Last week we interviewed Dallas Robbins who runs Latterday Slant. This week we interview John Dehlin who runs the other major LDS themed podcast, Mormon Stories. Mormon Stories is primarily an interview show that interviews a wide range of people about Mormonism. He’s had two excellent interviews with Greg Prince, for instance, author of the excellent David O McKay biography.
1. Why did you decide to start up Mormon Stories and what are your
views on podcasts in general?
First of all, thanks so much for giving Dallas and I chance to talk on M*. I really respect M*, and I also really enjoy Dallas’ podcast. It’s been fun to collaborate a bit back and forth with Dallas, as we’ve formed a little mormon podcasters support group. I’m sure it won’t be long before there are 100 of us Mormon podcasters out there….so it’s kinda fun to be in on the ground floor.
My #1 ambition with Mormon Stories is to help keep people from leaving the church, and to make those within a bit stronger than they are today. Some may find this curious, given the topics I’ve covered so far in my podcast (questionable missionary practices, blacks & the priesthood, masonry, etc), so let me explain.
I was called as a seminary teacher a few years back in Seattle. In my 2nd year, the D&C was being covered, so I decided to really bulk up on my Mormon history. I started with church manuals, then moved to Leonard Arrington, then Bushman, then Quinn, then Brodie, and before I knew it, I wanted to leave the church. I felt confused. I felt lied to. I tried to talk with friends, family, and people in the church about my concerns, but quickly realized that most people either didn’t know about, or didn’t want to talk about these issues. When I took my questions to the web, I found a bunch of forums with really bright/good people, but many of them were/are very angry at the church, and don’t necessarily provide encouragement to stay.
Well, it turns out that there are LOTS of people who know about the tough historical or cultural issues with the church, but have still decided to stay within. A few examples include Leonard Arrington, Eugene England, Lowell Bennion, Richard Poll, T. Edgar Lyon, etc. If these people are not offered as role models to others–I believe that we will continue to lose lots of people due to intellectual issues.
For people like me, there are a few things that can make a world of difference:
Knowing that you are not alone,
Having someone with credibility openly acknowledge (and not try to deny, or excuse, or dismiss) the issue at hand, and
Having role models that say, “yeah, yeah…I know all about that stuff….but here’s why it really doesn’t matter”. For me, finding people like that has made all the difference. And that is what I’m trying to provide. If you listen to my most recent podcast on Masonry and Mormonism, you will find this exact balance–which to me (and several others), was very inspirational.
Now I realize that some will not be comfortable with this approach…and clearlly, my audience is not for everyone. There are many who perhaps will be better off never knowing about the tough stuff. I’m not seeking to cram these issues down their throats. But for those who need answers, and role models, and a community who understands…..they are my target audience.
Finally, I also believe that storytelling is one of the most powerful dynamics in human existance. There is great power in simply allowing open, honest, candid discussion–and it’s something that is so rare in society these days….in and out of the church.
2. How many listeners do you typically get? Do you expect the
audience to increase significantly?
I’m not quite sure how many listeners I have. I am sure it is in the hundreds, but probably not in the thousands–but this is pretty good, given that I’ve only been podcasting for a few weeks. I imagine that the audience will continue to grow…though I am sure competition will continue to increase as well. To me, however, competition is welcome. As far as I’m concerned, the more voices, the better.
3. How do you see the relationship of blogs and podcasts? (i.e. list
some differences and pros/cons of each) How do you compare it with
some of the local (Utah) religious oriented radio shows?
One of the best things about a blog is the ability to receive feedback, and develop a community around a topic. The communication can be two-way, which is almost always better than one-way. If you check out some of the bigger LDS blogs (like M*), you’ll notice that people generally know each other (even if by alias), and care about each other…and sometimes even get angry and personal with each other–much like a family. I think communities make the world go round…so to me…this is a really good thing.
