Celebrating 100 episodes of the Maxwell Institute Podcast, with Blair Hodges [MIPodcast #100]

  • Get behind the scenes of the Maxwell Institute Podcast in this special interview celebrating one hundred episodes. Jeremy King, the Maxwell Institute’s administrator and controller, invited host Blair Hodges to talk about how the show is made and what he hopes it offers to listeners.

    About the Guest

    Blair Hodges is the public communications specialist at the Maxwell Institute. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a minor in religious studies from the University of Utah in 2010. He received a master’s degree in religious studies from Georgetown University in 2013. He hosts, produces, and edits the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Hodges also served as an acquisitions and development editor for the Living Faith series from 2013–2017 and as chief editorial assistant for the Mormon Studies Review from volumes 1–5.

    Jeremy King hosted this episode. He is the Administrator and Controller for the Maxwell Institute. He earned a bachelor’s of science in accounting from BYU–Idaho, minoring in English and political science and recently served for three years on the BYU Administrative Advisory Council.

  • BLAIR HODGES: Take it away.

    JEREMY KING: Are we on?

    HODGES: We are on.

    KING: Cool. Blair Hodges it’s great to be with you today. [laughter]

    HODGES: Thanks, Jeremy. It’s nice to be here.

    KING: So Blair, you just posted your one hundredth episode of the podcast. Wow. Congratulations. That’s really something!

    HODGES: Thank you.

    How the MIPodcast came to be

    KING: I got to thinking, I’ve worked across the hall from you for many years now and I’ve heard you working on the podcast. I know how passionate you are about it, and I’ve listened to it, and I see what exceptional quality it is. And I thought, we’ve got to do something. We have to take your listeners behind the scenes. We need to help them find out a little bit more about the podcast.

    So, one hundred episodes, how does that feel?

    HODGES: I mean it’s a lot. We started back in, I think, 2013 is when the podcast first started coming out. I had started podcasting with the Fair Mormon group, and I did podcasts for them—I think I did ten or so episodes, and then I stopped because I went to graduate school and I just didn’t have time.

    So when I got this job at the Maxwell Institute and they said, “One of the things we’d probably have you do is get a podcast going,” then I was really excited. That was one of the things I was most looking forward to. So looking back a hundred episodes later, [laughs] I don’t know. It’s a lot. It was a lot of work, but it’s one of the things I like most about my job, so it’s been fun.

    KING: Let’s take a moment and tell us the genesis of the podcast at the Maxwell Institute. How did this come about? Who was involved? Help us understand a little bit about that.

    HODGES: When I first started podcasting, I was familiar with a few Latter-day Saint themed podcasts and none of them really spoke to me. They had different audiences—I don’t think I was necessarily in the target audience. And at the time I was doing my undergraduate degree in journalism, so I was taking classes in news media and print journalism, television, and a little bit of radio. I started listening to Radio West which is a show here in Utah that’s also syndicated in some places. And I really liked those type of interviews where someone would sit down with an author or with a really interesting person and talk to them for forty-five minutes or an hour really in-depth about something they wrote or what they’re a specialist in. That’s the kind of thing that I wanted to see happening. So that’s when I connected up with Fair Mormon and started doing those types of shows. It’s funny to go back and listen to those. It’s very different, I was very new.

    But what I wanted to do was not just talk about problems—I think it’s important to talk about problems and address problems—but I also wanted to talk about how people think about things. How a historian works, how anthropologists work, how a philosopher works, and start to introduce listeners to the ways that really smart people think about stuff. Because listeners are smart. I think it’s easier for them to grasp ahold of it, they just have to be introduced to a person who’s doing that work.

    So rather than setting up questions and giving answers to them, “here’s this problem, here’s the solution to it,” I wanted to show how scholars work on problems so that people could do that for themselves, too. It’s like I wanted to give people fish and I wanted to teach people to fish. I want to do both of those things.

    KING: You know, I’ve listened to the podcast and Blair, I have to say you’ve got a great voice for it, but I’m a little confused why we’re not calling it the “HodgePod.”

    HODGES: I think you’ve floated that back in the day, for some reason it must have fallen through the cracks.

    KING: You know, for longtime listeners of the podcasts, they’ve spent dozens of hours with you. I thought they’d like to know a little bit more about you. So maybe we’ll start that by me asking you what I think is an obvious question: How is it possible that the Haunted Mansion is your favorite ride at Disneyland?

    HODGES: [laughs] Oh. It’s true, the Haunted Mansion—I think the Haunted Mansion is the best theme park attraction. It’s different than a ride. A “ride” is something that you sit down on and you go up and down a hill. An “attraction” tells a story, and the Haunted Mansion tells a story and the Haunted Mansion is a product of committee work gone amok. You have a visionary, Walt Disney, and he gets this team together who disagree on all sorts of things. One of them wants it to be funny. One of them wants it to be scary. One of them wants it to be weird. They all have different ideas and then they’re supposed to make this attraction out of it. This is near the end of Walt Disney’s life and so he actually dies before they finish it. And what you ended up getting was kind of a mix of all three of those things in the story that it tells.

    So, I actually kind of like looking at it through an interpretive lens of seeing this story that it’s trying to tell and how you can see these different voices in it.

    I just think it’s cool. I just like the Haunted Mansion. I have since the first time I went to Disneyland when I was a teenager.

    KING: Well maybe we’re hear from a listener, maybe there’s somebody out there listening who also would choose the Haunted Mansion. I don’t think so, but we might hear something—

    HODGES: They’ll know it’s the 50th anniversary of that ride this year—this last year I should say. So yeah, it’s time to celebrate for Haunted Mansion fans.

    KING: Now would you have enough time to produce a podcast during that ride? I haven’t been on it in for thirty years now.

    HODGES: The ride is something like fourteen minutes long and it’s pretty—there’s a lot of talking. You have a host that’s walking you through.

    KING: You have some background music.

    HODGES: Yeah. You can listen to the whole thing online. And I do. Twice daily. Just kidding.

    Preparing for an episode

    KING: Well your listeners might be interested to know you do have a miniature replica of the Haunted Mansion in your office, that’s how I came to know that about you.

    So back to the podcast. I think it would be really interesting if we could take a little bit of the behind the scenes tour of preparing an episode. Let’s talk about how you prepare.

    HODGES: I prepare by probably over-preparing. This is a benefit of not having to do a show daily or even weekly. The first thing I do is read the book. I read the whole thing, and over the years have developed an annotation system, so I’m using different colored highlighters, and I’m writing notes as I’m going. Oftentimes, when I finish a chapter, I’ll go back to the chapter heading and I’ll write out an outline of that chapter. Because it’s fresh in my mind at that point.

    KING: I think that’s a really important point. In fact one of your listeners wanted to know: are you skimming these books? It sounds like no.

