Start Your Engines!
Every great road trip has a destination, whether known or unknown. For us, the destination is Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration. But how we get there, and what we learn along the way, is different for everyone. In this episode, host Heidi Swinton and her friends share what caused them to "start their engines," so to speak, to begin to learn more about the Prophet Joseph Smith.
“I am going like lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.”
—Doctrine and Covenants 135:4
Michael Wilcox’s book KaRyn referenced: When Your Prayers Seem Unanswered
Heidi Swinton 0:03
What if I told you that getting to know Joseph Smith–really getting to know Joseph Smith–could change your life? That it could bring a spiritual strength to everything that you do? That it could open your heart to the Savior and His work, and help you define your work? Because all of us have a work to do in the Restoration.
So, knowing that, would you believe me? You might not, because you don't know me very well. But that's going to change. And if you stick around, you're going to get to know me, and better yet, you might even get to know Joseph. So this is an invitation for you to join me and my friends, as we share what we've learned about Joseph, the prophet of the Restoration, and how his life can change our lives for good.
Intro Jingle 0:56
(Different guests' voices) The Prophet Joseph. Stand by my servant Joseph. Brother Joseph, Joseph Smith. Joseph. Joseph Smith. Brother Joseph. Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith. The Prophet Joseph Smith. Brother Joseph.
Heidi Swinton 1:13
Welcome to “Joseph,” a Deseret Bookshelf Plus original brought to you by LDS Living, and I'm Heidi Swinton, your host. I'm going to be honest, this role as a “podcast person of the hour" is uncomfortable for me. I'm supposed to give you all the reasons why I'm the right person for this podcast on Joseph, so that you'll stay with us.
I'm used to sitting all alone in front of a screen and writing words, words, words, words, words. So, I'm not here because of my podcast skills. You know, I have this wonderful team that keeps reminding me that I know Joseph Smith, and I do. And I have experience with him. Though explaining it sounds like I'm reading you my obituary: “She did this, then she did this, and then she did this.”
And if I've learned one thing as a writer, it's that you always learn more than you can put down on paper. And so this is my chance to share some of that with all of you. Now, this isn't a podcast of dates and facts and figures, you do not have to take notes. But before I tell you what it is, I have to tell you a story.
Some years ago, I was in Fayette, New York, which is just a little mark on the map in Upstate New York. And I was visiting the Whitmer farmhouse, I'd never been there before. This is a recreation of the home that the Whitmer family lived in. And they invited into their home Joseph and Emma and Oliver, this is where Joseph finished translating the Book of Mormon.
Now I was standing outside in a line with people–I didn't know anybody. I was there on a trip with Deseret Book. And one group at a time, about 20 people, they took us into the little house. And we stood in that large room. Large isn't really a fair description, it's a small room. And there's a big fireplace at one side and there's a big pot hanging over the fireplace. And this is where they would have cooked a lot of their dinner. Over in the corner, they had a butter churn and the Sister Missionary who is telling us what had happened, giving us the lowdown, pointed to the stairs at the back of the room and said "You go up those stairs,"--of course they were closed, we couldn't go up them, but--"you go up those stairs, and that's where Joseph Smith finished translating the Book of Mormon."
Well, just even the thought of that, you know, you're standing on that ground was pretty remarkable to me. And after she finished giving us just kind of the history of the location, she paused and then she bore her testimony. And she said, "The Church was established here in this humble little home, and there were six people that signed their names to make it official. And then there were about another 50 people who had gathered, most of them outside, to be part of that great event."
And then she opened the back door and ushered us back out onto the lawn behind the house. And everybody kind of grouped together with their friends–well, I didn't have any friends–so I went by myself over to the fence line and leaned up against the fence and I can still remember there was corn growing as tall as I was. And it was kind of leaning over the fence and you just felt like . . . here I am in this farmyard and I'm looking around and kind of taking in all of the sites and thinking about my family at home and thinking this and that, when suddenly, into my mind came words, as if the Spirit were talking to me.
And these were the words: "Heidi"–calling me by name–"the Church was established here just like she said, and Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God and you need to know that."
