In this episode, we have a conversation with our friend Jeralee Renshaw about what it means to be “on the edge of inside.”
In Richard Rohr’s wonderful essay on the topic, he says that one who lives on the edge of inside is “not an outsider throwing rocks, not a comfortable insider who defends the status quo, but one who lives precariously with two perspectives held tightly together.”
In referencing Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, Dorothy Day, and others, Rohr says: “they tend to be, each in their own way, orthodox… conservative, intellectuals, believers, but that very authentic inner experience and membership allows them to utterly critique the systems that they are a part of. [They] critiqued Christianity by the very values that they learned from Christianity.”
We’re really grateful Jeralee came on the podcast to discuss this important topic with us, and hope you enjoy the conversation.
Aubrey Chaves: Jeralee, thank you so much for coming all the way down and visiting with us. We feel like this is a really important conversation, so we’re excited to talk to you. So, in 2016, David Brooks wrote an article called, At the Edge of Inside, and the context was really not religious but a lot of people in our faith tradition really resonated with this. And it’s kind of resurfaced again for us recently, and we’re working on this series about belonging. And we thought, this is a really important part of the belonging conversation that, how do you find belonging when you find yourself at the edge of inside? And this is a space where you’ve navigated really successfully for a while, and you’re really helping other people to do that, too. So, we thought you’re the person that we should have this conversation with, so thank you.
Jeralee Renshaw: Thank you Aubrey and Tim, for inviting me, I’m happy to be here with you.
Aubrey Chaves: Would you give us just a little introduction to your story and who you are, and then also, an introduction into what the edge of inside is? For someone who hasn’t read David Brooks’ work or Richard Rohr’s work on this idea, what is the edge of inside?
Jeralee Renshaw: Okay, great. So, just giving voice to a little bit of my lived experience and how things have played out for me so far, I’ll just tell a little bit about myself, I live in Alpine, Utah, I’m happily married to a wonderful man. I have four adult children and nine amazing grandchildren, that includes a set of identical twins and I adore them all. Of our four adult children, only one of them is really still actively engaged in the church. So, we’ve been on an interesting journey over the past eight or so years in our family. I was born and raised in the church in a home that was pretty much ideal where my mother and father lead the family as equals. And I thought that was just the way it was, I didn’t learn how unusual that was until I became an adult myself. For most of my adult life, I lived in a space where I accepted almost everything I was taught at home and by the church as absolute capital T, Truth.
My husband and I have spent our lives in leadership positions. He was a bishop, I was a Relief Society president. We were the kind of people who just felt like you should never really say no to a calling, and so, we have been very, very busy in the church our whole lives. And then, about eight years ago, I had something placed on my path that changed the way I saw just about everything. One of our children came to us in a very sincere and humble way seeking counsel, I think was how it was put to us. And I realized that what was being shared was that he had experienced almost a near complete faith deconstruction, and I had no way of knowing how to understand it, or validate it, it felt like I had spent my whole life in the church being taught about agency, and when it came right down to it, I didn’t really know how to honor agency-
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Tim Chaves: Interesting, yeah.
Jeralee Renshaw: And it was painful. I didn’t have any tools in my toolbox for honoring that. And life has a way of throwing things in our path that are unexpected and difficult. You wake up one morning, and it seems like everything has changed, and that’s the way this felt. There is something new there that you can’t get over, under, or around, and you just have to go through it. After a pretty intense period of reading and research myself, because I wanted to try to understand what had happened, if it could happen to somebody that I knew to be as good as this person, it could happen to anybody and I needed to understand why. I’d never heard the term faith crisis, which some people use to describe what happens to them, and others don’t feel like it was a crisis, I don’t describe that way. But I never heard the term before.
And so, I literally went online and googled it. And I found this world of people and a podcast actually, where someone in the same position as our child talked about their experience. And I thought, wow, there’s other people that have experienced this. And it just opened this whole new world to me. I learned many things about our doctrine and history that… I learned many things that I had not been aware of. I had not been taught them through our correlated materials in Sunday School, in seminary, and those kinds of things. And a lot of things really came as a surprise as an adult woman with adult children. So, it was really… I was kind of spinning, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me a little bit. We kind of tend to be what I would call a one-size-fits-all church. And up until that point, that’s the way I felt, you’re kind of either in or you’re out, and you believe or you don’t believe.
And I assumed that everybody sitting on the pews with me, was like me, just believed everything I had been taught, right? And so, I now was looking at things through a whole new lens. It’s a really interesting process and journey and there’s lots of emotions. It’s kind of like a roller coaster for anybody that experiences it. And so, one of the most important things over the last eight years that I have learned is that we’re not all experiencing faith and belief and Mormonism in the same way, [inaudible 00:05:18]. And I had previously assumed that everybody was just kind of like me, and really, there’s all kinds of us out there. So, do want me to go right into my [crosstalk 00:05:28] about the edge of inside?
