What Not To Do In A Church Talk

It’s time to embark on a long-overdue project. In recent years, Church leaders have instructed us on how to bear (and not to bear) our testimonies in Sacrament meeting. We have been given detailed procedures regarding when and how to give priesthood blessings. The Church has completely revamped the missionary discussions, encouraging a more flexible lesson schedule and malleable pedagogical approach. But for some reason, no one in Salt Lake has yet felt the need to provide an instruction manual on how to give (and not give) talks in Church. Thus, it is out of my amazing sense of selflessness (or perhaps my interminable obsession with ark-steadying) that I’ve decided to single-handedly take on this project. (What’s that you say? “Aaron, you’re like Mother Theresa! You’re a modern-day Martin Luther!” Yeah, I get that a lot.)

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Words I Can’t Stand, Part I: “Opportunity”

I have the wonderful opportunity of attending Church each Sunday.  And while Sunday is still five days away as of this writing, I’m already dreading the inevitable…  I’ll have the opportunity to walk into Sacrament meeting just after 10:00 am, have the opportunity to sit down, and then have the opportunity to listen to the opening prayer, in which the prayer-giver will surely thank the Lord for the opportunity we all have to come to Church, the opportunity we have to live in this wonderful country, and the opportunity we are all about to have to listen to the wonderful talks.  After I’ve had the opportunity to take the Sacrament, I will then listen to at least two speakers, both of which are likely to talk about various opportunities they’ve had during the week, or at least publicly thank the Lord for the opportunities He has provided them.  It’s also likely they’ll thank the Bishop for the opportunity he’s given them to speak in Church, even if they actually secretly loathe the opportunity.  (Perhaps I’ll get lucky and have the opportunity to sing a hymn between the talks too, though I doubt it will be a Churched-up version of the Pet Shop Boys’ "Opportunities.")  Finally, someone will give the closing prayer, thanking God for the opportunity we all had to come to Church, and asking that God allow other Church members who weren’t with us the opportunity to attend next week.

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Write my talk for me, Part II

Once upon a time, I asked all of our faithful readers to write my talk for me.  Many of you dutifully obliged, but I regret to inform you that all your efforts were in vain.  That’s right — a few days before my wife and I were to speak, the first counselor in the Bishopric called and informed us of a scheduling error.  Our talks were thus postponed until July 24th, and our topics were changed.  Care to guess what we’re speaking on now?  (Hint:  We’re speaking on July 24th…)

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Write my talk for me

I know what most of you are thinking:  "BCC is such a profound fountain of wisdom, a stellar source of religious insight, and a crucial pillar of my faith!  I can’t believe I get to read it for free!  It seems too good to be true!"  Well, guess what.  It is too good to be true.  For there’s a catch.  All BCC commenters are required to perform periodic community service for us permabloggers.  (It’s all laid out in the fine print of our comments policy, folks.  I promise.  If you’d have just read more carefully, you’d already know that.)

So here goes.  Today’s task is relatively simple:  You need to help me write the talk I’m giving this coming Sunday.

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“In what ways was the Word of Wisdom far ahead of its time?”

Answer: It wasn’t. The Word of Wisdom was not ahead of its time in any way whatsoever. Of course, longtime readers of the Bloggernacle already knew this (given prior discussions of the topic here and at T&S). But I’m actually not interested in revisiting this issue in excruciating historical detail. Instead, I want to point out something I learned in Church today, that came as a bit of a shock: It turns out that the title of this post is — rather than being the query of a jaded blogger, waiting to pounce on the ignorance of his co-religionists — the first "suggestion for study and discussion" at the end of Chapter 11 in the David O. McKay manual.

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Run to the Hills! A Mormon Theocracy is Upon Us!

