Dealing with “Smithmas”

First of all, let’s make this clear:

Joseph Smith deserves to be celebrated. He is the founder of a major religion, a bona fide historical heavyweight, and revered prophet of millions. Nobody would begrudge a commemoration in favour of John Wesley or Ellen White. My sense is that Latter-day Saints are happy to honour Joseph’s 200th birthday…

…But there’s one problem, an elephant that I think may be in the room for some Mormons. If only his birthday were not on December 23! The exmo boards are all a-flutter over “Smithmas” (a nasty and pejorative word) and the Joseph “nativity” at BYU. No surprise there. But in my own ward yesterday, I sensed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the Friday broadcast. No “bring your friends” invitation. No top-billing in the announcements. Instead, the congregation seemed (rightly) to prefer to concentrate on Christmas. I have even heard a few grumblings, especially over the Joseph-centric Christmas Ensign.

This is a tough issue. How do you tip one’s hat to the Prophet without being accused of celebrating “Smithmas”? Will TV clips of the Friday event make Mormons look like they “worship” Joseph (as they sing “Praise to the Man” and not “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”)? How are you handling the double celebration? Do you wish Joseph had been born in February?

Comments

  1. Well, within the church: the question to be asked is whether Joseph or Christ begrudge the duality of our celebration. I would argue that this is not the case.

    As for the exmo boards: Let them say what they may. I take offense at someone who has abandoned the church professing to know how we best ought to celebrate those whom we revere

    And for the rest of the world: The church has made more than a sufficient effort, in my opinion, to make clear our faith in Christ.

  2. John Mansfield says:

    The dilemna of December babies and their neglected birthdays everywhere. In our Damascus Ward, forty miles west of Ronan’s, yesterday’s sacrament service was a commemoration of Joseph Smith with no begrudgement. The bishop and the stake president spoke on him. The stake president played up the Friday broadcast, which he will attend in Vermont. A trio sang Praise to the Man, and the ward choir performed a moving piece, My Kindness Shall Not Depart From Thee, based on the Liberty jail experience.

  3. I’m celebrating by going to dinner with my lovely wife (ok, it’s for my birthday, which is also December 23rd).

  4. The problem is with the world, if they would only celebrate Christ’s birthday on His birthday then Joseph would have a conflict!

  5. My home teachers came yesterday, and they brought a birthday card for my daughter to open, and read. It was a birthday card for Joseph.

    Nothing wrong with that, cute idea in fact! I do worry a little that it may seem so Joseph-centered, although I know in my heart our church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And that it is very appropriate to celebrate the birth of the founder of one’s church, especially on such remarkable number as 200. Although all that number really means is one more than 199, and 1 less than 201. Still, our society commemorates things in this manner, in regard to the significance of particular numbers.

    Save Jesus Christ, he did more than any other man for the salvation of mankind. But we do not worship, although sometimes I wonder where revere-ing, respecting, celebrating, crosses the line into worship? But I don’t think we do.

    I have had, though, my own “Smithmas” cringing moments of wondering about how it seems . . . I tend to think moderation in all things, and balance, and it seems . . . out of whack to me, out of balance, a bit, but in the end I figure if the Prophet says let’s celebrate (I don’t take that as a commandment, but suggestion), then I am going to enjoy commemorating. But still, I just can’t help feeling a bit wary.

    Merry Christmas. And it IS so great that this church was restored. If I think it more as a gratitude for the restoration of the church, than only about Joseph, then it seems to fit the level of activity better. I am so grateful for Joseph, for all he suffered in restoring the church.

    The church that Jesus is the head of, and for whom I am SO SO grateful for his birth, life, teachings, and Atonement. Without which, we would not have this church or the plan of salvation.

    Just my rambly musings. Lol.

  6. My ward didn’t even announce the Friday broadcast, and Joseph Smith hasn’t been mentioned once in Sacrament Meeting for the last several weeks. No Smithmas for us.

    I think there’s no satisfactory solution to this dilemma. Joseph Smith is clearly less important than Jesus Christ; Smith was a messenger, but Christ is the message. Reports like John Mansfield’s in which Joseph Smith-centered messages detracted from a Christ-centered worship service the week before Christmas seem quite sad to me.

    Yet neglecting to commemorate the anniversary of our founding prophet’s birth would be entirely unreasonable. So what’s the way out?

    One possibility — which I initially thought the church had chosen — would be to prematurely celebrate Joseph Smith’s birthday at some arbitrary point earlier in the year. I think there was an event of this kind in Salt Lake City some time during the summer, no? Or the April conference, which seemed relatively Smith-focused, might also count. But the devotional two days before Christmas and the photo of Smith on the December Ensign cover cancel that out.

