Are baby blessings like dedicatory prayers or priesthood blessings?

In the last few weeks I have been to a couple of baby blessings and specific differences between the two prompted a question: are baby blessings more like dedicatory prayers or priesthood blessings? [Read more…]

The challenge of ‘hastening the work’ in the UK

Despite recent calls to ‘hasten the work’, the church does not seem to be growing in the UK. While there may be pockets of growth, on average, it seems like the number of people baptized is not growing when contrasted with the attrition we are also observing. What is particularly striking is that the absolute growth in membership is substantially lower than what we would have expected if we just followed the increase in membership due to baptisms. This implies that we are both failing to convert new people and appear to be losing some of those who were already members.  These statistics do not tell us why this might be happening; it could be due to emigration, death, or resignation. All of these are important but I suspect that there has been at least a small uptick in the number of resignations per year over the last 5 years. Since 2000 the church has not been growing in the UK and this seems unlikely to change in the near future. Taken together, the future looks pretty dim.

UK 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Baptisms 2059 2533 1951 1738 1411
Units 336 336 333 332 333
Members 183,672 186,082 186,814 188,029 188,462

All of this is worrying but there is something else that, for me at least, is of greater concern. [Read more…]

Could you not watch with me one hour?

“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26.36-41)

Just past 10pm on Friday night my step-father passed away. [Read more…]

Is the internet creating disaffection?

People who report their religion as ‘none’ are rising in the US. Between 1990 and 2010 the size of this group rose 10% points. Concurrent with this decline is the rise of the internet. Are these phenomena related?

This is the claim in a recent paper that has been receiving some interest on the internet over the last few days. Sounds plausible, right? [Read more…]

Should Mormons be concerned about alcohol policy?

The Word of Wisdom is often interpreted as a code for healthy living motivated by the ‘evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days’. Alcohol is major risk factor for many non-communicable diseases, which account for two-thirds of all deaths globally. Alcohol-attributable mortality is 2.5 million (4% of all deaths) every year, more than the number attributed to HIV/AIDS or Tuberculosis. Despite increased awareness of the health consequences of excessive alcohol, there has been little recent interest among Mormons in using public policy to control alcohol consumption. [Read more…]

What Bill Gates could learn from the church about philanthropy?

There has been some debate about whether the LDS church should be investing in shopping centres and upscale housing when it could be saving lives by lifting people out of poverty. This debate has missed a key feature of the broader landscape of philanthropy over the last 70 years, the move toward philanthrocapitalism. The similarities and differences between philanthrocapitalists, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, and the LDS church are revealing because they highlight to whom particular criticisms should be addressed. In short, while dissatisfaction with this model of charitable giving is a defensible position, consistency might suggest that such criticisms also be directed toward a neoliberal culture of giving currently ascendant in our societies. [Read more…]

What do you wear when you go out with the missionaries?

When I go out with the missionaries, I rarely wear a suit and tie. Instead, I usually opt for trousers and a causal shirt.

This might be completely unsurprising for many people but it has recently come to my attention that, in general (just like when they go home teaching), members will very often wear their Sunday best when they teach with the missionaries. [Read more…]

Am I exempt from paying tithing? It depends.

Between December and January, Bishops frantically try to meet with members to conduct tithing settlement. During these interviews the Bishop asks members whether they are paying a full tithe and the response is usually quite simple: Yes, no, or part. However, there are also some circumstances in which members may be exempt from paying tithing. Young missionaries, for example, are not required to pay tithing. In addition, the CHI also states that “Members who are entirely dependent on Church welfare assistance” are also exempt.

Most members, I suspect, would feel comfortable with this exemption and yet those who receive state benefits are not similarly exempt. How can we reconcile these two? [Read more…]

On non-volitional sex

In this post I discuss a particular form of sexual violence, ‘non-volitional sex’. It is a difficult topic and I have tried to discuss it with care and sensitivity. My hope is that we can have a robust and thoughtful conversation about these issues, especially regarding how we can both care for and limit the number of victims. Because those who have experienced sexual violence may find such a post and the such subsequent conversation distressing, I hope any comments can be made with the understanding that you are potentially talking to someone who has experienced non-volitional sex.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Today (the day after), The Lancet – one of the world’s pre-eminent medical journals – reports that 1 in 10 UK women have reported ‘completed non-volitional sex’ during their lifetime. ‘Non-volitional sex is sexual behavior that violates a person’s right to choose when and with whom to have sex and what sexual behaviors to engage in.’ Further, 1 in 5 women report attempted non-volitional sex. Perhaps what is most astounding is that 6.9% of 16-24 year olds and 9.7% of 25-34 year olds report completed non-volitional sex. The prevalence among men was much lower but still distressing (1 in 100: median age = 16).[1] If ever we thought this was a problem of some bygone era, this evidence proves such an assumption to be sadly mistaken. The evidence overwhelming suggests that intimate partners are the perpetrators of such acts. So, what does this have to do with Mormonism? [Read more…]

How your calling can save your life but make you depressed?

