040: Wrestling with The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon occupies a key place in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and very much so in many persons’ faith journeys. For some, encounters with the book completely changed their lives, offered meaning and a sense of a God who is alive and still speaking. But for many Latter-day Saints themselves, the book has become problematic. Some question its historicity, its origin stories, its teachings, as well as struggle with how it is seen within the tradition, and especially how it is talked about on Sundays and in other gatherings. For them, the Book of Mormon has become a stumbling block, and for many of these perhaps a reason they feel they can no longer associate with the church and LDS community.

In this episode, Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon is joined by his longtime friend, mentor, and discussion partner, Charles Randall Paul (Randy), to consider the Book of Mormon with different lenses, many of them personal. Their discussion begins with each of them sharing the story of their “love affair” (one that hasn’t always felt easy) with this book. They then move on to discuss it on different levels and from different approaches that have helped them retain a positive relationship with it, regardless of its historicity or other problematic areas. Randy shares how he has been helped by considering the many genres one finds in the book (in the same way as one finds in the Bible and the sacred texts of other traditions). And then they both reflect upon the term “scripture” and what it means for something to be considered as such. What is going on within us as individuals when we grant something the status of scripture, and what roles do scriptural texts and what they contain function within a faith community? 

The discussion herein might be summarized as reflections on each of the participants’ life-long wrestles with the Book of Mormon, including their gratitude for all it has brought to their lives, even despite the pain of frustrations and loss they’ve felt or certain transitions their encounters with the text and its context have forced upon them.

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Links to things mentioned in this episode:

“Embracing Myth,” Latter-day Faith Podcast, 26 June 2019 (with Charles Randall Paul)

Dan Wotherspoon, “To Make Big Shadows,” Sunstone, May 2009 (“Pillars of My Faith” talk as Dan retired from Sunstone)

Dan Wotherspoon, “On the Death of Nephi,” Sunstone, March 2005

Grant Hardy, The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois Press, 2005)

Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford, 2010)

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032: Wisdom Jesus

A common refrain in Christianity today is someone claiming something like this: “There are those who think of Jesus is merely a great teacher of morals or wisdom. But we know he is actually the Son of God and Savior of the world!” It is a binary, either/or proposition intended to discourage people from exploring the deeper, wisdom teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Well, in this episode, friends Jana SpanglerThomas McConkie, and LDF host Dan Wotherspoon turn their attention directly upon sayings and parables and types of consciousness that are, indeed, best read and understood through wisdom and contemplative lenses. Each panelist tells her or his own “Jesus story,” and also talks about various scriptural passages and insights that only come truly alive when approaching Jesus in this way. It’s a wonderful conversation, followed by beautiful centering exercise led by Thomas.

Listen in! Be ready to re-embrace a powerful and even more compelling Jesus!
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Links:

Philip G. McLemore, “The Yoga of Christ,” Sunstone, June 2007

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambala, 2008)

Andrew Harvey, Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ (TarcherPerigee, 1999)

Terryl and Fiona Givens, The Christ Who Heals: How God Restored the Truth That Saves Us (Deseret Book, 2017)

Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God (David C. Cook, 2009)

Thomas Withlin McConkie, Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map (Mormon Stages, 2015)
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030: Mormon Philosophy Simplified

Brittney Lowe Hartley has just published her long-awaited book, Mormon Philosophy Simplified: An Easy LDS Approach to Classic Philosophical Questions. In this episode, she joins Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon to discuss the book, its contents, and to dive into several of Mormonism’s interesting, and, to many, expansive and ennobling angles on questions such as the nature of existence itself, the problem of evil, Atonement, Sin, Grace, Free Will, Gender, Ethics, and more. In addition, Brittney shares a terrific exegesis on the often-troubling story of Nephi slaying Laban, and they both hint at a beautiful telling of the story of the Good Samaritan that is contained in the book’s epilogue. All throughout their conversation, they wax enthusiastic about the importance of philosophy and theology and how these disciplines, or even just being aware of classic questions in these areas, can help all of us on our spiritual journeys, aiding in clarifying our intellectual and spiritual foundations and core values.

You will love this conversation! Please dig in! Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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Links:

Brittney Lowe Hartley, Mormon Philosophy Simplified: An Easy LDS Approach to Classic Philosophical Questions (2019)

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Reading Scripture the Ignatian Way

Ignatius of Loyola was much like many of us: he aspired to be great and significant in the world, but as luck would have it, he was injured, and spent much of a year in recovery. During this period, he had few books to read, so he spent his days reading scripture and daydreaming.

