We hear people throughout the religious world use the language of “blessings” when something difficult in their lives is resolved in a wonderful and what seems to them somewhat mysterious way. For some who are attuned to trying to experience the heartbeat of the cosmos, we will hear about all of life as a blessing, the very large and very small, all the good and all the bad, light and dark, life and death, things unexpected, desired, dreaded, or confusing. For others who think of God in quite personal terms, as a being that somehow pays really close attention to them and all other individuals on the planet, they sense that blessings are a result of actions they have taken, thinking of them being doled out by this personal God according to some formula that they don’t fully understand but are sure it is in play.
A common refrain from some is that it was God, following their prayer of desperation, who helped them “find their keys,” healed their loved one, or perhaps led them safely home through a terrible storm. They will testify to this in a spirit of gratitude, certain that God was definitely the primary actor in such things. However, for many who hear their testimony of God’s particular care, such expressions that seem to move beyond “this happened” to why they were particularly gifted with this result bring up many questions: Why didn’t my loved one recover from their illness, be warned of an impending accident so they might not have been so badly injured, or worse, from what happened on the highway. Some become fraught with questions and frustration: So God cared about their keys being found just in time to make it to the important meeting—or the temple session they wanted to attend—yet doesn’t care enough to rescue others who are imprisoned in sexual slavery, who are murdered or raped or abused, who lose their livelihood from circumstances far beyond their own control? It all can make one stop believing in a God at all and, sometimes, at least for a while, imagining life is meaningless and everything that comes up in life is purely random.
In this episode of Latter-day Faith, Susan Hinckley, along with host Dan Wotherspoon, explore the idea of blessings and the various ways people think and speak about them. In an effort to “seed” reflection, they explore notions and orientations to blessings like those things mentioned above, as well as reveal their own struggles with the evolution of their ideas about blessings in their own journeys. Are they something that are sort of “earned” by righteousness, or is there a more mysterious sort of calculus in play, such as that suggested by Elder Dale G. Renlund in a recent General Conference address when he proposed: “[Y]ou do not earn a blessing—that notion is false—but you do have to qualify for it.”? Or is a better way of approaching life’s various movements in terms of “grace,” a term for that which is given freely to all things and persons simply through the energies that create and infuse all life? Is that best approach found in the idea of “original blessing,” a concept that allows for both God and creation’s own mysterious work drawn from the story of Creation in Genesis 1 in which God creates and at each step of separation and differentiation declares it “good,” and, ultimately, after the creation of humans, pronounces the result “very good.”
Please enjoy this discussion! May it stimulate wonderful reflection on this “close to home” topic!
The spiritual practice of lectio divina (divine/sacred reading) originated in the early centuries of Christianity and survived from then until recently primarily in monasteries and convents. In the past few decades, it has found many practitioners among spiritual seekers. Primarily focused on Bible texts but applicable to all scripture, including LDS ones, and sacred readings, lectio is a way of engaging these texts that concentrates on our discernment of what in the passage is calling to us to explore, and then using it as a catalyst for our inner work. In this way, it becomes a form of scripture reading that truly allows these texts, with their stories and symbols and metaphors, etc. to become daily bread and living water for us. It isn’t so much reading for content or just the action of the story or in an effort to nail down some hard and fast truth in ways that will build testimony of our previously held notions, but a way of approaching the texts with an open heart and soul that allows it to draw you into conversation with it, and with our deepest selves.
In this episode, Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon introduces this practice and its various elements–lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation/reflection), oratatio (prayer), andcontemplatio (contemplation)–in an attempt to get you excited about engaging scripture in ways that aren’t taught in most traditions. He speaks about each of the aspects, as well as shares as an example some of the ways that his personal practice of lectio led him to discover new things in and about the story told in Luke 4:14-30, but even more to reflect on and help get unstuck in trying to overcome a personal struggle of his.
We hope you’ll enjoy learning about this practice and potentially trying it out for yourself! We all need to draw fresh each day from the well of the Spirit and Divine guidance and encouragement, and this is one discipline that has been extremely helpful for other fellow travelers along the spiritual journey trail.
This episode focuses on the term “latter-day” and how it is understood by Christians, including Latter-day Saints, in many different ways, each leading to quite varied theologies.Mark Crego and LDF host Dan Wotherspoon distinguish between “last days” and the idea of an impending apocalypse, “latter” vs “former” days of both early Christianity and early Mormonism, and, third, as referring to now, this present moment in time. They review each, discussing scripture and precedent in Christian discussions, as well as evaluating the practical and social impact of the various camps. Do some lead to apathy and waiting for the fix for social ills to come from the Second Coming of Jesus? Do some lend themselves best in creating power dynamics that can often be coercive or controlling. Ultimately, this episode zeros in on the way this podcast, Latter-day Faith, emphasizes the concept of latter-days as being about faith for these current days of so much information and competing voices and sensibilities. It also offers framings for how to interact with those in our families or communities who might think about prophecies of Christ’s return differently than we do. All throughout, both Mark and Dan share quite personal stories and reflections about pivotal moments in their lives related to how they have come to view the idea of latter days.
We all live our lives within mythic structures, and we always will. But early on, as James Fowler states, we take these overarching stories as literally true (he names his Stage 2 as Mythic-Literal). Then life, in ways that we can comprehend, serves up alternate mythologies. We begin to see the stories of others as genuine options for us to adopt, or at least appreciate deeply. In that dilemma of seeing more than one story or mythic framing being as capable of leading people to experience rich and joyful lives, with strong values and a dynamic sense of purpose, we must begin to shift our perspective. We are now forced to see our myths as value stories rather than factual truth, and begin to enter into a new relationship with them.
Making this shift is extremely difficult. At first, most of us want to hide or re-cocoon ourselves solely within our story as being THE right or best one. This transition toward comfort with our overarching stories and sense of the world/universe/purpose as being mythic and something other than what we thought it was can take a very long time. But it is a shift worth making, because all of a sudden the world and universe come alive for us in ways we can’t, in our fears, imagine. Now we are playing on a much larger stage: a lure that calls us to embark upon the hero’s journey, the quest to overcome what scares us or holds us back, and into a new life that can help heal ourselves and the communities we are part of.
In this episode, my wonderful friend Charles Randall Paul (Randy) and I dive deeply into the importance and value of myth (debunking any thought of it as “not true”) and the excitement of being in a broader world in which we are now able to be creators and teachers and livers of our highest values and experience harmony between our old and ever-emerging selves in ways that enliven our family and community bonds and experiences and, hopefully, model for others the boons of these journeys into the unknown that lead us back transformed in powerful ways.
I hope you’ll join us in this important conversation, this attempt to assist us all in “unlearning” any perjorative thoughts of myth as being less powerful or vital than “facts.” I also hope you’ll find attractive, as well, what we do in the sections that help bring alive gorgeous aspects of Mormonism’s foundational myths.
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”!
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!
“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
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!
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!
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!
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)
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!