For me, the primary downside of blogs is that they are purely text-based. This means that you have to like to read, and be willing to sit in front of the computer for a lot of time to read them, and respond. This can be good, because sometimes text can be more reflective than speech, but speech also provides tone, and inflexion, and emotion that is harder to convey with text. To me, a blog interview is a step more personal, and interesting, than a written essay or post. There’s so much life and expression that comes through in the voice–it’s also a lot more spontaeous and real (in my opinion). It’s one thing to carefully craft a written response…it’s another to answer questions off the cuff, spontaneously. There are also a TON of people who simply don’t like to read–but really like to listen to stuff (think younger people). These people are totally cut out of the blog world…but can be reached through podcasts and video.
Also, since we’re all basically competing for other people’s time–one super cool thing about podcasts is that they can be listened to commuting in the car, or exercising, or mowing the lawn, or doing the laundry, or wherever. It’s a way for people to use some of their dead time more productively. It also, in my opinion, offers more creative potential (with music, and drama, and narrative, etc.).
In the end, I think both are super important, and very, very complimentary. It will be interesting to see what happens to video blogs as well, when they come online.
Now….from what I’ve experienced so far, the toughest thing about running a podcast is keeping the content fresh, and interesting. This is one of the reasons I’ve joined up with Sunstone, and have forged a relationship with Dialogue as well. Both organizations have a rich history, and an incredible community of brillant, important, interesting people–who are not necessarily super technically savvy. Being able to get Gregory Prince, or Levi Peterson, or Michael Quinn, or Lavina Fielding Anderson, or whoever to come on the podcast makes it 20x more interesting, and valuable, in my opinion. So for those interested, stay tuned to the newly formed Sunstone podcasts as well, and I’m sure Dialogue will be getting into the game soon.
4. Do you think podcasts will be a big thing? How do you see Apple’s
iTunes in all this?
I do see podcasts taking off…though not at an insane pace, at least not immediately. If you think about it, most people still have never heard of blogs, let alone podcasts…and relatively few people have iPods or MP3 players. Only a subset of those people use them for conversational media–it’s still mostly about music. Also, it’s still a bit too dang hard to subscribe to a podcast. iTunes is definitely making it easier, but until my Mom (Hi Mom!!! No offense!) can do it easily, things will grow at a slower pace.
But subscriptions are definitely the wave of the future regarding media. We’re all so used to being told what we are going to watch (TV), or listen to (radio), or read (magazines and newspapers). With the ability to subscribe to things (RSS), all of these mediums are bound to change. Tivo has gone a long ways towards changing these expectations. Someday, you will simply subscribe to the programs or even topics you want to watch on TV, and you will be able to watch any episode on demand. Same with radio. Podcasts take this revolution one step further, by democratizing this ability to communicate. We are shifting from a few players in hollywood, and clearchannel, and Hearst telling us what to pay attention to…..to being able to listen to almost anyone…anywhere.
Regarding Apple, it’s quite interesting. I worked for Microsoft for almost 7 years, and Apple was considered to be largely irrelevant….so it’s interesting to see them continue to lead in so many strategic areas. If you’ve seen Apple’s new Nano iPod that has just been released, you’ll realize that they are continuing to innovate in very exciting ways. At some point, Microsoft will add podcasts to Windows Media player, and this will even further explode the podcast space (most Windows users have not installed iTunes, but EVERYONE has Windows Media Player). So Apple will continue to be a thought leader, and innovater….but it’s likely that followers will continue to eclipse Apple, due to lower market share alone (though it would be super cool to see Apple re-emerge with some dominence. I LOVE their products).
5. What are your ultimate aims with the podcast?
So much goodness come from candor. So much illness and evil comes from obfuscation, and hiding things, and an unwillingness to talk. Watergate was not about the breakin…it was about the coverup. I believe strongly that a HUGE source of mental illness and perversion in teh world comes from people living split lives–living one way in public, and another way in private. So many people also feel alone, or alienated, or judged, or labeled (ex-Mormon, anti-Mormon, post-Mormon, liberal Mormon, apostate, apologist, etc). These labels are so damaging…and so incomplete.
