Listening and Revelation (#ldsconf ?)

Yesterday, after Elder Lawrence’s talk, I took his advice and said a prayer. I asked, “what is stopping me from progressing?”

The answer came quite clearly: “you should stop being such a horse’s ass.”

Later that day, a friend confirmed that answer for me, by laying out in a few very precise ways in which I have been a horse’s ass with some regularity for quite a long period of time. This was a revelation to me, not just in the sense of a surprise, but also that it was God working through my friend to show me things about myself that I could not see. The main problem was that I don’t pay attention to people, specifically to women, minorities and other voices. And the fundamental way I could get better: listening.

Here’s an example: this weekend, I wrote a brief commentary on Elder Holland’s talk. There were some excellent comments, some I agreed with and others I disagreed with (hi, Marie!). But then there was this comment, which I didn’t engage:

Frank, when I first went to the temple I had every hope and expectation of coming to know and understand our Heavenly Mother. She was not there. She is not shown as having any part in the creative process or role in the lives of Her children. Women are given no expectation that they will have any power in the afterlife beyond serving and obeying their husbands and being vessels that bear the spirit children of their husbands – it seems like a stretch to call those spirits the children of their Mother. That, among other things, has kept me out of the temple for the past year and a half.

It has taken a long time for me to be able to pray to God without imagining Mother, beaten and bruised, chained away, eternally pregnant, crying out for her children. I no longer believe that is the case, but it took time to accept that our current understanding (and lack thereof) of our Mother is wrong. I’m glad the temple has helped you in that respect, but temple attendance is about the last thing I’d recommend someone who is looking for Heavenly Mother do.

Let me share with you the thoughts I had when I read that comment the first time:
-I’ve never experienced anything close to that.
-That’s not what the temple is about! The temple is about…

It was completely foreign to me, and so I completely dismissed it. And when I look at the comment now, I still don’t understand it, not really. I haven’t felt those things. But I feel like I’m no longer interested in trying to tell this commenter why they’re wrong or to try and explain away the experience. I’m interested in understanding why they had these feelings, what circumstances gave them those feelings, and how we can take those elements in our culture by the root, pull them out and throw them away. I’m interested in how I can support this person better, how I can sympathize and help those hands which hang down, strengthen those feeble knees. In other words, the commenter is a person, someone who is real, whose life actually matters and is as precious in the eyes of God as I am.

Elder Nelson said on Sunday morning:

We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women who make sacred covenants and then keep them, women who can speak with the power and authority of God.

Blair’s summary is a must-read on the topic. But Elder Nelson’s logic is inescapable: the corollary to women speaking more is that men need to listen more! And why listen more, if not to actually consider what is being said? And this means hearing things we don’t necessarily agree with all the time.

Consider the wisdom of the prophetess Nicki Minaj, throwing shade at Miley Cyrus:

The fact that you feel upset about me speaking on something that affects black women makes me feel like you have some big balls. You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important? Come on, you can’t want the good without the bad. If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us. You shouldn’t not want to know that.

If we are serious about women speaking more, about listening more to them as well, it means that we’re going to hear talk about things they don’t like. This is probably going to be disturbing. It means hearing things that are foreign or scary or beyond out current experience. We don’t want to hear that we are wrong about how things are, we don’t want to hear that we have oppressed others or that we don’t deserve our special positions in society. I really hate to be told I’m wrong. I’m never wrong. But God just told me I was.

Are our God and our religion strong enough for us to listen to these things? I believe they are.

How can we succor each other, be saviors on Mt Zion for each other if we cannot let each other talk and listen to each other?

So I’m going to be trying harder to really listen, to strengthen feeble knees. Now, let me add: BCC is still a faithful place. I have no interest in making this a forum for everyone to simply lodge their grievances with the Church. As I said to another friend the other day, I am looking for Zion. I want BCC to be engaging, thoughtful, prayerful and beautiful.

I recognize the potential conflict here, and all I can say is that we should try to navigate that as we go, listening to the Spirit. I don’t believe that listening to each other means abandoning faithfulness. In fact, I think faithfulness requires listening: listening to God, to the Spirit and to revelation that can come to us through others. It means trying to see each other through God’s eyes. It means confronting some harsh things about ourselves at the same time. This, frankly, scares the crap out of me and I’m not really looking forward to it. But I have come to believe that this is a sacred obligation and part of working towards Zion.