    HODGES: In almost every case I’ve been able to read the whole book first. There are a few instances where I haven’t. For example, The Study Qur’an, which was a great episode. I wasn’t able to read the entire Qur’an to prepare for that episode. I read all the introductory stuff, and I read some reviews of the book. The same goes for others. We did the Jewish Annotated New Testament. I read a lot of those essays and I read some samples out of it. But I couldn’t read the whole thing. But most of the books—almost all of them I’ve had the chance to read the whole book first. If I read it, I read it. I don’t skim it.

    KING: What else do you do to prepare, Blair?

    HODGES: So while I’m making that outline, when I finish reading the book—this is actually my least favorite part of doing a podcast is, once you’re done reading then you have to prepare for the interview. And for me that means I need to sit down and think of a narrative arc for the interview. How do I want the story to go? What story was this person trying to tell in their book and how can that translate over into an hour-long interview, and cover as much of the book as I can. I really try to give people a sense for the whole book rather than focusing on one thing. That’s the hardest part: sitting down, going through my notes, and putting together questions.

    So I write out all my questions, and I sometimes will write a question and then include some follow up questions that I may or may not ask depending on how the person answers the question. I have a really detailed script that I create and then it’s ready to go. In fact, just before we started this interview, I finished the interview script for Benjamin Parks’ upcoming interview. I finished reading his book yesterday and then I put the script together today. I think that’s the hardest part of the whole process.

    KING: Putting the script together?

    HODGES: Yeah, absolutely.

    Recording an episode

    KING: Do you stick to it? Do you stick to the script or what happens when you get in the room?

    HODGES: Mostly. Yeah, that’s a good question. So when I sit down for the interview with the person there with me I have an idea of how I want the interview to go. But in a lot of cases interviewees will anticipate where an interview is headed because there’s a logical progression to it. So sometimes they’ll start covering territory in the next question. And that’s fine because that provides me with a really easy segue to the next thing. What’s hard is if they jump ahead to something—ooh I wanted to save that for the end. It’s like, “oh.” Sometimes I’ll just let them go ahead and do it, sometimes I’ll hint to them. You know, people can’t see the podcast so I can do like, “Oh, hold on. We’re going to get to that later.”

    So sometimes while we’re doing the interview, I can tell a guest, “you know what? Why don’t we cover that later” and go back. So it just depends. There are a lot of different ways to handle it. If it’s really organic and the flow of the interview is great then I have a harder time telling them, “let’s do that later.” If I can tell that there was an easy cutoff point then I’ll probably just stop them. Just like you’ve done fourteen times in this interview already.

    KING: [laughs] I’m over here waving my hands wildly, Blair, and you’ve already covered almost all of my questions.

    Okay, so you said earlier that we end up with an episode that’s maybe 45 minutes long. Do they vary?

    HODGES: It’s usually an hour, which means that people that listen to it in time and a half speed will spend about forty minutes with it. And that’s how I tend to listen to my podcasts, in sped up mode.

    KING: Yes, I’ve noticed that.

    HODGES: I’d be interested in what listeners do. But yes, so we aim for about an hour. I would say interviews are typically only, you’re only seeing five or six minutes hit the cutting room floor and that would be if we had to take a break during it, or occasionally people will restart their answers. Occasionally, I will want to reset a question. We might strategize, “You know I was going to ask you about this, but it seems like… how do you feel about…?”

    So the nice thing about it not being live is that you can edit content on the fly that way, so we do that.

    KING: Does that take some getting used to?

    HODGES: Yeah.

    KING: Because I’m sitting here doing my first podcast interview with you and for some reason it feels like this is live to me.

    HODGES: It does. Especially when I began, it did feel that way because editing is extra work and I didn’t want to create extra work for myself. And I’m still that way. I would prefer—the funnest episodes to edit are the ones where it just kind of sails straight through. But that feeling of live-ness kind of goes away after a time.

    You still have anxieties during the interview about whether you’re going to be able to get to that question. Maybe the person’s taking too long to answer something that you only wanted them to give a quick answer to, so you have to change up the pacing and things like that. So there are still a lot of anxieties that I have throughout the interview, but feeling like it’s live and that what I’m saying is set in stone is not one of them anymore. Because I get to edit it.

    Editing an episode

    KING: I wanted to talk a little bit about the editing. What you just said speaks to this idea of having a sort of vision for how this thing is going to turn out before you start. How does that change though as the—I’m curious to know, do these things turn out as you expect very often?

    HODGES: They usually do, yes. The nice thing about this is authors can usually tell—and are surprised—that I’ve spent time preparing. I don’t know that they anticipate that up front. But as the interview progresses, they oftentimes will easily get into a flow because it’s following a progression of a project that they themselves created. And in a way, they set themselves up for how the interview is going to go. Sometimes I’ll deviate from the logical order of their book if I think there’s a better way to do it for a podcast audience, but most often I’m following what they’re doing.

    KING: What stuff gets cut?

    HODGES: The biggest thing is when people start going down a road they decide they don’t want to keep going down. And I’m experiencing this as you’re interviewing me. It’s really hard to be on this side of the microphone for me, and I think for a lot of people to be interviewed, because you start to get lost. You set up a good question—especially if it’s one I’m excited about, I’ll start answering it and I’ll find myself possibly going off on a tangent and then while I’m still answering, mentally I’m trying to remember, “how did I get started on this? What did he ask?”

    I feel like I need to tie up my answer with a nice bow at the end and really punch it. So I think guests probably experience that, and I’m experiencing it right now. [laughs] It’s just a different skill to be interviewed than it is to do the interview.

    Was that a good bow to the end of that question? I don’t know.

    KING: That was a great bow, Blair. And you’re easy to interview because you know exactly what I should be looking for if I knew what I was doing. So that’s wonderful.

    HODGES: No this is good, man!

    What is the Maxwell Institute Podcast supposed to do?

    KING: I meant to spend a little bit of time at the beginning, not just talking about the beginning of the podcast, but what’s your vision for the podcast? What do you hope listeners take out of it? What are you giving them?

    HODGES: In the beginning, the Maxwell Institute’s mission statement when I was first hired here was different. So in the beginning, Jerry Bradford, who was the director at the time, really wanted the podcast to basically embody the mission statement, which was about information about religious texts. Inter-religious understanding and dialogue. In the beginning I did a couple of Latter-day Saint-themed episodes and even then Jerry asked, “Why don’t you focus more on other faiths and religious texts in particular rather than Mormon issues?” “Okay, I can do that.” So we started doing the series on the Princeton Lives of Great Religious Books series—which is a fantastic series, so now I’m interviewing people about the Qur’an and about Augustine’s Confessions and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. So we’re really digging into these religious texts and stuff.

    The Maxwell Institute’s mission evolves, and as its evolved to become a place where we gather and nurture disciple-scholars and where we engage in strengthening people’s faith and engage the world’s religious ideas. It wasn’t a huge shift. I felt like I was already doing a lot of that. So giving something educational, inspirational, and perhaps even challenging, is what I’m trying to do. I want the podcast to have an ethic of hospitality to it. Where people feel like they can explore religious ideas, feel at home in their own, and perhaps even come to see some things in a different light. So that’s really what I’m aiming for.

