Valuing Visions (Doctrine & Covenants 1 & JSH)

Monday, January 4, 2021


Channing And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast.

Elise: 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 Doctrine and Covenants section one and Joseph Smith History 1:1-26.  We're so super glad you're here.

E: Welcome back. Welcome to 2021. We are seriously so excited to kick off the podcast and be together with all of you. We're so excited to have Channing back and it's just such a good year. It already feels like a good year,

C: It does! It's literally January 1st and we're kicking it off and I'm feeling good about it.

E: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you everyone. We've received lots of great messages on Instagram that are super encouraging. It sounds like you all are really looking forward to going on this journey with us as we try and bring a feminist lens to the Doctrine and Covenants. Yes.

C: And also before we go any further, I just wanted to say, thanks so much for being patient as we took a little break from the podcast for the month of December. We hope that your holidays were fantastic and that you're ready to dive in with us to Doctrine and Covenants and see what this wild ride has in store for us.

E: Yes. I think 'wild ride' has been our most used descriptor of what we think the year will hold.

So in the very first episode of 2021, as we start the Doctrine and Covenants, we're going to have a conversation just to set the stage for the year and introduce the Doctrine and Covenants. Then we'll get to explore Joseph Smith's first vision. I wanted to read the introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants before I jumped into section one of the Doctrine and Covenants, and I found a lot of really fantastic verses that helped me reframe or set the stage for  what I'm hoping for and what I'm hoping to find throughout the Doctrine and Covenants.

And one of the lines that I really, really loved is that "The Doctrine and Covenants is an invitation to all people everywhere to hear the voice of the Lord, Jesus Christ, speaking to them for their temporal wellbeing and their everlasting salvation." And that's what I want to do. I want to hear the voice of the Lord. And I also want to remember, like from 2nd Nephi 31:3 that "the Lord God speaks unto us according to our language and unto our own understanding."

And so for me, this means that my God shows up to me and speaks to me in my history, like in my real lived place in time, right now in 2021 in Phoenix, in a language that s meant for me. So throughout the year, I'm going to try and look for that voice of God and also remember to be open to a different voice of God that I wasn't expecting. This is a new year and a brand new book of scripture and I'm excited to see what different type of God, what different voice of God shows up for me this year.

Another line from the introduction that stood out to me, it says Joseph and the early saints viewed the revelations as they did the church: living dynamic and subject to refinement with additional revelation. They also recognize that unintentional errors had likely occurred through the process of copying the revelations and preparing them for publication.

Aaaaahhhh! I like this a lot. I think there's a really great emphasis that's placed here on a living dynamic church and revelation that is subject to change and refinement. And I asked myself, are these the same adjectives that we would use to describe the current present day church and the current present revelations that we receive? Is our church right now, changing and responsive and dynamic? I don't really think so.

I think that's what we're trying to make happen. At least, I think that's one of the goals with the podcast. We want this to be a living church and if it's a living church with living revelation, then it needs to be responsive to what's going on in the world, responsive to the needs of the most marginalized.

C: I think to like, have that same attitude of like, look we're human and mistakes probably happened along the way, rather than  this idea that however things happened were the way they were supposed to be. And now they're unchanging and there's nothing we can do about it. I think that that perspective would hopefully be something that we embrace sooner rather than later.

As we begin to dive into section one, we wanted to give some context, not only for this particular section, but for the entire book of Doctrine and Covenants. So Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of revelations received and they don't necessarily go in order, which is kind of difficult as a reader because we're so used to reading things that happen in chronological order.

 If you turn to the page just before section one in your scriptures, there is a Chronological Order of Contents and it gives you all the dates that correlate with each section. And if you turn there, you'll see like, wow, it really isn't in order at all. So as we read section one, the chapter heading says, "This section constitutes the Lord's preface to the Doctrines, Covenants and commandments given in this dispensation." So the content in this section is about 10 years in the future from sections two and three and four , but  context for section one is that it's the Lord speaking and kind of giving a grand introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants. That should hopefully give a little more clarity for how we read and how we approach section one.

The first verse I wanted to start with in section one is verse two, and it says "For verily, the voice of the Lord is unto all men. And there is none to escape and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated."

