 2014 at 10:12 am

          Hi Glen,

          I hear you. It is really disorienting to enter the strange new world of more subtle parsing of our spiritual experiences while still attending meetings that operate at a higher level of surety (though it is surety that God is in charge, don’t give into fears of chaos taking over, here are the “answers” rather than the surety that comes when we’re standing on our own two feet rather than the shoulders of others). But I don’t think that what Stephen and Adam and I are hinting at is a new or different religion from Mormonism, as I think the gist of Christ’s gospel and certainly many scriptural injunctions is calling us to have our own experiences and make them the foundation of our lives, our sense of what is real. And though it isn’t a new religion, we are, I think, suggesting that within every person’s life, they can and should come to orient differently to “what is real.”

          I personally don’t rule out objective reality. We exist in space and time. We have consciousness. And I don’t fully rule out your scenario of two people dying and going to the same place and having a shared experience of meeting beings, etc. My sense, though, is that they might not experience things the same way, see the same colors, etc. Just as people with more experience in a particular field (say, medicine) notice more than someone not trained (variances in the type of cough someone has, or particular eye movements that signal something going on), I think something similar would be a dynamic at play in your scenario. Paul talks about our seeing through a glass darkly, but then face to face; we know in part now but then shall know more “even as we are known.” Because of translation, we miss that the glass is a mirror (not the equivalent of looking through something like a fragment from one of those old green coke bottles and having what we see distorted). We see ourselves and the world differently when we are different people, and to see ourselves more clearly (and to see more like God sees) requires our become more fully like God. And I’m quite certain that Gods do not rely on having others tell them who they are, what is “the way it is” and what isn’t, etc. (I John 3:2 carries similar messaging to Paul’s above.) I think Mormonism points us to experiment with having this kind of direct experiencing. It isn’t often talked about this way on Sundays and in General Conference, but those, like everything else, including the scriptures, I believe carry Jesus’s message of “if we have ears, let us hear.” When we are ready, we get to see and know more. From what you have said here and in other places you’ve commented through the years, I have a strong sense that even amidst your mourning for the earlier kind of surety, you know that you are being called to even greater vision. It’s dangerous ground and many obstacles come into our paths (perhaps re-listen to the Joseph Campbell “Hero’s Journey” episode), but we can win through!

  2. Kevin
    May 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    This conversation reminds me of a remarkable quote by B.H. Roberts that a friend shared with me recently. I’m intrigued that Adam, Stephen and Dan all seem to personify the second type of disciple described in Roberts’ letter to The Improvement Era magazine in 1906.

    I resonate with the idea that we aren’t locked by physics, Darpa mind control or even divine edict into our stories. Thank you for an episode inviting multiple listenings!

    ———
    Roberts wrote,
    “These latter reflections bring to mind some observations I remember to have read some time ago in the philosophical works of John Fiske respecting two classes of disciples or partisans in the world of religious and philosophical opinion, which I think with profit may be reproduced here. By the way, I see the passage occurs in the introduction to Fiske’s Work, written by Josiah Boyce, and is as follows:

    ‘Disciples and partisans, in the world of religious and of philosophical opinion, are of two sorts. There are, first, the disciples pure and simple,—people who fall under the spell of a person or of a doctrine, and whose whole intellectual life thenceforth consists in their partisanship. They expound, and defend, and ward off foes, and live and die faithful to the one formula. Such disciples may be indispensable at first in helping a new teaching to get a popular hearing, but in the long run they rather hinder than help the wholesome growth of the very ideas that they defend: for great ideas live by growing, and a doctrine that has merely to be preached, over and over, in the same terms, cannot possibly be the whole truth. No man ought to be merely a faithful disciple of any other man. Yes, no man ought to be a mere disciple even of himself. We live spiritually by outliving our formulas , and by thus enriching our sense of their deeper meaning. Now the disciples of the first sort do not live in this larger and more spiritual sense. They repeat. And true life is never mere repetition.

    On the other hand, there are disciples of a second sort. They are men who have been attracted to a new doctrine by the fact that it gave expression, in a novel way, to some large and deep interest which had already grown up in themselves, and which had already come, more or less independently, to their own consciousness. They thus bring to the new teaching, from the first, their own personal contribution. The truth that they gain is changed as it enters their souls. The seed that the sower strews upon their fields springs up in their soil, and bears fruit,—thirty, sixty, an hundred fold. They return to their master his own with usury. Such men are the disciples that it is worthwhile for a master to have. Disciples of the first sort often become, as Schopenhauer said, mere magnifying mirrors wherein one sees enlarged, all the defects of a doctrine. Disciples of the second sort co-operate in the works of the Spirit; and even if they always remain rather disciples than originators, they help to lead the thought that they accept to a truer expression. They force it beyond its earlier and cruder stages of development.’