Well, I remember looking around and thinking to myself, did anybody else hear that? And I thought, "Well, I know that, everybody knows that. I've known that since I was a little girl and I would sit in fast and testimony meeting, and everybody'd get up and say, "Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.’"
But you know what? I was too casual. Because immediately as I sort of was dismissing that thought, the thought came again, and this time with almost more intensity. "Heidi," like, "Listen up, Heidi,” “The Church was established here, just like she said," referring to the sister missionary. "And Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. And someday, you will need to know that."
Well, I just thought, "Someday? What does someday mean? Why would I need to know that?" For the next several years of my life, every time I got a church calling, I'd think, "I wonder if this is someday, that I'm going to need to know that.” And the years went by and the years went by.
And then I had the opportunity to write a documentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith. And that was "someday." Because I was not a Joseph Smith expert, I'm a writer. But I had to become an expert. I had to teach myself everything that I could about Joseph Smith. I had to read and read. But I didn't learn about Joseph from books or scholars or study. I learned about Joseph from the Spirit. I reached back to that time at the Fayette fence, it was "someday" for me. And time and time again, I had to rely on that statement. It reminded me of what you read in Jacob where he said, "I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word... wherefore, I could not be shaken." (Jacob 7:5)
So, if you're casual about Joseph's place in what you believe, this series is for you. If you're concerned or conflicted what to do with him, we hope to give you some new perspectives, some things to think about. If you're looking for some answers to questions that may come up from what you hear, or maybe give you some new direction, we hope you'll listen up. And if you're convinced Joseph was and is a prophet, stay with us, because we hope we're going to add to that witness.
Learning about Joseph can take years, I'm serious. But we're going to attempt to open some conversations in these next seven episodes. And then you can mull over thoughts in the next weeks and months ahead of what you've heard. These are not going to be academic discussions or history lessons, of where Joseph did what, and with whom and why. There are lots of other resources that can help you with that. But we know that the real work of testimony happens in those quiet moments along the fence when we wander, when our hearts are open and we're ready to hear. For Joseph, it happened in a grove of trees. For you, it might happen in your kitchen, or when you're out walking the dog. We're just glad to have you with us.
I've invited some amazing friends. Let me tell you, I've called in all my chips to get them to do this. And they're going to join with us and walk through the field to our own Fayette fences. The first person we've got to go to is my friend, Steve Harper. Now, he has all the credentials. He's got the PhD, he's a history professor at BYU. He's an author of all kinds of books and just between you and me, he kind of looks like a golf pro. But that's not why he's here. He's here because he loves Joseph Smith. Okay, we're going to start with this Mr. Dr. Steve Harper.
[Taper Recorder Click]
Steve Harper 9:26
(Laughing) Oh, boy. I hope the expectations have not been set too high.
Heidi Swinton 9:31
No, you're safe with us. This is casual.
Steve Harper 9:34
Great, sounds good.
Heidi Swinton 9:36
Do your students call you Doctor Harper?
Steve Harper 9:39
No, they call me Brother Harper. I, I have a brother, a younger brother who's the smartest person I know, and he actually is a doctor. He treats kids with cancer. And he told me that I couldn't let anybody call me “Doctor,” unless I could actually take out someone's appendix. So I've never been able to meet that threshold. So I just go by Brother Harper in class.
Heidi Swinton 10:06
So it's okay, if we call you, Steve Harper?
Steve Harper 10:09
You bet, that'd be great.
Heidi Swinton 10:10
Let me just preface this with saying–there are so many wonderful podcasts out there, many of which you've done, that are about Joseph Smith, and our understanding of the historical significance, and his place in the history of the Restoration, and all of the events that occurred in his life.
What we're trying to do with this podcast is take a little bit of a different direction. What we want to do is talk about the feelings that we have for the Prophet Joseph Smith. What we're so anxious to do is just open up people's minds to the Spirit teaching them about the Prophet Joseph. And you've had that experience yourself, as you've done years and years of work.
