Wisdom: The Antidote for Stories We Think We Know (Mosiah 7-10)

Monday, April 27, 2020

This week's episode explores the complex issues that arise from the stories we think we know, mostly about other people. We talk about the ways stories influence our understanding and treatment of others and how wisdom offers us a way through those stories into genuine love and connection.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Mosiah 10:12
  • Mosiah 10:17
  • Mosiah 8:20

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I’m Channing

E: And I’m Elise.

C: And this is the Faithful Feminists podcast.

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience.

C: We’ve saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Mosiah chapter 7 through 10, for the dates April 27th through May 3rd. We're so glad you're here today.

E: Welcome back, everyone. Today, we get to talk with you all about stories that we think we know, and wisdom. And so we start in Mosiah 7, and this is just after King Benjamin has passed away and his son, Mosiah, is now the king and the people become worried about a group of people who had left some time ago and they haven't heard from. Mosiah then sends out a search party led by Ammon. Once Ammon finds these people, he's arrested and he's brought before King Limhi of the Lehi-Nephites. After some conversation, King Limhi realizes that Ammon is actually a friend, not a foe. And then he shares the story of his people, the Lehi-Nephites, who are in bondage to the Lamanites. This is a really confusing set of chapters because we jumped through multiple settings of place in time, each narrated by someone different. So it's okay if you feel overwhelmed, because today we're going to try and do our best to offer explanations and reminders as needed so you can follow along as easily as possible.

C: So we're going to skip ahead a little bit in the chapters. We're going to start in chapter 10, and this is the point in the story where we have a totally different narrator and totally different character than what we've had leading up to this. So in chapter 10, a man named Zeniff is telling the Lamanites story of about how they came to be in bondage to the Lamanites. So this is all happening before, what is understood to be, the present time in the actual scripture. So Zeniff’s story is happening in the past. So in this story, Zeniff is getting ready to fight the Lamanites, and kind of in a pump up, get ready to fight, Independence Day story speech, Zeniff is telling his people about the Lamanites. And so in verse 12, Zeniff tells his people that the Lamanites believe in the tradition of their fathers, which is this: “believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brother. And they were also wronged while crossing the sea”. 

E: And then from verses 12 to about verse 17, it’s Zeniff telling the Lamanites’ story, what he, and probably his whole group of people, think the Lamanites’ story is. They say, “Look, the Lamanites know nothing about God, nor about the strength of God, and they're relying on their own strength. And they think that they were the ones that were wronged when they had to leave Jerusalem. They think that it was Nephi that was favored from the Lord, and therefore Laman and Lemuel were the ones who were always pushed aside and wronged. They think that Nephi is just ruling over the people. And so it's their job to seek them out and to kill them.” And in verse 17, Zeniff continues, “And thus they, the Lamanites, have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, the Nephites, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them. Therefore, they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.” And these are really scary verses because, it's only because we're not involved in this story that we're able to kind of see more than one side unfolding. Right? Because we were reading alongside  Nephi’s account when these things were happening to him. So we have that perspective, and we get a little bit of Laman and Lemuel, but we don't have a book about them, or we don't have their real words. And so this is the story that gets told about the Lamanites, and passed on from generation to generation about why the Lamanites are such a wild, ferocious, bloodthirsty people. This is the story that we think we know of the Lamanites. And perhaps what we also learn here is that this is the story that the Lamanites tell themselves about the Nephites. We can see how harmful these stories are because they are linked up with racism, and it leads to wars and violence and a continual hatred of one people pitted against another people. We wanted to use these scriptures as an opportunity to think about the stories that we think we know, and the stories that we tell of other people, and how that limits our understanding of them and how it limits our experience with them. Because we only know one story. And it's not like we're trying to say, “Oh, we're siding with the Lamanites here,” because in, at least in the story that Zeniff is telling us, the Lamanites are really the ones who are exploiting and oppressing Zeniff’s people at this point in time. However, we are trying to say that when we only have one story, it's incomplete. And I think Zeniff actually embodies this understanding. In chapter 9, verse 1, he's actually sent to go spy on the Lamanites because his people are planning to destroy them, but he sees the Lamanites, and he writes, “But when I saw that which was good among them, I was desirous that they should not be destroyed.” And to me, that sounds like, “When I knew them, I loved them. When I chose to see the good in them, I loved them. When I chose to listen to their story, I loved them, and I understood.