And I think that this verse can be read in a hopeful way, which is kind of contrasting the rest of the chapter and how we'll read the rest of the chapter, but I think what I love about this verse is that it basically says every person has access to the voice, the sight, and the heart of God. And for me, like eventually, someday, I think that every person will find their way back to God.

But I don't think that it's in like a scary, shameful or fearful way that seems to be the essence of this chapter. And I don't know about you Elise, but when I was reading section one, I kind of felt like, Oh, I really want to distance myself from the God that I'm seeing show up here like this, God seems angry and a little bit manipulative and a little bit shaming, and it's not the kind of God that I feel like I know in my heart or that I have a relationship with, but also I love what you shared from the introduction of Doctrine and Covenants, how you said that you were going to try and approach the text with an openness to God, to  being surprised. So I don't know. Did you pull anything else?

E: Like, did you feel anything different? I mean, in my notes, I wrote, "Wow, welcome back angry God." So I don't know if in the first chapter I'm feeling particularly like open to this surprising anger of God.

So in the past, I've taught some public speaking classes. And, when you're writing an introduction to your speech, you want to like hook the audience and draw them in and like spark their curiosity. And if we think of this section one, as some type of introduction to a speech or to a full book, what a powerfully negative way to get your listeners and your readers involved. Like the first, I don't know, 10 verses just talk about how God's wrath will be poured out on all of the wicked without measure and that the anger of the Lord is kindled. There's no holding back from this angry God.

Now I think there is a distinction that we can make [in saying] this angry God is showing up for the wicked and I think there is a social justice application that we can read these verses through. However, I also feel like sometimes we're quick to say like, Oh; well we're not the wicked one, so God's not angry at me.

Like God's only angry at the other wicked people. So I don't have any wrap-up thoughts. It's just interesting to see this, this anger show up. So immediately in what's supposed to be the welcoming introduction to the text.

C: Yeah. And it's interesting that you say that about your public speaking classes, because I also felt that same way too, as I was reading because I read like a writer. And so when I came to this chapter, I was like, this is one heck of a way to start a book. It has all the right makings of an exciting first chapter. It draws you in; it has action, danger, intense emotion, promise, and power. And so part of me was like, all right, well, whoever compiled Doctrine and Covenants knew what they were doing.

And so part of me is like, oh, shoot; people might be mad that we're looking at it through this like writer or public speaking viewpoint. But I don't actually think that that diminishes the text at all. I think rather that it gives us permission to do what we've always done on the podcast, which is sift through the text, look for the love of God that our faith is built on, and then examine what in the text has potential to strengthen that connection with God, and then suspect what does not. And so, yes, Doctrine and Covenants is a different book than we've approached ever before on the podcast. But also we still can use the same techniques that we're accustomed to using when coming to sacred texts because it's sacred texts.

E: No, that's a fantastic point. And it's also making me think of that line of reasoning that typically goes about speaking about Heavenly Mother, like, "Oh, well, she's just too sacred to talk about. So we can't even talk about her or have a relationship with her." And if that line of thinking irks you but you also feel like the Doctrine and Covenants is holy in an untouchable, inaccessible, unengageable way, I would encourage you to work through the way that you feel about Heavenly Mother in seeking out a relationship with her and apply that to the Doctrine and Covenants.  The Doctrine and Covenants can be holy and spiritual and reverent and have signs of God and human in it in a way that still invites us to wrestle and grapple because that's the way that the scriptures, at least for me, that's the way that they're alive, is when I can engage with them. Not when I can put them on a high pedestal and simply like a bow down to them. That   feels incredibly removed and incredibly fragile to me.

C:  Yeah, and it's not off limits. I love that you said that before. Just because people revere it doesn't mean that we have to hold it in like, special silky gloved hands and never really crack it open. So with that all said, we're about to get into it.

We're going to continue into verse 16. So this verse says, "They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way and after the image of his own God, whose image is in the likeness of the world and whose substance is that of an idol."

And so I had a couple of questions or things that I wanted to consider as I was reading this verse. And the first one is, in what ways do we walk after the image of our own God whose likenesses of the world, and is an idol? 