I also recognize my own hypocrisy here; over the last 15 years I have gained a reputation for my intolerance. And I guess I’ll still be intolerant in lots of respects. But I want to repent for not listening to women and people of color in thoughtful ways. So, this is a start.


  1. Steve,

    What a wonderful application of conference. As a self-styled progressive Mormon male who has been evolved in many female oriented Mormon spaces it has been fascinating to watch how much air time LDS men just fill up – myself included – even there. We are just not socially trained to be good listeners. I share your struggle.

    I don’t know if you have read it but if you want some insight into why so many LDS feel aboutnthe temple in the way mentioned in the comment, I recommend the Mormon Priestess essay on FMH. It is exactly the type of thing I would have dismissed years ago but because it was written by my wife whom I watched deeply struggle with the temple for a decade or more I came to be able to see it through her eyes.

    Here is to speaking less and listening more. Finally thanks for helping make BCC the place it is. It truly is remarkable.

  2. Oh hey, I wrote that comment. For what it’s worth, I do appreciate that you chose to ignore it rather than engage with your initial gut reaction.

    But yeah, what Rah said. When I found the Mormon Priestess essay on fMh about six months ago, I wept for about an hour because it was so cathartic to see my own feelings articulated so well. I’d thought I was alone.

    Rah, please tell your wife thank you.

  3. Baby steps, right? Or something like that. Anyways, thanks.

  4. nrc42, my reaction wasn’t quite as vividly horrifying as yours, but I was quite taken aback by her utter absence, plus so many of the other concerns voiced in The Mormon Priestess. There is almost nothing to indicate what the lot of women will be in the afterlife, even those rarefied women who will achieve exaltation, and what little snippets we have to imply our fates don’t really inspire much hope. In the absence of real doctrine, folk doctrine fills the vacuum, and the folk doctrines of eternal spiritual birth combined with the very real evidence of isolation and silence leave me quite uninterested in reaching for the highest kingdom.

    Steve, thanks. FWIW, I have always thought you were a pretty fair-minded horse’s ass.

  5. Onbeyonce says:

    But, Steve, the people you and BCC are most likely to ignore or discount are the prophet and apostles. I thought you knew that. I don’t know what your new resolution is going to do about that. When Elder Oaks tells you something about religious liberty or gay marriage that’s foreign to your way of thinking, something you truly don’t understand, something where your gut reaction is negative, are you now going to try to really listen and understand, or are you going to look for the cheap yuks like usual? About once a year, you and/or BCC resolve to do better. It never lasts.

  6. crazywomancreek says:

    This is good.

    I receive a lot of my spiritual insights from comics from the 1980’s, particularly Bloom County. There was a storyline where evangelical fervor had gripped the hamlet of Bloom County and the newly religious had run Opus out of town for, I believe, the sin of penguin lust. When Portnoy was asked how he came to this decision he said he reflected on John 8:7, Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. And so…I cast that mother.

    We’re all Portnoy. We set ourselves up in righteousness but every once in a while prophets like Ta-Nehisi Coates or Nicki Minaj come along and wake us up.

    I’m glad you’re waking up, Steve and you’re certainly not alone. I’m waking up too and it heartens me to know that my friends at BCC want to have the hard conversations. It’s good work and I trust the sincerity of your intentions.

  7. That’s a powerful confession. I admire that you had the courage to share the experience. I also want to say that I love how the Holy Spirit speaks to us in language we understand.

  8. Onbeyonce, cheap shots in your comment aside, listening means listening.

    You’re right to point out that these sorts of resolutions tend to die out in their enthusiasm, that we resort pretty quickly to our usual habits. Is it better not to try to improve? I’m grateful that there’s a community out there willing to keep me honest.

  9. CWC, I have never enjoyed Bloom County. There, I said it.

  10. Clark Goble says:

    Blasphemy. Next you’ll be saying mean things about The Far Side or Calvin and Hobbes.

  11. No, Clark, those are good. Peanuts too.

  12. I think this is good. We all act like a horse’s ass in some ways. I think this is when the Gospel is working right – when the scriptures or talks or our prayers guide us to ways in which we need to change to better succor and empathize and develop compassion.
    I understand your point about wanting to ensure that BCC is a faithful place. But I found it strange that somehow listening to, and engaging with grievances, is somehow at odds with that. I think it’s the opposite.