A recent meta-analysis of the impact of volunteering on health outcomes found that those who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who did not. Even after adjusting for between group differences at baseline (such as health status) these lower rates of mortality remain. The results also suggest that volunteering can increase life satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of depression, but there is one important caveat. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the sacrament, part 3: The law of consecration

In the first two posts in this short series I have tried to reflect on how the sacrament signifies ways of being in the world. In fact, all of these posts have really been an attempt to answer this question: ‘what does it mean to live our lives through the sacrament?’ In the first post, I suggested that the sacrament reveals Christ in those with whom we worship. In the second post, I tried to discuss how the sacrament embodies a model of fellowship and service. In this, the third and final post, I argue that the sacrament speaks to how we should consecrate. I want to explore the possibility that framing the sacrament as an Aaronic priesthood responsibility may say something about how we should care for the temporal needs of the saints. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the sacrament, part 2: The meal and the garden.

There are multiple accounts of Jesus’ final meal with his disciples in the gospels along with various allusions to it in the epistles. Both the synoptics and the Gospel of John consistently portray the movement from the upper room into a garden. While there are important discrepancies between the gospels regarding what Jesus said and did during the meal and in the garden, there are noticeable similarities. In every account there is a sacred meal which Jesus shares with his followers and then, in the garden, he is betrayed and abandoned.[1] This transition signifies something about how we fellowship one another. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the sacrament, part I: The road to Emmaus

Within the Gospel of Luke Jesus repeatedly takes bread, breaks it, blesses it, and then gives it to those who are with him. This food-centred act recalls both Jewish meal blessings and foreshadows the Last Supper. This sacramental theme culminates with Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to his disciples. [Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 21: Looking forth for the Great Day of the Lord to Come

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

Part of the objective for this lesson is to ‘help class members understand… the Second Coming’.  In this lesson outline I aim to offer some thoughts on a particular passage in D&C 88 in connection with Beethoven’s 9th symphony.  Between Christmas and New Year I took my mother to hear Beethoven’s 9th symphony performed at the Barbican with the London Symphony Orchestra. Aside, from hearing Robert Levin perform a few of his Mozart completions a few months earlier, this was the first time that I had ever attended a classical music concert. It was an unforgettable experience. Certainly my limited knowledge of the musical canon and of the forms that structure such large pieces necessarily made my listening quite unsophisticated.[1] It was primarily a raw and immediate response to this celebration of human contradiction.

[Read more…]

Bach and the unrealized resurrection: A meditation on St Matthew Passion

On Monday, I visited Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, England to hear a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. This piece was originally intended to be performed on Good Friday.  Seated in the choir section, between the ante-chapel and the chancel, I was moved by the confluence of place, music, and time. As a classical music neophyte, these reflections are unsystematic, ill-formed, and invariably personal.

For post-Easter Christians, Bach’s St Matthew Passion (MP) is dominated by the absence of the resurrection.  He alludes to it at points but the focal point is always Christ’s death.  Because of that absence, this recitation of Christ’s passion is particularly relevant to me personally because I have struggled with the resurrection. Most salient in Jesus’ movement toward death is the immediacy of his sacrifice for those who he loved then, at that moment, and, I hope, whoever would constitute the future kingdom of God. Yet, despite the unrealized resurrection it is impossible not to be swept up in the hope of two days hence. [Read more…]

Why I do not watch R-rated (cert 18) movies?

There have been some other really good posts on this topic.  I will mention only two: Scott B.’s retrospective of other R-rated discussions and his Zeitcast with John C and his brother.  In a future bloggernacle retrospective, this post will not be mentioned.

Just prior to returning home from my mission in April 2004 I had an interview with my mission president. Having heard the rumours (read: horror stories) about the advice MP’s have given during those interviews I was prepared to stand my ground in the face of any absurd recommendations. I was pleasantly surprised when my MP suggested that during the next 10 years I should aim to hold a temple recommend, remain active in the church (i.e., hold a calling), pursue education and/or begin establishing my career, and find a partner. He did make one final suggestion. He suggested that while flying home that I should make a list of ‘gospel’ standards that I intended to keep. I do not recall whether he suggested standards around media but during that flight I began thinking about my choices regarding films.  I decided that, in reality, I would never stick to a rule that prohibited certificate 15 films but that I could avoid certificate 18 films (see Appendix). [Translation: I would watch some R-rated films but not all]. [Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson#12: “The Gathering of My People”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

In the spirit of Jim F. (and despite falling far short of his standards) here are some thoughts and questions regarding the suggested readings for the lesson. [Read more…]

On being surprised by God

In Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens she cites a quip from the author’s father (according to a reminiscence of Dickens himself).  In response to a boastful friend, John Dickens replied:

The Supreme Being must be a very different individual from what I have every reason to believe him to be, if He would care in the least for the society of your relations.

