This past week, I attended the Sunstone Symposium for my first time. (You can see Mormon Heretic’s recap of his experience at Sunstone here and I too am slowly getting through my own Sunstone experience on my personal blog). In some ways, going to Sunstone was good for me because it allowed me to meet in person many of the people I had only so far engaged online — via blogs and Facebook groups. However, even though I certainly met a lot of fellow blogging folks and Facebook friends — and I was surprised to discover that far more people seemed to know who I was than I would have anticipated based on my most frequent commenters — what struck me was how many people at Sunstone did not blog and did not know about the blogging world.
As I tried to tell people about the panel (“Do Good Online Fences Make Good LDS Neighbors“) for which I would be presenting (which assumed that people would have quite a bit of knowledge about the various Mormon issues blogs), I had to try to translate my topic to analogies they would understand: using Sunstone actually worked pretty well, since by default, everyone at Sunstone knew what Sunstone was…and most of the people there were not unaware that Sunstone has a rocky relationship and perception with several Mormons.
I’m not really here to talk about my Sunstone panel (maybe that will be another post), but the experiences did make me realize that the very emphasis on blogs was a bit myopic. It was a niche topic in an already niche universe. And the thing is…just from knowing my online history, I would have known that even years back, others had already recognized the need to appeal to a wider audience via other media — in my post on John Dehlin as a Mormon Studies “popularizer,” I pointed out that as early as 2004, he was advocating (to Sunstone and the Bloggernacle, no less) the need for thoughtful Mormons to express themselves in new ways:
New Media, New Formats and the Generation Gap: Over the past 35 years, we’ve made some progress with the written word, Internet, and now blogs, but how can new technologies, and new formats, help us achieve 1 & 2 to an even greater extent than it has thus far? We know that there is a “generational issue” with subscribers and participants in Dialogue and Sunstone being largely “chronologically gifted” (shall we say). So how do we reach out to the “new generation”? How do we penetrate not just academics, but college students, and young married couples, BEFORE they stumble on the wrong things and spiral into destruction (as they are doing now in decently large numbers)? Are there new media, and new formats, that can take the facts and truths behind Sunstone, Dialogue, and the Bloggernacle and blast them into the mainstream?
In some ways, John’s continued attempts at podcast-based and community-based media are his living testament and answer to his own question — from Mormon Stories to Mormon Matters to new podcasting efforts like Mormon Stories Sunday School and the growing number of local communities of support, there is no question that he has captivated a wide segment of the “Mormon issues” market that perhaps the various blogs simply underestimated.
But as with any market and any industry, a “first mover” does not necessarily foreclose the possibility for others to come on the scene.
And so, when John and Zilpha Larsen’s Mormon Expression Podcast entered the scene three years and 213 episodes ago, it was interesting to see what would happen.
I don’t want to go over the history of Mormon Expression Podcast, just to say that one thing I did at Sunstone as well was chair John and Zilpha’s Sunstone session Podcasting from the Edge: 3 years with Mormon Expression. This session, and their 213th episode, cast live from Murray Park, Utah on the Sunday after Sunstone, provided a bit of “closure” for Mormon Expression.
Closure for Mormon Expression?
Perhaps it isn’t accurate to say closure. John and Zilpha aren’t cloistering themselves off from the world, and all things Mormon. What they have done is expanded their interests to things like their White Fields Educational Foundation (cue comparisons to Open Stories Foundation?), their intentional community “Living Community” (cue comparisons to local communities of support?), and even in support of new podcasts such as the Feminist Mormon Housewives podcast (!? Maybe Wheat & Tares needs to get on the podcasting action…) and the Mormon Expositor podcast.
From Ex-pression to Ex-position
The Mormon Expositor Podcast is curiously named. It evokes the eponymous Mormon Expositor (which only had one issue…hopefully that isn’t the fate of this podcast), but probably also evokes the more famous, although slightly less eponymous Nauvoo Expositor (which also followed the trend of having only one issue — although the reason for that paper’s end is a bit different).
So, on the one hand, you have a newspaper that is mostly unknown…and on the other hand, you have a newspaper that is known, but known for being critical. Where does that put the new 21st century version of the Mormon Expositor?
Much like “apologetics” isn’t about “apologizing” (in a modern sense), the Mormon Expositor claims to be about “exposition,” rather than “exposing.” As they define on their About page:
1. A setting forth of meaning or intent.
2a. A statement or rhetorical discourse intended to give information about or an explanation of difficult material.
2b. The art or technique of composing such discourses.
The Mormon Expositor is a biweekly podcast leveraging a panel discussion format and focusing on Mormon doctrine, practices, culture, and history. Our regular panel / board of directors is made up of both believers and non-believers. We value honest and frank discussions that entertain and enlighten while remaining respectful. Additionally, we strive to present accurate information supported by reliable and accessible sources.
Stay a while, listen to some episodes, and consider scattering some type! (That’s our tongue-in-cheek term for leaving a comment.)
The first full episode (posted after several short “teasers”) on Folk Doctrines and Fringe Beliefs went up earlier this morning (and so I was up at 4AM listening to it.) The main sense I got from the podcast is the sense of friendship and camaraderie among the podcasters (who are across the belief map.) It’s true that other podcasts have used a panel discussion format, but from the first episode, this podcast captures the feel of being something that the panelists did at one of their homes for an evening. This is in decided contrast to the interviewer-meets-interviewee format of Mormon Stories or the main-host-meets-guests-of-the-week format of Mormon Matters.
I find this panel discussion quite refreshing, if only because I would like to imagine that these sorts of conversations-between-differently-believing-friends can happen more broadly, and that this is just the glimpse into one such friend circle.
And, at around an hour and a half, the first episode may be on the longish end of reasonable, but at least it’s not a multi-hour behemoth.
Concerns for inter-faith dialogue, intra-Mormon style
The process leading up to my Sunstone panel made me very well aware that even though we may like to have an “inter-faith” discussion within Mormonism with everyone on the Mormon map being invited to sit at the discussion table, there may be some who are uncomfortable or in disagreement with the entire enterprise. I don’t want to say that faith is so fragile or the faithful are so thin-skinned that it and they can withstand no criticism, but I can understand that anyone — faithful or otherwise — can be battered by constant criticism.
Mormon Expositor advertises its diversity of panelists and directors. It advertises, as many sites do, that it values “honest and frank discussions that entertain and enlighten while remaining respectful.” But if there’s been one thing that we have been learning from Wheat & Tares, it’s that a stated intention for honest, frank, and respectful discussion is not enough…it’s a tricky question of how to turn intentions into results, especially when things like “frankness” and “respect” will look different to different people.
Anyway, if you have some time, check out the first episode of the podcast, and perhaps answer some of these questions (but don’t feel limited to just these questions!):
- Do you listen to any Mormon-related podcasts? Do you prefer blogs over podcasts, or vice versa?
- If you do listen to Mormon-related podcasts, which is your favorite Mormon-related podcast and why?
- What do you think about the difference between podcasts as a medium and blogs as a medium?