And so a couple of answers that I had off the top of my head:  I think for sure, the one that came up to me first was the image of a white Jesus and a white God, as in like white, only, or white supremacist Jesus or white supremacist god. Another thought that I had was the idea of a male only God and a male only priesthood, one that's not inclusive. And I mean, none of these, these really are like, if I keep going down the list, a hetero and cis-normative understanding of the nature of God. We had a DM in our inbox a couple of weeks ago where someone asked,  if the understanding of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother was limited in the fact that it  didn't allow for other genders or sexual orientations of the Godhead. And finally, a human centric, God, who is concerned only with the wellbeing of humanity and not creation as a whole.  So those are just a couple ways of off the top of my head that I'm currently seeing, working in my own communities. Can you think of any others Elise?

E: No, I think you've got a really great list going.  I understand why we create and seek after a God that is like yourself, but I don't think that we can truly engage with that God, or have an authentic relationship with that God if we're not also working to dismantle or work through the systems of oppression or biases or prejudices that have shaped who we think we are, what we think our culture is like, and therefore what we think God is like or who we think God is.

C: Yeah absolutely. I agree with that. And I think going along with that too, one of the other questions that I had about this verse was in what ways do we "seek not the Lord or establish righteousness?"

And I mean, these basically go hand in hand with the answers that we gave before, but the ways that we don’t do that are by upholding systems of oppression like white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism. I also think when we hold tightly to traditional understandings of gender and sexual orientation that we can exclude our loved ones who maybe don't fall within those definitions.  And I think finally, anytime we resist movements that bring us closer toward equitable communities, and general acceptance and love, and genuine care for our neighbors is when we are basically resisting righteousness And so these are just a couple of ideas and things that we can pull from this first verse in a affirmative or supporting way in the, like reading the text literally.

Kind of what you said earlier Elise, when we come to the text and we take like a social justice slash liberation theology lens. I think that that's what this one is, but yeah, in that too, there's the danger of saying, "Oh, well I'm not the bad one." And so I think it's important to notice the ways, even when we're having these conversations about patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, all of those things, it's important to simultaneously recognize all of the ways that we are participating and upholding those systems, even if it's unconsciously done.

E: Then in the verses that follow versus kind of like 17 to 24 ish, there's a lot of reference to who is actually going to be the ones that are going to fulfill God's commandments, and do God's work, and bring all of this to pass; all of this anger that God wants to be put on the wicked. Who are the people that are proclaiming the commandments? And there's this repetition of the word servant.

Hats off to our friends at Beyond the Block, because I listened to their podcast that they had published on this section last week. And Derek and James had a really great conversation about the use of the word servant, as opposed to the use of the word prophet here. And so I just wanted to play on and jump off of some of their ideas.

But in verse 17, this is the first time that we hear Joseph Smith's name in the Doctrine and Covenants, and he is explicitly mentioned here as a servant, as opposed to like the most high and holiest prophet that there ever was. And I think that that's interesting, especially because the verses that they say that "the weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that the fullness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world."

In verse 24, "Behold, I am God and have spoken it. These commandments are of me and were given unto my servants in their weakness after the manner of their language that they might come to understanding."

 And I'm struck by this really weak and humble use of the word servant as opposed to prophet, because then who are the people that are doing God's work? It's the servants in their weakness. It's God's servants in their every day, messy humanity, and they're going to get things wrong, but these are the people that God has chosen to preach the gospel, fulfill the commandments and bring people unto God unto the love of their neighbor.

The use of the word servant here also makes me think of some of the women in the Bible, like who are mentioned as servants or perhaps handmaids. I think of Mary when she responds "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord." And Hagar who actually names God for herself in Genesis. And she names God, "Thou God seest me."

And both of these women are acting in this like handmade or servant role. They're both responding to the call of God in impossible ways. I also thought back to Jacob, chapter five with the parable of the vineyard.  In this parable, we have the Lord of the vineyard who is a stand in for God who is caretaking and relentless, who is weak and experiences grief.

But then we also have the role of the servant.  And in a previous episode from last year, we talked about how the servant was truly united with the Lord to carry out the work. The servant was a full participant, as opposed to like a master and slave relationship. The servant in this parable was allowed to give feedback was allowed to question was allowed to comfort and encourage the Lord when the Lord was feeling weak and vulnerable.