    I believe “Mormonism” affords opportunity for disciples of the second sort; nay, that its crying need is for such disciples. It calls for thoughtful disciples who will not be content with merely repeating some of its truths, but will develop its truths; and enlarge it by that development. Not half—not one-hundredth part—not a thousandth part of that which Joseph Smith revealed to the Church has yet been unfolded, either to the Church or to the world. The work of the expounder has scarcely begun. The Prophet planted by teaching the germ-truths of the great dispensation of the fulness of times. The watering and the weeding is going on, and God is giving the increase, and will give it more abundantly in the future as more intelligent discipleship shall obtain. The disciples of “Mormonism,” growing discontented with the necessarily primitive methods which have hitherto prevailed in sustaining the doctrine, will yet take profounder and broader views of the great doctrines committed to the Church; and, departing from mere repetition, will cast them in new formulas; co-operating in the works of the Spirit, until they help to give to the truths received a more forceful expression, and carry it beyond the earlier and cruder stages of its development.”

    https://archive.org/details/improvementera0909unse
    https://archive.org/…/improvementera0909unse_djvu.txt

    • May 22, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      Interesting that you should post that passage from Roberts, Kevin. Scott Kenney actually used it as part of his inaugural editorial in the first issue of Sunstone.

      https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/001-06-07.pdf

      • Kevin
        May 22, 2014 at 7:59 pm

        How cool is that, Stephen! Robert’s insight is as timely today as it was thirty-nine years ago. Thank you for continuing the tradition of publishing from the perspective of the second type of disciple.

    • Evangeline
      May 22, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Kevin, you say,
      “They are ‘men’ who have been attracted to a new doctrine by the fact that it gave expression, in a novel way, to some large and deep interest which had already grown up in themselves, and which had already come, more or less independently, to their own consciousness.”
      Really?
      Only “men” then.
      Have we not left – The Old Boy’s Club.
      While you made some salient points, I couldn’t get past the exclusive pronoun.
      You want to know why many women in the church are angry?
      Whatever . . .
      Eve

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        May 22, 2014 at 7:16 pm

        Clarification, Evangeline. Kevin’s post features an extended quotation from B.H. Roberts from 1906, when “men” was the typical term for universal humans. I’m glad, and I sense Kevin and most everyone is very glad that we are alerted today to the problems with this, and you won’t find it in Mormon Matters unless by some terrible accident. (I am very conscious of even referring to God by the male pronoun, though it slips in conversation at times though not in writing.) I’m on board with changing it in scripture, our hymn books, etc. Until then, we all need to model our awareness of the problems with universalizing the male, which Mormon Matters guests typically do.

      • Kevin
        May 22, 2014 at 7:47 pm

        Sorry for the perceived slight, Evangeline. Dan’s comments below reflect my own feelings on your question. Keep pushing back! In this regard I’d say you’re the second type of disciple who sees the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ unfenced-in by traditions of patriarchy.

        As a Gospel Doctrine teacher I love the chance to highlight any story about women; in the Old Testament there are precious few of those. Any suggestions for the story of Ruth and Naomi? I want to make it memorable.

  3. Jordan
    May 24, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Loving this podcast so far.

  4. DP
    May 25, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    This is one of the most important podcasts you’ve done Dan, if not THE most important in my view.

    I’d really, really like to hear more from Stephen. He has a gift. I hope he writes more and takes many more opportunities to talk about this topic that is so important and that he has a unique talent, perspective, and experience from which to draw.

    Adam has already started his important work and I hope he keeps on truckin’

    If I had stayed in academics this is the direction I would have gone. I studied philosophy and literature at the BYU and was fascinated by narrative. Eventually this led me to studying myth and ritual. Stories are so important… an especially important part in our human experience… if not THE human experience in a way. The stories we tell ourselves are crucial to our happiness and the way we treat others. And it is important to listen to the stories coming from others. Listening to stories is what makes our universe bigger… I loved that point.

    I am learning to perceive my own stories and am trying to embrace those that give me peace, love, and joy.

    After all, I have only one life to live and I want to make it a great one.

  5. DP
    May 25, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    And I should say looking forward to any links you may have to Stephen’s works…

  6. Greg
    May 27, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Dan, Adam, and Stephen. All I can express is: Wow. Just, wow! This is one of the best podcasts I have listed to. It will be one that I return to over and over.

    A fundamental shift took place for me as I listened. My first takeaway is I that feel more charity, love, and patience for others and myself.

    A DP above stated: “And I should say looking forward to any links you may have to Stephen’s works…”

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      May 27, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Greg and DP: Sorry so late in putting up the links! (Memorial Day madness kept me from being at my computer much.) They are there now.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      May 27, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Oh, and I’m definitely thrilled that you have found this episode to be so rich and rewarding. This is fundamental, life-changing stuff, but oh so subtle! Glad you both are deciding to keep exploring. All best!

