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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography

9780252039089[1]

Review of Michael Hicks, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015). 210 pages with Notes and an Index. Part of the Music in American Life series.

Michael has been posting teasers from his book manuscript for many months now, and so when my volume finally arrived in the mail my interest had been fully piqued and I consumed it in just two days. [Read more…]

Tuesday in Holy Week

Part of the punitive appeal of crucifixion lies in the fact of public display: nothing says “remember who’s in charge” quite like a bunch of corpse-bedecked crosses outside the city gates. So, too, with Jesus, crucified as a troublemaker alongside two thieves and atop a hill, such that the scene might be visible from a distance. The message from the Romans: “We will not tolerate that business about destroying the temple and raising it up in three days, no sir, so don’t even think about it.” [Read more…]

The “Anti-Mormon” Card

“The Cast Iron-Rodders know all the answers to the unanswerable. They require that every single facet of their faith be absolutely “true;” otherwise nothing is.”–Samuel W. Taylor, Aunty-Mormon I Ain’t, Nor Ante-Mormon Neither

I have been reading my way through dozens of anti-Mormon novels published in the second half of the nineteenth century. This is something that I could not have done even ten years ago without flying all over the country and hanging out in special-collections rooms where you have to wear latex gloves and a hazmat suit to touch a book. But then Google decided to digitize that portion of the world no longer protected by copyright, and now it is as easy as watching TV. [Read more…]

23 Times General Conference Was THE WORST, Ranked

Some people love General Conference! Some other people don’t love General Conference! Some people, like Steve and I, have experienced both highs and lows during General Conference. Today, we’re going to talk about the lows.

1st Presidency GC

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
[Read more…]

Wave Operators. Omniscience. God. Heaven. Charity. Atonement. Reconciliation. Love. Infinity. Part I.

“Maybe we’ve spent too long trying to figure this all out with theory. . . love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful. It has to mean something.”
“Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing.”
“We love people who have died. Where is the social utility in that?”
“None.”
“Maybe it means something more, something we can’t–yet–understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade, who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it . . .”

“I saw . . . my brother Alvin, that has long since slept; and marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that [Celestial] kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins. Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works,[and] according to the desire of their hearts.”

[Read more…]

Louise Yates Robison

Sometimes church (like so much else) looks like a place designed for extroverts. Gregariousness, if not a virtue exactly, at least seems like the sort of thing that could come in handy, since the realities of lay ministry so often oblige us to give talks, teach lessons, or otherwise act in semi-public ways. What, then, of the shy among us? Perhaps their (ok, our) patron saint could be Louise Yates Robison, who notwithstanding deep shyness served effectively as the General Relief Society President during the difficult years of the Great Depression. [Read more…]

Cleansing the Temple: Monday in Holy Week

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

* * *

Jesus likely knew that he was sealing His fate when he “cleansed” the temple by casting out the money changers after his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. In the Gospel of Mark, this cleansing of the temple occurs on the Monday of Holy Week (Mark 11:15-19). [Read more…]

10 Questions For Sister Oscarson

Dear President Oscarson,

I like you President Oscarson. I like your wit and your humility. I know I’m not a young woman anymore but I feel like you’re my leader. I feel comfortable with you. I want to support all the women leaders in our church. In fact, I look at you like a Helaman and here we are your daughters ready to fight for what you deem worthy. Maybe that’s going a bit far. But you know, we’re Mormon and we like to draw dramatic parallels. Anyway, I bring that up because the other night you asked us to do three things: defend marriage between a man and woman, elevate divine roles of mothers and fathers and stand and defend the sanctity of the home. You also asked us to boldly defend the proclamation. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the Resurrection

Hand-444159_640I was asked to give the concluding remarks in our ward’s Easter program, held today in advance of conference next week.

In 3 Nephi, it reads:

5 And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.
6 And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them:
7 Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.

