Seeds & Circles: Understanding Faith (Alma 32-35)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Resources mentioned in this episode:

A Thoughtful Faith's series on Fowler's Stages of Faith with Sara Hughes Zabawa

About the podcast: A Thoughtful Faith Podcast is hosted by Dr Gina Colvin who engages conversations about the spiritual and religious life on the other side of extreme orthodoxy. Her guests are faith leaders, theologians, creatives, thinkers and survivors of religious fundamentalism. 

Regardless of your religious formation, when breaking out of fundamentalism the issues are often the same. A Thoughtful Faith podcast highlights the journey from institutional toxicity to reconstruction and spiritual freedom.

Gina is New Zealand Māori who grew up a Mormon. She currently worships locally with the Anglican Church and internationally with Community of Christ. 
Richard Kearney's work on anatheism: The Art of Anatheism

Scriptures mentioned in this episode:
  • Alma 32:21

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 Alma chapters 32 through 35 for the dates June 13th through the 19th. We're so super glad you're here.

E: Welcome back everyone. Thanks for joining us in this week's episode. Just a little bit of background about where we are in the scriptures. We find ourselves with Alma and Amulek, who spend this set of scriptures preaching to the Zoramites about faith, prayer, Jesus Christ, and the atonement. Today, we're going to spend the entire episode focusing on faith, not just the framework that Alma gives us about faith as a little seed, but about different frameworks of faith. And Channing and I will also share our own understandings of where we are at with our faith today. 

C: So we're starting in Alma 32, and this is where Alma shares his metaphor of faith development. And just like you said, it has a lot of really beautiful imagery with seeds, and trees, and fruit, and all kinds of beautiful, glorious stuff. And so a summary of this process that Alma describes, it first starts with a desire to believe. Alma really encourages us to give place for the word of God to be planted within our hearts. And then we kind of test this out a little bit, we feel it out. Do we feel that this is good? Is it a good thing? And if it is, then it grows and with it, our souls grow also, and our understanding is enlightened. And as we nurture this seed and care for its growth with diligence and patience, always looking forward to the harvest and the fruit that it's going to provide, it's going to take root within our hearts and our souls, and will eventually turn into a mighty tree springing up unto everlasting life. And so just like Elise said, we wanted to spend some time talking about some of the benefits of each of these ways to understand faith, and possibly maybe some critiques if there are any. And so for this framework that Alma provides, we're actually pretty excited about it. Some things we really love about Almas metaphor about faith and gardening and seeds is that it makes this process of faith really understandable and relatable. It takes something that's familiar to us, seeds and growing and all of those things, and gives us a framework, or a lens, in which to view faith in. So kind of as we get to watch the process of the seed growing, we also get to relate each stage of our faith development with the seed. And so no longer is faith this kind of intangible or elusive, shadowy slippery thing. Now we can understand it because we can see the process happening, and it makes it more real and more relatable.

E: I also think, picking up on Channing's point about it being relatable, this is the story of faith that we teach to little, little kids when they're first trying to understand what it means to love and trust and hope after God. We teach them that it's like a seed and that it requires work. We have to attend to it. We have to care for it. We have to make sure that it's in proper soil and has the right amount of sunlight. And it takes this watchful care. And I think that idea, I think it's amazing, because it can be grasped at a very young age and still be so important when we're out of primary.

