407-409: The Wilderness of Faith

This three-part episode features Kim Puzey and Lisa Scott, two brilliant and insightful people who are deeply familiar with both wilderness living and faith journeying. Drawing on their backgrounds as guides for wilderness experiences (some chosen by participants, while others were offered as options for adjudicated youth who otherwise would have been sent to jail), Kim and Lisa share lessons not only related to survival in wilderness areas and that help us understand the growth and development of most of those participating in these adventures, but also from their own lives as faith explorers, walkers of spiritual and cultural terrain not always visited by the majority of Latter-day Saints. Both are wonderfully articulate and brave in their storytelling about what it’s like to be “off the map.”

How do “wilderness” and the “wilderness of faith journeys” relate? Quite a bit! We anticipate you’ll be captivated by this discussion!

403–406: Revelations of Joseph Smith and Others: A Naturalistic Hypothesis

In her very important new book, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies of the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths, historian and religion scholar Ann Taves offers a naturalistic framing for revelation, in this case extending it to the complex issue of founding figures of a religion or spiritual communities and their close followers believing the sources of the revelations were outside of themselves. In the three case studies Taves examines, Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, claimed visitations from God and angels, and produced revelations that came in the voice of “the Lord”; Helen Schucman, producer of the Course in Miracles and several supporting works, claimed to be scribe for “the Voice” (believing it to be the voice of Jesus Christ); and Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and his associates, though not claiming the words of the group’s Big Book resulted in direct revelation from a specific personality, felt under the inspiration of some Higher Power. Like Smith and Schucman, however, Wilson shared in some circles about an encounter with a Divine source in which he felt “called” to and in that experience also came to believe he would be empowered to “dry up all the drunks in the world.” Employing her considerable skills as an historian, with a special emphasis on religion in America, and drawing from research and findings from neuroscience and several cognitive science and social science fields, Taves puts forth a plausible hypothesis about the various mechanisms at play within the minds of the founders of these traditions/paths and their early collaborators that might explain their claims of revelations from suprahuman sources without positing the need for separate spiritual and material worlds, while at the same time not claiming that experiences such as these were/are delusions. It is a fascinating book that mines rich and varied fields and source materials, and introduces these to findings that are emerging in studies of psychology, social psychology, brain science, hypnotism, creativity, organizational emergence, and more.

In this four-part episode, neuroscientist and lifelong Mormon Michael Adam Ferguson joins Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in interviewing and interacting with Ann Taves about her book, its hypotheses, her sense of the promises and limits to the fields of study that she is working in, and her own way of making sense of and honoring revelatory events and the power of religion while she is working and positing explanations within naturalistic frameworks.

Part 1 (Ep. 403) primarily introduces the book and its scope, and particularly the stories of and key moments within the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and the emergence of A Course in Miracles. It also draws a few early comparisons between Joseph Smith and the founders of those spiritual paths.

Part 2 (Ep. 404) explores Taves’ hypotheses about what is going on within the minds of these founding figures during the times they believe they are in direct communication with suprahuman personalities, as well as during the early periods of their groups’ establishment.

Part 3 (Ep. 405) features very active discussions of diverse questions and topic areas, ranging from why might a Divine source “reveal” quite different things about the nature of Reality, to the difference between practical and theoretical metaphysics, to the qualities that might lead one to be classified as a “spiritual genius,” to group genius, to delusional experiences, and more.

Part 4 (Ep. 406) reflects on the probative value of Taves work and the research she cites, as well as directions she hopes to take these things in order to ascertain the scope of their explanatory powers, and then moves into more “pastoral” areas as the panelists assess the value of religious symbolism, praxis, communities, and other gifts of religion and religious systems even if naturalistic arguments, with its claims of a non-dualistic reality, were to win the day.

