So What Would Make for a Mormon/Former Mormon Exchange (Really) Worth Having?

Subtitle:  So What Would this Third Space Look Like?  

So if we’re going to build some kind of infrastructure within which people of widely variant views on Mormonism might actually enjoy each other (see Mark’s pitch here too), what would that take? Here are a few of my own ideas – putting out some specifics for Mark’s response (and anyone else).

1. Come as you are. One of the core agreements, it seems to me, would have to be that no matter what you feel about Mormonism: anger, ambivalence, fear, resentment, sorrow (or joy and love)…ALL experiences are welcome. No matter what you are feeling, you are welcome to continue feeling that – and to bring that into the Third Space.

I can imagine some ways we’ll try to work with different feelings in this space together – but our request would (and should) never be that you stop feeling what you are feeling. On the contrary, I see this space as radically inviting of all kinds of experience – much like a mindfulness retreat: “No matter what you feel, allowing things to be exactly as you find them. Without trying to force or fix or control them…”

2. Stand where you are. On both a personal and an interpersonal level, I propose the Third Space as a place to practice deep acceptance of wherever people are. This isn’t the same thing, of course, of agreeing with where they are (or wanting them to be there)…Rather, it is an allowing people to be in their own experience – and showing basic respect for their own choice to stand exactly there.

One of Jacob’s dear friends described beginning to have serious questions about the church. He recounted how everywhere he turned – first to his wife, then to his extended family, then to church members, he experienced the same thing: resistance and fear.  Wouldn’t it be cool to insist on a space where we practiced non-resistance with each other – and with any concern or question brought to the space?  (without an agenda – not in this space – to make it go away, or to act on it, or to not act on it)

In my own time with Mark, I’ve appreciated ways he has stretched to make sure I personally feel space to stand where I am in relation to his own deep convictions. For instance, I began to notice more and more he would say things like, “I realize you will have another take on this…” (and then he would say something I definitely don’t see the same way).

It’s something I took a lot of notice of – since the only discernible reason why Mark would make these additions is to ensure that I was feeling comfortable in the space between this.  And it worked!…making me feel safe, loved (and even more curious and interested at what he was saying).

3. Understanding as priority. On the foundation of deep acceptance and safety – however you are, wherever you are – I would also suggest that we prioritize understanding first (above other legitimate interests). That means the primary goal entering this space is not to persuade or convince (or proselyte or convert) someone else to think or feel like you do. That can be a legitimate hope and desire (see #4) – but for the purposes of this space, I propose a collective agreement that this shouldn’t dominate.

My own experience has been that when we place a desire to understand first, something magical begins to happen. As we all let go of the “need” for another person to see things like me, the dynamic changes in the space between us.  Call it curiosity or inquiry or exploration…it’s a powerful thing to witness when we move from “working on each other” to instead “learning from each other” and deeply hearing each other out.

4. Conviction is welcome. Of course this doesn’t mean that we somehow shouldn’t want others to understand us and even to see things like we do.  One pervasive stereotype of a dialogue space like we’re describing is that people must ‘check’ their passion and conviction at the door – as if we’re all agreeing to dwell in some kind of mushy middle ground where “everyone’s ideas are equally true and valuable.”

If a place like this actually existed, I can assure you that neither Mark nor myself would want to live there – even temporarily. One reason I keep coming back to dialogue is because it’s consistently the MOST passionate conversation I’ve ever been a part of – and WITH people who don’t just confirm my own biases!

Want to be able to share your own convictions and concerns in a space insisting on joint exploration of what we all most deeply believe?  That’s what I’m imagining…

5. Uncertainty and struggle are welcome too. It’s common for people considering dialogue to think they need to “go and research” a lot – so they have firm answers they can advocate for.  For me, this represents a profound misunderstanding of what dialogue aims to be – namely, a place deeply welcoming of uncertainty. In such a place, seductive level of curiosity that can emerge: think of all the things you’d like to know and understand? Now imagine actually being able to ask those questions?

Along the same lines, I also envision Third Space as a place to experiment and explore together – ‘what the heck is possible between us?’  Rather than modeling some kind of “perfect” relationship – I see this as a place we can struggle together – making mistakes and learning from our interactions – cemented by the larger commitment to sticking with it and trusting each others’ intentions.

So there you have it!  Do these feel valuable, over-stated, under-stated?  Any elaborations?  Revisions?  Rejections?  I’m imagining 10-15 people who meet up monthly in a Google-hangout agreeing on conditions (and others) – whatever we decide!

3 responses

  1. This is what I love about Jacob Hess. Not only that he articulates so well what I’ve come to believe but he walks the talk. Third space here we come!

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