011: Church

n this episode, I am joined by the wonderful scholar Taylor Petrey for a conversation on “church.” Our goal was to try to open up the concept of church to allow more breathing room so we might consider it beyond a particular religion and its various leadership, ritual, and community forms. In the first part of our discussion, Taylor leads us through the origins of the term and understandings of it in the New Testament and early centuries of Christianity. We discuss whether Jesus deliberately tried to set up a church with a particular organizational structure that was to be perpetuated following his death. This leads us to briefly reconsider the story of Apostasy and Restoration that have been emphasized within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We also consider “church” as it is used in Latter-day Saint scriptures.

The second half of our discussion is more personal than historical or theological. How do we approach church as participating members who have studied, or at least become conscious enough of, the difficult aspects of churches and their teachings, and as organizations that naturally focus on “administering” their affairs and providing messaging that will be safe and digestible for the majority of its adherents, rather than “ministering” to and feeding each and every member’s particular needs? We ask about what church means in our lives. We conclude with messages of appreciation, as well, for the many good things a church can provide, and, of course, I throw in my pitch for the secret to thriving within a structured faith community (no matter its set-up) as being our willingness to do our own inner work and commune directly with God rather than imagine we are forced only to approach the Divine through a church’s authoritative structure and leaders. Interesting and better “questions” are far superior when it comes to our spiritual lives than are “answers”! 


010: Becoming Aware of Our Biases

I’ve just released a new and very powerful episode of the Latter-day Faith podcast. I hope you’ll check it out! We live so much of our lives unconsciously, in many ways reacting, seeing, and judging based on understandings that were primarily “given to” us during our formative years. Among the toughest of these biases regards race. In fact, this week’s guest, Dr.LaShawn C Williams, suggests that if we can talk about this one, we can talk about anything! And so that’s what we do in this episode. 

After a fairly Mormon specific, what’s-occurring-today chat, LaShawn and I dig into the subject of bias, using race as a primary example, but at every turn also generalizing from it to all the types of bias that we unconsciously hold, while also offering strategies for becoming aware of them and moving through healing processes. In short, as is the case with most Latter-day Faith episodes, we always tie bias with inner work and how to remove it as a block or cover that keeps our full, deepest, true soul manifesting itself and the love and compassion that is the its natural stance. 

As part of the discussion, we get into a great section about situational vs systemic privilege or oppression. About the importance of understanding the way our bodies work with regard to scary or foreign situations and people. About the importance of trying to understand all situations and others’ as well as our own biases, in context. How did they or we come to hold these biases? We talk about how important it is to seek to understand how this or that action, reaction, or attitude “make sense” to that person or to us. Only in this way can we avoid thinking of them, or parts of ourselves, as evil. We must also learn how often our interactions with and understandings of others are based on our “projections” onto them. Do we really know who they are? Are we really experiencing them, or just ourselves? 

All of this is very hard work, but it is also joyful work, and at each step LaShawn exudes hope and optimism alongside her realism. She models the best of ways we can approach the world and our lives through inner work, as well as reminding us of the importance of patience in all these processes. LaShawn is powerful, and this is a powerful and empowering episode. Listen in! You’ll be glad you did!

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Links:

Becoming Powerful,” Mormon Matters episode with LaShawn C. Williams, October 2018

Zandra Vranes, Facebook post on grief among Latter-day Saints referred to by Dr. Williams in this episode

009: Faith is Much More Than Belief

According to Joseph Smith, faith is the first principle of the gospel. And many of this teachings show that he understood it profoundly. But ever since the early church published its “Articles of Faith” with all but one of them beginning with “We believe,” Latter-day Saints, like so many other Christians who now live downwind from when their various traditions broke off from the main church and in doing so felt they had to distinguish themselves from other denominations by sharing how their beliefs differ from the others, “faith” has become far too conflated with what a person or group believes. The active, relational, magnificent engine of change and hope and well-being aspects of faith become, far too often, forgotten. And one set of circumstances in which this distortion of the concept of faith is often a bigger stumbling block is for those who begin to doubt the truth claims that they once held and/or feel out of place within a church of culture that seems to demand a high level of belief, whether in the form of creeds to assert or questions posed by ecclesiastical leaders.

How do we (re)claim in our own lives the power, hope, and love that are the core features of faith? How can we be “persons of faith” and persons who walk in faith even if we don’t/can’t actually give mental consent to very many particular claims about the nature of God, Jesus, Spirit, the universe, human beings, scripture, rituals, salvation, and so forth? Mark Crego and Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon believe <grin> that the first steps involve attaining more clarity on the subject/phenomenon of faith, unlearning the habit of equating it too much with beliefs, and most of all beginning to understand that it actually is all about relationships.

We hope you’ll enjoy this terrific, insight-filled discussion! Let us know if you did in the comments below! Thanks!

