424-426: Celebrating the Different Spiritualities in the Two Halves of Life

The four people on this three-part podcast episode love Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. If you find yourself experiencing a faith crisis or in some way are actively feeling called to reexamine and make peace with or in some way better integrate within your heart and mind life’s deepest and most unsolvable (thankfully!) questions and your personal experiences (wonderful and tragic) in deep, soulful ways in which you can come to most meaningfully embrace your truest self and life in all its beautiful (and tragic) mystery, please listen. Please buy, borrow, rent this book. Whether in the first or second half of life, there are  wonderful insights and many potentially life-changing bits of wisdom within.

Joining Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for this rich and often very personal discussion are Jana Spangler, Jeralee Renshaw, and Scott Turley.

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5 comments for “424-426: Celebrating the Different Spiritualities in the Two Halves of Life

  1. EDiL13
    November 8, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Interesting discussion, especially since it deals with a couple of issues that I have been thinking a lot about lately, in what is probably the last third of my own life (give or take however long I’m going to live).

    One is the idea of the “ego”, which I think gets an undeserved bad rap from a number of philosophies, religious and otherwise, especially Buddhism, as far as my limited understanding goes. Freud’s original concept of the ego (as opposed to the “id” and the “superego”, and if I understand correctly) was the “rational self,” and as such, an intrinsic part of the human personality, and not necessarily an evil thing to be destroyed, suppressed, or at best transcended if at all possible. It seems that somehow that concept has been mixed up with the idea of “unrighteous” pride, arrogance, or an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance, or at least a sense of one’s separateness as an individual from the rest of the universe (which may be something more worth considering). I find these usually eastern ideas about the ego similar to the LDS teaching that the “natural man” is an “enemy to God.”

    In the last several years I have more or less rejected these ideas in favor of the belief that the ego, at least in the more Freudian sense, is an essential part of what we are as human beings, as well as the “natural man”, and as such, perhaps it would be healthier to regard it as a thing to be accepted, embraced, developed, and managed, rather than as some sort of an enemy to be conquered. Rohr’s ideas, as presented here, offered some additional and interesting insights to be considered with regard to this issue. Perhaps something similar to this is what is meant by the idea of dealing with your own “shadow.”

    The other thing that stood out for me was the idea of suffering and pain as somehow beneficial or necessary. Although I know that human beings have been trying to make sense of the reasons why life can be so hard for a very long time, for myself I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing empowering, ennobling, or good about suffering. It is a thing to be avoided if at all possible, although there is nothing wrong with trying to make meaning of it and trying to get some good to come of it if you haven’t been able to avoid it in the first place.

    I have rejected the idea that our “trials” are a “test” on the basis that if God is truly omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, He wouldn’t want or need to put us through such horrible things to find out what we’re capable of, or even to “strengthen” us, because He would already know, and He’d have some better and less painful way of enabling us to develop strength. I’ve come to believe that nothing in the universe is “perfect”, not even God, and that the universe is a work in progress and there’s no such thing as “perfection” except as a measure of how the human mind thinks that things should be (but things just are the way they are, whether we like it or not, so we might as well accept it and deal with it as is, if at all possible), and since we don’t live in a perfect world, we’re wired by evolution to feel pain when something is harming or threatening us, such as physical injury or loss of needed resources. I agree with what Dr. Baker on “Little House on the Prairie” (I’m dating myself) once told Albert Ingalls when he was trying to play football with a broken rib, something to the effect of: “The Good Lord gave you pain so you’ll quit doing whatever it is you’re doing that’s hurting you.”

    So, unlike Rohr, and “right” or “wrong” (for want of better terms) I never pray for trials or “humiliation” (As they say, be careful what you pray for because you might get it.) I sincerely hope that suffering is not really necessary in order to achieve “enlightenment” or “salvation”, whatever that may be. I know that there are and have been a number of cultures in this world which use various types of “trials by ordeal” as rites of passage, but I’m glad that such traditions are no longer very prominent in modern American society. For me at least, the bottom line is that life throws enough suffering and pain at you, so you really don’t need to go looking for it. But I guess there is something to be said for not running away from it if it finds you, and if you realize that going through it is the only way to get where you want to go.