And with this lens of servitude or full participant or handmaid, as opposed to highest and holiest prophet there ever was. I think that for all of the rage and anger that came in the first few verses of this section of the angry God, now I'm feeling like this is the God who makes the last first.

This is the God who wants solidarity over charity. This is the God who chooses servants in their weakness, chooses the most unexpected of them all to come and do the work.

C:  I think it's an accessible way to read the chapter. Have you ever watched General Conference with a group of people and like, I'm sorry, I'm laughing about this. It seems really irreverent disrespectful, but have you ever been watching general conference with a whole bunch of people? And then the minute that the prophet gets up to talk everyone's like quiet down! Right? I want to hear this! Like, as if all of the other things said in conference have not also too been very important.

Right. And so I think that this is a good way of basically saying, “No, if we're going to "shhhh" while the prophet is speaking, then we should be like "shhhh" while everybody else is speaking too. And this book is not a year-long reading of one single general conference talk to the most important person on the face of the planet at the time.

It's kind of dismantling that reverent, respectful silence that I think is oftentimes applied to the text. So yeah, I like it. I know I'm totally excited to read this in the lens of a handmaid.

E: Well, and then that brings us to verse 38, which is a little bit, I don't know, it's difficult to piece through because this verse says, I feel like it's super iconic. It says, "My word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." And I feel like this verse gets weaponized and used to bolster and give authority to not just the prophet, but to like every single person in authority in the church ever; like bishops, elders, quorum presidents, like anyone who holds a leadership position that are primarily men. I feel like this scripture is used as a weapon and it's used to like manipulate and misconstrue and confuse members and servants and followers to think that anyone in a position of authority, whatever they say, because they have been ordained or they hold the priesthood, that that is the exact same thing as if God were speaking to us directly.

C: Oh, that's really cringey. Yeah. Yeah, you are right.

E: Well, and so I don't exactly know what to do with this, but going back to our conversation about who actually are the servants, I think we can remember that the servants are united with the Lord to carry out God's work.

And so perhaps this phrase is less about   the prophets and the apostles or the bishops having full authority as if they speak for God, but it's about the servants because the servants take seriously loving God, which means loving our neighbor and the stranger, the servants take seriously dismantling systems of oppression because the servants are on the margins.

That's where we find these unexpected servants who take on an unexpected role as prophet, without any type of mantle of authority or any type of ordination. Like these are the servants of God.

 C: It just reminded me of that conversation that we had when we came to the Samuel the Lamanite chapters. Nephi was still the prophet. But Samuel the Lamanite was a prophet, or interchangeably here, we could use the word a servant and like, look, whose chapters got highlighted.

E: Yeah. That's a great example. And that's, that's it like servants are also going to be the people that we least expect. They're the ones that we're already the most comfortable disliking, pushing aside, and making invisible. And that's a hard truth for us to like come to terms with.

I'm hoping that between our podcast and Beyond the Block's podcast, we can twist free from this verse being a weapon used to say that anything that anyone in a position of authority in the church says is the same thing as if God were to say it, because I don't think that's true. It's not true. 

C: And with all that, now we're going to transition into Joseph Smith History chapter one, which there is only one,  verses one through 26. And this section of text covers what we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints know as the First Vision.

E: I actually appreciate the Come Follow Me's introduction to this Joseph Smith History text. It says that "The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of answers to prayers. Many of the sacred revelations in this book came in response to questions, so it's appropriate to begin studying the Doctrine and Covenants by considering the question that began the latter-day, outpouring of revelation, the one Joseph Smith asked in a grove of trees in 1820."

 I like the focus here on welcoming and praising questions, as opposed to suppressing and turning away from our questions.

As you may know, what we read in Joseph Smith History is not the only account of what is the First Vision. In reality, there are at least four other accounts like personal accounts from Joseph Smith about this First Vision. And there are also a handful of secondary accounts about the First Vision.

And so we thought it would be appropriate to work through and summarize each of these different accounts of the visions and talk about how they differ, how they overlap and what this means, knowing that there are a handful of different accounts about the First Vision.

C: Something that we're going to come across again and again and again, as we read the Doctrine and Covenants, because it's so closely intertwined with church history the two overlap quite a bit.

