Politics, Polygamy, and King Follett

In 1903, a tectonic shift was taking place in the way Latter-day Saints saw themselves and in the way non-Mormons saw Utah and the Mormons. Since the end of public Mormon polygamy in 1890, the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, Wilford Woodruff’s revelation of 1894, and Utah statehood in 1896, Mormons were gradually, scratchingly, slowly, drifting into the mainstream of American culture, a change largely driven by technological forces. Politically, Mormonism had weathered a terrible storm and paid a large price in terms of self-definition, self-understanding, and theological position.
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Babylon, Daniel, and the Power of Faith: Dieter F. Uchtdorf #ldsconf

President Uchtdorf’s priesthood session address mixed the modern with the ancient, using the book of Daniel as teaching platform for the power of faith in God in the face of ridicule.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: How Might Mormons Reconcile Scriptural Scholarship with Inspiration?

It says Sunday, but obviously, Sunday is conference. And anyway, this, for whatever it may be worth, is best contemplated before that. Happy Conference!

The question of how faith and the scholarship of scripture interface is an old one, but it has a somewhat different meaning for Latter-day Saints. Partly this relates to the canon. For Mormons the canon is at least technically not closed. The rulebook may change. But another even more sensitive matter is the notion of consistency between revelations. It’s one thing to consider biblical inerrancy in the face of historic issues about text and theology. But since Joseph Smith’s publication of the Book of Mormon and his subsequent Bible revision work (1830-33), it has been apparent that Mormons are at least as sensitive to the charge of internal inconsistency as other Christians. They have even more at stake, and they are doubly vulnerable. Since Joseph Smith, Mormons have considered Christian liturgy and theology to be hidden within Old Testament times since Adam and Eve. Adam was baptized! The gospel has been the same for all time, and at least the elites of the Old Testament (Moses, Abraham) were actually Christians (not a unique position among Christians –1,600 years ago it was a way to marginalize Jews).
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: The Lord’s Prayer, Ancient and Modern, (part II).

I suspect that most Latter-day Saints do not know that Joseph Smith revealed a new Lord’s Prayer. No, not in the Inspired Version or Joseph Smith Translation, revision, of the Bible. This was a revelation, almost certainly connected to that biblical revision work, but separate from it, a New Prayer for the Last Times, much like the original prayer was a prayer for the last times. To catch the vision here, I’ll take the Mathean prayer and place it in parallel with this new prayer, that was dictated on October 30, 1831. The context of the prayer is important, and it serves as a kind of preface for foundational revelations of November 1831 that defined church polity and established a form of government that carried on through modern manifestations of Mormonism.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: Dealing with Dissent

I didn’t get to part II of the last post, but I’m going to work on it this week if I can. It turned out to be more complex than I thought, and my vision of what I should do about it got completely out of hand. So, here is some more New Testament stuff that I’ve been thinking about.

In the sixth chapter of Acts, Luke narrates a very old tradition about conflict and dissent in the early Christian church. When we talk of this episode, we usually ignore the meaning of the outcome, which may be the most important influence on the course of Christianity after Jesus.

Luke tells us this (Acts 6:1): “in these days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews.”[1] “Hellenists” refers to Christian believers in Jerusalem who had a Greek background in some way, Luke doesn’t explain, but he does give some names: Phillip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas (the proselyte), all are Greek names. They are Jews, but the text draws a distinction between them and the “Hebrews,” meaning natives of the city perhaps. That both groups are Jews and Christians, is the important point. As Luke tells us about Hellenist leaders he makes sure to say that one of them was a proselyte (convert to Judaism) meaning that the rest of them were born Jews.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: The Lord’s Prayer, Ancient and Modern (part I)

Conference is coming up, and we do a lot of hymning, praying, and preaching there, so this seems appropriate. Sometime I want to write about early Christian prayer in general, and the connected discourse of hymns and the Second Coming, but in this post I’m just going to think out loud about the Lord’s Prayer, and especially the version in Matthew 6, and then in the second part of this post, consider that in light of what I call the New Lord’s Prayer.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: Caleb.