C: I love that perspective, Elise, and I agree with you that just because we're encouraging to look at a full story of a people doesn't mean that there's any kind of condoning or permissiveness for what's actually happening in the account of the scriptures, but maybe rather a curiosity toward what pieces of the story are missing. Because honestly, if we look at main characters throughout the entire Book of Mormon, this is one of the only stories that gets told about the Lamanites -- that they're an evil people and, yeah, it changes at some point in the future, but for the most part, the Lamanites are the bad guys and the Nephites are the good guys. And when there's a black and white approach to a story, I think that that's a really good indicator that there might be some missing/left out pieces. And so kind of going along with this curiosity about maybe the missing pieces of someone else's story, there is a feminist writer and author that we really admire. Her name is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and she has an excellent Ted talk that's titled The Danger of a Single Story. And I highly recommend that you guys go listen to it. We'll definitely link it in the show notes, but we kind of wanted to cover some of the things that she shares about the danger of a single story, because what she says here really demonstrates the whole idea that there might be some missing pieces that could actually be really helpful 

E: Just to give an example from Adichie’s talk, she talks about how growing up in Nigeria, they had domestic help that would work for them. And the only story that her parents ever told her about them was that his family was poor. And when she didn't finish her food, her mom would always say, “Well, Fide (his name was Fide), his family doesn't have anything to eat, so you better finish your food.” And so she felt pity for Fide’s family. But then she says, when she actually went to Fide’s town and to his house, she saw that his mom had created this really beautiful, intricate woven basket. And it had never occurred to Adichie Fide’s family that she had pity on and that was just nothing more than poor could actually make something for themselves, make something beautiful, because she only ever heard this one single story. And so she outlined some of the dangers of a single story. She says that it robs people of their dignity and it makes it really difficult for people to recognize that humanity on either side of the story. 

C: And she goes further by saying that a single story, the story that we think we know of somebody else, what it really does is that it emphasizes the differences between us rather than our shared similarity, and something that I really love that she pointed out about stereotypes was that a single story creates a stereotypes. And the problem, she says, with stereotypes, is not that they're untrue, but that they're incomplete. They don't offer a whole picture of what this person's story is. 

E: And single stories are also intrinsically tied back to power, because whoever has the power gets to decide how those stories are told, how those stories about other people are told, who gets to tell them, when they are told, how many stories are told, all of that depends on power. And Adichie does a really great job of outlining that in her Ted talk. Because the ability, she says, to tell the story of another person, and make it the definitive story of that person, is dangerous. And I like what Channing said about stories not being black and white, and it's not like we're trying to side with the Lamanites here. They're the ones that are oppressing the Lehi-Nephites. But what we're trying to say is, when you push past those single stories, people's lives can become more vibrant. They can become…

C: …complex and multifaceted, and it offers an increased understanding of why they made the choices that they did, and offers compassion, empathy, and shared humanity with someone that we would otherwise be tempted to hate.

E: Yeah.

C: I think ultimately it's a movement toward Christ-like love and forgiveness, which is a complex issue and something that definitely deserves a more in depth conversation than what we can offer here. But just, I don't know, some encouragement and something to think about, which one do we want to lean into? Do we want the single story or do we want the whole story? 

E: So, as we were thinking about the danger of the single story and preparing for this episode, we wanted to make it really clear that we're not immune to the single story. We also are very aware of the single stories that we have heard and have held and have listened to about other people. And Channing has a really good example of that.

