Thursday, July 24, 2008

On Mormon blogs and podcasts

I wish I knew better how to find more thoughtful, challenging, and spiritually inspiring LDS-oriented blogs and podcasts out there. I do not mean to complain by making this statement. What I mean to say is that either I haven’t looked hard enough, or I don’t know where to look. On my iPod yesterday, I heard two great talks, one given by Dr. Robert F. Bohn at the 1991 Sunstone Symposium titled, “Cultural vs. Gospel Doctrine and the ‘Unsaid Sermon Phenomenon’,” and another given by Ronald Brough at the December 11, 2007, BYU Devotional titled, “Balance in Life.”

I caught Bro. Bohn’s talk from the Mormon Matters podcast. As noted by Clay Whipkey on the page referring to the talk, “The talk, and the response by Toby Pingree, explores a serious problem in the practical everyday lives of Latter-day Saints” of interpreting more out of spoken sermons than what they genuinely teach about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Two items caught my attention:

First, I appreciated the way he shared and contrasted spoken sermons and the possible reinterpretations of those spoken words we may sometimes inflict upon ourselves. For instance: The spoken, “We feel richly blessed that the Lord has trusted us to bear and raise several of His spirit children” may get reinterpreted culturally from the hearer who has no children: “We cannot bear our own children—The Lord must not trust us.” The core topic (e.g., meriting the Lord’s trust) may get lost in the cultural value we as Latter-day Saints espouse (e.g., raising a righteous posterity) and may blind us to the actual gospel principle being taught.

Second, Bro. Bohn listed of 9 steps to help neutralize the perpetuation of false cultural notions of actual gospel teachings (I copied and pasted them from Clay’s page. The original post with comments is here):

  1. Understand how we develop false cultural doctrines. (In the speaker’s own words: Identify Unsaid Sermons as such.)
  2. Replace these false notions with the correct gospel doctrine which brings hope and happiness, not despair and misery. Correcting our thinking helps us overcome cultural guilt much like correcting our behavior helps us overcome gospel guilt in the repentance process.
  3. Be careful not to make generalizations about the specific experiences of others. Because something happens a certain way to one church member does not mean that all other members must experience life exactly the same way.
  4. Realize that sometimes people say things they genuinely feel but may not be gospel doctrine. Often people justify their own circumstances and say things that make them feel good based upon what happened to them.
  5. Remind ourselves that what we hear is meant to edify us. It is not necessarily a representative sample of what most Saints are experiencing in their lives each day.
  6. Stop trying to live our life exactly like others’. Instead, we should develop our own lifestyle which is consistent with the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While gospel principles are the same for all of us, how we apply those principles in our lives sometimes varies.
  7. View our life from an eternal perspective of justice, which is not limited to our mortal existence.
  8. Assume responsibility for our feelings and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ instead of reacting to other members’ well-meaning, false notions and cultural doctrines.
  9. Focus upon changing ourselves so that we reflect the gospel in our words and deeds, rather than becoming cynical about the shortcomings of others. In reality, we can only change ourselves, not others. The best we could do is influence others.

Bonus (added by Toby Pingree):

  • Don’t take offense where none is intended.
  • Don’t be thin-skinned.

The audio of the talk is available here. Unfortunately, I have not found a transcript.

Bro. Brough’s talk is available here in various formats. He drew eight principles from a General Conference talk offered by Elder M. Russell Ballard (“Keeping Life’s Demands in Balance,” Ensign, May 1987, pp. 13-16):

  1. Think about your life and set your priorities.
  2. Set short-term goals that you can reach.
  3. Budget wisely and prepare for financial challenges.
  4. Stay close to your spouse, children, family, and friends.
  5. Study the scriptures.
  6. Find time for sufficient rest, relaxation, and exercise.
  7. Hold weekly family home evenings.
  8. Pray as individuals and as families.

As with Bro. Bohn’s talk, I appreciated Bro. Brough’s sincere manner and gentle humor as he used examples from his own life to illustrate his interpretation of the above suggestions. In themselves both sets of ideas from both talks seem like nothing more than common sense, but as I listened to the talks as I drove to and from my afternoon appointment yesterday, I felt grateful to be reminded that I needed to use that common sense to sort out some current concerns I have had. To me, this is the cardinal value of listening to uplifting and inspiring messages: they remind me of what I need to do, and they encourage me to believe I can do it well.

A quotation from Nietzsche was featured in the Bohn talk: “This is my way; where is yours?”—thus I answered those who asked me ‘the way.’ For the way—that does not exist” (Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Pt. III, On the Spirit of Gravity, 2). I tried to reconcile that idea with the verse of scripture that immediately popped into my head, John 14:6: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” My interpretation: We each have our own way of discovering and following Christ (or finding self-fulfillment, or whatever). While certain overarching principles may exist, there really is no set pathway to walk or specific pattern of following the gospel to get to heaven. Just as each person is an individual, each individual must learn from the unique set of experiences and circumstances that form the fabric of his or her life and build meaning from it. I make a mistake when I too literally try to emulate others’ examples of happiness and fulfillment while forgetting to learn from the distinctive opportunities for learning and growth offered by my own circumstances, and I felt grateful that a couple of podcasts could bring me back in check.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Try byuspeeches. They have a couple of podcasts and you can subscribe via itunes. I subscribe to Classic BYU Speeches and New BYU Speeches. Try as a landing place to find LDS content. I regularly read (three byu students with a great attitude and approach). There are a number of pages that show lists of lds blogs, and lds bloggers (which can be very different). Try as another landing spot. There are a lot of LDS blogs with huge readerships and each blog seems to have its own personality and tone. I really like ones with a smaller audience as I feel more part of the conversation. Of course, I will be launching one focused on fatherhood within the next couple of weeks. . .