332: Mercy

Mercy Matters coverMercy is a fundamental tenet of the Christian gospel and its descriptions of the attributes of God, and it certainly is a topic familiar to Latter-day Saints. But how often do we actually reflect upon it? Do we imagine it as simply a quality and an characteristic of God that we, too, should strive to attain and embody? Do we mostly think of it only in relationship to the Atonement and God’s grace?

In a wonderful book, Mercy Matters: Opening Yourself to the Life-Changing Gift, Mathew N. Schmalz, a Catholic theologian and teacher, as well as a frequent conversation partner with Mormons (including here on Mormon Matters), speaks of these things but also explores mercy in many other deep and compelling ways. What is mercy’s relationship to reconciliation with others, with “letting go” of ego and our desires to be right, with compassion? How might mercy interact in revealing ways with freedom, dignity, kindness, and truth? In the realm of our relationship with God, how does mercy mesh with forgiveness, suffering, death, and life? Mercy Matters explores all of these topics, but for a theological book, it does it in a very unusual way: it is not at all abstract! Instead, it is completely immersed in Schmalz’s own life, featuring reflections on incidents (many very difficult and not the sort of things one typically expects an author to reveal about himself) as well as on various moments of mercy he has experienced. It is personal, and vulnerable, and all the more powerful for it. I highly recommend this book–as do Fiona Givens and Alonzo Gaskill, my conversation partners, along with Mat Schmalz, in this episode. I believe you will enjoy our discussion very much.

Please listen and then share your reflections and questions in the comments section below!


Mathew N. Schmalz, Mercy Matters: Opening Yourself to the Life-Changing Gift (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2016)

331: Reflections on Two Recent Talks and the Online Reactions They Generated

Excerpts from two talks by prominent General Authorities (one by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and the other by Elder Richard J. Maynes) have in the past two weeks generated a lot of buzz in certain online forums that many listeners to this program would be familiar with, most of it negative or sarcastic. The reactions came mostly to a few sentences from the talks, presented online largely without wider framing, and sometimes placed as part of memes designed to heighten the impact of the quotations and their being read in a particular way. The memes and presentations themselves suggest how a viewer or reader should react to the words being quoted. But is this a fair—”virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy”—way of presenting ideas, especially those with which we have an issue? Is it fair to the speaker? To the readers? Is it deliberate dissembling? Those who write or pass these along generally know that what they are doing is presenting to some degree a caricature of a speaker and her or his presentation, something deliberately distorting, and they also know that many who encounter the meme or quotations will most likely react the way the intend and very seldom will themselves chase down the fuller context.

In this episode, Kristine Haglund and Jon Grimes join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon to explore the two talks in question and what unfolded online. They each certainly take exception to things said in each talk, the way they were said, or in some other way wish various ideas had been presented differently, but they also attempt to give much fuller context to the speeches, their settings, and other factors that mitigate against much of the full-on negative or exasperated reactions that unfolded. The conversation also takes important turns in other directions, for instance toward the way Latter-day Saints (and others) read or use scripture, as well as about the nature of religious experience and how humans tell of them.

After closing the conversation with the two panelists, Dan Wotherspoon then speaks for a few minutes about another recent talk, the BYU commencement address by Elder L. Whitney Clayton, that he feels also suffers from distortions in certain online conversation about parts of it.

Please listen and then share your questions and comments below!


Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, untitled address to Tempe, Arizona, LDS Institute, April 2016

Elder Richard J. Maynes, “The Truth Restored,” worldwide devotional address given 1 May 2016

Eugene England, “On Spectral Evidence,” originally published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 26, no. 1 (Spring 1993), version here from the Eugene England Foundation website

See below for link to the version of “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” by Chelan Hunt Clason recorded for the new Mormon Matters podcast bumpers


