My favorite podcast for the last six months has been Jack Naneek’s Mormon Awakenings podcast at Mormon Discussion Podcast. Jack is a great example of what I like to call a stage 5 (Fowler) or second half of life (Richard Rohr) Mormon.
Jack’s approach differs from many in the Progressive Mormon world that are talking about these issues. The difference is illustrated in episode 18, an hour long discussion interview with Bill Reel. Bill took an approach on the pain of faith crisis that the LDS Church needs to address this and fix this. Jack thought a more important point was that the person in faith crisis should take their own moral authority and change themselves such that they need no exterior validation. I would compare it in a way to Bill giving a man a fish vs Jack teaching a man to fish. Bill could help the person through a crisis. But around the corner, they’re going to have some other kind of crisis. Jack wants to give the tools to handle all crisis. Neither is wrong. Both approaches are necessary, but right now I am really enjoying this perspective Jack is teaching.
After going through faith crisis and reconstruction, I feel called to the world of popularizing a view of New Mormonism or what Patrick Mason calls “sustainable Mormonism”. A view of Mormon scripture and history that is intellectually valid in a modern world where many of the traditional and literal views are historically suspicious.
But what is perhaps more interesting, that I sometimes wish I was doing instead is what people like Adam Miller and Jack Naneek are doing. Which is showing and modeling how valuable Mormonism can be in this faith reconstructed, New Mormonism, Richard Rohr second life, “awakened” world.
Jack uses the same scripture stories we’ve heard like Jonah, Adam and Eve, Laman and Lemuel, Joseph Smith, Ruth, and Job, but turns them inside out, finding fresh perspectives and learning lessons. He recontextualizes classic Mormon cultural issues with a Zen Buddhist perspective and showing how I can learn from this not why I should be annoyed with this.
Mormon Awakenings is the only podcast I can honestly say I’ve listened to every minute of every episode and loved every one of them. Here are some of my favorites.
Episode 2, a great deep dive into Job and how his reactions to his persecutions showed his progressive stages of development.
Episode 4: Nephi played the “Lord card” with Laman and Lemuel. And he came across a little bit like a jerk doing it, and it’s no wonder it didn’t work with Laman and Lemuel. We should understand no one has authority over us. Our own personal authority is most important. We shouldn’t call the “Lord card” with others and we should recognize when others do it to us. Calling the “Lord card” is using an authority position over someone and manipulating them into action by calling the instructions from God.
Episode 5: Doing things because we’re “supposed to”. If our actions are not grounded in an understanding and belief that we’re doing the right thing, but we’re only doing something because we’re “supposed to”, this will leave us bitter and resentful and guilty for not doing everything perfect. This doesn’t give us carte blanche to do whatever we want, and become a serial gambler or wife beater. Sometimes we say we’re exercising personal authority by going against rules, and we’re really just being a jerk. But when we’ve learned the rules and experience with them, then we should use our personal authority as a guideline.
Episode 6: a great analysis using a random facebook post as an example. Someone says something outlandish. Others jump in to argue. Debate ensues. But it is more enlightened to just look at that and say well that person’s wrong, but I understand why they would say that given their experience and stage of life. And those people that argued back, I understand why they would say that. And to just be above the whole thing.
Then he brought up an example of two people fighting over Book of Mormon historicity for example. One group is claiming the Book of Mormon is worthless because it is not historic. Another group is arguing back, claiming it is historical. But what both groups really are getting at, is whether the Book of Mormon is good for you to read and study and base your life on its principles. We want someone to take away our personal authority and tell us something binary, true or not. When what an Awakened Mormon does is read the Book of Mormon and decide for themselves if God is present in the book.
Episode 7: an analysis of how established, hierarchical organizations work and how to affect change. The old guard is in charge. But the new guard can affect change when they work hard to gain all the knowledge and skill expected of them, speak the right language, and are patient and can wait for the right time. Complaining and demanding change doesn’t work. He uses an example of how he changed his view of a literal Adam and Eve, and then for a time was frustrated when this view wasn’t accepted immediately by others. He thought the Church needed to change its view on this before he can have peace. But over time, he developed a metaphorical appreciation of the Adam and Eve story which led to more generosity to others over their literal views and he found peace over the whole issue. He realized it wasn’t the church that needed to change in order for him to attain peace.