    A second possibility would have been for commemoration of Joseph Smith to clearly and sharply subordinate him to Jesus Christ. For example, instead of a Smith portrait on the Ensign, perhaps a First Vision image in which Smith is present but out of the center of the frame. But the church has chosen the more direct, celebrate-Joseph-the-man approach.

    I don’t think this sort of thing is the end of the world, or anything. But I really look forward to the end of this year, when we can get back to actually worshipping our God… (Last comment about half sarcastic.)

  7. The problem is with the world, if they would only celebrate Christ’s birthday on His birthday then Joseph would have a conflict!

    That’s my take — why let the world’s error about the Lord’s birth make us feel bad about JS *not* having his birthday near Jesus’s??? How would we propagate the truth by backpedaling to accomodate error>

    I send Christmas emails on April 6 to LDS friends & family. Many are surprised.

    Having said all that, I’ll add that I don’t see it as a big deal. The ex/anti crowd surely wouldn’t come around if we changed this! They’re “all aflutter” period, then look for targets upon which to vent their aflutterness.

  8. I think we should remember Joseph Smith for his contributions and not worry so much about what everyone else thinks. Everyone who cares enough to investigate even a little will know we do not worship Joseph Smith. I actually think it more dangerous to ignore Joseph Smith on the 200th anniversary of his birth. What makes our religion special (and ‘true’) is the things that make us different from other christian religions, not what makes us the same.

  9. Can I just say that the “all Christmas all the time” attitude of December is a tad annoying? I could handle it when it was just the silly “let’s make a news story” between O’Reilly on Fox News and others. But it really seems to have gotten out of hand.

    For the record, while I’d not want people to stop saying Merry Christmas, I’m really open to Happy Holidays. I don’t purely read about the nativity through Christmas, but think about other issues.

    What really bothers me is the attitude that if the baby Jesus isn’t somehow rhetorically everywhere that it is bad. That really bugs me.

  10. I am seeing very little JS this month and almost all Jesus here in my ward.

    Yesterday we had a surprisingly good talk about Jesus and at the end how the BOM helps us understand Jesus by GASP a HC!!!

    Who cares what the EXMO’s think?

  11. John Mansfield says:

    “Reports like John Mansfield’s in which Joseph Smith-centered messages detracted from a Christ-centered worship service the week before Christmas seem quite sad to me.” — Roasted Tomatoes

    Just to be clear, the above is not how I characterized my ward’s sacrament meeting; it’s how Brother Tomatoes does. I don’t think anything was detracted from. I am glad the calendar fell such that yesterday’s service could focus on Joseph Smith and next week’s will be Christmas.

  12. In our ward, the Bishopric is so sure that no one’s going to show up for the broadcast that they are having the missionaries show up at the building to open it up just in case, but nary a leader will be there, nor probably a member. They openly admitted in PEC that they hope that people stay home and watch it online, but in a ward like ours where poverty is the norm, I hardly see that happening. The broadcast was briefly mentioned and that was all. To me, they have the much-publicised Christmas broadcast the first weekend in December to kick off a month of festivities for Christmas, which include several events in the Conference Center/Temple Square area. If those in the Church Office Building want to throw in a little broadcast for Joseph Smith, along with a new movie and a magazine cover, that’s fine with me. I don’t live in Utah, so I’m not sure how big this thing really is. I’m betting that Christ isn’t completely ignored in Friday’s broadcast, either.
    IMHO, the Smith ‘nativity’ at BYU is a little weird, but is it countered with a traditional nativity elsewhere on campus?

  13. Last Lemming says:

    The problem is with the world, if they would only celebrate Christ’s birthday on His birthday then Joseph would have a conflict!

    Assuming your premise of an April 6th birthday (which I neither believe nor disbelieve), there would still be a different conflict. In 2030, when everybody would be celibrating Christmas in April, we would be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Church.

  14. John Mansfield, of course; sorry I wrote my comment in such a way that my opinion seemed to be projected on you. By the way, isn’t it great that your ward did what you would have wanted and mine did what I would have wanted? The beauty of decentralization, no?

  15. I don’t see the conflict at all, and it looks like many of those in the church don’t see it as a conflict either, because they did have Joseph Smith on the Ensign and they are having the broadcast ect.

    I personally think that sometimes we look to deep into these things. I am glad we are still celebrating Joseph Smith. I think it shows to the world we are still different, lest we should fall into the RLDS domain where we no longer recognise what made us who we are. If you know what I mean?