Aubrey Chaves: Yes, please.
Jeralee Renshaw: So, you mentioned David brooks New York Times article, and before I read that article, I read it when it came out, I had heard lots of terms thrown around in some of the support groups and online communities that I was attached to like, a nuanced Mormon, I’m a middle way Mormon, and nothing really seemed to fit for me, nothing really felt like, oh, yeah, that’s what I want to own, that describes who I am, until I read this article by David Brooks. And it’s in the June 2016, it was a New York Times op-ed in June of 2016, and like you mentioned, he borrows from Richard Rohr. And he talks about three types of people found in any organization. The first is the organization’s insiders, the decision makers in the organization. So, for us, it would be leadership and maybe a bulk of the people sitting in the pews in [crosstalk 00:06:22] also, just fully believing. And there’s nothing wrong with that, they’re an important part of the organization.
The second are the outsiders, the people who maybe have never been a part of or are connected somehow or who have left, or have decided to leave. They are untouched by internal loyalties to the organization. And they can be the bomb throwers who heavily criticized the organization. So, you guys like me probably know people in both of those situations, right? And then, the third are the people at the edge of inside and this is what really resonated to me. They love the organization but while being loyal, they also see the organization as imperfect, and possibly even flawed. Rohr says, quote, “A doorkeeper must love both the inside and the outside of his or her group, and know how to move between those two loves.” And that’s really profound for me, I found myself in this place where, I had this child who had, had this completely different experience than I had, and I was trying to understand it.
And even if I couldn’t understand it, at least validate it, so I wasn’t a part of causing more pain, right? And that’s the hard thing, we can’t expect that everybody we communicate with is going to understand us, if they haven’t experienced it, if they haven’t walked in those shoes, they’re likely not going to understand. But I have experienced many people who can validate that this experience is real, and that it’s hard. And just that validation is just life saving almost to me, and so I could see how painful this was for my child, I didn’t want to add to that pain. And so, I had this love for my church, [inaudible 00:08:09] raised in this ideal family, great husband, great experiences raising our family in the church and serving in the church, but now I could see this other difficult side that I couldn’t deny because it was a part of my family now, it was my family.
Anyway, so, when I read the article, it was like a light-bulb moment for me. It’s so perfectly described where I find myself today. And I often refer to myself as living on the edge of inside to other people, so it can bring up some interesting conversations. So for me, I feel today and believe differently than I once did about the organization of the church. I find myself in the rather surprising position of, the older I get, the less I know about much of anything. After years of having said, I know, and testifying, and feeling like I really had all the answers, and if I didn’t, the church certainly did, right? And I spoke with authority. One of the things I would like a redo on, if possible, is I’d like to go back and do that differently in raising my children. I wouldn’t use those terms, I would maybe try to develop more critical thinking from them and say, when you are taught this, or when you hear this, how does this make you feel? I never listened to them. I just told them the way it was.
And so, I often reflect back now, having known what I know now, feeling what I know now, when I was raising my children, what would I do? So, that’s an interesting… And you guys probably have experienced that, too.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, we think about a lot-
Tim Chaves: We think about this a lot. Yeah, for sure.
Jeralee Renshaw: Yeah. And it comes up in discussions, in support groups a lot. The other thing is, I find this journey to be very fluid. It would be hard for me to just say to you, if you asked me right now, this is what I believe and this is what I don’t believe-
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Jeralee Renshaw: Because I’m not thinking in terms of black and white anymore. It’s like this whole spectrum of color has opened up in the way I see the world, and the church, and my family, and everybody and there’s just all these possibilities. And I realize that I don’t know it all and I need to have an open heart, an open mind and be willing to learn-
Tim Chaves: Yeah.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that.
Tim Chaves: Oh, that’s great.
Jeralee Renshaw: … with other people. And I really was very black and white my whole life.
Tim Chaves: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeralee Renshaw: So-
Aubrey Chaves: Jumping really quick-
Jeralee Renshaw: Yes, please.
Aubrey Chaves: I just love what you mentioned about, the motivation is really this deep love of the inside and outside. I think when you hear the phrase at the edge of inside, I think that if you haven’t read any of their work before, you may assume that, that means you’re lukewarm, or you’re maybe sort of committed and you’re not really sure what you… And maybe you’re in or maybe you’re out. And I love the way they explained, they’re talking about people who are so deeply committed to the organization that they love and also to these people that they love and the issues that they love, that they feel like are not being handled perfectly. I just think it’s a different kind of edge. It’s not that you don’t care, is you care so deeply that you have been pulled to this position of being a bridge and a doorway.