    KING: When you do the interviews you seem so comfortable to me. Are you really as comfortable as you sound?

    HODGES: [laughs] Well it’s like I said, like, there are anxieties that happen—and I’m sure you’re experiencing some of them right now. You might be thinking about what your next question is going to be. You might be thinking about how much time is left. We’re at seventeen minutes on the recording right now. [laughter]

    So that’s kind of what’s happening, is I’m looking at my script, I’m trying to keep tabs on the interview itself, while also being responsive and tuned in to what the person is saying at the same time. So you’re doing a lot at once. You’re being responsive to them, but you’re also shaping the interview.

    Sometimes something they say would spark a follow-up question and you look at the clock and you have to start bargaining with yourself, “Well if I ask this now, I’m not going to be able to ask that thing. What matters more? What do I want more?” And you don’t always get it right because your follow up question it’s a dud and you don’t get a good response. In that instance, though, if the person has time you can end up asking that later question and edit out the bad follow-up. Because it’s not live, you have a little bit more flexibility.

    But those are the kinds of things that you’re thinking about. To maintain composure and interest, you want to keep that going through the interview, but you’ve also got all these anxieties going on.

    The biggest thing I should say, and this answers your last question as well, is I don’t want to be the focus of the podcast. It’s not about me. I try to have questions that this audience would be interested in hearing answers to. My job is to get out of the way of the guests and let them tell the story of the interview, and I’m just there to occasionally translate something if they use some weird scholarly term that I had to look up when I was reading their book. Or to prod the interview along to keep it moving. But I’m not the focus of it. It’s not about me. I am a stand-in. And the less obvious of a stand-in I am while the podcast is still engaging, the better.

    KING: Well that explains why we don’t call it the “HodgePod.”

    HODGES: [laughs] Yeah.

    Blair’s background

    KING: One of your listeners made the comment that listening to the podcast is like listening to two friends having a conversation. I think that really speaks to how comfortable not only you are—at least that you portray—as well as your guests. I think you must really put people at ease. And like you say, the editing floor is always there.

    So, I decided that since you can edit anything out you want, that I wasn’t going to restrict myself to any particular questions. I was going to feel very safe in this interview. Blair, I want our listeners to get a feel for you, get a feel for the person you are. They’ve heard you, they’ve heard some of your commentary and thoughts on things. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself—and particularly, can you think of any life experiences that you’ve had that have shaped the podcast? Or shaped you?

    HODGES: I mean, I think I really started thinking about other religious traditions when I was a missionary for the Church. I served in Wisconsin. So it was a lot of Germans in that area, Lutheran, Evangelicalism, some Catholicism. You know, there’s always a Kingdom Hall in the neighborhood, Seventh Day Adventists. I started thinking more about other religious traditions and as a missionary I did that because I wanted to be able to build common ground and offer Latter-day Saint answers to questions that their traditions might not have answers to, or where I might feel like we have better answers to particular questions. So, I started getting interested in other religions.

    One example, we met a Muslim man and he agreed to read the Book of Mormon if I would read the Qur’an and I was like, “Okay, sure.” So I read the Qur’an. I didn’t get it. I didn’t read anything in preparation for it, so I didn’t have any context for the type of scripture it was. And of course, it was a translation of the Qur’an so I didn’t understand that it wasn’t truly the Qur’an anyway. It was a representation of it and all of those things. But it got me thinking about other religions and I would see things that I liked and that I was drawn to or that I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting!” And it became less about preparing myself to argue with other faiths and more about being interested in the new light that was cast on my own beliefs because I was learning about what other faiths believed.

    And so, being interested in other religions really started around that time on my mission. When I got home I became heavily interested in Mormon apologetics—FARMS, Hugh Nibley, Fair Mormon—all of those things really drew me in. And I was really interested in—because I had my own doubts and questions and difficulties and surprises from Latter-day Saint history that I didn’t know about. I never felt like I had any sort of “crisis” point, but definitely there were growing pains and uncertainties and I think even to this day that can be the case. But then I started getting interested in religious studies and history and philosophy and those type of things, initially as ways to kind of solve doubts but then I just became more interested in the quest itself.

    There’s that great quote that we use at the Institute from Elder Maxwell where he says, “For a disciple-scholar, academic research is a form of worship.” Just the asking of questions and the listening to other people’s answers can itself become a way of worshipping God in that it connects me to other people, it connects me to God’s children. It connects me to God through those people and coming to value the different perspectives—and not always agreeing either, but sometimes agreeing and sometimes seeing things in new ways.

    So, that’s kind of my trajectory. It went through a time of missionary zeal, ready to convert people, then apologetics, ready to defend the faith in particular ways, then becoming more ready to understand the faith better by engaging in our own history, in my own faith’s history, and the history and beliefs of other faiths. I think the podcast probably makes sense as a product of this background.

    That said, I really do try to maintain a certain level of ambiguity about who I am as an interviewer. Because I’ve found that you can, pretty quickly, turn a listener off by getting specific about politics or something, or they think, “I didn’t know he thought that or that,” so I really do try to not foreground my own prejudices and beliefs. It’s inevitable that they’re in there because I’m still an embodied person that’s asking questions from a particular vantage point, so there’s no objectivity to it, but at least there’s an attempt at objectivity so that I can really reach and stand in for a bigger group of listeners.

    KING: That was beautiful, first of all. I know, Blair, that you interview people of many faiths and the understanding and friendship that you bring to the interviews is apparent. What do you do when you don’t know what to ask next?

    HODGES: I look at my notes. There’s always going to be something to go back to in my notes. In fact, there’s a nice trick: it’s called a bumper. It’s when you re-introduce the guests to people. It’s this really nice break, I think, for the listener. It kind of helps reset things.

    So I’ll say “that’s so-and-so we’re talking to them about such-and-such, dee-dee-dee-dee-da.” That usually will happen at a natural place in an interview. And then I either check my notes to see where we’re going next, or occasionally I’ll do that bumper and then I’ll pause for a minute and take a drink of water and invite the guest to have a drink of water and think about where we’re going to go next.

    It’s really nice because it’s not live—especially since I’ve done so many interviews I don’t really have those moments of, “oh no, I don’t have any place to take that next,” or I should say when that does happen, I know just to say that that’s what’s happening. I’ll just tell the guest, “okay, that was a great answer. Now I’m just trying to think of a transition or something.” I can have a meta-conversation with the person, and I’m comfortable doing that.

    KING: And I think it might be useful for the listeners to know that this— interviewing Blair was not his idea and I’ve actually laughed thinking, Blair, what it would be like if you were interviewing yourself. How long would you pause? You mentioned having an accent, maybe you would have pulled that out.