When I arrived in the mission field, nineteen and green as grass, I was mostly frightened and homesick. That lasted about four weeks. The homesick part. Fortunately my parents, though poor, were entirely in favor of this adventure. After spending a night in the mission home, sleeping alone upstairs in a quiet Cambridge neighborhood, where I didn’t actually sleep, I was sent to the airport at 9 a.m. where I had to buy a ticket to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: Temple Recommend Interview 1856 Style

Want to pass muster back in the day? Here’s a list of [real] questions for you:
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: Contrafactuals, Lehi, History, and a Vision

In elementary logic the first steps mark out how normal (for my purposes, English) speech is used in deduction. Propositional logic discusses the ways in which complex (or compound) statements are constructed from atomic (or simple) statements. One of the ways this happens is the “conditional.” A conditional combines two statements like “the sky is blue” and “the grass is green” by connecting them with “if” and “then” as “If the sky is blue, then the grass is green.” Statements, compound or simple, such as these are thought to have a “truth value.” That is, they may be assigned one of the values, True or False. One can argue about this (and make money doing it) but I’d like to narrow the focus a bit and assume away some of the complexity.
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Jesus and Temptation

I’m no expert with the Bible, on the other hand there are experts that live here at BCC. I invoke them to defend me, or at least cover my errors here. I’m going to talk a little about Jesus’ temptations as they are presented in the New Testament. Once again, this just comes from me reading the Gospels and thinking a bit about them, and reading a bit from things like the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Finally, some of you may know I’m very interested in preaching. The Bible is fertile ground for thinking about that, and that’s one thing I do know a bit about.

Mark doesn’t say much about the temptations, he just says, Jesus was tempted by the devil. Luke and Matthew repeat a tradition about three temptations, and Jesus answers them by quoting from Deuteronomy(!). Luke, who seems driven by logic in his presentation, rather than some sort of strictly historic narrative, puts this story at the beginning, perhaps because he is more interested in the Church, writing as he does from a later perspective.
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Preview/Review: The Cokeville Miracle. A New Film From T. C. Christensen.

Angels have played a significant role in Christian thought through the centuries, and in recent years an important scholarly literature has developed around the subject. Books and articles treat many different genres and periods, from the apostolic, to the medieval, to the early modern era and beyond (our own Ben Park and Sam Brown have work in the area, among others). Such work is important for many reasons, among them the study of the function and nature of angels (as people considered them) as well how these beings link to epistemological, ontological, cosmological, and other areas of religious thought. Current work shows that ideas regarding angels have and do play fundamental roles in cultural, religious, social, and literary worlds with surprising cross-pollination. Mormons are certainly familiar with the role angels play in their religion, both in its founding and more subtly in its past and current lay devotional thought.

The idea of supernatural beings who carry messages from, and do the bidding of the gods is a very old one, and biblical stories of angels acting as divine agents often mark important theological turning points. The angelic experiences told by Joseph Smith seem to portray angels as dignified, somewhat impersonal extentions of divinity but angel stories are not restricted to this narrow vision. Just as the “cult” of angels replaced the cult of Saints in Reformation Europe, angelic ministers replaced in some sense the Protestant individualism of “personal savior” for Mormons. And Mormons found a somewhat unique angelology that allowed them to reinvent Saints and Angels, in effect as one and the same.
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Orson Pratt and God: Emergence as Fundamental Mormonism

ON the pioneer trail west, you can get bored. The cure for this is to contemplate questions like, where is the edge of universe, or where did God come from, or if we have bodies in heaven, do we have sex there? Obviously, the last question is the most interesting one, if sex is still interesting for you. If not, how about chocolate ice cream in heaven? You get the picture. Wilford Woodruff cautiously reported this from our friend Orson:
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Nineteenth-Century Mormon Materialism and the Cold Bloodedness of Science

Matthew Taylor (“Ghost-Humanism,” J19 1, no.2 (2013): 416ff) begins his interesting take on ghosts and nineteenth-century science with this quote from William Gilmore Simms: “we can no longer get a ghost story” because “the materialists” have made “the world . . . monstrous matter-of-fact in latter days.” Taylor writes that Simms’s corollary that the “cold-blooded demon called Science has taken the place of all the other demons” is telling in this regard, but more indicative is the era’s endless fascination with ghostology, or the attempt to identify “a scientific theory . . . reconciling ghosts and natural phenomena.”
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How We See the Preaching of Past Eras – Joseph Smith’s Sermons. A Thought.

I gave fair warning that I would dump semi-discarded bits from my attempts to write an introduction to the Sermon Book. Since we’ve just been through a lot of preaching over the past weekend, now seems a good time to continue the torture. I think this may be applicable to the individual sermons we heard over the weekend in several senses. You may judge.

The cultural gulf that separates current Mormonism from an understanding and appreciation of its past is deep, and just as in any faith tradition, fully bridging that chasm is impossible. In the end, we can only see the past through the lens of the present. However, this does not require us to be satisfied with unexamined expression, terminology and epistemology. To understand early Mormonism is a much wider problem than understanding Joseph Smith or his momentary expressions on a Sunday morning. It is to understand the larger picture of idea, reason, belief, and the cloud of concerns that attended a life nearly two centuries ago in America. On the other hand, few people understand themselves in such broad terms even at their most introspective (something that usually means dwelling on regrets, incomplete tasks, missed opportunities or other “what ifs”). The events and perceptions of a life are packed with the immediate pressures of the day and the intrusion of memories triggered by those events.
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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?”
“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.”

