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  1. John,
    This has been for me one of the most profound podcasts I have experienced on Mormon Stories. Kyle touched on so many really deep salient points regarding Church membership and what is really going on under the floor. Thanks to him and his wife who also inspired me with her clarity.

    1. Hi Randal —

      Thank you so much for those kind words. I’m so glad that our story felt like something you could connect with. All our best to you on your continued journey —

      Kind Regards,

      Ryan and Holly

  2. I found the content of these interviews difficult while appreciating Holly and Ryan’s willingness to share their experiences. Listening, I was continually reminded of how closely the Mormon Church parallels the characteristics of psychopathy – and with that, the long lasting spiritual, emotional, and sexual harm to anyone who is, or has been, in a relationship with a psychopath. I was pleased to hear Holly (in Episode 7) talk about claiming herself as her own authority and Ryan describe the healing nature of creativity. His words, in describing Mormonism: “When there are no questions, the song dies,” sums up the religion for me so well. My ancestors, and my parents lived in the made up world of Mormonism and raised my six siblings and I in it. So far, five of us have hatched into reality.

    1. Hi Maggie —

      You and me both! Living the content of these interviews was difficult (Ha!) . . . . and I’m so glad to have found more health and well-being now. The further away I get from BYU-I et al., the more I realize just how damaging it was for me. What’s been hard since the interview is having people contact me, sharing their experiences; more stories of ecclesiastical abuse; more stories of spiritual abuse. More stories of John’s theory about Rexburg holding true . . . . Some small part of me wanted to believe that these experiences are somehow unusual, or anomalies. To your point, they really aren’t, are they?

      Your comment got me thinking . . . . along the lines of the “song dying.” As a believing mormon musician, I always wondered . . . . given that we were the only people on earth with the complete truth, why don’t we have our own music? (What we think of as our music — the hymns, TABCATS — is really the sounds of 19th-century Western Europe mixed with some film scoring.)

      I think John summed it up beautifully in the interview . . . . where there are no questions, no curiosity, there cannot be intimacy. If there is no sense of mystery, if you already have all the answers, then where will the song come from? Without mystery, the song literally dies, not just metaphorically! ( There are so many wonderful LDS musicians in the world . . . . some who are truly world class. I love so many of the hymns, and so many of the songs of my upbringing. I have so many brilliant colleagues and friends who are incredible musicians and are still in the church. But, to be fair, the ones who are remarkable musicians are not “typical” or “orthodox,” and have found their own very authentic ways of stay connected to the faith that allows for an expansive sense of mystery and grows roots in the soil of a love that finds expression in the universal and the particular.)

      But it’s still fascinating to me that no original musical sounds evolved from what I once believed to be the only group/culture on the earth that was still connected to the “source,” to the beginning of all human life (I mean, we are the ONLY people with the same cultural practices as Adam and Eve . . . but when we go to participate in them at the temple, we hear more of Western Europe and Film Scoring 🙂

      Mormon music was, and remains, Western European (mixed in now and then with the sounds of film scoring). In fact, the rules regarding “appropriate” music for worship are literally designed to keep African-American sounds OUT of our worship. (I don’t think the folks that make those rules realize that’s what they’re doing . . . but it is–100%–what they’re doing. The official institutional stance of the church music committee (albeit unconscious . . . I hope . . . ) is that African-American music “has it’s place” . . . just not when it really matters; not when we really need to feel the spirit ;). Have mercy! And, to be clear, I have SO MANY Mormon colleagues who don’t think this way, and who push against those restrictions all of the time.

      The closest we ever get to bringing African-American sounds into our worship is when the TABCATS (i.e. MoTab) sing an African-American spiritual in “Music and the Spoken Word.” . . . in deeply concerning ways . . . with no respect for tradition of the black church . . . . They basically strip it of every African-American innovation when they sing “spirituals” to make it “appropriate” for that setting. No swing. No blues inflections. No groove.

      I’ve had people suggest that the TABCATS, “Just can’t sing it more authentically.” This, itself, is a profoundly concerning argument to make, rooted in centuries-old racist tropes. To which I reply, “You mean to tell me that the TABCATS just aren’t good enough musicians to go deeper into that style? Please. They just aren’t willing to.”

      In a stunning irony, our quintessentially “American” religion rejects the only authentic “American” music (i.e. African-American music). We tolerate it . . . we embrace it in our “cultural celebrations.” But it is supposed to stay over there . . . . It just can’t occupy our sacred spaces. . . . by which we mean our white spaces. (It appears the writers of, “Stranger Things” may have their finger on the pulse of this one. . . . 🙂

      I don’t mean to suggest that this is intentional . . . I certainly hope that it isn’t . . . . But that’s how racism works; not as a feeling of hatred, but as a system that we remain blind to. And again, I have SO MANY Mormon friends and colleagues who see this clearly, and are working for change. They inspire me.