  7. ADH
    May 27, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    This episode pushed me to become a monthly subscriber. Thank you, Dan, for all the good you are doing to keep me engaged in Mormonism.

  8. Kevin
    May 28, 2014 at 6:09 am

    “What if our religion was each other
    “If our practice was our life
    “If prayer, our words.
    “What if the temple was the earth
    “If forests were our church
    “If holy water – the rivers, lakes, and oceans
    “What if meditation was our relationships
    “If the Teacher was life
    “If wisdom was self-knowledge
    “If love was the center of our being”

    — Ganga White

    • DP
      May 28, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      Amen Kevin!

      And to Stephen… Thanks for the awesome links. Really looking forward to anything you plan to put together.

      Dan, thanks for putting up your links. I’m in awe of the people you know 🙂

  9. WishThereWereMoreLikeYou
    May 29, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks for this episode Dan, Adam, and Stephen! The LDS church gravely needs this sort of dialogue, yet the church is anemic of it.

    I really wish there were more Mormons like you and that the general authorities were wanting to guide the church in that direction. But this is not the reality of the LDS church. And it is one of the fundamental reasons why I have chosen to step away from it. Nevertheless, I applaud what you are doing and think it is extremely necessary for people like you to stay in so that the church (if it is to evolve) can evolve.

  10. Seasickyetstilldocked
    May 29, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    If I watch a large pine tree fall in the forest, then did it really fall? I love trees. Trees mean the world to me and watching this tree fall and damaging a bunch of other trees on the way down has really upset me. I decide to change this story so that the tree really did not fall but rather was always lying on the ground. This may make me feel better about the forest but it does not change the fact that the tree actually fell.

    You guys talk like no trees ever fall. How is changing your story different than simply altering reality? Is there any limit to what you will redefine and reinterpret in Mormonism?

    There would be more value to these types of discussions if you actually tied your deep thoughts down on the reality of the leadership, programs and policies of the Church. Frankly, these discussions come off as self indulgent. I don’t know what else to call it unless you address the how. How do you these philosophical musings work in the real world of Mormonism today. I mean geez at least try.

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      May 30, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      We announced right up front that this was a “meta” discussion! 🙂

      From this and other posts of yours I’ve read, among the big stories you seem to focus on are that “Mormonism” equals the church/organization and that teachings and doctrinal formulations can only be true to the degree that they correspond with objective realities (name pretty dang close to what is the case about things like God, heaven, etc.). You also seem to be hesitant to imagine someone within Mormonism deconstructing it (as well as the entire Judeo-Christian “story” naming sin as the biggest problem we must overcome, etc.) and still choosing to stay and serve within that tradition. I don’t share those stories with you. Your equations (if they are accurate–and please correct them where I’m wrong!) only tell part of a larger tale, which is where I focus.

      • Seasickyetstilldocked
        May 31, 2014 at 8:27 am

        Dan I think there are times when this stories thing is being taken way to far. I also think that there are times when you could benefit from feedback from those not as smart as you! Look, to a degree, you can make Mormonism be about whatever you want but there are limits man. Yeah, I think Mormonism is for the super most part what is done every Sunday. I think Mormonism is mostly the sum total of the lessons, programs and policies as they come from the top and are required to be executed at the ward level. (if Adam M is free to implement a different program to his teachers, then I am all ears because I have a 15 year old son). The people in Mormonism are for the most part the product of this system and it shows……obviously. When I talk about reality, this is what I am talking about. I do think it is totally bogus when you seem to infer that I have just bought into this “story” when this situation with the Church today is not just a “story”, its freaking reality. I just talked to a woman yesterday who has figured out the truth about the truth claims etc and surprise surprise, she is stuck in all the ways we know. Should I just tell her to change her story? What will that change and what kind of story should she adopt? How about the, “I just found out I have been lied to my whole life and now I am 40 years old with two kids and a husband who are tbm but its all good because I can just turn my frown upside down and create a new story where…..” What good is her changing her story going to do for the reality of her situation? What good does it do for my gay friend who has contemplated suicide? Adam M can say that Church is all about getting together to talk about sin and he can sound really smart saying it…..for me it has very little point because that is just not what is happening every Sunday. For me, what he really should be saying is that he wishes that Church was about getting together every Sunday to talk about the problem of sin. I don’t hate the whole stories construct but you guys need to reign yourselves in when the construct jumps the shark into wishful thinking territory.

