In this episode, I invite my good and very interesting friend Stephen Carter to share some of his deep wisdom about the effect that stories have on us. So often we feel like we are writing and living out our own story—whether it be religious, familial, communal, or many others—when, according to Stephen, it is actually stories living us. It’s an interesting and fruitful angle to try to think from and within, and especially so for Latter-day Saints and others from different traditions who are finding the story that they had been caught up in and experiencing the world through no longer matches our deepest desires, or even has become harmful.
As Stephen and I frame our discussion, we note how difficult it is to want to explore new stories or ways of thinking, believing, or acting. Our brains are wired to prefer the familiar more than the foreign, and routine over novelty. Yet, it is only by pushing past our initial aversion to real changes that we can grow. We point out how our religious (and even academic, scientific, historical, et al) traditions prefer stories that “confirm” previously held notions over those that place us in a tension that forces us to really think, struggle, and change even though a group’s highest ideals say our primary task in life is to progress along a Godward path.
I learned a lot from and am mulling over many things that come up in this podcast, especially related to my own spiritual path and how I might be keeping myself from new vistas and experiences because of how I stubbornly hold onto particular ideas conveyed in my story. Should you listen, I believe you will also be drawn into an inner dialogue of this sort. Luckily, by now we know that these wrestles, though challenging, are ultimately very important, and even delicious.
Among the many topics that spiritual seekers must wrestle with, the concept, uses, and experiences of revelation eclipse most others. We seek to know what’s best for us, what God (however defined) would have us do next, and, often, how can we make this or that right: how might we approach this person we’re in conflict with, who we need to apologize to, or who seems to be moving away from what’s good, true, or beautiful? Yet, in the discernment process we so often wonder, “Is this God I’m sensing, or my own mind? How can I tell?” These questions also loom large when groups come together to seek guidance—and, for this podcast in particular, we are including within the horns of this dilemma a church’s leading quorums and/or other decision-making bodies. No one is spared the often agonizing process of wondering how much we are being influenced by past ideas, patterns, and influences versus being open to new ones—including ones we can’t even yet imagine. All of us, religious leaders included, are human beings with histories, personalities, preferences, egos, fears, limitations, et al, and none of these fully recede when seeking revelatory direction for our or our group’s lives.
Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the difficulty of “revelation” has recently come to the forefront again through an April 4th reversal of a previous policy that had been in place that had been declared “revelation.” For three-and-a-half years, the LDS First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, and other governing bodies had declared restrictions of Latter-day Saints in same-sex marriages and their children in terms of membership or other privileges granted to others in the church, and then these ended. Many church members were then left to ask if God’s mind regarding these restrictions suddenly changed, or is this a case where even prophets, seers, and revelators “got it wrong.” Compounding the difficulty of the wrestle with this matter is the fact that this short-term policy/revelation deeply wounded tens of thousands Latter-day Saints, perhaps even causing distress to such a degree that it was a final factor in some choosing to end their own lives, and confused and depressed hundreds of thousands, or even perhaps a million or more, church members who experienced a agonizing split between their own conscience and the personal light they felt they had received regarding the status of same-sex marriages and that which the church’s top leaders claimed to be God’s will on the matter.
In this two-part Latter-day Faith episode, the brilliant Carol Lynn Pearson and Charley Harrell join host Dan Wotherspoon for a broad and deep discussion about revelation and its messiness. Certainly the recent policy change was the discussion’s impetus, but it isn’t the primary focus. Listeners should not expect anything nitty-gritty about this particular instance. Instead, the panelists focus on how revelation has been thought about within not only Mormonism but also throughout the history of other Christians. Charley leads out there, introducing various models that have arisen as faithful persons who believe in God and God’s ability to communicate with and influence us for good have had to come to terms with what is patently evident: revelation has human hands, minds, desires, fears, confusion all over it!
This discussion (comprising much of the first of the two parts) is then followed by a powerful wrestle with the “shadow” that a failure to understand and talk about this messier-than-we’d-love-to-believe matter of receiving clear revelatory messages has cast upon the entire history of Mormonism. (Listeners from other religions, I believe you’ll find many parallels here with your own traditions.) From Mormon beginnings forward, the unnoticed biases, desires, fears, and trust in inherited world views have influenced and warped minds, hearts, and souls as they gave rise to the practice (and theology) of plural marriage, restrictions on full participation and priesthood for Latter-day Saints with black African ancestry, and ongoing issues such as the role of women within the church, this issue regarding LGBT+ members, and the “culture of certainty” and all its harmful effects on individuals and the church itself. The shadow is dark (it’s not been exposed by healing Light) and healing it is and will be difficult. Yet, approach it we must, trusting in God, the power of Truth and Love, and the goodness of our God-permeated souls to show the way, open hearts, and allow us to continue to work toward living fully the Kingdom of God (the way of viewing and prioritizing things as God does) as taught in scripture as being within all of us.
n this inaugural episode of Latter-day Faith, host Dan Wotherspoon shares what the podcast will be about. As he moves into this new adventure following eight years as host of the Mormon Matters podcast, he emphasizes that Latter-day Faith will be far broader in scope, less LDS/Mormon centric, and will, at its heart, be about universal themes related to our faith lives. It will tackle the nature of faith itself, and how it should not be narrowed to assent to truth claims (beliefs) but instead be or become a trust that can only grow through participation and risk and stretching within a relationship with God (with God not solely limited to what can be thought with our minds or said with words—but only experienced). It will talk about scripture, religious practices, mythic and archetypal truths that are not best approached through discursive thought, community, institutional religion and how it can and does bless our lives while at the same time, too often, can obscure of place limits on our vision if we allow it to. It will feature many guests who are members or good observers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but also others from outside this tradition, many deeply immersed in their home or adopted religions, but always with an active and powerful spiritual life. Mormonism (the tradition) will certainly be mentioned in each episode, sharing touchstones within its teachings or group dynamics, but it hopes many others will also find Latter-day Faith (read: Faith needed Today!) a great resource for their spiritual journeys.
