A Bishop and a New Creature Walk into a Family Reunion (Mosiah 25-28)

Monday, May 18, 2020

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • "As it was with these newly united Nephites, stories are a critical way in which we can come together. We learn about the experience of the Other--she whose experience is very different than our own. Trying to understand the experience of someone outside of ourselves helps us to gain empathy. We can only begin to love and serve others as we truly make the effort to understand them." Unity and Equality Through History and Faith by Janice Johnson on The Mormon Women Project
  • "For every [Alma the Younger] there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, litter realizing they are building a godlike life." Ezra Taft Benson
  • “True conversion is more than merely having a knowledge of gospel principles and implies even more than just having a testimony of those principles. Being truly converted means we are acting upon what we belive and allowing it to create “a mighty change in us, or in our hearts." Bonnie L. Oscarson (Be Ye Converted October 2013)
  • Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Read more about it here.

Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Mosiah 25: 7-12
  • Mosiah 25: 12
  • Mosiah 26: 13
  • Mosiah 28: 4
  • Mosiah 27: 10
  • Mosiah 27: 25-26

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 chapters 25 through 28 for the dates May 18th through the 24th. We're so glad you're here.

E: Welcome back, friends. Today we're going to spend some time in Mosiah, and we're going to talk about stories that unite us, spend a little time talking about leaders in the church, and finally, what it means to become new creatures.

C: I'm really excited about today's discussion. We've had a couple of weeks now where in the scriptures, the setting was really confusing. At first we went forward in time, and then we went backward in time. And then we had a few weeks where we were like, we don't know even where we're at, except for once upon a time. And so here we are now, in the present, where all of the people who have been dispersed, the people of Limhi, the people of Alma, and even the people of Mulek are all here, gathered together in one place in the land of King Mosiah.

E: These groups have been brought together physically, and they have similar but different experiences. And what happens is, we have Alma’s people, and Limhi’s people, we have the Nephites, and the original residents of Zarahemla, which are the Mulekites. And these first three groups, they were actually the descendants of Lehi and his family, but they had experienced different histories in the past several decades. And like the Nephites, the people of Mulek originated in Jerusalem, but the two groups had contrasting paths to the promised land and really hundreds of years of distinct leaders and a whole different language. So we have all of these people gathered together with King Mosiah, and King Mosiah reads the records of their people out loud to all of them. 

C: So we start out in chapter 25, and this is where all of the people are sitting down to listen to the stories of all the people who've arrived here. And the people have a really interesting collective experience as they're sitting and listening to these stories. And in verses 7 through 12, we kind of get to experience their whole roller coaster of emotion with them. The text says, “The people who tarried in the land were struck with wonder and amazement at all of the stories. They knew not what to think.” And then they went back and forth between feeling sorrow for the Lamanites and feeling joy and gratitude that the Lord had delivered these people out of bondage. And then finally they raised their voice to the Lord to say thank you. And it's just fascinating to watch these people kind of go through this little bit of whiplash, we're happy, we're sad, we're happy, we’re sad, wait, we don't even know what to think. And I just, I can imagine it being a really wild and emotion filled moment to be experiencing with all of these people at the same time.

E: Because there's a couple of different things working together here. They're united with groups of people that they may have never come in contact with, or that they have come in contact with, and they think they know the story about these people. But when the records are read aloud, they do experience some roller coaster of emotions because the stories are changing right before their eyes. And they're sitting next to people and having to relive, or watch these people relive, their past histories. And you can really see how complex it is as everyone's sitting together. On this experience, author Janiece Johnson of the Mormon Women Project wrote an article titled Unity and Equality Through History and Faith. And she writes, “As it was with these newly united Nephites, stories are a critical way in which we can come together. We learn the experience of the other. She, whose experience is very different from that of our own. Trying to understand the experience of someone outside of ourselves helps us gain empathy. We can only begin to love and serve others as we truly make the effort to understand them.” I really love this passage because she reminds us that perhaps these people, they've been missing each other and longing for each other. And in this new way through stories, they're coming together, not just physically, but they're getting to learn more about their long, lost brothers and sisters or their perhaps long, long extended family members. And so maybe the empathy is already there. But now we're deepening what it means to be in relationship with these people who we haven't seen in a really long time. 