So, you've written about him, you've thought about him, you've studied him, you've traveled to his locations of where significant things happened. What is it about Joseph Smith? What's the journey been like for you to come to know Joseph Smith?
Steve Harper 11:15
Oh, that's a great question, Heidi. I would say that as a kid I thought of him as sort of a heroic figure, kind of the ultimate big brother. He was sort of everything you could imagine. Playful, and strong, and fun, and interesting, and spiritual, and... of course, that's a childhood understanding, right? That's a very uninformed, idealistic, understanding.
And the more I've studied Joseph Smith, the much more complex he becomes. He's not my ideal of him. He's much richer, deeper, more complicated. And for many people that comes with a sense of loss, and even a sense of disorientation, sometimes because our, our ideals, what we imagined, turns out not to be exactly what is real. And I had a little of that, I think.
I think it's normal to have that–everybody, I think, experienced some necessary losses as one, as one author put it. But for me, overwhelmingly, my coming to know Joseph better has enriched my sense for the magnitude of his work, his ministry.
Joseph Smith tells us that he regarded himself as an obscure boy. Josiah Quincy, who later interviewed him and then wrote about him, said "He had the homeliest of all human names," right? He's the, he's the ultimate John Doe, a farmer on the New York frontier. And yet, that kid could ask of God, because he lacked wisdom, and be answered and not upbraided. Right, an anxious teenager, worried about his sins, cracked open the heavens and Almighty God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, condescended to relieve his guilt, forgive his sins, put his heart and mind at ease, reassure him that They would continue to reveal Themselves to him.
So, that's true for a kid from a farming family on the New York frontier before the gospel was ever restored, that's true for everybody else then. It's true for everybody in the whole world. So, if the gospel of Jesus Christ that Joseph reveals teaches us anything, it's that you don't have to be a PhD in history, to get a lot of meaning and power from the Savior, from the Lord. He will reveal Himself to teenagers, to "no-names," to obscure boys and girls, to anybody anywhere.
[Taper Recorder Click]
Heidi Swinton 14:27
Wasn't that great? And I love Steve's description. Every time he received revelation, he was cracking open the heavens. Have you thought about that for yourself? That when you receive that inspiration, when you ask for an answer to prayer, that you're cracking open the heavens.
You know, sometimes when things are uncertain in my life, and I've been on my knees and, and I've been struggling, I'll sing that primary verse to myself: "Heavenly Father, are you really there?" And you know, He doesn't change things. But I think I'm changed, because I sense peace and calm around me. And I know that's an answer, that yeah, I'm really here. I'm right here. That's how we crack the heavens open.
And did you catch what he said about it being really normal and part of the journey to be a little bit disoriented? To grow from the idealized Joseph, to the full-fledged understanding of Joseph.
We're going to come back to Steve, and this idea of complexity later in another episode. But for now, we can take to heart that Joseph's life reminds us that everyone can receive revelation, and we can all crack open the heavens.
Now, not everyone is an expert on Joseph like Steve, but everyone can have that witness. I want to introduce you to Kelsey, who was a missionary that served with me and my husband, when we were directing the visitor center in Hawaii. Back then she was Sister Elden. And she had been a member only one year and there she was out on a mission. And believe me, she was a dynamo. I sat down with Kelsey. And we just talked about her conversion and how it came about, and I want you to hear how she feels about Joseph Smith. And how it's changed her life.
[Tape Recorder Click]
Kelsey Johanson 16:26
You know, I think about my first few experiences going to Church and hearing people bear their testimony of angels and of, you know, Joseph Smith's experience and kind of thinking, "all right, good for you guys." It sounded–maybe this is a juvenile word to describe it–it sounded a little silly to me almost.
That, you know, I had grown up in two other churches and we didn't talk about that. And so it was certainly new. I wasn't a skeptic, I would say, I, I felt like–yeah, you know, if I'm learning about this, I need to be willing to really learn. And I don't know that I ever necessarily doubted it either. But it's one of those things where, until you feel it, until you feel that confirmation of it and you say, "yeah, I know that he saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ," it's hard to comprehend the feeling. And, and kind of the, I don't know, the desire it puts in you to act on it and to do something.