If I can help provide a safe, open place for people to communicate, and vent, and elate….and most importantly..just tell their stories…I think the LDS community overall will become much, much healthier. Life is about joy. Joy comes from loving others. Loving often means listening and understanding. That is what Mormons Stories is all about.
6. You’ve really worked hard to get people
talking about these issues. It seems like
you’re as much interested in almost the
psychology of people. That was especially
true of your interview with an anti-Mormon.
How did you come up with that approach and
For the past 10-12 years, I’ve fallen deeply in love with documentaries and biographies. I guess Ken Burns started it all with his Civil War documentaries, but it’s spread quickly from there. Over the past few years I’ve read biographies of Winston Churchill, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, LBJ, David O. McKay, Leonard Arrington, T. Edgar Lyon, Lowell Bennion, etc., and I’ve become fascinated with people’s stories.
I’ve also been a longtime fan of Terry Gross (NPR/Fresh Air), Doug Fabrizio (Radio West), Ray Suarez (previously of NPR, now of the PBS Jim Lehrer New Hour), Charlie Rose, etc. It seems to me like the coolest job in the world is to read lots of cool books and articles, and then get paid to talk to interesting people about their stories. I’m not getting paid for it now, but I’m definitely getting to read interesting things, and meet/talk to interesting people because of these podcasts. What a cool gig!!!
A month or two back I traveled to Hawaii to take part in a 3 day seminar on something called “Digital Storytelling”…which is a movement to teach people to tell their own stories in a digital format. This podcast is step 1 for me, but I hope to grow it into multimedia, ultimately helping people put together high quality documentaries around their own lives, and around the lives of notables in Mormon studies. I will be ready to die and go to heaven if I can ever help complete documentaries on the stories of Leonard Arrington, Lowell Bennion/T. Edgar Lyon, the September 6, and the like. That would be the culmination of my multimedia dreams. Anyone interested in helping w/ this endeavor, please feel free to contact me!!!!!
7. You just mentioned on the blog portion
of Mormon Stories that Sunstone approached you
to do a podcast for them. How did that happen?
Do you see more conferences and even church
broadcasts being podcast?
When I went through my tough times testimony-wise, I immediately looked to Sunstone and Dialogue on the web for support–and found none. So instead, I spent a great deal of time on ex-mormon, post-mormon, ZLMB, View from the Foyer, etc. While I have deep respect for many of the folks on those boards, I’ve been disappointed for some time that there weren’t other voices for support–specifically for those who want to talk candidly about the issues, calling a spade a spade, if you will, but who are still very committed to staying within the church.
After moving to Utah a year ago, I decided I was gonna visit the Sunstone symposium and see if the community was all I hoped it would be. Before the conference, I cold-called Dan Wotherspoon (editor of Sunstone) and tried to get him to let me speak at the conference on “the possibilities of technology and Sunstone” (given my 12 years in the technology industry, and 7 years at Microsoft), but he told me that it was too late. As a consolation (and with some cajoling), he offered to let me address the board of directors at the town meeting that was held during the symposium. So…I prepared this intense 20 minute presentation to the board about how the Internet was passing them by, and how they were totally dropping the ball by not embracing it more. I challenged them to get a blog and a podcast going….and offered my services to help them start and run it. To their credit, they were totally open/willing, and invited me that day to get the ball rolling. Dan, and Mike, and William and the others have been great supporters ever since. I could not be more thrilled with their energy, openness, and support.
And to answer your follow-up,I can totally imagine FAIR, and FARMS, and the Church ultimately getting into podcasts. It’s just another way to reach out to your audience…I can’t imagine why they all wouldn’t embrace it. And if you consider the fact that a MAJORITY of the LDS talk shows are either anti-Mormon, or what many would consider to be “liberal voices”…you have to believe that the conservative folk are not gonna sit by and let their voices go unheard in this medium. And I say…the more voices, the better. Come one, come all!!!!
