Funerals, Sovereignty and Your Prayers: A Poll

The Rev. Nathanael Emmons (1745-1840), intellectual scion of Hopkins and thus Edwards, was the mentor of more than 150 ministers. His collected sermons span six volumes and many of them touch on death and the sovereignty of God. Among many passages, Emmons sites Job 23:13,
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The Joseph Smith Papers – A Reminder

The Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSPP). Yes, it is a wonderful thing. It will change the way the Church references and divides Early Mormon History. Indeed, it will change the very way we understand and deal with our most fundamental stories and texts. Eventually, the JSPP will impress its work onto the very face of Mormonism, and that is as it should be. We are a history-driven religion — in the sense that our stories define much of what we believe and where we place our faith. JSPP is not about synthesis so much as it is about revelation (there is a pun here — a spectacular one). Revelation in terms of what our earliest records actually say and to some degree the context in which they say it.
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Preaching, Rhetoric and Mormons

With the recent conference, many Church members saw what has become the pinnacle of Mormon Preaching: The General Conference Address. But is it really representative of the Mormon sermon? I say no. In my paltry experience, Mormon preaching is much more like classical Methodist homily than the considered rationalist stuff you might get from an Anglican pulpit. General Conference preaching is very carefully scripted. No off the reservation speculation, no fire and brimstone to speak of, no getting lost in the rhetorical moment allowed, much. (I think Church presidents have their leeway and there is descent evidence for that.)
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The Presiding Bishopric. Your April Conference Prep. Part 6: Recapitulation and the Present Day.

Summarizing and expanding a bit here. Responsibility profiles for the PB have varied. In the 1970s they became more deeply connected with the Church’s youth organizations. Eventually that role was withdrawn and they now function in supervising Church business matters including real estate, commercial corporate interests, humanitarian operations, etc. though at present the Presiding Bishop sits on the Church PEC, hence he is a discussion partner in youth issues.[1] [Read more…]

The Presiding Bishopric. Your April Conference Prep. Part 5: Crossing the Plains and Utah Developments.

After the death of Joseph Smith in June 1844, it became clear that the Latter-day Saints would leave Illinois. The majority of Nauvoo Saints went west with the apostles, and they needed assistance in dealing with the those who required food and shelter. In the lay-over region called Winter Quarters (near present day Omaha, Nebraska) the need was great enough in 1846 that small wards of roughly 500 persons were created with a bishop for each.[1] As Utah was established a similar pattern developed but the office became richer yet. Church leaders found a need for not only a Presiding Bishop (Whitney was appointed in 1847 and served without counselors until his death in 1850) but for “traveling bishops,” stake bishops, general bishops, regional bishops and lieutenant bishops (not really) who moved among the Mormon communities, regulating the work of other bishops in those communities and collecting donations-in-kind for redistribution.

Edward Hunter succeeded Whitney:[2]
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Review: “King Follett: The Man Behind the Discourse.”

Title: The Man Behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett
Author: Joann Follett Mortensen
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Year: 2011
Pages: 603 + xvi
Binding: Paperback (also available in Kindle [$9.95] and other ebook formats)
ISBN13: 978-1589580367
Price: $29.95

If you know even a little Mormon history or its theological underpinnings, you know the name King Follett. But what do you know about King Follett aside from the rather odd appellation?
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The Presiding Bishopric. Your April Conference Prep. Part 4. Early Mormon Bishops and the Evolution of Tithing.

With the revelations of November 1 and 11, 1831 helping to define the role of the bishop,[1] you can see that the road was being paved for more bishops in the Church. As temporal ministers, it was only a matter of time before more were called as Church population increased (when Partridge was called there were about 150 members in Ohio). At first, two population centers developed: Zion (Missouri) and Kirtland (Ohio). Bishop Partridge was a leading voice in governance in Zion. At the end of 1831, another bishop, Newel Kimball Whitney, was called for the Kirtland area (by that time Ohio membership numbered about 1,500) and among other things to work in tandem with Partridge in the United Firm (UF — the Church “corporation” if you will). Partridge, Whitney and their counselors formed an important financial administrative body in the firm. Whitney was relatively well off and his business operations in Kirtland became the heart of the firm there.[2]
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The Presiding Bishopric. Your April Conference Prep. Part 3: D&C 68 Analysis.