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Print Culture and Orality in Early Mormonism

Working through the Funeral Sermon book, trying to put together a real draft, I’m attempting once again to write an introduction (presently designated as Preface). I’ve written large chunks that have been (and no doubt others that will eventually be) discarded. This post is stuff on the chopping block, but it has some important features that deserve some discussion I think. So I am dumping it on you all. No doubt it is terribly boring stuff, but that’s the nature of the beast. What follows was just an initial draft, so I don’t claim a serious stake in it. I put the pictures in to entertain Steve Evans.

[Cross posted at Boap.org’s blog.]
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: A Christmas for Geeks. The James Adams Sermon.

Way back in the day, in blog time, I wrote about James Adams, and Joseph Smith’s funeral sermon on his behalf. James Adams was a father figure to Joseph Smith, important to him especially with the death of Joseph Smith Sr in 1840. Adams befriended Joseph Jr in 1839 when the latter set out for Washington to plead the case of Latter-day Saint claims for redress of damages in Missouri. Adams rapidly became privy to the deep secrets of Nauvoo: polygamy/sealings, endowments, and politics. Joseph’s innermost spiritual and confidential circle did not necessarily coincide with church leadership. When Adams died, it was a blow to Joseph. Since I previewed the Funeral Sermon book a bit a few weeks ago, I thought some of you may be interested in specifics. I mentioned that each chapter centers around a particular sermon, studied in different ways, but each methodology orbiting around a particular text (pivot text), one derived ca. 1855 (well after Joseph Smith’s death) by the church’s history clerks. Below there are some pages from a draft of chapter 5, the chapter that studies Adams’s sermon. The pages come from section 3 of that chapter. This section shows how the various editions of the sermon compare with the pivotal manuscript. [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: A Ghost Story

Early America was replete with ghost stories, hauntings, and the like. While transcribing a diary/autobiography I came across this one, which I share for your enjoyment.

This story is set in a large farmhouse near Paris, New York, ca. 1810. The narrator recalls his childhood, one that was relatively carefree, though not unacquainted with death. At the time of the experience, a younger brother was quite ill, and the narrator had just suffered a severe case of complicated measles. The family were attentive Presbyterians, and apparently a little hell-fire was preached in their local congregation.
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Joseph Smith Papers Documents Volume 3 Release Presentation

Ok, here I am on the fourth floor of the Church History Library. The official release date for Docs vol. 3 is today, but books arrived a week early, so you may have already purchased a copy. Waiting for the group to begin. The volume editors are here along with some media outlets and bloggers.

Matt Grow, Gerrit Dirkmaat

Gerrit Dirkmaat (left), Matt Grow (right)

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The Sermon Book Approaches

Some of you have followed my odyssey in writing a book on Joseph Smith’s funeral addresses. The project has evolved over time to cover ten sermons, all connected in some sense and speaking for, to, and about, the dead.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: Temple Dedication

I served a mission during the Vietnam War. This was a problematic thing on several levels. For one, the Church had wrangled selective service deferments and parsed them out to wards so that two ward members could be in the mission field at any one time, more or less. Our ward’s quota was in play, so that when I decided I wanted to try mission before war, there wasn’t much chance of doing so. After high school, I became a ski bum for a year, working in a ski shop, installing bindings, making adjustments, fixing skis, etc. As my 19th birthday approached, the bishop informed me that another ward had a free slot, and it was mine if I wanted it. I said yes.
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General Conference in (My) Perspective

General Conference has its own culture but the present version of that culture is rather modern. It has been used as a medium to announce policy changes or revelations, for a long time, certainly. But addresses at conference were not particularly regarded as “revelation” in any formal sense in say, the nineteenth century. The April-October cycle seemed firmly in place for headquarters meetings by Nauvoo, but certainly June was almost as important historically prior to that. What is the most important conference ever? I think one could argue that June 1831 was important, and November 1831 too. October 1830 is up there. But of course these were tiny gatherings compared to today’s giant (media) audiences. April 1844 was certainly influential (though it was not a general conference for technical reasons). August 1844 was mightily important, and August 1852 ranks up there. And what about October 1978?
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Sacrifice Brings Forth The Blessings . . .