Heidi Swinton 17:23
How does a high school student come to investigate the Church? And what part did Joseph Smith have in helping you to gain a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is that a big, long explanation of what we're looking for?
Kelsey Johanson 17:44
No, I, I think that's an awesome question. And, you know, I grew up in Colorado, and so there were probably 15 or 20 members of the Church in my high school, and I just happened to be in a class with all of them. And so I kind of accidentally surrounded myself with members of the Church and formed really good relationships with them.
And, and just before graduating high school, a friend who's actually not a member of the Church asked me to read the Book of Mormon with him. And, and that was it for me. I read the Book of Mormon, I read it sincerely and prayed about it. And I can't maybe pinpoint one moment where I just said, like, "yeah, you know, this is it. And Joseph Smith is a prophet of God." But I look back on, on the experience of reading the Book of Mormon and the feelings that I had, and think now about the prophet and say, "yeah, there's no way-" you know, "-he wasn't and isn't a prophet of God."
Heidi Swinton 18:44
Well, yeah, and I think it's interesting that you pin it on the Book of Mormon, because, certainly, if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith has to have been a prophet of God. How does having a testimony of Joseph–and I know it's deep down inside of you because we can just tell by what you're saying–how does knowing about Joseph Smith draw you closer to Jesus Christ? Because that's really what it's all about.
Kelsey Johanson 19:11
Yeah. Well, um, you know better than anyone that I joined the Church, went on my mission, and maybe had some feelings of inadequacy in terms of–man, you know, I don't know anything!
I know hardly anything about the Church. And "Don't ask me a question about the Book of Mormon" kind of thing was, was my attitude and, and Joseph Smith, I think I can relate to him in that sense. He wasn't perfect, he wasn't a scholar. On paper you're like, why did Heavenly Father call this, this young boy, right? He was unlikely, an unlikely candidate, but him being called as the prophet and doing the work that he did helps me... I feel like it helps me understand better the character of Heavenly Father and of Jesus Christ and that, and they see our potential. And they see, you know, who and what we can become. It makes me want to learn more about the Savior and see kind of what They can do in my life.
Heidi Swinton 20:10
Has your faith ever wavered? In these years since you've . . . I mean, you talk about how you felt inadequate–and you weren't, you were never inadequate, you were just a superstar–but have things come across your plate that you kind of go, "nah, I'm not sure about that"?
Kelsey Johanson 20:27
I think back to what you taught on my mission, and seriously the phrase, "Stand by my servant Joseph," right? Heard it first out of your mouth, and, and I think of it often. I always say–and I've said it a million times in the last five years that I've been a member of the Church–that my best day without the gospel is nothing compared to my worst day with it.
I was happy before I joined the Church, I felt good. And, and life hasn't been easy since joining the Church, but I would take my hardest day that I've had over my happiest day, five years ago. And that's because you're not ever alone. You're not ever by yourself.
You're always in the company of Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost if you allow yourself to be. And so . . . I mean, without, you know, making it sound like a sacrament talk too much, like I look at my life, and every aspect, every single piece of my life today is different because of my knowledge of the Restoration. And I just wonder, you know, if Joseph Smith didn't kneel down and pray and ask, if that would be the case for any of us. And so I'm very grateful.
Heidi Swinton 21:40
Is there one experience in his life that you look at and say, "That one for me, speaks volumes. That one is the experience in Joseph's life that, that I just want to say 'well done' when I see him"?
Kelsey Johanson 21:57
It's hard to, it's hard to pick one. But the phrase–and I can't even remember, I'm sure you know it–the phrase came to mind when he's talking to Emma before he goes off to Carthage. And he says, you know, "I'm going," what does he say, "I'm going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I'm calm," as like, summer-
Heidi Swinton 22:15
A summer's morning.