    Much good can be done in the world by trying to find ways to minimize or even eliminate one’s own suffering and/or that of others, as well as by trying to maximize the happiness and well-being of oneself along with that of others. Mistakes will be made because we’re fallible human beings, and trouble or pain may be the result, but that is never something to be sought after, as far as I’m concerned. And I got the impression that maybe Rohr is not saying that we should seek out suffering in order to facilitate the transitions in our lives, only perhaps that it is inevitable one way or the other and that we should expect it.

    But I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life and I probably don’t have as much experience as Rohr or the rest of you, so I could be “wrong” about all this. But either way, those are the tentative conclusions that I’ve come to at this point in my own life. Stand by for further developments, because one thing I have learned is that, since my opinions about many things are different now than they were not too long ago, it follows that they may be different in the future than they are now.

    I should admit that in my own case, the transition between the first and second halves of life came in my late 40s with the end of my career (such as it was), followed by my resignation from the Mormon church a couple of years later, both painful experiences involving existential crises, so I’m not the exception to the “rule.” Maybe Rohr is right after all.

    I should also admit that I haven’t read the book yet, only listened to the podcast. 🙂

  2. KarlS
    November 10, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    I tend to feel in many ways similar to the podcast participants and moderators: that embracing a more nuanced view of the gospel and the church with less certainty about various concepts brings a more rational to the mind and peaceful to the soul perspective than the stricter dual thinking of current traditional Mormonism. So, I appreciate this podcast and the deep thinking it engenders! However, in this and many other MM pods I’m somewhat bothered by the position deemed to be true that such a path (2nd half of life or Fowler Stage 4+) is superior to all others. On one hand, statements are made that the “enlightened” progressive traveler holds less certainty and to respect the growth afforded them from the 1st Half of life or institutional period and not disparage it. They are even cautioned to eschew arrogance that they are somehow superior than those “stuck” in black and white orthodoxy. And yet, throughout the rest of the discussions it seems to be implied that everyone should be seeking this ‘clearly and indisputably’ higher path.

    Though I think such a path will bring more contentment and effective discipleship to me, I have witnessed those still in traditional orthodoxy who are oblivious or unwilling to seriously engage in deeper doctrinal, theological or historical investigation, but whose orthopraxy (practice) is so Christlike that, notwithstanding the blind spots they may have, are very effective disciples of Christ, selflessly do much good and are very happy. I don’t fault them for not looking where I have. I believe their path is holy. I honor them. But, I’ve seen what I’ve seen and can’t go exactly back there, but my path I hope to also be holy, effective and happy.

    • EDIL13
      November 11, 2017 at 10:45 pm

      I’m married to one of those, so thank you for very accurately describing my husband’s particular type of “orthopraxy”, and for reminding me how lucky I am to be with him at this time in my life, even though we no longer agree on matters of “orthdoxy.” I also realize that he is not completely oblivious, but is willing to “seriously engage in deeper doctrinal, theological or historical investigation,” even if only to find a way to convince people like me that his church is still “true,” or perhaps even to find reasons to go on believing in it himself. So far, if he even has a “shelf” where he puts things he can’t explain, it’s still rock solid, but perhaps I should be more grateful that his mind is at least as open as it is. Things could have been a lot worse…

      EDiL13 (Elohim’s Daughter in Law)

