- Is it possible that some of the lack of fulfillment people may feel in relation to faith could arise as a reflection of an instrumental, “doing mode of mind” out of which we often approach faith in the Western world?
- Is it possible that re-approaching that same faith experience from a more mindful, “being mode of mind” could reinvigorate that faith experience in profound and meaningful ways? In the absence of that, could it be that many distance themselves from an otherwise edifying and exalting faith experience prematurely?
- Could it be that one purpose for gathering in a diverse faith community IS, in part, to make us uncomfortable – by stretching and pressing us in areas we would not otherwise consider (if we were to spend time only with people who think just like us)?
- Are there approaches to organized religion that can turn men and women into much better human beings? Is it possible that “organized religion” does a great deal more good in the world than bad?
- Are there possibilities for lasting, long-term, profound happiness that are unattainable without a willingness to accept some degree of suffering in the short-term? (aka, “take up your cross”) If so, could many be missing out on a richer, deeper joy by going after what appears to promote the highest possible immediate enjoyment?
How would we answer any of these questions? (if they get asked at all)
NO….Not really possible. Absurd. Silly.
Because a certain way of thinking about the religion, faith and our own happiness have become so dominant that “other options have been rendered (largely) unthinkable.”
Mindfully Mormon beginnings. I was introduced to mindfulness in graduate school by my dissertation chair sending me to a “Mindfulness-based health interventions in health care” conference in Boston, sponsored by the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. I was blown away by the atmosphere at the conference – especially how calm these people were, with bumper-stickers like “Enlighten Up!” and “What Would Buddha Do?”
From that time on, I began talking with other Latter-day Saint friends and colleagues about the interesting intersections between mindfulness and Mormonism. A few of us launched a blog “Mindfully Mormon” on which we began posting our thoughts:
- January 2010 (Carrie Skarda): Mindfulness Even in Sunday School? (Carrie Skarda)
- March 2010: The “Unsuspected Power” of the Present Moment
- October 2012: C.S. Lewis on Mindfulness
- April 2014: Why Mormons Could Totally Fall for Mindfulness (En Masse)
- September 2015: The Good News of THIS Moment?
- December 2015: Two Wildly Different Ways to “Live in the Moment”
- January 2016: Sabbath as Mindfulness Retreat?
In 2014, I was invited by M. Catherine Thomas to write a contribution to her last book, “The God Seed,” appearing as an appendix entitled, “Tasting the Gospel Again for the ‘Very First Time”
That same year, I was interviewed by MBSR colleague Ted Meissner for a podcast of the Secular Buddhist Association, Episode 197 : Jacob Hess : Mindfully Mormon
Perspectives on the gospel from a contemplative lens. I have noticed how my experience with mindfulness has begun to change some of my own interpretations about the gospel – raising curiosities and questions about some of the cultural narratives we sometimes take for granted. For instance:
- October 2012: The Gospel is not a Fancy Algorithm (formerly titled, “If Obedience = Happiness, then What Was Jesus’ Problem?)
- July 2013: “The Gospel Gets Me What I Want”: Re-thinking Means-End Religion
- August 2015: Overstating Agency
In collaboration with others passionate about the overlap between Mormonism and mindfulness, we are currently working to finish a book-length summary of how mindfulness might help deepen faith experience.
Navigating secular/religious hostility. With the growing divide and hostility between secular society and religious conservatives, I began addressing the animosity more directly: (April 2014) “Those Dumb Religious People”
I was invited to write a piece for an online magazine about the sharp contrast in narratives between those who loved and despised orthodox religious practice (February 2015): Christianity was liberation for you—for me it was slavery: a tale of two kingdoms (OpenDemocracy.net)
That contributed to our interest in doing a secular/religious dialogue for one of our early Village Square events:
Tough questions and “lies” the Church tells. Years ago, I began writing about tough questions, especially in response to John Dehlin’s public attempts to help people navigate these questions:
- July 2013: Are Questions ‘Okay’ in the Church?
- June 2014: An open dialogue about “open dialogue”
- April 2015: Did the Church Lie to Me?
Re-thinking the Mormon/Post-Mormon conversation. Later that year, I shared some reflections from my relationship and conversations with Mark Foster, a friend who had left the LDS Church:
- September 2015: Can Thoughtful, Good-hearted People Disagree on Mormonism and its History?
- November 2015: Can Current & Former Mormons Have Vibrant and Beautiful Relationships?
- November 2015: So What Would Make for a Mormon/Former Mormon Exchange (Really) Worth Having?
- December 2015: Coffee and Camomile Tea: More Thoughts on the Third Space
Stepping away from the Church. I also wrote two articles in November 2015 addressing others contemplating stepping away:
- Divorcing the Church: A Plea to My Brothers and Sisters Ready to Bolt…
- Is One Purpose of Church to Actually Make Us (All) a Little Uncomfortable?
In 2018, I released this essay, “Is it Time to Talk (More) about False Revelation?” and will be finishing this one later this year: “The Cottage Industry of Mormon-Attacking Organizations That Call Themselves ‘Mormon'”
LGBT rights and Mormonism. Starting with a post in November, 2015 – when the new LDS policy on gay families came out, I wrote a series of pieces trying to facilitate more thoughtful dialogue on that topic and trying to understand more broadly the narrative/socialization leading people to step away from the Church:
- My question for people (more and more) convinced of inherent Mormon bigotry
- Ten Ways That Thoughtful, Good-hearted People Disagree about Mormon Policy
- Another perspective on “I just can’t stay in this church anymore…”
- Why is gay rights sweeping (too many) thoughtful, good-hearted people from my faith community?
- Are Mormons villains, or just people with a different story about their identity?
I was ultimately invited to participate in a Salt Lake Tribune panel discussion led by Jennifer Napier-Pearce
Tribune forum explores impact of Mormon policy changes on churchgoers (including BYU professor Roni Jo Draper, Erika Munson of Mormons Building Bridges, Darius Gray of LDS Genesis Group, and Rod Olson of North Star).
More recently, I’ve written some additional articles on the same issue:
- If You Disagreed With God…What Would You Do?
- Calling on the Prophets (or the People) to Repent?
- Does God Love Us Just as We Are?
I enjoyed a chance to facilitate a Faith Again dialogue recently on some of these contrasts in how the gospel is seen by liberal and conservative-leaning Mormons: Have Mormons Come To Believe In Divergent Gospels? (elaborated in this piece here: What are the main differences in how the “good news” of the gospel is being understood?)
Religious takes on pornography. I’ve also written a few articles exploring religious perspectives on a larger pornographic culture:
Mental health and Mormonism. Lastly, I’ve addressed the issue of mental health within Mormonism several times as well:
- March 2014: Turning Toward What Hurts
- March 2014: Lots of Prozac and Mental Illness in Utah: What Gives?
- March 2014: “Does God Want Me to Get on Prozac?”
- July 2016: ‘Praying away’ vs. ‘Accepting’ mental illness: Are those the only two options?
- December 2016: Are Antidepressants Making the Depression Problem Worse (Long-term) – Especially Among Mormons?
- January 2018: Why I Believe My Faith’s Embrace of the NAMI Approach Is Ultimately Hurting People Facing Depression (Despite Earnest Intentions Otherwise)
- April 2018: Another Hypothesized Contributor to Youth Suicide That We’re (Mostly) Not Talking About. Can We Start Now?