        And Dan, your right, I have a hard time imagining there is someone out there like you. Except you exist and we are all the better for it. To the degree that your journey remaining in Mormonism has contributed to you being such a nice guy, well, who am I to criticize your path. I remember one time when you referred to a mission as a “school of love”. I will never get over that one! 🙂 Sure I listen to some of your podcasts and get so mad that I want to throw my phone out of my speeding car…….and then drive over the phone…….and then take the pieces and shove them down my garbage disposal…..but that is my problem not yours. I am glad you do what you do. I am perfectly fine with people who enjoy their Mormonism as long as they are not pushing anything close to the one true church paradigm. You are like that. You see many paths up the mountain and you see those paths as EQUAL. You don’t buy into exclusive truth and authority etc………but I think Adam does. Did you notice his hedge at the end of the podcast? I wish you would have pushed him more because he is holding cards he is not showing.

        If and when this pastoral apologetic thing comes to your doorstep, just don’t cut it any slack. If you feel called to this Dan then add the destruction of the one true church/exclusivity thing to your list. That story needs to go away because it is that very dynamic that is ruining peoples lives.

        • June 1, 2014 at 9:09 pm

          In response to:

          “I just talked to a woman yesterday who has figured out the truth about the truth claims etc and surprise surprise, she is stuck in all the ways we know. Should I just tell her to change her story? What will that change and what kind of story should she adopt? How about the, “I just found out I have been lied to my whole life and now I am 40 years old with two kids and a husband who are tbm but its all good because I can just turn my frown upside down and create a new story where…..” What good is her changing her story going to do for the reality of her situation? What good does it do for my gay friend who has contemplated suicide?”

          Thanks for your thoughts, Seasick. It’s very difficult to talk about this subject because it’s kind of counterintuitive, it’s usually far afield of how most people think, it (admittedly) sounds a bit ridiculous . . . and it’s also all a metaphor.

          Telling any one of the people you mentioned to “change their story” is obviously a terrible way to interface with their struggles. The best way to interface is to be there with them. To listen to them. To give them moral support as they wrestle with their reality and naturally expand or redirect their “story.” Each person has the innate ability to understand what nourishes their own soul. But it takes work–and tons of it–to find it, plant it, and grow it.

          What we’re doing in this podcast is just trying to explain a metaphor that has worked for us. Our ideas are not the end of the discussion, but the beginning. And hopefully people don’t stick with our story, but create their own.

        • Dan Wotherspoon
          June 2, 2014 at 11:08 am

          So much here, Seasick! Thanks for the great discussion!

          Stephen’s note about how stories change fits with how I’d approach that. It’s more natural. As we live and experience, if we don’t reject (because of our story) what life is showing us, the process of widening and shifting is quite organic. I think it’s the same dynamic with spiritual growth and unfolding of spiritual qualities. If we experience the Spirit (really sit with it/in it, really feel what is being commnicated), the qualities that Paul talks about in Galations 5 as the fruits of the Spirit simply start emerging in us. They really arise as fruits, blossoming, not as things we try to achieve by goalsetting, will power, and other forms of efforting. Similar things to how our stories change.

          I hear you when you talk about the “reality” of church versus what seems to be an idealized picture that Adam, Stephen, and I are sharing. And I agree that there are certain “realities” to always note and never ignore. And I guess as long as you aren’t saying reality with a capital R, then I can go along with you to some degree. But yesterday’s fast and testimony meeting, along with lots that happened in the other meetings I attended yesterday, always show me additional realities–people whose lives truly have been transformed for the good, who have worked through amazing struggles, who love and serve each other. If we are in small “r” reality, those deserve being part of the description, as well. I was also able to see integrity in their lives, and spirits seeking light and more depth–far beyond anything that would be mostly a “product” of the Mormon system. That they are mostly thinking within the general story of Mormonism being Christ’s restored church and led today by prophets, that the Book of Mormon is talking about historical peoples, etc., is certainly true. But until they find their own reasons to complicate that story, I’m comfortable being with them even when I don’t share those same commitments in common. On all the other ones–striving to grow, finding joy in service, willing to bear each others burdens–we’re in full fellowship. “Beliefs” are just aren’t that important when put up against those other things.

          The “one and only” idea is definitely something I would love to see change. I can’t see it totally going away as long as we believe Christ organized a church, there was unique priesthood in it, there are essential ordinances that need priesthood, etc. That’s a logical circle that can’t be pulled apart. I’m not sure, though, I see it as a dynamic that is “ruining people’s lives.”