C: Yeah, it functions kind of like a parable in that way, that it's accessible at every level. And you still get to learn something new and important from it. Because for me, just like you said, as a primary child I was like, “Yes, faith!” I think I even had one primary teacher who gave me a bean seed and put it in a plastic cup, and I got to water it and watch it grow. And that was really cool. But now as an adult, who's kind of a gardening hobbyist/fanatic, understanding the importance of having good soil and the importance of being very watchful and careful of it takes on a whole new and very rich meaning. And so I think another pro, just like you said, or another benefit of this framework of understanding faith is that it continues to grow and develop with us as our faith matures. I feel like it's not a static framework. The other thing that was striking to me about this metaphor and this story of faith and seeds is that it has some really interesting elements. Whenever nature shows up in the scripture I pay attention because, one because I love it, and two, as an ecofeminist reading, I always try and pick those out and make sure they're given a level of importance in my interpretation. And something that I think is incredibly interesting about nature showing up the way that it does in this story is that we can see some really distinct feminine elements and some really distinct masculine elements. So things like soil and seeds and trees are inherently feminine. In fact, the tree is actually a symbol of Heavenly Mother. I love this quote from Kathryn Knight Sonntag, who's the author of a book called The Tree at the Center. And she says, “The tree of life has, for millennia, been a symbol of the Divine Mother.” So anytime we see trees show up in the text I just get so, so excited. Because I'm like, “Oh, there's Heavenly Mother, she's here.” But all of the other elements in this story, the soil, the seed, the tree, those are all inherently feminine because they're either related with darkness or related with cycles. The masculine element is the light, and we see this in other types of mythologies and story tellings, that a lot of times the Sun God is always a masculine figure. And so we see these two elements kind of playing together in this story and this text. And so I think just from a symbolic reading, that's really fascinating. And I think that a new understanding that could come from studying the way that these two types of symbols work together is that they kind of encourage a balance of the masculine and the feminine divine in our faith development process. And I think we could even go as far as saying that a balance of the two is essential for proper faith development. I think the LDS church and Christianity as a whole focus really heavily on the masculine, right? Like our worship of God the Father, and our worship of Jesus Christ,

E: And also the emphasis that's placed on knowledge and reason and certainty and proof. Those are all very masculine elements of faith, but in an Alma’s story, if we're thinking about a masculine element of faith coming through the sun, he makes it really clear that too much sun is going to burn up this plant, and it will have nowhere to root, and it will dry up the soil. And he also makes it explicitly clear that faith is not knowledge. In chapter 32 verse 21, Alma writes “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.” So it's not this logic and reason and certitude, it's something different. It's more flexible. It's more open. And I think this pairs really well with what Channing is saying. It's a balance between perhaps the masculine and feminine elements of faith that allow our faith to grow and bring forth good fruit.

C: Elise, I really appreciate that perspective because I feel like it's really true and it really resonates with me. And I really feel like as an LDS church we've already mastered how to incorporate the masculine elements into our faith building process. We've been doing it our entire time we've been members of the church. But I think our more feminine side of developing faith could use a little bit of encouragement, and ideas for how to incorporate that into our faith process. And so just like you said, Elise, certainty and knowledge and logic, there is a place for that, but there's also a place for uncertainty. There's also a place for intuition. There's also a place for doubt. There's also a place for plenty of other things that we maybe would consider more dark in nature. And when I say dark, I don't mean evil or bad or unholy. Really when I say dark, I mean, think of a cave, a place of mystery, a place of exploration, a place of going inward and introspection instead of the sun, where it's always shining, always giving, always boasting of itself, right? Not in a bad way, but it kind of does a little bit. But yeah, just embracing some of those more dark, feminine elements. And I think as well, just that really tender caretaking of the self and caretaking of the testimony, that really close watering of the seed, which, water is also a feminine element. Careful tending of the soil is also feminine. There are just so many aspects to this story that when we bring them into balance, what we see is a beautiful tree and delicious fruit at the end of the process. 

E: So with all of the good things that Alma’s imagery about the seed teaches us about faith, we're trying our best for each of these different frameworks to highlight both the pros and the cons. And so some of the things we've thought of that might be challenging or difficult about the way that Alma teaches us about faith is that it does work in a pretty linear way. And specifically, for people who are going through faith crisis, it might be really discouraging and frustrating to feel like you've done all of the things. You've cared for the soil, you planted the seed, you felt the seed was good. You're watering it. It’s not getting too much sun, and still there's something within you that’s not taking root, or that you are willfully ripping out of the ground because it's not serving you anymore. And Alma’s framework doesn't really account for that, and in that way, this type of step-by-step process that is supposed to always bring us to the successful end, where the tree is in bloom, that can be challenging if that's not your faith experience. If your faith feels more like a crisis or a transition or a journey that is not linear, but perhaps it's cyclical. 