  13. I like all of those comics

    As far as listening goes I think its a definite balance. I think your goal is great. Myself, after spending hours and hours of time listening to people complain to me because they wanted me to listen. I noticed that they didn’t progress at all but only became further entrenched in complaining. I find myself more wise about when listening helps and when it doesn’t. Sometimes I found myself just giving Laman and Lemuel more and more time to vent. Not helpful to them or to me.

    As far as listening to the concerns of women and minorities, I think that’s a good goal.

  14. This is wonderful. We don’t always need to understand another’s pain, but we can recognize it and try to alleviate it.
    As a side note, I enjoyed the diversity of answers Elder Lawrence gave in his talk.Thanks for sharing your answer. I also asked that same question. My answer: “Take care of what you have.”

  15. Mary Lythgoe Bradford says:

    Right on Steve!

  16. That’s awesome. What does it mean to take care of what you have?

  17. Clark Goble says:

    Getting back to the original topic, I think it fair to say there’s a lot left out of the temple. Further it’s clearly been formed using masonry and then various concerns of white 19th century Mormons. In the past century much of that masonic components have been removed. However to change the endowment (which I assume has only been done with clear revelation to the President) by removing elements seems easier than adding elements.

    I think if you look at the elements removed in the redactions of the 90’s most of the elements were those that were causing discomfort to women. So in terms of listening, I think the brethren clearly have been trying to listen. Whether they could do a better job or not I can’t say simply because I get the impression that we judge their listening abilities based upon what they change. Yet they may be bound in what they change by feeling a high standard of clarity in revelations they receive is needed.

    In a certain sense the live sessions are far more inclusive both because I think they give the endowment a very different emphasis from the film, but also because the various figures could easily be minorities. I’d love to see a live endowment session that was made up entirely of Asians, people of recent African descent and people of indigenous American descent.

    The question of why more isn’t taught about mother in heaven, well one might argue that if you lived in the 19th century it was. It’s just that we think Brigham was incorrect in some of those interpretations. (And I’m certainly not disagreeing with those who think Brigham was off in his theology – yet Brigham also tended to give the concrete form to our present endowment) But without getting specific inappropriately it would be nice to hear the female part of those delegated to do things participating more in creation.

  18. Clark Goble says:

    One nuance to the above. By “minority” I’m obviously being very US-centric. One would imagine that if say the Hong Kong temple had live sessions (I assume they’re video?) that they’d be made up nearly entirely of Chinese people taking the various roles. I’m too lazy to look it up, but I think only SLC is live anymore.

  19. Clark, that’s not the original topic! It’s not even the topic, really, of my other post on Elder Holland. But yeah the temple is complex.

  20. I’m finding that it has several applications, as I find myself repeating the answer in my head in different situations. I have applied it to financial challenges, caring for my special needs daughter, seeking direction on employment, and helping me re-focus on family research projects that I have put on the back burner. When my teenage daughter was in an accident with the family van the other day, I thought of that answer. It has brought me comfort and direction in uncertainty—and reminded me that what I have is enough.

  21. I’d like to hear more about that. Would you send an email to the admin account?

  22. Sorry, but the song by Toby Keith “I Wanna Talk About Me” just popped into my head.Listening is not a bad thing, but at least on the bloggernacle, we’re often confronted with the argument: If you would just listen to me, you (or our leaders) would change (insert doctrine/policy/practice.) The follow up comment, when disagreement continues to linger, is “obviously you weren’t really listening to me.”

  23. IDIAT, I feel like that argument is false. Wouldn’t you agree?

  24. Clark Goble,
    “I think if you look at the elements removed in the redactions of the 90’s most of the elements were those that were causing discomfort to women. So in terms of listening, I think the brethren clearly have been trying to listen.”

    While I believe this is true, it makes some of the parts of the temple regarding women than were left in even more painful. The fact that prophets really listened and understood, prayed about it, and received an answer that they endowment could be changed is wonderful. But then my question is why does the hearken covenant remain? For me, there are only two possible conclusions if I believe that the earlier changes were inspired by God: 1)The hearken covenant (and other inequalities in the temple) is incorrect, but the prophets who have made changes (or perhaps the general membership of the church) were just not able to open their minds and hearts enough to make that final push for egalitarianism; or 2) God truly does want women to obey men and men to obey God. Either of these conclusions is difficult for me. I hope and pray that conclusion 1 is correct, but I have to concede that it is equally likely that conclusion 2 is correct.