Episode 10: a great episode talking about how to sort out voices. He told the anecdote of an ornery neighbor telling him his house was a dump. He felt the temptation to come back at her. He felt the temptation to move, and get out of the situation. But this is a theme with the Mormon Awakenings podcast. Thinking that your environment or anything external needs to change in order to make you feel happy or at peace is immature. As you become enlightened and awake you understand how this is just part of life. And letting those voices have control over you is suffering. Learning to work and live and serve with these people and be generous with them and view them as opportunities for growth, that’s an Awakened Mormon.
Episode 11: another one of my favorites. I really don’t like Santa Claus examples in the religious world, because usually people are using it to make fun of belief. But Jack used a Santa Claus example in a really skillful way. Old people don’t go around worried about whether or not kids believe in Santa. Sometimes new parents do. They might obsess about it “are we teaching the kid a lie?” “if we tell him there’s no Santa, will he be crushed?” “How do we do this?” But the grandparents who have been around the block don’t worry too much. They have a confidence that if the kid believes in Santa, it’s OK. If the kid finds out there’s no Santa, that’s OK, too, he’s probably at the right age.
He compares this to faith crisis. People will believe when it’s good for them to believe. And generally they will move forward in their beliefs, when it’s right for them. But a not cool thing to do is to go around trying to disabuse everyone of their false beliefs, once you lose your beliefs. That’s not very “awakened”. If you go around telling kids there is no Santa Claus, you’re not enlightened. You’re a jerk.
He takes this a little further. We want to spare loved ones pain in a lot of these kinds of situations. He’s majoring in History, and I need to tell him to major in Accounting. She’s dating Jim, and Jim’s a really bad guy. We feel like we need to intervene. But it almost never works out well when we try to intervene. Because life is about experience. And the person needs that experience, even if it’s a bad one, to do in life what they need to do.
Now are you starting to see how darn PROFOUND Jack Naneek is? I hope so.
Episode 12: Spiritual promptings are not just to show us the church is true. And the obsession with that question, whether the Church is true. And it’s conclusion. Either it’s rejection or affirmation. Either way, this really just serves to limit our experience. What we need to be aware of is how the Church is affecting my experience in life. Is it facilitating positive growth? Is it facilitating personal miracles and deep spiritual experience. Jack goes into what a miracle is and isn’t, and how sometimes it can be something as simple/profound as God wanting us to notice the color and splendor in life.
Episode 14: Great episode about rats in a maze and commentary about what it means to get out of the maze. Here Jack demonstrates his very non-Jack-Naneek-like trait of feeling superior towards Utah Mormons.
Episode 17: Maybe my favorite. Jack tells the Buddhist story where a person asks the local butcher, “Which meat is the best?” And hearing the answer, “they’re all the best,” he immediately becomes enlightened. The lesson is that judging and ranking causes suffering. As Christians, we think, how can we not judge, that sounds like Satan, whispering to use there is no sin. And if we think that, we have excuse to be gambler, philanderer, and a big jerk. No.
The atonement is about moving from the binary to the non-dualistic paradigm. You might say the atonement takes what’s dirty and washes it and makes you clean again. Or you might say the atonement says you’ve done this thing but you’ve learned from it and what you’ve learned has transformed you into a better person.
And then Jack shares great insights into the Bible story Jonah where God lectures Jonah is sulking that the people he wanted to be destroyed actually ended up repenting and not being destroyed.
Episode 19: Jack cleverly compared one of his listener’s zinging him with criticism to a person receiving counsel from LDS general authorities at conference. There is a lot that is moving, uplifting, instructive, and wonderful about conference. Some of it not so much. Take what works and ignore what doesn’t. Cafeteria Mormonism is Mormonism. There’s no other Mormonism. It’s impossible to give everything equal priority, and we see that even the GA’s don’t do that. They have their own issues that they are known to emphasize. So should we.
Episode 20: So good. Jack teaches Richard Rohr’s first half/second half perspective through the lens of LDS Church engagement. Mormonism is really, really good for the first half of life, where the goal is to stay safe and be productive while you learn the rules to life. The second half of life is way better. That’s when you take what you learned and be creative and learn how to do life and explore God and spirituality your own way. But Jack also illustrates how the second half of life can still be a great time for LDS Church engagement where your role is to serve and help others, while seeing the value in community and converting the literalism to metaphor.