Walking around the campus of the Church’s flagship university today, I noted various states of clothing. No, this is not about skirt length (or pants now, apparently). I just noticed some shoes were *very* used, some other articles of clothing were clearly from a past age. Not a lot, but some. This got me to thinking about my own university experience. In grad school, I rarely had lunch because we could not afford it. And I frequently stayed at the campus until late in the evening studying (3am was not unusual). So I ended up with a piece of toast in the morning and some casserole in the late evening and sometimes if I was lucky enough to get a quarter or two, some sort of junk food from a vending machine during the day. Those Hostess Apple Pies were mighty good.
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The Science of Reminiscence: Joseph Smith Vignettes. III

This is the third in a series of posts on memories about Joseph Smith. The same cautions apply as noted in part 1.

Bro. Gates said. One day while at Far West. Br. Joseph was talking to Bishop Partridge concerning the lost tribes. Joseph remarked that they are hid from us. “Yes” said Br. Partridge in a rather unbelieving tone. I guess they are by land and water. “No” said Joseph, “by land and air.” Br. P smiled as if he thought Joseph did not know what he was talking about. Joseph continued, “Yes, they are hid by land and air in such a manner that the Astronomers cannot get their telescopes to bear on them because they are at an angle that they can’t be seen from the earth.[1]
I heard J. Gates relate this little incident in the St. Geo Temple. June 1880.[2]
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LDS Dating Culture

Ever since various general authorities started drawing attention to the dating scene among Young Adults, I’ve taken an interest in the current status of dating, especially among LDS people, but also in general. I’ve polled my students about it occasionally and also my friends, single and not. As a borderline narcissistic introvert, you might be surprised to learn that I have friends, even friends from many different lands (states) and persuasions. But it’s true. Of course the rest of you won’t be surprised at all.

But to the point. Here, in no particular sequence of topics, are some observations from students, friends, and neighbors on dating culture among Mormons, and sometimes, others.
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The Science of Reminiscence: Joseph Smith Vignettes. II

This is the second in a series of posts on memories about Joseph Smith. The same cautions apply as noted in post 1.

Easton Kelsey heard him [Joseph Smith] say that he (Joseph) had been with John, the Beloved Apostle of Jesus who told him that he was busy among the ten tribes organizing and preparing them to return.[1]

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The Science of Reminiscence: Joseph Smith Vignettes. I (It’s Conference Time!)

This is the first in a series of posts on memories of Joseph Smith. One should always be cautious with memories, even for immediate events. So much of what we remember is colored by the bio-“technology” of perception and the ability of our brains to fill in the gaps of the past, while simultaneously supplying interpretive links to present worldview and belief.[1] Studies of memory, especially distant memories, suggest that those recollections rarely represent accurate reproductions of past events. Moreover, people who recalled Joseph Smith’s sayings or acts were rarely disinterested bystanders. That said, these memories are interesting for what they may tell us of Joseph but perhaps more about those who remembered him.

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“Wrestling the Angel.” Terryl Givens’ Illuminated Tour of Mormon Thought

Terryl L. Givens
Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity
Hardcover: i-xiii, 390 pages.
Publisher: Oxford University Press, forthcoming (2014).
Pre-order Amazon price in the US: $27.96.

When I heard that Professor Givens had embarked on a work of “Mormon Theology” I was more than a little skeptical. Not that it hasn’t been done before. That isn’t the problem. It’s just that theology, as James Faulconer has written, is something that just doesn’t seem to fit Mormonism. However, when I got my greedy little hands on Givens’ book, I was pleased to see that it is a work of theological heritage. In Givens’ words: “I am here tracing what I regard as the essential contours of Mormon thought as it developed from Joseph Smith to the present, not pretending to address the many tributaries in and out of Mormonism’s main currents.”(x)
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Last Minute Reminder: Mormon Women’s History Initiative Conference Saturday August 9, 2014

In case you were planning on going but saw registration was closed, it is now open.

Origins and Destinations: Forty Years of Mormon Women’s Histor(ies).

Utah Valley University
Science Building Auditorium
SB 134
9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Honoring the Life and Work of Claudia L. Bushman
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: The Dark.

As a seven year old, I had a fascination with monster/horror/space films. When my parents weren’t looking, I would leaf through the newspaper to find the page where the theaters advertised their current wares. Inevitably, there were some wonderfully creepy black and white ads leaking out of the bottom of the page: “Blood Monster from Hell” or “The Blob,” or some such. Stuff they never discussed in Primary. When my mother was out of earshot, I’d mention these to my dad, who, knowing better, shared a bit of this interest, or at least he pretended to share it. My mother was one of those practical people who never opened the door to the night.
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