We won't be like focusing a ton on church history, but occasionally we will need to talk about it. And there might be information that we share that this might be the first time that you've ever heard it. What we want to say from the very get-go is that talking about church history is not anti-Mormon.

If it happened, it is part of our legacy and its okay to talk about. If it's the first time you've ever heard of it, you're more than welcome to do a Google search and look into it. It's not a bad thing to be knowledgeable about the actual history that happened in church, even if it's not common knowledge.

It's okay. And so if this is the first time that you're hearing that there are different slash multiple accounts of the First Vision, if you're feeling like, "Oh my gosh. Oh no. I feel uncomfortable. This is like bad to talk about. We're not supposed to be doing it." Sit with those feelings, take a deep breath and just know  Hey, we're all going to get through it together.

So.  I just want to put that out there. We're going to have this conversation many times. Yeah.

E: And it's not only not anti-Mormon, but history and people, and these sacred texts are open for critique. Like we've said so many times before, we can both celebrate the tradition and critique the tradition and the history.  We can do both of those things at the same time. It doesn't make us any less religious, any less faithful, any less of anything. It just means that we're here searching for the love of God. We can love Joseph Smith and love the tradition and also say WTF, Joseph Smith and have a super harsh critique and not believe some of the things that happened. 

C: Exactly. Like we love Alma so much, but I'm still pissed at him about what happened in Ammonihah and I will [be] forever. 

E: So with that buffer, we're going to talk about the four different firsthand accounts of the First Vision. And the earliest account that is known and it's the only account that's actually written in Joseph Smith's handwriting is an account from 1832, and this is actually 12 years after he claims to have had this, this vision. And so in this account, he describes that he is feeling really, really like weighed down and conscious of his own sins. And he's frustrated because he can't find a church that matches the church that he read about in the New Testament that would lead him to redemption.

This account also emphasizes Jesus Christ's atonement and the personal redemption it offered. Instead of an explicit mention of God and Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith talks about just one overarching term, the Lord, it's just the Lord that appeared and forgave him of his sins. And then as a result of this event, Joseph experiences joy and love, but he can't find anyone who believes his account.

 C: Following that there is an account from 1835. And this is when Joseph Smith recounts his first vision to Robert Matthews, a visitor to Kirtland, Ohio. This retelling was recorded by Joseph Smith's scribe, Warren Parrish. It emphasizes his attempt to discover which church was right. It also talks about how he felt opposition when he prayed.

In this account, we find the appearance of one divine personage who was followed shortly by another. And additionally, this account tells of an appearance of many angels.

E: Then we're making our way to 1838, which is the best known account to the LDS saints. This is the one that is actually published in Joseph Smith History.

Chapter one verses 1-26, which were assigned for the Come Follow Me this week. And this account was first published in 1842 in Times and Seasons, which was the church's newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois. This account was part of a longer history that was dictated by Joseph Smith, between periods of intense opposition.

And so in this account, there's so much personal reflection here, so much beautiful storytelling. I know one of the things that Channing and I were looking forward to is trying to find the sections of Doctrine and Covenants or of church history that really feel like a personal diary. And to me, This Joseph Smith History 1:1-26 really do feel like a personal diary.

C: And they're very beautifully written, to be honest. And finally we have the 1842 account. This was written in response to Chicago Democrat editor john Wentworth's request for information about the LDS church, and was then printed in Times and Seasons, which again was the church's newspaper in Nauvoo, Illinois. And this is often referred to as the 'Wentworth Letter.' In this, Joseph Smith tells of the confusion he experiences during the religious revival at the time about which church he should join.

He also discusses the appearance of two personages in answer to his prayer. And the next year, Joseph Smith sent his account with minor modifications to a historian named Israel Daniel Rupp, who published it as a chapter in his book, The Whole Church and Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States.

E: Whew. So there you go. We've got four kind of firsthand accounts of this First Vision that Joseph Smith experienced, and then there's also at least five second hand accounts of people retelling the story of this First Vision that Joseph Smith had. And if you want to know more about like, if you're interested and you want to read more in depth about each of these accounts, the church actually has a really great gospel topics essay all about the different versions of the First Vision.

