We all recognize that there is a significant distance between the “real” world we live in and the “ideal” one we’d love to see instantiated. Parker Palmer calls this space between real and ideal the “tragic gap.” He uses “tragic” to denote the inevitability of this distance and to acknowledge that even the greatest person living the best kind of life will never live to see her or his ideals fully realized. “Tragic” implies those things that are inescapable conditions of life. In Mormon theology, even God lives in the tragic gap. God can call and urge and try to persuade each person and entity toward its richest life, but always that pesky thing called “agency” will thwart full realization. Given these facts of existence, however, how does God maintain focus and energy and a life of continual striving to try to bring about joy for all? And, closer to home, how can we? How can we hold the tension? How can we find renewal of our spirits?
This episode features an extended reflection on these and related issues by Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon. Using a talk he gave in November 2014 at the Sunstone Northwest Symposium as a guide, he seeks to draw attention to deeper and richer forms of inclusion and belonging, culminating in our coming to peace and joy as people who are willing to courageously (but also not without its joys) live, breathe, and serve in this tragic gap. It is a life that offers no easy tasks, but it is a type of life and independence of spirit in which we might fully be at peace with ourselves and find renewal of our energies. And one in which we’ll find that we are also in great company!
I do believe this podcast was JUST FOR ME, and left me yet again weeping on the blasted treadmill. And that it wasn’t just for me makes me happy to be a part of this community. God bless you, Dan Wotherspoon, for lending me a little courage on this bleak February day. Please move to Pennsylvania and be my best friend. In the meantime, I posted “To action alone thou hast a right, not to its fruits” on my kitchen wall.
I was just finally able to listen to this Dan. I love this mode of discussion. Living in the “Gaps” is certainly how I have felt for many years. In fact, I have to fight to stay in the gaps or fringes.
I have always loved the Body of Christ metaphor. It is difficult to feel alone in an assertion that, even as the skin, you are a part of that body. When you feel that the rest of the body rejects you and sees you as a virus, it is difficult continue to tell yourself, “I am a part of this body.”
I’ve said this many times now but the view that you and others like you maintain is the only way that I can stay connected. It is the only way that I can break the shackles of wrestling with the dissonance I have with the Church and move forward using the Church as a framework for my spirituality and progression.
I really appreciate what you offer and the effort you make for people like me, who feel as if we are in the borderlands between being genuine and wanting/needing a communal framework for ourselves and our families.
Dan, this was excellent. I love your “monologue” episodes. I had the opportunity to attend my first Unitarian service when I was staying in SLC last week. It was refreshing to hear from a minister, seeing how we don’t have that experience in Mormon wards. The monologues you give really do feel like powerful mormon sermons though, and they really speak to me. Thank you.
Thanks for this episode Dan. Your views on living within the tension of life really resonate with me. Within the last month, our family has left the church but I hold a great respect for the Mormon way of life and rich history. This episode helped me reflect on the reality that although I’m now sitting outside the church, I remain in the Gap with family and friends who struggle with our decision. In some ways, I’ve also put them in a gap as we continue maintain our ward friendships but live a life of active Christianity within another faith.
My prayers go out to all of us Gappers and outer Gappers. It’s a difficult place to be, but is beautiful when we allow the light of God’s love to shine on the tension.
Dan, this was just beautiful. This one is worth a second listen, a third and a lot of reflection.
Skin, yes the variety. No hair on your palms, no fingerprints on your scalp. There the mole, birthmark, the acrochorda all parts of the skin. The mole maybe a beauty mark, or it could obstruct the opening of the eyelid. Should it be removed. The cancerous skin cell was after all a regular cell the day before. Should it be removed, or should the whole body of Christ be sentenced to death. And so is this the case with John Dehlin?
I believe I shared this reference before in a previous podcast, but I believe the essay, “Thinking As A Hobby” by William Golding touches somewhat on the Tragic Gap issue. Well, at least in the later parts, where he discusses how we deal with problems and inconsistencies in the world. I first read this essay in my freshman year’s English class at BYU.
So he begins with 3 statuettes he sees in his Headmaster’s office—the Venus De Milo, a crouching tiger, and Rodin’s Thinker. He uses these to represent “three grades of thinking” in the world. Of course, this is just one guy’s imperfect attempt to frame and make sense of the world—that is, in fact, what an essay is supposed to be. But I take his 3 levels as rather representing 3 levels of maturity!
The Venus De Milo represents people run by emotions, and often guilty of being hypocritical in their words and actions. (I hope I am remembering all of this right). The crouching tiger represents people who see the hypocrisies in the world and are “eaten up” by it—consumed. They are the constant cynics. The Thinker represents people who know what is wrong in the world, but are mature enough to move on and do what they can to change the world.
Certainly I want to keep myself at the top (most mature) level as much as possible. Sometimes I may slip down a step, but I try to get back up as quick as possible. I stay out of the cynical zone. Just a thought to share with everyone.
Hey, I just re-read Rudyard Kipling’s “IF.” And that’s another good piece to read, to keep one on track! Don’t forget Kipling in all this.
Hey Dan. I think that mormonmatters- your willingness to faithfully get up and do your large and worthy task and be true to the point where your gift and the worlds needs intersect- has saved me. (I am an introvert and sensitive so I am also very dramatic). I want to thank you. I have been listening occasionally to your podcast for a little over a year, but the past few days I have gone on a bit of a binge and really caught up on what I missed the last six months or so. My mind is buzzing with all that your guests and you have had to say. I have a few friends I talk to in depth about these podcasts and so every other word from me this week seems to be “oh I was listening to this podcast and the guest had to say…” Or “Dan said this and I am considering it…” Stage four is horrible and… Embarrassing to go through on so many levels. That should be repeated. Thanks for turning me to read Fowler so I could give it a name and feel like I wasn’t alone and super weird in the Mormon culture! So I have listened to alllll the things but today I did something I haven’t done with this particular podcast and I listened to it twice and took notes. I have been looking at life and religioun and it’s confusing and hard and painful and I haven’t known what living a life worth living looks like- if that convoluted sentence makes sense. It’s like I am casting about looking for a way to live to be presented to me. I had nothing I felt I was willing to consider after going through angry stage four. I am tired of being angry. It’s exhausting and it breaks relationships and that isn’t my goal! Holy moly I need these poor people in my life! Anyway my thoughts are large and this is just one comment so I will sum up! Thanks for what you do. Thanks for offering up ways to live that are worthy. Thanks for shining light on it. You rock.
Some of my favorite things to consider in this podcast– ahem–
-Be true to the point where our gifts and the worlds needs intersect
-God is waiting desperately for us to accept we Are co-authors (God acts persuasively instead of coercively)
-be around others who choose to live and learn and be inspired
-be quiet so the God within us can find a solution
-decide to live in the gap, you will be in good company
-get past “results” as the end game and choose faith as the endgame instead (I said that badly but I love that thought)
-get up and choose to make the world a little kinder (powerful)
-to action alone hath you a right
-how often he would have gathered us.
Thanks Dan! This list could be longer but I’m embarrassed by its length already.