    HODGES: If listeners go back to the first couple of episodes, they’ll hear it even then. My wife and I were laughing about it because I had to go back and look at some previous episode or something, and at the beginning I was like, “It’s the Maxwell Institute paw-dcast, like this drawl—

    The podcast and the mission of the Institute

    KING: [laughs] As fun as that would be for me to hear you asking yourself questions and then respond—now that would be an interesting thing—I wanted to ask: I’ve known you, I’ve worked with you—I should introduce myself, I’m Jeremy King, I work across the hall from Blair Hodges at the Maxwell Institute. I’m not a professional podcast interviewer. I do enjoy the podcast, but when I saw that you were about to hit one hundred episodes of the podcast a couple of things went off in my mind.

    One is I know that you pour your heart into this and that you’re passionate about it. I also know that if it weren’t for you bootstrapping this thing out of nothing, it wouldn’t exist. I think it’s important for your listeners to know that this wasn’t a mandate that came down from on top that said, “You need to do this.” You made this happen. You understood the mission of the Institute, and as you mentioned, it was constituted differently back when the podcast started in 2013. But I want your listeners to understand that this is a labor of love and I’m sure they sense that in the interviews.

    HODGES: To that I just want to say, you’ve always been really supportive of this stuff.

    Jeremy is now the Institute’s administrator and controller. Back when I started, you were the HR guy. You handled payroll or handled hiring and human resources issues and now you help oversee the direction of office staff and your job truly expanded. And you’ve always been really helpful to me from a professional standpoint. This is the first full-time job I’ve had since finishing grad school. I finished my master’s degree and got this job right after that. And so, you’ve been helpful at initiating me into the world of what it’s like to be grown up and have an occupation. All the logistics of that.

    Then the director of the Institute in 2013, Jerry Bradford, was supportive and would sort of give me directions about what he wanted it to be. Then when Spencer Fluhman came on as executive director, he revisited everything—Whether we would even have a podcast anymore, whether we would be doing these types of books, whether we would be doing that. So, it was evaluated even at that point and Spencer came to see the value in having this as a channel, as a connection for people that aren’t here at Brigham Young University to be able to be plugged in to what the Maxwell Institute is doing. He really shifted the focus more. Whereas in the past I would just go out and find people to interview, people that I was interested in—“Well that looks like a good book, I kind of want that book.” It was stuff I was interested in that was pertinent to the Institute. To now, where Spencer says “listen, what we want to do is really hone it down to where you’re interviewing people that come here.” And we used to not have people that came here.

    So all of a sudden, we have all these guest lecturers and people that come and do brown bag presentations, and visiting scholars, and connections with other entities here at BYU. The shape of the show really shifted when Spencer said, “Okay here’s what we want for the podcast under the new direction of what the Maxwell Institute is doing.” So you’ll see the shift there where now I’m interviewing people that come to the institute as guests. I’m not going out and finding them.

    Now, have I had to pass up a few interviews that I would have wanted to do? Yeah. But have I got to do a few interviews that I don’t think I would have been able to get myself? Yeah. It’s been a good trade-off and I think that Spencer’s vision for it was helpfully disciplinary. It really helped me focus more on what the Institute needed the podcast to be and needs the podcast to be. So I’m really thankful for his ongoing support and for the role that he’s played in shaping what it is today.

    KING: You mentioned that you haven’t always been able to interview everyone you’ve wanted to. Let’s have some fun here. Who would you invite if you could have anyone come into the studio here?

    HODGES: I almost got Charles Taylor. He is one of my favorites—he’s a philosopher, an intellectual historian. He wrote a fantastic book on secularism and the rise of this “secular age.” And his driving question is, why was it that a thousand years ago it would have been impossible to disbelieve in God? It was natural to believe in God. And now more people have to work at it. It seems the opposite now. You have to work to believe in God rather than having it as a given. Taylor tells that story of that change. He’s a fascinating and wonderful scholar and I think he’s in his late 80s. He’s nearing the end of his career. I almost got an interview lined up with him but at the time he had an illness, at the time when it was scheduled and after that it just never happened. That’s one.

    The second one is really interesting. I had an interview lined up with Robert Alter, a biblical scholar, a literary scholar of the Bible. I had this lined up around the time Spencer Fluhman started looking at what the podcast needed to be. So at that time—again, I was just going and finding people—I set up an interview with Robert Alter and that’s when Spencer’s like, “We’re going to focus on people that come to the Institute.” Well Robert Alter wasn’t coming to the Institute, so I had to cancel that interview, and that was so hard because I love Robert Alter. I was so excited for it. But then a couple years later Robert Alter is brought in, the Maxwell Institute sponsors him to come and give a guest lecture and now we have an episode coming out with him. So, it ended up working out in the end.

    KING: What about if you could interview anyone historically, Blair? Have you ever thought about that?

    HODGES: No. [laughs] I don’t know. Those are tricky kind of questions, that’s tricky stuff. Because what are you going to say? Like—

    KING: Like, J.R.R. Tolkien is what I said.

    HODGES: Yeah, okay. Well, how about Joseph Smith. I have questions! No, I don’t know. I guess I haven’t really put any thought to it. Yeah. I don’t know who I would interview.

    More than podcasting

    KING: Okay. So maybe back to a few more personal-type questions. You take the train to work every day.

    HODGES: The Frontrunner here in Utah.

    KING: Frontrunner. A lot of the people that listen to the podcast know about Frontrunner.

    HODGES: I run from Salt Lake to Provo.

    KING: What do you do on the train?

    HODGES: Depends on what needs to be done that day. I’ll usually look at the e-mails that have come in overnight, see if there’s anything that I need to address right away. Doing public communications at the Institute is a much bigger job than what the podcast is. That only takes up about fifteen percent of my time.

    KING: Let’s talk about that, Blair. Do your listeners understand, do they know that the podcast is only a part of your job? Do they know what you do at the Maxwell Institute?

    HODGES: I have no idea. [laughs] People that know me probably do. When I first started here, they had me editing books. I started the Living Faith series. Morgan Davis, who is here at the Institute and is now the co-editor of it, envisioned that book series. And then that was assigned to me. So, I edited those first six books in the Living Faith series and that took up an enormous amount of time. That was back before the Institute was doing all the things that it’s doing today.

    When Spencer Fluhman got here the shape of the Institute really shifted and I think he had questions about whether we even needed a person in my position. It quickly became obvious that yeah, they do. You need someone promoting these new events, promoting the books we’re still doing. And the podcast has been really successful. We have a lot of listeners and a lot of people who are plugged in to the Institute through that, and through social media which I run. All of that stuff.

    And then I picked up design. We needed event posters and I started reading books on design and illustration. And then we started publishing an Annual Report and I didn’t have any good photos for that first one that we did. And I thought, “Well, the Institute needs to—if they get me a nice camera, I’m going to learn how to do this.” So I learned some photography. There are many ways the Institute has given me opportunities to build new skills. It’s been a lot of fun. The podcast has been there all along, but then there’s all these other things that I’ve been asked to do that have ended up being a lot of fun too.