And what was the other one? The three things that he says, that you’re in this middle ground where you see both sides, and you may see it critically but it’s really motivated out of love, not out of non-commitment.
Jeralee Renshaw: Right. So, I’m so glad you brought that up. And my next line actually, that I wanted to go into, is this may sound uncomfortable or wishy-washy to some-
Aubrey Chaves: Oh, there you go.
Jeralee Renshaw: So, we were thinking on the same lines here.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Jeralee Renshaw: But the other really important point that I want to make right here is, people that find themselves in this space where they love the church, and yet they see it differently are often the people who were the most committed to the church. So, several years ago, I was involved in an online support group where the question was asked, how many of you people here have served in leadership positions? And the answers blew me away, were overwhelming, these people who found themselves in this new uncomfortable space had been stake presidents-
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Jeralee Renshaw: … mission presidents, bishops, Relief Society presidents-
Aubrey Chaves: They were the decision makers, they [crosstalk 00:12:19] had been at that [crosstalk 00:12:19].
Jeralee Renshaw: Oh, yes. And their whole life had been devoted to the church. And so, it’s not that this happens to people whose roots weren’t deep enough, or who really didn’t have a testimony, or hadn’t put in the work, that’s not my experience. And I’ve been in this wrestle with a lot of people for about eight years now, and really often, it’s the best of the best that this happens to, because we’re so committed.
Aubrey Chaves: Right. And it’s probably why it’s so shaming, why you feel like you don’t belong, because I think you worry that people assume that you’re doing this out of being wishy-washy, you’re just not that committed and you’re kind of becoming this… You’re floating, and I think they feel hypersensitive to that because it’s out of integrity, they’re in that position out of this deep feeling of needing to be there. It’s totally integrity not the opposite, which it can look like to someone who is on the deep inside.
Jeralee Renshaw: Right. And I understand that because having a child come to me and kind of questioning the things that were so dear to me, put me in a position of feeling like I needed to defend what my whole life had been really.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, right.
Jeralee Renshaw: Did you have something to say, Tim?
Tim Chaves: Yeah. I’ve been thinking, especially, I was struck when you said the word uncomfortable, it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. And one of the things that really struck me about the article as well from David Brooks, is that he… I mean, obviously, this dynamic, the edge of inside and outside happens across all types of organizations-
Jeralee Renshaw: All types, yes.
Tim Chaves: And David Brooks actually primarily comes at it from a political point of view-
Jeralee Renshaw: Right, he does.
Tim Chaves: And he… I mean, this is 2016, obviously, and things have changed dramatically since then, but he has a couple of examples. So, he says that Hillary Clinton is sort of the insider in the Democratic Party. And from his perspective, at that point, Donald Trump was the outsider to the Republican Party. And I think in 2016, he was. And then, he points out Lindsey Graham as somebody that was on the edge of inside. I don’t think most people that have followed the news would argue that maybe over the past 12 to 24 months-
Jeralee Renshaw: Right.
Tim Chaves: But I think a good example now is maybe like a Mitt Romney, and I’m not trying to make a political statement here at all. But the discomfort that comes from being on the edge of inside, I think, was on clear display if you watched his speech a couple of weeks ago-
Jeralee Renshaw: I think that’s a great example. Yes.
Tim Chaves: He obviously is very committed to conservative principles and the Republican Party itself, and when he found himself sort of breaking ranks a little bit with the rules, so to speak, that the Republican Party, I think, had implicitly set, you could see that, that was tearing him up inside-
Jeralee Renshaw: It was.
Tim Chaves: It was a place of deep, deep discomfort. And I think that analogy sort of holds in any of the organizational dynamics that you find yourself, in political, religious, or what have you.
Jeralee Renshaw: Yeah. And Mitt Romney, whether you love him or you don’t care for him at all, to me, that was just such a great display of owning his own moral authority, not being swayed by what he was being told or pressured to, but this is me and I have to live with myself and so-
Tim Chaves: Yes.
Jeralee Renshaw: … this is what I’m going to do.
Tim Chaves: That is such a-
Jeralee Renshaw: And I think, in religion, we all have to come to that. We all have to come to that point of learning to trust our heart and mind. I like to call it, divine intuition, which I’ve heard Thomas McConkey, who was a recent guest of yours, also refer to. And I think that’s really important. And Richard Rohr in his book, Falling Upward, which is a fabulous read for anybody who hasn’t read it, talks about the two parts of life and how we’re taught the basics, and to be obedient, and all those things in the first half of life, and then the second half of life, we kind of have to learn to be adults and live in our own skin, and give ourselves permission to make decisions and decide and feel comfortable for how we’re moving forward in life.
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Jeralee Renshaw: Anyway, I got a little [crosstalk 00:16:16].