330: Mormonism’s Jesus

Mormon Jesus coverJohn G. Turner’s recent book, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Harvard University Press, 2016) presents a wonderful overview of the various ways Mormon scripture, leaders, and lay members understand Jesus Christ—and how these views developed over time, and why. As a non-Mormon historian and scholar of religions, Turner approaches this subject in a way not easily imitated by LDS scholars, seeing things about the teachings about Christ in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, and other texts through lenses and thought frameworks that are unencumbered by decades of Mormon interpretation or assumptions that they will all be consistent with each other. Tackling not only LDS scripture, but also messages about personal religious experiences, the role of prophets as mouthpieces for Christ, changing views about the Second Coming, understandings of Jesus as our “elder brother” and the “son of God,” as Jehovah of the Hebrew Bible, whether or not Jesus was married and the place of Second Anointings in LDS theology, and also Mormon depictions of Jesus Christ through various artistic media, Turner presents a rich and interesting array of ideas, controversies, and official (as well as folk) beliefs and the story of their development. Mormonism, for Turner, is thoroughly Christian, with many of its ideas about Christ congruent with (or with roots in) at least some lines of thought in wider Christianity, but with others quite striking or unique.

In this episode, John Turner joins a podcast favorite, historian of LDS doctrine Charles Harrell, and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon in an engaging discussion of several of the books’ subjects and arguments. As always, we discover that Mormon doctrine is not  straightforward, nor did it evolve to its current positions via a clear revelatory path—which is just one reason it is always so fascinating!

Please listen and then share your comments in the discussion section below.

First time users of the World Table comment system will need to sign up with a link to their Facebook or Gmail or another system, and afterward will be able to comment and respond in regular ways (but with additional options to evaluate the discussion).


John G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Harvard University Press, 2016)

John G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard University Press, 2012)

Charles R. Harrell, “This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2011)

329: Addiction and Recovery Series—Part 4: Being an Addict and Mormon

This episode, the fourth in the Mormon Matters series on Addiction and Recovery, features the stories and insights of two wonderful people, James Cottrell and Bill Casper, whose journeys with addiction and recovery intersect in nearly every moment with their Mormonism. All guests in this series have been LDS, and what was just said above about the intersection between their addictions and religion applies in many ways to all of them, but in this episode we make it far more a focus than in the previous three. And it yields quite interesting results, especially on the topic of “confession” and getting “right” with one’s  church—something the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests but that often does not receive much emphasis in contemporary AA circles. In this case, James and Bill speak openly about how important this step was for them in their recovery and their growing confidence that it will continue—recoveries that previous featured re-lapses (in James’s case, largely, he feels, because he had skipped this step). Raising this question here led to a conversation about confession to ecclesiastical leaders in general that went into places that we don’t often talk about in the Mormon Matters community of listeners or in similar circles. More than in the previous episodes in the series, James and Bill go into the spiritual transformations they have undergone in the process of their recovery, the power of the various steps in facing addiction, the importance of meeting with others going through similar things, and much more.

Warning: This episode features “tire meets the road” Christianity.

Please listen and share your thoughts in the comments section*** below!

***This episode marks the first one in which we’ve shifted exclusively to the World Table commenting system. We are one of twelve blogs taking part in beta testing this new way of working toward improved online conversation. Prior to your first post, it requires a very quick sign-up (just a link to a Facebook, Google account, etc.) and then you’re ready to go, and you won’t ever have to sign in again for this or other World Table system sites. I hope you will enjoy being part of this experiment that we hope will one day become the standard for all websites that hope to have a higher ratio of thoughtful posts in their comments section!

327–328: Explorations in Depth—The Two Lost Sons and Growing in God

Phil McLemoreThis episode departs from the typical Mormon Matters pattern in that it features a conversation with just one guest rather than a panel. But what a guest! Philip McLemore is a former CES instructor who then served for twenty-one years as an LDS chaplain in the Air Force and then another eight years as a hospice chaplain. During these times he underwent a dramatic spiritual transformation that was instigated and nurtured by a his beginning a serious meditation practice. Ultimately he was ordained within the Kriya Yoga tradition, which was brought to the U.S. and the west by Paramhansa Yogananda, and Phil now teaches meditation (in person as well as online) that is quite typically eastern in the form of his practices, but with the teachings centered primarily on the mystical and yogic path and the resources for it that abound within Christianity and Mormonism.