008: Faith Journeys

Latter-day Faith is, rightly, part of the Faith Journey Foundation, as its ultimate focus is trying to assist in the the life processes that simply “feel right” to our souls: our becoming our highest selves. This episode was originally prompted by a Facebook query in which a listener noted that I have been mentioning quite often that the early episodes of LDF are intended to be “foundational,” groundwork for discussions that will follow, but he couldn’t quite spot the full rhyme or reason for the various topics we’ve presented on up to this point. I recorded this episode as a response to his question that ended up moving into ideas such as the importance of “un-learning” certain things before we can learn new ones, and of our allowing ideas, judgments, assumptions, grudges, blinders, self-doubts, and so much more to “die” before we can be resurrected, able to enter the fulness of what it means to be both human and divine. To get there, I primarily share two framings (two approaches to the same thing): the Hero’s/Heroine’s Journey, and the basic gist of James Fowler’s “stages of faith.” Both have been pivotal in my own journey, and I wanted to share them afresh here in the early going of this podcast project. I hope you’ll enjoy the result of my rambles, switchbacks and goofiness centered around some really profound stuff. Cheers!

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007: Rethinking Scripture

I am thrilled to have two wonderful scholars and friends, David Bokovoy and Margaret Toscano, join me this week for a discussion about scripture. So often while we are undergoing a shift of faith, tools and notions that were once extremely helpful and exciting can become stale to us, or even become a target of our scorn. Our new questions run up against old ways of seeing things such as scripture, and our old views don’t fare well under vigorous inquiry. This failure leads to several options, the most common two being abandonment of the thing and dismissing it altogether, or seeing if the assumptions we’ve previously held (most likely gained unconsciously) might be lacking. It is in service of this second option, and regarding scripture, that I convened this panel. What must we “unlearn” about scripture that might make way for it to become alive for us and possibly worthy of our engagement again? What assumptions do we hold at this day and time (and our particular location–geographically or within our religious tradition) that obscure for us the meanings the texts had for those when they were written, or that keep us from engaging scripture at levels much deeper than literal, historical, and moral instruction? How can study of sacred texts viewed through different lenses often lead us to greater appreciation of many of the authors’ brilliance, and serve as a catalyst for our own illumination and deeper experiences with the Divine? Margaret and David are wonderful guides for these kinds of inquiry and the potential benefits for us that come when we rethink scripture. Please listen in to our discussion and help continue it by reacting and sharing in the comments section!

Links:

David Bokovoy, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis – Deuteronomy (Kofford Books, 2014)

Richard Rohr, What Do We Do With the Bible? (Center for Action and Contemplation, 2019)

006: Clearing the Way for Joy and Forgiveness: A Spiritual Practice

In this unusual episode, Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon undergoes the processes that are part of a terrific technique for learning to evaluate current tensions in our lives—with situations, people, and even institutions—and coming to see clearly how we are very likely trading our potential for joy because of certain benefits we (think we) gain from remaining in conflict. The process is an important spiritual practice that we all can learn and apply in many, many circumstances. As taught here by JoDee Baird, a wonderful and experienced facilitator and faith journey guide, the practice also helps us understand the peace and joy available to all us if we will allow ourselves to both offer and receive forgiveness.

Listen in if you dare to peek a bit more than usual into Dan’s psyche. He’s not sure how that might come across!

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005: Hallmarks of Mature Spirituality

As my good friend Jana Spangler and I talk in this episode about the quality of “spiritual maturity,” we note the difficulty involved in a subject like this because such maturity is more of a thing that we might notice in other people and, perhaps, ourselves, yet it is hard to explain in words (and definitely not something someone should claim about themselves). But we pushed on anyway! Our approach was to discuss three qualities or hallmarks that we believe are universal across all spiritual traditions and communities. Jana leads us through a discussion of transformational vs transactional relationships with God and others. We move next to someone’s ability to examine what ego needs are playing out with others and ourselves, leading us in our relationships and soul work to over-identify with these needs and trying to protect others and us from seeing them rather than coming to center in our highest selves. Our final topic is differentiation. How comfortable are we with expressions of genuine difference, whether they be in others’ experiences vs ours or even another’s critique? Are we able to validate the positions of and see those who differ from us as fellow travelers rather than enemies who are standing in the way of our vision becoming normative? Do we lead out always with love and compassion first? Are we comfortable enough with ourselves to be okay even in settings in which we might feel a bit like an outsider?

This episode contains many terrific insights. Jana knocks everything out of the ballpark here. Prepare for a good and potentially important transformative listen! Cheers!

Links to things mentioned in the episode:

Mormon Matters episode on the Enneagram for Mormons”

On Being episode with Alain de Botton, “The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships


004: Changing Our Story

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.

002-003: Wrestling with Revelation, Personal and Institutional

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.

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001: Introducing Latter-day Faith Podcast

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!!!