 I think it's a really forthcoming explanation of the different accounts and it also addresses some of the main issues that people have with these many different accounts; namely that the stories change and become more embellished. People have said that not all of the details line up and so they're questioning Joseph Smith's memory. They question, "Did this even happen? What really happened, like what actually factually happened?"  And a lot of these debates about what actually happened in history occur in the arena of what's called positivism.

And with positivism, it claims that look, if we just had the proper methods and if we just had all of the information, then we would be able to calculate and logically deduce what happened so that we would all arrive at the same conclusions. We would be able to determine whether or not something actually exists or actually happened.

And so with positivism, there's this really heavy focus on logical conditions of stories, trying to figure out what factually historically actually happened.  And this can be really distressing and I feel like is the approach that the church has set up for us because we haven't had clear, open conversations about the multiple accounts of the First Vision. And because we have passages like this one from Gordon B Hinckley, where he says "Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision, it either occurred, or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens."

C: That set us up for failure, right?

E: Exactly. Because it says it's all or nothing.  And I think there's a lot of focus on proving that we have to know for a fact that this is what happened. And so people go to great lengths to say, "Well, maybe these four different accounts are just different versions of the same thing." Other people say, "No, all of them are made up," but when we have this kind of all-or-nothing, black-or-white thinking, then our whole faith rest on the factual historical truth or validity of this First Vision. And I think that is way too much weight to place on this story.

C: Well, that's kind of what we talked about in our final episode about the Book of Mormon is like, yeah, I feel the same. If someone came to me today and was like this historical evidence proves that the Book of Mormon is not true, then I would be like, okay, cool. I still really think it has value. 

And I think that you and I probably feel similarly about the First Vision; Yes, there are multiple versions and potentially the story may not even be true, but does it have value? And one of the lenses that we can look through when we read the text, is, is this nourishing or is this toxic? And from my understanding and reading of the First Vision, I don't think that I would necessarily call it toxic at all. Even if we are getting the most like, beautifully written, hopeful account; okay. Whatever. It just went through a bunch of edits. 

I'm not trying to be flippant because I know that this understanding that there were multiple accounts of the first vision can be really unsettling and like, can be the catalyst of a huge faith crisis for a lot of people. So I'm not trying to say it doesn't matter that there are multiple versions. What I'm saying is it's okay to me that there are and we need to be a lot more forthcoming about it. 

Okay. I have to give a little bit of context for this. Two years ago, I was in a relief society class, and the teacher was talking about how she had a friend whose daughter went on a mission. When she got home, she experienced a faith crisis and then felt immediate shame that she had gone on a mission to preach the gospel finding out that there were different accounts of the first vision, historical inaccuracies, whatever. And the teacher in the relief society class basically was like, "But look, the church just printed this huge book called Saints that has all of the history that we could ever possibly need to know, so her faith crisis was all in vain!" And at the time I raised my hand and I was like, no, we don't get to do that. We don't get to weaponize what the church has available now. When we look at the entire history of the church, like at least definitely in the last hundred years, and for sure in the last 50, we have not been forthcoming about historical inaccuracies. Even with all of the revival about people being excited about church history, there have not ever been resources like the gospel topics essays, the Saints book, and Daughters in my Kingdom. That has not been available until the last five to 10 years. And so we don't get to weaponize them and say like, Oh, this information has all been here and canonized or generally accepted because it's not until recently that it has been.

E: Well, I think that's the betrayal. That's the sword in our heart is that the church hasn't been forthcoming with it. We exist in a church structure and framework that is quite secretive and selective about what gets shared and what gets held up as true and right and righteous. I's so damaging to the members and to the saints because we don't get any practice in engaging in the in-between space. We don't get practice and acceptance and an invitation to wrestle with these four accounts.

And so what happens is the church holds up this, you know, Joseph Smith History account as the one and only. And then people find out that there are more accounts on their own, but there's nothing in the church framework that says, well, here are some ways to make sense of it. Here are some ways that you should ask questions just like Joseph Smith did.

We haven't done a good job at building in that, that flexibility, or just living in that tension.

C: Yeah, I agree. And I'm glad that we're having these conversations now, because hopefully it gives a little bit of room for nuance and for wrestling with that information.

