We all have different temperaments, and there are many combinations of elements that affect our spiritual journeys—including how recently we’ve entered into a time of questioning our original assumptions about life, church, and our souls. Because of this diversity, a fairly common theme that arises in Mormon discussions is how it seems to some as if those who are making peace with Mormon life and its teachings and various elements of LDS culture that want to limit spiritual exploration must be doing everything possible to force new ideas into old containers, to redefine words and concepts in a way that renders them practically meaningless. In short, the critique is that those who claim there is roominess in Mormonism for active, engaged, and fulfilling spiritual lives must be engaged in mental and spiritual gymnastics, must be contorting themselves and jamming their ideas into very small spaces in order to stay in fellowship with the Church and its members. In addition, this critique is often coupled with a suggestion (most often implied but sometimes explicit) that they are deceiving themselves or are spending the energy they do to find a good fit out of fear or some other motive that is less than fully transparent to them.
Is this accurate? In some cases, sure. And in many, this may be a fairly accurate description of an early stage in a person’s journey. However, for most who have God- and Mormon-wrestled and emerged from the efforts expended in that kind of soul work, it has felt like anything but spiritual gymnastics/contortionism. It has felt like natural growth, very much akin to how they’ve deepened their grasp of things in other aspects of life in which they have moved from one place of understanding to another.
In order to illustrate this (and as an attempt to go in depth in order to illustrate this more complete reordering that has felt to them like very natural and worthy efforts), this episode features two wonderful and insightful panelists, Ian Thomson and Chris Kimball, in conversation with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon about these claims about people forcing a fit into a strict gospel message and culture, or nuancing “truth” and certain concepts so completely that they now actually don’t mean much of anything. All three of these discussion partners share elements of their own journey toward peace within the religion that nurtured them, even as they share how it certainly still tests their patience and forces them to face issues and attitudes that aren’t always enjoyable. The challenge this episode presents is for listeners to hear for themselves and decide if, indeed, these discussants are deceived about the reasons for their continued engagement and stand on very insubstantial ground in their thought and practices, or if they represent an attractive, a-bit-down-the-pathway position and worldview that has its own integrity and ability to foster peace of soul and a fulfilled life within an LDS context.
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William James quotation about life feeling like a “real fight” that Dan paraphrased during the conversation.
For my own part, I do not know what the sweat and blood and tragedy of this life mean, if they mean anything short of this. If this life be not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight,—as if there were something really wild in the universe which we, with all our idealities and faithfulnesses, are needed to redeem; and first of all to redeem our own hearts from atheisms and fears. For such a half-wild half-saved universe our nature is adapted. The deepest thing in our nature is this dumb region of the heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and our fears.