The latest issue of National Review sports a grinning, full-body shot of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on its cover with the words “Matinee Mitt” scrawled across the photo. The article introduces NRODT readers to Governor Romney as a serious presidential contender for the GOP in 2008. We are treated to a description of Romney’s stellar, social conservative credentials, notwithstanding what some might consider his “questionable” comments or positions on abortion and stem-cell research. As the author, John J. Miller, puts it, “a good case can be made that Romney has fought harder for social conservatives than any other governor in America, and it is difficult to imagine his doing so in a more daunting political environment [i.e., Massachusetts].”

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The “Culture” Cop-Out

Your fellow Church-members are really ticking you off.  Sister So-and-So is making the same tired comments in Sunday School that you’ve heard a thousand times before.  Brother Whats-his-Name is advocating the same silly understanding of Doctrine X, Policy Y or Scriptural Interpretation Z that more enlightened Mormons (like you) discarded years ago.  Your co-religionists, as a group, are pre-occupied with some silly notions that they’d quickly jettison, if only they understood the Gospel better.

But what should you do?  You could take them all to task of course, but that would make you look uppity, judgmental, self-righteous.  It also wouldn’t win you many friends at Church.  And to think that so many of your brothers and sisters are confused only serves to raise troubling questions:  What does it mean that so many fellow Mormons don’t understand the Gospel?  Is there something wrong with the Gospel?  Is there something wrong with the way it’s being taught?  Or is it something else?

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Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed!

Liberal Mormons love to whine and gripe about their bad experiences with Church authorities.  And seriously, who can blame them?  Think of the poor, assertive relief society sister whose perspective is dismissed or undervalued by the ward brethren.  The gospel doctrine teacher whose open-ended and exploratory style is rejected as not "spiritual" enough.  The thoughtful missionary made to endure the overbearing censure of another hyper-orthodox elder not much older or more mature than he is.  Given Mormonism’s lay priesthood, its rule excluding one of the sexes from formal positions of priesthood authority and what some would describe as a lack of checks and balances at the local level, perhaps Mormon congregational life is a ticking timebomb of bad experiences just waiting to go off!

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Why I Hate George Lucas (and you should too)

Over at the Kulture Klub, we all had to endure a recent nerd-filled chatterfest about pointless Star Wars trivia. (Seriously, look at those geeks in the comments section. Sure glad I’m not them). That may have been a fun thread, but trust me, folks — this one is sure to be much more cathartic. Indeed, consider it long overdue therapy at no charge.

As you all know, Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is opening exactly one month from today, and I think it’s time we all release our collective, pent-up angst at George Lucas for how he’s ruined the Star Wars experience; might as well get it out now, so that when you head for the theatre, you’ll have already processed your rage and you’ll have lower expectations, ensuring a consequently less-torturous cinematic experience overall.

(Some might say that this thread would be more appropriate elsewhere, but since Boy George Evans and the other powers-that-be over there didn’t see fit to invite me to participate in their little cinematic & musical love-in, I see no reason to respect their monopoly on all ‘Nacle discussions of geeky films.)

For those wondering what possible “Mormon” connection there is to any of this, I would kindly point out that: (1) George Lucas is Mormon; (2) the “Force” is the Priesthood; and (3) Yoda is President Kimball. Enough said. Or if not, perhaps those of a more philosophical bent can discuss whether and to what extent George’s apparent church inactivity relates in some way to why his movies suck so hard.
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Problematizing the Eternal Family

I was recently discussing the dilemma of a close LDS friend’s mother with that friend (“Bill”), and his mother.  Here’s the fact scenario: 

Bill’s parents divorced several years ago, after he and all his siblings were grown.  The divorce came unexpectedly, and was hard on much of the family religiously, psychologically, etc., etc.  Most of Bill’s many siblings are now less active or have left the Church entirely (the causes of this are complex in each case, but the divorce seems to have been a catalyst for most of them).  Bill and one of his siblings are still active in the Church.  Both of Bill’s parents are still active in the Church.  They are still sealed together in the Temple.  Bill’s father would like to reconcile with and remarry Bill’s mother.  Bill’s mother has no interest in doing so.  (Assume that she has her reasons, and that they are good ones).
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“Mission Garbage” — Part I