C: Yeah. And it's that cyclical nature that I personally am really drawn to. Because if we use our masculine logic and follow Alma’s metaphor through to the end, trees don't stay alive forever. They do have a lifespan of their own. It's a lot longer than the human lifespan, but eventually the trees die, but in their own way, in releasing their fruit and releasing their seeds, they continue on the species life. And so I think it's really important to know, and this is something that has really been an important part of my faith development and my framework of understanding faith, is that faith goes in cycles, and death is an essential part of that cycle. Sometimes things do have to fall away. Sometimes we do you have beliefs that are no longer serving us, or systems and institutions or rules that no longer serve us, or that are healthy for us, that do need to be shed and lost so that something better can grow in its place. If I had a critique of Alma’s framework, that would be it -- that it's kind of incomplete. Just like Elise said, it's very linear. Here's the start point. Here's the stop point. But the truth is, if we follow the tree and the seed together, they are their own beginnings and endings. And so they just keep going and going and going. And so, I feel like it's very normal for faith to go through similar cycles of birth, death, and rebirth as well.

E: From what we read in the scriptures, it sounds like Alma’s framework of faith as planting seeds and growing trees was really beneficial to the Zoramites who were listening to his message. The next framework of faith understanding that we wanted to bring up is called Stages of Faith by Dr. James Fowler. And this was a framework that I think for both Channing and I was really, really influential in giving us language, and peace and comfort, for understanding our own experiences with faith. And I'll speak for myself here. I think going through faith crisis and faith transition and feeling like my faith is open and ecstatic, and doesn't really fall into this linear process, I needed a new language. I needed a whole new framework to understand and kind of reassure myself that what I was feeling and thinking about God and about my faith was okay, and was normal. And it was kind of natural to my faith development. And that's exactly what Fowler's stages of faith gave for me. It gave me language and it gave me a way to understand what I was going through. So we're going to kind of quickly recount, there are seven stages of faith and Dr. Fowler links these stages of faith up with psychological development. But if you want to hear more about these stages of faith, which we encourage you all to learn more about them if you think that they're going to be helpful for you, we encourage you to listen to A Thoughtful Faith podcast with Gina Colvin. And Gina Colvin spends some time with a woman named Sarah Hughes Zabala, who is kind of an expert in these stages of faith, and she incorporates it into her own practice. But A Thoughtful Faith has different episodes assigned to each different stage of faith. And it's a beautiful walk through and a sharing of experience that can help you feel comforted, so please check it out if you're interested. 

C: Yeah. And we'll link those in the show notes on our website so that you can find those really easily. Because we want to make sure that you have absolutely no problem tracking them down. 

E: Also, here's a little secret about Channing and I's planning. One of our lifelong goals with the podcast is to be able to be interviewed on A Thoughtful Faith podcast with Gina Colvin. So if any of you know her, or have connections, and you want to support us and you want to put us in contact with her and this podcast that she has, we would be literally so excited and honored. We would be the happiest fan girls in the universe. 

C: Yeah. Seriously. All right, let's jump into it. So Fowler's stages of faith, because they're linked up with psychological development, they kind of progress with different ages that you go through as you live. So the kind of pre-stage, it's like stage zero, is from birth until when you're about two years old. And this is when your faith -- you can't really, you're a baby. You don't really know what faith is. You don't know what God is. All you know is that you have some type of faithful, loving connection with your caregiver or your parents. And this is where you experience your first understandings of trust, hope, and love in this kind of baby faith stage.

C:  I want to just plug here for just a minute, from a trauma perspective, not everyone has this experience of having a loving connection with a caregiver, even at this age, which is really unfortunate, but it happens. And as someone who can speak from that experience, just because you haven't had a positive relationship with your caregiver at that age doesn't mean that you are unable to still develop a healthy faith. And it doesn't mean that you're starting from a place of lack. It just seems that your process might look a little bit different or go in different order than what is laid out here. But I just really am passionate about making sure that anyone who might've had a different experience than the one that's prescribed here, there's still room for you and there's nothing wrong with you. You aren't missing out on anything, I promise. Because God always makes up the difference. 

E: Yes. Thank you so much. That's really important, and that theme of if your experience doesn't fit into this box of stages, that's okay. Stages can look different and exactly like Channing said, God not only makes up the difference, but God is full of grace and mercy. Then we get into stage one. And this is from toddler to preschool age. And at this age, your faith is not really -- you haven't really thought about your faith in a really concrete way of ideas. Instead, your faith is more focused on experiences and impressions and your faith is fluid and creative. It's not literal, God is the clouds and God is the trees. And it's focused on your senses and how you experience the world. In the next stage from ages 6 to 12, this is where you start to work out the difference between what is fantasy and what is fact. You start to trust other adults and teachers more than just your parents who have shaped your faith. And in this stage, we do start to think in more concrete, literal ways. Faith becomes attached to stories and rituals that are practiced. Those are the things that shape what faith looks like in this stage. 