  16. I am very frustrated by my stake who has put off a Joseph Smith PRODUCTION until now. They talked about it all summer and fall and then threw it in (with 100+-person choir and orchestra) with performances the last two Sundays ending last night. It was a completely wonderful and valid production but I am very frustrated by the timing. With hours of orchestra practice 100% in the month of December and two weeks of performances, the timing was horrible for the musicians for such an optional event. Musicians don’t rank very high in the Church, I am figuring out.

    I look forward to the Joseph Smith broadcast and am missing something important to be there. I have looked forward to it all year. I have not been able to make sense of the fact that not more has been done toward this commemoration all year here in Arizona. There are some distinct advantages to living in Utah at times like these.

  17. I do agree with Clark, about the attitude of some that December is all Christmas, all the time, all nativity, all the time. It’s 1/12th of the year, lots of life to live. And nothing to feel guilty about enjoying the gift and Santa side of Christmas. But that last sentence could be a whole other post on it’s own.

    I also think my comment might have sounded like I’m embarassed, ashamed, or otherwise of Joseph Smith. I am not. I am so amazed and have a strong testimony of the man and his work. Just to clarify a little.

  18. In our stake, we have announced that the December 23rd broadcast is available for viewing either at the stake center or at home on satellite tv or ldschurch.org. I suspect attendance at the stake center will be similar to attendance at the general conf broadcasts when they can also be viewed at home–two or three blue-hairs with the missionaries. We are then making up for this low-key approach by replaying the Dec. 23rd broadcast at upcoming stake priesthood and relief society meetings in early 2006. That said, I agree with the previous comments to the effect that we shouldn’t be ashamed of honoring Joseph on his b-day, even though it falls two before we celebrate the old pagans’ remembrance of winter soltice and the modern-day pagans’ remembrance of Santa Claus, crass commercialism, and Shaq vs. Kobe. Hopefully, as Mormon Judeo-Christians, we celebrate Christ and his fulfillment of the Law year-round.

  19. I put up my thoughts here because it had just gotten to long to post here or over at LDSLF.

  20. I have no problem with celebrating what Joseph accomplished, however, I was dismayed at the cover of the Ensign this month. We understand that Joseph did great things, but sometimes (as a convert) it bothers me that we seem to almost deify and whitewash his history. It really threw me for a loop when I encountered things about Joseph that appear to be true, but are not talked about. We must remember that he too, had feet of clay, and while he was a chosen man, he was still a fallible man.

    If WE acknowledge this, it takes a lot of the wind out of the Anti’s sails, and better prepares our new converts for what they are going to be bombarded by. That said, I don’t know how to properly acknowledge the truly great things he did without taking the focus off of Chirst, where it rightly belongs this time of year.

    Just my two cents’ worth.

  21. tracy: yes.

  22. I’m thinking…really, why did we have to celebrate the birthday that conflicts with THE Birthday? Jesus is pretty much the only dead person (well, you know what I mean) who’s birthday we celebrate…and that’s because his was supposed to be an unusual event, what with his being born of a virgin and all.

    Pretty much everyone else, living or dead, gets a limited audience for birthday celebrations and would typically get overshadowed should the day happen to be within the 20 days leading up to Dec 25. That’s just how it is. So for people other than JC, we tend to celebrate momentous events or achievements in a life…or we give them a national holiday as recognition (sometimes falling in the general vicinity of a birthday as in that of Washington and Lincoln)…that kind of thing.

    Taking this into consideration, it really is weird that we have chosen to celebrate Joseph’s birthday, no matter how round the number…and to do it with such pomp and circumstance…all at a time when people would rightly be conflicted about it.

    Face it folks, this is weird no matter how you slice and dice it.

  23. It’s traditional in Christianity to observe a saint’s feast day on the anniversary of his death, not his birth. Why not just adopt that convention, celebrate “Smithmas” on June 27, and avoid the conflict with Christmas?

  24. The exmo’s have obviously been asleep at the switch for years. And, having lost all their credibility for that long slumber, they should be allowed to be ignored as they slip into oblivion.

    Anybody who knows anything knows that for years BYU’s football team has played in a bowl game in late December. (Yeah, there was the Crowton Anachronism, the BYU football analogue to the Grand Canyon’s Great Unconformity, but that has passed.) Hundreds of thousands of Mormons around the country have huddled around the sacred shrines of their TV sets, hoping against hope that the boys in blue would not disappoint them again this year. But, have the exmo’s complained about the distraction–the obvious focus away from Christ? Not a peep!