Aubrey Chaves: No, no, this is exactly what we wanted to talk about. I wanted to just add, we’re in this part of the conversation where we talk about being totally committed. The other example that both David Brooks and Richard Rohr bring up is Martin Luther King. And I just wanted to read this quote, because I know I could never say it, and this is the one I think about all the time, he says, that Martin Luther King had an authentic inner experience of what it meant to be American. This love allowed him to critique America from the values he learned from America. He could be utterly relentless in bringing America closer to herself precisely because his devotion to American ideals was so fervent. And then he goes on to explain that you have to expect that you will be criticized for that, and just like the Mitt Romney example, people don’t clap their hands and pat you on the back, you’ll be criticized.
And we’ve talked about Joseph Smith a little bit, and that he was kind of at the edge of a different circle. He was at the edge of the Protestant inside and really pushed boundaries, and he lived that model to a tee. He was criticized and mocked and pushed out farther. And I think that’s where I would love to spend some time, is when you’re sensing that, when you’re feeling that you don’t belong because you’re at the edge of inside. What do you do to find belonging on a Sunday, or with your community on a regular day?
Jeralee Renshaw: Yeah, that’s a great question. Thank you. So, I can only share from my lived experience and if you put 10 different people in my chair, who’ve experienced what I have, they would probably tell you different things. So, I also just wanted to say that I’m not in any way trying to promote or encourage this path for anyone-
Aubrey Chaves: Sure.
Jeralee Renshaw: I want this to come across as, this is something I wasn’t looking for, that just showed up on my path one day and since it affected my family, my eternal family, I invested myself in trying to get some kind of understanding about it.
Aubrey Chaves: Yes. Yap.
Jeralee Renshaw: And so, it’s where I am today. I just want to go back for one second, if I could-
Aubrey Chaves: Sure, yeah.
Jeralee Renshaw: Because I talked a lot about not knowing, and even the idea of capital T, Truth, has changed for me. And I think Truth varies from one person to another because our perspectives are different. But I do want to make the point that I think faith plays in big time in this. And so, how I experienced faith today, these are kind of my four bullet points on what faith is to me, faith exists in possibilities, not certainties. Faith is what we choose to do in the absence of certainty. True faith is the ability to act in the presence of doubt. True faith is a recognition that we don’t know.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Jeralee Renshaw: And so, just so that you kind of understand what has happened for me, my experience, that faith is really big, it’s probably huge, and hope for me, where I don’t feel like I have to know. I’ve kind of let go of the idea of ever knowing, for sure, about some things. I’m okay with that. It’s actually kind of a peaceful place that I found, which is surprising, after years of living black and white. I heard Claudia Bushman at a fireside that she and Richard presented at a few years ago say this, quote, “Ambiguity and contradiction are a part of life. Truth is elusive and malleable. Accepting that condition is a necessary part of maturity.”
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Jeralee Renshaw: And I loved that, she just was speaking right to me. So, how do you-
Aubrey Chaves: Oh, that’s so great.
Jeralee Renshaw: Yeah. So, how do we find a comfortable place in the church when our beliefs have changed, what we know is different or we just don’t know, but we love the people and we love being there? That’s the question that you want to go into, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Before you jump in, let me just… I think a huge part of that battle is accepting that faith is not knowledge. It’s not what you learn in [crosstalk 00:20:09].
Jeralee Renshaw: That’s why I wanted to get that in there.
Aubrey Chaves: It’s not, faith is knowing the sun will rise, it’s… If you can accept that this isn’t a deficiency, that you are standing in this place and you don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s faith, I think… Right? Just that new understanding gives you such a sense of belonging-
Jeralee Renshaw: Right, and so-
Aubrey Chaves: This is not something I lack, this is faith. This is me showing faith by not having the answers and choosing a path.
Jeralee Renshaw: Right.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, I was just going to say, that’s sort of the Brene Brown idea of belonging, right? It’s that internal cohesion that brings you peace and you sort of take that belonging with you wherever you go. But at the same time, the pragmatic part of me is like, well, that sounds great but when you show up to church on Sunday and your belief’s very, in some cases, dramatically from what you have around you, you may feel very confident on the inside, but there is something about that community dynamic and the personal interactions that you have one on one, if there is tension there, then it can just sort of distort that sense of belonging that you’d prefer to have.
Jeralee Renshaw: Yeah, that’s one of the bittersweet aspects of Mormonism, I think, is that it permeates all of our relationships. And when the church is working for you, this can be a great source of joy, and when it isn’t, it can be painful and isolating. So, the one thing I would say is that it takes time, and sometimes people find themselves either in faith crisis or just questioning things that they hadn’t questioned before, and it’s an uncomfortable, painful place to be. And so, one of the things that I had to learn is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, that I may be different than most of the people in this room. I may see the world differently, I may believe differently. I may not agree with a lot of things.
