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Apr 14, 2020

It is easy to say we “belong” to a group, even a church or a religious tradition, but what does that really mean? How many times have we said or thought to ourselves, “Sure, I belong,” but yet we’ve still kept one foot pointing toward the door in case this belonging thing starts getting really difficult? In this Latter-day Faith podcast episode, host Dan Wotherspoon welcomes his longtime friend Jana Riess whose wonderful writing and voice of reason has led her to become an insightful and impactful Mormon author, editor, and blogger, to talk with him about what it can mean to “belong” to a community of faith. And especially when we are disappointed in important aspects of it.

Jana and Dan take as their jumping off point the reaction they and many others within LDS online conversation circles had to the most recent LDS General Conference, which was a sense of feeling let down. Though very little that happened at conference was acutely painful for sensitive listeners, the fact that it came and went without really addressing (with very few exceptions) what is happening in the world today vis a vis the novel coronavirus and Covid-19 led many to feel greatly disappointed. Many who watched and listened carefully experienced sadness over opportunities missed and frustration about organizational and correlation processes that, even if it wanted to, likely hindered the church’s ability to pivot from such a heavy emphasis on the First Vision anniversary so as to make room for announcements and at least several addresses focused more on the specific physical, mental, and spiritual needs of today.

It is within this context of sadness, disappointment, and frustration that Jana and Dan jump into the importance of “belonging,” even when it’s not easy. They share their own experiences along the way that led them each to firmly decide to “belong” to this church—as a community, and even an organization whose leadership and fellow-member stances at times leaves them feeling alienated. How do they face situations that require them as “full belongers” to welcome the difficult along with the wonderful? What kind of spiritual gifts can flow from this kind of stance?

In the final section of the conversation (that is actually more monologue--sorry!), Dan takes the conversation about belonging into more esoteric territory, at times confusing Jana (and, we’re sure, some listeners!). His reasons for doing this was driven by his reactions to conference, his meditations during Holy Week and Easter, as well as about Passover and how stories shape individuals into a “people.” His week had been dominated by insights and working with the difficult spiritual notion of accepting "accountability" for not only our personal, but also our community’s sins and failures.

As a guide for his reflections, he took a Speaking of Faith podcast he’d long held in high esteem that features Krista Tippett’s interviewing Rabbi Sharon Brous about Judaism’s High Holy Days, and especially Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” which follows ten “Days of Awe” kicked off by Rosh Hashanah. In sharing about his experiences, he tries to describe a kind of ownership of all of Mormonism he experienced that deepened his sense of belonging to this tradition, its history, its journey full of high- and low-points, and the mix of such things playing out in full force today. Finally, he shares how in these experiences he gained a possible glimpse of something that helped begin to make sense for him what Jesus might have been experiencing as he took upon him the sins of all.

There is much to chew on in this episode! If you can’t fully follow it’s move into spiritual and still-being-worked out sensibilities, you won’t be alone, and for that we also apologize! Perhaps even just a glimmer of what comes at the end will mean something for you.