Kelsey Johanson 22:16
A summer's morning! And I think about my life day to day, and thinking about–am I living in such a way that I am confident that no matter the day, no matter the time, I'm feeling calm, I'm feeling good about where I stand with God, because I've lived a life that resembles the Savior? You know, in terms of how I'm living and how I'm acting and what I'm feeling and what I'm thinking. And I think that that phrase of Joseph just exemplifies his whole life, right? So we could pick a million moments to admire and look back on, but man, at the end of his life, after all that he did, he's saying, "I feel no bad feelings towards anyone, and especially in my relationship to God."
Heidi Swinton 23:02
Yes, none of that shaking his fists at the sky saying, "how could you let this happen to me?"
Kelsey Johanson 23:07
Heidi Swinton 23:08
Kelsey Johanson 23:09
[Tape Recorder Click]
Heidi Swinton 23:12
Don't you just adore her? She's always just captured the spirit of the gospel and just put herself right in the center of it and I love that. And I love how she used the word "calm" to describe Joseph. I don't think his life was ever calm. He was always being pursued, by antagonists and angry mobs and, and even those who had once been his friends turned against him. But for him to be calm was a reminder for her, and maybe for all of us, that we put too much stake in the daily grind of mortality.
When knowing what we know about the big picture can give us peace and calm. I think it's the Lord's words, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:10). Joseph knew that. The question is, do we?
Now, you've heard from people who believe, but what about the folks who don't believe–the people who are around you that aren't members or people who've turned away? I wrote two documentaries about Joseph Smith, and one of the scholars interviewed in American Prophet was a historian by the name of Robert Remini.
He was from the University of Illinois at Chicago. I wish you could see him. He was this patrician-looking man with white hair. Very formal and, and when he says in this clip, "no," just picture that he's shaking his head dramatically back and forth, and the skin under his chin–and there was quite a bit of skin under his chin–is waving back and forth. And it's just a classic image. You should watch the show just to see that part. But for right now, I'm just going to play this little clip so you can hear what he had to say.
Robert Remini 25:00
Do I personally believe? No. I have no evidence for that. And as a historian, I must base my conclusion on that. However, you can say, "Look what he did! Is one human being capable of doing this? Without divine help and intervention?"
Heidi Swinton 25:23
Robert Remini had it just right. Look at what Joseph did. We all know the list, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, he received revelations, presided over the Church, taught doctrine, performed miracles, built temples, established communities, sent out missionaries, and called people together. I don't think his life ever had a pause button, except those years between the vision and the grove, and Moroni's appearance at his bedside.
But even if we know all these things about Joseph, we still might have questions. There are always going to be questions. You might be thinking, "Well, it works for Steve and Kelsey and Heidi, but I'm not there yet. And if I spend too much time digging into Joseph's life, I'm not sure I'm going to like what I find."
And then someone tells you to just put your concerns on the shelf, and you feel like your questions are being dismissed. Or even worse, you're being dismissed. This isn't just a thing that happens today. In Joseph's time, there were a lot of faithful people who loved Joseph. They put their lives on the line to follow him and they even called him brother Joseph. And he was teaching doctrines revealed to him that were hard for them to hear, to understand and to accept.
Different Guests' Voices 26:46
And by far, the, the biggest one for me, and an enduring one, is plural marriage. Polygamy. Polygamy. Polygamy and–plural marriage. Plural marriage.
Heidi Swinton 26:51
Just hang on, we're going to get to polygamy. But first, we've got to talk to someone who's had feelings and concerns about Joseph. When I was first talking about this podcast with our producer, KaRyn Lay, she mentioned her reservations about Joseph. And I said to her, "That's it, that's what we need! You're coming on the podcast!"
[Tape Recorder Click]
Heidi Swinton 26:58
What gets between you and Joseph? What bugs you about him?
KaRyn Lay 27:24
Oh my gosh! (laughing) That's how we're gonna start this? I'm so, I'm here for this, this is great. (laughs)
Well, so first of all, I have to say I don't think anything bugs me about Joseph. But, I mean, I think I'm kind of excited that I'm the producer of this because I feel like this process of figuring out how to–where to put Joseph in my life has been a struggle for me.