    KING: You mentioned the Living Faith series. Among the best sellers of the Institute, those books. You also mentioned the Annual Report.

    By the way, if you’re listening and you are interested in what the Maxwell Institute does, we produce an Annual Report and we’ll mail it to you.

    HODGES: For free!

    KING: A free copy, yeah.

    HODGES: Go to mi.byu.edu/about and you’ll see “request a copy” right there!

    KING: There it is. And you can get your very own copy. It’s a nice glossy beautiful report that tells you all about what’s going on at the Maxwell Institute.

    HODGES: And the 2019 volume includes talks from Terryl Givens and Melissa Inouye—

    KING: Oh yeah.

    HODGES: —and Spencer Fluhman. It’s not just a list of things that the Institute has done. It also includes great content for people who like to read.

    Who is the Maxwell Institute for?

    KING: Let’s talk about that for a minute, Blair, because a couple of years ago, Kathleen Flake gave a beautiful talk at the annual Maxwell Lecture and she mentioned something like, “Not everybody needs the Maxwell Institute.” She talked about—

    HODGES: She’s wrong!


    KING: So—here we’re way off script, I wasn’t planning to ask this—but I remember her saying something that really resonated with me. And it was basically, some people will really need the Maxwell Institute. But not everybody necessarily does. Maybe you remember that differently, we can check it, but I’m going to frame the question that way and let me ask you: Who most needs the Maxwell Institute?

    HODGES: So, I think there are a few answers to that. I think the mission statement says that it seeks to gather and nurture disciple scholars—that part comes first in the mission statement. So, the Maxwell Institute has become a place where scholars—most who are Latter-day Saints and a few who aren’t—can come to do their research, to have a place to study and write and also think about the life of the mind and also the things of the spirit. A place to think about reason and faith and produce work that’s informed by both of those things. And not everything that comes out of the Institute is on that exact level, and it used to be even less so. We had the Mormon Studies Review, for example, and it was definitely pointed toward the academy, it wasn’t so much concerned about spiritual matters, it was an academic publication. Which has since moved on, it’s been moved to the University of Illinois Press, which I think is a signal about what the Institute’s about.

    Now we have the Brief Theological Introductions to the Book of Mormon series where we take scholars who use their academic background and training and produce something spiritually enriching for Latter-day Saints. Scholars need institutional support to be able to do stuff like that. Because the broader academy is not going to be as interested. Those aren’t the kind of books that most people are going to put on their CVs.

    Same with the Living Faith books that have come out. Patrick Mason did Planted. He’s a historian. He talks about history, but that’s not a history book. It’s not going to go on his professional CV. He’s not going to show that to his department and say, “here I published another book.” Because it’s a faith-promoting book, it’s not a book of academic history. It’s informed by academic history, but it’s not itself academic history. Many of the Living Faith books are that way. With the exception of Ashley Mae Hoiland’s book One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly. She has an MFA so that would be something that would look great on her CV, on her resume, because it was poetic, it was memoir. It was the kind of thing that she was academically trained to do. But that’s rare.

    So the Maxwell Institute is supposed to provide support and a place for people to do disciple-scholarship, and the things that it produces are for people who really value, again, the life of the mind and the things of the spirit. People who are fine in Sunday school, but they might have a deeper interest or a different need than someone else might have.

    The kind of people that listen, I think, to the podcast fall into that category, too. They like to think about this stuff, they like to learn, they’re curious. Curiosity is a religious virtue and I think that the Institute—as one small little thing that the Church sponsors—can reach a lot of people who have those kinds of spiritual needs. The Church needs all sorts of people doing all sorts of different work—humanitarian work, educational work, direct religious instruction and education, all of these things. The Maxwell Institute is one piece in that bigger puzzle that can reach some Latter-day Saints who have a kind of spiritual curiosity and interest.

    KING: I love that you mention that. You know, we couldn’t have scripted this better, Blair, because I asked one of your listeners—actually I asked a couple of your listeners—if they were to describe you in one word, and one of the words I got was “curious.”

    HODGES: Now, that could be taken in two ways. [laughs]

    KING: [laughs] They said in a good way.

    HODGES: Oh good. Yeah, in a good way.

    KING: No, but I see that you’re a voracious reader and consumer of knowledge—

    HODGES: That’s another thing I do on the train, by the way, to finish the answer to that question. I read a lot.

    KING: You read a lot, right? So, you’re curious. You’re a seeker. That comes out. I love that you mention that. I won’t tell you the second word someone said yet. I’m going to hang on to that.

    HODGES: That’s ominous.

    KING: But yeah, stay tuned to this non-live production—

    HODGES: You’ve only got fifteen minutes of work left, we’re at the 44-minute mark right now and I wonder—people will check their devices now and it’ll probably be like, 41 minutes.

    Jeremy asks some indulgent questions

    KING: Well if we’re running low on time I need to—I noticed you’ve been eating a lot of Michelina’s lately. Talk to me about that.

    HODGES: What’s Michelina’s? I don’t know that.

    KING: [laughter] Your frozen entrees for lunch!

    HODGES: Oh! Is that the brand? See I don’t even know. I just grab the one that’s this sort of this tamale-thing.

    KING: Yeah.

    HODGES: I just think of it as the frozen tamales. I guess it is Michelina’s. You know, a lot of times I’ll cook lunch and then sometimes I’ll even remember to get it out of the microwave and eat it. Those are the good days.

    KING: So what are the chances at least some of your listeners will think we were paid by Michelina to sponsor, to put that in? Do podcasts do that kind of stuff? Do they do product placement?

    HODGES: Yes. Well I mean, so most podcasts will be like, “Squarespace,” “Casper Mattress,” “Audible.” There are these same podcast sponsors that are on every show. They must spend a ton of money. Obviously, we’re nonprofit. The only spots I used to do were spots for our own books and I don’t really do them anymore. People that listen to older episodes will probably hear them. Now I’ll just interview the author of the book instead of doing a spot for it. But yeah, we’re not sponsored, and if people want to personally sponsor me under the table then they should send me a DM.

    KING: I’m actually the control at the Maxwell Institute, so if there’s any under the table sponsoring then I’d like to know about that too.

    Now that we’re three-fourths of the way through this thing I’m realizing how much fun it can be.

    HODGES: You’re doing a good job.

    KING: Here’s another thing that we just, we’ve got to talk about because I love it. You’ve got the original cereal boxes of Count Chocula and Frankenberry and—

    HODGES: Oh, they’re replicas, the Frankenberry—

    KING: And what is it, Boo Berry?

    HODGES: Monster cereals—

    KING: You’ve got the vintage boxes?

    HODGES: I get one box a year, so when Halloween rolls around, I get a box of each. You’ve provided me with Count Chocula.

    KING: Yeah, I thought that was important.

    HODGES: I appreciate that.

    KING: I put the new box in front of your old one on the shelf there and I think it took you a day or two to recognize I switched that.