    So, I say, ignore their complaining about our celebrating the Prophet’s birthday this year. For crying out loud, a guy turns 200 only once in a lifetime!

    And, while they’re carping about “Smithmas,” they should wake up and smell their coffee (not being bound by the Word of Wisdom, they can do that). We don’t have masses at all. How can you celebrate “Christ’s Mass” is you don’t have a mass? But they’ve missed their chance to crab about that–for years–and they’ve lost any shred of credibility they might have had.

    As I said, ignore them.

  25. It may not be necessary or appropriate to be concerned what those may say who are devoted to or obsessed with criticizing the Church, but I think it is important to be concerned about the impression that friends or potential members of the Church receive.

    Just a few minutes ago, my devout catholic secretary, whose husband was a police officer in Salt Lake City for 20 years, apologized for giving me a generic holiday card. “But I understand that for you Jesus is not really the Savior.” I told her that Jesus is our Savior and Messiah, but that many people have the erroneous impression that He is not. She then gave me a real Christmas card instead, and apologized for being under a misimpression.

    This is an illustration of what a poor job I have done over the last 10 years in evidencing the teachings or testimony of Jesus in my life. But, just as important, it is an illustration of a very common misperception among many people who are friendly, rather than antagonistic, toward the Church.

    A recent article in the local newspaper about the 200th birthday of Joseph did not mention anything about our beliefs in Jesus. I fear that the distinction we draw between our veneration of Joseph and our worship of God and Jesus may be lost on many people.

  26. DavidH,

    That’s precisely the issue. Indeed we should ignore the exmo’s, but everyone should ask this question:

    Would you invite your non-member friends to the broadcast?

    I wouldn’t, and here’s why:

    I am happy to talk about Joseph ’til the cows come home. RSR will be my gift of choice from now on for many of my historically-inclined friends. BUT, I do not want to give anyone the impression that Joseph supplants Jesus. Many of you will cry out that that simply isn’t the case. Of course it isn’t! But that doesn’t negate the impression. It exists. That’s a fact. And don’t say that we shouldn’t care what the “world” thinks. We care deeply, my friends. Church of JESUS CHRIST, anyone? BoM: Another Testament of JESUS CHRIST?

    So, I will be at the broadcast and I think it is appropriate that we celebrate Joseph. But I think I will not be the only Mormon who prefers to keep this celebration private.

  27. Maybe we would start celebrating Joseph’s birthday on April 6th or something… :)

  28. Wm. Jas. #23, I have no doubt that in 38 years, the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s death will be a Big Event, too.

  29. We are spending Christmas out of town with non-LDS family and Friday night we will be attending church services with them. And frankly, I’m glad to have the excuse not to go to a Joseph Smith broadcast. While I believe he was a prophet and restored Christ’s church, I also believe we spend far too much time discussing and honoring him at the expense of time that should be directed to worshipping Christ. Most of the ‘worship’ of Christ that I hear at church, my ward or others, is at best implied. We don’t really worship Him at our meetings, apart from the weekly Sacrament, and even then it seems to me that half the congregation is asleep.

    I think it’s entirely appropriate to join the rest of Christendom in celebrating Christ’s birth during the Christmas season, whether we have “masses” or not, whether we cling to the April 6th tradition or not (not doctrine, btw)–we share a common belief and devotion for Christ and celebrating Christmas is a wonderful way to both reinforce that commonality and, more importantly, immerse ourselves in the message and mission of our Savior.

    I was very disappointed to see a Joseph Smith Ensign for December, for these very reasons.

    My husband, who was Catholic before he converted, has commented a couple of times how we seem to semi-worship Joseph, much as the Catholics seem to semi-worship Mary (which he refused to do, much to the frustration of the nuns at his school). I think the comparison is valid and I think we as a church should re-think the amount of devotion and the height of the pedastal we offer Joseph, especially in relation to Jesus. Jesus SHOULD be THE focus, whether at Christmas or during the rest of the year. (And I’ve yet to be in a ward who lived up to the blithe comment “we worship Him year-round, why the fuss about Christmas?” Sorry, I just don’t buy it.)

  30. I guess when Moroni told Joseph that his “name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” that did not exclude members of the church he would soon restore.

    I can certainly pause in celebration of the Savior’s birth to also celebrate his chosen prophet. I have no qualms there. Nor do I balk to support the first presidency in their celebration efforts.

  31. Dustin,

    How exactly is questioning the wisdom of a birthday bash in December anything like having the name of JS for evil?