          The way I approach making change in this arena is simply exposing my fellow Saints to the richnesses of other traditions and to seeing Spirit alive everywhere. Also through encouraging them to really dive into spiritual experiences themselves, trusting if they do then the experiences themselves will drive an expansion in their minds/hearts to where exclusivity feels less important. At some level in our lives we all want to be on the “right” team. But after being exposed to more teams, it becomes less about “the” right one and more about being part of promoting the good of the game. My hunch is this is the only real way to see that shift. We can, of course, challenge D&C 1:30 through offering how it might be referring to the wider church of “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church” [D&C 10:67] and not the LDS one. How else do we make sense of “speaking unto the church collectively and not individually” that comes at the end of that scripture? It’s an uphill battle, though, and I think it can only be fought very slowly and through exposure to “more” that expands views rather than through straight-on critique. On the other hand, before then, I recommend we all simply work on not letting this “trigger” us. We know it’s there. But somehow we let it overshadow everything else, and I don’t think that’s at all healthy. It can still get to me sometimes, but understanding why people say/think that goes a long way to me feeling compassion for them rather than anger toward this particular failure of vision.

          On Adam’s “exclusivism,” I’d love to hear more from him. I was surprised by what he said at the end, and I tried to frame his language more in the way of how I share similar sentiments but without the full-on “right” or “best” religion, which he went with–but with still some qualifications of “perhaps” it’s more, it’s “the” best, etc. As I mentioned in those closing minutes, I’ve heard similar things from other people I also admire, so I simply try not to dismiss their strong commitment to that possibility out of hand, though I have not yet been persuaded. Their sense of its being uniquely gifted to prepare us for full flourishing intrigues me, and I’m happy to let it sit on my heart without feeling like I need to make a decision about it.

          Thanks, again, for these exchanges! Keep pushing!

          • Seasickyetstilldocked
            June 3, 2014 at 9:28 am

            Great response as always Dan. Really, I do think about what you write and how I can improve my thought process. I must say though that this paragraph is interesting to me in how it seems to stick out from the others:

            “The “one and only” idea is definitely something I would love to see change. I can’t see it totally going away as long as we believe Christ organized a church, there was unique priesthood in it, there are essential ordinances that need priesthood, etc. That’s a logical circle that can’t be pulled apart. I’m not sure, though, I see it as a dynamic that is “ruining people’s lives.”

            First of all, you can do way better than tapping out on “Christ organized a church, there was unique priesthood in it, there are essential ordinances etc”. You of all people could rewrite the “story” on words like unique, priesthood and ordinances let alone you could have a field day with Christ organizing “a” church (I did notice that you did not say Christ organized HIS church). You have demonstrated an almost limitless capacity to redefine everything in Mormonism, in a good way. Why stop at the one true church paradigm?

            The other push I want to give is your statement that you don’t see the one true church dynamic as ruining people’s lives. That statement takes my breath away. I honestly don’t think you could actually believe that. The one true church paradigm is what gives the leaders authority over the members lives and gives members the reasons to choose the church over their loved ones. This “story” is at the very center of why the church is ruinous and I could give you an almost limitless number of specific examples, which I will do if you really want me to.

            What I don’t understand is why people like you or Adam or Stephen don’t directly grapple with how to change the one true church story. Let’s hear a not so meta discussion about how to dismantle the one true church paradigm. Let’s hear about all the benefits of doing that and let’s hear about why its healthy to abandon such a paradigm. In what ways does the church benefit more than the member from preserving the one true church paradigm?……..I just find it more than a coincidence that your two guests could talk for hours about changing stories in the Church without ever landing on the one true church story.

            The one true church mindset is the tie that binds Dan. Rather, it is the tie that double binds. Let’s mess that one true church story up!!!!

          • WishThereWereMoreLikeYou
            June 4, 2014 at 12:16 pm

            Seasick,

            Regarding your comment on having Dan anf Mormon Matters push hard to debunk the “one true church” rhetoric, I think that would go against the purpose of the podcast (at least my understanding of its purpose). I think what Dan is trying to do is to effect change by broadening peoples minds to capture “the spirit” of a form of Mormonism. And as people catch the vision it will move the church in a healthier direction. But that is a slow process with slow change. It is the long view. I think if Dan took on a “full frontal” attack on core church rhetoric then he would be viewed as an enemy to the church and it could get him, and others, into predicaments they would rather avoid. It seems to me that Dan loves being in the church and he wants to take the slow and peaceable approach to change. He might not even live to see how he has influenced things, but he wll have nonetheless. I am glad there are Dan W’s in the church. The church sorely needs them.
            Those are my 2 cents, for whatever it is worth.

          • Seasickyetstilldocked
            June 3, 2014 at 9:33 am

            And for the record, I could write 10 times as much about how I agree and what I am learning from what you write. I am not a hater brother. I promise, if you respond to this that I will let you have the last word (because i know they will be good words).

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            June 4, 2014 at 2:35 pm

            Responding to WishThereWereMoreLikeYou: Thanks for this note! Definitely how I see not only my role (and MM’s) but also the only way change can really happen. We can’t make too strong a frontal attack.