C: Elise, you said that perfectly. And this idea of having people come together and listen to each other's stories reminds me of an experience that I had. A couple of years ago, my immediate family kind of had a family meeting where, it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I hold really, really sacred, because what happened in this meeting was a sharing, a really vulnerable sharing, of stories, stories that had never been told before, stories that may never be told again. And I was 25 at the time when this happened, and I had lived with these people all my life. To learn something about these people that I thought I knew, and find out that things weren't quite what I thought they were, and things weren't quite what they seem to be, was life-changing in so many ways, because it helped me realize that stories can be a powerful thing, and that when we share them, they help people understand us better. And those stories have the ability to deepen our relationships and absolutely transform them from what they were before. And so that's the experience that I hold when I think of all of these people sitting together and hearing about the hardships and the joys and the everyday lives of the people sitting next to them. I just imagine it being this really sacred feeling of togetherness and feeling of family, and that's a really tender and beautiful and amazing thing. 

E: Just like with any family reunion, sometimes the stories that get shared reveal some pretty terrible things about family members, and this family we're union is no different. In chapter 25, verse 12, we see the children of Amulon. And Amulon was part of the priests that had kidnapped the 24 Lamanite daughters from last week's episode. And so the children now hear the story and hear about the decisions their fathers made, and it says “they were displeased with the conduct of their fathers. And they would no longer be called by the name of their fathers. Therefore, they took upon themselves the name of Nephi, that they might be called the children of Nephi, and be numbered among those who were called Nephites.” I like that when they're exposed to this atrocity that had happened in last week's episode, the children take it upon themselves to reject the story and to give themselves new names, to reject the decisions and decide on a way that they want to move forward. 

C: And I think it adds a really powerful commentary for them to get to make some choices of their own, because I can imagine this was a really important step in their lives, to be able to say, no, I'm choosing to move forward out of this space and write a new story. And I really appreciate this chapter because I feel like it kind of gives a lot of closure to the stories that we've been exploring for the last couple of weeks. And, these people, now that they're all together, get to experience a time of peace and blessings and prospering. And for me personally, I'm glad they get a little closure because we've explored some really heart-wrenching stories over the last couple of weeks. And I'm glad that the text offers an opportunity for us to take a deep breath and say, okay, we're starting over, new story. We're ready. We've looked at those. We've spent time with them, and we're ready to move on. And I think the same theme of listening to stories and sitting with one another transitions us really well into the next point that we want to talk about. When we get into chapter 26, we get a lot of details about what the church looks like during these times, and in this land, and through this chapter, we kind of get a good idea of how things are set up. And the tech spends a lot of time talking about good leaderships in local congregations, which for us right now, that's bishops.

E: So the church is live and prospering, but some people start breaking off and start making different decisions than the church would agree with. And what happens is that the church goers kind of bring the quote “worldly sinners” to Alma, who is kind of the head of the church during this time. And they condemn these people that are sinning, and they bring them to Alma, and they say, “Alma, do something with them.” And Alma’s like, “Well, that's a lot of responsibility. Let's take it to King Mosiah and maybe he'll know what to do.” So they go to Mosiah and Mosiah says, “Hey look, Alma. I put you in charge of the church. So you need to figure out what to do with these people and how you're going to move forward.” And what Alma does in response is so touching. So in chapter 26, verse 13, it says, “And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled (because he didn't know what he was going to do with all of these people), and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God.” And then the next few verses talk about this conversation that God has with Alma, teaching Alma how to approach mistakes that people make, how to show them love and compassion in a church that should be focusing on forgiveness and acceptance. We find this example very striking because, just like all of you, we've had very different experiences with tons of different bishops throughout our lives. Some of them aren't so great. And they can be really harmful and they can abuse their power and lead people astray, even in their calling as Bishop. And yet some of these bishops follow in Alma’s footsteps. They want to do what's right. And they find themselves turning to God for every situation and every person that walks through their door to meet them with love and compassion and understanding to help them move forward in repentance.