Doctrine and Covenants section 68 contains important material regarding bishops. It is also interesting for the textual evolution it underwent. I’ll begin by considering the proto-version of verses 13 through 24 (as they appear in Revelation Book 1, Joseph Smith Papers Manuscript Revelations volume) and then I’ll look at the 1981 text (the current text of the D&C). In the RB-1 text, observe that the blue text is omitted from the current edition. In verses 13-24 from 1981, the text in red is additional text added to the 1831 revelation – this additional text appeared first in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.
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The Presiding Bishopric. Your April Conference Prep. Part 2: More on Early Mormon Bishops.

Bishops evolved several classes of duties, augmenting or adding to those outlined or suggested in the precursor to D&C 42 and various additions like D&C 51. D&C 107 is a revelation of many historical parts, several of those being in the segment from verse 58 onward. That segment for the most part was given November 11, 1831. There the first ordained Mormon bishop, Bishop Edward Partridge,[1] learned a bit more about the relation of the office to other Church officers and his duties regarding Church discipline. The relevant part of the revelation originally read something like this: [see RB-1.]
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The Presiding Bishopric – Your April Conference Prep. Part 1: Bishoprics in Early Mormonism.

Last conference I gave you the Seventy. Who knows what will come next. You’ll forgive this sort of annotated stream of consciousness. These six posts were dashed off in a hurry several months ago and then pecked at for the last few weeks.

The priesthood office of “bishop” in Mormonism derives from two early revelations. The first was dictated in New York, January 2, 1831 (note the wonderful colloquial language):

And now, I give unto the church in these parts a commandment, that certain men among them shall be appointed, and they shall be appointed by the voice of the church;
And they shall look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer; and send them forth to the place which I have commanded them;
And this shall be their work, to govern the affairs of the property of this church.[D&C 38:34-36]

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Your Sunday Brunch Special #10: The Mines of Morsatch

A long time ago, in a . . . well nothing so exotic as that. But it was decades ago – when I was just starting college. My brother came by the house early one Saturday. He was driving an old Chevy Nova. “Want to go look for mines?” It was not an unusual question. The idea in his head I knew well. We would grab a couple of flashlights and head for the canyons where miners had delved for gold and silver in the deeps of time –ok, a hundred odd years back. It made me think of Brigham Young’s forthright comments

One of Brigham's Early Venues

about *not* hunting for gold in those mountains. But Gentiles at least were not bound by booming voices in old tabernacles.

I grab a light and hop into the car. The glass pack mufflers rumble as we head out east. We hit a winding canyon road, and begin to climb. I wonder about our noise in this place and think about old miners with pack mules, looking for the *right place* to dig in the deep solitude of steep canyon walls and the massive mournful sound of wind in ten thousand pines – I’ve been up here when hearing that somehow near and distant voice made me feel profoundly lonely. The echo of those experiences resonants in me. It’s not pleasant. (I’m not a camper by choice and I prefer Motel 6 to a tent and sleeping bag.) These sorts of thoughts make me somber.
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A Christian Nation?

Some scattered thoughts on politics and religion. I don’t usually indulge but I’m starting to find the situation irresistible.

They gather to watch the spectacle.

Driving University Avenue in Provo, Utah is not a zero-sum game. It brings to mind the appellation “Christian.” I occasionally hear, “that’s not very Christian!” Meaning, I suppose, that some bit of speech or some action doesn’t measure up to the Sermon on the Mount.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special #9. The Joining of Faith and Intellect.

By the time I started to study with Paul Tillich, I had been told for several years that pietas and intellectus could not join. In fact, I had tried to convince everyone, including myself, of this. My experience confirmed it. My father, a generous, liberal, loving pastor who fought both fundamentalism and rationalism in his attempt to hold faith and reason together, died of cancer shortly before I started college. That was absurd. It reduced my mother, a schoolteacher and a pillar of integrity and good sense, to pious blubbering. Family friends, mostly clergy families, visited regularly and spoke soothing nonsense. They could not explain the justice or injustice of life. I have always believed since then that pastoralia is often a studied way of obscuring the big questions. In any case, the evidence was clear: one could be either a believer or intellectually honest. One could not be both.
– Max Stackhouse, emeritus professor of theology, Princeton Theological Seminary.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special #8. Trains and History

This is a memory of childhood and perhaps only invisibly affected (or effected) by Mormonism. So sue me Steve!