Simple and devastating! [Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine lesson #10: “This is my voice unto all”

We are very pleased to have Emily U, from Exponent, as our guest for this post on Lesson 10. 

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.

Section 25 is remarkable because it is the only revelation in the Doctrine & Covenants given to a woman. It’s also remarkable because Latter-day Saints trace the origin of their hymnals to this section. It begins with addressing Emma Smith and concludes with “this is my voice unto all,” so there is universally applicable advice in the section, but there is also prophecy that seems to be just for Emma. [Read more…]

On Coke, caffeine, and the Word of Wisdom

Despite being one of the biggest brands in the entire world, Coke has hit some hard times. Their latest attempt to tackle the obesity problem through one of their own adverts is one very clear sign of this trouble. There is no question that this is another entry into their long list of well-produced and effective advertisements, but, like others, I think this is dishonest.

As Mormons, we are quite well known for refraining from drinking caffeine. Coke and Pepsi (and perhaps other caffeinated drinks) are not sold on BYUs campus and when the church recently removed any ambiguity around their policy regarding cola drinks it  received some national attention. Despite this clarification, abstinence from caffeine is still part of Mormon culture.

It was Widtsoe who, while serving as an Apostle, forcefully made the connection between caffeine and the Word of Wisdom that has subsequently become part of our culture. Perhaps he had the right target but the wrong argument.

[Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson #3: I had seen a vision

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.*

There is a great deal of scope within this lesson to explore a number of important themes that pertain to Joseph Smith’s First Vision.  The manual encourages teachers to discuss the religious environment from which this vision emerged as well inviting us to consider the place that this event has in the history of Christianity.  This lesson provides rich and exciting possibilities for examining the contexts for and consequences of JS’s vision of God and Jesus Christ.  In this set of notes, I want to focus on a few of those possibilities which emerge from the multiple accounts of the first vision.  These accounts prompt reflection about the the nature of revelation in the church and in our personal lives. [Read more…]

Studying the Doctrines of the Gospel in the D&C and Church History this year by Jeffrey Marsh: A response

Over at Meridian (ht: Grant Hardy), Jeffrey Marsh offers an interesting perspective on the structure of the D&C manual, a subject that Ben Park has ably discussed as well.  Ben’s post covers many of the problems with a topical approach and I will try not to repeat those here.  However, Marsh’s article suggests some reasons why this approach might be useful for our time. First, he suggests that a topical approach allows the manual to cover more ground while highlighting the ‘unfolding doctrinal drama of the Restoration’. Second, the manual is a unique approach to a unique period of history. I would like to suggest a few reasons reasons why I am not quite convinced. [Read more…]

Religious Art: Nativity by J. Kirk Richards

The artwork of J. Kirk Richards has previously been featured here at BCC, in particular by Brad. I do not know Richards personally but I am excited about the publication of a new volume entitled ‘The Nativity‘ which includes his artwork. Although I usually post my religious art series on Sunday I am sharing this mid-week in the hope that this post might catch some who may still be thinking about what to give as gifts this Christmas.  This book seems ideal.

J. Kirk Richards (1975 – ), Nativity, 2002, oil on panel.

[Read more…]

The secret of measuring success in the church is…

Supper at Emmaus, Caravaggio (1606)

RAF recently wrote an interesting post on ‘the secret of measuring success in the church’. Almost everyone will have their own ideas on a topic like this and very often they will be quite different. Despite this, considering such questions can be worthwhile because they orient us toward that which is most important. As such, I thought I would try my hand at coming up with a measure of the success of the church.

It is this: the success of the church is measured by the extent to which members of a particular ward/stake eat together in each others homes.

First let me explain what I mean and then why I think this is important. [Read more…]

A British Pageant? Part 2

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-DhtK1tGOwwQ/TZD9stcsitI/AAAAAAAAA9Y/mMrBqrJqkzU/s1600/Medieval-Mystery-Plays-image.jpgIn my last post I outlined what I see as the major challenges with trying to hold a British pageant. Pageants are likely to focus on spectacle and fail to reflect the lived faith of those who suffered and struggled for their religion. They will not work as a missionary tool (this will not be The Book of Mormon musical). And they draw on an American model of cultural expression that is somewhat alien to many British Mormons. Creativity and the arts are not areas where I am particularly gifted and so I am sure that others could offer far more exciting possibilities than the ones I outline below. Nevertheless I have offered some ideas around how we might develop this idea of a British Mormon pageant. [Read more…]

A British Pageant? Part 1

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-m-XDn5iZ-RY/Thxnz2ySgEI/AAAAAAAAAFM/tjpeJUMPDKg/s1600/pageant.jpg

One of the unique parts of American Mormonism seems to be the penchant for pageants. Although I have never previously attended a pageant I have seen pictures and they seem like strange affairs, like LSD-soaked Roadshows with a glossy sheen of sentimentality. Geography (I am from the UK) is not the only reason I have never been to a pageant, it would very likely not be something I would enjoy. Recently, members of the Church in the UK – after obtaining approval from the First Presidency no less – announced that in 2013 the UK will have their first pageant. I am not convinced this will be a good thing. [Read more…]

Why Mormons love Movember?