And that happens for many of us [inaudible 00:21:54] testimony meaning, we couldn’t and wouldn’t get up and say that we absolutely know. And we don’t often hear testimonies that are based on faith, like I described it, right?
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Jeralee Renshaw: I had a conversation with my friend who’s a Relief Society president recently, and that was like a new idea for her, that we don’t need to just say that we know but we can talk about what we hope for and what we have felt.
Aubrey Chaves: Right. And those are powerful experiences to hear.
Jeralee Renshaw: And what we want, yeah, really powerful. So, I’d love to see us be able to move more into that. But it takes some time. And for people who know somebody and love somebody going through this experience, there can be a real anger phase that people go through. People can feel that the church wasn’t honest about things, and that maybe they served a mission and testified of things that they now found are a little different than what they knew. And so, sometimes, people need to just work through the wrestle of that. And any way that we can just validate, if all you can do is say, “This sounds really hard, and this looks like it’s really painful for you.” And validate that person, a lot of times, they’ll kind of settle into a more comfortable place.
And that’s kind of the way I experienced it. For a while, I was just a little bit shell shocked. I wasn’t really angry but I just was so unsure about everything that I thought I had been sure about. And it just took me some time before I could say, “I can live with this. I don’t really have to know some of these things. I don’t have to say that I know.” I think it’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but this is what interests me about that”
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Jeralee Renshaw: And then, the other really big piece of the pie there is, your local leadership is such an important factor in how well you can stay engaged-
Aubrey Chaves: Right, yeah.
Jeralee Renshaw: And I’ve really experienced it both ways. Several years ago, we were in a ward where it was very, very difficult, very difficult. And I just felt like… I didn’t say anything in church, I never would want to derail a teacher or disagree or whatever. But I had talked to a few people in the ward who… This was after the essays came out. And I had talked about the essays that are on the church website, put out by the church. And then, I started to get some feedback from different people in the ward that they understood I was reading some anti-Mormon material, which couldn’t have been further from the truth, right? But I felt like, okay, I know that’s not right. And so, I’m not going to go out and argue my position, right? But it put me in this tough position-
Aubrey Chaves: You feel that-
Jeralee Renshaw: … where I felt like I was really being judged, because I was learning and looking into things from what I saw is a very safe source, right? But there’s a lot of fear in that for a lot of people. And so, sometimes we have leaders that kind of lead with fear and that’s what I determined in this situation, is there were so much fear of losing people, or people not having that strong, I-know testimony that, they didn’t know what to do with this.
And I would never put somebody in a position where I would say, “You got to read this, and you got to read this.” Never, because I really believe in people having their own journey at their own time. I didn’t go looking for it, nobody forced it to me. I decided I needed to understand some of the things that had been difficult and caused dissonance for my own child. So, right now, I have a really awesome ward leadership. So, we made a move in the same steak, it’s Utah, and I was greeted by a new bishop who I’m sure had communicated with the last bishop who was really worried about me-
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Jeralee Renshaw: Never talked to me about it, however, I only heard that from other people. And I would have talked to him about it, but anyway. And he just was so welcoming, he just said, “We are so lucky to have you here.” And you know what? When you have felt like your leaders and your local congregation don’t understand you, that is an amazingly incredible thing to hear.
Aubrey Chaves: Yes.
Jeralee Renshaw: And so then, a new bishop that got put in about a year ago, same thing. He just really honors wherever people are at. We have people in our neighborhood that are not members of the church, either never members of the church or have made the decision to leave, and he works really hard at just being friends with them. It doesn’t have anything to do with the church. It’s not about, I would really like to see you come back to church. It’s not about that. They just feel loved and accepted for who they are. And in my little neighborhood, I feel like we have a really unusual situation there where people are just fabulous. And so, that makes it a lot easier to be in my space. When I was extended a calling to be a Relief Society teacher, I was very open with the bishop and had already been open with the Relief Society president, I said, “Are you sure?” I gave him every opportunity to back out. And he just said, “No, we really want you, we really need you.”
And so, not everybody experiences that kind of acceptance. And I’m also very careful to tell people, because this is a fluid journey, because it changes, and because I have heard so many stories about people being judged by fear, to be careful about who you share this very personal journey with, make sure these are people in your circle of trust. And so, I have the privilege of having that in my ward, but I’ve also experienced not having it. And I know how hard that can be. So, I know and love a lot of people who have left the church, even in my own family, and I know and love a lot of people who are in my space and are able to make it work, but there’s a lot of different factors involved in that. It’s complicated.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. So, I mean, the fact that you know and love people on both sides of that, I think it really does put you in a privileged position-
Jeralee Renshaw: It does.