Heidi Swinton 27:51
What did that struggle look like?
KaRyn Lay 27:54
So, I grew up in Pennsylvania, we were right on the Susquehanna. Like, those stories, the places felt real to me, but I didn't have any pioneer ancestors. Like, Church history never felt connected to me, so Joseph didn't... Joseph in his whole, you know, whatever, didn't feel connected to me. I didn't feel connected to that.
So, I kind of avoided Church history. And I didn't feel like it mattered in my faith journey. I didn't think it mattered in my spirituality, to have a connection to the pioneers, or to Joseph, or to Emma, or to any of these people.
And then I went to college, and I was at a university in Philadelphia, in West Philadelphia. And I went to institute and I did Church, and I was really, like, part of my ward. And I love, loved the gospel, I love Jesus Christ. But I had a couple of experiences while I was at school with really smart people who were talking about the Church history. And I kind of got scared.
Like, my faith, and my testimony were so fledgling, but I felt they were strong, right? But I was like, "Oh no, if I learn any more about Joseph Smith, and about some of these historical things, I'm going to lose what faith I have. I'm not going to be able to sustain this because I'll know too much, and then everything that I've grown up feeling and believing is going to be a lie."
But at the same time that I'm feeling all of that, Heidi, I'm also reading the Book of Mormon, and it's changing my life. And I'm finding myself in every single page of those scriptures, right? Like, I'm at this formative age where I'm reading the Book of Mormon for the first time and I'm feeling things and I'm learning things and I'm having revelation. So, it was an active seeking from the scriptures at the same time that I was actively avoiding learning about Joseph Smith and about the, the history of the Church.
Heidi Swinton 29:58
See, I didn't have that experience in college. I was just blithely going along with it. So I'm intrigued by how you got yourself through that. Because you went on a mission . . .
KaRyn Lay 30:12
Yeah, I did. So . . . and that's what's so interesting. So, you know, I would listen to some scholars talk about Joseph–now again, I didn't go to BYU, I didn't go to a church-sponsored school, so, they sometimes at institute or other things, they would have scholars come and talk to us that were doing research on Church history, but not from the perspective of a faithful person. Right?
And so they would say things and, and I'd say, "Oh, that sounds really good," and then they'd get to the end of it, and they'd drop a bomb. And all of a sudden, I feel shaken. And I didn't like that feeling of being shaken. So, my, the whole way I dealt with it was to just ignore it, to truly ignore truth-seeking from a historical perspective.
So, I did go on a mission after college. I went to West Virginia and I did the whole, you know, teaching people about, teaching people about the First Vision. And you know, and I loved the interpretive part where you say, "and a pillar of light." You know, what, what is the scripture? What's the scripture?... Oh my gosh, why can't I remember this? I was really good at it, Heidi, I'm such a drama queen that I was like, "and two personages..."
Heidi Swinton 31:22
Whose brightness and glory defy all description...
KaRyn Lay 31:26
Defy all description...
Heidi Swinton 31:27
Standing above me in the air.
KaRyn Lay 31:29
Anyway, I had it memorized, I loved teaching people about it, I could feel the spirit when I spoke those words. And I could feel it, like I had a testimony that that was true. And I had a testimony of Jesus Christ, and I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon. But I didn't have a testimony of Joseph's prophetic experience post that First Vision. I saw the fruits of everything that he did, but I was like, I still don't know if he's, if he was just a power-grabbing charlatan, or if he was truly a prophet of God. And the answer didn't come until I was in my 30s.
Heidi Swinton 32:10
Was there something that happened?
KaRyn Lay 32:11
Yeah, so I went to graduate school at BYU when I was 32 years old. And I needed to take some electives, and there was an elective that was Church history. And it was, I had never taken a religion class, like, at BYU, so I thought, "Well, if I'm going to do the BYU experience, then I might as well, like, you know, get the full BYU experience at 32."
So I signed up for a Church history class. And it was sort of my way of saying, "Okay Heavenly Father, there's a lot of reasons I could leave. There's a lot of reasons I could say that this gospel and this Church aren't for me. And I'm going to take one of those things head on right now. We're just going to do it."