C: So when my husband was in school, I lived on campus with a bunch of other women whose husbands were also going to school the same time. And so we all happened to be really a close knit group of friends. And there was a woman in our group. Her name was Desi, and Desi was from Bulgaria. She moved there when she married her husband and she had lived in America ever since. She spoke with an accent and always told us about what life was like in Bulgaria and shared her foods with us and it was just amazing. And I felt like, oh my gosh, Desi is beautiful and wonderful and interesting and all of those things. But to me, in my mind, I had just pictured her as like this very foreign and different person who maybe was unfamiliar with some of the ways and things that we do in America. And so to me, that just made her different. And so there was one time when I was in the car with her and a couple of our friends, and just to start conversation, Iasked her, “So Desi, when you lived in Bulgaria, what kind of music did you listen to? Had you ever heard American pop music before you moved to America?” And Desi, I love you because you are just so sweet and so kind, she was incredibly patient with me. She kind of just laughed and said, “Well, actually, the pop music that you hear in America was actually kind of more popular in Bulgaria first.” And she just proceeded to open my mind to all of the things that were similar to Bulgaria as they were in America and how not different she actually was. And I just had this moment of realization, once I got past the embarrassment of, “Oh man, I had no idea what I was talking about. And I totally sounded like an ignorant American.” She just really opened my eyes to the fact that the story that I had been telling myself about Desi was not actually Desi’s story. She had her own story about what her family life was like, what her country was like, what her lived experience was like, that I had been making assumptions about for a long time. I think I had known her two years at this point before I asked her this question. And so it's a personal example of how that single story can affect us, even in seemingly insignificant and silly ways like music, you know? And so, yeah, Elise and I are not immune to the single story. And quite frankly, I don't think anyone is.

E: We're really appreciative of this text for many reasons, but also because it gives us an example of how to understand the dangers of the single story. And it also helps us find a solution and learn how to be wise. The next point we want to talk about is about wisdom, because wisdom shows up in this text, too, and we're going to talk a little bit about how wisdom is not only a feminist symbol, but it helps us break free from the single story.

C: So wisdom, doesn't just show up in the Book of Mormon. In fact, she's a really prominent figure that plays a big role, especially in the Old Testament. And if you look in Proverbs, she's actually referred to as lady wisdom, and that's why we're so freaking excited that she showed up here in the Book of Mormon. So in chapter 8, verse 20, this is King Limhi speaking, pretty generally, to Ammon and about his people, but mostly to God. And he says, “Oh, how marvelous are the works of the Lord? And how long doth he suffer with his people? Yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men, for they will not seek wisdom. Neither do they desire that she should rule over them.” 

E: And here she is, in all of her glory, Lady wisdom in verse 20. So we wanted to talk about kind of two of the ways that wisdom can show up. And the first is as Lady wisdom. I wanted to read a passage from one of my favorite books about feminist theology. It's called Wisdom Ways by Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza. And she writes about Lady wisdom, “Moreover, a closer look at the biblical wisdom traditions reveals that these traditions do not so much portray divine wisdom in terms of the lady. Wisdom is a cosmic figure, delighting in the dance of creation, a master craftswoman, and a teacher of justice. She is the leader of her people and accompanies them on their way through history.  Very unladylike, she raises her voice in public places and calls everyone who will hear her. She transgresses boundaries, celebrates life, and nourishes those who will become her friends. Her cosmic house is without walls and her table is set for all.” So, first of all, what a stunning passage. If only we could all write like her, but also if only we could all sit at this table that Lady wisdom, this cosmic divine wisdom, has set for all of us. 

C: Elise, I'm seriously fascinated by this quote because it reminds me of a story from a book called If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie. It's a book of Celtic mythology, and in this book, there's a story about how the queen of the land lives in the Celtic underworld. And she sends out an invitation to all the women in the land to come and feast with her. And so after this invitation is given, the women from all over arrive at a certain place, at a certain time, and are all gathered into this huge dining hall. And when they get into the dining hall, they all take a seat and a cup is passed around to each and every one of them, a cup that they all share and they all drink from. And in the cup is distilled wisdom from the queen of the land. And so each woman takes a drink, and some women get a little wisdom and some women get a lot of wisdom, but everyone leaves with this gift. So I'm just fascinated and I'm totally in love with this entire quote, because I love just the fact that wisdom kind of can travel outside of what we think. She obviously travels outside the Bible. She is encompassed by all of the world's religions. And I think there's an equal and great love and respect for wisdom that we can find her show up probably… I mean, I'm not going to make a total general statement, but honestly, probably in every tradition, anywhere, wisdom probably shows up. And so I'm just so excited about this. 

E: Yeah. And so when she showed up in this set of scriptures, we were really excited and we wanted to outline, why is this such an important thing? Why does wisdom matter here? And I think one of the first ways that it matters, especially, is that it provides a rich resource of female embodiment and female language for God. It also helps to provide a framework for a feminist understanding of our connection with the earth, our Mother Nature, and our role in creation. 

C: Finally, like we said earlier, wisdom really embodies an idea that transcends religious boundaries because she's understood as part of almost every single religion and she’s celebrated in all of them. 