C: Yeah. So if you can think of primary, because that's where this age covers, most of primary. Think of all the activities that you do. Every Sunday looks the same. You start out with the prayer, a scripture, and a talk, and then there's singing time and then there's a lesson, and it always looks the same. And it is like, kind of, it is a little bit ritualized. And it's very based on stories because humans love stories. I'm a grownup and I love stories. I think they're great and stories just really draw us in. So I feel like primary is always very focused on telling whatever story is in the scripture we're studying that week, and having an activity, and acting it out. So yeah, this is your primary stage. This is junior and senior primary. 

E: Yeah. And then we move into young men, young women age from ages 13 to 18. And this is a tricky stage because it’s bracketed with ages. Like, “Oh, at 18, you “could” move on, or you “should” move on. But oftentimes people can spend their whole life in this exact stage, in stage 3. And here's what that sounds like. In stage 3, we are more able to think abstractly, which means that we can see and understand layers of meaning and symbols. Our stories become cohesive narratives that are about morals and values. And you start to see this rich depth that is unfolding. This is also the time where people start to own and proclaim that their faith is their own, even though oftentimes it's really just the faith that has been shaped for you. And you can kind of see this in adolescents, there's this desire to make a name for yourself and own your own experiences. That's kind of what's happening in this stage. And also there's a heavy influence of authority here. We're looking to outside church leaders, bishops, young women's presidents, other outside authority figures to tell us what our faith should look like. It's outside authority, not your own personal authority, that shows you where the boundaries are, how you act, how you behave, and what real good faith looks like. There's a real value placed on conformity and being recognized and having expectations set out for you, and many churches and people spend their whole lives in this stage 3 faith. Things feel very black and white in this stage. And some of the great things about this stage is that you really feel safe and you feel held and the expectations are clear. Oftentimes people recognize you for the ways that you are competent and capable because you're looking to outside authority to give you that approval of what your faith should look like. 

C: And I feel like this is a really easy place for community to center around, where there's clear boundaries, there's an inside group and there's an outside group, and it's always nice to be in with the in-group. Right? And when your faith is still developing and when you're in this stage, it's nice to be given specific and actionable ways for us to practice spirituality and for us to be involved with religion. And that's what stage 3 is really about. Well, all of the stages through stage 3 is to kind of give a framework to work within, to understand God, to understand our own spirituality. And so stage 3 kind of gets a bad rap once we move on to the later stages, but it's really important to remember that stage 3 is still an essential stage. It's still an important stage, and it's still a really beautiful stage. None of these stages are good or bad in nature. They're all just normal and natural parts of our development. 

E: The next stage that we have is stage 4. And when it's linked up with psychological development, Fowler puts this at ages 18 to 22, and this stage is all about the dark night of the soul. This is the stage where we start to question our assumptions around our own faith traditions. We start to question the authority structures of this faith, and this is often the stage where people leave if the questions that they're asking are not answered in helpful, healing ways. This is a hard stage to be in. And I feel like, at least for my own experience, stage 4, linked up with my feminist awakening and was tied to the way I understood my faith in God and faith in the church. I felt like stage 3 was too confining. I found myself asking a lot of questions and not receiving answers that I wanted, or not receiving answers at all. And this stage can feel dark and lonely, especially when your church community is built and set up for stages 0 to 3. I think the LDS faith does a really great job of serving and welcoming and holding stages 0 to 3, but we don't really know what to do with stages 4 and after, and I'm sure that other listeners have felt this way if they have similar questions or they're trying to reconcile their understanding of the Gospel with feminism and anti-racism, and sometimes those questions have really dark roots.