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Links:

Ann Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies of the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths (Princeton University Press, 2016)

Ann Taves and Steven C. Harper, Joseph Smith’s First Vision: New Methods for the Analysis of Experience-Related Texts, Mormon Studies Review 3, no.1 (2016)

Joseph Smith’s Use of a Seer Stone in Bringing Forth the Book of Mormon,” Mormon Matters podcast 287–288, featuring Ann Taves, D. Michael Quinn, Ron Barney, 10 August 2015

Michael Adam Ferguson and Benjamin Knoll, “A Conversation with Michael Ferguson on the Neuroscience of Spiritual Experience,” Rational Faiths podcast 113, 2 November 2016

Charles Randall Paul, “Does God Always Reveal the Same Thing to Everyone?: On Sustaining Peaceful Conflicts Over Religion,” Sunstone, May 2003

Video of sessions in the “New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation” conference, Utah State University, 17 March 2017, sponsored by the Faith Matters Foundation and the USU Religious Studies Program

Daniel Wright Wotherspoon, Awakening Joseph Smith: Mormon Resources for a Postmodern Worldview, Ph.D. dissertation, Claremont Graduate School (1996)

D&C 20:5–12 (early account—possibly 1829—of the First Vision that is often overlooked)

401–402: The Uncontrolling Love of God—Talking Theology and Community, and Meeting a Fellow Traveler in Thomas Jay Oord

This two-part episode features a wonderful conversation with Thomas Jay Oord, an author, teacher, theologian, and elder in the Church of the Nazarene. Jim McLachlan and Brittney Hartley join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in dialogue with Oord, exploring various ways he views God and us as human beings that have great similarities with Mormon ideas (though they also explore key differences), but positions that also have left Tom in somewhat lonely territory within his faith community. These are also positions, along with his tremendous popularity with students, that have led to his being laid off by Northwest Nazarene University, where he has been teaching for fifteen years. As Tom and the panel reflect upon this painful exile, they note how he is in company with many other faithful and committed teachers and theologians within both wider Christianity and Mormonism who have faced similar dismissals.

But don’t listen to this episode because of this difficulty! Listen instead for the gorgeous and compelling theology Tom presents, especially as he speaks about Love being the primary attribute of God. Along the way, learn about the open theism movement of which he is often grouped, but with whom he differs in key areas. Hear his views about many topics, and when they resonate (and how) with Mormonism, but also his gentle questioning of them and also things about LDS theology and organizational structures that he struggles to see how he might embrace. Hear him reflect on being somewhat marginalized within his church and see if his thinking about “why” he chooses to stay very much engaged with it.

This is a wonderful and engaging conversation. Warning to all who listen, however: You will likely very soon be spending money on one or more of his books! (Which, hopefully, if you do, you will click on the links here on Mormon Matters, and will in that way be supporting the podcast through a percentage it will earn from shopping Amazon through the links or the button on the right side of the page!)

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Links:

Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (InterVarsity Press, 2015)

The Uncontrolling Love of God discussion group

Thomas Jay Oord, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (2010)

Thomas Jay Oord, The Nature of Love: A Theology (2010)

William Hasker, Thomas Jay Oord, Dean Zimmerman, eds., God in an Open Universe: Science, Metaphysics, and Open Theism (Wipf & Stock, 2011)

Forthcoming book of essays (which includes James McLachlan from this conversation: Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God, Lisa Michaels, et al, eds. (SacraSage Press, 2017)

Website: thomasjayoord.com

Wikipedia entry for Thomas Jay Oord

Daniel Wright Wotherspoon, Awakening Joseph Smith: Mormon Resources for a Postmodern Worldview, Ph.D. dissertation, Claremont Graduate School (1996)

400: “Yep, We’re Fringe . . . and So Are You!”— Rejecting Toxic “Acceptability” Scripts Sunstone Style!