C: Elise, I agree with what you said. And I also think that it's important to note that the text outlines for us really good examples of what good leadership in the church looks like. And, in real life, we would hope that this would always be the case, but the truth is we also know that bishops are human and they make mistakes too. And so, we don't want this episode to seem like we're hating on all bishops, because that's absolutely not the case. We have had bishops, and I currently have a bishop in my life, who are just amazing and do such an excellent job. But the truth is, that hasn't been the case for every single bishop. To be silent about these stories is also to silence our own experiences. And so we kind of just wanted to share some experiences that we've had with bishops just to let other women out there know that they're not alone. And that even if you do have a crappy experience with a bishop, it doesn't mean the end of the world. And it also doesn't mean that it was always right. Or that the Bishop was always right, because right here in the scriptures, we have an example of what good leadership looks like. And I think it's okay to do a compare and contrast. In one of the wards that I lived in, I had an experience where some people were convinced, absolutely convinced, that I was a Satan-worshiping witch, because I dressed up for Halloween as a witch and wrote a Facebook post about Heavenly Mother. So these people went to the Bishop with their concerns. Instead of approaching me with love and concern, this Bishop instead interviewed every single person who had liked my Facebook posts behind my back. And some of them he even talked to during tithing settlement. When he did finally meet with me, he treated the meeting like an interrogation. I remember him pulling out his computer and asking me in depth questions about my posts. I answered all of them, but only through tears and a really massive panic attack. I left the meeting completely broken, and I never felt safe in that ward ever again. Because the interview was framed as a bishop's investigation into concerns that other members had about me, I didn't know who to trust. It was a defining moment for me, an experience that changed absolutely everything. When I eventually moved out of that ward and into the ward that I live in now, I was really hesitant to share anything about me. I was afraid of the people that I came into contact with. And eventually I felt so uncomfortable because I felt like I was being dishonest. I felt like, “Oh my gosh. If these people even knew what happened to me, they wouldn't like me. They wouldn't want to be my friend anymore.” And so in some kind of desperate attempt for validation, I decided to meet with my current bishop and explain to him everything that had happened in my old ward, just to try and gauge what I should do and how to move forward. And is it even okay that I'm here still? Because my last ward didn't want me, am I sure this one did? And I didn't know what to expect, but when I got into that meeting, I was met with just so much love and understanding and forgiveness that I didn't even need. And just so much validation that I walked away from that meeting feeling completely healed from my last experience, from my last ward. I told Elise the night that this happened, I was like, I think I moved into a dream ward with a dream bishop. How is this even real? It was just so opposite of what I had experienced beforehand. And so, I'm just really, really grateful for the leaders in my life who do take a leaf out of Alma’s book and approach every single member with the kind of love and kindness and concern that God has for us, too. 

E: Seriously when Channing had called me to tell me about her new bishop, we were both almost in tears because we were just in such awe about how there were real bishops out there who approached meetings with a Godlike love, who saw people in their vulnerability and their weakness and loved them and cared for them. And we think that they probably asked the same questions that Alma did like, “Oh God, tell me what to do, tell me what these people need so that I can work in your power.” And I'm so, so grateful that that's the experience that Channing has right now with her current bishop. And I hope that everyone, like, I hope that everyone all the time gets to have experiences like that. But if this hasn't been your experience with bishops and church leaders, just know that you're not alone. And we hope that this text and the positive story that Channing just shared, we hope that they provide you comfort and they point you in a way to look forward for all of the really good potential that church leaders have when they turn to God. 

C: Chapter 26 shows us that bishops have a responsibility to care for and minister to their congregations. The position of power they hold is an office that is meant to succor to the people effectively. These scriptures show that bishops who take this in stride, who strive to meet their responsibilities like Alma, like King Mosiah, and like King Benjamin for president, it shows that they will find their congregations are more unified, just like the church and the people in this chapter.

E: Also I think it's important for us to remember that while we are offering a lot of praise and validation for Alma’s decisions right now, in the way that he's treating and approaching people in this set of scriptures, it's important for us to remember that this is also the same Alma that was a priest in King Noah’s court, who was probably having really hurtful and dangerous and dismissive meetings with people in that city. So people can change. Bishops can change, and this story gives us hope for all of those things.