He found that his daydreams of grandeur, of recovering the life he once aspired to, caused him to feel depressed. On the other hand, his daydreams of imagining himself within the stories of scripture brought him joy. In fact, as he lived within the narrative about the life of Jesus, he came to a personal relationship with the subject of scripture: the Christ as manifest in both the narrative and in his creative consciousness. He came to know God, not just know about God.

Motivated by his love for and with Jesus, he and his companions devoted their lives to not just reading and contemplation, but to active involvement in the world: that the love of Jesus is best manifest in our being men and women for and with others. They founded the “Society of Jesus”—Jesuits—based upon these principles of seeing God in all things, of practicing spiritual exercises including imaginative reading of scripture, of daily self-examination, and practicing love in the world, all for the greater glory of God.

I personally have found great benefit in reading scripture the Ignatian Way, that is, allowing scripture to open up as a creative, spiritual exercise, to live within the narrative, or as Nephi put it in the Book of Mormon, to liken scripture to ourselves.

To read the Scriptures as Ignatius suggests is not about just reading the text. Rather, it focuses on specific stories. For example, during the first phases of Ignatian spiritual exercises, it’s a good idea to explore the nature of sin—not as a stain on our soul, but as the process of learning to discern. The story of the Garden of Eden is particularly useful, exploring how Eve and Adam made choices in the Garden, and how those choices enabled them to learn through their own experience how to discern good and evil.

Another story is the birth narrative in Luke. In the video “Mr Krueger’s Christmas,” the title character played by Jimmy Stewart finds himself daydreaming as if he were physically present at the birth of Jesus. As he looks around, he sees shepherds, animals, Mary and Joseph, and of course the Jesus child. As he walks through the narrative, he connects in relationship with the baby Jesus, praying from his heart and enveloped in love.

My personal encounter with Ignatian spiritual reading of scripture was in contemplating the Atonement as expressed in John chapters 13-17: the “Last Supper.” As I entered the narrative, I heard the words of the Savior through the voice of my deceased mother express God’s intimate, personal, and unconditional love for me. In turn, if I love God, I will be motivated to love others “as God loves me,” that is, with intimate, personal, and unconditional love. The experience transformed everything I thought I knew about the Atonement. Click here to read the full article.

So how does Ignatian Imaginative Reading work for me?

Before reading scripture, I find it very helpful to prepare for the experience, by going to my own personal sacred space—a place outside of the noise of the world: could be a room in my house, could be in a library or church, could be anywhere where I can be outside of my daily interruptions and concerns.

There are many ways of imaginative reading—just use your imagination! The key, in my impression, is to find a story that resonates with me, then, reading the story four ways.

  1. I read the text as written, straight through, so that I can remind myself of the complete story line: What is the story itself saying?
  2. Next I read the text for what isn’t written: What is implied in the narrative? Who is witnessing this story? What are the factors, before and after, that affect the story line?
  3. Next I let the text go and put myself inside the narrative. Who am I in this story? Perhaps I could be one of the named actors, or simply an observer. Perhaps, in the story of Jesus’ birth, I’m one of the animals. I’m creative here—I’m putting myself in the story and letting my creative imagination run with it. I ask myself: What are my senses telling me as I become fully aware of the story? What am I feeling? What are my emotions telling me? This reading is purely contemplative—I allow the spirit to enter my heart and reveal what I need to learn from this reading.
  4. Finally, I return to the text itself. Yes, I have had an experience beyond the text in my imagination, but now, as I read the text, is there new meaning to be found? How does my new perspective open up the text to me to make me a better person—more loving towards and with others? How has God spoken love to me in this text?

As I close my reading session, I find myself physically and emotionally giving gratitude for the text. For me, I do a little ritual of closing the text and my eyes, touching the text to my forehead, and giving thanks for the experience I felt in the text.

Again, there are many ways to read scripture, and my approach, informed by Ignatian Spirituality is but one way. The key, in my impression, is to allow the text to open up for me, to speak to me, to become alive in my imagination, and then walk the journey of faith according to the inspiration I feel thereby.

I hope this helps. What are your thoughts about how you read scripture?

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)