We are excited to bring you this new podcast! Please subscribe via iTunes or any of your podcast listening apps! And visit https://www.latterdayfaith.org/ to read the soon-to-be-started blog and learn of workshops and retreats or other offerings and announcements. Latter-day Faith intends to grow with its audience, and in dialogue with what listeners hope it will cover or do. Welcome to Latter-day Faith!!!
Each one of us is on a journey. We are striving for greater connection, and with that, a deeper sense of belonging, peace, and joy. We want to live more fully within the divine flow. We want to have a clearer sense of purpose. We want to discern what it is that God—the Divine source, Life, whatever you may call it—has in mind for us, trusting that in alignment with this, we will find the peace of living a life of integrity with our highest values and principles.
This is why I have started Latter-day Faith: to explore faith and its realities for this time in human history.
Latter-day Faith podcast and blog are part of the Faith Journey Foundation, a non-profit intended to help foster and be a resource for our inner, spiritual lives. Here I will refer to the dynamic and ever-flowing and expanding energy of the Cosmos (to which we fully belong) as “God.” I will also speak of the essence of God incarnated in all life, including us, as “Christ,” with Jesus of Nazareth as someone who fully embodied a positive and affirming relationship with God, each of us, and every living entity. Jesus also manifested “Kingdom” consciousness and declares that within each of us is the ability to attain it. It is from a place of centering in this kingdom that we’ll simply “know” how to be in each situation, how to understand the deeper Reality that is too often hidden from view by our own and others’ ego concerns and the way society and our governments, economies, and churches have placed themselves on unsteady ground. Every day, as I come to better grasp what Jesus was really up to, I am blown away once more seeing more clearly how his critiques of his day are wildly relevant to the worlds—thought, religious, social—in which we find ourselves.
I don’t insist that any of us understand God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as having specific attributes such as being white bearded men, or even having physical bodies in the very specific ways that Latter-day Saint teachings suggests. These names are symbols that are surely part of Christian traditions, but on the LDF blog and in the podcast, I intend to look at these symbols and the stories that frame them in deeper ways. Each of them point toward elements vital in the movements of God, and that must be “experienced” rather than “thought about.” Hence, I will try to emphasize the transformative, restorative, and ennobling power of these symbols more than anything that might make for good “theology-talk.” Let’s get as close to experiencing what they represent as we can!
Finally, about the name Latter-day Faith:
The “Latter-day” portion of the name refers not only to the religion and culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but also connotes a current, living faith we can and must realize today. Although the discussions maintain awareness of the show’s and blog’s primarily Latter-day Saint audience, the conversations, sensibilities, and guests are drawn from many religious traditions. The “faith” portion of the name represents more than what we believe. Faith is the relational aspect of trust even amid uncertainty or even doubt. Faith is a living, loving, and abiding relationship with God and with each other (all of us other gods!).
Here, as you react in the comments, and also as you interact with things in the podcast, I invite your active involvement with Latter-day Faith and the community that will be building around it.
Thanks so much for checking us out. Welcome!
American Millennials–the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s–have been leaving organized religion in unprecedented numbers. For a long time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was an exception: nearly three-quarters of people who grew up Mormon stayed that way into adulthood. In The Next Mormons, Jana Riess demonstrates that things are starting to change.
Drawing on a large-scale national study of four generations of current and former Mormons as well as dozens of in-depth personal interviews, Riess explores the religious beliefs and behaviors of young adult Mormons, finding that while their levels of belief remain strong, their institutional loyalties are less certain than their parents’ and grandparents’. For a growing number of Millennials, the tensions between the Church’s conservative ideals and their generation’s commitment to individualism and pluralism prove too high, causing them to leave the faith-often experiencing deep personal anguish in the process. Those who remain within the fold are attempting to carefully balance the Church’s strong emphasis on the traditional family with their generation’s more inclusive definition that celebrates same-sex couples and women’s equality. Mormon families are changing too. More Mormons are remaining single, parents are having fewer children, and more women are working outside the home than a generation ago.
The Next Mormons offers a portrait of a generation navigating between traditional religion and a rapidly changing culture.
The Challenge of Honesty: Essays for Latter-day Saints, by Frances Lee Menlove, edited by Dan Wotherspoon
In the inaugural issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in 1966, Frances Menlove bravely wrote: “The very nature of the Church demands honesty, which is inherent in its mission to seek truth. What are the motives behind dishonesty? Perhaps it is the desire in everyone to protect that which they love. If one admits to past disasters, misdirection, failings, then it is possible to wonder if the Church is not in some way faltering now. But if we believe that truth and knowledge have limitations, we must welcome diverse opinions, even criticisms. Only by honestly receiving and scrutinizing all positions can we come close to an understanding of the truth.”
These words remain as fresh and bracing today as they were nearly fifty years ago. The sixteen other essays and devotionals in this collection, some published here for the first time, are equally bold, exposing injustice masked as God’s will. They contain an underlying theme of personal integrity and striving for spiritual transformation. They stand perceived wisdom on its head in the same way that scripture so often does. Readers will want to share these essays with family and friends but will also find the concepts again and again occupying their own private thoughts.