[Read more…]

Congratulations to 2014 AML Winners Steve Peck and Michael Austin

Steve and Michael

BCC permas put their pants on just like the rest of you–one leg at a time. Except, once their pants are on, they take home top honors from the 2014 Association for Mormon Letters Conference. A hearty congratulations to Steve Peck for mopping the floor with the competition for the 2014 Short Fiction Award and Michael Austin for leaving the contenders for the 2014 Religious Nonfiction Award in the dust (and ashes)! Read on for their citations: [Read more…]

Should Mormons (or Anyone) Hope to Change the World?

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

For many decades at least–and maybe, depending on whose history you most trust, maybe ever since our beginning–the dominant American Mormon mode for thinking about this thing which the scriptures and those who claim to be able to authoritatively comment upon them tend to call “the world” has been to, if not completely flee it, then at least stand at a remove from it: to be “in the world, but not of the world.” There’s a deep scriptural truth to this formulation, reflecting as it does one of the final statements attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John. But just as many Christians–and, of late, more and more Mormons–have been equally inspired by the tradition of the Great Commission: that we are called to go about into the world, and change it for the better. This means evangelization and missionary work, of course, something which the Mormon church has embraced from the start. But it also means many other kinds of service and charitable works as well–something which, to our credit, we’ve done our best to get caught up on in recent years.

Jesus taught the eternal value of changing lives through loving service, and that is more than enough for most Christians. Mormons, though, might imagine that there is an additional endpoint to all that going out into and changing of the world, one which which distinguishes us from many (not all, for certain, but nonetheless many) other Christian groups: the ultimate aim of building up the kingdom of God upon the earth and establishing Zion–which for Mormons like me means a community and/or state of being where all are of one heart and one mind, dwell in righteousness, and no one is poor. [Read more…]

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, D&C 93:35

The Collect: Heavenly Father: In your love towards the human race you sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his atonement; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

On Palm Sunday the Messiah is finally revealed. No more preaching in the Galilean backwaters. No more Messianic Secret. On Palm Sunday, Jesus publicly enacts the prophecy of Zechariah concerning the Messiah: [Read more…]

What has two thumbs and doesn’t give a crap about the Family?

keep-calm-and-defend-the-familyI am a middle-class white lady who’s been married to the same man for eighteen years, and all four of my children were fathered by this same guy, after we got married, and I have no intention of leaving him in the near future or otherwise. I don’t have any gay friends or family members, even though I’ve been told that’s impossible in this day and age. I do have gay acquaintances, but no one I hang out with or am forced to interact with at holidays. I don’t even have gay co-workers because I haven’t worked outside the home since I had my first baby. I think I should be an ideal candidate to do as I was counseled in Saturday night’s General Women’s Broadcast and “stand with the Brethren” and “defend the Family,” which I understand is under attack. I mean, I live in a freaking bubble. I not only don’t have gay friends; I don’t really have any friends, so I couldn’t possibly suffer any social consequences if I were to become an ardent and outspoken Defender of Family. On the other hand, that also means no one would listen to me, because if a tree falls in the forest blah blah, but that’s not the point. If I’m not currently standing up for the Family, it’s definitely not because I lack moral courage, because doing so wouldn’t take any, in my particular case. It’s really just that I don’t care enough about the Family. I don’t think I care at all. [Read more…]

Jesus Movies for Holy Week

Every year I teach a course on Jesus in film, focusing on the way film has depicted the Passion. We also read the Gospel accounts and find that a comparison of the accounts with the films provokes interesting discussions on religion and art, theology and historicity. These were this year’s films:

Triumphal entry / cleansing of the temple: The Last Temptation of Christ

“You think you’re special? God is not an Israelite!” spits Willem Defoe to Caiaphas after he loses his temper at the temple. This is a remarkable scene in an amazing film and does better than most to explain how Jesus came to be seen as a threat to the established order of things.


[Read more…]

Reading Scripture with Roland Barthes

In celebrating a great post-structuralist thinker through lectionary readings and a homily, it seems only appropriate to “go meta.” What, then, can Roland Barthes teach us about how to read the scriptures, as we try to use the scriptures to read Roland Barthes? In what follows, I’m going to put today’s readings in conversation with key works and concepts from Barthes’s varied career.

[Read more…]

The Annunciation

Detail from "Nativity" by Brian Kershisnik, 2006 (source: http://tinyurl.com/m6oafwf) -- The beauty and grace of Kershisnik's angels constantly inspire me.

