In this episode, the brilliant Stephen Carter joins with LDF host Dan Wotherspoon to talk about two types of stories that don’t easily play well with each other, yet are both very much needed. How might we learn to hold these in a healthy tension? Stephen’s doctorate is in narrative studies and he is always on the look out to notice the types of stories that capture imaginations and direct lives. And often with specific attention on the ones that influence Latter-day Saints. The two he brings up today he names “Circle” and “Line” stories, and he and Dan explore what can happen when one dominates the other in an individual human life as well within the collective.
“Line” stories indicate direction. I tell myself a line story that indicates what my values and goals are, the direction I should move in order to get there, and what I should be on the look out for that might prove to be tough obstacles I need to avoid or conquer. For good and ill, line stories also provide for us ways to judge our progress toward these goals. By themselves, however, we can’t really define and have a firm grasp on what is or isn’t meaningful.
“Circle” stories are directionless. We are all living a circle story–our lives and what we are learning, how we are changing, who we are becoming–but in themselves don’t really direct us. Instead, they require us to self-examine, to wrestle, to conquer fears, and to allow what we value and want to reveal themselves as fruits from our struggles. And all the criteria for judging how we are doing come from inside rather than through those that dominate the line story. The “meaning” of our lives comes from Circle stories.
Mormonism nods toward the importance of Circle stories and has deep resources for talking about them, but it primarily emphasizes Line stories as our guides and evaluation criteria. The Plan of Salvation is laid out clearly, and the goal is the celestial kingdom. We are to raise children who will follow this same path, hold these same values. We are to listen to these particular guides but not those. But how would it look if the Circle story gained equal footing, got equal attention in church or in general conference addresses? Both types of stories are essential for a balanced, meaningful, and joyful life. By naming these types and exploring how they work, might we be of service in re-balancing our religion and lives within the church? Stephen and Dan believe so.
Listen in! This stuff is rich!
Latter-day Faith Virtual Fireside, “A New Paradigm for Latter-day Saints,” February 20th, 7 to 9pm Mountain Standard Time. Click here to learn more about it and register. The event is free. You will be participating in a Zoom call.
March 27th to 29th, Latter-day Faith Retreat Information and Registration
Misc items mentioned in the eposode:
“Mormons Encountering Death,” Mormon Matters Podcast, Episodes 430–432, December 2017 (Stephen Carter one of the guests)
Sunstone — Podcasts, Symposium Call for Paters, Articles mentioned:
Call for Papers for 2020 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, March 1 deadline
Sunstone Podcast (co-hosted by Stephen Carter)
Sunstone Magazine Podcast (Audible quality presentations of classic Sunstone essays and articles)
Stephen Carter, “Call Me By My Name,” Sunstone, November 2019 (reflections sparked by the Carters’ transgender daughter)
Dan Wotherspoon, “To Make Big Shadows,” Sunstone, May 2009 (Published version of Dan’s “Pillars of My Faith” presentation that employs the concept of “Size”)
U. Carlisle Hunsaker, “Mormonism and a Tragic Sense of Life,” Sunstone, March 2014 (reprinted from September/October 1983 issue)
Armand L. Mauss, “Alternate Voices: The Calling and Its Implications,” Sunstone, April 1990 (includes his “Decalogue for Dissenters,” a list of ten commandments for those who want to successfully step into this role within Mormonism)
Books Mentioned or Discussed:
Stephen Carter, ed. Moth and Rust: Mormon Encounters with Death (Signature Books, 2017)
Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings (Riverhead Books, 2001)
Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom (Riverhead Books, 2006)