E: And if, as you're listening to us talk about this, if you're like, really upset because you haven't heard that there are multiple accounts of the First Vision, or if you were coming to this podcast hoping we could answer all of your question and reconcile all of your concerns and that's not happening for you, there's a recurring question that I have been thinking about as I've been preparing for this episode. 

The question is "where would I be without my tradition?" And that question comes from John D Caputo's On Religion, which is a book I recommended on our Instagram page a couple of weeks ago. He writes, "Where would I be without my tradition? Without my worn out copy of The Confessions? (or perhaps for us, without my worn out copy of the Book of Mormon or without my worn out copy of the Doctrine and Covenants,) I don't know what questions I would ask, or what texts I would read, and what language I would think in, or in what community I would move about."

And so there is at least for me right now, I'm feeling like I am grateful for the tradition that I have been raised in because it gave me community, language, and introduction to spirituality and God. It is the tradition that has nourished me and nurtured me and I can celebrate those things. But it's also the same tradition that has hid things from me, that has betrayed me, that has pushed me aside.

And so for that, I can also critique it. I can also push back and question and wrestle. So there is this in-between tension and Caputo encourages us to practice living in this space between being a part of a religion, like being a part of the LDS religion, but also being a part of a faith that doesn't really know what it believes. And letting both of those things, the kind of stalwart, Mormon in us and the open-ended free flowing, questioning faith that we have as well, letting both of those things work with each other and deepen each other and question each other and allow us to have a mature, flexible faith.

C: I love what you shared Elise about that question where would I be without my tradition? I think that that is such a beautiful way to approach it. But then also what you said about allowing these parts or pieces of our testimony, the parts of like the stalwart believing Mormon and the questioning Mormon, allowing these parts of ourselves to question each other and also inform each other with the experiences that we have and kind of creating that space within us for a really nuanced and, like you said, flexible faith that can move and change and flow and like take different form when we need it to. 

And so I think for our listeners, it would be helpful to use that framework talking specifically about the First Vision. So maybe breaking down, like what does the stalwart believing Mormon part of me want or does believe about the first vision? What does the questioning side of me need in reference to this story? And finally, what skills or tools do I need to be able to navigate this space effectively?  So yeah, I guess I would ask you, when you come to the First Vision, what does the traditional stalwart believing Mormon, Elise have to say?

E: Like happy primary, Elise? Well, it's the origin story of our tradition. And so there is something in me that wants to believe that this is the one and only account. This is exactly the way that it happened, because then the maybe more fundamental side of me, the fundamental Mormon in me wants to be able to do the equation, right? If this is true, then that means blank is true, which means blank is true, which means blank is true.

Right? And then everything just fits together in a really beautiful equation. All of the dominoes stack up nicely. And I don't have to worry about anything. I'm kind of off the hook because, outside authority has told me that this is the way things go. What about you?

C: Um, the song that's playing in my head right now is, uh, I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ And I'm just like, yes, everything about the first vision is like amazing and true and fantastic. And like all the positive hype hashtag power words! As a kid, hearing this story, I was like, that's amazing. And I totally believe that, you know, like that stage two stage three faith where that space of hearing a story that God can appear to someone and this whole church has blossomed out of that seed that was planted. That’s a pretty fantastic story. And for a kid who loves stories, I was a hundred percent sold. And so the fundamentalist, or like that stage two and three faith part of me is just like, yeah, of course we believe it. It's a great story. And we always believe good story.

E:think though that the like stage three would say, it's not a story. It's a historical event.

C: Yeah. Well, and too, like if you think about, um, like all of the youth activities, like I didn't go on this trip, but a bunch of my friends did went on like the "back East" trip where they went to all the historical sites in New York and Illinois. And as a kid, I did go to Nauvoo when the temple was built and saw a bunch of the church history sites.

And so in those ways that definitely solidified the like, "Oh yeah, this actually happened because I saw all of these places with my very own eyes." So in some ways, yeah, you're right. The story is not just a story. The story is real, but I don't know. Maybe my brain works differently than other people, but I don't really require that like realness for it to be real in my mind. Maybe I'm crazy, but when a story is so emotionally evocative, like this one is, I bite like hook bait, switch, reel, all of it. I'm sold.

E:  I think for me, as you're describing it, I'm feeling like there's a space between the more like fundamental stalwart Mormon in me and the like unbelieving questioning Mormon.