E: So then that leads us to ask, well, how do we practice wisdom? We've learned a little bit about her as a feminine figure, but in the words of King Limhi, he's actually chastising his people because they're not seeking wisdom, and they don't want her to rule over them.

So how do we practice that? And then we're going to ask, why don't these people want to practice that either? Why don't they want her around, or this type of characteristic about them?

C: So, wisdom when we think about it as a characteristic, I think can be defined in a couple of different ways. Typically, when I think of wisdom, I think of discernment. I think about learning from my experiences, learning from the experiences of other people, and thinking critically about what those have taught me. And a lot of what I've learned about wisdom and about wisdom literature, comes from a pastor. His name is Rob Bell, and he has his own podcast. It's called the Robcast. And in his episode titled Wisdom, She's All Around You, he introduces this idea that interesting people are wise people. And the reason he says so is this. He says, “Interesting people find the world interesting. Wisdom is curious.” And I think that that's a really great way to think about wisdom as a characteristic, is being curious and asking questions. One of the examples that he uses in his podcast is, he went to a party and he met a woman who said that she was a retired nurse. And he's like, “Well, I could have just like said, ‘Oh great. Did you like it?’ And had her answer the question and move on. But instead I had this experience where I asked her, ‘Oh, well, did you have a last day as a nurse?’ And she answered the question and then he asked, ‘What was it like? What was it like to have the day after your last day?’” And she answered the question and he said he just learned so much about this person just by asking a few questions, just by being curious about her life. And I think that that curiosity is something that can sometimes seem a little bit scary, but in practice, probably would get easier the more we tried it out, and ultimately leads us toward wisdom. 

E: Another passage from Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza, she writes, “Wisdom, unlike intelligence, is not something with which a person is born. It comes only from living, from making mistakes and trying again, and from listening to others who have made mistakes and tried to learn from them. It does not require extensive schooling and formal education. Unschooled people can acquire wisdom and highly educated people might lack it.” I love this passage because it says that wisdom is a practice. It's something that requires our full being. It requires us to be perceptive, and discern, and to listen to other people, and to learn from our own mistakes, and to recognize the ways that people are complex, and situations are messy. And I also think it's a really democratic notion, and Schuessler Fiorenze picks up on this in her texts, but it's very democratic because it is something that we learn from our own lived experience. It's not something we learn in school. It's not like knowledge or intelligence. It's a bodily, lived way of understanding the world.

C: We had an interesting experience as we were going through and studying wisdom. Elise and I came to the outline and I just kind of said to her, “I've been learning about this and I can't help but feel like I keep seeing you every time we talk about wisdom, you're so good at asking questions, seriously from the first day I ever met Elise, all she ever did was ask me questions. And guess what? We're three years into this friendship and she still never stops asking me questions, which is my favorite thing about her ever. She is curious. She is interesting, and she is interested in others. And this is one of the things that I've noticed. It's not just me, of course I would think that I'm interesting because I'm her best friend. So of course she would find me interesting, but it's literally every single person we ever come across. She always wants to know about their life. She wants to know their story, and ultimately she just has this really special talent for loving people. So it was just kind of a cool experience to study wisdom and then all of a sudden be like, “Oh, my best friend is wise.” 

E: Yeah. Okay. First of all, get you a friend like Channing who's your number one hype woman forever. But I also… it was interesting because I also came to the outline and I was like, Channing, I'm reading so much about wisdom and I see you here. You are wise, you are Lady Wisdom. Channing is so resilient. She is able to move through experiences with her full heart and her full authenticity and learn from them and change and listen and make mistakes, but it allows her to bounce back in wise ways. So it's just… we were both really blessed to find each other here. And it's interesting that we didn't see ourselves here and it required us to have friends to remind us of the ways that we are wise, but also that we still have lots of ways that we can learn and grow.

C: Lots. We are so, so not perfect, but we're always moving towards that, right?

E: And we would challenge you, too, to either think of ways that you embody wisdom or are wise, or find yourself a friend and ask them how they see you show up in these passages.

C: So going back to that verse in chapter 8, we still have more questions, but it's been a hot minute since we talked about it. So I just want to remind you what we're talking about. So chapter 8 verse 20 says, “Oh, how marvelous are the works of the Lord? And how long does he suffer with his people? Yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men, for they will not seek wisdom. Neither do they desire that she should rule over them.”