Tim Chaves: … to be a bridge builder, right? And help one side understand the other, and vice versa. But I feel like, to some extent what I heard in your stories was that, when you made some attempts maybe to build those bridges explicitly in your ward and that wasn’t readily accepted, that it was time to just sort of, I don’t know, back off or quiet down and wait it out-
Aubrey Chaves: Find a new circle [crosstalk 00:28:27].
Tim Chaves: Or find a new circle. Yeah, is that the solution? Because, I mean, my personal bias, I’m not one to really speak up in church in the first place, and so I actually really like hearing that, I was like, “Oh, I don’t have any responsibility to say anything.”
Jeralee Renshaw: Right.
Tim Chaves: I would much rather just kind of sit there. But do you think that is the right approach, is it a wait it out? And I actually do very much believe in time as a powerful thing, it can heal many wounds and change a dynamic in a way that we would never have expected. And so, actually, I’m okay with that answer, but I’m curious if that is what you’re saying.
Jeralee Renshaw: Yeah, I think a really great piece of advice for anybody who finds themselves in this kind of, oh my goodness, what’s just happened to me, it’s to go slowly, not rushed to make any big decisions today, tomorrow, a year from now, give yourself time to get comfortable with the questions. Having people that you know… So, in this difficult situation in this ward, I did have a lot of friends who interestingly enough, had been brought to the journey through experiences of their children as well. Our children were not all experiencing the same things, but they were brought to a position of, wow, I’m not so sure about that anymore because of maybe an LGBT child or something like that. And so, I had good friends, so that was the comfort that I had, is that I had good friends. There was a group of us who really supported each other.
But I meet people all the time who don’t know one soul they can talk to about this. And so, there are a lot of support groups online, and some are more positive and constructive than others, if anybody wants to reach out to me, I’d happy to help guide them. But having that safety of a space where you can bring legitimate questions and doubts and struggles to the table to talk about them in a safe place, because how many of us really feel like we can raise our hand in Sunday School? And even if I felt like I could, I don’t want to bring doubts into other people, just like I said, I’m very careful about that, because I really respect that the church tent has all these different people in it. So, did I answer that for you?
Tim Chaves: Yes, thank you.
Aubrey Chaves: I think that’s so great. And I think that when you’re in that really vulnerable position, where it’s all new, and you really do just need to talk and it’s about you, it’s not about contributing to the lesson, it’s just like, I am in so much pain and I need to talk about this, I think an online community seems like a place that… It’s a really good place to start to find… Maybe not even just to talk and to hear what other people are saying, but to find real friends.
Jeralee Renshaw: Right.
Aubrey Chaves: I mean, that’s the gift Facebook, right? You can see that this person is your neighbor-
Jeralee Renshaw: For sure.
Aubrey Chaves: … and go out to lunch and go out to dinner and make a real friend that can be that circle of trust while you heal, so that then, you can go back into your community. It makes me think of… I love Brene Brown’s quote from the Gifts of Imperfection, that your level of belonging can never exceed your level of self acceptance, or something like that. And I think when you’re in that period of just like, you just feel so uncomfortable, and it’s so new and you aren’t really settled yet, it helps to just have people that can let it be about you, or you can just bounce ideas off each other and really confide in each other and talk, so that when you go back to your community, you feel like you belong to yourself and you’re not sensing that everyone’s judging you because you feel so uncomfortable in your own skin at that point.
Jeralee Renshaw: It really helps us to be comfortable, where we’re at. Two things, that you’re not crazy, other people are experiencing this-
Aubrey Chaves: Yes.
Jeralee Renshaw: And that you’re not alone. You’re not the only person on the planet who has experienced this. And when we know that we’re not alone, that there’s other people, it just makes a [inaudible 00:32:06] difference. It just opens up a whole bunch of validation. So, there’s a scripture that I want to talk about for a second-
Aubrey Chaves: Sure.
Jeralee Renshaw: And it’s Isaiah 52:2, and I think of this as being about Big Tent Mormonism. So, it says in verse two, “Enlarge the place of thy tent and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations, spare not, lengthen thy chords and strengthen thy stakes.” Isn’t that awesome?
Aubrey Chaves: Yes, I’ve never about [crosstalk 00:32:36].
Jeralee Renshaw: It’s so perfect. When they stretch forth their curtain, it was moving them from a vertical to a horizontal position, allowing for a much greater area of shelter and refuge beneath the tent. And I especially love spare not, spare not. Yeah, it’s beautiful.
Tim Chaves: That’s awesome.
Jeralee Renshaw: The tent should be stretched and lengthened without holding back, changing to a horizontal focus also expands the view of everyone in the tent. So, I often am in church and here something that is problematic to me. And in those moments, if it’s really bothering me, a lot of times I can just let it go. We’re different people, we’ve had different experiences, I don’t agree, but that’s important to them. But it also helps me to remember that not so long ago, I could have said or done the same thing. That I have experienced this shift that’s changed me and I don’t know, none of us know, what might happen in the life of that person.