    Unless of course one subscribes to the notion that questioning = evil speaking?

    It seems a bit extreme.

  32. Did anyone notice the quote on the back of the 12/05 ensign? Talk about Merry Smithmas. I think the comparision leads to confusion and deification, anyone else?

  33. Artemis–If I had a choice, I’d rather worship Mary than Joseph Smith. :-)

  34. No kidding! Ya wanna go to Midnight Mass with me this week?

  35. Ronan said “I think I will not be the only Mormon who prefers to keep this celebration private.” I am in complete sympathy with your point of view. I had exactly the same thoughts last Sunday when we were treated to three talks about Joseph Smith, none of which mentioned the Savior in any substantive format. I was actually releived that I didn’t have to explain to any non-members just why it was that Christ was playing second, actually third or forth fiddle, to Joseph Smith. This is particlalry true at Christmas time. It seems to me that it would be relatively simple to fold the celebration of Smith’s life and mission into the Christmas season by emphasizing that Joseph Smith was God’s chosen instrument in restoring to the world complete access to the gifts of forgiveness and exaltation offered by Jesus Christ. Somehow, at least in my neck of the woods, this connection has not been made.

  36. That should read “relieved,” “fourth,” and “particularly.”

  37. I’m bothered not at all about the events scheduled to commemorate Joseph Smith’s 200th birthday. And on the list of things that bother me about what ex-Mormons say about the Church, this ranks way, way down, if it ranks at all.

    I am bothered about the fact that our Church seems to celebrate Christmas with much more enthusiasm than it celebrates Easter (honestly, I’ve been in wards were the most holy Christian holiday slips past without even a mention in sacrament meeting), but that’s a different discussion altogether.

  38. …I have been a fan of this site for years, quietly reading, taking it all in, but this post has gotten me to finally respond.

    Sunday, my Ward had 3 Smith tributes, nothing about the Savior, and I came away sad. 1) Primarily sad that it was not about Christ but 2) Sad that no one has the guts to say Joseph also helped restore Polygamy. What is the worst thing a critic can say about the Book of Mormon? That he WROTE it? As for plural Marriage, this is the doctrine that so horrified and outraged his critics, his wife, his friends that he just about lost everything. He knew how unpopular it would be, he knew how people would react. He struggled with it for years. It took the Saints from being percieved as just another quirky fringe group like the Adventists, to full on danger status. As a woman, a feminist, and a convert, I have pondered this doctrine for years, and while I still struggle, I admire Brother Joseph for doing what he was told, and having the courage to do this. Agree with him or not, that gets my respect. Just once I would like to hear that from our frightened pulpits and stop treating it like a dirty little secret that everyone knows about us.

  39. Wow!!!

    As a long-time regular of the exmo boards, I find it fascinating to see evidence (such as this thread) that faithful Mormons are following RfM.

    Even though I don’t believe in Mormonism anymore, I have plenty of fond Christmas memories of my LDS childhood, and the Christians on RfM are driving me up the wall with their talk of “Smithmas” and how the Christmas celebrated by the members of this or that random other church is so superior… lol

    For the moment, I’m going with an attitude of “if it annoys you, just don’t read it” until the Christmas season is over, but since I can’t bring myself to just not read the Internet at all ;-), I’ve caught myself wandering over to bloggernacle to see what the Mormons are up to… lol

    Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

    — chanson

  40. I accept and agree with the following statement from President Hinckley in the much-maligned December Ensign: “We do not worship the prophet. We worship God our Eternal Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ. But we acknowledge the prophet; we proclaim him; we respect him; we reverence him as an instrument in the hands of the Almighty in restoring to the Earth the ancient truths of the divine gospel, together with the priesthood through which the authority of God is exercised in the affairs of His church and for the blessing of His people.” Commemorating bicentennially or even centennially the birth of that prophet a couple of days before the annual commemoration of the birth of the Savior would seem to be appropriately proportionate.

  41. I’m doing nothing to commemorate the 200th birthday of Joseph Smith. Here’s why:

    1) 200 is an arbitrary number anyway. Why is this one any more meaningful than any other? This doesn’t make it bad to celebrate this anniversary, just somewhat unimportant.

    2) My family aren’t members. I don’t want to leave the family Christmas time to watch a Smithmas video. It’s not Smithmas and I understand that. But it would get in the way and would lead to some difficult explanation about why we’re watching this video now.

    3) If Joseph were here today, I suspect that he’d tell me that the best way to honor him is to live his gospel. The fact that we’re having this debate is probably a sign that this commemoration isn’t an unmitigated increase in our spirituality as a people.