    HODGES: It did. And I believe you got me Count Chocula.

    KING: Yeah it was Count Chocula.

    HODGES: And that is the best—

    KING: That’s the true, that’s the best one of the three.

    HODGES: Absolutely.

    Friendship and the Maxwell Institute

    KING: So regarding the podcast, when I asked your listeners to describe the podcast these are the words they gave me: engaging, real, authentic and genuine.

    Like I said earlier, one of your listeners made the comment that it’s like listening to a conversation between friends. I want to talk about friendship just a little bit, Blair, because you and I have become friends. Something I would never have supposed, perhaps, at first. Do you remember what you wore to work on your first day? Do you have any recollection of that?

    HODGES: [Laughs] No. probably something stupid.

    KING: I remember. No—

    HODGES: Like a T-shirt?

    KING: It was your first day and you were wearing flip-flops and kind of a loose shirt. I just remember thinking, and this is probably sad commentary on me, but you know I was thinking, “If he wears that on his first day of work”—which in my mind is always, like, you dress up a little bit better than usual, I thought, “Where are we going to go from here?” But I’ll tell you where we went from here is you’ve just become a great friend.

    HODGES: Thanks. In my defense, I think I was moving stuff into the office and sort of, you know, getting situated rather than working—

    KING: When you go out do people ever recognize your voice? Have you ever had that happen?

    HODGES: Only a few times. The funniest thing that happened was I went—I’m a big Utah Jazz fan, and I went to meet Joe Ingles, one of the Jazz players at a grocery store or something and I’m standing in line and I see a woman who I went to high school with and she recognizes me. That’s a little unusual, I don’t think I look at all like I did in high school.

    KING: I saw your yearbook, you do look very different.

    HODGES: Yeah, clearly different. Anyway, she recognizes me, and I said, “Oh, hey nice to see you. That’s funny, most people don’t recognize me,” and right then a woman walks by and goes, “Oh, I recognize you, Blair!” And she keeps walking and she says, “Yeah, I listen to the podcast, and my son is James.” I know her son, too.

    It doesn’t happen very often but occasionally someone will—especially at an Institute event, that’s where it will happen. Like someone will hear me talking to somebody else and will be looking over like, “Oh that’s familiar. Who does that sound like?”

    When I’ve seen podcasters that I’ve listened to a lot, it’s always weird to see them. Because they rarely look like the person that’s talking in your head while you’re mowing the lawn. You’ve got this different idea about what they look like. [laughs] It’s always kind of a letdown, no offense to my hero podcasters out there, but it’s like—

    KING: Yeah. How are we doing on time? We’ve got about ten, fifteen minutes?  I don’t know if this is good to ask for a podcast, this is my first interview. But I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and getting to know some of the events that have shaped your life and I know one event that really shaped your life was that your dad died when you were young.

    HODGES: Yeah. I was fifteen, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. I think I mentioned this in one of the episodes, I talked about losing a parent as a teenager kind of changed my relationship to God in certain ways. I lost him at fifteen, I turned sixteen right after he died and then—yeah.

    KING: How has that influenced you, Blair?

    HODGES: I think, kind of like what I said in that episode where I just talked about how I don’t have the kind of relationship with God where I feel like I can—and no offense to people that do—I just don’t have the thing where if I lose my car keys I can pray and find them or things like that. Because I remember as a kid, just pleading as a kid with all my heart, “Don’t take my dad away, I need my dad.” And it didn’t happen. So, I had to recalibrate. I had different options where I can say either God doesn’t listen, God doesn’t care. I think a lot of members of my church will say, “Well, God had this bigger plan.” And that really didn’t work for me either. I came away with a different orientation toward God.

    I think the scripture that I have the biggest problem following is where it says, “acknowledge God’s hand in all things.” But I like to put that alongside the scripture where Jesus says, “Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.” I guess in my life, if God is super involved, he’s done a good job at not making it obvious. That’s just my relationship to God. Different members of the church have different ways of looking at it.

    KING: Well I hope you don’t mind me bringing that up. I’ve seen—especially over this past year— you’ve had some friends this last year that have really suffered, that have had some real serious health concerns. And that’s one thing your listeners should know about you is you stick with people through their lows. You help people through their hard times. And beneath this cheerful, jovial—and I know you aren’t always looking cheerful. Sometimes you’re running around trying to get your camera set up and things for events or whatever.

    HODGES: [laughs] I probably look mad when I’m doing that. My wife says I have like, when I’m focused—

    KING: Yeah you kind of have an intense—you and I share that I think a little bit. We’re both kind of intense. But when I look at these words that your listeners use to describe the podcast, “real, authentic, genuine,” that’s the kind of person you are. So I’m not surprised that comes out in the podcast.

    HODGES: What I want to say about that is, I think this is really about the people I get to interview. I have, time and again, been so impressed and blessed by the people who sit across from me and talk about their work. It’s not easy to be on the microphone that way and talk about something—in some cases, about books they published recently, but their work on them finished a year or more ago. And now you’re going to sit down and talk to this person about everything. The nitty gritty of it. It’s really hard to do. And the grace and the warmness and candor of the people who have been on the Maxwell Institute Podcast make it enjoyable to produce.

    All of the guests that I’ve been able to talk to have brought something positive to my life. That goes back to, as you mentioned, friendship. I think friendship is a driving ethos of what we want this show and what we want the Institute to be. I picked that signal up from Spencer Fluhman. His first issue of the Mormon Studies Review— he had an editor’s piece in there about friendship. “Friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism,” says Joseph Smith.

    I really have been blessed and impressed with the warmth and generosity and interest of these academics. These aren’t people sitting up in an ivory tower or thinking that they’re smarter than you. These are people who, because of their professional training, have been through humiliating and difficult, wrenching experiences in order to finish their degrees and get jobs and publish things. And they’ve put everything they have into these projects. These aren’t ivory-tower-better-than-you-smarter-than-you-type people. These are just people. People that have a lot to say about particular things, but they’re just people.

    And I think this kind of friendship and trust and mutual exchange really comes through with these guests. And that’s a tribute to the people that we’ve been able to bring here to the Institute, to the people who try to engage the life and the mind and the things of the spirit.

    KING: You are listening to the Maxwell Institute Podcast. With me today is Blair Hodges—producer, director, writer for the podcast. We’re having an absolute wonderful time getting to know you today, Blair. We’re running a little short on time and I promised your listeners that I’d reveal the other word that was used to describe you. Eccentric.

    HODGES: Yes.— Wait. What? [laughs]

    KING: Yeah. In a good way! They qualified that. We’ve talked about some of those little quirks, but you know, Blair, we’re all quirky. Make sure to edit that last stupid thing I said.

    HODGES: [laughs] Isn’t that the best? I’m going to leave it in. I occasionally will leave in—

    KING: Okay, I know you do that.

    HODGES: Deidre Green had me leave one in in her interview that was really funny.

    KING: Well that wasn’t in my notes.