As a child, around age 4 or so, my babysitters sometimes copped out, or died,* and so my parents would take me to work and keep me occupied in some inconspicuous manner. Since my mother worked for a coffin (casket was the more urbane term) maker at the time, she upholstered the interior of coffins, it was difficult and maybe a little creepy to drag me around there. Besides, her employer was not down with it.
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The Infinite. Part 10. The Axiom of Regularity, Theological Tag-alongs, Mormonism.

[Here is part 9.]

I’m being very brief here and I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I take lightly the work of sincere people who have thought long and hard over important questions. I leave that to Brad.

Christians (along with Muslims and Jews) have a historically mediated anxiety to *prove* that their God exists. Various attempts abound through history, and some still have followings/advocates. Two that play into Mormonism are the Ontological Argument (OA) and the Cosmological Argument (CA). The OA is often associated with St. Anselm and consists in arguing that the “being than which nothing greater can be conceived” must indeed exist (necessarily).[1]
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The Infinite. Part 9. Abraham, Omega, and Doing Things In Order.

[Here is part 8.]

What does it mean for one thing to be less than another? We are natural “orderers” aren’t we? We have ordering intuitions about size, strength, speed, beauty, importance, riches, standard of living, loudness, height, and other stuff. Some of this is reasonably quantifiable, some not so much. As a schoolboy, I learned the hard truth from a sixth grade seat mate, Susan Ortiz: the girls ranked guys on a handsome scale (that wasn’t the only scale, but it was one). Are some people (or animals) more “intelligent” that others? As Mormons we are familiar with this sort of ordering by Deity:
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The Infinite. Part 8. Trouble in Paradise. The good, the bad and the peculiar.

[Part 7 is here. Probably it’s worth reviewing before reading this.]

I’ll begin with the Peculiar, or let’s say, Unsettling, or Cautionary. Cantor allowed that “sets” could be defined by any well-formed logical statement. As it happened, this was not precise enough. And by that I mean, you can describe collections of things by well-formed logical statements which are somehow, too large or strange. A first sign of trouble came from British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, in the form of a paradox. This is not one of those namby-pamby literary/political/economic/theological/legal things where it seems some assumption or other leads to an outlandish or uncomfortable conclusion. No. This is a genuine fault in the system, FULL STOP.

Trouble in paradise.

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The Infinite. Part 7. Paradise.

Last time, I briefly introduced you to Georg Cantor (1845-1918), a Russian-born Jewish Christian who became a well-known and in some quarters infamous, mathematician. Cantor systematized much of what perviously was just mystical respect for the infinite.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special #7. The Garden and The Cross. Cultural “Over-belief”? And a Poll.

Stephen Webb (professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College — and someone who is clearly up on his Mormonism), in his thoughtful piece at First Things writes (ht: sidebar):
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The Infinite. Part 6. Mathematics, Physics and Religion in the 19th Century

[See part 5 here.]

The Intrigues of the Infinite are coming to play. Whether you are confused by the infinite or have some logical grasp of it, I’m going to take you on a ride through a few of those intrigues of the past. Hold on to your logical pants.
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Friday the 13th Caffeine Poll

So what do BCC readers believe (check all that apply):
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The University of Utah Institute of Religion

The Institutes of Religion were and are an outreach by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to LDS college students. To a lesser extent this was and perhaps is true for faculty too. When I’ve been employed by universities outside Utah, I have always enjoyed it when an Institute was nearby because it also served as an island of friendship. For the most part, these were small operations with maybe one full-time CES person as instructor along with a part-time secretary. For me, as a faculty member, they were always an oasis in a somewhat sterile academic environment. Often a few of us would get together for lunch-time discussions with the CES personnel and those discussions were wide-ranging, feeling out the limits of gospel interaction with humanities, education and science. It was nearly always a blast because generally none of us felt threatened in our various faith-worlds during these discussions.[1] Once, three of us constituted the bishopric of one of the local wards. I was a big fan of those experiences and wonder if they are replicated in the current system. I presume they are in many places.
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The Infinite. Part 5. Is there anything infinite?