      I do see beautiful movement among my mormon-artist peers right now. With the grip of correlation and orthodoxy giving way, there are creative expressions emerging that are compelling to me. It will be interesting to see how that evolves.

      Anyways . . . . your concept of the song dying being a summary expression of your experience of the religion sent me down this thought-path. Thank you so much for sharing! And thank you so much for listening. I am so, so glad that you are not alone in your faith transition with your siblings.

      Kind Regards,


  3. I so enjoyed listening to Ryan Nielsen speak in his poetic way. That was a musician talking, about the old revelatory dream, the scarred tree, the falling branch and his other inspirations from nature, his deep understanding of “the grip of patriarchy”. I could go on and on. This kind of thinking is where music comes from. He is the first one I’ve heard in these podcasts who looked for the impulse to suicide within the faith. I could listen for hours and hours more. Thank you so much.

  4. It was very interesting to hear more about BYU I and what’s really going on with students and teachers

    Remember the church is a cult based on complete obedience to leaders. That is why JS created the temple oaths. The foundation for everything It is what defines the Mormon religion

    Also I didn’t “give up certainty“. . I loved knowing that I would be with loved ones forever Certainty was torn from me— ripped out of my heart— by learning the truth. I now face that fear. It will not go away or become easier to bear . some of us choose to have our own hope for the next life — knowing it cannot be proven either way

    Thanks John

  5. Hey – this is great and sorry for the trauma. Sorry they wanted you out of BYU I.

    Get out of Utah quickly for your kids sake. Come to WA where you can be free. It is not a healthy space for you to stay there and please know there are other options. I’d love to help if this is an option. We have a economy with lots of good, kind and thoughtful ex Mormons and you can live in a world that doesn’t give a fig about Mormonism. Plus women are not treated as subservient and are seen as having a right to using their brain power (I mean, like duh). Hang in there, you got this mate!

  6. I have a dear friend from high school who is on the music faculty at BYUI, Jon Linford. I was his accompanist in high school and for 1 year at Ricks College. You must be acquainted?

  7. Ryan should look at one of the church’s early “official” definitions of the word “faith”, as explained in the “Lectures on Faith”. It has been misused by the modern church to argue that faith is “a principle of action”…..that somehow by acting, ones faith can be tested and increased. This puts the cart before the horse and misinterprets what is intended to be conveyed by the “Lectures” in this respect. When read accurately and in-context, the Lectures on Faith explain that faith is “THE” principle of action in all intelligent beings (I’m paraphrasing from memory)………I take this to mean that action by intelligent beings is evidence of their faith. When an intelligent being acts, we can be sure the being had faith in the outcome of that action. It cannot be forced, it just happens. Thought this might add to Ryan’s view of the concept of faith.

  8. Ryan, you touch me deeply in the 1st 6-9 min. Thank you! I want to be the bird that sings, too, because of the questions. I will listen to the rest after my piano students this afternoon. So inspirational. Thanks again, Ryan.

  9. The comment about Packer’s different stage, in part 2, as ultimately being “an act of violence” to the self was so profound for me, bringing back memories of my experience as a teen struggling with the testimony that I was supposed to have but could not obtain. Though socially, post-Mission, leaving Mormonism as a young adult was sometimes an ostracizing hell, similar to my school time bullying I experienced, it was liberating in finally being able to let my sceptical, curious thoughts be OK by the person I had become.

    Ryan is a thoughtful man. I’m glad I’ve listened to his experience.

  10. This has been my absolute favorite interview. I loved every minute of it and felt so moved.
    I was one of the fortunate BYU-I students to have Ryan Nielsen as a professor (I took his Intro to Jazz class in the summer of 2007). He was an amazing professor that put so much love and passion into his subject. I hardly remember any of my college courses, but I remember his. There was a particular day that still stands out to me…
    Brother Nielsen had prepared a beautiful lesson on tolerance. It was inspiring, emotional, and moving. But at one point, a young man in the class raised his hand and said something along the lines of “Why are we learning about this? I signed up and paid for this course so I could learn about Jazz.” It was beyond disrespectful and the rest of the class was simply shocked. Brother Nielsen pulled up a picture on his slide show of Black men being treated horribly and in a firm voice said, “Until you understand the injustices done toward these people, you will not understand the heart and soul that shaped Jazz.” It was a powerful moment and one that has stuck with me, even 13 years later. As I listened to this podcast, I simply started crying as I thought about the important lessons he taught me so long ago and now he’s once again enlightening me and teaching me things that I really need right now. This whole process is so hard and so burdensome, but being able to listen to this professor again in his loving and soft voice gives me such hope and encouragement that it will all be ok. Thank you so much Ryan and Holly. You both are inspirational and for at least the moment I feel that everything will be ok. I hope I’m able to confront my own hardships and be as open and vulnerable as the two of you have been. Thank you thank you thank you.

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