C: That word change really brings us in to the next part of the story. And we're coming into now another really classic and well-loved story in the Book of Mormon. And it's the story of the transformation of Alma the younger. So in case this is the first time you're hearing this story, Alma, the younger is Alma's son, and he is besties with the sons of King Mosiah. And in their youth, they decide that they don't want to be members of the church, but they do us almost one better. They decide not only are they not going to be members of the church, but they also are going to make life really hard for the people who are. And so, essentially, they run around town like a bunch of hooligans and just make life difficult. The scripture say they persecuted the people of the church. So during one of their outings, they happen upon an angel, and the angel basically tells them, you guys have to stop everything you're doing and repent. And the sons of Mosiah were like, “Okay.” And then they turn to Alma the younger to see what had happened to him. And he was struck dumb, and he spent three days in a coma, basically. And when he awoke from this angel-induced coma, he was a new person.

E: In the Come Follow Me manual, we read, it's obvious that Alma the younger was in need of a spiritual rebirth, for he and the sons of Mosiah were quote “the very vilest of sinners,” who went about to destroy the church of God. But soon after his conversion, Alma testified that conversion is available and essential for everyone. In chapter 27 verses 25 through 26, it says, and this is Alma talking, “Marvel not that all humankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, must be born again. Born of God, changed, changed to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming their sons and daughters. And thus, they become new creatures.” We're really struck by two phrases in this passage, what it means to be born again, and also the last few words about becoming new creatures. So we wanted to ask, what does it mean to be born again? And what does it mean to be made into a new creature? 

C: So I don't know about you, but when I think of the story, I always think of Alma the youngers conversion experience as kind of like a once in a lifetime, really dramatic event, where a bunch of crazy stuff happens and you wake up from a dream or something. And you're like, I am a changed woman. But for me personally, and for a lot of people that I know, conversion doesn't really happen like that for them.

E: For many of us, it seems that conversion is more of a process than like one dramatic, changed in a moment instance. I think the experiences of people like Alma the younger and Paul on the road to Damascus are really exceptions to the rule. President Ezra Taft Benson once wrote, “For every Alma the younger, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day, they move closer to the Lord, later realizing they are building a Godlike life.” But this also doesn't mean that the process of being born again or made into a new creature is any less miraculous and life-changing simply because it's a process, simply because it is something we engage in day by day. Bonnie L. Oscarson said, “True conversion is more than merely having a knowledge of gospel principles, and implies even more than just having a testimony of those principles. Being truly converted means that we are acting upon what we believe, and allowing it to create a mighty change in us, in our hearts.” So it is, being born again and being made into a new creature, it's a process of creation. It's a process of conversion and action and a slow and steady unfolding of our faith in an attempt to be like Jesus Christ.

