286: Sunstone 2015

Cover imageSunstone is a unique organization within the Mormon intellectual world. For more than forty years it has published a magazine and annually convened symposiums of many varieties, hosting voices from all over the Mormon spectrum. It has faced many challenges through the years but is now thriving again, continuing to fill niches that only it can do.

In this episode, Sunstone magazine’s  editor, Stephen Carter, and it outreach director and symposium planner, Lindsay Hansen Park, join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for an overview of the organization and what it’s up to now, plus an introduction to some of the highlights of the upcoming Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, which will be held in the University of Utah union building from 29 July to 1 August.

If you haven’t yet signed up for this year’s symposium, we hope this will push you over the edge! And if you can’t attend, may it whet your appetite for watching the sessions that will stream, and/or ordering audio recordings that will be available soon!

Please listen, and then share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section below!

284–285: Worthiness

free-to-be-2“Worthiness” is a word that pops up quite often in LDS circles. It is as prominent as it is primarily because it is invoked when talking about ecclesiastical interviews, most often tied to temple recommends but also associated with the charge bishops receive to regularly interview the ward’s youth. And it also has taken hold in Mormon minds with regard to discussions of the sacrament–especially the practice of some who, by choice or bishop’s counsel, elect to not partake of this ordinance.

But is the term and concept of “worthiness” helpful, or does it too often lead to some having negative feelings about themselves that in no way reflect true gospel principles? For instance, we have all likely known people who equate failures to meet particular behavioral standards for entrance into the temple, and in Mormon parlance are therefore excluded for “worthiness” reasons, as meaning they are not worthy of God’s love. It’s a tie too many make. Similarly, some will think that having a difficult time battling to change something about themselves means that they shouldn’t partake of the sacrament, that by so doing after not having been more successful in showing God their determination to do better they might be “drinking damnation” to their souls (a poor understanding of I Corinthians 11:29). In this way, they then deny themselves a chance to be strengthened by their participation.

In this episode, Les Blake, Kerstin Koldewyn, and Matt Jones join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for an in-depth discussion of the “W-word” and how it affects Mormon lives. Are there better ways than “assessing worthiness” to think about the purposes of ecclesiastical interviews? How can we improve the settings in which LDS adults counsel and teach youth? How might we change our approach or language about these encounters that eliminates the sense of them being a “worthiness” check, or that could ever lead a person to a negative internalization about their status as–always and ever–“beloved”? What about the scriptures? When they speak of “unworthiness,” is it ever in the context of the Divine saying someone has so offended as to be unworthy of God’s love, aid, comfort? Furthermore, what do the scriptures say is the key criterion for deciding about partaking of the sacrament? Should a bishop or stake president ever suggest (or urge in even stronger terms) that someone not participate in this ordinance? How do concepts of “guilt” and “shame” play into our ideas about worthiness? Can we do better there, as well?

We hope you will listen to this episode and then share your thoughts and experiences below!

Links:

The Dynamics of Guilt and Shame,” Mormon Matters 51, November 2011

James E. Faulconer, “Remembrance,” FARMS Review 19, no. 2 (2007): 71–87.

283: Being an Ally

EthnicityEvery group that struggles for greater voice, rights, and fairness welcomes and draws strength from “allies,” people who are not a member of that group yet stand up for or work (mostly) behind the scenes to further the cause. It’s an important role, and one that can be very satisfying, but it’s also an unusual position as allies don’t typically lead. The stories of being silenced or suffering injustices is not theirs to tell. It also contains many challenges. In some ways, being an ally is fun, as activism on issues often garners praise and camaraderie, but it is also full of pitfalls. Are we making this cause “about me”? Am I wearing my role as a badge of honor? Or are we truly in the trenches, willing to be in the background, to be taught and changed by the stories we will learn? Being an ally also carries great responsibilities to be well-informed, well-spoken, and patient as we teach and inform. Allies must know their facts and understand a group’s larger goals. Allies also generally enjoy a “privilege” not shared by members of the group they are working alongside —being straight, white, able-bodied, healthy in body and mind, economically advantaged, etc.—generally unearned and so often unrecognized. How can allies come to understand their privilege and to use it in helpful ways?

In this episode, three people who work as allies—Jody England Hansen, Jerilyn Hassel Pool, and Mark Barnes—join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a discussion of this role (even perhaps “calling”) of being an ally. What have they learned on their journeys as allies for various causes? What have been the most gratifying things? The toughest?