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Jeralee Renshaw: … that might bring some kind of new way of thinking or believing into their lives, and that helps me to be able to give grace and kind of a lot of slack and just reminding that I haven’t always been where I am now. And we just have to honor the journeys of everybody.
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Tim Chaves: I’m really curious about that place that you find yourself in now. I mean, obviously, for people that go through what we call a faith crisis, that’s very uncomfortable, but like you said, at the end of the road, at least for you, it seems like there’s been a resolution to that, in the sense that you do feel at peace even though it’s not a peace with certainty, but it’s a peace with uncertainty. But at the same time, that’s brought you to a position relative to the organization that’s different than you’ve ever been in, it’s that edge of inside position.
I kind of want to just figure out if that really can be a sustainable place because, I have a personal experience where I posted something online, a blog post, about a year ago, where I really tried to walk a line and build a bridge and say like, I understand this side, I understand this side, and within… I want to say maybe I’m dramatizing this a little bit, but within minutes of each other, I received infuriated messages from both sides. And that’s really hard. It’s like, what’s the benefit of trying to build a bridge if nobody seems interested in that type of perspective? And I look at Mitt Romney and the obvious discover that he’s in, again, to go back to that analogy, and I’m like, “Well, I can’t imagine he’s going to want to run for another term.” That’s such an-
Jeralee Renshaw: [crosstalk 00:35:16] position of criticism big time.
Tim Chaves: Exactly.
Jeralee Renshaw: He’s a flip flopper.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, exactly. And so, can you… Yes, you’ve got the inner peace, you are comfortable with who you are and what you believe. But relative to everything that’s going on around you, is it really sustainable to stay on that edge of inside and be that gatekeeper for the duration of your life? Or, do you need to eventually find a more of a resting place that maybe drifts more back toward the middle or drifts to the outside?
Jeralee Renshaw: That’s a really good important question. So, just so that I understand, when you say you’ve got these two messages fast from the inside and from the outside-
Tim Chaves: That’s exactly right.
Jeralee Renshaw: And so, that’s the difficult position that we find ourselves in at the edge of inside, is that we are criticized by people that are all in, orthodox believers, however you want to put it, haven’t experienced what we’ve experienced. And people who feel like they know all of this, and how could you possibly stay? How could you stay? That’s not showing integrity, right? And so, we do get it from both sides. And in that sense, being in the middle is a good description, because we are trying to balance this, and I’m sorry that happened to you.
Tim Chaves: Oh, thanks.
Jeralee Renshaw: But I think it’s one of those things that we have to just recognize will happen. And the more we can tell and express to people that we honor your experience, I have very close friends who have completely left the church and have some hurt at least, feelings about what their experience was in the church, but they know that I love them, and that I’m having my own little experience in my ward, in my neighborhood, and really, none of us know what five years from now might bring in our lives. And I wouldn’t have guessed 10 years ago that I would be here talking about this with you today. And so, it’s that being open with our hearts and minds to what comes next. And so, my answer to your question is, some people can. And I really think that there are lots of factors that play into that. And leadership is one, if people feel validated, wanted, welcomed, that’s at such the heart of what we need as humans, to just feel accepted, to not feel like there’s something wrong with us, or we’re broken, or we’re different.
And Christ was so good at reaching out to those who were marginalized and bringing them into his circles, his followers. He didn’t just pat them on the head as he walked by, he brought them in. And so, for some people, I don’t think they can stay, or they find themselves in a position where they can’t stay. And then, I know other people who have been in this space of not knowing for their whole life and they’ve just kind of found this comfortable place where they can go to church and participate in ways that they can. So, I wish I had a one answer for you. But I think that’s important that all of us honor what individual decisions are because I think for some people, it’s just not possible.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, I think you’re right. I love that you brought up Christ and sort of the way that he gathered people and validated them, and I’m curious if you see Christ Himself as being sort of a figure that was on the edge of inside. I think there’s an argument to be made possibly, and I’ll let you-
Jeralee Renshaw: I do.
Tim Chaves: …maybe make it that he was. I’m reminded too, of a podcast that I listened to, Another Name for Everything with Richard Rohr, where he talked about how Christ found himself… When he was being crucified, he was at, what he called, the intersection of opposites. The cross itself has the horizontal beam and the vertical beam which are opposites, and he was sort of on the brink of heaven and earth as he was headed toward death. And Richard Rohr’s point was, when you are at that intersection of opposites there’s suffering there, and in Christ’s case, there was even crucifixion. But I’m curious what you see, or if you do see that in Christ, that edge of insideness.