Picture of me with a handle-bar moustache, circa 2008
Full disclosure: This moustache was not grown for Movember but simply because it made me look bad-ass!

During our Stake conference just under a year ago the Stake Presidency was changed. It was not a shock.One of the newly called members of that presidency however had to make a difficult decision. Just like other places around the world, during the month of November (Movember), men from all over the country begin to grow a moustache in order to raise money for testicular cancer.  Prior to his call, and while serving as YM president, this good man had been growing a mustache for charity. The next day, the Sunday, he arrived at his meeting sans ‘tache. I admit to feeling a little disappointed.  Not so much with him but with the culture which (either implicitly or explicitly) suggested that having facial hair – especially in the service of such a worthy charity – was incommensurate with serving as an ecclesiastical leader.

Mormons love Movember. It is ethically sanctioned disobedience; and Mormon men get behind it. It is wonderful to see this creeping facial hair spread across our wards and stakes during this wintery month and I love the fact that our ‘disobedience’ serves those outside our community.  Although unbeknownst to anyone but Mormons, these furry upper lips seem to say “I care more about others than I do about the norms of my community”.  However, I wonder whether some of us would still be involved if we were not Mormons, or if we removed the taboo around facial hair.  Part of the motivation for growing the moustache might, in part, be because it is a little bit rebellious. [Read more…]

Chatham House rules and the church

A few of the attributes I appreciate most among public speakers in religious settings are honesty, openness, and vulnerability. One example, might be Elder Jensen’s remarks in San Francisco Oakland a few years ago which were subsequently widely shared.

This unfortunate episode – the sharing and not what Elder Jensen said – demonstrates that it has (potentially) become increasingly costly for visiting authorities to demonstrate these qualities because of the availability of social media and also the tendency among the membership to hang on even throw-away comments. To some extent, the church have begun to embrace these changes and have attempted to harness them. Not only are General Conference addresses made publicly available but so are sermons and discussions from other settings and in various parts of the world.  Embracing these changes in a church which is very concerned with PR has had some unfortunate side effects.  For example, presentations can be so carefully worded that they become staid and uninspiring. [Read more…]

Elder Perry: On the Corpus Clock and becoming a goodly parent

On the Northwest corner of Corpus Christi college in Cambridge, England there is a strange looking contraption. A gold-plated and stainless steel disk, about 1.5 metres (4.9ft) in diameter, sits in front of the Taylor library and glares across at the Porter’s lodge of Kings College. It is, in fact, a clock; although it has neither hands or numbers. It displays the time by opening tiny slits in the clock face which are backlit with blue LEDs; these slits are arranged in three concentric circles denoting hours, minutes, and seconds.

Yet, this is not what is most striking about the clock. Rather the dominating feature is a macabre metal sculpture of an insect, something akin to a locust or perhaps a grasshopper, which sits on top of the clock. Although somewhat symbolic, this insect is not merely cosmetic, for it is the clock’s escapement (the mechanical device which transfers energy to the timekeeping element).

It was officially unveiled by Stephen Hawking in 2008 and was conceived and funded by the inventor John Taylor. Taylor called the insect the Chronophage, which apparently means ‘time eater’. The insect both consumes time and moves it forward. When the clock strikes the hour it rattles a chain inside a hidden, wooden coffin and it is only accurate once every five minutes. Below the clock there is an inscription from the Vulgate of 1 John 2.17: “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof”. [Read more…]

In praise of senior couples

Last Thursday I drove my in-laws to the Preston MTC in England. They have been called to work as CES coordinators for the church in the Greece Athens Mission. They will be the first to tell you that when they first received their call they were not overly pleased with this assignment. Originally, they had intended to serve a humanitarian aid mission and hoped to serve in the US. Subsequently they have made their peace with this assignment and seem to be having fun in the MTC.

Watching them move through the process of submitting their papers, preparing to serve, and then saying goodbye has been humbling. I love and admire my in-laws a great deal. This has not been easy for them and they have been willing to trust in their God as they embark on this period of sacrifice.

In fact, I have new respect for senior couples all over the church. [Read more…]

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