8. To repeat a question I asked Dallas about,
do you worry about how non-Mormons perceive
the church from your podcasts? I notice that
while you embrace difficult topics, you
frequently do a bit of a dance in how you
discuss them. (I’m here thinking of some
of the discussions with Greg Prince over
David O McKay where you focused on difficult
events in kind of a vague way – especially
related to baseball baptisms and McConkie’s
“church of the devil comments.”) Is that a
hard line to walk?
I think about this every day. I not only worry about non-Mormons, but I also worry about active Mormons, who are naive, or just not well informed about our historical origins or doctrinal issues, etc.
There was a time when I wanted to shock everyone into becoming more aware of LDS history and doctrinal issues…but I no longer feel that way (most of the time, anyway). Over time, I’ve been slowly learning to respect the fact that many people (including several close family members of mine) have literally NO interest in exploring, and dissecting, and investigating issues around Mormon Studies. I am slowly learning to respect their feelings, and am trying hard not to cram my views or interests down their collective throats.
At the same time, I’ll ask you this question–who is servicing, and reaching out to the hundred or thousands who are struggling with the church intellectually, or culturally, or doctrinally? I guess you could say FAIR or FARMS, and I am learning to have some deep respect for their work, but I would argue that even more voices are needed to keep some of our youngest….best and brightest…from fleeing the church altogether. In my mind, the more thoughtful, questioning folk within the church desperately need to know: 1) they are not alone, 2) there are ways of reconciling thought with faith, and 3) there are lots of credible, honest, smart, genuinely good role models out there who can mentor them through this process. That’s why I take the risks, and do the things that I do. To serve that community… That is what Sunstone, and Dialogue, and Mormon Stories are all about, in my opinion. Not leaving the stray sheep to the wolves.
Now…do I realize that this poses risks or threats to non-Mormons or active Mormons? Absolutely…but I’ll say one last thing. Are we really well-served by treating people so fragilely (if that’s a word)? For example, is it really good/honest to have African Americans joining the church, never knowing that the church ever had a priesthood ban on the blacks…and perhaps finding that out AFTER joining (this happens literally every day)? Is it right to have members find out through Southpark that Joseph Smith translated the BOM through a hat/peepstone? I feel like with the advent of the Internet, people are going to find out these issues and stories sooner or later….and the extent to which they can learn about things from “friendly” sources……is the extent to which they will be less shocked and angry when they discover these things for themselves. I, for one, would rather know the truth about my faith from within, than find out from an external source. If the latter happens, I feel lied to, and deceived. If the former happens…my likely reaction is….”Big deal. So what? Been there, done that.”
So yes….I do sometimes feel bad that people will stumble upon my stuff and be super alarmed or shocked…but at the same time, I’m more worried about investigators joining and THEN discovering this stuff (and feeling lied to/betrayed), or worst of all, members finding out from external sources…often in an environment that is much more hostile and unforgiving.
9. Closely related to the above, a debate
raging among blogs is how uplifting they are.
We’ve even had members of M* leave over that
issue as have other blogs. It seems a difficult
line – engaging issues in a faithful way. I
see you trying very hard to do that. How do
you approach that issue, especially given the
them of your podcast.
There was a time when it would have been really unhealthy for me to do a podcast like this. I was angry at the church. I was angry at Joseph Smith. I was angry at church leaders. As I look back on this now…I see it as a natural venting, but also, frankly, as immaturity….as I struggled to deal with the realism of life…that things aren’t always as they seem, or as they should be.
Today, I can honestly say that I’m not angry…and even sympathize with the Church and its leaders. How incredibly hard it must be to steer a church of 5 million active members….from all over the globe….of all different ages and backgrounds and levels of orthodoxy. Their job is extremely hard….so I no longer feel a sense of anger or outrage. That makes a huge difference in my tone and approach.