The 2017 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium convenes in two weeks (July 26–29), and this episode introduces some of its highlights. But far more than just that, two of Sunstone’s leaders—Lindsay Hansen Park, and Sunstone magazine editor Stephen Carter—speak candidly about the new directions Sunstone has been moving in lately, and the new identity it is embracing. And it is also an identity that many listeners to this podcast will find fascinating and empowering for themselves in their individual lives within the Mormon tradition. Rejecting the foundation’s past attempts to try to bend its focus to convince people that it is not primarily is a group of Mormon misfits who negatively influence the wider LDS Church, it has completely tossed damaging scripts that play over and over in wider Mormonism about who is “in,” who is “out,” who is “heretic,” “apostate,” or a “real” Mormon, etc. Instead it is embracing the motto that “There are many ways to Mormon.” It recognizes the individuality of paths within the Mormon tradition and invites all to come and share about their journeys, beliefs, peculiarities, and spiritual cores. If you’re able to speak well and respectfully of others, Sunstone welcomes you to its gatherings and to submit pieces to be considered for publication. It will no longer play identity games that ultimately only benefit institutions rather than individuals. And just as Sunstone embraces all ways to Mormon—active and fully engaged in the LDS church, post-Mormon, ex-Mormon, fundamentalist Mormon, member of the Community of Christ or groups who separate from the Salt Lake headquartered church, or individuals who are in any other way shaped in some way by the Mormon tradition might think of themselves—might we also consider this attitude and path for ourselves? What might our Mormon journeys look like if we truly internalized the message that our way of “Mormon-ing” is just fine.

Listen in as this approach and embrace of every path (whether others consider it “fringe” or not) is laid out. Along the way you’ll learn more about the history of the Sunstone organization and its development alongside key moments in the past four-plus decades of Mormon history, including those brought on by the emergence of the internet and other things that have led it to seek new ways of connecting with Mormons. And, if you’re interested in learning more about its 2017 Salt Lake symposium and some of its key sessions, and other details such as how to register and how to purchase audio of the sessions should you not be able to attend (or that you missed because there were so many good ones happening concurrently!), you will not be disappointed. Those come in the final third of the episode.

398–399: Staying Actively Engaged in Mormonism

This two-part episode is a co-release with the Mormon Stories Podcast. It is a discussion that took place on 29 June 2017 in front of a live internet audience featuring John and Margi Dehlin interviewing (and conveying audience comments and questions for) Jeralee Renshaw, Mark Crego, and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon. Jeralee, Mark, and Dan are three of the moderators of the Facebook group, “A Thoughtful Faith Support Group” as well actively engaged members of the LDS Church. The interactions between the panel, hosts, and audience range from subjects such as “How is it you have managed to stay actively (and happily) engaged with Mormonism while knowing what you know of the issues and complexities that trouble so many people?”, to questions about the Facebook group and interactions there, to assessments of whether or not it is more or less difficult to remain engaged as a Mormon with nuanced views at this time than in the past, and much more!

396–397: Spiritual Journeys Outside of Mormonism

This episode features two wonderful teachers, pastors, scholars, and clergy from non-Mormon faith traditions sharing their own spiritual journeys and the ways that God has moved in them throughout their lives and ministries. Neither shies away from sharing about their most difficult moments, the pain and confusion, the depression, and many other lonely and hopeless feelings they experienced along the way. In the process, we discover just how unique but also universal the experience of God-wrestling and faith transitioning/deepening really is. And it is a rich blessing to us as Latter-day Saints to hear these journeys and their reflections with different vocabularies and new ways of describing the things of their lives and spiritual walks.

Following the telling of their stories, Father Tom Roberts, an ordained priest in the Orthodox tradition, and Father Martin Arredondo an ordained priest in the Independent Catholic tradition, join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a discussion of the phenomenon of faith growth and God’s call to us. They share advice that helped them along the way and/or that they share with those who seek them out now to share their confusion and hurt as they go through their own dark nights and times when God seems distant. Most of all, we get to hear again and again from two powerful men doing the work of God as they understand it to be. May we all seek to find and answer our individual callings, as well.

NOTE: If you downloaded Episode 396 within the first 12 hours of its release (basically before 7am MDT Friday June 23), please delete that file and re-download (or click below to listen). The audio tracks between my two guests and I were slightly out of sync, making it harder to listen to. I have fixed the issue now. I’m very sorry for the hassles and confusion this may have caused. Thank you for your patience!  Dan Wotherspoon

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Links forthcoming