    HODGES: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever put out a podcast episode where we say it’s uncut. Right? This won’t be the first. Well that would ratchet things up a little bit, wouldn’t it?

    HODGES: You can’t—

    KING: You’d probably just re-do the whole thing.

    HODGES: You’d have to start over again, yeah.

    Legacy and future

    KING: Friends listening to friends. That’s the Maxwell Institute Podcast.

    We’ll move toward a conclusion here. I want to talk about the legacy of the podcast. You’re one hundred episodes in. It’s been going for seven years. You’re leaving something behind. What would you hope is the legacy of the Maxwell Institute Podcast?

    HODGES: I would go back to that word of curiosity, right? Because scholarship always has a shelf-life, so a lot of the things that are talked about in a lot of the episodes are going to be dated in a decade or in a couple of decades when new scholars come and ask new questions and produce new scholarship. But the kind of exchange and curiosity and interests and translation—translating stuff that’s generally written for an academic audience, translating that to a broader audience. Those types of things will still need to be done.

    There are some episodes I think are just going to hold up for a really long time, and that I’ll occasionally go back to myself. Mpho Tutu’s interview on forgiveness, for example, is one that I’ll revisit to hear her again, to get some of the wisdom from that. Other episodes where I think, the one about Mormonism and politics, where I had the authors on here predicting the outcome of the election and they were completely wrong. So shorter shelf life on that.

    But the legacy of the act of thinking in these ways, and asking questions, and feeling safe to explore, and feeling like there are other people that are exploring that way too—even if you might not know people like that in your own home ward, or if you do, you might feel like there are more people who aren’t interested in that kind of thing. But you’ve got this show. You’ve got these people who are talking about it over here.

    I’m glad we have an archive of past episodes. I’m really glad we’ve transcribed them so people can read them into the future. I hope that, in some ways, I bring things out in interviews from authors that will be of interest to future people—if they’re looking at Robert Alter’s work and they might check out that interview and see what he said about something. Maybe I asked him about something that nobody else had asked that could be relevant to a future researcher or something. Yeah, that would be great.

    But the spirit behind the show, like curiosity being like a religious virtue, I hope that continues to resonate even with episodes that become dated and as the shows gets confined to the dustbin of history and as the earth continues its centripetal descent into heat-death and all of those good things.

    KING: Well, it’s a beautiful thing Blair to save these voices—these wonderful, beautiful, inspired voices—for future generations. And despite your best efforts to get out of the way, your voice is preserved right alongside them. And it’s been an absolute pleasure to be with you today.

    HODGES: Thanks Jeremy. I appreciate it.

    Favorite episodes?

    KING: So, there’s a couple questions that won’t be our concluding questions, I expect, but I have to get them in there because I didn’t fit them in when I should’ve.

    I’ve got to ask, a lot of your listeners want to know, what’s your favorite episode? And you better give me some kind of an answer here! I don’t want a cop-out answer.

    HODGES: Yeah, I’m not big on “favorites,” so I can’t really identify a favorite. I can identify—there are two episodes that seem to come back to my mind more than other ones do. For whatever reason they’re just sort of camping out and they’ll kind of float across my consciousness every once and a while.

    The first one is, I mentioned Mpho Tutu’s interview in part because there was a really interesting thing that happened the week that that interview happened. It’s an interview about forgiveness and she’s talking about forgiveness and I had had an argument with my wife that week. I did something unkind to her—just not cool at all, and it hurt her feelings. And throughout our marriage, I’ve always been really eager to apologize for things and to try to take accountability and responsibility, and I kind of prided myself on that. I thought like, “You know what, I’m really good at asking for forgiveness. I’m really good at apologizing!” I really thought I was good at that, that it was a strength of mine. So I’m sitting in this interview with Mpho and we get to this part where she’s talking about how, when you’re apologizing, sometimes apologies can be a way to get around dealing with the pain you’ve caused other people. So perhaps one of the reasons I was so quick to apologize to my wife is because I knew what I had done hurt her and that made me feel bad and I needed that to go away. And the quickest way to do that is to apologize. But what that doesn’t do is allow the person I’ve hurt time to express their own feelings about everything that happened.

    From episode #81, “Forgiveness, with Mpho Tutu van Furth”

    MPHO TUTU: Blaming the hurt is to say what the impact of the event was on me. It’s to put a word on the feeling and using feeling words that can help the person hearing you kind of get access to, “Oh, that’s how what I did impacted you.”

    HODGES: What about when you’re telling a story and naming the hurt—you also have some suggestions for people who are listening when people do that. What are some suggestions about how to hear people who are telling the story or naming the hurt?

    TUTU: So, the idea as a hearer or as a listener is to hold the space open. So you’re not fixing. You’re not solving. You’re not offering a running commentary.

    HODGES: That’s my problem, by the way. [laughter]

    TUTU: And you’re also—I find one of the things that can drive me over the edge is when someone else gives a name to my feeling. You say, “No, you don’t know what I feel until I tell you what I’m feeling. So, don’t tell me what I’m feeling. Let me tell you.”

    HODGES: Some people perhaps want to do that because it’s uncomfortable, sometimes, to listen to this, and “Let me rush you through that,” or “Oh, I see this must be how you’re feeling.” Well, maybe that’s part of it, but it’s not their place to tell you that. And also, like you said, you need to be the one that’s naming it. But I think it’s natural to want to do that because it can be hard to listen. It can be hard to sit with and create space for people.

    TUTU: Yeah. It actually can be quite excruciating.

    HODGES: Especially if you’re the one that did the hurt.

    TUTU: Yes. Especially if you’re the one that did the hurt. But, the gift of listening when you’re the one that did the hurt is that it’s much less likely that you will inflict the same hurt again because you have heard and taken in how it impacted the other person. That it does open the empathetic space within you.

    * * *

    HODGES: So after that interview, I went home and I sat down with her and I said, “Sorry about this, but I still feel strange and unsettled about what happened. And I understand if you don’t want to, but can you tell me what it felt like? And I want you to tell me how you felt about it and I’m just going to sit here.” And she just laid all her feelings out and it was really hard to listen to. And it dawned on me even more that I had been using apology as a way to escape consequences in some cases, to escape having to deal with the pain I had caused other people. Now, I didn’t recognize I was doing that, but from Mpho I learned the importance of letting the person really explain what had happened—if they can do that and if they’re interested in doing that—to let them speak their pain and then to just take it and sit with it. And that’s part of your apology. Not telling them you’re sorry and assuming you know why it hurt but sitting with why they say they hurt. And I learned that from her. So, that episode comes to mind a lot.

    The other one is a much quicker answer. The Work of the Dead is a book by Thomas Laqueur—I loved reading that book. It’s way too long. His editor was way too generous because he’s a brilliant guy. But I loved every page. It’s about death and the burial practices and why we bury and what different cultures do. And I still think about that episode every couple weeks. Or whenever someone dies that I know. It comes to mind. And he’s kind of a secular Jew. He’s not practicing. He wouldn’t consider himself spiritual or anything like that, but there was this really interesting spiritual register to that interview that surprised me.