            I wrote something similar yesterday in response to Seasick… but had to put it at the bottom of the comments as it didn’t seem as if I could respond directly to his post right below it.

  11. JH
    May 30, 2014 at 9:51 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast and look forward to reading more from Stephen and Adam. After listening, though, I find myself wondering what the value in remaining in Mormonism is for, say, an LGBT member– where the existing church-constructed narrative is marginalizing and damaging. I do think there are times where being “true” to your own story is essential to personal growth, creativity, connection and fulfillment. And, sadly, sometimes that requires rejecting the narrative of Mormonism. Integration is ideal but not always possible– especially in a narrative structured around dualisms and binaries.

    Also, I love the way Adam and Stephen think — and I wish I had had more people teach me to think that way when I was a teenager/college student. How can we help church members think beyond the literal if we ourselves are uncomfortable openly identifying as “non-literal” believers?

    • Seasickyetstilldocked
      May 30, 2014 at 3:29 pm

      Bingo. Your comment reminds me of Dan talking about how he does not believe in Satan but then he just goes ahead and teaches it anyway in GD class as if he does believe in it. If you never really act or say what you really think, then you are limiting your non literal lived experience in relation to those in your ward and in the Church. At some point, its not just what you think that defines you but also what you do and say. How is Mormonism still the best option in this regard? Why wouldn’t you move on to a path where you could have more integrity between what you think and what you say and do?

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        May 30, 2014 at 6:34 pm

        As parents and teachers, we always work with people and tell stories that start with where someone is (and the story they believe is reality). Then we try to present options that help them see something larger, to gain deeper understanding. In the case of Mormonism, it has imbibed the larger story at the heart of the Judeo-Christian mythos. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, it imagines sin as the big problem that we as humans face, a problem that must be overcome–and these traditions then tell us how. There is no sense that the original writers of Genesis thought of the snake as Satan, and there really isn’t any kind of developed idea about Satan/Lucifer for centuries, but it has nevertheless crept into so many people’s thinking, including most Mormons.

        I don’t find the idea of sin (broken laws that demand satisfaction–and that it has to be satisfied by suffering and blood!) compelling as “the” main problem we must overcome in this life. Nor does the idea of a devil who tempts us, causing us to sin, seem to me to be either true nor powerful. Whatever choices we make that don’t serve us well, I imagine coming out of our own fears and the false identifications we have made of ourselves as smaller than we really are.

        So here’s the situation as I see it: We have identified the wrong problem, but nevertheless the idea of a God choosing to descend from “His” throne to dwell among us and show us what Divine love looks like, and to suffer at our hands and still love and declare us of infinite value IS terrifically helpful for those living within the “sin” story. It is especially helpful as it encourages us to ponder and meditate upon this, and to seek out personal encounters with this God such that we might have experiences that will help us have richer experiences that help us grow into deeper understandings of ourselves and our worth, etc. And experience is all! Whatever means move us toward that, I judge good.

        As a person who inherited the Judeo-Christian stories, especially the Christian part, and who learned to trust and seek after and find these richer vistas and deep peace, I have chosen to share how all of that unfolded with my fellow travelers in case it might also encourage them to journey into similar territory. That I would do that within that same general mythos makes perfect sense to me (what “worked” for me had unfolded within this framing, so it can’t be totally worthless), and I don’t feel at all conflicted or out of integrity with myself or what my experiences have taught me when teach within that wider story. It is true that my experiences have helped make more transparent to me the boundaries of the story “as story,” and I feel ready on my own to think and experience beyond the harder confines of that story. And I sense that similar experiences will yield up similar conclusions from others who have them as well. As a result, when I’m with those who I sense have also traveled similar inner roads, I share my story differently. But for those who haven’t yet experienced such things, I find it perfectly congruent to emphasize the best things within the story they currently live out of in an effort to move them toward their own discoveries.

        Mormonism has a quite developed mythos that places a character named Lucifer within a war in heaven narrative (opposing plans, etc.) We won’t get too far with Mormons trying to kill that story altogether. Within that story, however, I think the idea of our having a choice to be radically free (and possibly screw up) or to choose the safety of a “sure thing” is psychologically wonderful; it can lead to great inner work. That’s why I have no problem highlighting the compelling parts of that tale.

        • Greg
          May 31, 2014 at 6:13 am

          Great response Dan. You’ve explained your position/feelings In a way that makes a lot of sense. The integrity aspect of the whole discourse is one that I think about also. In fact it is probably the issue that I feel most conflicted about. Your response not only gives me a lot to think about, but also gives me hope for settling that issue within myself.