C: Yeah. And I think a good example of that tension between a church that centered around stages 0 to 3 versus one that might be more inclusive of a stage 4 is a phrase that I feel like I hear really often from “stalwart” members of the LDS faith, is that, “If you don't like the church, then you can just leave it.” And, that that statement has some really inherently harmful consequences. It one says that this faith is unquestionable. Everything about it is right. And if there's a problem with it, the problems with you, not with the institution, and that really doesn't foster a very resilient faith and it doesn't foster a mature faith either, because just like Alma says, faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things. And I think that in the church, we were very set on knowing, right? In our testimonies we’re very much like, I know the church is true. I know that if I follow all of the checklists that I'm going to go to the celestial kingdom and we “know” these things, right? But a stage 4 faith kind of pushes back against that and says, “Well, we don't really know for sure. Do we?” And I think that that's an uncomfortable place of tension between stages 3 and 4 to kind of break down that really like sturdy and kind of defensive style of stage 3. And I think that we can really see that play out when we have some pushback between members who might be questioning or struggling with their faith, or struggling with their testimony, or having a faith crisis. I think the community of the church has a lot to learn about supporting its members through stage 4 and beyond, because like I said, these stages are neither good or bad. They're part of a process that's normal and healthy. And if we want to be a church that includes the whole body of Christ, guess what? Stage 4 and 5 and 6 also include people who are the body of Christ. And so, I think it's important to kind of foster some resilience, just like we talked about in last week's episode with Korihor, foster some resilience in our faith and in our faith communities so that we can make them a more comfortable space for people who might be a little further along in their faith development. And instead of viewing them as bad, or a threat, we can just start saying, “Oh, they've made it to stage 4. Awesome. What can we do to support you through this process? What does that look like for you?” Instead of being like, if you don't like it, then leave. 

E: In stage 4, you also start to… there's a different type of maturity that's developed here that looks different than the previous stages, because this is when you start rejecting some parts of your faith that are no longer helpful or serving you while affirming other parts that you do want to keep onto. And in this way, we start to take greater personal ownership of our own faith and our own faith journey, where the authority lies within us. We turn inward, not just to sort through our questions, but to check in with ourselves and to check in with our God and say, “Wait a second. I feel like these things are true, but I'm hearing something different, or this isn't sitting right with me, but my outside bishop/leader/General Conference talk/person has told me something that I don't really feel like aligns for me in my understanding of God.” So it's kind of a reclaiming of authority by saying, “Thank you so much for serving me in stage 3 and for sustaining me. And now I'm going to check in with my own self and the ways that I understand God.” After stage 4 comes stage 5, and Fowler links this up with about around your thirties, sometime. In stage 5, you take a lot of the same questions and doubts and uncertainties you had in stage 4, and you start to incorporate them in a way that feels a little bit more comfortable. Some of the answers have been found, other answers have not, and that's all okay. Stage 5 is open to paradox. It's open to holding both the things you have faith in or know to be true, and the things you don't know to be true. This stage also places a lot of importance on community, and is much more open to other people's faith -- not because they're moving away from their own faith, but because they think that other people and other people's faith experiences and journeys have a possibility to inform their own experiences, and to deepen their own understanding of faith. 

C: I think stage 5 is a really beautiful place to be. I mean, I think all of the stages are beautiful places to be, but 5, I think it just seems so incredibly peaceful. I just picture this meditative, Buddha sitting and thinking -- the world is chaos and the church is chaos and everything around me is chaos, but inside of me, there's peace. And I think that’s just the image that defines stage 5 for me. It's this recognition that, yeah, the world is a mess. Religion is a mess. But I can hold all of the mess and find the things within those structures that I value and that bring me a lot of comfort and peace, and foster my own spirituality that I'm finding within myself. I think the focus on community is especially valuable and beautiful because it reminds us that just because you had this dark night of the soul, just because you're “shelf broke,” just because you're leaving, possibly, you’re leaving the faith that you grew up in or leaving parts of the faith that you grew up in behind, it doesn't mean that you are leaving everything behind. And it doesn't mean that you're a lone wolf out in this world trying to find God. I love that it asserts that community, and being in worship and communion with others is still an essential part of our spirituality. So stage 5 is just so beautiful. That's wonderful. And I think also, too, it's important to know that you can move between all of these stages at any given point in time. It's not like, “Oh yes, I've gone through stage 4. Check. I've arrived. I've made it to stage 5.” You can move between all of these. And I definitely have had that experience, right? Sometimes I feel like my faith is at a stage 2 where God is the trees and the clouds, that’s actually probably where my faith resides most of the time. But this isn't a system of arrival. It's not a checklist. It's not our framework of saying, “Yep. I've done this, this, this, and this. Now I should be at stage 5 or stage 6. It's just the process. It's just a general guide, a general outline. So if you are listening and you're saying, “Oh, I feel a little bit of stage 2 in this and a little bit of stage 3 in this and a little 5 in that,” that's okay. And that's totally normal. It just means that you're growing. 