    From episode #51, “The Work of the Dead, with Thomas Laqueur”

    THOMAS LAQUEUR: My parents were German Jews who were forced to leave because of Hitler. And my grandfather, who I never knew, he died before Hitler in 1927, was a very passionate German nationalist, as were many German Jews. And he was buried in a very spiffy, beautiful cemetery in Hamburg. And I knew what his grave looked like cause my grandmother, who escaped and who lived with us, had a picture of it on her desk. So, this grave sort of meant something growing up.

    And in 1995, I visited Germany for the first time and my wife said, “Look, you should take some of your father’s ashes.” My father had never returned to Germany. “You should take some of your father’s ashes and mix them with the ashes of your grandfather in Germany.” And I said, “Look that’s completely ridiculous. First of all, I don’t have any of my father’s ashes. We put them in a flower bed in Virginia. And secondly, he would’ve thought this was crazy. My father was a very scientific—he was a pathologist and he would have thought this was just rubbish. And she said “No, no. This would—Just do it.” So, I collected some dirt from the flower bed, which may have had some ashes in them, but of course the ashes would be no different from the fertilizer we put in to help the flowers. But she asked me to—we took this little bag of dirt from this grave—this flowerbed in Virginia and we took them to Hamburg and we found my grandfather’s grave and we mixed the dirt from my father’s—with what may have been my father’s ashes, with my grandfather’s grave.

    You know what? I felt like I was reconciling my father to his father. I felt like I was returning my father to Germany—which he had been terribly sad to have lost because of the Nazis—and I was making something right. And I was connecting myself to all this history. And I used this in the book to say about myself: Look, I don’t believe in anything about this. I don’t believe my father’s ashes were there. I don’t think he knew about it. I know he would have thought this was idiotic. I could give you no conceivable intellectual defense for what I did. And I call it sort of a “magic belief,” then, because it was enchanted for me. I use this to say, “Alright. Look, I give up. I don’t have a religious account of this. I don’t feel any kind of rational account. It just meant a lot to me.” And that’s kind of the foundational feeling that people have for the dead. And it did; it kind of elided World War II. It was if my father and my grandfather were buried in the same place as they would have been had this horrible history not transpired.

    * * *

    HODGES: Those are two of the episodes I think about. Now, I’ve liked a ton of episodes I’ve done. People should check out James Goldberg’s on The Five Books of Jesus.

    Episode #3, “James Goldberg on The Five Books of Jesus” 

    JAMES GOLDBERG: The mote and the beam has become so embedded even beyond Christianity in the English language that we forget—a beam! This is not a big thing stuck in your eye. This is larger than your eye. I read someone who described Jesus’s language as “gigantesque.” These impossibly huge images. There’s almost no way that isn’t funny. A speck of dust, a mote, we only use that word, that word has survived entirely in the context of this. What it means is a tiny speck of something.

    HODGES: Sort of like a sliver even.

    GOLDBERG: Yeah. So, I just see that it’s such a juxtaposition that if you weren’t aware of it, of course it’s funny. It’s preposterous, it’s huge, and it absolutely captures attention. You think about, how could Jesus have taught large crowds? I mean you don’t have any technologies of magnifying. Contemporary American culture has a pretty calm—I was just watching a Church video the other day and the mob scene is laughable. Contemporary Mormons cannot act like a mob. There are plenty of countries in this world where getting on a bus is a more boisterous and violent atmosphere than a mob scene in our movies.

    But Jesus comes from, presumably, a culture where crowds are a little more restive and people were doing things and anyone who has been to the Middle East today can see if you’re trying to capture attention you need that sense of surprise. So, I’m trying to give people a fresh sense of what that probably actually was like.

    * * *

    HODGES: The Kate Bowler episode about the prosperity gospel that turns into a stunning interview about her cancer diagnosis.

    Episode #44, “Kate Bowler’s history of the prosperity gospel movement” 

    BOWLER: People have all kinds of helpful suggestions for people in pain, and they love to give them. My little sister said something so wise. She was just like, “Well, it is because they love you, yes. But people are frantic and frequently they just grab for whatever is there.” And what’s there is an idea about the power of the mind to overcome all things. I get a lot of that. “There’s no such thing as luck.” “You just need to try harder.” “I’m sure there’s a way out of this.”

    People are fine, kind of, with a sudden death. Yes, very tragic. Or a sudden healing. But the ambiguity of staring down death— which I am required to do because at this point, I still have inoperable tumors. So, if this drug doesn’t go well, I don’t yet have other choices. I live in this interim time in which every sixty days I get a scan that tells me if I get another sixty days. That’s how my life works. It has a very short mental tether in which I am not able to enjoy certainty, and that requires me to live in the present with my beautiful kid and my perfect husband and my lovely life that I am now more grateful for than ever before.

    So, it’s hard to move people away from these lovely conveniences that prop up our lives and help us feel sure. But I mean, the truth is, none of us know what is going to happen to us. I just have to live in it in a more ridiculous way.

    * * *

    HODGES: You know, there are many different episodes I’m really proud of because of what the guests were able to bring. But those are a few that frequently come to mind for me.

    KING: Thank you Blair. I’ll have to look into those episodes.

    HODGES: You haven’t listened to those yet Jeremy? I cannot believe you aren’t a completist.

    KING: I haven’t been a completist.

    HODGES: By the way, I should say to listeners, I do give out a “completist award.” I’ve only given out a few and only a few people have known about it, I guess. If you’ve listened to every episode, send me an email. You’ll get a little podcast completist award, if you’ve listened to all the episodes up until now.

    KING: Maybe the podcast is a little bit like Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, right?

    HODGES: How so?

    KING: There’s been changing visions over time at the Maxwell Institute that have influenced the podcast. But it’s put everything together in a way that tells a story, and that tells many stories. Not just of the folks that you interview, but a story of the Maxwell Institute: a story of seeking, a story of discovery, and a story of friendship.

    HODGES: —And it’s kind of spooky.

    KING: And it is kind of spooky. [laughter]

    KING: That’s Blair Hodges being interviewed on his own—well, on the Maxwell Institute Podcast. Not the HodgePod. Hopefully it’s been fun for you listeners to get to know him a little bit better. See a little bit behind the scenes.

    HODGES: Yeah. And that’s Jeremy King, administrator and controller here at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

    Good job, Jeremy. That’s your first interview. That was really good.

    KING: Yeah. I expect that it will be much better after you edit it. [laughter]

    HODGES: That’s the one hundredth episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast. If you enjoyed listening, please take a minute to tell somebody about it. Send it to a friend. Leave a review on Apple Podcasts. Post about it online someplace. Help us make more friends for the show. And let me know if you’ve completed all the episodes. We’ll prepare a special gift and send it your way!

    We’ll see you next time on the Maxwell Institute Podcast.