Episode 21: We wish the Church were a cult. The Church doesn’t tell us what to do on everything. It doesn’t tell us what to think on everything. But some of us sometimes wish it did, because then it would relieve us from the burden of making our own decisions. Which is where life and experience and growth happen. Jack condemns literalism and teaches us that the deeper implications and real value of scripture is in how we apply it. With literalism, it’s easy to not do that work. There is a grieving period when we discover certain scripture and religious events should be viewed metaphorically and not literally. But after the grieving period, real growth can occur.
Episode 24: Another episode that might be my favorite. Jack introduces German philosopher Martin Heidegger and an application to Mormonism. (warning, I don’t know Heidegger philosophy that well, and I am summarizing Jack’s application of it to Mormonism, so it might not be that academically true to Heidegger. Proceed with caution.) Heidegger talks about how we are all thrown into a milieu, which is the culture and environment we are born into and live in, which is a product of hundreds and thousands of years of prior cultural and intellectual and religious evolution leading up to the environment you encounter.
There is good in it. Helpful things in it. Likely wrong and harmful things in it. Likely things we should be grateful for and respect. So on.
We can react in three ways.
- We can think the past was better than the present. They did it better. Golden era. Life was better back then. If only we could get back to how we used to do it, things would be better. Nowadays things are getting worse. Make America great again. Everything was perfect and pure in the beginning, and its been corrupted, and we need to restore things. That was when God was really talking to us. Heidegger says this is an unhealthy way to look at things. There are times when it’s appropriate. But generally, this is an idea that is not rooted in reality. Jack and I agree this inferior way to look at life. This view is appealing to Mormons, based on the dominant narrative of the restoration bringing back the church in the exact way Jesus organized it.
- Second group is the Critical. These people are very negative about the past. They describe history in terms of the dominant group oppressing the masses. They are skeptical about any religious or philosophical relics of the past. Traditions and symbols should be thrown out and new ones created. There are times when a critical relationship with one’s history is good and constructive. Because sometimes this is accurate way to view things. And it’s good to apply critical reasoning to our past to understand what was good and what was bad. But overall, this is not the best way to do it. This is not the most enlightened way to react. We may think that through criticism, we are breaking free of our past, but we are staying defined and chained to the negative in the past. It’s not the most healthy approach.
- The last group are the Monumentalists. They take the cultural milieu, the symbols, the historical artifacts, and they want to keep them but transform them. They are about taking the best of their organizations and institutions and transforming them into something better. Heidegger believes this is the best and most healthy way to approach one’s “milieu” and the culture and symbols one inherits. Jack says he wants to be a Monumentalist, and so do I.
Quote from the podcast:
I’m a monumentalist. And I’m going to make the assertion that despite the existence of these three factions within our community, generation after generation, it’s the monumentalists that move Mormonism forward. Or any living community forward. It’s the monumentalists that take past symbols and reinterpret them, repackage them. Take past histories and rewrite them and restamp and republish them. It is those people that keep a community alive and moving it forward and towards that ultimate goal of understanding our reality better.
He compared the idea of monumentalism to the LDS idea of continuing revelation. A creative but valid way to view it.
Then he gave an example to illustrate the three segments in action within the church. For example, the Gospel Topics essays. The essays are a monumentalist type task. They take our historical and cultural icons and they are attempting to reinterpret them and reappropriate them. So, the church writes and publishes the essays, in a very monumentalist way. Monumentalists laud them and are on board. The critical faction thinks it’s just more of the same. The people in power are manipulating things to keep the masses in check. They are critical of the past but also critical of attempts to fix the past. Rather they just want to blow it up. Then the antiquarians can’t handle the change. They freak out. “What? Joseph Smith did what with Fanny Alger? We need to get back to the gospel of Adam. Where’s Denver Snuffer?” So the Church is afraid of the antiquarians, so they hide the essays and are afraid to unleash power to the monumentalists to move things forward. So we see the challenge of how to move forward when these three factions are all in conflict. It’s an interesting way to look at it. And I think there is some truth there.
I hope this write up inspires you to check out the podcast. Jack provides a good perspective for everyone in the LDS spectrum. Traditional Mormons, Progressive or nuanced Mormons, and even ExMormons. When I hear someone freaking out over this or that, I so often think, this person needs the Mormon Awakenings podcast.
I am trying to be a Monumentalist. I’m trying to be awake and enlightened. I’m trying to be a Fowler Stage 5 Mormon. I’m trying to live a successful Richard Rohr second half life. I want to be a Jack Naneek Mormon.