    4) As likely as not, I’d do what I usually do when a movie starts playing in a dark building that’s a little too warm: I’d fall asleep.

    5) We don’t gain much by promoting this to nonmembers. At best, it does nothing to harm our image as a Christ-worshipping people. At worst, it entrenches negative stereotypes. Why bother?

    I hope this doesn’t come across as combative, I just don’t think it’s anything worth dealing with. My view of the commemoration is not so much “That’s stupid” as “I’ll be in my office”.

  42. Here’s a new trick I’ve discovered for how to motivate myself to stay off the Internet for the Holidays and spend more time with my family:

    The trick is that I post something really stupid so that I will be embarrassed to read any Blogs or BBs… ;-)

    But seriously, folks, it was very naughty of me to come here and bad-mouth RfM (as in my above post) and I will not be offended if the moderators here delete my remarks.

    I’m just a little frustrated with the attitude that what’s wrong with Mormonism is that it’s not identical to other forms of Christianity, as if that were an argument for Mormonism being false. But to let that frustration get to the point where I’m actually trolling the LDS boards looking for sympathy is a really bad sign. How pathetic!!! lol

    Please everyone, forget you saw me here!!!

    Oh, and Merry Christmas!!! :D

  43. John Mansfield says:

    “200 is an arbitrary number anyway. Why is this one any more meaningful than any other?” — D-Train

    Answer:
    “Schelling (1960) again offers a framework for analysis by offering powerful evidence for the existence of focal points in social life. People who may never have met are nonetheless capable of coordinating their behavior under some circumstances. In one experiment, two people were instructed to think of a number between one and ten and told that both would be paid a reward if each arrived at the same answer. Subjects’ ability to psyche one another out far exceeded chance. Perhaps even more surprising, certain open-ended questions can elicit a high amount of agreement. For example, in one experiment Schelling asked his subjects what they would do if they were simply told to go and meet someone in New York City on a certain day. Out of all the possibilities for when and where to meet, a majority, trying to intuit where and when other people would expect them to be, would have converged at the information booth in Grand Central Station at high noon!” (Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.)

  44. The same arguement can be made for the significance of the 2000th soldier killed in Iraq…such round numbers clearly have meaning to people, but you don’t have to think too hard to realize that this meaning is totally arbitrary from the perspective of the number 1. And while we’re in the mode of discussing arbitrarily assigned significance…

    Could we also say that the number 2005 is significantly more important than the number 200? …from the perspective of 1?

    Just wondering… :-)

  45. Acknowledging the Prophet on his birthday is absolutely appropriate. After all, the things that he accomplished in life are what makes us different than everyone else.

    I don’t think celebrating Washington or Abe’s birthday is somehow undermining my patriotism or love for the Constitution.

    There is plenty of celebrating to go around.

  46. John,

    The fact that we ascribe meaning to it doesn’t mean that it isn’t arbitrary. Stores price stuff at $19.99 instead of $20 for precisely this reason: people think that the twenty is a lot bigger than the nineteen ninety-nine. No amount of people buying stuff makes that cent actually matter. Also, I’d be interested to see how much 200th anniversary stuff would be going on if the institutional church hadn’t been pushing it for better than a year. My money is that 1820 is the year in Joseph’s life to which Mormons really ascribe some significance. I could see 2020 being a “spontaneous” eruption of joy among the Saints. Rather, I think the institutional church saw an opportunity and moved to celebrate Joseph. As I said above, my basic opinion is one of complete indifference. I don’t care that it’s Joseph’s 200th birthday any more than I care if someone in Des Moines ate corn tonight.

  47. Corn’s out of season.

  48. John Mansfield says:

    D-Train, take a look at this anniversary tribute to his parents that Russell Arben Fox wrote at Times and Seasons. Do you read the opening paragraph and just think “How arbitrary. A 40th anniversary is no different from the 39th or the 41st”?

    Anniversaries, especially birthdays, are already arbitrary milestones. We don’t really care that the same constellations are rising and that there is a chance of the same weather as on the day of the event in question. We want to recognize something, such as a life, in a fashion outside routine, and the anniversary date is a focusing point for doing so.

    If you don’t understand this concept, try this experiment. Visit the Liberty Bell on July 4th and join in the throng there to celebrate. Go back a few months later and contrast. The same can be done with Mount Vernon and George Washington’s birthday.

  49. John Mansfield says:

    BCC editors, please unbold my last comment and delete this one.