      • JH
        May 30, 2014 at 10:54 pm

        I agree completely. There is a culture of shaming for those who don’t conform in belief and action– which means many with great “outside the box” insights and ideas are often quiet. The reality is that the Church not only carefully constructs the content of its narrative (think correlation), it also carefully monitors how that narrative is taught. And the result is that many, if not most members become literal believers because that’s how the information was given to them. And while this isn’t necessarily good or bad, I do think it can be limiting and can lead to many being trapped in an overly simplistic Mormon narrative that leaves little room for individual interpretation and growth.

        • JH
          May 30, 2014 at 11:16 pm

          Oops, my reply was meant for Seasickyetstilldocked.

          • Dan Wotherspoon
            June 2, 2014 at 11:35 am

            Definitely a key dynamic in what happens. A tough one to fight, too! I haven’t thought of it as much about “shaming” as in “you’re sick and wrong” for not fitting the mold, so much as minds whirring with “yep, the scriptures are right about “to be learned is good, if…”, but I think its a good term.

            The next episode of Mormon Matters is about James Fowler’s Stages of Faith. In it, we talk about this dynamic of gaining critical distance from previously held beliefs that we simply “assumed” and held tacitly, and also shifting the locus of authority from others (parents, leaders, sacred texts) to ourselves, and how that plays out in communities. We focus mostly on what happens “inside us,” but then at the end we tease doing another episode soon that deals with “stages” as part of institutional growth as well. We also tease about the dynamic of groups having a “modal developmental level” that sets ideas and limits on individuals. Here’s a key quote to chew on until then:

            “The modal developmental level is the average expectable level of development for adults in a given community. In faith terms, it refers to the conscious or unconscious image of adult faith toward which the educational practices, religious celebrations and patterns of governance in a community all aim. The modal level operates as a kind of magnet in religious communities. Patterns of nurture prepare children and youth to grow up to the modal level—but not beyond it. . . . The operation of the modal level in a community sets an effective limit on the ongoing process of growth in faith.”

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      May 30, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      I don’t think there is much value for an LGBT member staying within (or associating regularly) with Mormonism given its current messaging. I could never recommend it, though I hope they would choose to step away with as much charity they can muster for those within the tradition and culture who simply don’t understand.

      If, however, they’ve found deep and abiding peace with God, knowing with surety of God’s love and their own infinite worth (such that they can associate with people who fear them without imbibing harm from it), then I would very much love to see them return and become teachers for the tradition–i.e., Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s return” following their having battled in the inmost cave and slayed their biggest fears and died as their former selves. If Mormonism is ever going to make a large-scale shift, we very much need their modeling of full, integrated, and healthy spiritual lives. My two cents, anyway.

      • JH
        May 30, 2014 at 11:14 pm

        Thanks for your response, Dan. I, too, would love to see LGBT members and others who are often marginalized (singles, women, divorcees, part-member families, etc.) fully integrated. But I think for that to happen, so much of the rhetoric needs to change, and, in certain cases, many of the practices also need to change. And, for some of the situations mentioned above (LGBT, singles), the doctrine is divisive. Although it’s a deeply personal choice, I know few who find the promises of marriage and family in the afterlife a compelling argument for remaining physically and emotionally isolated in this life. Especially for something that only may or may not be literal truth. I hope for change but I think it is still far off. I do appreciate that the panel recognized and acknowledged that an individual’s decision to stay or go is complex and personal.

  12. June 1, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Very interesting episode. I enjoyed listening and I have enjoyed “Rube Goldberg Machines” and “Letters to a Young Mormon”. Adam’s definition of sin as preferring your own story to life (grace, givenness) is intriguing. When I read Rube Goldberg my first reaction was that it was an idiosyncratic re-definition. But when I thought about it I could see how he gets that from Paul.

    While listening, I thought of three perspectives on stories, following the three Kierkegaardian moods: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. For active churchgoers, the ethical may be the most natural perspective. You follow the track that’s been but forward, the rivets in the stone that Stephen mentioned. Another perspective is hyper-individualism: make your own story, free of the constraints of tradition or community. Then the religious perspective is to give up your own story for God’s. The religious perspective is neither “staying on the track” nor simply individualism. It is “[laying] down your stories and, minute by minute, day by day, [giving] your life back to him.”

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      June 2, 2014 at 11:41 am

      Fantastic, Todd! Thanks for bringing the Great Dane into our discussion! He is incredibly insightful.

      I am also glad to hear you share about how Adam’s definition of sin took some getting used to for you. I had a similar reaction, but like you again I also came to see he was really in sync with Paul and the idea of sin as “hamartia” (missing the mark) rather than an offense to either God or law that required some form of recompense. Really it’s all about a shift and/or opening of vision, of moving into reality instead of protecting against it. Like for you, it became more and more profound the longer I lived with it. Thanks, again!