E: Yeah. I'm glad that you said that. And thinking about it less as a staircase, it's not like you're progressing upwards until you finally arrive and you've made it to the final stage, but instead thinking of it as a circle, I think, can help take some of the pressure and pride off of it. “Oh, you're only at stage 2? Oh, I'm at stage 5…” Right? I think that's a really harmful way to actually understand the stages of faith. But moving on to our last stage, or Fowler's last stage, is stage 6. And this is, he says, really rare that anyone ever gets to this stage. People at this stage can become really important religious figures because they have the ability to relate to anyone at any stage and from any faith. People at this stage cherish life, but also don't hold on to life too tightly. They put their faith into action, into challenging the status quo, and working to create justice in the world. And some examples of people that Fowler thinks have made it to the stage are people like Gandhi and Mother Teresa, and with big names like that, I'm like, shoot, I don't know if I'll ever make it a stage 6, but alas, we can still be open to that possibility. 

C: I think that stage 6 doesn't necessarily have to mean that you're famous. Right? I think of other people who also just happened to be famous, but Mary Oliver and Maya Angelou, I definitely think they have arrived at some point at stage 6. And I wouldn't say they're the most famous people in the world, but even just think of people in your life who show these qualities of being able to value life, but not hold onto it too tightly, being able to meet other people of other faiths without condescension. There are real life human beings who are not famous in our circles of influence that can inform what the stage looks like for us outside of famous figures. I feel like Fowler does us both a favor and a disfavor in naming these really prominent figures because it gives us something to work toward and identify with, but also at the same time because of the clout of their names, right, it can almost feel like unattainable. “Oh yes, it's rare I'm ever going to get to that stage because I am 100% not Mother Teresa,” but, guess what? None of us are Mother Teresa, only Mother Teresa is Mother Teresa. And so just because stage 6 looked this particular way for her doesn't mean that your stage 6 has to look the same, and it can be quieter and it can go unnoticed. And just because you're not famous doesn't mean that you never will, or that when you do make it to stage 6, that you haven't arrived. You know what I mean? 

E: Yeah. That's a really good reminder. It's a hopeful reminder.

C: Yeah. I say that all from, I know I definitely am not there yet. So I'm just hoping that I can be.

E: And throughout this recounting of stages, we've shared some of the pros and some of the cons, but just to recap, at least for me, I think that some of the pros this framework of Fowler's gave me is language, and it gave me some type of like reassurance and approval that like, “Hey, when you move from stages 3 to 4, like there's not something wrong with you. This is a normal part of a faith journey that you're on.” And like Channing said, another pro is that we have parts of ourselves in all of these different stages, and we can hop back and forth and move forward and move backward and move around the circle in a gazillion different ways with different topics, with different ages and life experiences that we come up against. And some of the cons, I think, is that progression can feel like a staircase and it can feel like we have to make it, we have to arrive or make it to a different stage. And in that way we are better in our faith journey. Our faith is more perfected, or more worthy of love, or something like that. And so there's a bit of boastfulness that can come from understanding the stages of faith as a staircase, as opposed to a circle, I think. 

C: Yeah, and this is kind of where, again, those masculine and feminine elements come into play because lines and forward movement is a very masculine element, and upward movement is a very masculine element. And cycles and circular frameworks are more feminine. They're a lot softer. And so I think that this is one of those ways where we can incorporate balance. Yes, we will always want to be moving continually forward and upward. But with the understanding that it's two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, one step back, because it works in cycles and. So it's a continual spiral upward, is what I think.