My wife and I are about to move to Washington state. As part of the moving process, my wife has requested that I go through all my "junk" (i.e., all the miscellaneous files I drag with me wherever we go, but which I never read, and which I probably will never even look at again), and discard whatever I don’t want to keep. Intended as a quick project, it has turned, predictably, into an inefficient, interminable nightmare. Yet it is also great fun, as I get to spend countless hours rediscovering papers and pamphlets from my past that I had forgotten even existed, and peruse them at length.

Yesterday, I happened upon a file entitled, appropriately enough, "Mission Garbage." Inside, I discovered a motley assortment of writings that had circulated among various, excited elders in my mission, and which I decided, for some unknown reason, to keep copies of. Only now do I realize the purpose of my having held on to this stuff … A higher power must have wanted me to post these in the Bloggernacle for your amusement!

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Help! I’m giving a talk next Sunday!

I have been a Ward Mission Leader for the past 3 ½ years. That’s a very long time to have served in such a calling. It is so long, in fact, that I’ve come to believe I am entitled to some special Church benefits — perhaps a one-year Word of Wisdom reprieve, a “Get Out of Tithing Free” card, a lottery win, or at least a meaningful, Three Nephites visit as I drive up the I15. While contemplating my imminent negotiations with the Brethren on this point, I was suddenly released last week! Finally. (Truth be told, the only way I got this to happen was to wait for a new Bishop to be called, and then prematurely announce in Fast and Testimony meeting that we had finalized our plans to move out of the ward).
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Yes, I’m a Loser

Long-time BCC readers will recall my plug for NBC’s weight-loss reality show, The Biggest Loser. Ryan Benson, who is one of the three finalists, is a friend of mine and a former member of my ward. I know you’ve all been faithfully watching the show weekly as a show of solidarity with your co-religionist, and even if you weren’t otherwise inclined, I’m sure my earlier demand that you do so anyway was met with your unquestioning obedience.

But just in case I’m mistaken, let me invite you to watch tomorrow’s show specifically, as it is the final episode, where “the” Biggest Loser will be chosen. So far, it looks like Ryan is likely to win, and if he does, he gets the $250,000. Even more importantly, he’ll probably get to tour the talk show circuit, and given that he’s an aspiring actor, I imagine this could really jumpstart his career.

But folks, there’s an even more important reason to tune in tomorrow….. You might even get to see ME!

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Santa Claus is dead … and I’ve got the picture to prove it.

The Christmas season is upon us. It’s that time of year when you should be thinking about the birth of Baby Jesus, but instead, you’re obsessing about a fat old man who dresses up in a frilly red outfit that would put a drag queen to shame, and who invites your children to sit on his lap and asks them to “tell me what you really want!” Creepy. And you sickos don’t see anything wrong with this? That’s it — I’m calling Social Services!

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President Bush Wins!!!

That’s my prediction. Just because nobody else in the media will definitively call this election, doesn’t mean I can’t. You heard it here first folks.

(Does this qualify me as a prophet?)

Liberals, vent! Conservatives, rejoice! Libertarians, shrug your shoulders?

Aaron B

Come out of the Closet!

