384–385: Gaining Spiritual Confidence

All religions point adherents toward gaining knowledge and insights for themselves through their own spiritual dives. Religious cultures, however, often (overtly but more often subtly) put a premium upon group cohesion, following rules and counsel from leaders or elders, staying on the well-worn path, and so forth. These cultures encourage one to rise up to the level of the collective, but then discourage her or him from too much exploring. (There be monsters out there! Stay safe!)

How can we gain the confidence to explore Spirit as fully as our traditions invite us to? How do we overcome the cultural and psychological barriers that sometimes discourage us? What is the experience of direct spiritual experience like? How do we seek it? Must we be at the end of our spiritual ropes before it can enter in? As we experience it, what should we expect? What, exactly, is the “experimenting” section of Alma 32 really saying? Spiritual journeying is hard, but why do so many who have gotten the taste of their own eternal nature and spiritual belonging keep at it, even with all the difficult things one must confront as we move ahead?

This episode features two insightful and powerful spiritual explorers, Billy Phillips and Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, speaking about all of the above and more. What emerges is not exactly a step-by-step guide to finding one’s own spiritual confidence so much as a chance to immerse oneself in a conversation among three people for whom this transition to trusting their own experiences even in the face of occasional discouragement from other Latter-day Saints has been and still is a wonderful and worthy pursuit.

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Link:

Lower Lights Sangha. Learn more about Thomas McConkie’s work, workshops, gatherings, and retreats.

Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map (Salt Lake City: Mormon Stages, 2015).

382–383: The Living Nature of Mormon Covenants

Covenanting is a huge feature of Mormon theology and group life. Beginning at age eight with baptism, and extending through the temple endowment and sealing rites, Latter-day Saints make a lot of covenants. Sundays build into the sacrament ritual the chance to “renew” the covenants one has made. For many Mormons, making these covenants are among the most sacred events of their lives, inspiring them to try to live up to the promises contained within each covenant. For others, especially those whose faith has shifted in the years following the time they made covenants, the burden of having covenanted to do something that they are no longer as certain about, or perhaps even now reject, can be crushing. Some feel regret that the “Mormon track” has members make covenants at very young ages, prior to the typical times when complexity enters one’s worldview. “If only I’d known what I know now, I would have chosen differently.” Others feel they were underprepared for the specifics of the covenants they made in the temple, and that when they reached that stage of the endowment they went ahead with them partly because of family and loved ones who were present and expecting that of them. Mormonism teaches that when things are done through proper priesthood authority, “what is bound on earth is bound in heaven.” How, then, should someone whose journey is taking them into great complexity regarding Mormonism relate to such weighty covenants?

In this episode, Charles Randall Paul, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, and Joseph Stanford, join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a wonderful and intense query into covenanting within Mormonism and whether or not it, or God, has an expectation of personal growth and change that would naturally affect our views and understandings of covenants we have previously made, about what exactly are we “bound” to with regard to our covenants, and several other aspects of this topic. The panel shares their own experiences and thoughts about their covenanting pasts and relationships with them now, and seeks to celebrate best thinking and ideas about us as covenanters that doesn’t depend upon static relationships with God and “etched in stone at the time one covenanted” understandings of this important element of the Mormon tradition.

381: Why Ritual “Makes Sense”

Ritual is strange—or so it seems to our rational minds—yet, strangely, for many of us who participate in these often highly stylized and repetitive actions, we feel better afterward. Why is this so? Is there a method to ritual’s madness that helps explain this phenomena? I think so.

In a departure from the usual Mormon Matters formula of a panel discussion, this episode features me, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, reading a short article I wrote for the Fall 2016 issue of Sunstone magazine, “Why Ritual ‘Makes Sense’.” In it I address various aspects of ritual and how, even though rites and practices can be extremely diverse in nature, they share key commonalities. Rituals, through their various means, attempt to help us access more fully the energies and their attendant empowerment for us that are all around us but often missed due to the strength of the sensory input from our bodies and the clutter of thoughts and concerns going through our brains. How do rituals help us do this? Why is it important for us to seek methods that can bring us into these kinds of experiences? Why do rituals, such as the LDS endowment, often feature retellings of a group’s cosmogonic myths (stories of how the world/cosmos came to be)? I offer clues to these and many other features of ritual and the effects of our participation.

I hope you’ll enjoy these ideas and this side trip away from the panel format. I promise, though, that we’ll be back to that with the next episode!

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NOTE: Save the Dates! Natasha Helfer Parker and I will be hosting two Mormon Matters retreats in Utah this summer and fall. We will host the first 1416 July, and the second, 2022 October. Watch for descriptions and registration information very soon!

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Links:

Dan Wotherspoon, “Why Ritual ‘Makes Sense’,” Sunstone, Fall 2016

Link to the Faith Matters Foundation website, where video of the conference “New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation” will be available for download and viewing by 24 April 2017.

379–380: Effective Teaching in the Church

Mormonism provides numerous opportunities for us to teach each other. But, as we know, many times our Sunday classes fall short of being wonderful, too often failing to convey new or important insights, and hardly ever yielding transformative classroom experiences. How can we change this? How can we as teachers or class members move us into more enriching territory?

A second issue arises for teachers and class members whose faith journeys have led them to more complex views of LDS history, theology, or culture than is typically presented in the lesson manuals or anticipated by others in their various replies to questions asked during the class session. How can we who fit within this category, with integrity, teach within the church? How can we signal our willingness to engage the lesson manual materials while still seeking to reach a bit higher or offer perspectives that might lead to new thinking or deeper examination? How can we negotiate the expectations we sense from many to deliver the “safe” or the “usual” material with our own sense of being called to try for more?