C: So I think for me, the best way that I can talk about my faith journey and my understanding of faith is to acknowledge that my approach to it is probably a little bit more different from the norm. I didn't have a happy childhood. I didn't have a happy adolescence. And there are points of happiness in between that, but when a person comes from a life and especially a childhood of trauma, that can get really mixed up with their understanding of the divine. And so my framework of faith is also a framework of trauma, and understanding trauma has been absolutely essential for me in understanding faith, because it's required a lot of unlearning and relearning of some of those basic components of understanding and trusting God's love, and recognizing the way that God speaks to me. And so, my faith in a lot of ways has been a process of continual doing and undoing, and unlearning and relearning, and underneath all of that, I feel like there has always just been this really continual need, like a need to be loved, a need to be recognized and treasured. And I didn't really get that from my parents. I didn't really get that most of my life. And so I have kind of relied on my relationship with God and my spirituality to kind of foster that for me. And so even though I have a little bit of difficulty admitting that, that's where I’m at right now, is just knowing that having to really foster that seed -- actually, it's, no, it's more like… my understanding of faith kind of actually really resonated with something that you said earlier, Elise, was talking about Alma’s seed metaphor and how sometimes the tree that grows from the seed isn't good. And so you have to rip it out. And for me, that's definitely been part of my process, recognizing that some of the seeds that were planted for me, in my growing understanding of the divine and of my own spirituality or things that I had planted, are not bearing good fruit and are not healthy anymore. And even though it's terribly painful to cut those trees down and rip out the roots and try and plant something new and foster that, it's very sad, right? But it's also incredibly rewarding to be able to look at my -- if we picture a grove of trees, just like in Jacob 5, to be able to look at my grove of trees and see there is no sturdy oak there. They're all just these tiny Aspen saplings and just know that they're all mine. And even though they're little and they're still forming and developing, that they are things that are sacred and precious to me, and I'm excited to see where they take me. And so I wish I had a prettier answer, but the truth is that my faith is just really messy and often really chaotic. And I'm okay with that because I find God in the chaos. And I always find that God is able to reach me wherever I'm at, and continually offers me gifts that keep me going. And I feel like because I come from this framework of faith and trauma together, I can offer a little bit of a different understanding and a different viewpoint. Not that it makes me special in any way, but I do feel like it's different from the norm. And so for me, my faith is just defined as chaos and absolute joy and sorrow tied together. And just a whole lot of love, even though there's a lot of pain. And so, yeah, I don't know. It's a mess.

E: That was so good. Those are big, brave, courageous things to share, and to share so freely and openly. My faith framework right now, it's been super informed by Fowler's stages of faith, but also really informed by a philosopher named Richard Kearney, who does a lot of work on antitheism. And so right now, my understanding of faith includes doubt and questions and dark night of the soul moments. And I think it's all of those things that allow me to have a renewed kind of faith, again and again. And so doubt really is a consequence. Because I am faithful, that means that I doubt. And so like Alma, I also believe that knowledge and certainty are not faith. I don't think that faith is like a puzzle that you put together by knowing all of the right pieces and placing them just so. I think you said a little bit earlier, faith is like a mystery, and part of the mystery is the doubt, and the not knowing. My faith right now looks kind of like return and repetition, this ongoing again and again, I question, I doubt, I let go of the faith that I once had, but I'm still compelled toward faith, but it's a new understanding of God and of faith and of community and of sacredness and reverence, again and again. And for me, this understanding allows God to return as a surprise every time. God is always more than I expect God to be, but I have to be willing to doubt and question and let go of the things that I thought I knew about God, but the faith that I thought I had so that a new God can show up, not like a new God, like, “Oh, who is this person?” It's a renewed God. It's a deeper understanding, a richer understanding, a different understanding of God. And we hope that as we shared our understandings of our personal faith frameworks that some of the things we said resonate with you or help give language to the ways that you might understand your faith right now, but also know that everyone's faith framework looks different.

C: And I think not only do they look different, but that they have different points of intersection and different points of differentiation. We can share a lot of similarities with each other, but you and I even differ in some things in our own faith and understanding, and it can be the same with anybody, and those differentiations aren't bad, they're healthy. And they bring richness and depth and excitement to both our interpersonal relationships and our communal understanding of what the divine looks like. And so as we share our own experiences with faith, and as you think about yours, we encourage you not only to notice the similarities but to notice the differences, and allow yourself to appreciate them, to examine them, and to sit with them so that you can allow yourself to be informed by what was shared here today. And in that same token, we also would love to hear from you and what your faith frameworks and understandings have been like, because in that way, too, we also have the opportunity to see God working in your life.

E: Thank you so, so much for joining us today for a really rich conversation about faith and faith frameworks, and how faith informs our relationship with God. We appreciate the time that you've spent listening and holding space for us as we sort through these things together. Like Channing said, we hope you have some time to reflect on your own faith framework and think about what influences or scripture stories or people have influenced the way that you understand your faith.

C: Yes. We're always honored to share this space with you and to have you in on these conversations. And we can't wait to do it next week. So just hang in there and we'll see you soon. Love you guys!

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