  50. I think if Joseph knew how much adulation we’re lavishing upon him, he’d be embarrassed, and would be the first one to tell us to quit it. Joseph’s life and teachings contain many places where he claims he’s just a man with a prophetic calling. He’s not anywhere near perfect.

    I wish we could de-canonize John Taylor’s funeral hyperbole where he states that Joseph did more than anyone, save Jesus Christ, for the salvation of the world than anyone else who ever lived in it. This statement persuades many Mormons that Joseph is right up there with the Savior. But trying to decide who is second place to the Savior is like deciding which is second in size to the sun – a basketball or a soccer ball. Second place is so far down, it doesn’t matter who gets it. Joseph Smith restored the gospel and the priesthood ordinances. But if he hadn’t done it, God would have called someone else and Joseph knew that (see D&C 3). Joseph was a lot more humble about himself than we are on his behalf.

  51. John, we’re talking past each other. I don’t deny that people find resonance in these things. What I deny is that the 200th year, the 200th occurrence, the 200th set of 365.25 (appx.) days, or the 200th anything has any more relevance than number 199 or number 201 in an objective sense.

    If you’ll look back at my last comment, I agree that people find some importance in round numbers. It doesn’t mean that the unit that made the round number is any more important. It doesn’t mean that 200 is somehow eons better than 199. And it CERTAINLY doesn’t mean that Joseph is more of a prophet or more worthy of our esteem now than he was one year ago or than he will be one year from tomorrow.

    You seem to take exception at my lack of enthusiasm. I don’t condemn anyone else’s choice to celebrate this milestone, I simply see no relevance in it. As for RAF’s post to which you link, what that shows me is that he was indeed inspired to consider his relationship with his parents at their 40th anniversary. It also shows me that he was millions of times more inspired to have that relationship with his family for many years since his birth.

    Celebrate as you wish, but I don’t want in. Also, what do you think about my point about the institutional church? It seems likely that this 200th birthday thing was really driven from up top. Not that this is bad or good, just bears mentioning.

    Melissa, amen.

  52. Melinda, also amen. :)

  53. In our sacrament meeting last week the elderly sister who spoke, bless her heart, in Sacrament meeting said she hoped that people wouldn’t get too caught up in Christmas and forget about the Prophet!
    I almost choked on my sacrament water when I heard that one.

  54. Left Field says:

    On the 18th, sacrament meeting consisted entirely of narrations and Christmas carols sung by the choir, Primary, and congregation. No talks. No mention of Brother Joseph except for an announcement of the Friday broadcast. The HPs did have a potluck that evening, after which the local institute director gave a short presentation on Joseph Smith. I suppose it’s worth noting that he made a passing reference to Joseph using a hat with the seerstone.

    Despite all the “a-fluttering” on the internet, I really think the whole Joseph Smith thing has been relatively low key. Of course, the December Ensign hasn’t caught up with me yet (blame Katrina).

    Certainly, the anniversary has been mentioned in conference and in some church publications but for the most part, I don’t think the subject has really come up much during during the regular church activities. Contrast that with the pioneer sesquicentinial which mandated that pioneer stories be related in sacrament meetings throughout the year. (In my ward, everyone kept reading the same story about a kid who ate meat off the back of a wagon. Or something like that. The story must have been published in one of the church magazines.)

    It seems to me that the hand-wringing that’s going on about “Smithmas” is several orders of magnitude greater than the official hoopla surrounding the anniversary. One could probably find irony in that.

  55. I went to the Joseph Smith Commemorative Broadcast last night. In fact, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I arranged a babysitter, and my wife and I made a date of it. I thought that it was an outstanding service. I love Joseph Smith, and the trend of de-emphasizing him (e.g., the Joseph display at Temple Square was changed to a display on Jesus Christ some time between 1996 and 2003) is unfortunate. I, for one, think that we should do more to celebrate his life and achievements. This broadcast was a great start.

    Anyone who says that Joseph wouldn’t appreciate all of this adulation just doesn’t know a lot about the man. Though he wasn’t prone to take himself overly seriously and he was quick to forgive, he demanded strict loyalty, he said some pretty grandiose sounding things about himself, and he was seldom averse to engaging in a little bit of self-aggrandizement. (And [to address Melinda's point] the fact that someone else might have been chosen if Joseph strayed too far is a testament to Joseph’s moral judgement and how well he exercised his free agency. Do you suppose it would be worthwhile to honor him if he’d have been pre-destined?)

    Besides, since when was reticence an excuse not to through someone a really grand birthday party?