E: So the age old question, what then? What are they wanting? What do we want instead of wisdom?

C: Elise really wants to know. 

E: Yeah. I do really want to know, because not only do I think that this is a feminist question, but I also think that the answer to this question helps us understand how we can push back against the dangers of a single story. So if I'm not wanting wisdom, that means I don't want to learn from my experiences. I don't want to listen to other people. I am too prideful to make mistakes. Maybe I don't slow down to take my time to discern and understand the complexity of situations, because those things are hard and listening to other people's stories that force us to reframe our understanding of them, yeah, that might be hard too, but it's a necessary work. And I think wisdom helps us see all of the ways that we need to push back against the single story, but it takes this intentional practice of listening and questioning and relearning and unlearning and re-understanding other people's stories to help us come to that place where we get the full picture.

C: I 100% completely agree. And I think what Elise really emphasizes there is that wisdom practice takes a lot of work. It's not an easy thing, and it requires effort and time and patience, which are all virtues and things that aren't easy. Quite frankly, sometimes even I don’t always want to be patient or give people my time or my energy. And so sometimes, because wisdom takes a lot of work, there can be a temptation to find maybe an easy way, not necessarily an easy way out, but maybe a shortcut toward wisdom, a shortcut or a lazy way to think about and understand the world. And we kind of wanted to just really briefly discuss what we think the contrast to wisdom could be. And that's fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is kind of a concept that's a little bit complex and difficult to understand. It's a hard word to define because its usage varies. But in this context, religious fundamentalism really refers to a type of religious belief which relies on firm and seemingly irrefutable ideas about the world and about the divine. Fundamentalism values strict adherence to practices and principles over individualization, dialogue, and the common good. Pope Francis has a really good quote that we're really excited about. He says, “Fundamentalism is a sickness present in all religions.” That's a pretty powerful statement, but I think it's important. And what it really demonstrates is that, because it discourages personal growth and individuation, we can't be either alive or whole within a fundamentalist state of belief. We should be wary of fundamentalist attitudes and practices, especially within our own traditions and communities, because it encourages counterfeit and idolatrous worship instead of devotion of the self to God and to the community. And something that tipped me off to this is actually another quote from the Robcast by Rob Bell. And I think this really demonstrates super well  what we're trying to talk about. So Rob says, “The temptation of fundamentalism is to let someone else do your wisdom gathering for you. How many systems say, man, don't worry about it. I'll tell you what to do. I'll tell you what to think. I'll tell you what to consume and I'll tell you where to go. Which also means. I'll tell you what not to read. I'll tell you what not to listen to. I'll tell you where not to go. Lots of systems are guilty of hijacking the process of wisdom accumulation, someone somewhere says, I'll do it for you.” So like Pope Francis says, fundamentalism is a sickness present in all religions. And so I think just even being aware of that fact, that it can creep up on us, sometimes unknowingly, sometimes even in our communities and traditions that we trust. And so we have to be wary and we have to be wise, because wisdom is the antidote and wisdom is the way through fundamentalism and the single story. 

E: We think that wisdom does some of these things by encouraging us to ask questions by pushing us to loosen our grip, to not hold so tightly to the things that we think we know, to the stories that we think we know about ourselves, and especially about other people. I think she wants us to lean into the uncertainty, to the complexity, to the unknowness, but that also means to the wonder and the awe all around us. And she invites us to the table to eat freely and partake, there's room for everyone. And there's wisdom for all. 

C: And just going along with the table imagery that I just can't get over because it's freaking fantastic is this last idea again from Rob Bell. He says, “There's a giant pool of wisdom waiting to give you an answer. All you have to do is ask a question, be a student. Wisdom, She is all around you.” And I think it's as simple and as difficult as that. Asking questions, being curious, and being a student of our own lives, of the lives of others, and of what our experiences teach us about ourselves, and about our relationship with the divine. So we welcome you to feast and swim and ask and explore and all of these wonderful and beautiful practices that wisdom is just waiting for us to take part in.

E: Thank you so, so much for joining us today on this podcast episode, where we got to talk about stories that we think we know, and of course all about wisdom. 

C: Yes, yes, yes. It's always a pleasure to have you here. And if you love this episode as much as we love you, please leave us a review on iTunes so that we can reach all of the people who could benefit from conversations about the scriptures just like this one. Until then, we'll see you next week. Bye!

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