This two-part episode tackles these issues and more, and features two wonderful and experienced and thoughtful teachers within Mormonism, Kristine Haglund and Stephen Carter, along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon. What are their best ideas for structuring classroom experiences? For preparing ourselves to teach within the church or share from the seats? For overcoming the fear of possibly falling flat on our face and/or being released for overreaching and offering challenging perspectives that those in leadership feel are a bit too much? What are some of the ways they have negotiated these hurdles in their own gospel lives? What great classroom experiences do they point to as highlights and approaches that might inspire all of us to work to be more effective gospel teachers?

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Links:

Kristine Haglund, “What I Wish I had Said, Part 26 or So,” By Common Consent blog, 3 July 2011

Stephen Carter, “How to Use the Total Perspective Vortex in Your Very Own Sunday School Class,” Sunstone, March 2005

378: Engaging Constructively with General Conference

The April 2017 General Conference season is upon us. Having started last weekend on March 25th with the Women’s session, it continues April 1st and 2nd with four general and one priesthood session. For many who have undergone (or are undergoing) a shift of faith, engaging with general conference can sometimes be a difficult experience. Because of new perspectives we’ve gained, it’s impossible to avoid certain changes in attitude toward conference talks and proceedings. For many of us, these are healthy shifts, emerging from spiritual growth and increasing confidence in what we believe God is calling us toward. Yet it takes quite a while to “normalize” in this new way of viewing conference and the role and abilities of prophets in guiding the church or serving as God’s mouthpieces. We can listen respectfully, yet with eyes wide open to the human beings called to these roles and the mixture that is their words and ideas in conjunction with what they sense God is leading them to speak about. But for others of us, especially those in the early years of a faith shift, or for whom some very large change has come into their life or who have become quite activated about certain topics, conference talks that don’t match what we’d ideally like to hear can be very upsetting.

In this episode, we are treated to thoughts about conference from Carol Lynn Pearson, Patrick Mason, and Mark Crego, three wonderful, experienced church members and conference watchers whose experiences over the years have matched those of many listeners. Along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, each of the folks here have at times felt in great harmony with what is shared in conference, at other times quite devastated by it. But through continued striving and efforts to push through they have gained good awareness of what conference is and is not, what we might reasonably expect from it, and how to celebrate the wonderful talks and not over-react to the ones that disappoint or can even feel to them spiritually dangerous.

We hope through listening you can have an engaged and constructive conference weekend. And please share your own experiences and reactions in the comments section below!

373–377: (Encore) An Easter Primer

Encore presentation of a great discussion of all things Easter. First released 12 March 2013. Enjoy the old bumpers and their music!

Empty Tomb_Anne CutriWith a forty-day Lenten season that flows to a conclusion in Holy Week and its beautiful rituals, for many Christians, Easter (even more than Christmas) marks the spiritual high point of the year. At no other time do sacred time and space collapse quite so easily, with events and liturgies and encouragements that lead people in sustained reflection about not only their gratitude for Christ and their beliefs and hopes about salvation, but even more generally, the renewal of aspirations, plans, and energies. While Mormons join with the rest of the Christian world in basic beliefs about Christ’s resurrection and central role in salvation, and they, too, celebrate Easter, they don’t do it in quite as sustained a manner as many other Christian traditions who carry into their worship centuries-long traditions and fully developed music and liturgies and portals into the mysteries of the resurrection miracle.

In this five-part series, the same amazing panel who shared about Christmas—Jared AndersonZina Petersen, and Kristine Haglund—join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon on a journey through scripture, history, worship, and celebration related to Easter. Designed to be informative about elements with which Mormons in general are not all that familiar, it also explores different presentations of Christ’s final acts on earth in the various Gospels and scriptural tradition, the range of views about what “resurrection” means, how Christian and Pagan traditions interacted to create the mix of elements we find in Easter season, and how these elements combined to create some of the world’s greatest music, poetry, and pageantry. But it also explores personal realms. How do each of the panelists integrate a love for Easter themes, claims, symbols, and rituals with their own empirically oriented and critical brains? What is happening in their hearts and minds as they celebrate Easter?

The podcast totals nearly five hours. It’s a huge bite, and it can certainly be taken slowly.

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A brief guide to the parts:

Parts 1 and 2 (episodes 373 and 374) focus primarily upon the scriptural record, with its earliest layers, differences between texts, interaction with Jewish elements, the “empty tomb” traditions as separate from “resurrection appearances.” They explore various Christological theories and their different approaches to the idea of resurrection. Listen also for some really great poetry and fresh angles that would make great sermon materials.

Parts 3 and 4 (episodes 375 and 376) take us from the early church to the middle ages and on through the centuries, helping us understand the development of various traditions and interactions with solar and lunar cycles and their feasts and celebrations. These also contain great information about and peeks into the beauties of Lent, Holy Week, rituals such as meditations on the “stations of the cross,” and much more. History and aesthetics! What could be better?

Part 5 (episode 377) features the panelists and host sharing their own Easter experiences and reflections on myth and ritual, rational thought and the mysteries of spirituality.

We very much hope you’ll enjoy these episodes! Please use the comments section below to share your own reflections on Easter and all that this season means to you.