    As a side note, I found it interesting that both the opening and closing prayers of the service dwelt upon bringing the blessings of the gospel (the Nauvoo gospel) to Joseph’s descendants.

  56. And again I say, why don’t we celebrate Moses’ birthday? Or Brigham Young’s?

    I hate holidays and parties, I am a real bah-humbug and the church’s constant celebrations and parties drives me crazy. However you say that grammatically correct.

    A lot of money, time and energy is/are spent on these celebrations that could better be spent elsewhere, if you ask me.

    Not that I have anything against Joseph Smith, David, and I’ve grown from your faith in him. But could we quit with the parties already?

  57. annegb, it’s arguable that one can always find something better to do–even on one’s wedding day. That can’t possibly be a good argument against having parties for and giving recognition to the accomplishments of others.

    So why Joseph and not Brigham Young or any other prophet? Joseph occupies a unique historical, organizational, and spiritual position in our church. He is the foremost restorationist religious reformer and among the foremost American religious innovators, the founder of our church, and the head of the dispensation of the fullness of times. And (in the words of Charles A. David, RLDS historian from 1958-1965), “He was game!”

    Besides, does anyone even know Moses’s birthday?

  58. I can live with “He was game.” :)

  59. So what happened in your ward on Christmas?

    We had lots of Christmas related musical numbers and one speaker who spoke about Christmas and the birth of Jesus.

  60. As far as I’m concerned, Moses’ birthday is Oct 4.

    A quick trip to IMDB gives simple biographical information on Charlton Heston.

  61. Okay, that does it. You made me laugh out loud. At myself.

  62. Hi:
    I do not worship Joseph Smith. However I respect him for the place that he holds in Church history-God’s chief instrument in restoring The Gospel Of Jesus Christ to the earth. In my ward, the Joseph Smith broadcast was not shown because we always put on a live cast and live animals outdoor Christmas pageant for the town which I live
    in. Unfortunately, my work schedule does not permit me to take part in the pageant though I did see one performance. However, after work on Dec. 23, I attended the Joseph Smith Broadcast in another ward. It was wonderful! I also learned a few things I didn’t know too. Yes, I am proud to say I worship Jesus Christ along with my Heavenly Father and I did celebrate Christmas.

  63. Hi:
    I thought my ward handled the Christmas celebration and the Joseph Smith tribute very well. On December 18 at Sacrament Meeting, the stake high counsellor and his companion both spoke about Joseph Smith. As I mentioned in my previous post (#62), my ward never showed the Joseph Smith Broadcast for a good reason and will show the tape of the broadcast in January/2006. On Dec. 25, we had a lovely Christmas service with readings from the Bible about the birth of Christ and various musical numbers from groups and individuals in our ward. I know before I was a member of the Church (I’m a convert), I believed that Mormons worshipped Joseph Smith and that Jesus was not the Saviour of the Mormons. I think we can all do better in telling our friends, families and neighbours that we are The Church Of Jesus Christ and that our central doctrine is the Atonement of Jesus Christ and that we do NOT worship Joseph Smith but we respect him.

  64. I think celebrating Smithmas was ridiculous. Joe Smith was a phony piece of work, and to celebrate his birthday is to remember all the lies and [expletive edited] he heaped upon mankind.

  65. Perhaps Bonnie can explain her frustrations a bit further. I’m wondering that perhaps she ought to switch her position — after all, remembering all the lies and [coy expletive substitute edited] that JS heaped upon the world would be advantageous from someone of her persuasion, wouldn’t it? Indeed it would, because remembering these things keeps them fresh in her mind (and the minds of others like her) so that they’ll continually be reminded of all the deceit and lying this Joe Smith propogated.

    So Bonnie, perhaps Smithmas was a blessing in disguise for you, eh?

  66. heaped upon mankind

    Please avoid inclusive terms here at BCC.

    Thank you.

    -a friend of a guy who knows the management-

  67. Okay, this is obviously an old discussion, but I want to explain why I’m here. The Joseph Smith December Ensign was so disturbing to me that I am still annoyed by it, 9 months later. I finally searched the bloggernacle for comments about it. (I wasn’t aware of the bloggernacle back in December.) I was happy to read all of your comments and virtually get my frustrations out.

    I am glad to read that I wasn’t the only one bothered by the whole “Smithmas” thing. Personally, I think the church comes too close to worshiping Joseph Smith. I agree with the comment that even if Joseph Smith is in second place after Jesus Christ, that it is such a distant second that it cannot be compared. Jesus Christ was the ONLY perfect man. We worship Him and our Heavenly Father.

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