Detail from “Nativity” by Brian Kershisnik, 2006 (source: http://tinyurl.com/m6oafwf) — The beauty and grace of Kershisnik’s angels constantly inspire me.

I hope you believe in angels. I do.

Celebrating the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), we necessarily reflect on the amazing implications of God sending the angel Gabriel “unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth” (Luke 1:26) — dispatching an archangel to an essentially forgotten rural backwater of a town on a Galilean hillside to visit a young, unknown, betrothed girl. But God, for whom “nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37), knew Mary and had selected her among all His chosen people for a pivotal mission in His work of salvation. [Read more…]

A Short Sermon for Holy Week

Given in Worcester Cathedral, 25.iii.15

The Easter story is not quite what it looks like when first encountered. We have had readings about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem — which I do not think is quite as positive as it sounds — and the painful death of Jesus on the cross, which is certainly not as negative as torture and death would otherwise seem to be.

So, this is my message: Easter is more than it appears to be and I will try to explain how. [Read more…]

Sighs Too Deep for Words

Sometimes with full heart I fall on my face before God and weep my soul to the heavens. I rage and sob and struggle to pour forth my full measure. Plying the words that mingle with my tears I falter, trying plainness or eloquence or cursing—anything that might break through. On the edge of despair I am reduced to muttering the Name over and over in its many lesser names—“Oh God!” “Dear, gentle Jesus!”—and in the repetition the distinction between prayer and blasphemy begins to blur. I pray on, or I go to sleep. [Read more…]

Did Joseph Smith, Jr. Ordain Elijah Abel to the Priesthood?

W. Paul Reeve is Associate Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Utah where he teaches Utah history, Mormon history, and the history of the US West. Oxford University Press recently published his book Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness.

In addition to this guest post, Paul has graciously agreed to answer any particularly interesting questions you may have regarding his book and his research on race in the Church. Please leave questions in the comments below, and they will be answered in a subsequent post.

The short answer is no, I do not believe that he did. I know that my answer runs against the grain of what has grown into a popular understanding regarding Elijah Abel(s) and his priesthood ordination. In some circles it has become an almost assumed fact that Joseph Smith ordained Abel, a black man, to the office of Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. When I began research for my book, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, I assumed the same thing. In fact, I made that claim in early chapter drafts for the book. However, as I dug into the sources I grew increasingly uneasy with that assertion and the evidence upon which it is based. In the book I don’t walk the reader through my behind the scenes reasoning and only the most careful reader will notice that I only claim that Joseph Smith, Jr. “sanctioned” Abel’s priesthood. What I offer below is a glimpse into my reasoning behind the decision to characterize it that way. [Read more…]

On Relationships, Human and Otherwise (With a Nod to the Best Book that I Hated When I Was 25)

“Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible” —Count Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Leo Tolstoy’s short novel The Death of Ivan Ilyich is not the sort of book that the 25 year old version of me had any patience for. I read it, because I had to read it, when I took a Short Story class at BYU. But I was more interested in War and Peace because it was long and difficult, or Anna Karenina because it was about sex. But The Death of Ivan Ilyich is only about fifty pages long. Its simple prose borders on simplistic. And worst of all, it’s about a middle-aged man falling off a step ladder and dying a slow and meaningless death. Can you say BO-RING? [Read more…]

Lent V

If the Third Sunday of Lent marks, as Ronan wrote, the point where our observance flags, today’s readings allow for the hyperbolic suggestion that by now we’re just a pile of dry bones, crying to God from the depths of misery. Looking upon such histrionics, even a good friend might suggest that we just go and eat some chocolate already, if only to relieve others from the burden of witnessing our embarrassing display. [Read more…]

Sometimes Less Is More

Browning-Home-summer

My family moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where I would grow up, when my father got a job at Northern Illinois University as a professor of education. That was in 1965, and I was six about to turn seven. Every year for vacation we would drive to Layton to visit my maternal grandparents and other relatives. [Read more…]