In part 4 I looked at some “large” stuff. Now let’s think a little about the possibility that infinite things may exist.

Depending on the physics or metaphysics you subscribe to, infinite or eternal may be reality. In the physical universe we don’t live behind an “event horizon.” There is no secret universe hiding behind some information barrier.[1] Think of the universe as existing on the surface of a ballon.

M31. One of my favorite galaxies. It's bigger than our island.

Someone is blowing up this ballon. As it gets larger, the surface stretches and points formerly close together become further and further apart. There isn’t a real “center” of the universe, but everything is getting further from everything else. Space itself is expanding. Another interesting thing is going on: the further stuff is from you, the faster it is moving away from you.[2] Space is expanding locally, not into some extra dimension and not by pushing out some “edge.”[3]
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The Infinite. Part 4. Or What Makes the Federal Debt Look Tiny.

Journalists and pop science writers have a little fun trying to make large numbers “real” to us.[1] For example, a billion dollars in one hundred dollar denomination bills would require about ten standard storage pallets in your garage, stacked 5 feet high or so. A trillion dollars in one hundred dollar bills would occupy a warehouse with 10,000 such pallets. I don’t know what you’d spend it on, but if you spent a million dollars every day since the time of Moses, until now, you may have used up the trillion dollars. Spendthrift! Stacking up a hundred million trillion one dollar bills will get you out a bit more than one light year from earth. (Making that many dollar bills would require more than the mass of the earth – and it would take too long – not to mention the ink.)
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The Infinite. Part 3. The Unexamined Life er, Speech

{Part 1, Part 2.}

Last time we agreed that scriptural references to the infinite should be approached with caution and often are not to be taken seriously as pointers to the “actual” infinite. Didn’t we?
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The Infinite. Part 2. Large.

[Here is part 1.]

Humans do not deal directly with the infinite and there has been considerable debate on whether the idea makes sense at all. Imprecision is the name of the game where infinity is concerned.

If that isn't Mormon, I don't know what is.

Eventually we will see that trying to codify the idea is difficult and puzzling. It is as much a problem with intuition as logic. But first let’s look at a related discursive family: The Very Large.[1]
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The Infinite. Part 1: The Finite.

This series examines, from a somewhat naive point of view, the meaning of “infinite” in a number of contexts. Joseph Smith delves deeply into the infinite, and in particular in funeral sermons, even though he does not engage it with rigor. (Parts of this series appeared elsewhere.)

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The Mormon Naturalist

No this isn’t a post about Steve Peck, much as I think that would be fun. Instead, its in the vein I’ve been sort of mining a little here lately. I hesitate to use the tired “Mormonism and Science” title, but what the heck. Why not?
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Salvational Exclusion

Universalism was an interesting phenomenon in early America. New England is often described as the home of the movement but the new thinking sprouted in other places too. Historian Ann Bressler argues that the movement climbed in popularity in the Northeast because it filled a gap created by the end of Puritanism’s community after the revolutionary war. In part a response to Congregational establishment, it still flourished after anti-prejudicial rules became law in Massachusetts in 1780. Baptists were angry with taxation and its role in religion. But as Janet Lindman observes, at least part of the national debate over the nature and applicability of salvation began in Pennsylvania and it was motivated by more than just taxes. There,

Elhanan Winchester. All God's Children Gonna Be Saved.

Elhanan Winchester1 was advocating Unversalism and at the same time acting as head of an important Baptist congregation in the Delaware Valley.
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The Crying Poll

Shedding a tear with or about a friend, during a movie or a testimony or a beautiful scriptural or musical pericope is pretty common. Everyone knows of President Eyring’s near boundary to tearful expression. Occasionally I’ve heard the odd Church leader remark that the shedding of tears (usually by men) is a mark of spirituality (maybe they’re thinking: “Jesus wept”). When I’ve sat through such speech, I have felt a little inadequate (maybe only Idaho farm boys cry – kidding, I’m kidding). I don’t cry. Not that I have never cried. I have. Three or maybe four times since childhood. Once I cried for days on end. But that seems to have used up the tears and it was decades ago. Does this make me an aberration? Do serial killers cry? (You can’t trust filmography for this.)
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