  25. Clark Goble says:

    Steve (9:27), the issue was listening then the comment you quoted from Marie. I was more just saying we have to listen and I think the brethren are, but we’re sometimes limited in what we can do even as we listen. Sorry if it came off like I was trying to shift the discussion. I thought I was listening and trying to respond to what you said. (grin) Maybe a different way of putting it succinctly is the question of how we judge when someone is listening. Of course I think there’s much more we could do that don’t require revelations, but that’s a separate topic.

    IDIAT (9:55) that’s true sometimes. It’s more or less what my earlier comment was about. How do we know someone’s listening? That said, I think engaging with someone’s argument should show we’re listening. But I’m not sure everyone feels that way. The problem of course is that a lot of what people say isn’t about arguments but about feelings. In that case what Steve says about succoring is important. I’ll be the first to admit it’s not something I’m necessarily good at – especially online where how we communicate that is much more difficult. (In face to face encounters it’s much easier of course)

    If someone feels a reaction there’s often not a lot we can do. That’s how they feel. Explanations of context might help marginally, but more often it seems like we’re discounting the feelings. It comes off like saying, “well if you understood these things you’d feel differently” even if that’s not intended.

  26. ashmaebirds says:

    Thank you so much for this post. It is a brave thing to acknowledge not having listened as well as we’d like to pride ourselves on. Something we all have to reckon with when we stop and take the time to listen to ourselves as well. Such a great and heartening post. I’m going to try and stop to listen better too.

  27. Sure, I think the argument is false. But listening is akin to sincerity and real intent. You know it when you feel it, even when others might not.

  28. Eyeore's back side says:

    Steve, if it makes you feel better, I’m an ass’s ass.

  29. Nice thought Steve.

    Even though I am an unorthodox mormon, I believe in prayer and inspiration.

    Insights like the one you received because of the guidance given in conference feel very real to me. Keep going and thanks for the encouragement.

  30. Steve, I appreciated this post. You are kind of a mansplainer, eh? I’ve been changed a lot over the last year or two by just listening. Just listening to people’s stories and experiences has blown my heart wide open and opened my eyes to a lot I never would have known if I just hadn’t listened first.

  31. Yeah, I’m totally a mansplainer. I lurrrrrrrrrrrrve to come in and analyze and dispense my wisdom. That’s gonna be a tough habit to break. Don’t be surprised if I screw up.

  32. Wait, that was wisdom? I knew you were dispensing something . . .

  33. WISDOM

  34. I appreciate this post, Steve. I like to think I listen good and stuff, but I could stand to listen better. It is hard to admit.

  35. I believe you just shared a saving truth, Steve. (Or as I’ve sometimes experienced it, godly sorrow.) Adam Miller’s recap of Elder Busche’s talk, I think, is pertinent: “Elder Busche, in his October 1993 General Conference address ‘Truth is the issue’ urges us to see that saving truths are neither objects in the world nor hunches about heaven. Rather, a saving truth arises from being exposed, without excuse or defense, to the truth about ourselves. It arises from an exposure to both our irreparable nothingness and that stainless divine nature that, regardless, beats on in our breasts like God’s own heart. This is where the fire burns. Elder Busche urges us to constant prayer and he promises that ‘in the depth of such a prayer, we may finally be led to that lonesome place where we suddenly see ourselves naked in all soberness. Gone are all the little lies of self-defense. We see ourselves in our vanities and false hopes for carnal security. We are shocked to see our many deficiencies, our lack of gratitude for the smallest things. We are now at that sacred place that seemingly only a few have courage to enter, because this is that horrible place of unquenchable pain in fire and burning. This is that place where true repentance is born. This is that place where the conversion and the rebirth of the soul are happening. Go there.’ ”

    It really is all about seeing and receiving the humanity of others – all others – as real people who count just like us; no more, no less.

  36. Hey, thanks Jen. Godly sorrow is the word.

  37. Steve, I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable here, and your renewed commitment to listen more to women and people of color. On the question of listening to women, I have always appreciated your comments to and in support of my sister Kiskilili on this long-ago thread. I guess I raise this to point out that maybe you’re doing better than you think you are (although of course I’m sure you’re like the rest of us in having room to improve).

  38. I will always got to bat for the ZDs, man. You all are the best.

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