In today’s conversations, Phil and Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon explore in depth insights from two sources that Dan refers to quite often in Mormon Matters episodes as matches between these and that week’s topic come up. Dan’s interest in both things come from Phil—one is his reading of the Prodigal Son parable, which is better named the Parable of the Two Lost Sons—and the other is a five-stage model of spiritual growth and changing/deepening one’s relationship with God that Phil developed and that draws upon scriptural labels and metaphors for each stage.

Part 1 (Episode 327) overviews Phil’s journey from Mormon convert at age 19 to where his present interests, spirituality, and practices are today, and then does a deep dive on the Parable of the Two Lost Sons.

Part 2 (Episode 328) begins with an exploration of patterns and models found in great religions (including Mormonism) that ultimate culminate in ceremonies and then (hopefully/ideally) transformed lives that find a perfect balance of femaleness and maleness and the energies associated with them. This is preparatory work for the introduction of Phil’s five stage model, which culminates in what he names the “Beloved” stage, a mystical union with God. As Phil states in the podcast, friends share, but lovers unite.

These are powerful conversations with insights that might very well be pointers to “the” ultimate task of life, the kinds of transformations through which we find the divine nature unfolding within us. Let us know what you think! Please share your thoughts and questions and insights through the World Table commenting system below.



Philip G. McLemore, “Mormon Mantras: A Journey of Spiritual Transformation,” Sunstone, April 2006

Philip G. McLemore, “The Yoga of Christ,” Sunstone, June 2007

Philip G. McLemore, “Hindering the Saints: Taking Away the Key of Knowledge,” Sunstone, September 2012

Meditate with Phil” website (to explore a five-part seminar on meditation and various philosophies and approaches; also to sign up for a monthly subscription with several important benefits)

The Hymn of the Pearl,” from The Acts of Thomas. (Gnostic Society Library version).

Excerpts from “The Hymn of the Pearl” plus Carol Lynn Pearson’s poem “Within,” a handout prepared by Dan Wotherspoon for sharing in LDS circles.

326: Addiction and Recovery Series—Part 3: One Family’s Story of Overcoming Pornography Addiction and Its Negative Effects

Ashlynn and CobyThis episode, the third in our Mormon Matters Addiction and Recovery series, features another hopeful story, though it takes us through some very dark times before focusing on the light and healing ultimately found. This story, told by Coby and Ashlynn Mitchell, and aided by series co-host Bill Turnbull, takes us through Coby’s twenty-plus year addiction to pornography (which had its roots when, at age seven,  he was first introduced to a friend’s stepdad’s pornography collection), its effects on and following his mission, its pervasive influence in the first fourteen years of his and Ashlynn’s marriage and the ways it interfered with their ever really experiencing true intimacy, its role in his engaging in two inappropriate and sexually tinged emotional affairs, as well as Ashlynn’s suffering the devastating effects of betrayal trauma. It also gives an account of their recovery processes, healing aided by terrific specialized therapy, the establishment of good, new habits for relieving physical and emotional stresses, as well as aid that came in interesting ways from Coby’s mother who had been dead for several years. It also addresses spiritual growth and new discoveries about the Atonement and its effects in our lives as we seek to forgive ourselves and others, and when we finally choose to surrender to it, to actually “experience” it firsthand (something far different than how we normally think we “understand” it). Finally, Coby and Ashlynn share their story of ridding themselves of shame, so much so that much of their lives now are dedicated to being open about their experiences and assisting others going through similar struggles.

This is a fantastic conversation. I know you will gain much from it. I sure have! Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!



Elder Dale G. Renlund, “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying,” April 2015 General Conference talk

Short video of Coby’s story

Ashlynn’s Story: Why I Stayed after He Cheated, Fight the New Drug website

Ashlynn and Coby’s website

Ashlynn and Coby’s Facebook page

Email address to contact Ashlynn and Coby