C: Something that Elise has written in her notes for this episode, she calls this process a quiet miracle. And I really don't think that there's a better way to describe this process because I feel like, especially in our culture right now, we're always looking for the big story that's Instagram worthy, and we can pair the beautiful picture and change our life like right here and right now. Wouldn't it be nice if in three days you could just wake up a new person? It would be so cool, but it doesn't work like that. Just like Elise outlined, and a quiet miracle, where one day, I think I've talked about this before, but where one day you wake up and you see apricot blossoms on the tree, where there were none the day before, and it just happened and all of the processes and all of the things that are happening behind the scenes. And then one day you get to wake up to this beautiful flowering tree. And I think that that's what the process looks inside of us too, most of the time. One day we just wake up and realize how far we've come and what things have changed. And the new creature that we have become has arrived quietly, just like a lot of creatures arrived quietly. Even though this change is a quiet miracle, miracles are still pretty big deals. I love this phrase that Alma the younger used to talk about his experience. He said “a new creature,” and these words are identical to the words that Paul uses in Second Corinthians to talk about the repentance process. And the word that he uses to describe this process is the word ketosis. And essentially what it means, is that this change, becoming a new creature, is the greatest change possible that could only come from God's power, because it's literally a creation. And God is the God of creation. But all this talk about the excitement of birth and new creatures also has a glaring hole. It's missing the necessity of death. A concept that I came across a couple of years ago actually comes from a friend of mine. Brooke is an amazing writer and she wrote a post once that really spoke to me and has totally stuck with me. She talks about the inner process of composting, and I don't know if all of you are familiar with what composting, real life composting in the garden looks like. So just in case, since I'm a total nerd and I compost, I'll tell you what it's like. Composting is taking dead plant material, or mostly dead plant material and basically cooking it until it falls apart and breaks down nutrients. And at the end of the composting process, you end up with really rich and nutrient filled soil. And so essentially you just take all of your garbage, like your half used carrots and the celery that your kids decided they didn't want to eat, and the broccoli that they also didn't like, basically, whatever you put on your kid's plate just goes straight back into the compost, and you mix it with paper and leaves and grass clippings or whatever. And you let it sit in the sun for about four to eight weeks and turn it a little bit. And then it turns into this beautiful soil. What the composting process does, is it breaks things down into usable parts. And this is the metaphor that my friend Brooke uses to talk about the inner transformation process, and the truth is, when we talk about rebirth, it also means that something in us has to die in order to feel what is coming in the future. We can't take everything with us from our past selves into our new selves. It just wouldn't make sense, because in that process, what we would take with us just becomes dead weight. It becomes baggage. And it's really hard to become a new person when you're constantly thinking about all of the things that you haven't quite been able to leave behind just yet. And so the process of death really is necessary to the process of birth. The story of Alma is a really powerful example of this, because he goes into this process one person and leaves behind almost everything, and comes out with something new. And this process of death and rebirth is an innately feminine principle. I love the book titled Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and she shares some really beautiful stories about the life and death process. And I wanted to share a passage with you. She says, “We have been taught that death is always followed by more death. It's simply not so. Death is always in the process of incubating new life. The archetypes of the life death life force is grossly misunderstood throughout many modern cultures. Some no longer understand that lady death represents an essential creation pattern. Through her loving ministrations, life is renewed. In cultures such as East Indian and Mayan, those who have preserved teachings about the wheel of life and death, lady death, enfolds the already dying, easing their pain and giving them comfort. In healing traditions of Central America and Mexico, lady death is said to turn the baby in the womb to the headfirst position, so it can be born. She has said to guide the hands of the midwife. To open the pathways of the mother's milk in the breasts, as well as to comfort anyone who leaps alone. Rather than vilifying her, those who know her in full cycle respect her largeness and her lessons. The life death life force are part of our own nature. Part of an inner authority that knows the steps and knows the dance of life and death. It is composed of the aspects of ourselves who know when something can, should, and must be born. And when it should die. It is a deep teacher, if we can only learn its tempo. And I think what Estes does really well in this entire chapter, honestly, y'all should just read the book, is that death is an important part of the cycle of rebirth. And that's something that we really wanted to highlight here. 

E: We wanted to highlight this because leaning into death and trusting that there will be a new rebirth for us can be a really life-giving process, especially as it brings us closer to God. But it doesn't mean that it was easy. Alma spends multiple verses talking about how his soul was racked with torment and how it was a difficult process to let the old you die so that you could make space and room for God's love to fill you and create you anew. It's a hard process and it's okay if it doesn't happen all at once, like it does for Alma. But as we learn to recognize the thousands and thousands of small ways that we will both die in order to be reborn as new people, I think we'll be able to better recognize our relationship, not only to ourselves and our spirituality, but our personal connection with God. 

C: And so even though culturally, we're kind of afraid of death, we're like, Ooh, I don't know about this. I think what this chapter shows us is that it's really not anything to be afraid of. In fact, in some weird, morbid, twisted way, maybe it's something we can be excited about. Because really what the process does for us, is it opens up new spaces that God can come in and fill us with God's love so that we can be transformed, and in our own quiet and miraculous ways, we become exactly who God wants us to be.

E: Thank you so, so much for joining us today, as we were able to talk and share our thoughts about stories that unite us, leaders in the church, and what it means to become a new creature. We're so glad we got to share these great chapters with you, and we hope it inspires you and causes you to ask your own questions, or explore what it means to you to be reborn, or maybe inspires you to share stories that might unite your family, or send out a great thank you letter to some really great bishops that you've had.

C: It really is an honor and something that's near and dear to our hearts to be able to sit down with you every week and explore what the scriptures bring to us. And that's something that we're really, really excited about. And if you're excited about it too, we'd super appreciate if you left us a review on iTunes so that other women who are looking for opportunities and conversations just like this can find this, too. Thanks friends. We love you. And we will see you next week.

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