And maybe, maybe you'll think I was super brave, but I didn't feel brave at the time. I just felt like I was fighting for my testimony. You know? Like, taking that class was me saying to Heavenly Father, "I'm going to fight for this." I don't know how else to describe it.
Heidi Swinton 33:12
Well, and the things you fight for, when you come out the other end. You own it.
KaRyn Lay 33:18
Yeah, yeah exactly. I was like, I want to own this. I want to own this part of my testimony.
Heidi Swinton 33:23
Yes. I understand that. Because I can remember when I had to fight for my testimony, when my eldest child died. And I had to fight to understand the Plan of Salvation and hang on. And I had to fight to get through it. And I did. But it wasn't easy.
KaRyn Lay 33:40
Yeah. But like you said, you come out the other side. And now that is, like, an unshakable truth for you.
Heidi Swinton 33:46
KaRyn Lay 33:48
So, the class was fine. I, you know, I feel like I learned a lot of things I didn't know before, and nothing really shook me. But at the end of the class, the, one of the requirements was that we read a historical book. And I chose a book that's semi-controversial, it was on the list. And I chose a book that I, that I kind of knew was going to challenge me, on purpose. It was very academic.
But it also kind of said that it was, that it was from the perspective of a believer, which I thought, "Okay, well, if that's the case, if somebody can do this historical research and still come out the other end a believer, then I'm going to trust that I can too."
So, I read the book, but the very end, it was all about polygamy. I know in this podcast–because I'm one of the producers–that we're going to get to polygamy later. But it really, the things that I learned shook me. They really did. And I had probably a week of just sick pit in my stomach, of wondering, you know, I'm here at BYU and can I even stay here? Can I even . . . I just didn't know. I didn't know how to reconcile the things I was learning about Joseph with everything else that I already knew?
Heidi Swinton 35:02
How did you see . . . you know, sometimes I think at least one of the ways that I have approached polygamy, when I've written about it, is that you can deal with it as a practice, and that's hard. You can deal with it as a spiritual principle of people being sealed in the eternities, and that's a little bit easier. Did any of that help you?
KaRyn Lay 35:28
So for me, it wasn't the technical aspects of polygamy that freaked me out. My biggest question was, if he was truly a prophet of God, and this was all revealed by God, why was it so messy? Why did it have to be so messy? And it really shook my understanding of "prophet, seer, and revelator," right? Because I just felt like it shouldn't have been that messy. If God gave you a revelation, it should just kind of come out the other end, like, okay, and now we do this, and everybody sees it, and it all comes together.
Heidi Swinton 35:58
And it'll be perfect.
KaRyn Lay 35:59
Yeah, it'll be perfect, or it'll at least make sense. Like, it'll at least make sense in my mind. But really, I was worried that revelation wasn't real. And if you think about that, that's terrifying. If you're part of a faith that relies on revelation, and you've lived your whole life...
Heidi Swinton 36:20
And yet, most, most revelation is messy–
KaRyn Lay 36:24
It is messy. So what I . . . so, I've come to understand it a little bit better now, and I can talk about that in a minute, but what I want to tell you is what happened to me in the bathroom. (laughs) Because that's where–
Heidi Swinton 36:36
This might be too much information...
KaRyn Lay 36:37
I know, I'm so sorry, everybody, but this is what happened. I shared a house with a bunch of people, so I didn't really feel like I had a quiet place to do all my crying and my thinking. And so one day I actually, I remember I went into the bathroom and I was in this quiet spot–because it was just a place where I could kind of hide for a few minutes–and I said a prayer, just on my knees.
And I just said, "Heavenly Father, is this... Is this who Joseph was? And, can I trust that he was a prophet of the Restoration?” Like, “How do I go on if I have these doubts, and if I have this confusion?" And I don't–I, I wish I could tell you that I had some, like, the heavens opened and an angel came down and said, "Joseph is the prophet of the Restoration and it's all going to be okay." But I think what really happened to me that day when I offered my prayer to the Lord, in true humility, with fear in my heart–like, I went to Him with all of my fear, and I laid that fear on the altar. And I just said . . . "Does this mean I can't be a member of this Church anymore?" You know?