    • James T. Kirk
      November 14, 2017 at 4:01 pm

      I have to both agree with and thank KarlS for enunciating what I’ve come to believe and understand. The orthodox life of Mormonism is often a very holy life, and one not to be overtly criticized or misrepresented for the sake of our own pessimistic egos. Orthodoxy often leads to a great deal of good, of honest service, and love. The more pessimistic I become about the truth-claims of the church and the history of my religion, the less “good” I feel myself becoming, in the sense that I feel like serving less, feel like “jumping through the hoops” less, feel like caring less about the infrastructure and process of the church than I did before when I was orthodox. Because of that, I find myself serving less in those contexts than I did before. I’m trying to find more authentic ways to serve and love others, but find that’s more difficult to do now that I’ve extracted myself from the hum-drum processes of church infrastructure. I feel that’s partly because I’m not around my neighbors as much, I’m not where THEY are. I’ve decided to stay engaged in the church despite my misgivings about it’s history and policies, and to try and find the good in what the church currently is, despite the confusing and upsetting new doctrines being promoted by the brethren. At some point the brethren need to have a “Come to Jesus” moment and figure out whether they want the church to continue to exist or not. The direction things are going, I’m afraid it’s simply going to fizzle out and die a slow painful death. That would be a tragedy, because there’s so much good there, so many good and holy people who will have their world torn apart as it all comes tumbling down. Dehlin-ism continues to spread like a raging virus through Mormondom, and there’s no way to predict where it will lead. I’m trying to stay hopeful, but I feel in my heart that the writing is on the proverbial wall. John Dehlin and others like him will eventually cause the downfall of the “Kingdom of God” on earth, and many will salivate and applause and relish their part in the take-down. What’s happening looks an awful lot like the “separating of the wheat and tares”, only I’m not sure anymore who represents the wheat, and who represents the tares. It appears to me that the war in heaven rages unabated here on earth, and Satan is having the time of his life. I wonder how God feels about things?

  3. November 13, 2017 at 9:10 pm

    this was a very interesting series! As a non-book reader, here were a few of the impressions that came to mind as I listened (that may be inaccurate…just, these were my impressions.)

    1) It seems to me that the first half of life could be stated as being more about secular security. So, the container that one is building is things like a stable career, knowledge or expertise, a reputation, family, etc, These are all things that have impact on the mundane, secular world.

    2) Mormonism (and perhaps many institutional religions) also appears to be pointing to these secular things (and tying them together with the spiritual, of course.) I’m thinking of this in several ways: Loyd Isao Ericson has discussed how secular claims seep into apologetics as if those were the main points of the religion, but then you can also listen to John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories interview with Michael Quinn to see that the church has built financial security as part of its survival strategy as an institution.

    This is actually interesting to me because it allows me both to contextualize my earlier “testimonies” while also to explain how I could have a testimony while not believing. My testimonies when I was growing up was all about those sorts of secular metrics (being a good manager; an eloquent speaker, very book smart, etc.,) , and those were things that I was good at, and so that imputed righteousness to me because that’s 1st half of life success. At the same time, those sorts of things do not actually require any sort of spiritual experience (and even more…they don’t create the fertile grounds for religious or spiritual insight.)

    3) At some point, the panelists discuss whether there needs to be some sort of loss to really begin engaging in second half of life stuff, and I think the panelists end up agreeing to some extent that it is necessary. I think this is probably true, and this is why being very successful at “1st half of life” stuff doesn’t create the fertile grounds for spiritual experiences.

    But this actually helps reconcile another stickling point for me in my Mormon experience. A big part of my “lack of faith” crisis was in Mormonism very belief voluntarist position — the idea that I should just be able to choose to have belief, and then it would happen if I were sincere or honest enough. But my experience (and especially with reading the scriptures) is that even for those who self-identify their own narratives as chosen, there seems to be unchosen elements here. Saul didn’t convert to Paul by choice or sheer force of will. Alma the Younger didn’t either. They had to be doing the “wrong” stuff and get in a jam to have their conversion experiences.

    Another related issue is that of timing/age. I think one of the popular misconceptions is that these sorts of faith stage changes can happen quickly or early. So, you have people thinking that they broke out of stage 3 and went through 4 in just a few days/weeks/months of reading CES Letter or MormonThink type stuff. But realistically, what is probable is that they haven’t really gotten through even all of their stage 3 thinking (so I would actually provocatively argue that many, if not most disaffected folks are actually in just a “mirror stage 3” where they’ve replaced one source of authority for another, or rather, they are still tied to the same authority, but simply view them negatively. They haven’t actually *transcended* or developed an independent locus of authority that would allow them to break out of black-and-white thinking.)

    As it would apply to 1st half vs 2nd half, the parallel would be something like this: even in one’s 50s, one cannot say one has arrived and finally made it to the other side. So, it’s even more incredulous for a late 20-something or early 30-something to think they have handled it all. (however, looping back with the stuff on the lack of choice in it…this suggests you can’t just choose to work faster or harder at it to get through sooner. It’ll happen on its own time or it won’t, so don’t sweat it.)

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