Recently, a scholar friend mentioned that during the announcement of the new Joseph Smith Papers Project and seer stone photos, those in attendance were seated in separate groups. Those who were friends of the Maxwell Institute sat on one side of the room, while Mormon Interpreter fans sat on the other side. Those agnostics that did not belong to either camp found themselves uncomfortably sitting in the middle.
As I pondered what he said, and how events that occurred three years ago are still causing divisions and contention among those LDS scholars that should be leading the way towards unity, I wished for a new beginning for everyone.
Given that many here at Millennial Star are conservatives that squarely sit on the side of the Interpreter, I wish to share with everyone and encourage them to open themselves up to the quality work being done at the Maxwell Institute. For example, its Living Faith series of books is providing a fresh view of the gospel, with excellent books, such as Adam S Miller’s “Letters to a Young Mormon”, and Steven Peck’s upcoming volume, “Evolving Faith” (which I reviewed here).
Today, I’d like to share with you a great series of podcasts that the Maxwell Institute provides. Hosted by my friend, Blair Hodges, these are a great series of interviews. Unlike the excellent podcasts at Mormon Interpreter, Blair’s interviews complement MI’s work by providing us interviews from many sources, not just LDS scholars.
Listening to Blair, his voice and rhythmic discussions remind me of Guy Raz of NPR’s TED Talk program. From the questions he asks and the points he brings up in the interviews, you can tell that Blair has done his homework.
In recent podcasts, he interviewed scholars, who have written books such as the “Annotated Jewish New Testament” (edited and written by Jewish scholars), a book of papers from a conference on religious freedom, and a book written by a female Episcopalian priest entitled, “Wearing God”.
In these examples, Blair brings up poignant and important passages and concepts from the books discussed. In discussing Roger Williams’ views on religious freedoms, he is well aware of Williams’ controversial views on religion, while still pushing to separate church and state. His understanding of the topic at hand enriches the interviews.
Given that many of his subjects are not LDS, the podcasts are valuable for both LDS and others, as well. In discussing religious concepts with non-LDS, Blair is building bridges of understanding between LDS and the outside world – one which many Mormons do not cross, because they are too comfortable with the gospel they already know. Sadly, we miss out on finding a lot of richness in the gospel by locking ourselves behind the doors of Mormonism. In his interview with the author of “Wearing God”, they discuss the different ways in which the Bible explain God, and how we can enrich our understanding and relationship of God by considering those things that make us feel uncomfortable. This is not to say we have to accept everything at face value, in fact it means the opposite. We are encouraged to dig deeper to see what greater value we can find, and how it can make scripture more alive for us. As noted in the interview, we are commanded to worship God with all our heart, might and mind – and what better way to worship with all our mind than to dig deeply into scripture?
Blair’s Maxwell Institute Podcast is a treasure for the Church’s benefit. Sadly, it often seems like it is a treasure that is hidden in plain sight. Because many Mormons are comfortable with what they already know, or are dogmatic about being angry at the Maxwell Institute, they lose out on a pearl of great price.
Blair, keep up the great work. I hope someday that the BYU wars will die down, and so an occasional project can be done between MI and the Interpreter Foundation. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to listen to the Podcasts.