Shiny Happy No Thanks

after-rain-flower-water

There’s this weird phenomenon I’ve observed. It’s unclear where it’s nexus lies— It may be influenced by the rise of the Pinterest quote culture, or the focus on and elevation of lifestyle blogs. Are wall-quotes in living-areas a symptom or a cause? I’m not sure. What I see in my own community, on social media, and online in general, is an elevation of happiness being considered a virtue, a morally superior position. Being happy is great, of course, but the converse side of expecting happiness (or cheerfulness) as a marker of faith is that those who are somehow not “happy” or who struggle in any way, are somehow perilously close to morally failing. [Read more…]

Women in Refrigerators

The fridge in question.  Also, Kyle Rayner's costume is the 2nd lamest Green Lantern costume.

The fridge in question. Also, Kyle Rayner’s costume is the 2nd lamest Green Lantern costume.

As you may know, I like comic books. On occasion, I like controversies about comic books as well. There was a pretty good controversy in the mid-to-late nineties, following a Green Lantern comic (#54, for those interested). In that comic, the Green Lantern Kyle Rayner comes home to find that his girlfriend Alex has been killed and stuffed into a refrigerator by a villain named Major Force. It’s a shocking scene of violence, but the most shocking thing about it all is that this sort of thing happens to women in comics with some frequency. [Read more…]

Mormonism in the American Mind: Eight Forgotten Classics that You Should Read before they Disappear

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a rich and varied history as the subject of imaginative literature. Mormons have always been more interesting as a group than most other religious people—often for reasons that we are not proud of today. And a large portion of literary Mormonism reflects this—especially in the nineteenth century, when polygamy, blood atonement, and Danites provided the raw material for some of the most ridiculous, and most popular fiction ever written about a religious group. [Read more…]

Just Whom Are We Inoculating?

inoculationLast week, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote another of her typically insightful surveys of current trends in Mormon life–this one focusing on the impact which the LDS Church’s recent openness regarding various complicated historical and theological issues (from the origin of the priesthood ban to the historicity of the Book of Abraham to Joseph Smith’s personal involvement in plural marriage) are likely to have as the church continues to grow and change. It was widely shared on social media–and that sharing led an old friend of mine, who no longer associates with the church, to share some thoughts with me: [Read more…]

Establishment of the Relief Society

When several Nauvoo women gathered on 17 March 1842 to organize a society devoted to good works in the community, Joseph Smith read the revelation to Emma Smith now contained in D&C 25, emphasizing that she had been “ordained … to expound scriptures, and to exhort the Church” (D&C 25:7). The establishment of the Relief Society on that day, and Emma’s election as its first president, brought this ordination for the first time into the formal structure of the Church. [1] To what, then, does Relief Society as an organization exhort the Church—not just the women, but all of us? [Read more…]

Can members support same-sex marriage and remain in good standing?

Taking a cue from Doctrine and Covenants 6:28, I thought I’d pull together and transcribe some of the recent discussions about whether or not members can support same-sex marriage and still remain in good standing.

And, if you need it, here is a temple-recommend, wallet-sized printable that you may want to laminate for easy reference:

walletsizedcard2

Now for the longer versions of the answer to the post title. [Read more…]

The Power of Personal Stories When Giving Talks

580-speaking-in-church

Today was ward conference, and as is typical in ward conference sacrament meeting, we had two speakers: the bishop and the stake president. Both of their talks were excellent, and they both happened to do the same thing in such a way that I thought there was a lesson there for good public speaking that I commented on at the beginning of my Sunday School class. [Read more…]

Whose Thing Is “The Church” (and What Exactly Can You Get Kicked Out Of)?

Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home. . . .
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’
‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
–Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man”

As a missionary, I used to tell investigators a story (I think it came from a Paul Dunn talk) about a Mormon general authority’s conversation with the leader of another denomination. The Mormon asked his counterpart, “Who is the head of your church in Dubuque, Iowa?” The other leader (of course) replied, “Why I am the head of our Church in Dubuque, Iowa. Who is the head of your church in Dubuque, Iowa?” The Mormon leader smiled beatifically and replied, “Jesus Christ.” The point of the story was really simple: our church (but not yours) is the Lord’s. [Read more…]

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