So instead of mocking, or skewering, or criticizing….I am trying really hard just to UNDERSTAND. I’m less and less interested in judging, or criticising, or even correcting….as I am understanding, and listening. That’s how we grow closer as people, and grow forward in a productive way. So that’s how I approach things. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has good reasons for the things they do or think or feel (I believe…at least for the most part)….and everyone feels healed a bit when they have someone listen….and are not judged for their stories.
So as long as I have real people, telling real stories…from the heart….it seems like we’re gonna be doing good.
10. Finally, I have to give you kudos for the
very interesting interviews you’ve had. Especially
scoring Greg Prince for two amazingly interesting
podcasts about David O McKay. I’ve listened
to both several times now. How do you pick your
In the past, frankly, it’s been whoever I could convince to come on the show. I met Gregory Prince at the Sunstone conference, asked him to come on, and he did. I met Hyrum (the “anti-Mormon”…though I hate that label) as a fellow podcaster about LDS issues, and asked him to come on, and he did. Once I did Hyrum , I felt like I needed to balance things out a bit, so I went up to the FAIR board and asked if anyone would come on my show to provide some balance. That’s when Greg Kearney volunteered to come on.
Now that I’m affiliated w/ Sunstone, we’re gonna try to bring on people who dovetail with the publication….and I must say…it’s MUCH easier to find interesting guests when you can sit next to Dan Wotherspoon at Sunstone HQ and have him say, “Let’s call Armand Mauss or Lavina Fielding Anderson or J. Bonner Ritchie, (or whoever) right now to see if they’ll come on”. I LOVE that part of my Sunstone affiliation.
And of course, in the event that I want to interview someone that does not align with Sunstone’s mission/goals, I will continue to publish those interviews under the Mormon Stories podcast. Ultimately, I hope to grow Mormon Stories to not just be audio stories, but also written and video stories as well.
11. One last one. Could you describe your
technical setup? i.e. what microphones do you use,
what editing software (if any), how you generate
your rss feed? Was it hard to get started
podcasting? Any wishes for changes to things
from the technical side of things?
Here’s my typical setup:
I have a broadband internet connection
I have a really nice microphone/headset that I use to record my voice and listen to the podcast as it’s in progress (shouldn’t cost more than $100)
I have a $50 4-channel mixer (Behringer) that I bought from a music store that I use to mix my voice with the voice-in from Skype (more on this later). The microphone I mention above, as well as the headset, plug directly into the mixer as channel 1.
I use 2 laptops in my podcast…one is an Apple, and one is a PC
On the PC, I have installed Skype, and I plug in a 2nd headset/microphone (so in reality, I’m actually wearing 2 headsets, each with a microphone, during my podcasts). Within Skype, I set the audio to use the 2nd headset microphone as the voice input for Skype (so the guest can hear me speak), but I tell Skype to pipe the conversation we’re having out through the audio/speaker out of the laptop, so that it can go into the mixer.
I have a wire that goes from my PC laptop (via the speaker out), into the mixer.
I have a wire that goes from my mixer, into my Mac laptop via the audio input
I am running Audacity (an open source sound editing program) on the Mac, and I use it to record, and edit the program.
One final thing–the optimum situation sound-wise is for the interviewee to be using Skype as well over broadband, and have a decent quality headset on (this is called Skype-to-Skype…and it’s cool, because there are no long-distance charges…even internationally). In this configuration, it literally can sound like the guest and I are in the same room. If the guest doesn’t have broadband access, or a good headset…then we do what’s called “Skype out”, which means that I call them via Skype on my computer, but they talk to me via regular telephone.
This is how I do it! I hope it all makes sense!!!
Thanks, Clark, for having me on, and giving me a voice and a bit of exposure! I have great respect for M*, and hope to coninue the relationship!!!!