And that's the space of the storytelling truth, not truth as in like fact, but truth as in like truthfulness or, or meaningfulness. And that part of me loves this story because it is about it's about a God who cares enough about someone's not just someone's questions, but in the other accounts, it's a God that cares enough about the way that I'm feeling weighed down by my sins. It's a story about a God who loves me enough to, forgive me and who thinks I'm like worthy and valuable of love and God would care or the Lord or these angels would care enough about me to show up in my little, in my little town in the forest.

 C: Yeah. And I think that that's the allure or the attraction to that story in general is like Joseph in the story is set up to just be this every day Nobody who had a question and God showed up for him. In a way each member of the church can imagine themselves in the same shoes as Joseph Smith, even if they would never explicitly admit it out loud. In the way that, yeah, just like you said, like God shows up for me, God answers my questions. Something amazing has the potential to happen. And that space within the story, I think is so  tender and vulnerable and absolutely deserving of the promise of that story. 

E: Right? Right. Well, and I think in that space too, we can move away from asking what actually happened and start asking, what does this story mean to me? Um, not even in like a testimony-builder way, just like, what does it mean to me? What do I learn from this story, regardless of if it actually happened or not.

C:  I can't speak to everyone's experience, but I can speak to mine. Viewing this story in that way, which just comes pretty naturally to me anyway, but viewing the first vision in a more storytelling type way, as more of  a creation myth or story, and understanding that stories are their own thing...

Like they are their own beings. They have their own lives. They serve their own purpose. And so what can I learn from my interaction between me and this other being, this story.  I feel so embarrassed, equating the scriptures to fairytales, but fairytales are just as real to me as scripture stories.

And so for me,  knowing that fairytales have gone through their own process of transformation helps me understand the scripture stories or the First Vision has also gone through its own process of transformation. And it, it doesn't bother me. Um, my faith doesn't rely on something having to be actually true, but I also recognize that faith looks different for a lot of people. And there are people out there who, who rely more on that factual evidence-based way of viewing church history. And that's not a bad thing. 

So essentially what we're trying to demonstrate here, in having these conversations is that you don't have to take the text at face value. It's okay to acknowledge that, historical accounts differ from what you have been traditionally presented with at church. That you don't have to choose. It's not a black and white choice. It's not even really a gray choice. It's this vibrant, colorful, masterfully painted array of choices that you can choose from. There’s so much that you can do with this story. Don't lock yourself into a box just because you're afraid to move out of it.

E: And I think it's important for me to remember too, that like history is always someone's story about what happened. And so I will never actually know what factually objective really happened that day in the grove. And if I'd spend all my time trying to know, I think I will really lose out or miss all of the ways that this story can teach me something about me, all of the ways that this story can bring a complexity and a charismatic dynamism to Joseph Smith, to help me understand a little bit more about his character, and I'll miss out on the relationship that I might be able to build with a God who wants to show up out of heaven for me, if I'm only ever focused on digging for the end-all, be-all truth, which I will never find. 

As I was wrestling with the first vision and the different accounts, I found myself writing a few mantras and reminders for myself, and maybe these will help you as you study this week. I wrote:

 I will not mistake or confuse the love of God with Joseph Smith's actions were and divisions.

I will not sacrifice the love of God for church sanctioned membership, temple recommend interviews, or Bishop's approval. 

I will not sacrifice my own personal revelation and my relationship with my God for the revelation of others, and I will not ask others to sacrifice theirs to conform with my own.

And I think that's the space where I live right now. Like, like I said, at the beginning of the episode, I'm looking for the voice of God, but I'm also looking to be surprised, but I'm not going to mistake. What I feel like is an authentic with relationship with God. For something that's presented to me in 26 verses or a question that I'm asked in a temple recommend interview.

C: Well, when we pushed record on this episode, we had no idea that we had so much we wanted to say about the Doctrine and Covenants and about the First Vision, but that just shows us that what we're going to have an amazing year full of so much conversation, and we can't wait to continue these conversations with you throughout the week on Instagram and in our email!

So with all that being said, we love you, happy 2021, and y'all are freaking amazing. We'll see you next week. Love you! Bye!

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