I am intrigued by the phenomenon of the closeted blog-reader. You all know who you are. You read By Common Consent religiously (and maybe occasionally stoop to visit BCC-lite), you stay home with your computers on Saturday nights just in case something profound pops up on this site, but you never actually dare to make a comment yourself. Why is that? I mean, it’s not that difficult to chime in, folks. All you have to do is push the “comments” button, provide your name and email address (which can even be anonymous, don’t you know), and say hello! It’s not like your every utterance need be profound or thought-provoking (though that would be nice). I really do occasionally run into people who say they visit the Bloggernacle, but haven’t ever left a comment. And we all recall the occasional commenter who says: “I’ve been reading this blog for a long time, but I haven’t commented until today…”
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The Perils of Setting Baptismal Goals

I am a lousy journal writer. Always have been. Yes, I kept a journal as a young child at my parents’ insistence and it is fun to go back and visit those juvenile entries once in a blue moon. But ever since I was seven, I have only made diary entries on rare occasion. Even as a missionary, I couldn’t bring myself to write regularly. I always felt like there was no obvious method for selecting what I should include and exclude from my daily drama, so rather than having to make judgment calls as to what would be important to put on paper, it was easier just to bag the whole project.
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Mormon Celebrity-Watch

Now that you’re all sick to death of watching Ken Jennings rake in millions while you slave away at your day job, it’s time to direct your attention to the next up-and-coming Mormon celebrity: Ryan Benson. Ryan is a contestant on the new NBC reality show “The Biggest Loser,” which is billed as a “compelling new weight-loss drama in which two celebrity fitness trainers join with top health experts to help 12 overweight contestants transform their bodies, health and ultimately their lives.” Ryan is a former member of my ward, and is also a good friend of mine.
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Because this is the ONLY issue you all really care about…

Put aside for a moment the alleged LDS prohibition on viewing R-rated movies (I know that’s asking a lot from this group). Imagine a world in which no reference to movie “ratings” has ever been voiced by any of the Brethren, but a general admonition to follow the “Admonition of Paul” is in force. What I want to know is: “What kind of movies should good LDS members watch, and what kind shouldn’t they watch?” Most critical commentary on the “No R-rated movies standard” tends to condemn the MPAA’s rating system as “arbitrary,” “flawed,” and a poor guide to determining what is worth viewing and what isn’t. But if there were a perfect standard, or at least a hypothetical rating system that incorporated all the sophisticated concerns and nuanced criteria you think should count toward determining whether a film is acceptable, what would that standard look like? This may seem like a simple question, but I don’t think it is. Most LDS discussions of R-rated movie-watching confront it in passing, but not directly. Some specific questions:
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Embellishing Spiritual Experiences

It was the late 1980s. Las Vegas, Nevada. The Church had just completed construction of the Las Vegas Temple. I was in highschool at the time, and the leadership of my Southern California ward decided to plan a youth field trip to the Open House. I have various random, but vivid, memories from the trip: Flirting via CB-radio with the occupants of a minivan on the ride up, heckling a prostitute and her John at our motel, being handed anti-Mormon literature outside the temple, etc. Most vivid of all, however, are my memories of walking through the Celestial Room. Although I’d been inside a temple before (to do baptisms for the dead), I’d never visited an actual Celestial Room, and I thought it was pretty impressive. No, I didn’t have an overwhelming spiritual experience that changed my life, but I did think it was an amazing, spiritual place, and I was quite taken aback by its beauty. I also made a point of looking around at all the other people walking through the room, Mormon and non-Mormon alike, to gauge their reactions. It seemed that most found the experience similarly impressive, and there was very little conversation, except in hushed tones.
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At last, BCC Reigns Supreme!!!

It’s finally happened. After whipping up a nefarious, Gadianton-like scheme to bring down the Behemoth of the Bloggernacle, Steve E. and I were able to take down the website of those intellectual upstarts with smashing success! In case you haven’t noticed, that other blog no longer works. You can no longer make comments there. At last, BCC will finally be able to fulfill its destiny, step up to the plate, and humbly assume its role as that #1 most trafficked site in the Bloggernacle. Which is how it should be.

Consider the demise of T&S as a metaphor for its intellectual bankruptcy, generally.

So with that out of the way, I would like to announce that we the BCC pantheon — good Mormon “liberals” that we are — will be shortly announcing a Bloggernacle-wide “Speech Code” which we will use to enforce our heterodoxy with an iron fist. If you want BCC to link to you, you’ll have to toe the line, folks. All must comply. Resistance is futile.