Please listen to the episode and then ask questions or share your own experiences being an ally!

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Links:

“Male Allies,” Conversation Seven, Ordain Women

Ordain Women–Male Ally Conversation, video of a Google Hangout conversation (hosted by Mark Barnes)

Fatima Salleh, Keynote Address at Sunstone Symposium “Theology From the Margins,” 14 March 2015

Chelsea Shields on Infants on Thrones podcast, “Infants on Feminists, Part 1” and “Infants on Feminists, Part 2

282: Baptism

BaptismsWhat seem to be very simple rituals and teachings become, under sustained reflection and a reflective spiritual walk, immensely rich. This is the case with this episode, which continues a series started this past December and January (episodes 261, 263-264) discussing topics in Samuel M. Brown’s book, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple (Maxwell Institute, 2014). Joining Sam again, as he did for the episode that covered Faith and Repentance, is philosopher and theologian Adam Miller, this time for a terrific discussion of the ordinance of baptism. What are some of the ancient world’s ritual forms from which baptism emerged? What is the significance of John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul in expanding its usage and meanings? What potential problems arise when we over-emphasize the common teaching that baptism is primarily about being cleansed of our sins? In their conversation, the panelists also reflect in very rich ways upon its symbolism, as well as its role within Mormonism, including its ability to help bind us together as the “body of Christ.” As the discussion unfolds, they then turn to the role of the sacrament and its intricate connection with baptism. How does this ritual meal act as a ritual meal that binds us closer to God and each other?

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

281: LDS Film: Present, Future, Roles, Tensions

Cokeville Miracle posterThis episode features a fantastic conversation on film and the many roles it plays in human lives and communities, especially religious ones. Along the way it wrestles with the tensions that are always present in films for niche audiences, especially when filmmakers try to tell compelling stories while at the same time hoping to make money, which often means making many decisions based upon their sense of what their target audience expects (and, in so doing, sometimes lessening a story’s potential impact). How does this environment of tension between art and commerce hinder (or help) foster great storytelling and a film’s ability to rise to a high artistic level? Are there lenses (other than “Is it ‘great art’?”) that we should use in judging a film’s merits?

Freetown posterPanelists Arthur Van Wagenen, head of Excel Entertainment (Deseret Book’s film arm), Sterling Van Wagenen, co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Institute, filmmaker, teacher, and former administrator in several LDS film and television organizations, and Stephen Carter, writer, editor, filmmaker, and insightful commentator on the role of storytelling in our lives, join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a wonderful, far-ranging discussion about these and other questions. What are the various entities that create or distribute films and visual media content under the auspices of the LDS Church? What are their missions and commissions (the parameters set forth for their work)? Going forward, can we expect similar films and projects to what we’ve seen in the past? What criteria are Excel using as it seeks new projects and works with the films it distributes? What are the roles that film play in communities large and small? What are the panelists’ favorite religious-themed films—especially ones that that might serve as models for LDS filmmakers?

Please listen and then share your thoughts and comments below! And what are your favorite religious-themed films, or at least ones that led you to wonderful spiritual or life-changing reflections?

279–280: Mutual Respect: Creating Healthy Relationships When Loved Ones Choose a Different Faith Path

Faith Again_8 May 2015For more than a decade, Chelsea Shields Strayer and her parents, Eric and Heidi Shields, have held very difficult but ultimately fruitful conversations regarding her struggles within Mormonism, which eventually led her to no longer believe its teachings or choose to continue to engage as an active member. Their journey together during this time has been painful, but their relationship has ultimately grown stronger and continues to unfold in rich ways. How have they managed this feat? What has this journey felt like to each of them? What mistakes have they have made along the way? What are the key moments, insights, or shifts in perspective that have allowed them to draw closer and stay committed to remaining continually open with each other?

This two-part episode features a wonderful, open-hearted dialogue between Chelsea, Eric, and Heidi, held live on May 8, 2015 in the home of Mark and Elizabeth England in Salt Lake City, Utah, and facilitated by Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon. The evening event was the May meeting of the group “Faith Again,” which meets monthly and features speakers and panel discussions of Mormon and other faith-related topics.

Thank you to Jay Griffith, always a tireless force in Faith Again, for his incredible organizing and many contributions to this event. Thank you also to the amazing Sarah Collett for being our sound and recording engineer for the evening.

After listening to this conversation, please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!