Heidi Swinton 37:54
KaRyn Lay 37:54
That's what I said. And, and I stayed there for a little while. And honestly, the answer that I got that day is, "stay the course, I'll help you understand soon." And, and that doesn't feel very reassuring (laughing) when you're in that moment. But at least it was something, right? Like, I felt, I felt that kind of settle into me . . . Yeah.
Heidi Swinton 38:24
You know, I think "stay the course" is a recognition that the Lord knew your heart. You know? He was saying, "stay with me on this."
KaRyn Lay 38:34
Heidi Swinton 38:36
But I think I always wanted the answer to be the answer, like on a test, you know?
KaRyn Lay 38:42
Heidi Swinton 38:43
And just tell me which one of these things it is, I'm more than willing to do it, but just tell me which one.
KaRyn Lay 38:48
Heidi Swinton 38:48
And I don't think He works that way.
KaRyn Lay 38:50
Heidi Swinton 38:50
He's never worked that way in my life. He always is, is saying, "Hang on. Hold on," like He said to Joseph in Liberty Jail, "Hold on . . ." You know, all these terrible things are happening, just hold on. It's messy. It's hard. And there are so many influences that are mortal, that seem to supersede anything that's divine in our lives.
KaRyn Lay 39:17
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's what God was telling me in that bathroom, right? Like, "Stay the course, I'll help you understand this soon, but life needs to carve out a few more spaces in your heart before you can understand."
Michael Wilcox talks about the questions that go unanswered, and how sometimes our hearts need to be carved a little bit more so that there's room for the answer to come. And for me, that was what I needed to not give up on all the beauty that has come into my life because of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ despite my lack of understanding about Joseph's role in it.
And, and I guess the biggest thing that I want people to know, you know, as we're taking this journey towards Joseph, we're taking this personal journey towards Joseph together with all of our friends. And I just feel like there's some people who are going to get to this point of it and say, "Yeah, I've heard all of this before." You know, we've talked about that Heidi. Like, we're like, oh, maybe they'll check out right about now because they'll say, "Oh, this is going to be," you know, "a bunch of apologetics and a bunch of whatever."
But I think this is the perfect . . . I hope what we're making is the perfect space for people to start carving out room for whatever it is that they need to understand in their hearts about Joseph. Our brains are amazing, but our hearts, our hearts are going to do the real work.
[Tape Recorder Click]
Heidi Swinton 40:51
I love KaRyn's concept that our hearts are going to do the heavy lifting, the real work in coming to see Joseph as a prophet and coming to see him as a friend. I wonder, as Joseph translated Alma 5 in the Book of Mormon, if he paused at the description of the Spirit causing a mighty change of heart. That may be what some of us are seeking in our journey to better know–and even to love–Joseph.
And if we felt that mighty change of heart before, can we, as Alma asks at the end of verse 26, can we feel so now? Can you feel it now? I distinctly remember my spiritual witness that Joseph was and is a prophet of God at the fence in Fayette, New York. Do I feel so now? Yes, and so much more. I hope there's a fence line for you out there. And perhaps in these podcasts we'll help you find it, or help you build it. So stay with us on this journey. Because next we're going to talk to people who have strong feelings about Joseph and will open some doors, perhaps, in your heart.
Well, we're through the first of our series, and we couldn't have done it without our amazing friends who helped so much with this episode. Kelsey Johansen, Steve Harper, and KaRyn Lay. KaRyn is also the producer for this podcast, along with my friends, Erika Free, and Katie Lambert. Our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom.
You can find show notes for this podcast, including bios for each of these guests and a little about me. So if you're interested, look us up at ldsliving.com/joseph. Joseph is a Deseret Bookshelf Plus original, written and hosted by me, Heidi Swinton. Mix at 6 Studios did our sound design and our mixing. I can't wait for you to join us next time.