Aaron B

Am I Immoral?

I have a confession to make: I am a liar. I have deliberately told an untruth about a fellow human being, with the intent to convince my listeners to believe something unsavory about that person and to affect her negatively. Shame on me? You decide. The story that follows has virtually no connection to Mormonism, other than that I happen to be Mormon, the Gospel demands that we not bear false witness against our neighbor, and I did so anyway with reckless abandon. All you amateur Mormon ethicists out there are invited to weigh in on my actions and call me to repentence … or not.
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Zeezrom revisited

Once upon a time, I politely suggested we change the name of this site to “Zeezrom and the Kori-Whores.” [Read more…]

Losing Perspective

Over at the Evil Blog, those raving, intellectual apostates have finally gone too far. Brace yourselves–Russell has had the audacity to promote khaki pants for missionaries! Scandalous! Outrageous! I’m not sure I can visit T&S anymore. Steve, remove the heathens from our blogroll, forthwith!

What Russell obviously doesn’t know is that non-black and non-navy pants aren’t just prohibited in many missions–they are downright evil.
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More MTC Antics

In the comments at my recent post at Sons of Mosiah, Grasshopper shared his fond memories of “streaking” through the halls of the MTC with nothing on but a shower cap, and the accompanying brush with ecclesiastical authority that ensued. He says he learned some lessons that have served him well. Not to be outdone, I also have an MTC experience that involves a ruckus through the MTC halls and an ecclesiastical confrontation, although it contains no nudity (alas!). (I hope all you Mormon liberals don’t mind my longwindedness …)
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“Orthodox Intellectualism” and the “Anti-Contention” Tradition

The latest issue of Sunstone magazine contains the most interesting article to grace its pages in some time. Entitled “Defending the Kingdom, Rethinking the Faith: How Apologetics is Reshaping Mormon Orthodoxy,” its author, John-Charles Duffy, argues that the “orthodox intellectuals” of Mormonism, while defending the faith and sparring with its critics, are simultaneously expanding the scope of Mormon orthodoxy in beneficial ways. [Read more…]

Sophistication on the Cheap

You’re sitting in Gospel Doctrine class, and Brother So-and-So is going off on one of his weekly, mindless rants. As usual, his comments are sanctimonious, self-important and theologically intolerable. He must be destroyed! [Read more…]

Dancing with the Devil

This weekend I finally rented “The Devil’s Playground,” which I’d been meaning to see for several months. The film is a documentary about Amish teenagers going through “rumspringa.” For those who don’t know (I didn’t), “rumspringa” is a rite of passage all Amish youth pass through once they turn 16, when they are allowed to opt out of the rules and restrictions of Amish life and “go English.” In short, they are allowed to experience the joys of television, MTV, automobiles, drugs, sex and porn. [Read more…]

The Catholics are coming!! The Catholics are coming!!

Well, to be honest, the Catholic (singular) is coming. That’s right boys and girls … Father Hans has decided to guest-blog with us. For those who don’t know (or remember) who Father Hans is, refresh yourselves here by scrolling down to “Ecumenicalism run amok?”. I’m not going to bother providing additional biographical information for now, as I hope my prior post has given you sufficient taste of who Hans is. After his brief stint with us at BCC, the plan is that he will answer “12 Questions” over at Times and Seasons. [Read more…]

“You are of the tribe of Ephraim”

Last Sunday, I taught my Gospel Essentials class on “Priesthood Organization.” One of the sub-themes of the lesson was the role of the “Patriarch.” The Bishop plugged “patriarchal blessings” for the new members, and listed the duties of the patriarch, including that of “assigning lineage.” A recent African-American convert approached me after the lesson, informed me that she had recently received her own patriarchal blessing, and asked: “Brother Brown, what exactly does it mean to “assign lineage”?”

What should I tell her?

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