  13. Marty Erickson
    June 2, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks so much for an enlightening and inspiring podcast for me. The ideas are all confirming of some of my own experience with the power of story and narrative to shape life and experience. I’m a therapist and my experience with it comes from Narrative Therapy and community work. Take all the disciplines and traditions about stories and narrative quoted in the podcast, mix in a lot of French historian of thought M. Foucault, mix in a lot of cultural anthropologists V. Turner, B. Bruner, develop it in the 1980s out of the family therapy tradition, inform it heavily by community work with aboriginals (Australia and New Zealand–where the M. White and D. Epston hail from, the originators), and inform it by an overall hope/change based social justice focus and you have Narrative Therapy. http://www.dulwichcentre.com.au/

  14. Dan Wotherspoon
    June 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Responding to Seasickyetstilldocked from several posts above, as the comment software somehow won’t let me respond right below it. Maybe too many backs and forths and the comment box gets too narrow?:

    Thanks for continuing our exchange. I also appreciate your spelling out to me how “one true” can be so damaging, allowing so much coercion and folks choosing ideology over relationship. I hadn’t really thought of that in a while. Please know that we didn’t avoid that “story” on purpose in our discussion! For me, at least, it’s not a story I’ve lived out of for a long, long time, and I’m wondering if that’s the case for Stephen and Adam. I think that’s likely why we didn’t think to bring it up.

    I’ll think about doing a show on the angles you suggest. We did an episode on “One True Church” (http://mormonmatters.org/2012/09/30/128-the-one-true-church/) a while back, and we definitely didn’t go all the places you want us to. I was also frustrated a bit in that episode by my panelists’ not really biting the several times I tried to ask them to reflect on how to escape the logical circle I mentioned in my post (about if Christ actually organized a church, gave unique priesthood, and that priesthood is needed for ordinances of salvation, it’s hard to eliminate the “one true” element from Mormonism). Time to consider a new dive on it. Want to be on the show? Do you, or anyone reading this post, have a good angle that allows an escape from that knot? As we did in that episode, there are ways to frame “church” more broadly, and there are general things to say about the harmfulness of exclusivism, but other than decide to mount a challenge the whole story of salvation requiring ordinances by authorized priesthood holders, I sense we’re stuck.

    Because of that conundrum (and not only on this issue but many others!), my focus (and that of Mormon Matters by extension) has been more to nurture individuals in ways to withstand the coercion that can creep into Mormonism (and, frankly, any organization), to be more confident in their own connections with Spirit, more patient with those who haven’t yet begun the kind of journey they are on, etc. It is in that way that “one true” loses its power over them. And if they can then model a way of being Mormon while also more universal, they can change hearts one at a time. Again, we can do a show, we can perhaps write some good things here and there, but I’m just not sure there is any way to really affect change of this sort except one person at a time (or perhaps a great bishop could get it done more quickly within a congregation via steady modeling for years). As folks step into greater confidence with God themselves, there is no more reason for them to care that there is “one” true organization and they have found it. They see that Spirit works in all sorts of ways, that people develop divine qualities in all sorts of churches and contexts. And that Mormonism is one of them!

    “Cop out!” I’m sure you’re screaming. It’s the best I have right now. Sorry! And I’m serious about you coming on the show to talk “one true.” Write me privately.

    • Seasickyetstilldocked
      June 4, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Dan can you find my email on this site and email me? And yes you did not disappoint with your last post.

  15. Steve
    June 8, 2014 at 4:23 am

    Such an excellent podcast. I listened to Adam on Mormon stories and came away from it thinking Adam sounded crazy. But I thank you Dan (and Adam for taking the time) to do this podcast, which when I listened to it I now realize I agree with Adam a lot. Such wonderful and powerful insight this man has. Especially loved the metaphor of religion being the lava and not the rocks. As someone who is going through a rough faith transition this podcast has certainly helped me a lot. It brings an enormous amount of peace to me as I reflect on the wisdom of all of you Dan, Adam and Stephen. I feel this overwhelming desire to share this podcast with all my member friends. Soon as I get the money I’m going to purchase Adam millers book(s). I also love his take on sin and grace. Beautiful just beautiful. I think it’s a healthy and mature approach to such important topics. Love it Dan. Keep them coming. Thank you for this podcast. You’re amazing!

  16. ScottHeff
    June 14, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    This was a fun episode. It felt like I was just listening in your conversation at dinner. Lots of good takeaways.

  17. Christy
    June 18, 2014 at 9:33 am

    You mention Buddhist teachings and texts on a frequent basis. I’d like to study more up on the teachings and stories of the Budda. Can you provide a recommended reading list of sorts? I’ve been doing a lot of research on this topic but I feel like I’m swimming in an unfamiliar ocean. Thank you!!

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