Jeralee Renshaw: I absolutely do. And he didn’t spend his time with the spiritual leaders of his area and the most knowledgeable and the most learned. I absolutely think he was a great example of that. And he was constantly bringing people in and drawing circles, constantly.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, I think so. And I was thinking when you were talking before that, I remember Richard Rohr talking about how the edge is this liminal space, he says, by definition it’s a thin space, it’s the edge. But I wonder if it’s getting wider. I feel like this is becoming a position that so many people resonate with, I wonder if that makes it more sustainable, just accepting that it is a position, it’s a place to be. And maybe, as that becomes just more common, it will be easier to feel like you can belong on the edge, and that you’re not on the edge because you got pushed out, you’re on the edge because this is where you choose to be, and in a way, it’s following this example of our leaders and of Christ as the ultimate example, that he chose to be on the fringes with people who were suffering and who really did not feel like they belonged.
Jeralee Renshaw: That’s such a good point. And I think we live in a time… I taught Relief Society lesson a couple months ago and near the beginning of the lesson, I asked the question, how many of you know and love somebody who’s left the church? And every hand went up in that room. Or who has had some kind of a shift and just feels differently, right? So, everyone’s affected by it. And we are getting more information because of the internet, because of the essays, and more and more people are being aware of those they love who have some kind of a shift and believe differently than they did. So, I think it will get better and easier. And I think it’s better today than it was eight years ago when our child first was going through it, there’s a lot of support out there.
And so, I do think it’s possible, but I would never criticize somebody for their choice, that’s where I would be so careful, for their choice to step away. And maybe for a while, I mean, I’ve known people who have stepped away, taken a sabbatical, and then they come back, they kind of got through the emotion and the anger. But back to Christ, I wanted to share this one thought, think of how he healed and befriended people from all different walks of life, the sick lepers who were looked down upon, the blind and afflicted, the tax collectors who were unpopular and detested, the sinners who were shunned, the widows and the women who were so limited by society at that time, and he welcomed them into his circle of disciples.
Again and again, he widened the circle and broaden the tent of who is considered acceptable. As humans, we are tribal creatures, but when I think, what would Jesus do? I feel compelled to go against these instincts and reach out in love to others.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Jeralee Renshaw: So, I think-
Aubrey Chaves: That’s beautiful.
Jeralee Renshaw: … that’s really the ultimate example, right?
Tim Chaves: I love that. In the Richard Rohr essay, he says that Jesus Christ refers to himself as the gate, and the gatekeeper or the gate goes both ways-
Jeralee Renshaw: Goes both ways.
Tim Chaves: Right? And he says that we always notice the in but never the out. And he says, Richard Rohr, this is a quote, “There’s a place and time for being outside, or you never really understand and appreciate the inside.” And I think even the Book of Mormon Lehi teaches that, right? That we have to understand both sides in order to appreciate one or the other, so I think that’s really true.
Aubrey Chaves: It is, that’s great.
Jeralee Renshaw: Yeah, I love that.
Aubrey Chaves: I think this is a really good place to wrap up but can I add just one more thing from David Brooks’ article that maybe we can end with? He says, “Now more than ever, we need people who have the courage to live on the edge of inside, who love their parties and organizations so much that they can critique them as a brother, operate on them from the inside as a friend, and [inaudible 00:43:19] insist that they live up to their truest selves.” And I love that framework that, that’s the point of living at the edge. That’s the point of… It takes courage and you’ll feel criticism, but if the point is that you’re insisting on this organization living up to its true self, then that’s something that you can feel peaceful about, and feel like you still belong.
Jeralee Renshaw: Yeah, beautiful.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you so much, Jeralee-
Jeralee Renshaw: Beautiful.
Aubrey Chaves: That was so great.
Tim Chaves: Thank you Jeralee-
Aubrey Chaves: That was really helpful-
Tim Chaves: Thanks for being here-
Jeralee Renshaw: Thanks for inviting me-
Aubrey Chaves: Thanks for all of your work-
Jeralee Renshaw: We could go on for hours [crosstalk 00:43:54].
Aubrey Chaves: Yes, oh my gosh-
Jeralee Renshaw: [crosstalk 00:43:55] so much to talk about here. But I really appreciate the good work that both of you are doing, your willingness to put your time into this-
Aubrey Chaves: Oh, thank you.
Tim Chaves: Oh, thank you.
Jeralee Renshaw: And that faith matters, foundation too, because these tools are so helpful in so many people’s lives, especially those who really don’t have anybody to talk to-
Aubrey Chaves: Right.
Jeralee Renshaw: It’s really a great resource for reaching out to so many people who need it. So, thank you both.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you, I hope so.
Tim Chaves: Thank you, Jeralee.
Jeralee Renshaw: Thank you.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you.